The E-newsletter of John Oliver Mason, 7/28/13
The first week of July commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863, the Confederate forces under General Robert E. Lee fought Union forces under General George G. Meade, which ended in defeat for the Confederates and was the turning point of the Civil War.
The period 2009 to today has been the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and I was afraid the event would start nostalgia for the “lost cause,” especially after the election of our first African-American President. From the end of the Civil War, the history of the event was altered to be a war among brothers, and the Confederacy was recast as a “noble cause,” a conflict for “states rights” against an oppressive federal government− and slavery had nothing to do with it. The Civil War, among southerners, was called the “War of Northern Aggression,” and the term was used as early as last year by Jim Porter, President of the National Rifle Association.
Slavery had nothing to do with secession? Here is an excerpt from the Texas Ordinance of Secession, ratified by the Secession Convention in February 2, 1861:
…She (Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits–a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy….
The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretenses and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slave-holding States….
Here is the Secession Ordinance of Georgia, January 29, 1861:
…For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic….
The ordinance complained about the new Republican party as
admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state…. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen….
Finally, here is the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, issued in December 24, 1860:
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that ‘Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,’ and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction….
So, this is the “noble cause,” the right to own and keep other human beings as slaves, livestock. This has been the basis of “states’ rights,” the code word for maintaining supposed privileges based on skin color.
This went on after the Civil War; Andrew Johnson, who became President after the murder of Lincoln, had a reputation of hating the planter aristocracy that led the South into secession; but he hated Black people even worse, and he allowed the former Confederate states to implement “Black Codes” to control the newly freed slaves, who, although physically liberated from slavery, had no economic base to protect themselves, no land of their own to build farms on. The Black Codes of South Carolina, for instance, prohibited Blacks from possessing firearms, making and selling liquor, entering the state without possessing a bond of “good behavior,” and selling farm products without the permission of the white employer. The codes used “vagrancy laws” as an excuse for sheriffs to imprison Blacks and send them into hard labor, and to “hire them out” to private employers−-slavery in another form. Is this what the South is commemorating?
(You can read about Andrew Johnson, ranked by historians of the US Presidency as among the worst Presidents, in the biography Andrew Johnson by Annette Gordon-Reed. Gordon-Reed writes of the time, during Lincoln’s second inauguration, when Johnson comes across Frederick Douglass, the great African-American abolitionist:
…”The first expression that came to his face,” Gordon-Reed quotes Douglass writing, “and which I think was the true index of his heart, was one of bitter contempt and aversion. Seeing that I observed him, he tried to assume a more friendly appearance, but it was too late; it was useless to close the door when all within has been seen.”
Douglass came to the conclusion that “Whatever Andrew Johnson may be, he is not friend of our race.”
These issues haunt us through to this day, even after the Civil Rights movement of the ‘Fifties and ‘Sixties. African-Americans were elected to positions of power in this country, including the South, but the racist feelings did not remain dormant; they were given new code words like “welfare queen,” “urban crime,” “racial quotas,” and “war on drugs.” Nixon, Reagan, and lesser Republican politicians afterwards utilized these subliminal, racially-triggering phrases. Read the posters at Tea Party rallies, with insulting racist images of Obama on them; look at the efforts in state legislatures to pass “voter ID” laws, that target students, minorities, and seniors, constituencies that mainly vote Democratic.
Such efforts to limit voting by unacceptable persons gained momentum after the US Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, voided Section Four of the Voting Rights Act, implemented to protect the right to vote for minorities. The purpose of the act was for the federal government to approve or veto changes in voting laws that would discriminate against minorities. After that, Texas, North Carolina, and other states reintroduced voter ID bills in their legislatures.
In its ruling, the Court noted, “Largely because of the Voting Rights Act, ‘(v)oter turnout and registration rates’ in covered jurisdictions now approach parity. Blatant discriminatory evasions of federal decrees are rare. And minority candidates hold office in unprecedented levels…. The tests and devices that blocked ballot access have been forbidden nationwide for over 40 years.
The Court acts like racial discrimination and prejudice no longer exist. But it does, as I pointed out earlier.
The voter ID laws are the brainchild of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization of state legislators and corporations formed to promote bills in legislatures that benefit corporations, such as “tort reform” bills to protect corporations from lawsuits; anti-immigrant bills that would incarcerate undocumented persons in privately-owned prisons, such as those owned by ALEC donor Corrections Corporation of America (CA); bills that would inhibit a state government’s ability to tax or regulate corporations, in the name of the “free market,” thereby forcing state and municipal governments to lay off employees; “right to work” (for less) bills that would limit unions’ ability to organize and support favorable candidates for office; and the “stand your ground” law, like the one in Florida, which George Zimmerman invoked after killing Trayvon Martin.
Let us take up the case of Marissa Alexander, an African-American Florida woman who fired a warning shot at her abusive husband. She invoked the “stand you ground” defense, but the judge sentenced her to 20 years in prison. Laws like “stand your ground” were designed to be discriminatory, and the Justice Department has begun to look into this. Let us do what we can for Ms. Alexander’s defense, and take these laws off the books.