What Do You Think? Confederate Statue Eradication
Oct 04, 2017 09:49AM
Within weeks of the November, 1860 Presidential Election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina’s legislature, fearful of Lincoln’s mandate to abolish slavery, announced its secession from the union of the United States. Mississippi and five more southern States soon followed, establishing a new government in Montgomery, Alabama headed by Mississippi Senator and U.S. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis.
By 1804, all northern states above the Mason-Dixon Line had declared slavery illegal. Vermont was the first in 1777. In 1808, the year of Davis’ birth, the U.S. Congress declared importing slaves illegal.
Over the next 50 years, not one southern state abolished slavery, which had increased eight-fold to four million people by 1860. Meanwhile in northern states, flush with capital reserves, education, transportation systems, and new industries, flourished. Dollars in the south were tied up in caring for a slave population to maintain a labor-intensive agricultural economy of tobacco, indigo, rice, and cotton.
Meanwhile, a funny thing happened when a Yale graduate with an interest in “tinkering” ended up on Mulberry Grove Plantation, the Savannah, Georgia home of Catherine Greene, widow of the trusted Revolutionary War General of the Army of the South, Nathanael Greene. After seeing the slow laborious efforts of slaves to separate seeds from cotton bolls, Eli Whitney created a simple mechanism to do just that, reducing one day’s work into one hour. He patented the Cotton Gin in 1794 transforming the struggling agricultural region into a very lucrative cash crop and eventually into the first major global agricultural powerhouse, supplying two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton.
Cotton would grow easily anywhere. Plantations expanded and the free labor of slaves expanded with it. By 1860, the south was exporting 4.5 million bales of cotton annually. The rich and, as some would describe, greedy plantation owners were determined to protect their economy of “King Cotton” at any cost.
On April 12, 1861 the new Confederacy bombarded and captured U.S. Fort Sumter at the mouth of Charleston Harbor and Civil War erupted. The cost was the death of 750,000 young men, more than the combined deaths of all American wars.
Out-gunned, out financed, with no foreign allies, and states within the states, the antebellum south was devastated—gone with the wind, a ghost of its glorious past, with widowed women, wounded young men, and forlorn with devastation so vast it would take years to heal.
Reeling from the trauma and seething with anger at the humiliation of defeat, Confederate Army veterans and jilted planters formed the White League to run the party of Lincoln out of office.
Red Shirts formed to take back rule for a white Democratic Party that would reduce government and rest on “Biblical truths.”
The declining aristocracy pursued measures of control in the form of Jim Crow laws that would continue to curtail the freedom of emancipated slaves. Other whites, struggling for identity and community, embraced the racism and violence of the KKK.
And a new hero worship—because heroes fuel a sense of purpose—resurrected the lives of the failed General Robert E. Lee and failed President Jefferson Davis. Monuments to them appeared all over the Confederacy and border states.
Before his death in 1870, Robert E. Lee said that it would not be wise to erect Confederate monuments that would “keep open the sores of war.” Yet, in the waning years of the 1800s and into the early 1900s he was being monumented.
Both Lee and Davis opposed secession. Both had relatives that fought for the union in the Revolutionary War. Both had distinguished war records with the U.S. Army and were graduates of the United States Military Academy. Yet such was the power of home, that when their home state joined the call for action against a central government, Lee and Davis joined those that would pull the union apart on behalf of slavery.
Monuments should be erected to remind us of the good, to inspire us, and to mentor us. The Civil War, its greed, human abuse, and notions set out by the White League, Red Shirts, and the KKK are still alive; many monuments of the lost cause leaders “keeping open the sores of a war” that ended 150 years ago still stand.
Consider for a moment the outcome of the Civil War if the north had capitulated. The south would have been the largest slavery dependent nation in the world. When and how would free labor, curtailment of education, and personal freedom bound up in slavery have ended if at all?
In 2007, Mauritania was the last nation to abolish slavery (prior to that, Saudi Arabia in 1962).