Monday, December 20, 2010

Treason in Defense of Slavery Day

150 years ago today, South Carolina declared treason to defend slavery, seceding from the Union in order to preserve its ability to own, sell, rape, and murder black people. 4 1/2 years later and 500,000 dead Americans later, this treason was crushed.

But of course, the South has contested the meanings of this event ever since they lost the war. Beginning in 1866, they reshaped the meanings of the war to be a noble cause in defense of an idealized agrarian past with contented slaves working in the fields and eating watermelon to the sound of banjos at the end of the day. The civil rights movement challenged that narrative, but hardly defeated it.

Doug Mataconis lays the hammer down on those who claim the Confederacy was about anything other than slavery. See, all you have to do in order to debunk these arguments in go to the sources and see what the architects of treason said about slavery. Here's Confederate Vice-President (and southern moderate) Alexander Stephens:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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 upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

Today, the racists are well-represented by Haley Barbour of Mississippi, a likely Republican presidential candidate and a man would have fit in very well as a segregationist Southern senator in the pre-civil rights days. Yglesias has been hounding Barbour all day. Linking to Andrew Ferguson's profile of Barbour, we see that Barbour has actually defended White Citizens' Councils as keeping the peace during the civil rights movement, a laughable statement if it weren't so politically dangerous today. But as Yglesias notes, White Citizens' Councils were active in Barbour's own home town of Yazoo City, Mississippi, which very much makes me wonder what young Haley was up to on those very day.