Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

” . . . the complete absence of any other causes.”

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on December 16, 2010

Via Michael Rodgers, the South Carolina State achieves clarity on the issue — one issue, singular — behind that state’s secession, 150 years ago next Monday:

The language of the S.C. Declaration is so straightforward, so unambiguous that it is difficult to comprehend that there ever could have been any disagreement over what drove South Carolina to secede. So before any more breath is wasted in arguing about just what our state will be commemorating on Monday, we are reprinting the Declaration on this page. We would urge anyone who doubts that our state seceded in order to preserve slavery — or, for that matter, anyone who has come to accept the fiction that slavery was merely one of several cumulative causes — to read this document.

What we found most striking in rereading the Declaration was the complete absence of any other causes. After laying out the argument that the states retained a right to secede if the Union did not fulfill its constitutional and contractual obligations, the document cited the one failing of the United States: its refusal to enforce the constitutional provision requiring states to return escaped slaves to their owners. “This stipulation was so material to the compact,” the document declares, “that without it that compact would not have been made.”

There is room for disagreement over whether we can fairly judge the morality of the secessionists by the standards of 2010. There is room to debate whether the men who fought for the Confederacy believed they were simply fighting to defend their state, without regard to why their state needed defending, or to what role slavery played in the social order. There might even be room to debate what motivated other states to leave the Union.

But those are debates that need to be had honestly, based on what really happened 150 years ago. Pretending that anything other than slavery played a significant role in South Carolina’s secession is not honest, as the secessionists themselves made a point of telling the world with such abundant clarity.

Too small for a republic. . . .

___________________
Image: Library of Congress.
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18 Responses

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  1. Corey Meyer said, on December 16, 2010 at 3:12 pm

    Too large for an insane asylum!

    Nice article!

    • Andy Hall said, on December 16, 2010 at 3:49 pm

      I suspect there’s a real sea change coming in the wider, public perception of the Civil War as a result of the sesquicentennial. The centennial, fifty years ago, took place in parallel with the apex of the Civil Rights Movement, but they never intersected — as Blight says in that video, there was the “blue and gray centennial, and the black and white civil rights movement.” But even at this point — before the actual 150th anniversary of the first state’s secession — a lot of what has passed before as commemoration without much public comment is already being put under the microscope and challenged, rigorously. Those events, those interpretations, those visions, will then stand or fall on their own merits.

      It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

  2. [...] as I endure the final stages of manuscript preparation is a post by Andy Hall in today’s Dead Confederates, in which he draws attention to an editorial in South Carolina’s The State, which is [...]

  3. BorderRuffian said, on December 17, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    “…who doubts that our state seceded in order to preserve slavery…”

    I certainly doubt that SC seceded to *preserve* slavery.

    In the secession documents you see much about slavery issues- Fugitive Slave Law, slavery in the territories, etc…not much about preserving it.

    It was well preserved in the old Union.

  4. Corey Meyer said, on December 17, 2010 at 2:44 pm

    Here is what Henry Benning said to the Virginia Secession Convention…

    “What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery.”

    http://civilwarcauses.org/benningva.htm

  5. BorderRuffian said, on December 17, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    No major political figure or party in the North was promoting the abolition of slavery.

    • Craig Swain said, on December 17, 2010 at 6:17 pm

      Actually that is not true. Several major political figures in the North promoted abolition – Seward, Stevens, Sumner.

      I would also cite the 1860 Republican Party platform statement: “That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom….” Yes, territory, not territories. Indeed the entire 8th plank of the party platform alludes to the notion that slavery must be abolished through a peaceful process, using legislation.

      In context, the platform repeatedly stated an intention to halt expansion of slavery. Noteworthy, and certainly a tip to the compromises struck when crafting the platform, the committee stopped short of the next logical breath (which CAN be read in statements by the three leaders mentioned above as well as Lincoln and other Republicans) – that slavery where it existed would be abolished.

      To say that northern leaders (and northern political parties) did not promote abolition is much a whitewash. Were it not the case, then South Carolina’s declaration would be void of the word “slavery.” Fact is, the fear of abolition was at the fore.

    • Andy Hall said, on December 17, 2010 at 6:21 pm

      In reality, the abolitionist movement was very ambivalent about the Republican party in 1860. Some supported it, reluctantly, as the best practical alternative, while others held a convention that summer to nominate their own presidential candidate as a show of protest. Even after the election, Frederick Douglass still considered the Republicans a sort of least-bad option, and expressed concern that the Republicans’ tolerance of slavery where it already existed would undermine, and possibly destroy, the movement to eliminate slavery everywhere in the country.

