By Alan Caruba
It seems odd, even to me, that a northerner, born and bred, should join in the celebration of Confederate Memorial Day on May 7th. Odder still because I saw the worst of the South with its Jim Crow laws that so cruelly oppressed the Blacks that lived there, but I spent enough years in the South to love its people, its music, its culture, and its history.
It is said that the winner of wars gets to write the history of those conflicts and that is true, but there is ample history of the Confederacy to gain a much-needed understanding of why, on February 4, 1861, the representatives of seven States, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas, would meet to formally secede from the Union to form a new republic. On February 8, the convention announced the establishment of the Confederate States of America and declared itself its provisional Congress.
State's Rights Versus the Federal Government
The Confederacy was always a paradox. The central issue for the South was states’ rights, not slavery, though slavery was the stain that shaped elements of the U.S. Constitution, an issue that the Founders had concluded must await the judgment of a later time.
It was about the South’s interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. In his inaugural address, Jefferson Davis said, “The constitution formed by our fathers is the constitution of the (newly formed) Confederate States." The Civil War was a war against the federal government in 1861 and the years leading up to it that had led the South to conclude it could no longer remain in the Union.
The Confederacy lasted from 1861 to 1885 and its history constituted the first modern war in which the awful technologies of war left the South with an estimated 94,000 battle deaths, and 164,000 dead from disease. Fully 258,000 men fought under its flag. The North lost a total of 360,222 to death and disease. Along with the Reconstruction, the South paid a fearsome price for its integrity and beliefs.
It is a little known fact that there is a monument to the Confederate dead at Arlington National Cemetery. Its inscription says, “Not for fame or reward, Not for place or for rank, Not lured by ambition, Or goaded by necessity, But in Simple Obedience to Duty as they understood it, These men suffered all, Sacrificed all, Dared all—and died.”
Confederate Memorial Day will be celebrated throughout the South. On May 7th in North Carolina, the Sons of Confederate Veterans will gather at the Columbus County Courthouse and the Whiteville Memorial Cemetery.
Here’s where the past and present meet. The featured speaker will be H.K, Edgerton, a man who had spoken last year. “At times the audience was laughing, uproariously, and at others weeping. His presentation is knowledgeable, perceptive, sensitive, politically incorrect, historically correct, humor, and serious—all rolled into a professional presentation of Confederate history that will leave you wanting more.” Edgerton is a Black American of southern heritage, a former president of the NAACP’s Ashville, North Carolina branch.
He has said of his ancestors, they “went to war with their masters”, serving as cooks or farriers, even taking up arms. “There was a love that existed between black and white in the South that transcended the bonds of slavery. We were family.”
That’s something those raised in the North and other regions are not taught and do not understand. It would take, however, another hundred years for the wrongs of slavery to be fully set right in the era of the civil rights movement. It takes more than a Constitutional Amendment to change the human heart.
The sharp political divide that present-day America is experiencing is every bit related to the issue of state’s rights as any that preceded it.
The fear that the federal government has grown too large and is too intrusive in the affairs of the States and of all Americans is a legitimate one. The Union is being severely tested and it is an irony of history that the source of much of that fear and anger is the nation’s first Black President.
It is common parlance these days that “In 2008 we voted for Obama to prove we were not racists. In 2012 we must vote for someone else to prove we are not idiots.”
© Alan Caruba, 20011