“Secession balls” in 2010?


There were two stories about the beginnings of the Civil War this week. The first comes from Georgia. The Georgia Historical Society will this January, on the 150th anniversary of Georgia's secession, place a marker, one of 15, which will say that Georgia's secession was in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, "who was anti-slavery."

In what can only be considered an understatement, the president of the Georgia Historical Society, Todd Groce, told the New York Times that "the marker is based on overwhelming evidence from the 1860s, not based on what apologists said in the 1890s, when former Confederates were backfilling about states' rights."

But here we are in 2010 and what one might call neo-Confederates, including prominent politicians, are planning "celebrations" of the 150th anniversary. In Charleston, S.C., a "secession ball" will be held (they are not planning to have slave ships entering the port to the cheers of "tea party" supporters, but maybe next year). In Montgomery, Ala., scene of the secession convention in 1861 and of the Montgomery Bus Boycott  in 1955-1956, they are even planning a historical  re-enactment of Jefferson Davis being sworn in as president of the Confederacy (they are not planning to have one of his slaves - he was a wealthy slaveholder - sit at the back of a coach).

In a separate story about these events, the New York Times quotes various members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans praising the "heroism" of those who launched the war and fought for the Confederacy, fighting against an "invasion" from the North. This is actually closer to the old Confederate view, which defined the war as a "war of Northern aggression," than even the "states' rights" arguments.  

There is even a reference to the right-wing Republican governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, who designated April "Confederate History Month," with no reference to slavery. (It took a national furor before he apologized and included mention of slavery.)

I doubt McDonnell and his country club neo-Confederate friends will re-enact the fall of Richmond in 1865, as the Confederate government fled from Gen. Ulysses Grant's advancing Union army. At the time, things were so bad the secession leaders were debating a resolution to arm and offer freedom to slaves who would fight for the Confederacy.

Nor will they re-enact the atrocities committed against African American troops under the orders of Robert E. Lee's General Nathan Bedford Forrest (later the first leader after the war of the Ku Klux Klan). Forrest had his troops murder and mutilate captured Black Union troops rather than take them prisoner - a policy which Lee only stopped at the end when Grant threatened retaliation.

Like the Nazi racist extermination policy, the racist policies of the Confederates grew more savage as they faced defeat. Lonnie Randolph, president of the South Carolina NAACP, states simply that "when Southerners talk about states' rights, they are really talking about their idea of one right - the right to buy and sell human beings."

Let me state what I consider a few unvarnished truths on which Karl Marx, anti-slavery Senator Charles Sumner and probably Abraham Lincoln would agree.

The Confederate States of America was without any doubt the most brutal repressive government ever to exist in North America. The Confederate states were dominated by large slaveholders who controlled government at all levels, even though 80 percent of Southern whites owned no slaves. Fear and hatred of Blacks along with a chauvinist attitude toward non-Southerners were used to keep the non-slaveholding whites in line. It took far more courage to fight against the slaveholders and resist secession, as a significant number of Southerners did, than it did to fight for the Confederacy.

It was not simply that Lincoln was "anti-slavery." After all, he wasn't an abolitionist, like Sumner, Thaddeus Stevens and others who would later be called Radical Republicans.

But he opposed the extension of slavery into the territories, and the Supreme Court's pro-slavery Dred Scott decision, and would not give the slaveholders the territorial and economic concessions that they demanded and that his predecessors had given them.

An article in a major Southern newspaper shortly before Lincoln's election summed it up very well. The article looked at the big decline  in the "value" of slaves, young males and "breeding" females, on the New Orleans slave market, and predicted a collapse in the slave "stock market" if Lincoln won the election.

For those who don't believe that the war was started by the slaveholder class to "preserve and protect" their ownership of nearly 4 million human beings worth a few billion dollars, they might look at the Confederate Constitution, which specifically bars any Confederate government from interfering with slavery and the property rights of slave holders! They might also look at the military conscription policy in the Confederacy, where large slaveholders were given a draft exemption if they wished. (In the Union, where capitalists were in power, rich people could buy a de facto exemption for $300.)

The French philosopher Voltaire once reportedly said that history was a pack of tricks played on the dead. The neo-Confederate re-enactments are in effect tricks played on the many millions who perished directly through slavery, the millions of poor whites whose lives and livelihoods were stunted by the slaveholders' rule, and the hundreds of thousands of Union troops who died to defeat the Confederacy and save the Republic.

As one final point, it is interesting to note that many of these "celebrations" are being carried forward by Republicans. If Abraham Lincoln could come back to life and see what his party is engaging in, he would probably conclude that after his death the Confederates somehow won the Civil War.

