The Whole Truth about the Confederacy

by

One of the more interesting — if not enlightening — debates about social studies curriculum standards at the May State Board of Education meeting in Austin focused on the avowed importance of including a study of Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address alongside the first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address of Abraham Lincoln. Eventually the board’s far-right faction succeeded in adding the Davis address.

We count on Texas classroom teachers to provide their students with a candid and complete insight into the basic beliefs of the leaders of the Confederacy. With slavery downgraded by the board from its status as the primary cause of the Civil War (with slavery now listed behind sectionalism and states’ rights elsewhere in the new standards), this insight is particularly important. Davis’ inaugural address, after all, doesn’t even mention the word “slavery.” Excerpts from several other documents, however, go a long way in telling the real story.

In a May 31 online article in Salon, fifth-generation Texan Michael Lind suggests that students study the Cornerstone speech by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, on March 21, 1861 (about a month after Davis’ inaugural address). Stephens made clear that the Confederacy was not founded on a core idea in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” In contrast, Stephens said:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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.”

The Declaration of Causes of Texas secession is another important resource for learning about the Confederacy’s origins. What did Texas leaders see as the reason for secession? Excerpts:

“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 the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the 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 the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the 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; 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.”

The Confederate Constitution is another rich source for learning about the Confederacy. As Lind points out in his Salon article, it is as though the Confederate document’s authors had taken the U.S. Constitution and “rewritten (it) to cripple the central government.” The Confederate government was forbidden, for example, to spend money on most forms of infrastructure and from fostering industry. Hostility to the authority of a strong central government is, in fact, the major theme of Davis’ inaugural address (with slavery mentioned not even once). It seems clear that the anti-government theme is what appeals to the state board members who insisted that students study Davis’ speech — as if Davis had been the nation’s first freedom- lovin’ Tea Partier instead of the treasonous leader of a group of rebellious states that wanted the right to continue enslaving millions of human beings.

Interestingly, as the war turned badly for the Confederates, their leaders instituted a number of changes that made their central government quite powerful: a military draft, an income tax and inflating the currency to push citizens into higher tax brackets. We suspect state board members won’t want students to learn about that.

Revealing “the truth and the whole truth” about the Confederacy provides a vitally important history lesson for Texas students — and a strong reaffirmation of the founding principles in the U.S. Declaration of Independence. But politicians on the State Board of Education are whitewashing the truth. Doing so insults not just the sacrifice of those who fought to defend the union and our nation’s founding principles. It also handicaps the education of Texas students by promoting ideological agendas ahead of facts and sound scholarship in their public school classrooms.

14 Responses to “The Whole Truth about the Confederacy”

  1. Gordon Fowkes Says:

    As it has been painfully pointed out to me, the Texas secession decree was explicitly and virulently racist, asserting in highly Chritians terms the reasons that Blacks were inferior. Copied here:
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________
    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; 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. By the secession of six of the slave-holding States, and the certainty that others will speedily do likewise, Texas has no alternative but to remain in an isolated connection with the North, or unite her destinies with the South.

    For these and other reasons, solemnly asserting that the federal constitution has been violated and virtually abrogated by the several States named, seeing that the federal government is now passing under the control of our enemies to be diverted from the exalted objects of its creation to those of oppression and wrong, and realizing that our own State can no longer look for protection, but to God and her own sons – We the delegates of the people of Texas, in Convention assembled, have passed an ordinance dissolving all political connection with the government of the United States of America and the people thereof and confidently appeal to the intelligence and patriotism of the freeman of Texas to ratify the same at the ballot box, on the 23rd day of the present month.

    Adopted in Convention on the 2nd day of Feby, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-one and of the independence of Texas the twenty-fifth.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________
    In order to be completely balanced on the subject of racism, slavery, the Confederacy, the full documentation of the Secession of Texas should be mandatory reading, lest some people don’t get the picture. What is less obvious in the text of the Ordinance of Secession is the same framework concerning the role of government and of the Federal union that doesn’t seem to have changed much in the last one hundred and fifty years.

  2. Charles Says:

    Yes, those Confederate dudes were really screwed up. One word: “Fairvue.” Fairvue was the antebellum estate owned by Issac Franklin. You can read about this dude here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Franklin

    About 40 years ago, the citizens of Sumner County had a strange relationship with this pre-Civil War estate called Fairvue. It was the same realtionship that Gollum had with the master ring: “Little Precious.” It was fawned over, especially by the local lawyers, doctors and business men–and especially their wives—who saw it as the shining jewel in a pure, fair, and righteous way of life that had slipped from the fingers of their ancestors back in 1865. The light from this shining jewel gave them daily hope that the good old days of whipping your slave boy while sipping a nice claret might be recreated. Well, when the old lady that lived in the house for an eternity in the 20th century finally died, there was local hope that Fairvue might be fully restored to its former glory—a beacon on a hill—to draw all local men and women back to a better time and a better life—the one that existed prior to 1861.

