Stop Pretending the South’s Secession Was About Anything But Slavery

Stop Pretending the South’s Secession Was About Anything But Slavery June 26, 2015

I’ve written about this many times before, but it’s come up again with the recent brouhaha over the Confederate flag. For the first time in 150 years, we’re finally seeing progress made on bringing that vile symbol down from public places, but some are still pretending that the confederacy wasn’t really about slavery. This is absolute nonsense.

Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, could not have been any clearer on this issue. In his infamous Cornerstone Speech, delivered after the new CSA constitution had been written, he says that slavery and the inherent inferiority of the black man was the cornerstone on which the CSA was built:

The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution…

The [U.S.] constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

There is no ambiguity here whatsoever. Slavery is the cornerstone of the new government and the “immediate cause” of the civil war. That pretty much ends the argument, doesn’t it? But there’s more. Look at the secession declaration of all of the confederate states. Every single one of them is built around slavery. Here’s Mississippi:

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. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin…

And Louisiana:

As a separate republic, Louisiana remembers too well the whisperings of European diplomacy for the abolition of slavery in the times of an­nexation not to be apprehensive of bolder demonstrations from the same quarter and the North in this country. The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery.

And Texas:

…in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states….

Every single declaration contains nearly identical statements. When people say that it was really about “state’s rights,” they never bother to mention what “rights” they’re referring. It was the right to own slaves. Period. It is long past time we stopped listening to such ignorant blather and blatant historical revisionism.

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