I read an article today as I was skimming through Civil War related news stories, and one caught my attention. This was a littleittybitty story out of Oklahoma – about a group of fifteen-year-olds parading a Confederate flag around town, occasionally stopping to educate passers by on its true meaning. As you might guess – their mission was to distance their cause from slavery and emphasize secession for the preservation of “state rights.” The opposition confronted the group of Confederate apologists at least once, they had a amiable discussion, and they eventually agreed to disagree and parted ways.
I’ll commend the members of both small groups for not allowing passions to escalate into a more heated…potentially violent exchange. But I can’t help but wonder…why, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, do Confederate apologists insist that secession was not linked to the preservation of slavery? I know I know…state rights. But which ones?
I’m reminded this morning how the state rights argument is a compelling one for many. As I re-read Tony Horwitz’s acclaimed, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, and plan a class project that engages the text and public history, I can only recall my own upbringing. At a young age, I learned the persistent myths that involved my family, the state of Alabama, and the “noble cause” of state rights for which my ancestors fought. It made the very young me feel great about my state…which had stood defiantly against “oppression” and the tyranny of the federal government. But if they had added the preservation of slavery to the mix, well, that would have ruined everything. Of course slavery was something real, and living breathing slaves something tangible. Confederate apologists work best with abstractions – often conveniently ignoring what was actually happening. The good news – I soon overcame my indoctrination, as it were, into the church of the Confederacy – but only after looking at the evidence and drawing the most irrefutable conclusion.
So to my Confederate apologist readers: I understand why you do not want to associate secession with the preservation of slavery. But how – I mean really how can you not? Speeches, the contemporary press, even the secession documents themselves easily refute your claims. Yet you persevere. I am looking to hear from you. Which specific state rights did the southern slave states secede to protect?