When one grows old one tends to resent wasting time and there is nothing that wastes time quite so much as efforts to counter the claims and assertions surrounding the American “Civil War” Of course, the first of these is that the conflict was not a “civil war.” But those who insist upon that label continue to do so despite all demonstrable facts to the contrary. Alas, it is impossible to have reasoned debate when so few are prepared to be reasonable. Indeed, all arguments involving the causes for that war and the subsequent praise and blame devolving upon its participants inevitably lead to the same tiresome claims against the South even when inescapable and acknowledged facts disprove them.

In the past the motives and rationale of the Southern States in their efforts to leave the Union were treated with respect—but no more. Now, no good report is ever permitted regarding the efforts by thirteen sovereign States to secede from the compact to which they had voluntarily acceded. The whole thing has deteriorated into the use of the race card. I do not doubt that cultural Marxism in using the issue of race to sow discord in American society has directly led to the present war on the history, heroes and memorials of the South even though Lincoln himself stated unequivocally that slavery was not the reason for his treasonous (Article III, Section 3—United States Constitution) war.

But it is useless to counter—however correctly—the current historical orthodoxy simply because apparently no amount of demonstrable “proof” will overcome that deeply desired—and false—narrative. Instead, I call upon an individual whose viewpoint cannot be disparaged because he was a Southerner and owned slaves—because he wasn’t a Southerner, neither did he own slaves. He wasn’t even an American and therefore had “no dog in the fight” as they say. Rather, he was an intellectual giant who dealt with the great matters of the day unhampered by petty political, social or economic opinions. That man was John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton [1834-1902] more familiar to us today as Lord Acton whose comment, “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is the supreme coherent warning against unbridled power.

Described as “the magistrate of history,” Lord Acton was one of the greatest minds of the nineteenth century and is universally considered one of the most learned Englishmen of his time. He made the history of liberty his life’s work; indeed, he considered political liberty the essential condition and guardian of religious liberty. After the American war, Acton kept up a correspondence with Robert Edward Lee and it is in one of his letters to Lee that Acton sums up his view of the conflict putting to rest forever all of the petty social, political and economic issues that continue to be used to glorify the federal war and denigrate the South in its efforts to break free from what had become intolerable. In a letter dated November 4th, 1866, Action wrote:

“. . . I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. . . . I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”

In this letter, Acton makes nothing of all the contentions and assertions as to why what was supposed to be a limited “federal” government had the right to wage war against thirteen sovereign States exercising their constitutional and God given right to leave a compact that had become onerous to them and their citizens. Everything else—every claim, every supposition, every accusation becomes irrelevant in the face of this brilliant man’s clear and concise judgment upon the matter. And for those who demand proof of Action’s conclusion, I suggest that they look at what our “limited” government is today. It is unlimited, corrupt and tyrannous, rejecting the will of the people and embracing “the absolutism of the sovereign will” spoken of by Acton. It is not an accident that the Lincoln Memorial is patterned on the great temples to Zeus erected by the ancient Greeks. Yes, we are still “paying for the Confederacy” but not in the way your article suggests. Because the Confederacy was defeated, today slavery once limited to a minority in the hands of individual citizens—white and black—now includes us all in the hands of the Deep State.

Valerie Protopapas

Valerie Protopapas is an independent historian and the former editor of The Southern Cavalry Review, the journal of The Stuart-Mosby Historical Society.

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