Monday, December 20, 2010

Secessionistly Speaking

Quebecers may ponder why I am so hostile to secession.  As a scholar of the phenomenon, I should be dispassionate.  And it is true that I do find that secession may be the appropriate way to go if one is facing heaps of repression (Bangladesh, for instance).  But perhaps my tendency to be critical of secession lays in my political socialization.  That is, I was raised in the US--in the North.  So, when I hear secession, just perhaps I am hostile because I think of the US Civil War where the animating grievance was slavery states' rights slavery (not the first time I have spewed about this).

This article alerts us to the reality that the next five years we will be seeing 150th anniversaries of key Civil War events.  Today's event:
ON Dec. 20, 1860, 169 men — politicians and people of property — met in the ballroom of St. Andrew’s Hall in Charleston, S.C. After hours of debate, they issued the 158-word “Ordinance of Secession,” which repealed the consent of South Carolina to the Constitution and declared the state to be an independent country. Four days later, the same group drafted a seven-page “Declaration of the Immediate Causes,” explaining why they had decided to split the Union.
why did the South secede?  I can testify about the South under oath. I was born and raised there, and 12 men in my family fought for the Confederacy; two of them were killed. And since I was a boy, the answer I’ve heard to this question, from Virginia to Louisiana (from whites, never from blacks), is this: “The War Between the States was about states’ rights. It was not about slavery.”.... But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.
South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”
How dare they consider the ownership of human beings to be sinful! 

Whenever folks talk about the US Civil War and omit slavery, my radar is activated.  Yes, there were other differences between North and South, but the objection to Lincoln as president centered around his stance on slavery.*  People have called slavery as America's original sin, and there is no doubt that is true.  Anything that whitewashes** the horror that Americans directed against a group of people because of the color of their kin is simply appalling.

So, while I have some remorse that the US held onto the South (especially around election times), the fight against slavery was worth it, even if it took another hundred years or so to finish the process (civil rights acts of the 1960s).  I would not mind the South seceding now, on the other hand.

To be fair, Quebec separatists are not slave owners so their claims are more legitimate than the American Southerners in 1860.  But that ain't saying much at all.

*  According to some people, Lincoln fought against slavery as part of a larger battle against Vampires.
** I used the term whitewash as I went back and forth between this post and the article and then found that the article concluded with that term.  Plagiarism or two people facing the same lie and calling it what it is?

1 comment:

Bill Ayres said...

I've been facing this same debate for years - at least since the unrepentant Southerner at the APSA one year accused me of being biased for using the term "separatist"!

One interesting thought experiment: if any state or group of states wanted to leave the Union for any other reason (that is, a reason that doesn't involve slavery or their right to oppress their own people), would they have the right to do so? If tomorrow enough Vermonters decide they've had enough of the Federal government, do they have the right to up and leave? And if they do - assuming they don't plan to use that independence to commit some obvious evil - do they have to justify their reasons to the rest of us?