Confederates in the Attic

Clayton Cramer reviews a book by Tony Horowitz “Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War.”   Sounds like a very interesting book, and Clayton’s review is sure to generate some discussion.

From there, Horwitz explores a darker, more worrisome side of “Confederate” America–people who are still nursing grudges about the Civil War–and making excuses for the Confederacy. If I hadn’t met more than a few people like this over the years, I would find myself wondering Horwitz was exaggerating. But I’m afraid that he isn’t.

I’ve also heard a number of folks point out that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, so it is a fairly widespread belief.  But I think the resurgence in these types of beliefs can also be linked back to my post from last week on the lack of dignity and respect afforded southern culture by elites driving a lot of resentment.

For the record, I think slavery is America’s original sin, and the institution was a stain on all America, not just on The South.  But we’ve put it behind us, and I think it’s time to move on.

49 thoughts on “Confederates in the Attic”

  1. It’s a direct result of the negative stereotype of southerners by the rest of the country.

    People don’t see it as “making excuses” for the Confederacy, they see it as setting the record straight.

    I think many would be better off simply pointing out that some of the worst racist violence happened in states like Indiana (Klan controlled for most of the 1920’s), and that many black folks who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s would say they preferred the overt racism of the south to the covert racism of the north.

    Of course, statements like that aren’t well received in most circles.

  2. I heard this book read on the radio a couple years ago.

    I saw the Confederate reenactors as a) guys who roots for te underdog.
    b) lazy as it was easier to dress in rags rather than a uniform. c) hardcore as as it was harder to pull off the famished look (remember the guy who starved before a reenactment to look gaunt).

    I knowb and c are mutually exclusive. That is what I took away from this.

  3. For the record, I think the Civil War was about slavery. But Rustmeister is right to point out that while the North didn’t have Jim Crow, it did have institutionalized racism. Just look at see how many black families made it into the skilled trades, as an example.

  4. I’ve never really been comfortable with the whole states rights thing. States don’t have rights, they have powers. Only people have rights.

    Now when it comes to balancing the power and sovereignty of the states against the federal government, that’s something I usually defer to state power on.

  5. I still can’t believe the founders didn’t put in a mechanism to vote yourself OUT of the system. The southern reps and senators THOUGHT they had, but Lincoln decided to hold them in at gunpoint.
    Here in Texas, the last time we voted we voted to leave, but they had the men, munitions and guns to force us to stay. That’s history.

  6. I wonder if that was even debated? Clayton probably would know the answer to that. I’m not sure the way it is is actually too bad. There’s no explicit mechanism to leave, which leaves the national government to decide if the reasons for secession are worth shooting people over. Last time it happened, people thought it was. If it were to happen today, do you see the coastal elites voting to go to war to keep, say, Montana?

  7. Well, it’s true that the Civil War wasn’t only about slavery. But the problem with that is that no matter what other reason you come up with (economics, states rights, etc) at the root of that reason lies, you guessed it, slavery.

  8. It was about economics mainly. The agricultural South could survive while the industrial North would have slowly gone down the tubes do to a lack of raw materials from the SOuth.

  9. Sebastian, I strongly suggest you read some books by Thomas DiLorenzo, Thomas Woods, and Kevin Gutzman.

    Check out Lerone Bennett while you’re at it, too.

    The civil war most certainly wasn’t about slavery for the North.

    I would get into more detail, but it takes forever to post from this tiny little BlackBerry keyboard!

  10. Yes, Slavery was the issue that these other unresolved issues pivoted on, no one goes to war over a issue that hasn’t caused problems yet, and no one is going to secede out of established country except over issues worth going to war over also.

    From a practical point of view I don’t think there is any difference between states seceding from the country, and a war of conquest to free the states in the other country, and rebelling against a country to prevent it’s existing laws slavery laws from being over turned. The politicians and opinion makers for the two opposing sides will try to shape the war, into terms that are favorable to their side. This will of course be simple and compelling framing of the issue, only vaguely to the truth, but it is what is needed to get people to fight and die for.

    I think this all is quite relative to the 2nd amendment debate.

  11. Travis,

    So what was Kansas bleeding over then, in the days leading up to the civil war? Did the cotton states secede after an abolitionist president was elected just out of coincidence? I do recognize that not every union soldier believed he was fighting to end slavery, but surely the political elite in the North, who prosecuted the war, believed that.

    I have not read authors you mention, but I know they are all associated with the Von Mises institute, who’s views on the Civil War I think are generally pretty distorted.

