It has been a conviction of pressing necessity, it has been a belief that we are to be deprived in the Union of the rights which our fathers bequeathed to us, which has brought Mississippi into her present decision. She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races…When our Constitution was formed, the same idea was rendered more palpable, for there we find provision made for that very class of persons as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men–not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste, only to be represented in the numerical proportion of three fifths.
– Jefferson Davis farewell address to the US Senate, January 21, 1861
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers. Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation.
– Declaration of Causes for Secession, Georgia, January 29, 1861
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
– A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the *forms* [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
– Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, December 24, 1860
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…
…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.
– A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union. February 2, 1861
The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression; and the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.
– THE SECESSION ORDINANCE.
AN ORDINANCE TO REPEAL THE RATIFICATION OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA BY THE STATE OF VIRGINIA, AND TO RESUME ALL THE RIGHTS AND POWERS GRANTED UNDER SAID CONSTITUTION. April 17, 1861
But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other — though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution — African slavery as it exists amongst us — the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.
With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system.
– “Cornerstone Speech” Confederate Vice President Alexander Stevens, Savannah; Georgia, March 21, 1861
I apologize for the long winded quotes but it is necessary. I had crowd sourced topics and one I got via private message was to write, essentially, a history lesson related to current events. I don’t know if this will constitute a history lesson but it is related to a current event, namely the question of whether or not to remove statues of confederate leaders in various cities in the south. In New Orleans they just finished such an endeavor with the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee.
My views on the matter are based on the history of the events of 1860 and the reasons argued for secession as given above. Understand those are not the only primary documents that support such a view point. For example, in working on this blog I came across a link to the Library of Congress where newspapers from that time period are on record for viewing, discussing the conventions held to regarding secession from the Union. As you can probably guess they are not favorable toward the Confederacy or anything glorifying it. The Confederacy was formed by slave holding states of the south for the expressed purpose of preserving, in perpetuity, the institution of African Slavery. Period. The Union came in to bring the rebellious states back into the fold, yes, but this would never have been the case had secession never occurred. And secession would never have occurred if not for slavery. Don’t think so? ok…
Name 3 politically charged and divisive issues facing the United States in the 1850’s, other than slavery, that were forever resolved by the Civil War. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
I don’t have to, just go back up to the documentation I have provided, read it from the horse’s mouth. In all of them there is one overarching theme as to why the south left the Union and founded it’s own nation. It was fear of the end of slavery and all that it would entail. After events like Bleeding Kanses, Nat Turner’s rebellion, John Brown’s raid and the legal fight that led to the Dred Scott ruling, the nation was ready to break and the election of “Black Republican” Abraham Lincoln was more than the south could bare. Even though they lost the war the southern leadership would endeavor to reestablish the old order that had once existed, so much so that it would be another century before traction would be gained in the cause of racial equality in our nation.
So, these statues. What to do about them? Do they stay? Are they altered? Removed entirely? For my money, I think the best solution would be either:
- Leaving the statues but contextualizing the history with markers talking about the history of the statue and the reasons for them being there along with counter-monuments, maybe not necessarily about slavery but about other figures, not just old confederate white guys.
- Removing them from their current location and transplanting them to museums and battlefields where they will remain on display, but within the context of a discussion about the war.
The statues are meant to honor and glorify men who served and fought for a nation built on the principle of inequality of races. And I know all of the counter arguments. I know because I used to make them myself. I used to rock confederate flags on everything I wore, it’s even on my old high school class ring. So lets address a few of them now:
- You can’t judge them with our standards of morals. It was a different time. Um, yeah I can. The concept of “slavery is bad” was not lost to these men. They acknowledge that half the country thought it was evil. Other nations like Great Britain had already abolished slavery. The difference is they didn’t buy the argument of the moral wrong of slavery. Or at least they weren’t willing to do anything about it aside from let Jesus sort it out.
- They fought to defend their state, their homes and neighbors. Noble enough sentiment, however it was a fight that wouldn’t have been necessary without secession. And those states left the union, committed treason, in order to found a nation based on racial inequality.
- These were great men, leaders and generals, who were proud Southerners. No one disputes their prowess in their respective fields. But then no one is building a bunch of statues to Jefferson Davis to honor his service as US Secretary of War or Lee for his service in the Mexican-American War.
Look you could write a book about this topic…and books HAVE been written, at length, on it. And as a historian (yes, I have the degree and student loan debt to go with my academic field) it would be irresponsible to not acknowledge that there are many historians with differing views on the Confederacy, secession, and it’s relation to slavery. You can find authors who would support a diminished role of slavery in these events, giving other reasons from states rights to tariffs. But I think the primary source material at the dawn of the Confederacy makes it pretty evident as to the thought running through the minds of southern leaders at that time.
Again, I am not one to run up with pitchforks and torches to smelt the statues down to their base elements. Give them the historical context they need. Yes our views of history have changed over decades. My mother went to school in an age when slavery was described with two sentences: 1. slavery wasn’t so bad 2. it was best for them. Robert E Lee, who had a very Virginian view of the topic in a letter to his wife in 1856 said something similar:
The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, physically, and socially. The painful discipline they are undergoing is necessary for their further instruction as a race, and will prepare them, I hope, for better things.
Is this a history and heritage we really want to glorify? As a nation we have come so far in a pursuit to offer the promise of equality of all men, why would we continue to allow the glorification of an age and men who stood against such ideals? At a recent trip to Monticello, home of founding father and slave owner Thomas Jefferson, with my children’s 2nd grade class, I was struck by how much of the grounds were dedicated to a real look at the lives of slaves under Jefferson’s ownership. All the honor and respect still in place for an important figure in the birth of our nation, but context was given to flush out a full image of the man and the age. These statues as they are do not offer that. They only offer to glorify a period of history that isn’t deserving of glorification.
But then, as Dennis Miller would say, that’s just my personal opinion, I could be wrong.
Jefferson Davis farewell address to US Senate
Declaration of causes of seceding states
Robert E Lee letter to wife on comments of Pres. Pierce 1856
Newspaper samples from Library of Congress. Different views on the topic even in their own time.