Sunday, May 6, 2012

Reflections on Confederate Memorial Day

Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the man Confederate Postmaster General John H. Reagan later called “the most devout Christian I ever knew” and who was acknowledged throughout the South to be a man of sincere Christian confession, character, and conduct, concluded his February 18, 1861, first inaugural remarks in Montgomery, Alabama, with a humble appeal to divine guidance and protection:

“Reverently let us invoke the God of our fathers to guide and protect us….With the continuance of His favor ever gratefully acknowledged, we may hopefully look forward to success, to peace, and to prosperity.”

Two months later on April 29, Davis elaborated:

“We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any price save that of honor and independence; we ask no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the states with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be left alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we must resist to the direst extremity. The moment that this pretension is abandoned the sword will drop from our grasp, and we shall be ready to enter into treaties of amity and commerce that cannot but be mutually beneficial. So long as this pretension is maintained, with a firm reliance on that Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence and self-government.”

In May 1865, while a prisoner in chains, former Confederate President Davis reminded the Southern people and their Constitutionalist allies in the North that:

“The principle for which we contended is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form.”

That principle was not slavery, as liberal propagandists would still have us believe. It was the right of a people to determine their own destiny. The South wanted independence because they felt their Constitutional Rights—hard won in the Revolutionary War—would no longer be honored by a Northern dominated government. States Rights as guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment and articulated by Madison and Jefferson’s Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in 1798 and 1799 were central to this drive for self-determination.

Economics also weighed heavily in their thinking. The South’s agricultural economy accounted for 83 percent of the nation’s exports. The North depended upon high protective tariffs to sustain high profits for its manufacturing industries against British and French competition. A battle over tariff rates had strained Northern and Southern economic and political relations for 40 years. The Morrill Tariff—one of four major planks in the Republican Party Platform in 1860 and the most important of the four in Lincoln’s presidential campaign—was passed by Congress with only one Southern vote in the U.S. House in 1860. It passed the Senate and was signed into law the day before Lincoln’s inauguration in 1861. This tariff would more than double the total Federal tax burden over several years. Southern States would pay more than 83 percent of these taxes and be considerably disadvantaged in pricing cotton and other agricultural exports in dealing with their principal trade partners—the British and French. Based on a 2006 study by Douglas A. Iriwn, the increase in tariff rates probably reduced net Southern export prices by close to 11 percent.

Thus the South wanted to break away from a Northern dominated economy based on high protective tariffs for Northern industry. It was an economy that enriched the North and impoverished the South by high taxes, higher consumer prices, and lower export prices. The South wanted to follow the growing European trend and the path of recent British economic success—Free Trade.

But what would happen to Northern tax revenues and Northern shipping interests in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, if the South became a low-tariff Free Trade nation?

The new Southern prosperity would be economic disaster to tariff dependent Northern industries, Northern ports, and Northern shipping interests.

Slavery was legal and practiced in every American state in 1776 and imbedded in the U.S. Constitution in 1787 and 1789. But one by one, Northern states phased it out. That would be more difficult in the agricultural South, but Southern states wanted the right to deal with it in their own time and own way, just as Northern states had done.

The second most important plank in the Republican platform of 1860 and Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 campaign was to stop the spread of slavery to new states. It was not about the abstract moral issue of slavery or forbidding slavery in Southern States. No serious historian believes Union armies invaded the South to free slaves. Lincoln stated in his inaugural address that he had no intention of interfering with slavery, and on July 21, 1861, the United States Congress passed a resolution stating that the war was not about interfering with slavery. Yet slavery as “the cause of the war” is a popular modern theme. Lincoln said it was about Union but privately admitted that lost tariff revenues and the threat of Southern Free Trade were decisive influences on his reasoning.

However, the myth of Southern slavery as the cause of the war is a far more pious-sounding excuse for stupendous bloodshed and destruction than preventing Southern independence and free trade and a loss of tax revenues.

In a December 1868 article, “The Duty of the Hour,” Rev. Robert L Dabney counseled the Southern people that:

“It is only the atheist who adopts success as a criterion of right. It is not a new thing in the history of men that God appoints to the brave and true the stern task of contending, and falling, in a righteous quarrel.”

Mike Scruggs

Reflections on Confederate Memorial Day

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