Editor: I read with interest Stephen Price’s learned rebuttal of a mid-January column by Roger Vance, published in the Feb. 1 issue of Loudoun Now. Mr. Price brought his admirable grasp of history to bear on Mr. Vance’s moral condemnation of Confederate military leaders for their white supremacist ideology as “inimical to…American democracy,” that “spawned generations of extremists and terrorists.”
What I found interesting is that the views of both Mr. Price and Mr. Vance were not without foundation. Mr. Vance’s moral condemnation of the motive force of the Confederacy’s secession, was the preservation of slavery. For Southern leaders secession was justified by the demand of the Northern states for the “abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy…[that] avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these states.” (Texas Ordinance of Secession, 1861) Mississippi added that the state was “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” (Mississippi Ordinance, 1861)
The “institution of slavery,” as Mississippi so benignly put it, was in fact thoroughly and objectively evil, as Frederick Douglass recounted in his compelling autobiography. There were later portrayals of the rebellion as “the Lost Cause,” first by offered in 1866 by Edward A. Pollard, followed by Claude Bowers’ “The Tragic Era,” and later by the Dunning School’s Jim Crow apologia.
For his part, Mr. Price justifiably calls needed attention to the fact that the belief in white supremacy flourished in the Northern states. Negroes were widely believed to be intellectually, physically, and morally inferior to whites. Access to housing, employment, transportation, and other amenities and necessities in regions such as New England were strictly limited by racial hatred of blacks in such Northern cities as Boston and New York. In 1863, New York erupted in rioting by whites in protest of draft laws enacted by Congress for soldiers to fight in the Civil War. More than 120 blacks were attacked and killed by white mobs in three days of unconstrained rioting.
Historical research documents the persistence of unalloyed racial animus against blacks throughout American history in every era and geographical region. Indeed, recent historical research has illuminated the extent to which the imposition and enforcement of racial segregation was official national government policy. Anti-black hostility by white government officials was institutionalized at the federal, state and local levels. Despite post-Civil War constitutional protections of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments, under the principle of desuetude, they were often ignored. The long-term consequence of which was the degradation and impoverishment of the life-chances and thus, the futures and hopes of generations of black Americans. As Richard Rothstein has shown in his recently-published, “The Color of Law,” “We have created a caste system in this country, with African Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. Although most of these are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure.”
Accordingly, to engage in a contestation of assigning moral blame, in this case, is ultimately futile. The one incontestable ground of condemnation is constitutional, and it is wholly borne by the leaders of the Confederacy. The decision to secede, take up arms and fire the first shots, was unambiguously a constitutionally defined act of treason, under Article 3, Section 2: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them [i.e., the states], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.”
That is the irrefutable ground for condemnation. Today, our mission as a people—especially now—is to redeem the American project based on equality, justice and a commitment to positive individual liberty.
Randy Ihara, South Riding