    Well, I am something of a historian. You guys know that. Also, being an archaeologist, I like to see old houses restored and preserved. However, this was one extremely rare instance in which I was glad to see a bonafide NRHP-eligible historic property go down. The Fairvue mansion and plantation grounds were fairly well devastated by a housing development in recent years. Check it out:

    http://www.fairvueplantation.com/

    Now, here is how I feel about it. Issac Franklin was one of the two or three greatest dealers in human misery that our nation has ever seen. The fruits of that misery financed the rambling Fairvue mansion and the plantation surrounding it. In my mind, that house might as well have been the principal residence of the commandant at Auschwitz. For that reason, I was glad to see it go. When “Little Precious” is no longer there, it is hard to bow down and worship it as the upwardly aspiring locals once did. It is my earnest personal hope that Issac Franklin will go down in history as a perpetrator of crimes against humanity—along with Pol Pot, Stalin, and the other usual suspects. I hope history judges him dismally and gives him no quarter.

    The thing that concerns me is the possibility that the far right members of the Texas SBOE would judge his life to have been positive (even admirable) and include him in the Texas social studies TEKs. Scary thought.

  3. sigilstation Says:

    Very interesting background data.

    How is it the section of our secular nation that wanted to leave the Union, that worships the Confederate flag and the Christian flag over the United States Stars and Strips and has a religion that advocates replacing our secular republic with elected representatives with Their God appointed unelected leaders is able to portray itself in the media as Patriotic U.S. Citizens is ludicrous to any reasonable thinker.

  4. TobyBelch Says:

    The mistake is to try and separate slavery from the issue of state’s rights and sectionalism. The states were divided on economic and power lines (the various compromises and bloodbaths (Kansas comes to mind) were about economic control and the balance of power in Congress between free states and slave states). Slavery was at the very heart of that division. You can’t say these were the causes in this order, because they’re all tied together.

  5. Lurker111 Says:

    Whenever someone says to me that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, I say, “Fine. So you’re saying that if the South hadn’t had slavery, the Civil War would have happened anyway, right?” That usually shuts them up.

    I’m not very popular in certain circles.

  6. Gordon Fowkes Says:

    The issue of states rights was used by both slave owners and the later segregationists as a justification for evading the equal opportunity concept. This leads many to assume that states rights is the same issue as slavery/segregation. It isn’t.

    The Tenth Amendment says:

    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    That means that a state can do anything that isn’t delegated to the Federal government or that are prohibited to the states. The Federal government, on the other hand, has to trace what it does to those powers delegated to the United States (Government), however tenuous.

    This is one of the issues in disaster relief. The states have primacy in their own defense and in control of law’norder. Even under the declaration of a national disaster does not shut down local law enforcement or the management of state assets. The US military is finding out that in disasters, the local government is not under their jurisdiction to the point that it resembles the status of forces relationship in foreign countries.

    There should be little doubt that the powers excercised by today’s Federal Government are way beyond what the Founders would countenance. But, then again, they no reasonable expectation to see the United States as big and powerful that it became a century later.

  7. Rocket Mike Says:

    Truth? The Biblical Literalist Zealots (BLZ’s) on the SBOE can’t handle the truth. Just look at Ken Mercer sliming the truth in Sunday’s Houston Chronicle. These BLZ bubbas need to be removed from any post where they can harm education. Support the rational candidates for TSBOE.

  8. Gary Cooper, McAllen, Texas Says:

    To all you Confederacy-lovers, Re-enactors, States-Righters, Sons/Daughters of the Confederacy, etc:
    It’s been one hundred forty-five years. Give it up, neighbors. States are not sovereign countries. Jeff Davis isn’t going to be our president. The “Southern Way of Life” won’t be back. And the ex-slaves are not coming back to their former masters.
    Furthermore, all of the above is good.

  9. FY Says:

    “. . . a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law.

    “. . . 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;”

    Strikingly similar to the Right’s current arguments for opposing LGBT rights, in the USA and in Africa. Same arguments used by churches too.

  10. Gordon Fowkes Says:

    The term “sovereign” is used in state documents, sometimes state seals, and on some drivers licenses. The correct term of the USA in diplomatic circles is “these” United States. “The” United States is bad grammar, albeit the normal usage of USA. Plural – Singular stuff.

    One hundred forty-five years isn’t a lot of time, nationally speaking. Think of Ireland and England for example.

