Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Angst of Freedom

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of the Confederacy.  In 1861, eleven states formed a union and would go on to elect Jefferson Davis as its one and only president.  Within weeks, America was in civil war, a war that is still the greatest tragedy of this nation’s history.  I find it frustrating and shameful that we are not embracing the CW anniversary at a national level.  Our political leaders and the mainstream media are ignoring it.  Such is the state of our nation, our culture of denial.  Leave it to the BBC to cover it.

America does need to embrace this tragedy; actually more than that—it needs to wallow in it for a few years because there is catharsis in doing so.  Barack Obama is not your typical Afro American man because his father was from Angola rather than, say, Alabama.  He has no ethos of slavery, no cloud of being the down trodden, and he lacks the soul of the blues, sacred harp, and gospel.  So he doesn’t get it.  His advisers should at least coach him on how to lead--he can pretend that he gets it. That would be a start.

Those southerners celebrating  (and here) today exemplify many of the paradoxes of our times. Let us read the South Carolina Succession Ordinance because it is short and to the point:

“AN ORDINANCE to dissolve the union between the State of South Carolina and other States united with her under the compact entitled "The Constitution of the United States of America."

We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in convention assembled, do declare and ordain, and it is hereby declared and ordained, That the ordinance adopted by us in convention on the twenty-third day of May, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, whereby the Constitution of the United States of America was ratified, and also all acts and parts of acts of the General Assembly of this State ratifying amendments of the said Constitution, are hereby repealed; and that the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of the "United States of America," is hereby dissolved.

Done at Charleston the twentieth day of December, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty.” Source & here

The first source gives all the succession ordinances.  They all read similar to SC’s.  They are Declarations of Independence.

Several states published Declaration of Causes of Succession.  Here are some statements (Source):

“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”


“In the momentous step which our State [Mississippi] has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course…Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.”

These two statements are direct and blunt about their motives—the threat to the institution of slavery was the reason they succeeded.   South Carolina was a little more complicated as they provided a legal history of the conflict and tied their behavior directly to the documents of the American Revolution and the compacts about preserving slavery therein:

“The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue……They [the 13 Colonies in 1776] further solemnly declared that whenever any ‘form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government.’ Deeming the Government of Great Britain to have become destructive of these ends, they declared that the Colonies ‘are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved”

South Carolina argued that several states and the federal government had not upheld their part of the bargain.

“For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution…Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”


“The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy…Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief…We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”

There you have it.  The causes of succession were slavery and the belief that the constitutionally guaranteed “states rights” about slavery had been broken.  “States rights” about other institutions were not issues of conflict.  That is the truth of the matter from their documents. In South Carolina, 25% of the male population would die during the CW protecting the right to have property called “slaves”.

I rarely pass judgment on issues but I abhor the idea of slavery.  The institution was and is evil--knowing that it still exists in parts of the world.   I say this knowing that many of my ancestors from South Carolina were slaveholders.  I do not apologize for them and I do not condemn them.  It is historical fact and I take it for what it is.  They are also dead, so long ago that their behavior and ideas bears no weight on mine.  

The above documents do reveal some interesting ideas.  First, those people clearly believed in what they were doing.  The anger seething in the Georgia document is hard to miss.  Anyone willing to die for their beliefs is worthy of honor.

Therefore, I say to all Southerners, honor your past, wave your flags and march in the streets.  By all Southerners I include the blacks too because today’s South is a heterogeneous cultural landscape.  The Sons of the South should shake the hands of their black neighbors just as the Confederate veterans did with the Union veterans on the fields of glory in the 1890s.

Today, there would be nothing to celebrate if there had not been slavery, a war to end it, and all the Lost Cause mythology to extend it. 

South Carolina reminds us of another idea—that…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…” here

Notice how they left out the statement all men are created equal.  The people of South Carolina didn’t believe in equality in those days of 1860.  My question for all Southerners is:

Do you believe in equality now, for all men and women, regardless of color?

The answer will help determine if we are any wiser in this country.

BTW, lets not forget that when a form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government...

Pay attention DC and Wall Street...Egypt is closer than you think.

1 comment:

  1. 150 years later, the consent of the governed in a large swath of the country is again wavering. As in the South of 1860, the citizens of Middle America are fed up with the federal government's intrusive behavior. Their cause now is far more just than was the South's. Slavery was immoral, and as a social institution a dead end, a Lost Cause as you say.

    Not so the current issues that form the crux of the rebellious Tea Partiers', Conservatives', Libertarians', et. al. backlash against our government overlords. The new Cause is the same as the oldest one, the one that led to the original struggle that formed this nation, that people would be free to determine the course of their lives. Free here means free from government interference, whether that be a government of kings, autocrats or bureaucrats. We are not held in bondage to our government.

    I often wonder how many Americans still understand this most basic concept of freedom. Particularly the younger generation where too many remain ignorant of their own history. And, for their own reasons, the MIA MSM perpetuates this ignorance. If the new Know-Nothings wish to understand the events swirling around, say, Cairo or Madison, they might take a gander at the new Rebels' bible, the Constitution. Then maybe we can all celebrate that struggle that began a century and a half ago, and the one that came before. Bitter as they were, the outcome was worth the sacrifice of so many. The new Cause is not to betray that sacrifice, not to squander what has been bequeathed to us. So, yes indeed:

    "Pay attention DC and Wall Street...Egypt is closer than you think."