Browsing "Recurring Southern Conservatism"

Chiseled Sentinels of the Confederacy

 

“Whom shall we consecrate and set apart as one of our sacred men? Sacred, that all men may see him, be reminded of him, and, by new example added to the old perpetual precept, be taught what is real worth in man. Whom do you wish to resemble? Whom do you set on a high column, that all men looking at it, may be continually apprised of the duty you expect from them?” Charles Francis Adams, 1907.

The following is excerpted from Hodding Carter’s essay “Statues in the Squares” from Robert West Howard’s “This is the South,” published in 1959.

“[The] statues in the [town] squares [across the South] are more than symbols of gallantry in defeat, or the defeat of gallantry. They are also reminders of, and, in an unstated way, a kind of recompense for the inexcusable aftermath of military subjugation; for they supplanted the plunderers of Reconstruction, whose memory still brought in my boyhood ready curses from the aging veterans of whom we were so proud and not a little afraid.

And it was these old men and their ancient womenfolk, unreconstructed and unforgiving, who passed on to sons and grandsons the truth and legends of wrongs which, in the commission and the remembering, make up the saddest of our nation’s multiple legacies.

And statues are reminders, lastly, of the true nature of the Southern past and of the South’s folk heritage; for beneath the romantic overlay so greatly inspired by a Scots novelist’s tales of knightly derring-do was a frontier land, the stamping ground of Davy Crockett and Mike Fink, of Andy Jackson and Sam Houston, of Nolichucky Jack Sevier and Oglethorpe’s paupers and the unsubdued sons of clansmen who fought at Culloden.

The warriors in marble bespeak that frontier whose hallmarks are the ready rifle and the white-hot temper, the violent workings of a code of honor, a mistrust of the intruder, and the feudal unity of a people whose fields were bounded all around by wilderness.

Because this is so, because the chiseled sentinels of the Confederacy evoke the frontier as surely as they recall a war and a defeat and a needless, consequential humiliation, I would choose first as their companion figures the likenesses of men whose abilities the frontiersmen respect above all others, or whom they would identify with themselves.

It is understandable, since the vanquished always remember the longest, that the South should have so lavishly memorialized her Confederate dead. They died in a war that their survivors lost. Above their graves a nation in being was pounded to nothingness. Understandable, and sad.

For before and after them were other Southerners who fought in other wars. While some of these have been remembered, few of them have been honored enough. Where are the statues to Jeff Davis’ Mississippians and those other soldiers of the Deep South who principally fought the Mexican War?

Lastly, I would erect somewhere in the South, preferably deep in the lower Mississippi Valley, another statue, as anonymous and as representative as the graven Confederates of the courthouse squares, but, unlike these, neither armed, or uniformed.

The figure would be clad in the work clothes of a farmer or the rough garb of a riverman or the unstylish everyday suit of a small-town citizen. His face would reflect the toil, the frustrations, and the sufferings of a people who have passed through a succession of ordeals such as no other Americans region has known: the ordeals of flood and of decimation by malaria and yellow fever; the ordeals of military defeat and of political grinding-down and agricultural ruin and long poverty.

The eyes of this unknown and unsoldierly warrior would be fixed upon the far horizon of the frontiersman; and in the set of his shoulders a sensitive observer would perceive the glory of an indestructible people whose struggle for their rightful place in the sun is all but ended.”

(This is the South, Robert West Howard, editor, Rand McNally, 1959, excerpts pp. 239-241; 245)

A Postwar Conversation with Mr. Davis

A Postwar Conversation with Mr. Davis

“Mr. Davis once talked to me long and earnestly on the [postwar] condition of the South. Among other things he said:

“There is no question that the white people of the South are better off for the abolition of slavery. It is an equally patent fact that the colored people are not. If the colored people shall develop a proper degree of thrift, and get a degree of education to keep pace with any advancement they may make, they may become a tenantry which will enable the South to rebuild the waste places and become immensely wealthy.

