Monday, February 15, 2010


Albany Herald guest columnist lauds the South and Generals Jackson and Lee for their wonderful and humane treatment of Negro slaves

This week an Albany Herald guest columnist who is a regular contributor to that eminent epicenter of journalism asserted the nobility of the Southern Cause during the Civil War and contended that it is important to "revere" Generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Not content with encouraging "reverence" (a condition ordinarily reserved for holy religious objects and personages), he went on to salute those two fine gentlemen for their many contributions to the civil rights and humane treatment of Negroes prior to and during the Civil War (the "recent unpleasantness," as it was once quaintly referred to in polite conversation; or the "War of Northern Aggression" to unrepentant former slave owners and their progeny). And he vilified President Lincoln and the Northern states in general for their abhorrent treatment of Negro slaves.

As I read this I almost gagged on my breakfast, wondering once again at the incredible hubris of those who wish to re-write history, not content merely to whitewash some of the seamier episodes of their ancestors, but in this case attempting a complete 180 degree backflip with a half twist, turning black into white, and wrong into right. Here's a brief sample from his prose:

"And, according to historians, Jackson treated the few slaves he owned like family. In addition, unlike Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant, there is no record of either Lee or Jackson ever speaking disparagingly of the black race. Furthermore, it is well established that Jackson regularly conducted Sunday school class for black children.... As a result, he was dearly loved and appreciated by the children and their parents."

Noticeably absent from his spirited defense of those who raised arms against the United States was any mention of the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused because the South fought to preserve the institution of slavery. The phrase "Northern War of Aggression" which he used is pure fiction. The immediate cause of the war was the Southern reaction to the election of Abraham Lincoln, the first candidate of an anti-slavery party to win the nation's highest office. The Southern States seceded and went to war, but not based on any policies of Lincoln. He was still months away from his inauguration in March of 1861 when the first shots were fired upon the United States flag in South Carolina. Those shots came from South Carolina's militia on January 9, 1861, to prevent the resupply of United States troops in Fort Sumter near Charleston. South Carolina had seceded from the United States on December 24, 1860, when its legislature adopted a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." The words "rights of states" were used- but in the context of the "rights" of slave owners in the South to their "property." The "Causes" included a complaint about the Northern States' failure to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and to aid their Southern neighbors in keeping human beings in bondage for life:

"The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States. The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed.... The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor."

The Confederacy's president, Jefferson Davis, defended slavery in a speech in Montgomery, Alabama, on April 29, 1861, arguing that Southern slavery “elevated [African slaves] from brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers.” He justified the Southern States' decision to secede from the Union as being necessary to insure the continuation of “the labor of African slaves... under the supervision of a superior race” which was “indispensable” to the “wants of civilized man.” Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said that slavery was the "cornerstone" of the Confederacy.

The 1860 census counted 462,198 slaves in Georgia, 44 percent of the total population of 1,057,286. There were almost four million slaves in the Confederacy at the onset of the Civil War. The result of the South losing the war was immediate freedom for those millions of human beings. Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, which freed slaves in any States still in open rebellion on January 1, 1863. That proclamation, by its very terms, actually freed no slaves (because it only applied to States over which the Union had no power), but it did, for the first time in the nation's history, give African slaves cause for hope that freedom was at hand. And on January 13, 1865, Congress enacted the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution and sent it to the States for ratification. That amendment prohibited slavery in the United States and any place under their jurisdiction, and it became part of the United States Constitution after ratification on December 6, 1865.

The Southern States' war to preserve slavery caused the greatest slaughter of American troops (Southern and Northern combined) in history- an estimated 624,000 dead. The next highest totals were from World War II, 405,399 deaths, and World War I, 116,516.

The fact that Lee may or may not have personally owned slaves is irrelevant, because he led the army of those who fought to preserve the institution of slavery as lawful in the United States. Those are the facts, and that is the legacy of the Civil War.


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