  12. The Civil War was about State Control- period. The issue of slavery was incidental to that control and the issue was used as leverage by the North and South to effect their agendas. The North being for the most part anti-slave, saw slavery as a hindrance to the small family farm and the industrialization to America. The South saw Slavery as an integral part of their economy and society, and any intrusions into it as a violation of their sovereignty.

    If you really want to know what the North and the South were fighting for, it’s better to look at their letters and correspondence. James McPherson does a great job of this in his book For Cause and Comrades.

    The North saw the war as a Crusade to salvage the union from anarchy and division, and the South saw it as a pursuit to maintain their rights of property and sovereignty. The issue of slavery was incidental to both of these ideals, but was not the main reason why the war was fought.

  13. The motivations of the north have never been at issue. It’s the motivations of the south that have always been the thorn, not to mention the topic of revisionists, who either disingenuously or stupidly claim that X or Y was the real reason, when slavery lies at the root of both X and Y.

  14. LOL. I’m not sure you can say that slavery was incidental to the South’s “pursuit to maintain their rights of property and sovereignty”. The property in question? Black people. The sovereignty in question? The power to maintain the institution of slavery.

    And don’t forget the legislative battles fought over the admission of Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and California. Throw in Manifest Destiny in there as well. After all, if we’d been able to purchase Cuba from Spain and maintained it as a slave state, that may have staved off war for a few years.

    I think it’s fair to say the war was about slavery… just not necessarily the abolition of it (at least until 1863 or so).

  15. A lot of Southerners don’t want to admit that the South seceded over slavery. There’s one little problem: the secession resolutions adopted by many of the states state explicitly that they were leaving to protect their right to hold slaves. It’s true that Lincoln fought to preserve the Union–but Southern states left to preserve slavery.

    I agree with Southerners who feel that they are unfairly regarded as idiots by (largely) Northern elites. There is a lot of nasty prejudice against Southerners. But let’s not try to rewrite the history of why the Confederate states left.

  16. Sebastian,

    Lincoln didn’t campaign as an abolitionist. At least not in the south. He was on record multiple times in support of a constitutional amendment to guarantee that the Federal government would never interfere with slavery. (Whatever it took to win elections, I guess…). Lincoln only cared about slavery and the admission of new slave states to the extent that slaves would take the jobs that free white men would otherwise have. His home state had some of the worst black codes in the history of the United States – while he was in state office. He made attempts to get rid of blacks by shipping them elsewhere for settlement.

    Yes, the monied elite of the South was fighting to protect their human capital. But how can anybody explain why the other 99% (a statistic pulled from thin air, but you get the point…) of southern citizens joined the effort without at least considering that there were issues other than simply the desire to keep slaves?

    What about the crushing tariff rates, wasteful internal improvement spending for the benefit of the north at the expense of the south, the genuine threat Lincoln posed to state sovereignty, and countless other reasons?

    I mentioned those authors because they are prominent in Libertarian circles (except for Lerone Bennett). I figured you would be interested in their side of the story because you frequently describe yourself as a Libertarian.

    If you find the Libertarian perspective incredible, you should at least check out Lerone Bennett’s Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream.

  17. Lincoln did not advocate ending slavery during his campaign for president, this much is true. But he was an outspoken advocate for halting its expansion westward, which would have led to its downfall by virtue of non-slave states outnumbering slave states. Plus, now as today, Lincoln’s record on the institution of slavery was decidedly not favorable to the Southern view, no matter what the guy said when trying to get office.

  18. At the start, the purpose of the North were twofold. A vocal minority were abolishionists, intent upon eradicating slavery. Lincoln was concerned with preserving the Union.

    As the war progressed, Lincoln successfully re-phrased it as about eradicating slavery (in the seceded states anyway) with the Emancipation Proclamation.

    This step sealed the doom of the South. Without the moral high ground, they had no chance to get the foreign support they needed in order to hold off the numerically and industrially superior North.

    The South made no bones about it being about preserving slavery. To say otherwise is revisionist nonsense.

    It is easy to get caught up in the glamor of the valiant struggle the South put on. Their generals were superior…especially the Cavalry generals such as Forrest. But look at what Forrest did after the war… Hard to get behind that!

  19. You may not know this, but the New England states were the first to seriously consider secession in the 1840’s. The reason? They were sick and tired of their obligation to round up and return slaves to the south due to the runaway slave clause!

    In any case, slavery was doomed for this very reason. With the runaway slave clause not in effect in any part of the former union, it could not have lasted.

