(September 13, 2020) House Bill 7608 arrived at the Senate last month with a rider requiring that all Confederate memorials be removed from National Battlefield Parks. Senators should reject it for five reasons.
First, it reflects a bogus zeitgeist that the typical Confederate soldier fought to preserve slavery, whereas the dominant motivation was to defend his homeland. Only 30% of families in the 11-state Confederacy owned slaves. According to historian William C. Davis, “The widespread Northern myth that Confederates went to the battlefield to perpetuate slavery is just that, a myth. Their letters and diaries, in the tens of thousands, reveal again and again that they fought because their Southern homeland was invaded.” Prior to the war the average Confederate soldier was a yeoman farmer who rarely travelled outside his state. His loyalty was first to his state and secondarily to the Federal Government.
While many historians emphasize statements regarding slavery among the secession documents of most of the first seven states to secede, they minimize other secession-motivating factors, including some mentioned in the Confederate Constitution. Since they opposed crony capitalism, the Confederate Constitution outlawed protective tariffs, private industry subsidies and public works spending. Moreover, four states in the upper South—Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas—only joined the Confederacy after Northerners chose to militarily coerce the first seven back into the Union. Those four states contained half of the 11-state Confederacy’s white population, her chief source of soldiers. They had previously warned the Federal Government that they considered the coercion of any state to be unconstitutional and would fight to prevent it.
North Carolina Memorial at Gettysburg
Second, the Confederate soldier was not a traitor. In the winter of 1860-61 the legal status of secession, interposition and states’ rights was unsettled. Secession was neither constitutionally forbidden nor authorized. Northeastern states had threatened to secede at least five times between 1790 and 1850. Once was during the War of 1812 when they prospered by trading illegally with the British enemy and refused to put their militia into Federal service as ordered by President James Madison.
Third, the reasons for the Civil War and the reasons for Southern secession were not the same. Northerners could have evacuated Fort Sumter and let the initial seven cotton states leave in peace. That would have given the states of the upper South no reason to join them. Even the first seven had no intent to overthrow the Washington government. They just wanted to be left alone.
To understand why the war happened it is necessary to realize that Northerners chose to force the cotton states back into the Union at least partly because they wanted to avoid the economic consequences of disunion. Chief among such consequences would have been the loss of Southern markets to domestic tariff-protected, Northern semi-monopolies. On March 18, 1861 the Boston Transcript editorialized:
Alleged grievances in regard to slavery were originally the causes for the separation of the cotton States, but the mask has been thrown off, and it is apparent that the people of the seceding States are now for commercial independence. . . The merchants of [their ports] are possessed with the idea that [our ports] may be shorn . . . of their mercantile greatness by a revenue system verging upon free trade. If the Southern Confederation is allowed to carry out a policy by which only a nominal duty is laid upon imports . . . the chief Northern cities will be seriously injured.
After Northerners gained control of the Federal Government, they increased the average tariff on dutiable items from 19% before the war to an average of 45% for fifty years thereafter. They used the tariffs to protect Northern manufacturing businesses to the point of making them near monopolies. After the war had ended and the South badly needed to rebuild her war-ravaged railroads, for example, railroad iron was priced at $80 a ton in New York as compared to $32 in Liverpool owing to America’s tariff. Although the war ended slavery, America retained access to cheap cotton by impoverishing the entire South. The postbellum South was treated as an internal colony much like Great Britain did Ireland. Not until 1950 did the region’s per capita income rise to the below national average 73rd percentile ranking that it held in 1860.
Fourth, most of the Confederate memorials at battlefield parks are markers to indicate troop positions. If removed, visitors will find it difficult to comprehend battlefield movements. They will not, for example, be able to discern where the Confederate troops in Pickett’s Charge were originally stationed.
Fifth, if membership in a slaveholding family justifies erasing a soldier’s history, memorials to Union Generals Ulysses Grant and George Thomas should also be removed. Two good starting points would be Grant’s Tomb in New York and his Historic Site in St. Louis. Both are managed by the National Park Service.
While President Grant is sometimes praised for his efforts on behalf of black civil rights, most historians fail to realize that the bulk of the evidence suggests he favored black suffrage only because it established Republican-controlled puppet regimes in the South that kept his Party in power. When he was first elected President in 1868, for example, he won only a minority of America’s white votes. He won the overall popular vote only because of the black votes in the Carpetbag states. But seven years later in 1875 he abandoned Southern blacks when he refused to help Mississippi’s Republican Carpetbag Governor win the state by providing Federal troops to “supervise” the elections. He declined because Ohio’s Republican Party told him if he sent troops to Mississippi they would likely lose Ohio to the Democrats. Federal intervention in Mississippi worried Ohioans that Grant was becoming dictatorial and might use Federal troops in the North as well. Mississippi intervention, Ohio Republicans argued, would set a bad precedent.
In sum, after erasing symbols of reconciliation our geographic sections may increasingly drift apart and never again get along.
Was President Grant really a Civil Rights leader? He supported black suffrage because it gave him the votes his Party temporarily needed. Despite being a war hero, Grant only won a minority of America’s white vote when he was first elected President in 1868. He abandon Southern black voters in 1875. Learn more in Ulysses Grant’s Failed Presidency,
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The Confederacy at Flood Tide by Philip Leigh
Trading With the Enemy by Philip Leigh
Lee’s Lost Dispatch & Other Civil War Controversies by Philip Leigh
Southern Reconstruction by Philip Leigh
U. S. Grant’s Failed Presidency by Philip Leigh