CONFEDERATE PRIDE: The Mythology of a War to Abolish Slavery Confederate Pride

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The Mythology of a War to Abolish Slavery

by Robert F. Hawes Jr.

I attended a college in Pensacola for four years and continued to work on staff there for an additional three and one half years. During this time I encountered the Pensacola News Journal’s considerable bias on many occasions, and I am not at all surprised that they would choose to print such an inflammatory piece complete with banner headline. Having just recently moved to Lexington, South Carolina, I am developing a similar feeling toward the The State newspaper. Anyone who saw their “year-in-pictures” section recently probably noticed that, in the World and Nation section, and among such noteable events as the inauguration of George W. Bush, the Republican reversal in the Senate, the crash of that last passenger plane in New York, and the US submarine-Japanese fishing boat incident, there was a large photo of the raising of the new Georgia State flag. The flag was backed by an image of “Miss Liberty” at the pinnacle of the George Statehouse dome in a manner that was clearly designed to evoke a patriotic, warm-and-fuzzy feel. This image ensconced along with some of the year’s biggest headlines speaks volumes concerning The State’s opinion of Georgia’s bow to sociological arm-twisting. Or perhapse the term “sociopathological” would be more precise given the absolute burning hatred for all things Southern on the part of the NAACP and others.

My gut reaction upon seeing things like this photo in The State and the prominent display of this editorial in the Pensacola News Journal is rather like the cartoon in which Yosimite Sam is promised a million pounds if only he can keep his temper. Each time that Sam finds himself insulted by a certain long-eared antagonist, he runs outside of the city to the top of a far-off hill and unleashes a ballistic temper tantrum before returning to the city and behaving himself politely. I don’t know how many times I’ve wished for such a hill where I could blow off some outrage out of earshot before returning to my keyboard to type a polite rebuttal. In fairness to the media-at-large however, I do have to mention that the Fairfax Journal in Fairfax, Va once printed an editorial I wrote in defense of Robert E. Lee and accompanied it with banner print proclaiming: Robert E. Lee: Virginia Hero. That was a pleasantly unexpected surprise.

Overall though, we should not be surprised at letters like the one featured in the PNJ. After all, the establishment has been laboring incessantly since the time of the war itself in order to spread their anti-Southern dogma via a national education system. And the multiplied billions of dollars that they have spent in this effort have given them quite a return on their investment. Try telling the average person that the War of 1861-1865 was not about slavery and they’ll generally look at you as though you were raised under power lines. And even if they are prepared to admit that the war was not about slavery, they’re still likely to resort to the notion that secession was “unAmerican,” and deliver some speech to the tune of “United we stand; divided we fall,” to the accompaniment of the Battle Hymn of the Empire (excuse me, “Republic”) and much flag waving. Such is the result of some 140 + years of steady and strident indoctrination.

To avoid a digression here, I’d like to offer some quotes that I have encountered while doing research for a book on Southern secession and the outbreak of the war. They may be helpful in raising a few eyebrows on the part of your friends of family in regard to the purpose of the war…

Knowing that any statement of purpose from the South would be immediately filed away as irrelevent in most circles, here are some quotes from those Northern angels of mercy who marched South on their great humanitarian quest.

“Help me to dodge the nigger–we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting to preserve the integrity of the Union and the power of the Govt–on no other issue. To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question–it must be incidental and subsidiary. The President is perfectly honest and is really sound on the nigger question.” *General George B. McClellan

“If their whole country (the South) must be laid waste and made a desert, in order to save this Union from destruction, so be it.” — Thaddeus Stevens (why does Stevens speak of destroying the South to save “this Union from destruction” when the true object of the war was the abolition of slavery?

“I most cordially sympathize with your Excellency, in the wish to preserve the peace of my own native State, Kentucky; but it is with regret I search, and can not find, in your not very short letter, any declaration, or intimation, that you entertain any desire for the preservation of the Federal Union.” — Abraham Lincoln to Kentucky’s Governor Magoffin on the latter’s request to have Kentucky remain neutral. (Why does Lincoln address the “preservation of the Union” and not the abolition of slavery if this is truly the burning question of the hour?)

“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the near the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. 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. What I do about slavery, about the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.” — Abraham Lincoln to Horace Greeley. Note that Lincoln clearly states that he does what he does in regard to slaves and slavery as a means to the all-important end of “preserving the Union.” The language of the Emancipation Proclamation bears this out very nicely.

“We didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to put the flag back; and to act differently at this moment would, I have no doubt, not only weaken our cause, but smack of bad faith…” Abraham Lincoln. Speaks for itself.