    As for the right of secession, there actually were several states that reserved the right to secede as a condition of ratification. I think most of them were in New England. Also, consider the fact that the Declaration of Independence was essentially nothing more than a declaration of secession. I’ve heard the claim that since the Confederacy took hostages with them (slaves), their right to secession was null and void. Follow this to its logical conclusion and you’ll see that the original 13 colonies did exactly the same thing nearly 100 years prior. Did they not have the right to sever ties with England?

  20. There are right to secession myths in several US states, most notably Texas. But no state specifically has a “right” to secede from the United States. Every state has a “right” to secede in the sense that they can declare it, and the remaining states can decide whether to let it go, or whether to bring them back into the fold by diplomacy or force. There’s no provision in the constitution for states to be able to leave the union.

  21. Those that trumpet the South’s adherence to ‘State’s Rights’ need to explain how the Fugitive Slave Act was not anti-State’s Rights. The fact is, they liked Federalism and Federal control when it suited their agenda: the preservation of slavery.

  22. Pelase compare & contrast these two statements

    In spite of slavery being allowable in the Article I of the US Constitution, Presidental Candidate Abraham Lincoln promised an end to slavery. Upon his election, some of those who believed in the Constitution felt that the goverment in Wshington had broken the Constitution and beleived that the only course was to leave the union that their States had voluntarily joined 73 years earlier

    In spite of owning fire arms being explicity listed as allowable in the 2nd Amendment of the US Constitution, Presidental Candidate —– promised an end to gun ownership. Upon his election, some of those who believed in the Constitution felt that the goverment in Wshington had broken the Constitution and beleived that the only course was to leave the union that their States had voluntarily joined 222 years earlier.

    I understand that a slave is not a rifle, at the time of the establishment of the Constitution they were legally the same.

  23. The analogy fails precisely because slavery and gun ownership are not morally similar institutions. Lincoln proposed no constitutional end run around the slavery issue when he was elected, and as one commenter pointed out, even supported an amendment to preserve slavery in the states it already existed in. The reason this likely did not appease the Southern States was because without expansion of slavery into the west, the thirteenth amendment might have been possible to pass over slave state objections.

  24. the “original sin” of America was not slavery, at least not black african slavery… that was a practice that was done by most of africa, the middle east and europe as well as america… not to mention that most of the ones that sold the slaves to foreigners were africans.

    no, the original sin of america would be the treatment of the native americans, the enslaving, genocide, forced relocations, rapes… all were truly the black marks on american history.

  25. Quote Sebastian:

    “There are right to secession myths in several US states, most notably Texas. But no state specifically has a “right” to secede from the United States. Every state has a “right” to secede in the sense that they can declare it, and the remaining states can decide whether to let it go, or whether to bring them back into the fold by diplomacy or force. There’s no provision in the constitution for states to be able to leave the union.”

    The right to secession is not a myth at all. Like I said before, four of the original 13 states ratified the Constitution with written guarantees that the compact was voluntary.

    The Constitution was understood by all parties to be a voluntary compact among the several states. All powers not vested in the federal government, nor prohibited to the states by the Constitution, were supposed to be reserved to the states. The states were to retain full sovereignty except for those few carefully enumerated powers they themselves chose to give to the federal government at ratification. The power to hold states to the compact through coercion or force is not found anywhere in the Constitution, nor is it implied.

    In other words, the absence of a constitutional provision “allowing” states to secede means nothing. That which is not specifically granted to the federal government is reserved to the states – including the power to secede. Having the supposed moral high ground doesn’t change this simple fact.

    Congress can go ahead and declare war against a state upon secession using its war declaration powers outlined in article 1, but no power exists to force a state back into the union against the wishes of its people.

    None of this really mattered to Lincoln, who went as far as to carve out West Virginia from Virginia, despite the Constitution’s clear prohibition against doing so. The First Amendment didn’t seem to stop him from shutting down any newspaper he wanted to and arresting its editors, either. He took it upon himself to preemptively arrest the entire state legislature of MD… just in case. Thousands of northern dissenters were jailed as well with very little justification. He took it upon himself to suspend Habeus Corpus, despite the fact that only Congress has the authority to do so. When a supreme court justice dared to point this out, he was confined to house arrest.

    Not to mention the disarmament of state militias, in clear violation of the Second Amendment……..

  26. Chris, good point. How ironic it is that the Buffalo Soldiers were used to subjugate the Indians after they themselves were just freed?

  27. I don’t think it’s really something that federal constitution settles. You could argue the Supremacy Clause gives the federal government the power to enforce its authority under the constitution. I’m not saying that secession isn’t an option open to the states, but I don’t believe there’s any provision in the constitution for a state leaving the union, nor do I think one is implied.

