Den of Iniquity

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Our American Schizophrenia

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
On July 4th every year we celebrate those eloquent words from Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. They say that the American colonists had a moral right to secede from Britain and go their separate ways. It is an unalienable right, Jefferson tells us, which means it cannot be taken away from us by any person or government, no matter what they say.

It’s a funny thing about inalienable rights, though. They’re only as inalienable as our ability to defend and enforce them. Those words inspired the people of embryonic America, but not our brothers across the Pond. To us those words were about liberty. To the British those words were about treason. Liberty and treason are two sides of the same coin. Or, to thoroughly mix a metaphor, the only difference between liberty and treason is which direction your gun is pointing.

We may think in terms of grand, lofty, noble principles, and we always do when there is any sort of kerfuffle kicking around. Both sides do. But philosophical theories and moral ideals don’t amount to much without some military muscle to add an effective exclamation point to our words. We had to fight the British for our inalienable rights. Declaring them wasn’t enough.

Words are never enough. It always comes down to guns one way or another, eventually, it seems. We fought Mexico to prove that Texas, the American southwest, and California had the inalienable right to be part of the United States. We fought for their secession from Mexico, in other words. We fought in South Korea for her right to secede and remain free from (North) Korea. We fought in South Vietnam for her right to secede and maintain independence from (North) Vietnam. It all stemmed from the principle of the inalienable right of a people to self-determination and self-government established in the Declaration of Independence.
But there was one occasion in our history when we adopted the opposite point of view. On that occasion we fought to prevent a group of people from exercising that very same inalienable right. We felt so strongly about it that we were willing to sacrifice 650,000 American lives, demolish half the country, and shred the Constitution. More Americans were lost in that struggle than in all our other wars combined. Many of those victims of war were defenseless women, children, old men, and blacks.

Scores of thousands of others had their lives destroyed in one way or another. Many were thrown in prison, indefinitely, without habeas corpus, without right to counsel, without being charged with any crime, and without any notification of family members. Newspaper editors in the North were the favorite targets. Many had their business destroyed by hired government thugs. For what? For daring to disagree with government policies or actions. No, not really for disagreeing, but for anything short of ebullient support. For the faintest waft of possible lack of fully enthusiastic cheerleading. A mere rumor was good enough to throw an editor in jail. Even people who generally supported the current government and said so in their newspaper were imprisoned. Their crime? Not being, or not perceived as being, a Lincoln votary.

It’s hard to imagine a time in America when so many of our inalienable rights were trampled on. Freedom of speech. Gone. Freedom of the press. Gone. The entire Bill of Rights was gone. Taking its place was a federal government that decided capriciously what rights Americans had. Much as King George did when Americans decided they’d had enough, prompting the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War.
What an astonishing role reversal. Suddenly we had our very own King George sitting in the White House. You know him better as Abraham Lincoln. He knew very well that the South had the very same inalienable right to secede from the Union that the colonies had to secede from Britain. How do we know that? Because he said so. As a lawyer and politician, Lincoln argued more eloquently than anybody else in the country for the right of secession.

That right was also taught at West Point. Furthermore, New England had threatened to secede many times over the years. New York City threatened to secede from New York State. There was plenty of debate over whether secession was a good or bad idea, but not over their right to do it. No president ever asserted that they had no right to secede. No president sent in federal troops to keep them from seceding, or to force them back into the Union if they tried. There is an epidemic of secessionist fever in Vermont even today.

At first, there was no disagreement anywhere in the country about the South’s right to secede. At first, Yankees had no problem with Southern secession. The North and South had never gotten along, had never liked each other, and most Yankees were happy to see them go. Until, that is, they started reading in the newspapers about one of the consequences of secession. It began to dawn on Yankees that tariff revenue was the bulk of the federal government’s total income, and the South provided the bulk of that tariff revenue. Without the South providing funds for the North, Yankees would have to drastically change their ways or go broke in a hurry.
Furthermore, the problem would be compounded because of the North’s high tariffs. Tariffs had been a cause of animosity between North and South from the very beginning. When the Morrill Tariff was passed at about the same time Lincoln was elected, the South decided they had had enough, because that tariff increased rates dramatically, hurting the South, helping the North. The Confederacy adopted a very low tariff policy, and planned to do away with it completely in the near future. So, the North’s Morrill Tariff was coming back to haunt them. All the transatlantic shipping that had kept New York and other northern ports bustling would sail right past and dock in New Orleans from now on. Why pay those high tariffs in New York when New Orleans offered virtually free trade?

Yankees didn’t like Southerners, but they were addicted to Southern taxes. Abraham Lincoln was a big government guy with big plans requiring big money. As a Whig, his party’s big government ideas had been shot down year after year, election after election, for decades, leaving Lincoln and his fellow Whigs seething with anger. Now that he had finally finagled his way into office, he was not about to let those damned Rebels spoil his plans. Lincoln was the most Progressive president the country has ever seen, even before the term or the party was born. No wonder Republicans today can’t quite bring themselves to admit that their very first president was a progressive, and a flagitious despot.