    On one of the History channels lately, the cotton gin saved slavery from extinction in the US. Before the cotton gin, picking the seeds out of cotton took thousands of hours per bale, Cotton became King, along with Whale oil, both funded and managed by Northern commercial interests as in Boston and New York. New York City was the base for slaving ships and the slave trade well after the trade was officially abolished.

    The loss of the revenue of the slave trade to New York business interests in 1863 plus outrage at the prospect of Black labor competition to the Irish and other recent immigrants lead to rioting in New York City that overwhelmed the city while the Union Army and militias were at Gettysberg. Gettysberg was a lot closer call than people image.

  11. Charles Says:

    I agree Gary Cooper. Three of the things that will assure what you say are as follows:

    1) A yankee and far west news media that daily teaches every southern American how to be a citizen of Milwaukee. That would be the famous left wing liberal media. Look what happened to Louisiana gal Campbell Brown on CNN. She married a Jewish guy and became Jewish herself. Now she works for the vast liberal media outlet CNN in their never-ending drive to destroy traditional southern culture. Thanks Ted.

    2) The relentless influx of foreigners—particularly illegal Mexicans—into the United States. I fully expect the taco and burrito will replace the chicken and dumplings and ma’s best breakfast biscuits within a generation. I once sat in a hospital with a 55-year-old southern man while his mother was dying. He couldn’t think of much good to say about her to me ezxcept, “She made the best biscuits I ever had.” Thanks to McDonalds and other fast food outlets, ma’s biscuits will be a thing of the past in a few decades.

    3) I know it has slowed down some. A few people think it has been reversed. I don’t think so. When the economy gets better, I foresee millions more Yankees moving to all parts of the American South. You should see the southern town I grew up in. Between 1952 and 1971, you could close your eyes, throw a dart out into space, and be assured of hitting a white Anglo-Saxon protestant still loyal to the Confederate States of America. Just try that now!!! The town is overun with Micalazewskis. A Catholic church that had maybe 10 members and was not much bigger than a brick outhouse is now a big church.

    Yep, the only thing that is constant in life is change. The Confederacy is gone, and it will continue to go away. “You cain’t raise a cane back up when it’s in de feet.”

    What about all of those old dead Confederate soldiers that have special “burial circles” in our southern cemeteries. Shouldn’t we honor them? After all, they were Americans who embodied the traditional American value of standing up and fighting for what you think is right. Once upon a time, I thought this might be true to some extent. Heck, I was even a member of the Sons of the Confederacy at one time.

    Then I got to thinking. Well, not exactly. They were citizens of a self-declared foreign country. It’s not admirable to stand up and fight for what you THINK is right. The only thing that is truly admirable and American is to stand up and fight for what ACTUALLY IS right. Laying down your life to keep a bunch of big plantation owners in business and millions of black people in chains is not honorable. There is nothing honorable at all in it. In fact, it is pathetic. Therefore, in my historical analysis, I think it would be accurate to say that all of the Confederate soldiers who fought in the Civil War died in vain. I mean truly, truly, truly died in vain.

  12. Kayla Says:

    Whenever the Africans came to America, it was due to trading. Southerns were NOT the ONLY ones that owned African slaves. The North owned quit a bit too. In fact the first slave ship was built in Massachusetts (up North), 1637. In which the ships, also known as slavers, would sail from America to West Africa in exchange for goods. Their own tribes would trade them, not ONLY to America but to Europe too. Africans were NOT the only ones in slavery. There were the Irish too, and not to mention the Hebrews to the Egyptians. EVERY race has experienced slavery, NOT just the Africans. Yes, some were beating and raped, but NOT ALL. And NO it wasn’t right. But we can NOT change the past, and some might say “but we can prevent it from happening again.” Please, NO ONE wants to own a slave in these times. Believe it or not, but we do actually work our butts off to feed our family, have a dry roof over our heads, and clean clothes on our backs. Not to mention that EVERYONE in the United States right now has to work extra hard to keep their job & to not only support their OWN family, but those on welfare. Obama has increased taxes so the WORKING AMERICAN can pay for those that do not work.
    When us Southerns speak of the “Southern Way of Life,” we do not speak of slavery. Times have changed indeed, but us Southerns are for the people’s votes, NOT the over runned by the Government.

  13. D. Heath Says:

    Key in General Nathen Forrest for further enlightenment…

  14. Gordon Fowkes Says:

    It depends on how you define “working American”. Obama, or rather, the Congress raised taxes on rich people a tiny bit. The top fifty percent paid 97 percent of income taxes. The top one percent paid 40% last year. So it must be assumed that the rich are working people and the lower half are on welfare, and not working.

    This distribtion of numbers is close to that which a normal one tailed distibution (Pareto’s Law} produces. Pareto’s law states that eighty perent of the reslts come from twenty percent of the causes. While this is a normal distribution, it does not follow that the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness need be commensurate.

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