  28. also consider that we southern whites, many of us 3rd, 4th, 5th generation or more in the same places do not care one iota about the whole slave issue…

    but we have seen a progressive souring of our cities by both black gangs and drug areas and by Hispanic (islander) and Caribbean cultures that are for the most part insisting on keeping their island culture alive even though they refuse to live there… there are stores all over south FL that have signs up saying “yes, we speak English!”…

    Every city in the south that has more than 10,000 people in it has a huge section of poor housing that is almost 100% black in population. In general these areas are known as drug dealing neighborhoods, high crime areas, dens of prostitution and generally a bad place to hang out… these things do not happen on a wide spread basis in the suburbs or the rural areas which coincidentally are mostly white. its not hard to put 2 and 2 together and realize that the problem is indeed a racial issue…

    we already know that nationwide, there is a disproportionate amount of black on black crime… the problem is, if we southerners point that out, we are racists… hell even blacks who point these things out are called racists…

    of course the northerners think that we are all just ignorant rednecks that have no idea how things are supposed to work… but then the northerners are the ones that constantly keep coming up with laws that are more and more restrictive… and if we southerners are so damn bad how come so many northerners keep coming down to the south to live… of course i have long suspected that it is because the northerners have run out of things to complain about in the north, so they move south so that they can complain about things in the south…

  29. It’s hard to ignore what some prominent southern leaders had to say about Slavery. That’s not to say this is representative of all southerners, just as Lincoln’s Republicans were not representative of all northerners, but I think you do have to look at which groups held the political power in each respective region.

    I am not trying to absolve the North of any responsibility for slavery, or suggesting we were didn’t create our own racist institutions. But I will still stand by the notion that the Civil War, at its base was about slavery.

  30. well, i for one am not a historian that is well versed enough to really give educated debate on the issue, i think that perhaps that is better left to the PhD’s… what i have seen is just the general thought of people now. and as someone that has family ties that go back to both slave and non-slave areas of the US, i dont know any people that actually believe that slavery would be a good thing in this day and age.

    what i do know is that there are a bunch of people that resent the way that the northerners look down on people from the south… also there seems to be a lot of belief that should it get much more repressive, that a secession / re-establishment of the confederacy would be a valid way to fight back.

    there is so much talk in the gun world about how there would be a button push that would result in individuals taking up arms against the government… likewise, there is talk in some circles about how much nicer it would be if a new country could be established that learned from the mistakes made in making this one.

  31. It was also not a civil war. The CSA had legally left the union and was its own nation.

  32. The South opposed the transcontinental railroad, which definitely would be a net good and not “wasteful spending”. Southern shipping interests focused on river transportation and they feared large railroad networks.

    Lincoln was not the originator of such colonization plans, many other people had supported such ideas (such as Liberia). If I remember correctly, black leaders of the time period nixed the idea and colonization was dropped.

    If you want respect, don’t lie about the origins of the Civil War. Whenever you do so, you play into the hands of people like Howard Zinn.

  33. History is truly written by the victors. In most of these 1860 discussions you will have a swarm of dolts saying things like “the North fought on the side of the angels” and “the Confederacy was no better than the Nazis or Al Queda.” Then they will usually either apologize for their Southern ancestors involvement or claim moral superiority that their ancestors never fought for the Confederacy. These people in my opinion are only seeing the myopic 21st century view fostered by public education and ignoring “inconvenient truths” to borrow a phrase.

    Lincoln did some things (already mentioned here) that were surely tyrannical. Indiana banned free blacks from settling there until 1866. Sherman and others obliterated wide swaths of the South apparently just for spite. If this was the Angel’s platform I would hate to see Satan’s.

    There was never a war in which a sole reason existed for its beginning and IMO the 1860 war was over money and power, with slavery as a secondary contributing cause.

  34. “For the record, I think slavery is America’s original sin, and the institution was a stain on all America, not just on The South. But we’ve put it behind us, and I think it’s time to move on.”

    I agree with the first part, but not the second. Chattel slavery was the theft of individual rights by an organized collective of elites protected by the force of government. The Civil War replaced that racially based system with the theft of individual rights of all races by an organized collective of elites protected by the force of government. The only difference now is that everyone regardless of race is enslaved by government, and since the blacks are still targeted more heavily through the wars of drugs and poverty the fundamental inequities of the racist chattel slavery system persist throughout our nation to this day. The Civil War was about control – that is, some people controlling other people. Slavery was the same issue. The exact same problem plagues every nation on earth to this day to varying degrees in varying ways.

