THE THREAT TO STATE’S RIGHTS AND SOUTHERN INSTITUTIONS POSED BY THE FEDERAL UNION THAT MADE WAR THE ONLY ACCEPTABLE REMEDY IN 1860 AND 1861: WHAT WERE THE REAL VESTED INTERESTS THAT POLITICIANS AS WELL AS PRIVILEGED PEOPLE FROM NORTH CAROLINA AND THE SOUTH SOUGHT TO VIOLENTLY PROTECT?
“Heritage Or Hate?”
Gordon C. Rhea, attorney, historian, and author; He is one of the foremost authorities on GRANT’S 1864 OVERLAND CAMPAIGN, and is the author of THE BATTLE OF THE WILDERNESS: MAY 5-6, 1864, TO THE NORTH ANNA RIVER: GRANT AND LEE, May 13-25, 1864 and COLD HARBOR: GRANT AND LEE, May 26-June 3, 1864, among others. Rhea has given scores of lectures and sits on the board of directors at the Civil War Library and Museum in Philadelphia.
“Symbols of the long-defunct Confederacy dominate memories of my childhood. Confederate battle flags waved defiantly in 1963 as Governor Wallace proudly proclaimed, “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.” Confederate battle flags dominated the outdoor Ku Klux Klan rally in a nearby town. Battle flags were grasped firmly in the hands of whites protesting having to share water fountains, bathrooms, schools, and bus seats with citizens of color. The Confederate battle flag of my youth represented opposition to integration. Today, it decorates the armbands of skinheads and white supremacists here and abroad.
Confederate apologists protest that hate groups have hijacked their flag, that Confederate symbols represent a proud heritage, not a hateful ideology. But white supremacists did not appropriate the Confederate flag by accident. They were not drawn to it simply by its design. They embraced it because it represented a nation stridently and openly dedicated to its principles. In 1861, the Confederacy’s vice president Alexander Stephens proclaimed: “The Confederacy’s foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man, that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
As a Southerner, an historian, and a descendant of former slave owners, I hope that we use the opportunity of the sesquicentennial to open frank and civil dialogues about why our ancestors decided to leave the United States and set up their own nation. They were unapologetic about their reasons: the election of Abraham Lincoln threatened their “peculiar institution” of Negro slavery. While the rest of the western world followed an historic trajectory dedicated to abolishing slavery and expanding human rights and participatory democracy, the South marched off in the opposite direction. Our ancestors unabashedly formed a nation dedicated to the propositions that all men are not created equal and that the government’s job is to preserve and ensure institutionalized, race-based inequality.
The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But how can we celebrate the heritage of a short-lived nation whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population and the propagation of human bondage to new territories?
Those who question slavery’s role as a driving force behind secession should consult the sermons, speeches, and writings of Southern leaders in the days leading up to the decision to leave the Union. Reverend Furman of South Carolina sternly warned that if Lincoln were elected, “Every Negro in South Carolina and every other Southern state will be his own master; nay, more than that, will be the equal of every one of you. If you are tame enough to submit, abolition preachers will be at hand to consummate the marriage of your daughters to black husbands.” Typical was the speech of Stephen Hale, who urged that only through secession could the “heaven ordained superiority of the white over the black race” be sustained.
Southern spokesmen described an apocalyptic vision of emancipation, race wars, and miscegenation: The collapse of white supremacy would be so cataclysmic that no self-respecting Southerner could fail to rally to the secessionist cause. Modern Confederate apologists contend that secession was about “states rights,” not slavery. They should read the speeches and pronouncements of their forebears, who give lip service to “states’ rights” only in the context of the rights of states to decide whether some of their inhabitants could own other humans.
I recently read extensively through secessionist-era speeches and sermons. Word for word, they echoed the racist diatribes that I heard growing up in the South—from invocations of African barbarism to blatant portrayals of rape and racial amalgamation. Secession died in 1865, but the ugly sentiments behind it persisted. My hope is that the 150th anniversary of the Civil War will spur reasoned discourse and an end to our forebears’ destructive vision. I also hope that it will end denial by my fellow white Southerners. The next time you hear someone proclaim that secession was about state’s rights, not slavery, ask what right it was that the seceding states were so anxious to protect. “
From: THE CHARLESTON MAGAZINE, April 11, 2011 at:
AN ADDITIONAL NOTE:
Also, in the lead up to the war, the secessionist claimed that the Federal Union was attempting to destroy “Southern institutions.” In North Carolina, during the expansion of fiery rhetoric and threats in the tumultuous days of 1860 and 1861, an examination of the public comments from and the legislation passed by the politicians in the state Senate and House of Commons overwhelmingly document that slavery was THE “Southern institution” dominating their hearts, minds, rhetoric and actions.