      Nonetheless, Lincoln and the “Black Republicans” were portrayed in the South as being hell-bent on exactly that course, regardless of their actual policies or party platforms. The Texas declaration, for example, included this justification:

      In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

      The actual policies of the incoming Lincoln administration mattered less here than the perception, carefully cultivated and inflamed by the fire-eaters, that they would stop at nothing short of completely upending the entire economic, social and racial foundations of the South. The fire-eaters worked themselves up into a fury that spun out of control and into secession. Benning was correct, that this was indeed a deep conviction, held not just in Georgia but across the South. Whether that conviction was rational or based on objective evidence is an entirely different question; the South convinced themselves it was true, and acted based on that.

    • Corey Meyer said, on December 18, 2010 at 1:48 am

      BR…Remember that is not my quote, that is the quote from a major confederate political figure of that time…he apparently felt that slavery was in danger of being abolished.

  6. BorderRuffian said, on December 17, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    “Actually that is not true. Several major political figures in the North promoted abolition – Seward, Stevens, Sumner.”

    Prior to 1861 had any of them proposed legislation to abolish slavery?

    “In context, the platform repeatedly stated an intention to halt expansion of slavery. Noteworthy, and certainly a tip to the compromises struck when crafting the platform, the committee stopped short of the next logical breath…that slavery where it existed would be abolished.”

    Not only did they just stop…they made -preservation of slavery where it existed- part of the platform.

    • Craig Swain said, on December 17, 2010 at 7:16 pm

      I think you need to go back and read the party platform. It states that the intention of the “founding Republicans” (inferring those who wrote the Constitution) was for an people to be free of servitude. And from there, plank 8 actually proposes the use of legislative measures to accomplish that goal, where needed. Again, note “territory of” not “territories of” the United States. The details of the wording is significant.

      Good try, but game, set, match.

    • Craig Swain said, on December 17, 2010 at 7:20 pm

      Here’s the entire portion of plank 8:
      “That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they had abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no “person should be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law,” it becomes our duty, by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we deny the authority of congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States. “

  7. Matt McKeon said, on December 17, 2010 at 9:29 pm

    In your last quotation, Craig, aren’t they refering to territory not yet organized into states? In the last sentence: “we deny the authority of congress.” etc. …”to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.” I read it as refering to the western territories.

    Also in the beginning, “when they(the founders) abolished slavery in all our national territory…” isn’t this the Northwest Ordinance being referenced?

    I’m not an expert, but that’s how it reads to me.

    • Craig Swain said, on December 17, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      Matt, they are referring to the territory of the United States. As in everything that is within the country. Otherwise the writers would have specified the plural (in reference to places like New Mexico, the Dakotas, etc.) and also included “and states.”

      Rather clear here in the second part when they state “we deny authority of congress, of territorial legislature, or of any individuals.” The Republican convention, you see, advances the argument that the Fifth Amendment (quoted in the plank) supersedes other references in the Constitution. In short, one stated goal of the Republican party in 1860 was the abolition of slavery through legislation.

      To South Carolina, and Georgia, and other slave-holding states, this is a clear message. Sometime in the next years a bill goes to Congress to first roll back Dread-Scott (possibly even revoking the fugitive slave laws) as cited in Plank 7. After that a bill to restrict the slave trade, cited in Plank 9. And then, with the march step toward “the normal condition,” a bill to restrict ownership of slaves, as alluded to in Plank 8.

  8. Shek said, on December 18, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Craig, as written, the reference is to the NW territory. This is the very subject of Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech that catapulted him into the national GOP spotlight and made his nomination possible.

    However, your use of this is really besides the point, as Border Ruffian is advancing a red herring argument. What the GOP said and what Southern politicians said they said to justify are two different things. The Deep South clearly seceded to preserve slavery. The North fought to preserve the Union. If the war had ended in 1862, slavery would have still existed. Only the continuation of hostilities caused a change in Northern policy/war aims.

    • Craig Swain said, on December 18, 2010 at 4:24 am

      So the GOP platform directly references legislative processes to end slavery, and you say instead they instead were referencing the NW territory? And that at a time, mind you, when the entire NW territory had already been divided and admitted to the union as states. Free states, mind you.

      Again, read the document – ALL the territory of the United States. ALL.

  9. Curtis said, on December 20, 2010 at 10:07 pm

    I agree with Shek above completely. The North, by and large, accepted the Civil War not out of a desire to abolish slavery but as a means to preserve the Union. The North was split between abolitionists and unionists who accepted the institution of slavery. Lincoln’s political genius is that he was able to combine the two constituencies so effectively for such a long period.

    The North and the South did not have directly opposing viewpoints, and we can not divine one’s motives by presuming they are the exact opposite of the other’s.

    • Andy Hall said, on December 21, 2010 at 2:25 am

      We can not divine one’s motives by presuming they are the exact opposite of the other’s.

      That’s a vital point that’s often lost. We have all become very accustomed to thinking in terms of opposites, when reality is far more complex.


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