“It was a war for a great national idea, the Union, and that General Fremont should not have dragged the negro into it…” — This quote comes from the wife of Union General Fremont who was busily engaged in freeing slaves in Missouri until Abraham Lincoln stopped him. Mrs. Fremont traveled to Washington to rebuke the President on this point, and the above quotation comes from a letter in which she detailed the President’s explanation for his actions.

“There are two radical difficulties here. The Tariff is a stumbling block. It gave the Emperor (of France) decided offense. But that is not more, or perhaps not as serious, as the Slavery question. If ours was avowedly a War for Emancipation, this Government would sympathize with and aid us.” — Diplomat Thurlow Weed in a letter to Secretary Seward on whether the European powers would recognize the Confederacy. (Note that he clearly indicates that the government is not fighting a war to end slavery at all.)

“The Constitution was not framed with a view to any such rebellion as that of 1861-65. While it did not authorize rebellion it made no provison against it. Yet the right to resist or suppress rebellion is as inherent as the right to self-defence, and as natural as the right of an individual to preserve his life when in jeopardy.” — U.S. Grant (from his Memoirs) on the reason for which the Northern states contended. Why no mention of the righteous cause of abolition?

“It is idle to talk of Union men here (in Tennessee): many want peace, and fear war and its results; but all prefer a Southern, independent government and are fighting or working for it.” — General Sherman, 1862. Why no mention of the Southerners preferring to maintain the institution of slavery and “fighting or working for it?”

“Obedience to law, absolute–yea, even abject–is the lesson that this war, under Providence, will teach the free and enlightened American citizen. As a nation, we shall be better for it.” — General Sherman. Why no mention of the nation being better for having abolished slavery if this was the absolute–yea, even abject purpose of the war?

“Resolved, That the war is not waged on our part, in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest, or for interfering with the rights, or established institutions of these States (the Confederate states), but to defend, and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity and rights of the several States unimpaired.” — Resolution of Congress in the wake of First Manassas. Note the statement that the war is NOT waged to interfere with State institutions. And what was the sole State institution that was of particular interest and notoriety at the time? This is a statement on the part of the Federal government to the effect that it is not fighting to abolish slavery just as Lincoln had promised non-interference with the South’s “peculiar institution.” You can’t get much more clear than this.

And here is one quote from our friends overseas:

“For the contest on the part of the North is now undiguisedly for empire. The question of Slavery is thrown to the winds. There was hardly any concession in its favor that the South could ask which the North would refuse, provided only that the seceding States would re-enter the Union…Away with the pretence on the North to dignify its cause with the name of freedom to the slave! — The Wigan Examiner, an English newspaper.

And lastly, just because I gotta, here’s a quote from the Confederate arch-boogeyman himself, Jefferson Davis:

“Our present political position has been achieved in a manner unprecedented in the history of nations. It illustrates the American idea that governments rest on the consent of the governed, and that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish them at will whenever they become destructive of the ends for which they were established.”

This quote is taken from Davis’ inaugural address. At that moment, he stood at the height of his career before an audience that had elected him to be the leader of their cause and the guardian of their fortunes. And if that cause was truly the perpetuity of the institution of slavery, why does Davis fail to mention it? Instead, he attributes the South’s “present political position” to the triumph of government by the consent of the governed. Kind of makes you wonder if the man might have been sincere, doesn’t it?

And there you have just a few of the many quotations that could be brought forth to dispell the idea that the Southern states were fighting to preserve slavery while the Northern states were fighting to abolish it. Unfortunately, if this information is to be disseminated, we’re going to have to do it ourselves with whatever meager resources we have at our disposal. And the task is truly enormous. I’ve made reference to the national public school system, but the level of indoctrination in this country has far exceeded even the bounds of the government-sponsored school system. I can say this with certitude as I attended private, Christian schools in Virginia while I was growing up, and all of them taught the view that Lincoln was a veritable saint who was compelled to fight the South against his wishes, the Northern agenda was the God-ordained destiny of the Union, the South continually aggitated and eventually attempted to destroy the Union of our fathers over the evil issue of slavery, and we’re all better off that the South lost and we now belong to “one Nation, indivisible.”

Perhaps we do have one advantage on our side though, if we can seize hold of the opportunity and exploit it. By this advantage, I am referring to the upcoming generation, “Generation X,” my generation. The fact of the matter is that most of my generation falls into a “Don’t tell me what to think or believe; I’ll make up my own mind,” category. The war between the (socially) conservative generation of my grandparents era and the deconstructionist baby-boomers has had the effect of tearing down most of our society’s foundational principles to the point where the present generation is hastily attempting to reconstruct a moral compass for itself out of sheer, desperate necessity. The busy lifestyle of their parents has had the effect of making them somewhat more independent and willing to leave others to their own devices. In short, they tend to see themselves as pursuing their own destinies as opposed to some great National destiny. Witness the frustration of both major political parties in attempting to energize the youth of this country to their respective causes in recent elections. Both parties have come to represent varying degrees of coercive political agendas, and the younger generation just can’t seem to come to grips with telling other people how to live their lives regardless of whether it be via a “conservative” or liberal agenda.