The colored people have many good traits, and many of them are religious. Indeed, the 4,000,000 in the South when the War began were Christianized from barbarism. In that respect the South has been a greater practical missionary than all the society missionaries in the world.”

War was not necessary to the abolition of slavery, continued Mr. Davis. “Years before the agitation began at the North and the menacing acts to the institution, there was a growing feeling all over the South for its abolition.

But the Abolitionists of the North, both by publications and speech, cemented the South and crushed the feeling in favor of emancipation. Slavery could have been blotted out without the sacrifice of brave men and without the strain which revolution always makes upon established forms of government.

I see it stated that I uttered the sentiment, or indorsed it, that, “slavery is the cornerstone of the Confederacy.” That is not my utterance.”

(Life and Death of Jefferson Davis, A.C. Bancroft, editor, Crown Rights Books, 1999 (original 1889), excerpts pp. 152-154)

 

The Importance of a Good Death

Southern historian Shelby Foote explained that “the best historical reading is the source material . . . written by people who saw it.” And he recognized that the people who made up the Confederacy, especially the yeoman farmers, were fiercely independent. “He was not only convinced that he was as good as you were, but if you questioned it, he would shoot you off your horse.” Men like these made for a fearless army few wanted to contend with.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

The Importance of a Good Death

“You don’t want to overlook something that the [South] did have and that was tremendous courage. I’ve studied and studied hard the charge at Gettysburg, the charge at Franklin, the charge at Gaines Mill, or the Northern charge at Fredericksburg, wave after wave, and I do not know of any force on God’s earth that would have got me in any one of those charges.

It absolutely called for you to go out there and face certain death, practically. Now, I will do any kind of thing like that under the influence of elation and the adrenalin popping; it’s just inconceivable to us nowadays that men would try tactics that were fifty years behind the weapons.

They thought that to mass your fire, you had to mass your men, so they suffered casualties. Some battles ran as high as 30 percent. Now that’s just unbelievable, because 4 or 5 percent is very heavy casualties nowadays. You go into a battle and suffer 30 percent . . . at Pickett’s charge, they suffered 60 percent and it’s inconceivable to us . . . the stupidity of it, again.

Originally, the South had a big advantage. They were used to the castes of society and did not take it as an affront that a man had certain privileges. They didn’t think it made him any better than they were. But those privileges came his way, and they were perfectly willing for him to have them as long he didn’t think he was any better than they were.

But the Northern soldiers, they weren’t putting up with any privileges. A Massachusetts outfit spent its first night in the field and damn near had a revolution because the officers wanted to put their bedrolls out of the line. Well, the Southerners never had that problem. It seemed to them sensible that the officers should be over here, and the men there.

Of course, 99.9 percent of that war was fought by home folks. The fighting men were of very high quality, too. You see, those units were together for four years, many of them, and they became superb fighting machines.

You take an outfit like the Twenty-third Virginia: after four years and large numbers of casualties great battles, it becomes a very skillful military instrument. They never went home. Very few furloughs were given – some during the winter months to a few people.

The Civil War was an interesting time. It was very important to make what was called a “good death.” When you are dying, the doctor says you are dying, he [says] you will die about 9 o’clock tonight. You assemble your family around you and sing hymns, and you are brave and stalwart and tell the little woman that she has been good to you and not to cry. And you tell your children to be good and mind their mother. Daddy’s fixing to go away.

That was called a good death, and it was important. It was of tremendous importance.”