Lincoln and the North were not inclined to stand by and watch the South’s economy thrive while grass grew in the streets of New York City. But they had to come up with a good excuse for taking action. And that’s why they framed the war as a noble effort to keep the nation united. In his First Inaugural Address, Lincoln strongly hinted that secession was unconstitutional, but he didn’t come right out and say it. He couldn’t very well do that, because he knew it wasn’t true, and he knew the lie could be easily refuted. So, principles, ideals, high moral values, lofty and noble philosophical concepts like inalienable rights – none of that mattered. Lincoln simply decided that he was not going to allow the South to exercise their inalienable right, much as King George decided not to let his (American) people go. Money and power trumped principles, morals, and inalienable rights.
With Lincoln’s election, there was no longer any hope at all of the South getting a fair shake in Washington. At least, that’s how South Carolina saw it. That was the first state to secede on December 20, 1860. Other states soon followed, and the Confederacy was born, much like the birth of the united (lower-case u, capital S) States in 1776. And, much like in 1776, the South had to fight for their inalienable right to secede, just as the colonies did following the Declaration of Independence.

Yankees were rank racists. Lincoln was a white supremacist, and a champion of the colonization movement. He fought, even during his presidency, to have all blacks in the country (North and South) shipped back to Africa or another country, or some island somewhere. Anywhere but here. As late as 1865, Lincoln’s negotiators assured the South that the Emancipation Proclamation was just a “war measure”, and that they could keep their slaves if they would just put down their guns, rejoin the Union, and resume their subordinate role as the North’s cash cow. (Although I’m sure the Yankees phrased it more euphemistically).

Lincoln also tried to get the Corwin Amendment ratified. That was Abe’s project all the way. It was a proposed Constitutional Amendment which would have made slavery the law of the land, legal in every state, forever. No congressional legislation could ever repeal it. Nor could any future Constitutional Amendment. It had already cleared Congress, and three states had ratified it. Not one of those states was in the South. The South was not interested in that desperate ploy. They knew slavery was on its way out, and that it was an evil institution that had to go. For a short while longer, though, they considered it a necessary evil, one which they were committed to outgrowing. They just didn’t want Yankees or abolitionists dictating the terms and timing.
Contrary to Yankee propaganda, the North had always profited from slavery. They didn’t own slaves, because slavery wasn’t economically viable in the North’s industrial economy. However, Yankees profited from slavery in several ways. They were heavily involved in the international slave market, even after it was outlawed in the US. Slave ships left northern harbors right up to the start of the Civil War, because there was very little chance of getting caught, and the profits were enormous. Much of the wealth in the northeast today was derived originally from the slave trade.

Yankees also benefited from Southern slavery. For one thing, their textile industry relied on cheap cotton from the South. But more importantly, Southern slavery kept most blacks in the South, and that’s just where racist Yankees wanted them to stay. They didn’t want blacks in their neighborhoods, schools, or churches. And they most certainly didn’t want blacks competing for Northern jobs, which Yankees strongly believed were strictly for white guys. They didn’t want blacks in the territories, either, because that, too, was strictly for whites. Yankees didn’t necessarily like the institution of slavery, but they were perfectly happy to see it working in the South as long as it provided job protection for the North. One proof of that is state laws in the North prohibiting blacks from settling there. Blacks who managed to find freedom with the help of the Underground Railroad found that their flight could not end in the North, where they were most unwelcomed. Fugitive slaves had to keep going all the way to Canada.

During the war, blacks were usually treated cruelly and contemptuously by Union troops. According to what we’ve been taught in school, Yankee propagandists pointed proudly to the number of blacks who joined the Union army. What they don’t point to is the fact that most of them were not volunteers at all. They were forced at gunpoint to go with Union officers. In a typical scenario, Union troops would swoop down on a plantation, slave men would run and hide in the woods or mountains, Union troops would hunt them down and take them away at gunpoint, leaving their wives and children writhing in agony on the ground, often with no means of support thereafter, and never hearing from or of their loved ones again. Union officers were forced to use that tactic because there were virtually no slave volunteers for the Union army. This is according to the Union’s own official military records. Blacks in the Union army were treated very harshly, and for most of the war they were not paid for their military service. They were still slaves, now with a Yankee master.
Those same records also document countless cases of pillage, plunder, and murder by Union troops in the South. They were hideous war crimes by any reasonable standard, including the Union’s own code of military conduct. Many Union generals were shocked, appalled, and disillusioned by their observed conduct of Union troops, often men in their own command. But their orders and warnings were usually totally ignored. Complaints to superior officers were often effective, but not in the way they hoped for. Officers who complained about Union misconduct were ostracized and punished. The worst war criminals were promoted. This policy was demanded by Northern politicians, officials, and the public, including Abraham Lincoln, all the way down the chain of command. However Union generals may have felt about it, there was nothing they could do, and it didn’t interfere with their relentless campaign of Southern cultural genocide.

That’s the butt-ugly truth. We Americans prefer demulcent delusion to dolorous reality. So, we pretend that Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, valiantly struggling against those evil Southern masters to free the slaves. We pretend the Civil War was all about slavery, not money and power. We pretend the South started the war by firing on Fort Sumter, instead of admitting that the war started when Lincoln sent federal troops into the South to enforce tariff laws. We pretend the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, instead of admitting that it did not free a single slave, and it wasn’t even designed to. We pretend to still believe in the principles of the Declaration of Independence, even though they were annulled by Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War. We pretend we are still a constitutional democratic republic, instead of acknowledging that our Constitution was eviscerated by the Lincoln tyranny.

Before the Civil War, we were the united States of America. Now we are the United state of America. Something to talk about on July 4th.