Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Your Ancestors Were the Imperfect Products of an Imperfect Era. Get Over It.

Photo: wallyg, Flickr Creative Commons

I read the Constitution of the Confederate States of America yesterday. Some New York Times opinion columnist mentioned that the one thing that document got right was the six-year terms for elected officials in the government. Honestly, most of the CSA Constitution was lifted directly from the American Constitution, so I'd say they probably got more than that right, but I think the point in the comment was that the six-year terms (and the president and vice president only got one term) were the only change the Confederates got right.

A few of you may have seen the ad that's been running in Atlanta that tries to rewrite history regarding the Civil War. Some of the points are valid. The Federal government probably wasn't entirely fighting the war on philosophical grounds and their main motivation most likely was not the ending of slavery. Instead, their focus was the economic and power loss that would have come from losing the agricultural South. The ad goes awry when it tries to claim the Confederacy as this glorious band of ideologues fighting for freedom and the true American way. This ad isn't the only time I hear crap like this. There's a billboard by the Sons of Confederate Veterans or some such that echoes the same thing in my home town.

These people would know the glorification of the Confederacy was bullshit if they would actually look at the original CSA Constitution. It's made quite obvious that slavery most definitely was the defining "freedom" for which they fought. True, it wasn't the only grudge between the Northern and Southern states, but let's face it, wars are fought over land, money, and power. Southerners already had their land, and there may have been some power brokering by individuals in the Confederate leadership, but for the most part these guys were already pretty well up in the chain of command in the US government at the time. The real issue is money and considering the agricultural nature of the South at the time and the importance of slavery to agriculture system in place then, that was by far the most important issue for the Confederates and their Constitution reflects that. In addition to the six year terms, the only other changes are a sprinkling of tweaks that reduced the power and effectiveness of the central government in fairly small ways. There's a whole lot of stuff about slavery. Slavery pops up in more than one article of the document and only once is it a positive change from the original.

After constitutionally banning the importation of slaves from outside the CSA, everything else is concerned specifically with preserving the institution of the enslavement of blacks. This extended to the point that the CSA Constitution banned the admission of new states unless those states agreed to legalize slavery.

You know what? I understand having a fondness for the history of where you live and there are a lot of good things to remember about the history of the South, but the reasons for the Civil War should not be one of them. We cannot hold the people of bygone eras to our modern ethical standards, but we also shouldn't fall into the trap of erasing their warts from our memories of them. They were flawed. We need to remember that. I can love the United States despite what was done by my government to the American Indians before I was born. I don't have to pretend it wasn't all that bad. It was a disgrace. I can still love the South despite the fact I'm embarrassed by the fact that it once tried to form a new government based in part on a racist institution.

If you want to skim over the original document, you can find it at Oklahoma University's law school website.


Rassles said...

I cannot believe it never occurred to me to read the Constitution of the Confederacy. Wow. Nicely done.

Courtney said...

Yeah, there are no words to express the absurdity of that commercial. Did you hear that the History Channel refused to air it? Considering some of the programming on the History Channel, that's pretty bad.

I have (a little) Southern pride, but I really don't get people who honestly don't want to be part of the United States, who think that the Confederacy should rise again or some shit. I kind of want to ship all those people off to Mississippi and let them secede. The country as a whole would be better off without Mississippi anyway.

Jacob said...

And Florida. Florida sucks harder than Mississippi.

Julie said...

Live and learn. We get better by learning from our mistakes.

Mickey said...

Word up, brotha.

Chris said...

All good points. It's a lot easier to rally behind a cause when you don't waste time actually thinking about what it means, as with the modern-day Confederates.

We're seeing it to a large extent now with the Tea Party crowd too, which claims undying allegiance to the Constitution, while showing a very thin understanding of what the document says.