(Conversations with Shelby Foote, William C. Carter, editor, University Press of Mississippi, 1989, excerpts pp. 29-31)

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

On the subject of naturalization of citizens, Congress derives its limited authority through Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution: “To establish [a] uniform rule of Naturalization . . .” and there was no intention to create a separate citizenry “of the United States.” The individual States determine who will become a citizen, and who is entitled to vote. Alexander H. Stephens expounds on this below.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Radical Errors of the Public Mind

“P.M. – The article on naturalization in the cyclopedia attracted my attention. It is strange what errors have crept into vogue and pass without scrutiny or question; especially on naturalization and its sequence, citizenship of the United States. The subject is treated as if Congress were empowered by the Constitution to confer upon aliens citizenship of the United States distinct from citizenship of particular States and Territories.

The truth is, Congress has no power to naturalize or to confer citizenship of the United States. Its only power is to establish a uniform rule to be pursued by the respective States and Territories on admitting aliens to their own citizenship.

Before the Constitution was adopted, each State possessed the right as an Independent Sovereign Power to admit to citizenship whom she pleased, and on such terms as she pleased.

All that the States did on this point in accepting the Constitution, was to delegate to Congress the power to establish a uniform rule so that an alien might not be permitted to become a citizen of one State on different terms from what might be required in another; especially, as in one part of the Constitution it is stipulated that the citizens of each shall be entitled in all the rest to the rights and privileges of their citizens.

But no clause of the Constitution provides for or contemplates citizenship of the United States as distinct from citizenship of some particular State or Territory. When any person is a citizen of any one of the States united, he thereby, and thereby only, becomes and can be considered a citizen of the United States.

Errors in the public mind on this question are radical and fundamental, and have the same source as many others equally striking.”

(Recollections of Alexander H. Stephens, His Diary, Myrta Lockett Avary, LSU Press, 1998 (original 1910), excerpts pp. 312-313)

 

“Let the Histories Revere the Truth”

Both the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy were determined to present their view of the conflict to their children and not stand idle while Northern textbooks taught their children a different tale.  Gen. Samuel G. French, a Southern general born in New Jersey, directed Southern women to teach the young about their fathers’ patriotism, or Northerners will convince them their fathers were traitors.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org

 

Report of the History Committee [United Sons of Confederate Veterans]:

“Is there any real need of undertaking such work as has been delegated to this committee? We answer that a deplorable condition, and not a theory, confronts us. We know that tens of thousands of boys and girls are growing up into manhood and womanhood throughout the South, with improper ideas concerning the struggle between the States, and with distorted conceptions concerning the causes that led up to that tremendous conflict; that this state of affairs ought to be remedied, and will be if our Confederation does its duty.

We have asked each member of our committee to urge upon each Camp in his State the importance of gathering reliable data for the use of the future historian. This is a sacred duty to that we owe to the living and to the dead and to those who are yet unborn. If we wait until the last Confederate shall have gone to join the silent majority, many statements will be in dispute forever.

The establishment of truth is never wrong. When we realize, as all of us must, that from the gloom of overwhelming defeat at the hands of superior numbers a righteous cause arises and appeals to posterity to render a verdict in accordance with the truth, loyalty to the memories of our dead, patriotism, and self-respect all urge us to go forward in our work till we are amply repaid for all of our labors by a glorious consummation of our undertaking.

Your committee has made an earnest effort to ascertain what United States histories are used in the schools of this republic. We have, so far, not found a single Southern history north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers. In the South, thousands of schools use Northern histories. We do not condemn any work solely on the ground that it is a Northern publication . . . What we desire placed in the hands of the millions of American youth is a work that metes out exact justice to both sections of our great country; a work that tells the truth, and nothing but the truth. That is all we should desire.

“Do our text-books impress the fact that slavery existed in many of the Northern States also in the early years of the century?, that it was New England votes, combined with those of the extreme South, that prolonged the slave trade twenty years, against the protest of the middle South? Do our school children realize that secession was boldly and widely advocated in New England in 1814? Do they think of the southern leaders as high-minded, noble, devout men, who fought with consummate bravery? Are we clearly taught than many of those leaders were in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery?

The resolution recently introduced into the meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic is altogether praiseworthy. It recommends that school histories use some designation like the “War Between the States,” instead of the “War of the Rebellion,” thus avoiding needless irritation of Southern feeling.”

