Today is the anniversary of the declaration of Secession by South Carolina from the United States in 1860. This lead to the founding of the Confederacy and lead the nation on a path to a long bloody conflict that cost the lives of countless people on both sides. What does this anniversary mean for 2010 though? For the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust: it means it’s time to throw a party.
The Secession Ball
Tonight, the two groups mentioned above will be throwing what they are calling “The Secession Ball” what is according to the website is “Commemorating the 150th Anniversary of South Carolina’s Secession.” They claim to even have the President Pro-Tempore of the SC Senate planning on attending the ball. The Sons of Confederate Veterans officials condemns slavery and their spokesperson for the event claims that they are not celebrating the war, but instead just the courage of those who decided to sign the secession statement, while the NAACP has planed a march to protest the event tonight.
So if they are not celebrating the war or slavery, why the event? Many organizations and individuals who attempt to defend things like the foundation of the Confederate States tend to appeal to notions of States’ Rights and of “Heritage” (“not hate”). But it doesn’t take much to demonstrate how secession and the creation of the Confederacy were explicitly about preserving slavery and that the specific rights sought out in trying to defend “States Rights” in this particular case were the rights of the state to keep Slavery a legal institution.
So the courage to stand up to the Union ought to be seen as the “courage to defend slavery.”
Causes of the Civil War
Slavery was the base of the economic power for the Southern elite in the pre-Civil War South. After decades of complicated power struggles and debates about expanding the institution to new American states, the Southern elite was threatened and to use a phrase Marx used, launched a “Slave owner rebellion.” As I noted above, they made their reasons for secession quite clear: to preserve slavery. While other factors, such as “taxes and tariffs,” are sometimes pointed to as causes for the war, these factors existed in so far as they interfered with the source of the wealth that was being harmed: the institution of slavery!
This is of course a long historical debate, but the arguments for Southern Secession tend to be red herrings when it comes to slavery. Even these groups putting on the “Secession Ball” make sure to note that they are opposed to slavery and the Civil War’s bloody toll. Yet they defend the event that is noted for its strong defense of slavery and for starting that very war.
When “States’ Rights” is appealed to as the reason for the South’s actions, what rights those States were looking to protect are often ignored. This is because it was the right to own slavery by the Southern elite. Yet the argument over States’ Rights was not resolved at the end of the War.
After the Civil War ended and what is often referred to as “radical reconstruction” was abandoned to an extent, the newer elites in the South instituted “Jim Crow Laws.” It was the “Jim Crow South” that was responsible for racial segregation that wasn’t to be fully broken until the civil rights movement exploded in the 1960s. The arguments for maintaining these laws often appealed to the same thing: States’ Rights.
We can also see a similar kind of rhetoric of States’ Rights in the opposition to the moderate attempt at health care reform over the past few years. It’s rare in the history of the South that these concept is appealed to actually expand the rights of the majority of the people, but instead States’ Rights are often appealed to for the strengthening of the elite.
We need to be clear about the nature of celebrating the Confederacy in any way: It was a reactionary attempt to preserve slavery in the South, and its’ defeat needs to be celebrated, not its’ founding.