Dec. 24 1860, just as Christmas was rounding the corner, the South Carolina Declaration of Secession was issued to explain why the state wished to secede from the United States of America.
The declaration states the primary reasoning behind it by declaring that there was “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery.” Merry Christmas.
South Carolina goes on to insist that its contract with the union is broken because: Northern states would not agree to extraditing escaped slaves according to the Fugitive Slave Act; clauses in the U.S. Constitution protecting slavery; and the federal government’s perceived role in attempting to abolish slavery.
The Declaration makes no mention of “all men are created equal” as the Constitution did. But the Southern states joined in one by one.
The men who climbed into their saddles to follow Lee and the other leaders knew that they were, at the very least, hoping to leave the United States and some, no doubt, wished to defeat the country it was fighting and undo the Union.
The men who saddled up and fought valiantly for their side were, nonetheless, no longer Americans in the sense of belonging to this country. Just as we took arms and fought the British and were, therefore, no longer British, so too were the Confederates no longer a part of this country.
Now we come to this time, a very different time to be sure but we are still saddled with the mythology of the Glorious South. I wish I could find a place in that phrase to rest if only to be polite but I cannot.
The Confederacy in 1860 held 3,953,762 slaves, and a third of white people owned enslaved people. Cotton was certainly king and it needed “abundant labor” made all the better if it was cheap labor.
Slavery was the very backbone of two aspects of the Confederacy, the first being economy. Just as companies run to offshore locations now to use people they have to pay far less, so too did the South wish to pocket the profit but keep the labor.
Secondly slavery provided a social ladder that elevated the lucky white landowner and those who aspired to have land, which meant having slaves and even selling families apart.
It made adapting by the African Americans all that much harder because, unlike any other group of white citizens who might raise themselves up out of poverty, the slaves were easily identified by their color and that color became the South’s way of holding them down. Slaves, those who escaped, would always be Black and easy to spot even when their biological father was white.
So now Black Americans and white Americans wish to put into context the men who saddled up to break from the Union, to kill American troops and to continue to abuse the trust of those who “worked” for them. Now voices cry out that those generals and others are part of our history and should be honored.
They are right that they are part of our history but it is not what should be honored. They rose to untie themselves from this country. They rose to continue to use and abuse people who never chose to come here. And they killed both our troops and many enslaved people to have their go at breaking the Union.
Just as Germany had great generals, just as Japan had men of devotion, so the South had the same. But they, nor anyone who seeks to destroy our Union, should be honored and held up as an example of how to live our lives today — or indeed even then.
If we are to honor history, then you have to tell the whole history, which will include Jefferson’s second “wife,” the slave Sally Hemmings. And Lincoln’s lack of devotion to ending slavery. And Jefferson Davis’ love of slavery/economy. And Lee’s inability to see his greater self walking away from his beloved Virginia to stand with men, women and children who deserved to be free. The Confederacy stood for governing without the consent of its people — the Black people — very much why we left Britain.
The statues need to be put aside to a place where context is true. Our Glorious Dead may well be the many men and women and children who died running for their lives followed by men who saddled up with rifles and dogs.
Joyce Reehling lives in Pinehurst. She retired here from New York after a 33-year career in theater, TV and commercials.