Let the histories our children study revere the truth, and we shall be satisfied . . . [T]hat the South fought honestly and fearlessly, and that when its banner was furled upon its folds not a stain was there to mar its beauty.”

(Confederate Veteran Magazine, January 1900, pp. 19-20)

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

The following is excerpted from a letter written to Confederate diplomat James M. Mason by Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter, explaining the American Confederacy’s reasons for seeking independence and a more perfect Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Neither Revolted Provinces nor Rebellious Subjects

“Department of State

Richmond, September 23, 1861

Sir — The President desires that you should . . . in presenting the case once more to the British Government, you ought again to explain the true position in which we appear before the world. We are not to be viewed as revolted provinces or rebellious subjects, seeking to overthrow the lawful authority of a common sovereign.

Neither are we warring for rights of a doubtful character, or such as are to be ascertained only be implication. On the contrary, the Union from which we have withdrawn was founded on the express stipulations of a written instrument which established a government whose powers were to be exercised for certain declared purposes and restricted within well-defined limits.

When a sectional majority persistently violated the covenants and conditions of that compact, those States whose safety and well-being depended upon the performance of these covenants were justly absolved from all moral obligation to remain in such a Union.

Such were the causes which led the Confederate States to form a new Union, to be composed of more homogenous materials and interests.

The authority of our Government itself was denied [by Washington], its people denounced as rebels, and a war was waged against them, which, if carried on in the spirit it was proclaimed, must be the most sanguinary and barbarous which has been known for centuries among civilized people.

The Confederate States have thus been forced to take up arms in defense of their right of self-government, and in the name of that sacred right they have appealed to the nations of the earth, not for material aid or alliances, offensive and defensive, but for the moral weight which they would derive from holding a recognized place as a free and independent people.”

(Instructions to Hon. James M. Mason, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, January-December 1879, Rev. J. William Jones, Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1990, excerpts pp. 231-233)

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

Since the war, Americans have believed, or led to believe, that national unity is the ultimate goal of all Americans – the South has been portrayed as evil given its distinction of unsuccessfully withdrawing from the Union. Southern historian Francis Butler Simkins notes that even Southern-friendly historians seem to get “inspiration from William T. Sherman who felt justified in imposing a cruel punishment upon the South because it tried to destroy the national unity.” In reality, the South’s withdrawal did not destroy the Union, it simply reduced the numerical constituency of the Union.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Forecasts of Good Times a-Coming”

“The reputation of the region of the United States below the Potomac today suffers from the same forces from which the Middle Ages suffered at the hands of historians during the Enlightenment. Chroniclers of Southern history often do not grasp the most elementary concept of sound historiography: the ability to appraise the past by standards other than those of the present.

They accept a fanatical nationalism which leaves little room for sectional variations, a faith in Darwinian progress which leaves no room for static contentment, and a faith in the American dream of human equality which leaves little room for one person to get ahead of another except in making money.

In theory at least, our historians refuse to tolerate a concept of “all sorts and conditions of men” of which The Book of Common Prayer speaks.

Growing out of the uncritical acceptance by historians of the South of this creed of contemporary Americans are certain concrete dogmas: the church and state should be separate, but not the school and state; school but not church attendance should be compulsory; universal education is better than folk culture; political democracy is better than aristocratic rule; freedom is better than slavery; nationalism is better than provincialism; urban standards are better than rural ones; small farms are better than plantations; the larger the number of voters the better for the commonwealth; and the two-party system is better than the harmony of one party.

The historians who are friendly to the region and who accept the ideal of human equality seem ashamed of the degree to which the South has not attained this ideal. Their faith in the benefits of two political parties has led them to predict, for the past ten decades, the breakup of the Solid South and the coming of a state of rectitude like that of New York or Illinois.

