Different view of Confederacy

Published 3:42 pm Thursday, July 30, 2015

The South has a lot to be proud of. The Confederate flag doesn’t represent any of it. Those who display it have a First Amendment right to do so and obviously should not be subjected to threats and terror. But their judgment is flawed.

Angus McClellan, in his defense of the symbol and the history of the South (“Crusade Against Confederate Flag Is Latest Chapter In A Long Saga,” Friday, July 17), chooses to focus on misunderstandings about the Constitution and U.S. history. He conveniently chooses the facts that appeal to his ideology. I would also hope that as a member of the United States military he would not wish to be judged by the actions of those who served dishonorably. I wonder how many Union soldiers were pillaging rapists?

He began by writing of unfair tariffs in the early 19th century. On this he is correct. The U.S. government did enact tariffs that benefited the North. The South, led by the interests of slaveholders, particularly in South Carolina in the personage of John C. Calhoun, felt that a state could nullify an “unfair” tax.

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Fear of regional bias, going back to the earliest days of the United States, was rooted in the economic lifeblood of the South — slavery. In 1787 the men who drafted the Constitution hoped slavery would fade away by the early 19th century, but cotton became the “king” of the regional economy, and chattel slavery was too valuable a resource to remove. Slavery allowed the South to insulate itself from the changes brought on by immigration and the industrial revolution. And that is why the tariffs were unpopular. They did not benefit the South because they provided infrastructure for a growing nation. The plantation class had no interest in seeing things change.

Calhoun’s interests were political. Regardless, any question of the tariff’s constitutionality would have been determined by the Supreme Court, not a state government. As Daniel Webster pointed out in 1830, Calhoun’s rationale would lead to the erosion of the United States and turn the Constitution into a “rope of sand.”

The goals of the Republican Party and Lincoln were not to forcibly end slavery or enflame a regional crisis. They wanted to stem the spread of slavery and contain it to the South, which, by the way, was in the economic interest of the United States. Like Jackson, his primary goal was to preserve the Union. Everything else was secondary, which is why he made decisions to appease the border states. He was not a hypocrite. He was making tough decisions during a time of crisis.

It is a peculiar, but common, excuse to justify secession on the grounds that Lincoln did not win any electoral votes in the South. How many slaves would have voted to continue being slaves? They made up 40 percent of the population in the South while the plantation class accounted for less than 2 percent. It was their interests that resulted in the bizarre outcome of the 1860 election. It was from that minority that political ideas and power were generated. How would we react today if the wealthiest 2 percent of our population decided to dissolve the United States?

On the issue of the constitutionality of secession, the gravest misunderstanding is made. By entering into a “union,” forming a constitution, and nullifying the Articles of Confederation, the states formed an unbreakable bond. The United States can be reformed and altered. By the “People.” All of the “People” of the United States represented by Congress. Not by one state or region of states. The Constitution never had that kind of “out clause.”

From a legal and moral standpoint the Confederacy was not a unique nation. It was an insurgency. Its leaders were traitors, who conveniently and wrongfully used the Constitution to justify their actions. Their “myth” survives because in any other time and place they would have been jailed or hanged.

The “lost cause” story developed out of desire to reconcile. Lincoln and Grant in particular spoke of, and acted on, principles of healing and brotherhood. But that urge led to an appeasement of ideas and a distorted version of the facts. It led to the statues of Lee, Jackson, Davis and Stuart. And unfortunately it contributed to Jim Crow and decades of segregation. And for too long gave a pass to a symbol of slavery and treason.

Joe Scheid of Farmville is a retired master sergeant/1st sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. His email address is jfs319@yahoo.com.