That confederate thing was about slavery

Being raised in the South, I was taught the Civil War was more about states’ rights and northern aggression rather than slavery. I saw a recent poll that showed 48% people believed that states’ rights was the principal reason for the war and only 38% said it was about slavery. This recasting of history by groups promoting white supremacy or merely teaching a white-washed message is influencing too many people. To be frank, of course, it was about slavery.

Why do I say that? One needs only to look at the formal declarations of the states who seceded from the United States of America (see the third paragraph from Texas’ declaration below*). In those documents, the words to preserve the right to own slaves (or something similar) can be consistently found. The states’ rights argument was used in support of the need to perpetuate slave ownership. If people think otherwise, let me speak purely in terms of economics, setting aside the important human argument.

In economic terms, the South quite simply treated slaves as assets to be used. Once the asset was purchased and maintained, the fruits of the labor went to the owner. Since slave owners were the wealthiest people in the South, as a result, they had the most to lose if slave ownership was done away with. Slave ownership was an economic boon for the South. It is that simple.

But, to get the white non-slave owners to fight, a good story had to be crafted. Politicians have done this for ages and still do. So, they told a good story that “we don’t want those folks in Washington telling us how to do things. We want to govern ourselves.” If they told these poorer whites what they were really fighting for, they may have been less enthusiastic participants. The pitch would have been, “come fight so I can still own slaves. And, maybe you can someday.”

I mention all of this as this fight over monuments is secondary to the renewed fight on civil rights. Many of these symbols were erected at the height of the Jim Crow era or the KKK’s fifty to ninety years after the Civil War ended. In fact, Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was finished in 1972, just 45 years ago. Very few of these monuments were erected just after the Civil War. The same goes for the Confederate flag, which became more prominent after the Civil War when carried by white men wearing white sheets and hoods. These monuments are more about honoring Jim Crow than they are the Civil War. As a result, they are an insult to our African-American citizens.

Slavery is evil. God had Moses lead the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. Yet, too many ministers seemed to overlook that part to reinforce why it was OK to own slaves. Then, it was continued to why the races should be segregated during Jim Crow and the 1960s Civil Rights movement. One only needs to listen to the haunting words of Billie Holiday as she sings “Strange Fruit,” to get first hand what the Jim Crow era did. Humans should not own other humans – it is wrong and sinful. And, per our Constitution, which has been improved several times since it was first written, every American has equal rights, not more, not less.

Scrolling forward to today, we seem to have groups that want to refight the Civil War and Jim Crow disparaging non-whites and non-Christians. White supremacists, the KKK and neo-Nazis are hate groups stirring up racial tension. Do they have a right to speak in America? Yes, that is how it works. Do we have the right to say in rebuttal your words and actions are evil? You are damn right we do. Civil protest is the answer. Uncivil protest cannot be tolerated. If you bring a weapon to a protest, then you should be sent away or get a ticket voucher for the weapon as it is detained. But, it is more than OK to civilly protest evil words and actions.

America is about freedom and rights. There is a huge difference in those who say we are not being treated fairly from those who say to treat us better than they you treat others. Those missions are not the same. We all have equal rights, not more, not less.


* Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery – the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits – a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slaveholding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?


19 thoughts on “That confederate thing was about slavery

  1. We could argue about this until the cows come home, but I think it is splitting historical hairs. The states in the South proclaimed their right to own slaves. Does this mean it was about slavery or about state’s rights? I suspect it was both. Lincoln was smart enough to keep the issue of slavery hidden until the North won a significant battle (which took some time, as you know) because he thought it too hot a topic and knew that many in the North supported slavery. The key question is what those men died for? How many of them thought it was about freeing the slaves and how many thought it was about the right of each of the states to determine its own fate? I suspect (and we will never know) that it is the latter in most cases.
    This is not to say that slavery is not a terrible thing. It most assuredly is. But at that time there were a great many people who thought the blacks inferior and deserving of their position where their masters “took care of them.” It’s not about what was the case, it’s about the perception off what was the case at that time. And, as I say, it is a loaded and complex issue.