They are apologetic over the existence in the South of the sharpest social distinction in all America: that between the white man and the Negro. They hail breaks on the color line as forecasts of the good times a-coming.”

(The Everlasting South, Francis Butler Simkins, LSU Press, 1965, excerpts pp. 4-5)

 

State Allegiance and Obedience

American Statesmen like John Tyler were well-aware of the formation and character of the Union over which they presided. His belief was that sovereignty resided in the individual States, and not the federate Union. Additionally, he stresses that the Constitution was not ratified by a mass of people, but by people acting as individual and sovereign States. A clash between South Carolina and the federal government came when the former, acting through a State convention, declared the tariff laws of 1828 and 1832 unconstitutional, and therefore null and void. The following excerpts are from Tyler’s February 6, 1833 speech opposing Andrew Jackson’s plan to use force against South Carolina.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

State Allegiance and Obedience

“The government was created by the States, is amenable [to] the States, is preserved by the States, and may be destroyed by the States.”

The Federal government holds its “existence at the pleasure of these States.”

“They may strike you [the Federal government] out of existence by a word; demolish the Constitution, and scatter its fragments to the winds.”

The true state of the case is this: It is because I owe allegiance to the State of Virginia that I owe obedience to the laws of this federal government. My State requires me to render such obedience. She has entered into a compact, which, while it continues, is binding on all her people. So would it be if she had formed a treaty with a foreign power. I should be bound to obey the stipulations of such a treaty, because she willed it . . . it is because I owe allegiance there, that I owe obedience here . . .”

“I owe no responsibility, politically speaking, elsewhere than to my State.”

“A redress of grievances and not force is the proper remedy in this [Nullification] crisis. It is an argument of pride to say that the government should not yield while South Carolina is showing a spirit of revolt. It was just such an argument that was used against the American colonies by the British government . . . Civil war is imminent, and to prevent is a resort to force should be deprecated.”

But is it a bad mode of settling disputes to make soldiers your ambassadors, and to point to the halter and the gallows as your ultimatum.”

(John Tyler, Champion of the Old South, Oliver Perry Chitwood, American Political Biography Press, 2006, (AHA, 1939), excerpts pp. 116-117)

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

President James Buchanan’s vacillation and failure to seek conciliation during the Fort Sumter crisis burdened the inexperienced Lincoln with something he was ill-prepared to handle. Buchanan had underway a secret negotiation with the president-elect “to obtain his backing for a national constitutional convention, and he expected an answer from Lincoln at any hour.” Though Buchanan tried to engage conservative Republicans to endorse some conciliatory measures to defuse the crisis, none were forthcoming.  Jefferson Davis, in his efforts to save the Union, encouraged his fellow congressmen and the president to seek peaceful solutions to the crisis.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Igniting the Flame at Fort Sumter

[South Carolina-born, American diplomat] William H. Trescott, acting as a go-between, scheduled a procedural meeting [with Buchanan] for December 27. On the morning of that fateful day news arrived [in Washington] which created wild excitement. Major [Robert] Anderson had just spiked the guns of Moultrie and had moved his entire command into Fort Sumter under cover of darkness . . .

The South Carolina commissioners cancelled their visit to [President] Buchanan and waited for more information. Trescott hurried to [Secretary of War John B.] Floyd’s office and obtained from him a promise that he would promptly order Anderson back to Moultrie as soon as he received official confirmation of the reports.

Floyd immediately telegraphed Anderson that he did not believe the news, “because there is no order for any such movement,” but Anderson replied, “The telegram is correct.”

While messages sped back and forth, the Southern leaders in Washington headed for the White House. Jefferson Davis arrived first and broke the news to Buchanan. “Now, Mr. President,” he said, “you are surrounded with blood and dishonor on all sides.”

“[Buchanan exclaimed]: I call God to witness, you gentlemen more than anybody know that this is not only without but against my orders. It is against my policy.”

