The Mainspring of Human Conduct
Address of Judge John A. Campbell, Decoration of Confederate Graves, May 1, 1874
“It is well for us to recur to the principle underlying the Confederate movement. Never was a cause apparently less understood or more maligned. The history of the world furnishes many instances of revolutions, rebellions and wars for insufficient causes. The maintenance of the claims of an individual or family to supreme authority, trivial complaints, trifling affronts, desire for aggrandizement, pride and ambition, have been prolific causes of popular uprisings or national contests. But none of these actuated our movement.
It sprang from a spirit of independence, which is hereditary and part of our being; a belief in the right and a sublime determination to maintain it. If successful, it would have been pronounced right. Failure don’t make it wrong.
The impelling cause was far greater and more justifiable than led to the American Revolution, and the different result can’t change the dictates of justice and the decision of right reason. The spirit which has ever animated and will ever inspire the resisters of oppression, impelled the Southern people. To judge fairly and determine justly, their action must be estimated from their standpoint.
This is the rule applied to individuals and applicable to masses. We must transport ourselves to their situation, circumstances and surroundings, see as they saw it, believe as they believed, feel as they felt, and consider the justice and reasonableness of their apprehensions from what they saw and felt.
Doing this, it is discovered that the movement sprang from the principle of self-preservation – the mainspring of human conduct, innate in the soul. For many years a bitter contest of words had been waged between North and South, originating in conscience and sentiment, gathering force as it progressed, and quickened into a fervid zeal by union and party efforts, until it culminated in party triumph in the election of a president on a platform of hostility to an overshadowing interest of Southern society.
The determination was to seek safety by withdrawing from a union, which it was thought was about to be made an engine for the destruction of our rights. There was nothing unnatural or unprecedented in this; there was no hostility to the people of the North; there was no dissatisfaction with the Constitution; war was not desired nor sought by us, but was deprecated, and tried by every means to be averted.
War resulted; a long, a fierce and terrible war, waged by the United States for subjugation and by the Confederate States for existence.
[The] Confederate flag was furled, and in its folds were enclosed the hopes of millions who had proudly gazed upon its stars and bars and fondly hoped that it would wave forever, an emblem of the right of self-government – the banner of a free people.
No national standard was ever raised more justly nor rallied to by a nobler band of brave hearts; no contest was ever maintained more gallantly; choicer spirits were never sacrificed at any shrine; fairer hands never toiled for any object; sweeter voices never were heard in prayer for any effort; purer hearts were never enlisted in any cause. But it still failed.
It devolves on the survivors of the Confederate period to preserve the truth of their history, and hand down, from generation to generation, a correct account of the impelling cause of the unfortunate struggle, in order that the cruelty of injustice to our motives shall not be added to the pangs of defeat.”
(The Lost Cause, Address by Judge J. A. P. Campbell, Delivered at Canton, May 1, 1874, on the Occasion of the Decoration of the Graves of Confederate Soldiers; Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume XVI, January-December, 1888, pp. 232-236)