Codex Per·Fidem - In Defense of the South

In Defense of the South

I cannot tell you how many times I have been involved in this conversation. Someone says, “Where are you from?”

I reply, “Texas.”

“Really? You don’t sound like you’re from Texas.”

At that point I go into a discussion about how regional dialects are slowly disappearing because of easier transportation and communication, and soon no one will have an accent, and how that is a tragedy because the loss of distinct accents and dialects usually means the loss of distinct cultural identities. But the truth is, and I do not say this because I am polite to people I have just met, if I did sound like I’m from Texas a Yankee like you would not bother to talk to me. You would dismiss me as stupid, racist, and backwards. It’s been over 140 years since the start of the Civil War, and still there is animosity between the States. Still we are led to believe that the South is and will always be wrong because the Southern States fought a war for slavery.

Those Damn Southern Hicks

Northerners still today look down on Southerners. There is always this “we won” mentality found in the North. They look upon Southerners not as fellow countrymen, but as conquered enemies. I went to school at Robert E. Lee Elementary, something that shocks most Northerners because they think of Lee as the boogie-man. Lee fought for the Confederacy which in the North (and even sometimes in the South) is seen as evil. Confederates are seen as racists, even Lee who freed his slaves. But I believe many Northerners opposed slavery not because they believed it was morally wrong, but because they were jealous of the wealth of Southern plantation owners. Notice how the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in the rebelling States, not in the border States where slavery was also legal. Slavery was not a moral issue, it was a political issue. Once the war started it became a strategic issue.

Southerners are made to fell sorry for their history. The blame for slavery is always placed on the South, even though it was an American issue, not just a Southern issue. What you will not see mentioned in your history book is that the North benefitted from slavery, too. Northern factory owners were not complaining about the cheap raw materials that slave labor produced in the South. Likewise, today’s Northern factory owners are not complaining about the cheap products that child labor produces in Asian countries.

Confederate heroes are seen as evil, even though they lived and fought by honor, a virtue that is rare these days and sometimes hated almost as much as Lee. The honorable and meritorious deeds of historical figures should not be ignored just because they might have owned slaves. Should we forget the bravery of George Washington during the War of Independence? Should we ignore the brilliant prose of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence?

What if, 100 years from now, the honorable contributions of someone alive today are ignored because he supported abortion. I could make the argument that Bill Clinton’s foreign policy was wrong because he supported abortion. I could make that argument, but not many people would be convinced by it. If I’m going to criticize Bill Clinton’s foreign policy I would have to use a different argument, one that is related to his policy. So, it would be wrong to say General Lee was a bad man because he once owned slaves. And it would certainly be wrong to refuse to forgive him for his mistake after learning he rectified it by freeing his slaves, and instead say, “Well, he shouldn’t have owned them in the first place.”

When we judge such historical figures, we must keep in mind the times in which they lived. Lee, Sam Houston, Thomas Jefferson, and many others, lived at a time when slavery was considered moral and legal. To us living today slavery is seen as repugnant. But let us not forget that to them abortion would seem equally as repugnant. Let us remember that they were not always wrong, and we are not always right.

And let’s also remember that the North dealt, and still deals with its own racial problems. These problems are often ignored. Few people know that the KKK was most powerful not in Georgia or Alabama, but in Indiana. At one point in the 1930's the KKK nearly ran that state. This would come as a shock to most people. This little tidbit of racial relations history is not mentioned very often.

The Causes of the Civil War

Let’s take a look at the reasons the Southern States felt it necessary to secede and fight the War Between the States. After all, that is where our belief in the idiocy of the South is rooted.

First, let’s not fool ourselves, slavery was an issue in the Civil War and it is a good thing the War led to the abolition of Slavery. It was, at first, a minor issue. With the Emancipation Proclamation, it became THE issue in the North, not for moral reasons as I have pointed out already, but for political and strategic reasons. But, there were other issues, bigger issues, issues that we still deal with today. The South seceded first of all to prove that States have a right to secede. The Southern States also believed that the National government was overstepping its bounds and infringing on the Rights and powers of the States. Here are some other reasons given in the Texas Ordinance of Secession:

“The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretenses and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States...from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States.

