“A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.” — Excerpt from South Carolina’s Letter of Secession; Adopted December 24th, 1860
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product, which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” — Excerpt from Mississippi’s Letter of Secession; c. January 9th 1861
“And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States” — Excerpt from Alabama’s Letter of Secession; February 4th, 1861
“For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slaveholding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.” — Excerpt from Georgia’s Letter of Secession; January 29th, 1861
There’s a reason that I started this piece off with four quotes, pulled directly from the actual letters that South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia drafted and sent to The United States of America, declaring their secession from the union. That reason is that I’m sick and tired of watching uninformed people claim that slavery had little or nothing to do with the Civil War, and I’m really sick and tired of people thinking they can wave a Confederate flag around and it doesn’t have any undertones of racism.
The words I made bold in the excerpts are pretty much all you need to know as to whether or not Southern states left the union over slavery or not, and they are just excerpts. Many of the letters contain multiple references to slavery, and the threat that electing Abraham Lincoln was to the institution of slavery. You see, over time there has been a real concerted effort by southern slavery apologists — who happen to stand on the right side of the political spectrum — to throw cold water on the notion that the Civil War was fought over slavery, but instead of over states’ rights. Then there’s the line that “slavery would have died out in another twenty years or so anyway.” We’ll get to that in a bit, but first let’s make one thing clear:
Carrying around a Confederate flag now means nothing but “I’m cool with slavery.” It doesn’t mean you’re a rebel. If it’s a rebel flag you want to tout, how could fly the flag that stood for open rebellion against actual tyranny of the day:
Just the fact that these letters of secession exist, and that they contain direct language referencing the practice the slavery, proves that the Southern states’ primary impetus for breaking the union was to protect the slave trade. Yes, they can claim it was economics, but it was the economics of slave labor. They can claim it was states’ rights, but it was the states’ rights to own black people. You cannot extricate the issue of slavery from the Civil War, not unless you have a sinister agenda to paint African-Americans as all having some kind of victim complex, but then, too, you’d just be exposing your disgusting racist underbelly, wouldn’t you?
Flying a confederate flag is a declaration to anyone who sees it that you sympathize with the Southern cause in the Civil War. Sure, you in your own mind and heart may justify flying the flag because of “tradition” (a tradition of owning black people), “heritage” (the heritage of slave-owners), and “cultural pride” (pride in the culture of slavery), and maybe deep down you don’t hate black people. But that doesn’t mean the confederate flag is anything but a symbol of some of the most atrocious and dehumanizing behavior ever perpetrated on this continent.
Since we’re getting into the whole slavery subject and how it pertained to the Civil War, let’s just acknowledge one thing — President Abraham Lincoln did not wage a war to end slavery…initially. In one of the most quoted passages of Lincoln’s prose, he wrote in a letter to Horace Greeley, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.”
Many who try to disavow the importance of slavery to the Civil War will point to that quote as direct proof that he only cared about freeing the slaves when it became politically acceptable, and when the war effort needed it. That is not wholly untrue, but it’s also very simplistic. Lincoln, it’s true, was not abolitionist, and he never advocated for full-equality of the African-Americans in this country. He also did advocate shipping all the free slaves to Liberia, in Africa, rather than have them try to assimilate among a populace Lincoln presumed could not possibly evolve fast enough to not murder free slaves by the wagon-load. It’s also true the Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves, just slaves in certain areas, so that they could ostensibly sign-up to fight the South.
What Lincoln was, then, was a flawed politician, limited by the education and social mores of his time. He was definitely cynical, and he was definitely a shrewd political mind. Most certainly Lincoln saw the preservation of the Union as being more important than freeing the slaves, but none of this means he approved of slavery either. There are literally dozens and dozens of quotes from the man where he plainly lays out his opposition to it, such as this one, “I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel,” in another letter.
When you fly your goddamned confederate flag you aren’t taking a swipe at a war mongering tyrant who tried to squash the rights of the individual; you are simply declaring yourself on the side of the people who left the country specifically to keep practicing the slave trade. In fact, now that we’re about 150 years out from the war, you’re not even referencing Lincoln in your dunderheaded display of derpitude — you’re merely perpetuating the mindset that allowed the Southern states to think they had a divine calling to protect the practice of slavery.
Some argue as they fly their confederate flag that many in the South who fought against the North were too poor to own slaves. They claim that those good ol’ boys were just standing up for what they believed in — their states’ own sovereignty. I say “Fuck that shit on two levels.” First — when those states entered the pact known as The United States of America they gave up their individual sovereignty to the supreme sovereignty of the The United States of America — willingly. They knew that united together in a common cause against the British, their disparate band of colonies was much more formidable foe.
I’m all for states’ rights because I believe that state government can be the lab in which new paradigms get introduced to the Federal government. Legalized marijuana and LGBT equality issues — like marriage equality — are two brilliant ways to point out how important it is for there to be a separation between Federal and state governments. But in an ironic twist, they are separate but not nearly equal. That’s why Federal laws trump state laws, and the only way to challenge a Federal law is in court, or in Congress. We necessarily set it up that way so that we had balance and compromise.
As one last button on the “many people who fought for the South never owned slaves” rhetoric, I’ll go ahead and just invoke Godwin’s Law right now and do it with a massive grin on my face. There were many, many Nazi soldiers who never personally gassed a single Jew, gypsy, homosexual or mentally disabled person either. So basically what you argue, when you say that Southerners didn’t all own slaves if they fought in the confederate army is, “They were just following orders.” So does that make southern confederate soldiers the original morality-blind Nazi stooges?
Fuck yes it does. And anyone who flies a confederate flag today, or 150 years ago, is just as guilty of shutting off their sense of decency. Suck on that, Slavery Apologists.