And while there are certainly detrimental aspects to this particular political apathy, there is also a potential for tremendous gain. Consider:

As we have seen in just a few of the many quotes regarding the cause and purpose of the War of 1861-1865, it was, in many ways, a war for the American ideal. Was the American ideal, “Our Federal Union, it must be preserved,” or was it, “The Union next to our liberty most dear?” It was the age of Manifest Destiny, that time in which it was believed that the United States had the God-given imperative to expand from “sea to shining sea” and to subdue everything inbetween. And in a time when the proponents of this theory were about to drive the golden spike in order to connect the east and west and make the dreams of American Empire a reality, they were not about to let eleven states just quietly slip away and do their own thing.

You’ll notice a great emphasis on the War for the Union justification in literature following the war up until well past the turn of the century. The South was wrong and had to be subdued because it had dared to challenge the notion of American Empire. But once this empire was established, the American people went through a metamorphosis of sorts. Now that they had achieved Nirvana, they believed it their duty to spread American ideology and control to all parts of the globe in a desperate effort to save mankind from itself. (Witness the debates between Al Gore and George W. back in 2000 concerning the issues of exporting American values and “nation-building.”) Over the years, Americans slowly became adjusted to the notion that they were crusaders for great moral causes, and that these causes took priority over even national sovereignty, ours or anyone else’s. Witness Clinton’s war in Kosovo. American interests were not at stake there; it was just “the right thing to do.” We didn’t like Milosovich, so we got rid of him.

This change has also influenced the way in which the War of 1861-1865 is viewed today. Modern Americans are no longer of the Manifest Destiny mentality which seemed to justify the killing of hundreds of thousands and the destruction of entire regions in vengeance for “insulting the flag” and “disloyalty” so long ago. No, as Americans began to view themselves more as moral crusaders and less members of a vast political empire, the ideals of the War for the Union fell by the wayside to be replaced by this mythical War for the Abolition of Slavery. Americans today are justifiably shocked when they learn of Sherman’s attrocities in Georgia and the Carolina’s, Sheridan’s burning of the Shenandoah Valley, and Lincoln’s encroachments against Constitutional liberties while fighting a war to supposedly defend that Constitution. But against the atrocities of slavery, they feel that they can reconcile all of the Northern injustices in the name of “liberty.” They feel that the South had to be subjugated in order to destroy this great evil institution. Despite all the evil that he did, Lincoln only did it to destroy an even greater evil. He then sits firmly atop a pedestal of heroism with the Confederacy beneath his feet.

If we can successfully combat and dispel this War for the Abolition of Slavery ideology, we stand a great chance of changing minds on not just the issue of the War, but also concerning the nature of American government itself. Lincoln and the other authors of consolidation will no longer possess the apparent moral authority that they once did, and all that has been built upon their supposed greatness may begin to dwindle along with them. Tying this back into my earlier comments on Generation X, if they can become convinced that Lincoln’s war lacked no moral authority in the form of a war for the abolition of slavery, then the consolidated government that Lincoln and the Reconstruction Congress created will also lose a great deal of its legitimacy as its foundational basis will have eroded. There will still be something of the knee-jerk reaction to the idea that secession is “unpatriotic,” but this is, in my opinion, a much simpler battle to fight, especially given the up-and-coming generation’s natural predilection to minding their own business and encouraging others to do the same. We may be sitting on the brink of a time in which the consolidation of our government may be slowed or even reversed if we are able to successfully reach out to these natural leanings with the principles of the American revolution: government by consent of the governed, and that government is best which governs least.

I feel that we definitely have opportunities here, but we can never fully pursue them until we first dispel the foundational mythology upon which our government currently rests. And foremost among those mythologies is this particularly nefarious lie that Lincoln and his fellow autocrats ascended to the political heavens via their crusade to abolish slavery via war against the evildoers of the South who never would have left the Union in the first place had it not been for their desire to defend and perpetuate white supremacy. Until we dispel this mythology, the shadow of Lincoln will still pervade our history and our politics, and the ideological basis of State sovereignty and secession will be forever tied to the defense of an evil institution.

Deo Vindice,

Robert F. Hawes Jr.
E-mail: [email protected]