In a recent column for the Associated Press, entitled “Old South monument backers embrace Confederate Catechism”, writer Jay Reeves opines that that those of us who seek to remember the Confederacy and Southern culture are reading from a different history book than the rest of the “nation”. He acknowledges that “indeed they are”, and then references the “decades old” Confederate Catechism written by Lyon G. Tyler, son of former President John Tyler. Reeves is astonished by the audacity of Southern historians, and Southern people in general, who would reject “today’s scholarship”.
Mr. Reeves’ writes in a style that is typical of modern era “journalists”, which is to say there is a lot of finger pointing and innuendo going on, but very little actual research. He, not so covertly, calls out the Sons of Confederate Veterans for defending “rebel” monuments, and chastises the United Daughters of the Confederacy for having the temerity to enact “programs to educate children on its version of Southern history”. (emphasis added)
What one will find in this article is very little intellectual content, an elementary level of investigation, and no actual journalism. It’s a mere opinion piece forwarded by someone who, frankly, does not possess a very informed opinion on the subject that he chose to tackle.
Reeves is intrigued at the notion that anyone would deny that the war was all about slavery, and points to the Mississippi ordinance of secession as proof that, in fact, it was fought over the slavery issue. In doing so he is conflating secession itself as an act of war. In his mind, the South seceded over slavery and thus initiated the conflict. Therefore, slavery caused the war. And since “today’s scholarship” approves of this view, well, how dare anyone disagree.
The problems with this view are multiple. First of all, there was no monolithic entity known as “the South” that seceded. Thirteen independent States issued ordinances of secession, and, for varying reasons, eleven of those seceded. Why assume that Mississippi spoke for all thirteen States? Moreover, rather than trying to conflate 19th Century “morality” with a 21st Century worldview, why not attempt to understand why the slavery issue was such a point of contention with some States? As has been pointed out many times, the Republicans, and especially Lincoln, were not trying to “end” slavery, they were trying to stop its entrance into the new territories which they wanted for “free, white labor”. This would have neutralized Southern representation in Congress which would have led to higher taxes, and more siphoning of Southern money into Northern internal improvement projects. These facts are obvious to those of us who’ve gone beyond “modern scholarship”.
Likewise, Missouri would beg to differ that “secession was all about slavery”. Her ordinance of secession stated the following as reason for secession:
Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions.
Presumably, Missouri took issue with the general government sending armed troops into their State and enacting a hostile and bloody occupation which led to the “murdering with fiendish malignity” of her citizens. Had Mr. Reeves looked deeper into the nature of the union he would have found that Missouri’s stance in this regard was perfectly in keeping with the premise under which the union was formed.
Alexander Hamilton, in the New York ratifying convention, stated that “to coerce the States is one of the maddest projects that was ever devised. A failure of compliance will never be confined to a single State. This being the case, can we suppose it wise to hazard a civil war?”
Hamilton goes on to say that “Congress marching the troops of one State into the bosom of another; this State collecting auxiliaries, and forming perhaps a majority against its federal head. Here is a nation at war with itself!” He asks “Can any reasonable man be well disposed towards a Government which makes war and carnage the only means of supporting itself?”
Missouri was prompted towards secession by a preceding federal invasion and overthrow of her governmental institutions. There’s no mention of slavery as a cause, and the first act of hostility leveled between Missourians and the general government was undertaken by US troops. Reeves doesn’t mention this, presumably because it would detract from the narrative of “modern scholarship” that it was all about “slavery.”
No serious historian would deny that Northern assaults on slavery were “a” cause of secession for some States. But again, secession is not an act of war and one must frame this situation in the context of the time. “Modern scholars” rarely do so, and slouch instead towards an intellectually dishonest and demagogic narrative intended to impugn the South without regards to the facts. Moreover, Lincoln said on numerous instances, including his first inaugural address, that he was not pursuing war to “interfere either directly or indirectly with the institution of slavery”, but would inflict “violence” and “bloodshed” to “collect the tariff” and “preserve the union.” If the entity that initiates war is not invading for the purpose of freeing slaves, then how pray tell is the war being fought by the South to preserve slavery? Mr. Reeves makes no attempt at answering this question, but rather presents his incredulousness at the mere notion that anyone could possibly disagree with “modern scholarship”.
Reeves goes on in a feeble attempt to cast doubt on who initiated the war, stating of the Confederate Catechism that “the guide even denies that the war began when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter at Charleston, South Carolina.” I’ve written an in-depth analyses of the Sumter situation here, but will summarize with the following analogy: If Confederate forces inaugurated war by firing on US warships unlawfully and aggressively entering Charleston harbor, then it is logical to suggest that US forces initiated war with Japan when the USS Ward fired on and sank a Japanese midget submarine trying to enter Pearl Harbor. If one finds the latter statement to be an absurdity, then the same should apply to the notion that the South in “firing the first shot” started the war with the United States. This thought has apparently never crossed the mind of our esteemed journalist.
But, here’s the real issue. Mr. Reeves was not attempting to undertake a fair, honest or reasonable look into what compelled the South, or why the Confederate Catechism may forward legitimate arguments. Like most modern writers, and most “modern scholars”, he was simply trying to gain favor with the ever diminishing handful of leftist myrmidons who still pay any attention to today’s press.