“The Federal Government,...has for years almost entirely failed to protect the lives and property of the people of Texas against the Indian savages on our border, and more recently against the murderous forays of banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico; and when our State government has expended large amounts for such purpose, the Federal Government has refused reimbursement therefor, thus rendering our condition more insecure and harassing than it was during the existence of the Republic of Texas.

“They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.

“They have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.”

The South was Right

Clearly, slavery was not the only issue. The Southern States believed the Northern States were attempting to destroy them because slavery was legal in the South. Texas and other States seceded not because the North sought to abolish slavery (they did not, even Lincoln was willing to wait patiently for it to wither away), but because the North sought to punish the South for allowing slavery. The Southern States believed the Federal government should not be used as a tool to punish certain States, for any reason. Southerners feared the Federal government was gaining too much power. And their fears were well founded. Notice how the term “United States” is no longer considered plural. Before the Civil War, you might hear someone say, “The United States are...” Today you hear, “The United States is...” Is/are. It’s a small change that makes a big difference.

The South was actually right on many of the issues that led to the Civil War. For example, States do have a right to secede. This idea comes from the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Those of us who were lucky enough to have a teacher, or a book, that actually knew something about the Constitution know this amendment to be the States’ Rights amendment. It says:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution or prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Funny how in my copy of the Constitution none of the words in this amendment are italicized, which means there has not been a subsequent amendment changing the Tenth, but no one ever remembers this amendment and certainly no one ever follows it. What are these rights? Well, they are, by design, not numbered. Only the powers of the Federal government are numbered. The States hold general powers of government. But essentially, the Constitution never says that a State cannot secede, therefore States have the right to secede.

The greatest tragedy of the Civil War is that many people believe that because the South lost, States do not have a right to secede. I remember being taught in my American History class in junior high that States do not have the right to secede, we fought a war to settle that issue. But, since when do we Americans believe that wars solve issues? America was founded on the principle that conflicts should be solved in free and open debate, not violence and war. The South lost the war because it was overwhelmed by superior numbers and resources, not by superior ideology.

The South was right in its fear that the Federal government was stepping on the Rights of the States. Today, the States are only a little more than administrative divisions of the national government. A good example of the attempted destruction of Federalism is the Emancipation Proclamation itself. Here you have the President declaring that certain property is illegal to own, not in the whole nation, but only in certain States. There is no input from the governments of the States. No attempt to amend the Constitution. There’s not even an act of Congress to back it up. If the President today issued an executive order stating that owning a car is now illegal, many people would say, “Wait a minute. What gives you the right to make such a proclamation?” And they would be right in that argument. The President must act with Congress to make such a proclamation, and even then the Federal government should not be allowed to exercise such power over the sovereign States.

And this brings up another issue. The Federal Congress has too often been too willing to hand its power over to the President, the Courts, even the United Nations. For the last 100 years, Congress has become more and more like a debate society with no real power or relevance. While Congress is willing to give its power to nearly anyone and everyone, it refuses to give any power to the States or the people. God forbid the people, who gave Congress its power, or the States, who created Congress in the first place, try to take some of that power back.

Neither side was completely right. The South should not have supported slavery, but also the North should not have supported the enslavement of the States to the Federal government.

Power Belongs to the People

It is time to fight again for these federalist and republican principles. All the United States, both North and South, should rise up and take back their powers from the national government. Article I of the Texas State Constitution, written soon after Reconstruction, another instance in which the Federal government overstepped its powers, says it best:

“Texas is a free and independent State, subject only to the Constitution of the United States, and the maintenance of our free institutions and the perpetuity of the Union depend upon the preservation of the right of local self-government, unimpaired to all the States.”

If we expect to continue to live in a free, liberal republic, we should work to make sure that power is not concentrated and is kept as close to the people as possible.


© Copyright 2005, Jason E. Heath
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