As this is Confederate History Month, I’ve been slow in taking the time to write about the War Between the States and the causes thereof. I won’t attempt to go into that much-documented question here, but only to write about the effects on our country of focusing exclusively on slavery.
It’s usually assumed that slavery was the main cause of the war, and few people think beyond that issue. In a way this works mightily against the South and its image in the minds of the rest of the country, because people in the last few decades have been heavily conditioned to believe in the primacy of slavery in causing the War, and even more, to believe as they have been told: that slavery was an ”abomination” (the most-often used word of condemnation), an unparalleled crime against humanity of which we (White people) and Southrons specifically stand forever convicted.
Now most Southron academics are inclined to accept this liberal interpretation of history, and they take a defensive and apologetic tone in writing or speaking about our history. This piece, while mostly fair, does tend towards the defensive approach, and unfortunately, in my opinion, uses the ”liberals are the real racists” defense. In this case the argument is more specifically ”the Yankees were the real racists”. The conclusion that one comes to if one reads this kind of thing is that yes, Whites were guilty as charged, and slavery was a horrible crime against humanity, but it wasn’t just Southrons; the Yankees started it and profited from it so they are as guilty or more so than we are. In other words, White guilt is assumed and accepted; the ‘defense’ just tries to spread the guilt around or focus it more on the ‘other guy’, hoping to deflect blame.
The writer of the linked piece is an academic, a Professor at Emory University and connected with the Abbeville Institute. I allow for the usual academic biases, since it seems that the vast majority of academics are more liberal than the average American. With all due respect to the writer’s credentials I will take issue with some things he says.
For instance he describes slavery as a ‘national enormity’ and says that most Americans saw it as a violation of natural law:
“Most all antebellum Americans believed two propositions. The first proposition is that slavery abstractly considered (that is independent of positive law, circumstance, and custom) is a violation of natural law. This was as true of Southerners as Northerners”
Most people in the South were strongly Christian, and knew their Bibles well enough to know that it was not condemned in the Bible at all. Man-stealing was condemned, but the ”peculiar institution” was not forbidden by the Bible, rather it was regulated. There were laws concerning slavery but it was not against Biblical law nor the law of the land — which was, ultimately, grounded in Biblical law.
Some will object that the Founding Fathers were not Christian but Deists or Masons. Thomas Jefferson is often claimed to be a Deist who had very liberal notions, but even he did not argue for immediate emancipation or condemn slavery as such. He made practical arguments against emancipation because he saw the great problems that would result from sudden freeing of the slaves:
“It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expence [sic] of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”
But if one believes that slavery was an abomination or a “violation of natural law” then no price would be too great to pay, presumably. Hence the 500,000+ lives sacrificed in the War.
It is also alleged that the New England Yankees were by this time arch-liberals and egalitarians, though the writer of the linked piece, Professor Livingston, says they were ‘nativist’ (as if that were a pejorative) and some kind of Anglo-Saxon supremacists, racial purists. In fact by the time of the War Between the States the New England states were already receiving tens of thousands of immigrants from Ireland, Portugal, and Italy as well as Eastern Europe. There were also many French-Canadians living in parts of New England. Many of the old Puritan stock had already moved Westward, looking for greener pastures. So there was hardly an Anglo-supremacist society in the New England of the 1860s.
However it is true that most old-stock Americans were what we today call ‘race-realists’, they were not egalitarians in the sense of denying the obvious evidences of their senses. They did not take the phrase ‘all men are created equal’ in the literal way in which people on both left and right take it in 2016.
However Professor Livingston sees this natural ethnocentrism as disreputable, judging as he seems to by the liberal standards of today.
“For two centuries the original Puritan stock had intermarried to form a strong regional identity. They thought the blood of the rest of the Union was diluted by foreign peoples who did not have a title to be the “true Americans.” Particularly disgusting was the South with its mixture of French, Spanish, Aboriginal and even African blood. The defeat of John Adams and the election of Thomas Jefferson as president was a racial trauma for New Englanders. They referred to him contemptuously as the first “Negro president.” Jefferson had lived with Africans for so long that to New Englanders he had become African.”
Livingston exaggerates the ‘mixture’ of the Southern states; the South was originally just as Anglo-Saxon (or Anglo-Norman) as the New England states, and remained so up until the influx of Northerners in the 1970s and afterward and the later disastrous waves of immigration from the four corners of the globe. I cannot at length argue the case for the preponderance of English blood in the South but even though there were some Huguenots, Germans, and others in the South, they intermarried with the English-descended Southrons and the Scots-Irish. They were not unassimilable peoples. The presence of many black people did not mean that the Southron people themselves were mixed a la the Brazilians of today. The essay might lead to that erroneous conclusion. Black people formed a parallel society alongside Whites. Yes, there was contact between the races but they were not amalgamated and very few people in the South would have proposed amalgamation, as is the case today.
Professor Livingston is contributing to false beliefs about the Southron people by implying that there was truth in some of the misconceptions about the South being made up of ‘mixed’ peoples. The South is not Brazil — not yet, anyway. But if present trends continue, with the South’s defenders adopting defensive postures, adopting liberal rhetoric (our enemies are “the real racists”) then we will have suffered a more devastating defeat than that of 1865.