Photo: A commemorative plaque in Bedford, Texas. QuesterMark CC 2.0

Updated 12/7/10: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the governor of Virginia


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  • Really appreciate the comments of Deo Vindice (below)! Rarely do the racist, facist-minded "neo-Confederates speak so openly in "missed company." He is, at least, openly willing to identify himself with slavery.

    However, when it comes to discussing what those times were actually, factually, for the people at that time, much like Limbaugh, Beck and others on the ultra-right, he resorts to just name-calling.

    First of all, in Lincoln's "oppressive" northern free states there were open elections, including advocates of slavery, anti-Lincoln candidates, etc. In the south, no such freedoms existed. The Republican Party (of Lincoln) was not even allowed on the ballot in the southern states. Abolishsionists were openly murdered, as were African Americans, in the south. The "limited govt." that Deo speaks of was only "limited" when it came to anything that would in any way restrict the dictatorial powers of the slave owning class in the south. The Confederate govt. was based, in its Constitution, on "the moral good of slavery!" That govt instituted an unpopular draft and had to fight a series of guerilla wars against poor white folks in Mississippi, Alabama. Nearly half the state of Virginia fought an armed struggle to free itself from the slavocracy, establishing the new state of West Virginia.

    Before the Civil War began the entire struggle of the right of states was the ongoing struggle between slaveholders, attempting to expand their disgusting racist slave system to new states. THAT is what states rights were about then. In modern language, 'State's Rights' mean, and have might in action, the right of wealthy corporate racists to continue to deny African Americans (as well as Hispanics, working people, women, gays) rights they've won throughout the rest of society.

    Deo is correct in that federal troops in NYC fired on rioting crowds. What he left out is that those racist-inspired mobs had murdered dozens of people, were lynching Black folks. The racist folks that inspired the mobs, had been allowed to organize and preach openly.

    I actually has an ancestor who marched by Cemetery Ridge with Pickett, as well an another that was how was on the other side that day. I'm proud of them both, one stood and fought for the union, for freedom and the other for being one of those heroic N Carolina soldiers that led the whole southern army in dissertions.

    Posted by bruce bostick, 12/11/2010 5:14pm (5 years ago)

  • The Confederate government was far far worse than we have been told by our whimpy history text books.

    For example, do you know that the Confederate leaders, while still in Montgomery after creating the CSA -- issue five ultimatums?

    All five Ultimatums were about slavery -- the SPREAD of slavery. All five.

    All five were promises of war if the North did not obey these. That is what Ultimatum means.

    All give Southern Ultimatums were gleefully reported in the Southern press, with such headlines as "THE TRUE ISSUE".

    THe FIRST Ultimatum of the five was that slavery be spread into the territories by force (They meant Kansas).

    Now, Kansas people had just voted 98% -2% to keep slavery out forever. Kansas people had just fought a four year war against the terrorist and thugs sent by slave owners to force them to accept slavery.

    But none of that mattered. The Southern leaders saw fit to FIRST demand that the North spread slavery in Kansas.

    Not only spread slavery, but the people in Kansas had to "accept and respect" slavery.

    The audacity of this is just astonishing, unless you know the day to day audacity of these Southern leaders.

    They were raised since birth to get what they want by terror and threats and violence. They could -- and did -- order women tortured, and they were tied up and whipped.

    They could -- and did -- order children sold, and babies or toddlers were pulled from their mother and taken to the auction house, from which they were sold, often to the Deep South, and force marched hundreds of miles, chained by the neck, and guarded by specially trained slave dogs.

    They could -- and did -- order men who fought back to be burned to death. THe men were then tied up, brush and kindling was put around him, and he was set on fire.

    These were the kinds of leaders that were in Montgomery.
    They were terrorists, essentially. If you know their history and mentality, it makes perfect sense that they would demand -- under threat of war -- that the North spread slavery for them.