Senators Hunter, Lane, Yulee, even Slidell called and bore down on Buchanan to order Anderson out of Sumter or face general secession and war. Buchanan paced nervously, telling his excited callers to keep calm and trust him. He gave evidence of sympathizing with their position for it seemed to him at the moment that if Anderson had ruptured the “gentlemen’s agreement” [to maintain the status quo in Charleston harbor]. It was certainly a move the president had not anticipated. But for all his soothing words, he gave the Southerners no promise.

The afternoon Cabinet meeting ran over into the night. Black, Holt and Stanton aggressively defended Anderson’s action. “Good,” said Black. “It is in precise accordance with his orders.” “It is not,” said Floyd.

Buchanan believed that Anderson’s orders justified his maneuver. The Cabinet had assigned the major “military discretion” and had authorized him to take defensive action in the face of “tangible evidence of a design to attack him.” His report of a few days before had offered such evidence, though no hint that he intended to transfer the troops.

Buchanan said he would not order Anderson to return to Moultrie, but he expressed deep concern over the settlement of the question of responsibility. Neither the President nor Secretary of War had commanded the transfer . . .

Buchanan agreed to see the South Carolinians “only as private gentlemen.” At their interview, the only one which was to be held, they informed the president excitedly and with asperity that they would not negotiate with him until he ordered all federal troops out of the Charleston area. Buchanan replied that he could issue no such order.

The commissioners then withdrew and that night prepared a letter . . . It suggested that South Carolina had made a serious mistake “to trust your honor rather than its own power,” and warned that unless the troops were withdrawn, affairs would speedily come to a “bloody issue.”

(President James Buchanan, a Biography, Philip S. Klein, American Political Biography Press, 1962, excerpts pp. 378-379)

“Casus Belli”

As the majority of the South, and Northern men trained at West Point in the years prior to the war, were educated to believe withdrawing from the Union was a proper remedy to which a State might peaceably resort to if its people determined in was in their best interest to do so. The war’s result determined that secession was not improper as a redress, but that superior military power could conquer and subjugate any State or States who resort to such obvious constitutional measures for redress. Excerpts from a mid-August 1879 address regarding secession by General J.R. Chalmers follows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

“Casus Belli”

“All we ask is an impartial statement in history of our cause, as we understood it; and it devolves on the survivors of the struggle to correct whatever we believe to be erroneous statements in regard to it, whenever and wherever they are made.

“The right to judge of infractions of the Constitution and the mode and measure of redress,” were no new questions in our politics. They were discussed in the conventions which formed the Constitution, and subsequently whenever the General Government was supposed, by usurpation of power, to infringe on rights reserved to the people of the States united.

Massachusetts threatened secession in the War of 1812, when her commerce was crippled; South Carolina threatened nullification in 1832, when a high protective tariff discriminated heavily against her interest.

Every State of the North practiced nullification against the fugitive slave laws as fast as they came under the control of the Republican party.

Eleven States of the South attempted to practice secession when the General Government fell into the hands of the Republican party, whose leaders had denounced the Constitution as “a covenant with the devil,” and the Union as a “league with hell.”

No honorable man can read the last speech of Jefferson Davis, in the United States Senate, or the letters of Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee, when about to resign their commissions in the United States army, and say that the Confederate leaders left the Union “from choice or on light occasion.”

They loved the Union formed of States united by the Constitution; they feared a Union consolidated in the hands of men who denounced the Constitution.

Mr. Lincoln and two-thirds of his party in Congress then denied any purpose to destroy slavery, but every Republican leader now shamelessly boast that this was the great object of the war.

The very fact that there was a war growing out of a question of constitutional rights, should be a source of pride, as evidence that no large body of our people will ignobly submit to what they believe to be a violation of their rights.”

(Forrest and his Campaigns, Gen. J.R. Chalmers, Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume VII, Broadfoot Publishing, 1990, excerpts pp. 451-452)

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