Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Was Confederate Conscription an Instrument of Social Justice?

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on April 26, 2012

Was the Confederate Conscription Act what we today might describe as an instrument of social justice? Over at the Civil War Monitor, I point out that some Confederates at the time thought so. The money quote:

Equal burthens and equal benefits is a cardinal principal in American liberty.

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Image: “The Awkward Squad” by Walton Taber.

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3 Responses

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  1. Donald R. Shaffer said, on April 26, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    An interesting perspective on Confederate recruitment, here’s another. One reason that the Confederate Congress instituted the 20 slave rule was fear of large plantations being left without white male supervision. There was always a fear of slave uprisings and that fear rose tremendously whenever the means of suppressing uprisings was even remotely threatened. I cannot tell you how many letters I have come across from plantation districts protesting to Confederate authorities even the mere rumor that the local home guard was going to be called upon, in total or even in part, for front line service. Certainly, yeoman southerners had every reason to resent this law, but it was not just cowardice or a desire of plantation elite to avoid the burdens of front line service that motivated the 20 slave rule. White southerners, however paternalistic they made themselves out to be, always feared their slaves and the possibility of another Nat Turner rebellion.

  2. Jeff Bell said, on April 26, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    How wonderfully ironic that in order to save a system that depended upon the labor and cash value of enslaved human beings that an editorial writer would include such phrasing as: “We have seen the objections urged that it is derogatory to the character of Americans, as well as inconsistent with the genius of our free government, to force men into military service against their own consent.” The institution of slavery had become so irreversably vital to the economy of the South that even if one was personally against slavery he would still be compelled to fight for it via conscription.

    • Andy Hall said, on April 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      And of course, Samuel Johnson’s famous quip from 1775, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?”

      It says a lot that folks like the editor who wrote that piece saw nothing ironic about it at all, because those guiding principles simply didn’t apply to slaves, and weren’t even considered in that context. My own state’s Declaration of Causes for secession cannot be clearer about the respective positions of the races:

      We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

      That in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; 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.


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