The Distance from Slavery

I read1 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?

With compliments,


8 thoughts on “The Distance from Slavery”

  1. Bet there’s a direct corelation betwen those who can’t see the historical connections between slavery and secession; and those who can’t understand that racism and inequality still mark our culture today.

    1. Chris, I couldn’t agree more. I’m working on it though. If I can change a few minds, or at the very least get people to consider the historical legacy of slavery, then I will consider it a win.

  2. I had a conversation with an aggressive defender of states rights. I asked him, “Have you ever read the Confederate Constitution?” He replied, “I don’t need to.” This is an otherwise intelligent human. I call this belligerent ignorance. They remind me of the ardent apologists for Richard III. Cuckooville.

    1. Lane – as a service, you should send the individual in question a copy of the Confederate Constitution…along with the articles of secession from the several states. That should clear things up. Of course, in some cases, people don’t want to see the evidence. Entrenched ideology, however misguided, can be very difficult to dislodge.

  3. I think one can make a distinction between the states that seceded before and after Lincoln’s call for 75,000 troops to “suppress” the secession movement. If I recall correctly, the upper south states (Tennessee, Arkansas, Virginia and North Carolina) had all rejected secession until then, but soon after Lincoln’s call they quickly reversed their stance and seceded. One could argue that this was a reaction to the latest (and most egregious) in a series of power grabs by the federal government that began shortly after the ratification of the Constitution. Something about not wanting to be part of a nation held together by bayonets…

    1. I can get on board with this – mostly…they were sort of a wait and see rather than outright rejection group of states. There is a really good book that deals with Virginia especially and the protection of slavery: Apostles of Disunion. Dew, the author, makes a very compelling argument. Have you had a look?

      1. Keith, I have heard of this book but not read it. I will check it out.

        Meanwhile, have you ever read North Carolina’s Ordinance of Secession? I have seen more passion in a letter cancelling cable tv service.

        1. Haha – well…you are right there. The Tarheels did not quite match the fire-eating passion of their comrades to the south 🙂

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