    • Hugh, I agree it is complex, but my point is to hone in on the economic argument and the need to sell the reason for fighting. My guess is many Confederate soldiers would say it was not about slavery. But, many who have fought wars over time were doing so to make their landlords richer under some ruse to get them to fight. Keith

  2. Excellent post, Keith! I agree with you that the Civil War was about slavery, and it can be argued that states’ rights was also at issue, but the main thing the states wished rights to was to own slaves, to preserve their economy and their ‘lifestyle’, so even the issue of states’ rights still boiled down to slavery. It made it so much more convenient and economically beneficial to own slaves. It is a valid point that the average soldier was not in the slave-owning upper class, and he had been fed a line by the rich plantation owners so that he believed he was fighting for what he considered a noble cause: states’ rights. As Hugh said, it is indeed a complex topic and can be argued into eternity, but my opinion, for what it is worth, is that yes, the Civil War at its core was about slavery, plain and simple.

    • Jill, you have said this better than I did in response to Hugh’s points which are appropriate. It should be noted that many former slaves were imprisoned for petty crimes after the war and made to do labor as prisoners. Business tends to look for cheap labor and slaves fit the bill for the South.

      The biggest message is the renewed fight to retreat to Jim Crow by White Supremacists. The monuments issue is a distraction to draw in others to a fight they would not otherwise join. We must push back on the distraction and focus on the problem. The NFL anthem issue is a similar distraction. Keith

      • Yes, I agree that the main point is we must fight against the backward slide we seem to be in. Y’know … there is so much smoke & mirrors, so many distractions, that I almost feel as if I am in one of those ‘house of mirrors’ they used to have at carnivals. I would so love to be able to read the history books a hundred years from now and see what is written about the “Era of Trump”. Perhaps I should just write my own!

      • Jill, you are right about the distractions which allow folks like Trump, Sessions and Bannon rob the bank. Bannon is all over George W. Bush today when Bush’s message is one of unity. This reveals the anarchist that Bannon is and people need to change the channel on this man and his disdainful ideas. Keith

  3. We have 13,000 slaves in Britain right now and this shocking statistic has been released to aid the fight against domestic and sex slavery.
    To many in mundane jobs work is a form of slavery and they aspire to free themselves and attain a life of leisure. I have heard it argued that slavery is been forced to do anything you don’t want to do. I remember my father ripping the warm bed clothes from me and lugging me out of bed on those cold frosty winter mornings ; there was no central heating and a fire downstairs that he had started with coal and chopped wood.
    Much later a man said to me why work when your money can work for you? and idea that was totally new to me , but I was young and green.
    We could extend the thinking and say why work if someone else can work for you and we are back to those old slave owners in the southern states.

    • Kertsen, thanks for stopping by and sharing those sad numbers. The sex trafficking industry has preyed upon people wanting a better life as well as those children who have been stolen or bought on the cheap from poor families. Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn have spoken about this in “Half the Sky” based on the Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky.

      It is sad that slavery exists today, but especially in the Western world. Keith

  4. Note to Readers: One of the three suggested readings at the bottom of this post is called “If God were an American, which side was he on in the Civil War.” It is designed to make people think about God in a more holistic way. He is bigger than just one country. If you have a minute, give it a read and let me know what you think.

  5. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    More than once I have opined that we are sliding backward in the area of Civil Rights, that we are losing ground in the fight for equal rights for all. Lately we have seen a rise in white supremacy, violent protests against moving Civil War statues, and other disturbing trends. It has been said that the Civil War was not about slavery. Our friend Keith wrote an excellent post, and whichever side of this argument you stand on, I think his post and the comments at the end will give you some food for thought. Please take a few moments to read this excellent post and add your two cents in the comment section if you feel so inclined. Thank you, Keith, for sharing this and for permission, implied, to share!

  6. I am a Southerner, born and raised in South Carolina. We were sold a bill of goods by those who followed the creed of the “Lost Cause.” So well were we taught about honor, state’s rights and defending our homeland from invasion, when I became a social studies teacher, I taught the same thing. Thankfully I saw the light. Thanks for your post.

  7. Note to Readers: I was watching Senator John McCain on The View today. When asked about regrets, he said he had many, but one that came to mind was not speaking up about the Confederate Flag on the SC Capitol building. I thought that was a powerful statement given the current public discussion.

  8. Note to Readers: I was reading Leonard Pitts’ column yesterday regarding the school system in Biloxi, Mississippi deciding to eliminate “To Kill in Mockingbird” from the required reading. The rationale is it made people feel uncomfortable. This book is one of the best object lessons of an ugly part of history in the United States and does so through the lens of a child. It won a Pulitzer Prize as a result. It is supposed to make the reader feel uncomfortable and think.

    The book was made into a commendable must see movie starring Gregory Peck as our conscious, the lawyer Atticus Finch. Choosing not to read this is in line with the above subject matter. I am as incredulous as Pitts is in his editorial column.

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