But it's also another opportunity for the right-wing, particularly in the South, to try to rewrite history. Oh, the South will be celebrating the war alright, but in their eyes - at least among many white southerners - it's become a kind of Tea Party struggle for small government and states' rights. Slavery? Oh, that was just a minor detail, too insignificant to really mention.
From the New York Times:
...as the 150th anniversary of the four-year conflict gets under way, some groups in the old Confederacy are planning at least a certain amount of hoopla, chiefly around the glory days of secession, when 11 states declared their sovereignty under a banner of states’ rights and broke from the union.
The events include a “secession ball” in the former slave port of Charleston (“a joyous night of music, dancing, food and drink,” says the invitation), which will be replicated on a smaller scale in other cities. A parade is being planned in Montgomery, Ala., along with a mock swearing-in of Jefferson Davis as president of the Confederacy.
In addition, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and some of its local chapters are preparing various television commercials that they hope to show next year. “All we wanted was to be left alone to govern ourselves,” says one ad from the group’s Georgia Division. ...
“We in the South, who have been kicked around for an awfully long time and are accused of being racist, we would just like the truth to be known,” said Michael Givens, commander-in-chief of the Sons, explaining the reason for the television ads. While there were many causes of the war, he said, “our people were only fighting to protect themselves from an invasion and for their independence.”
Incredible, isn't it? In reality, the Civil War was all about slavery. As author James W. Loewen points out, the North went to war to preserve the Union, not to end slavery, although their motivation gradually changed. But the South seceded entirely because of slavery.
In order for slavery to survive, it didn't just need to remain legal in the South, but to expand. Older slave states increasingly depended on the economics of breeding and selling slaves to newer slave-holding areas, especially as the soil in older areas became depleted. The election of Abraham Lincoln caused such a reaction in the South not so much because they expected slavery in their states to be prohibited, but because they feared that new slave states wouldn't be created in the expanding West.
As a side note, the latest post in that Disunion series I mentioned, this one talking about Harriet Tubman, includes a paragraph about the disgusting economics behind selling slaves. Slave-owners liked to pretend that slavery was best for the slaves themselves (hopelessly incapable of running their own lives, you know), but it's really hard to believe how far self-deception can go sometimes.
Although it lay on the border between North and South and had few large plantations, the part of Maryland east of the Chesapeake Bay was an especially hazardous place to be a slave. Soil depletion and economic stagnation had left many local planters with more field hands than they needed – as well as chronically short of cash. By the mid-19th century, the Eastern Shore had become known as one of the nation’s principal “breeder” regions, where slaves were frequently sold to slave traders, speculators who sent them south to the burgeoning cotton and sugar plantations of the Gulf Coast. As a child, Tubman had seen two of her own sisters sold away, and heard her parents’ anguished tales of others taken before her birth. Four of her remaining siblings had escaped, three of them helped by their sister Harriet. Only Rachel had remained.
Confederate leaders were open about this at the time, and contemporary accounts made it absolutely clear that secession was all about slavery. It's only afterward that their justification changed to "states' rights" (which, you'll remember, was still being used to support segregation in the 20th Century). Yeah, the poor South was just defending itself in the War of Northern Aggression (even though it was the South that attacked the North to begin the war).
The passion that the Civil War still evokes was evident earlier this year when Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia designated April as Confederate History Month — without mentioning slavery. After a national outcry, he apologized and changed his proclamation to condemn slavery and spell out that slavery had led to war.
The proclamation was urged on him by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which asserts that the Confederacy was a crusade for small government and states’ rights. The sesquicentennial, which coincides now with the rise of the Tea Party movement, is providing a new chance for adherents to promote that view.
From the Sons of Confederate Veterans website:
The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution.
Slavery? No, who could ever believe that slavery had anything to do with the war? It was entirely about the "preservation of liberty and freedom." How ironic is that?
And they're not the only organization pushing that view. The Texas State Board of Education, for example, has been very busy rewriting history (as well as economics and science). Here's an excerpt from an interesting article about that:
For generations, apologists for the Confederacy have claimed that secession was really about the tariff, or states’ rights, or something else -- anything other than preserving the right of some human beings to own, buy and sell other human beings.
That being the case, the education of schoolchildren in my state should include a reading of the Cornerstone Speech made by Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, on March 21, 1861. With remarkable candor, Stephens pointed out that whereas the United States was founded on the idea, enshrined in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal," the new Confederacy was founded on the opposite conception:
The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] 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 ... 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
But now, with the Tea Party movement - filled with ignorant, and often quite bigoted, white conservatives - the Civil War gets a makeover. Now it's all about the long struggle for small government and states' rights.
Slavery? Oh, come now! How could you think that had anything to do with it? It's probably that Muslim Kenyan in the White House who's forcing that interpretation on all of us "real Americans." Well, you really can't trust those people, can you?