    Posted by Mark Douglas, 12/08/2010 1:22pm (5 years ago)

  • This needed article has started a much needed discussion. In a previous comment mentioning W.E.B. Du Bois's The World and Africa,I did not mention his magnum opus,Black Reconstruction(an excellent prelude to which is his John Brown).
    This Black Reconstruction is the real foundation the positive,accurate post Successionism of scholars like our Markowitz,Horne,and Prashad with its marked anti-racism.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/08/2010 10:20am (5 years ago)

  • just a quick comment to simon. First when I clicked on his link under his name a got the department of defense. Is Simon an example of what the Military Industrial complex has given us after spending trillions.
    I did refer to McDonell as McConnell, a typo that I failed to catch, and I guess I could say once you've seen one rightwing Republican you've seen them all, but it is an error which should be corrected.
    I hope Simon that you are not a leading figure in the Pentagon , because you have some difficulty seeing the Forest(not to be confused with Nathan Bedford, slave trader, confederate war criminal, by modern standards, and KKK founder) from the trees
    As for Jesse, his written response gives us some insight into what we can expect if the Republicans carry out their plans for public education

    Posted by norman markowitz, 12/07/2010 4:20pm (5 years ago)

  • another point the attack on fort sumter by the confederacy was an act of treason trying to overthrow the elected government of the usa. as for the nonsense of the slaveowning class working things out the confederate forces wanted to expand slavery to all new territories and states of the usa. pres lincoln said u can keep slavery in the states of the south but new territories and states will b free, so the treasonus confederates attacked our country and they got what any traitor deserves. during the battle of gettysburg the cofederacy planned to enslave all free black americans in the north. naturally the black americans fled. so much for "working things out" slavery was a very profitable business for the slave owning class. naturally they would never give it up. in solidarity jim

    Posted by , 12/06/2010 10:24am (5 years ago)

  • another aspect of this is the treason by these slaveowners. they tried to overthrow our elected us government by force and violence. what else would you call their attack on fort sumter? and the idea that they would work out slavery on their own! the civil war started because the slaveowning class wanted to expand slavery to all new territories or states of the union and lincoln said no. you can keep slavery in the states of the old confederacy but the new parts of the usa will be free. during the batttle of gettysburg free black american farmers fled because the confederate forces were going to enslave them. in solidarity jim

    Posted by , 12/06/2010 10:12am (5 years ago)

  • This article would be more persuasive if you actually knew the name of the Governor of Virginia.

    Posted by Simon, 12/05/2010 11:00pm (5 years ago)

  • This cystalline article,attacks,with sharp weapons, oppression,wrong and humankind's inhumanity to itself.
    As such,it is much,much needed and much,much, welcomed.
    The magnificent contributions of our iconic Communists, anti-racists,anti-imperialists,like W.E.B. Du Bois,Shirley Graham Du Bois and his close associates,the controversial Herbert and Fay Aptheker,come to mind.
    Herbert's and mother Aptheker's challenge and refutation to Ulrich Bonnel Phillips and all racist interpretations of history in the South has survived today in modern scholarship,giving rise to Foner,Kelley,Gerald Horne and Vijay Prashad.
    The change in the history of history of all African derived peoples was changed forever by Du Bois's The World and Africa as he took on the an army of willy nilly racist interpretation of the role of Africa and its peopling in world history,including U.S. history.
    It is probably no mistake that both Aptheker and Du Bois visited the South at sixteen years,and we change forever more to the cause of service to African derived humanity.
    Thanks brother Markowitz for this brilliant article,in line with the best traditions of Communists.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 12/05/2010 2:29pm (5 years ago)

  • are you folks on drugs? we southrons were invade raped pliged and plunder and that was just the black folk not to mention us white folk gerat abrham lincoln was not a friend of the black folk of the south nor was his goverment or he would have had a plan to feed shelter and employ all the slave he freed only from the south. y'all play checkers its your move.

    Posted by jessie, 12/04/2010 8:31pm (5 years ago)

  • thanks specifically to art and meredith for their sensitive responses.

    both make very good points. Unfortunately, a good deal of establishment scholarship finds itself lost in abstraction like "modernity," etc, rather than looking at the the social and ideological basis of reactionary mass movements like the KKK. You can't really understand the racist atrocities without looking at the Southern political power structure, the chauvinistic nationalism intensified by WWI and especially the revolutionary upsurge globally which followed the Soviet revolution, and the development of racist "science" and theory with the development of not "modernity" but modern world imperialism. Without such an analysis, even the stories of the atrocities becomes the story of "bad" ignorant klansmen killing blacks, just as for many the Nazis come to be seen as bad ignorant Germans murdering Jews and committing other atrocities as part of a "revot" against modern society, not a reactionary mass movement with substantial economic and social support from the most reactionary sectors of the ruling class/power structure.
    I also agree with Art strongly. Actually, many states celebrate June 19th, 1865, when freedom was formally declared in Texas against the last confederate remnants as a holiday(African-Americans who had long fought for this call the day "Juneteenth." It should be a national holiday

    Posted by norman markowitz, 12/04/2010 4:46pm (5 years ago)

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