    Particularly with America this issue will not be begin to be resolved until power is taken away from the same group of people who were responsible for slavery, the Civil War, and every major atrocity and crime since – the federal government.

  35. I don’t really agree that the federal encroachments into spaces it doesn’t belong in the middle part of the 20th century is anything close to morally comparable to chattel slavery. I am not a states rights kind of guy, I am a federalist. There is a role for the federal government to play, particularly its role as a guarantor of rights under the fourteenth amendment. State government can be every bit as horrible and oppressive as the national one, and through most of our nations history, have been far far worse.

  36. Attacks against the Constitution are all an abomination, whether committed by a State government or a federal one. There is one big difference though: who can we fall back to when the feds institutionalize abominations like BATFU? I don’t see Congress giving a flying flip.

  37. Quote Sebastian:

    “Where in the Constitution does it say it’s a voluntary compact?”

    It doesn’t have to.

    It’s the very nature of Federalism, with its concepts of divided sovereignty and enumerated powers. The Constitution itself provides a list of powers denied to the states, and secession is not among these restrictions. A Federal government is NOT a national government!

    Since nothing in the Constitution obligates the States to remain in the Union, the States retain the sovereign authority to withdraw.

    The immorality of slavery did not change the fact that the seceding states were free and independent of federal control with the exception of only those powers they delegated to the federal government.

  38. I don’t know… I don’t think the constitution really settles it definitively. But the Constitution does say it’s the supreme law of the land, and authorizes congress and the president to raise armies to quell insurrection and rebellion.

  39. “to quell insurrection” really meant “to put down slave revolts”, and peaceful secession is not the same thing as rebellion. The power to put down rebellion was more along the lines of what George Washington did in PA with the Whiskey Rebellion.

  40. I don’t believe there’s any provision in the constitution for a state leaving the union, nor do I think one is implied.

    As sovereign entities each state had the choice to join the union or not and since they had the right to vote themselves in, they also had the right to vote themselves out. Their reasoning doesn’t have to pass any kind of “popularity contest” in the rest of the states. But, that was then. Since then, states no longer have rights and late 20th (now 21st) century sensibilities are applied to what early 19th century men should have thought.

    While I am no apologist for slavery, I despise the loss of states rights and I am afraid of what the federal government has become.

  41. I wouldn’t suggest anyone is defending slavery here. This is a point merely of constitutional law. I would argue that the states freely joined or ratified themselves into a union that said the Constitution was “The Supreme Law of the Land” that gave the national government the power to suppress rebellions. I don’t buy that argument that only had to mean an unorganized rabble, or a slave rebellion. A state government that designs to buck federal authority and fire on a federal fort I think would meet that definition by most understandings.

    Note that this isn’t to say I believe states can’t secede. Secession depends on the will of the parties involved. It is not to be taken lightly, and that is why I think it’s actually good thing that the constitution does not specifically allow or prohibit it. I’ve advocated secession as a legitimate answer to an out of control federal government before. But it is precisely its seriousness that I think makes it useful as a political tool under extreme circumstances. If it were merely allowed, and the federal government could do nothing about it, states would secede over any petty disagreement they might dream up. If states were allowed to secede without the risk of war, then it would give the national government even more incentive than it already has to get states suckling at the federal teat.

  42. If it were merely allowed, and the federal government could do nothing about it, states would secede over any petty disagreement they might dream up. If states were allowed to secede without the risk of war, then it would give the national government even more incentive than it already has to get states suckling at the federal teat.

    Obviously I am no Federalist as you are. I would suggest that the definition of states rights that you are using is a 21st century one that is inapropriate to what was in the mind of the common man of the early 19th century and his view of states rights. The rights of the states were different before and after the period 1860-65 and have continued to decline since. Your arguement that the federal government would have an incentive to retain states via the pork barrel (or teat as you put it) makes sense today but wouldn’t have then. Each of the several states would have objected far more strenuously to that sort of behavior. But also, attempts to buy off the Southern states were made and failed in any event. It seems apparent that the failure was due to the view that the citizens had of themselves and their state that was at issue and led to the debacle. I agree that the end result was the desired one but it was at a cost that may see our undoing in the long run. Would that it were an arguement over some other issue and not the morality and legality of slavery so that states rights may have been preserved without resorting to a civil war.

  43. It also seems apparent to me that many in the South are anti-Federalists and for states rights and that many of the Northern elitist Liberals love to use the terms redneck, cracker, and (particularly) racist whenever this discussion comes around.

  44. True. The funny thing is we’re still arguing over the same thing the founders argued over. I have little doubt there were founders who believed in a right of secession and other that did not.

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