At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, rebels from the southern states took up arms against our country, firing on the American soldiers defending Fort Sumter. Residents of nearby Charleston sat on balconies and saluted this act of treason with cocktails.
Despite long years of tap dancing and arm waving after the fact, it’s clear that these southerners took up arms against their country in defense of slavery. They were mad that their preferred candidates had lost an election to Abraham Lincoln and decided to try to overturn the results of that election by force of arms because they were afraid of its impact on their ability to own people and steal their labor.
By the act of a handful of ingrates and traitors, war is inaugurated in this heretofore happy and peaceful Republic! While we write, the bombardment of Sumter is going on; and the blood of the few gallant defenders of the glorious old flag which yet, we hope, floats over that fortress is being poured out for their fidelity to the Constitution as it is, and the Union as our fathers made it!
The people know the cause of the fratricidal strife. The party, which, in the interests of a barbarous institution, has governed the country for the last 40 years, was beaten in the November election. The verdict of the people which does not touch a single one of the rights of any man, guarantied by the fundamental law, forbids the extension of that barbarous institution into national territory as yet uncursed by its blighting presence. This is the cause of the rebellion which months of effort has ripened into the bloody strife this day commenced! This and nothing else — this determination of a meagre minority to rule a powerful majority — this deification of Human Slavery as the guiding principle and polar star of a free people — are the dragon’s teeth which, sown in a pestilent soil, have produced armed men.
Despite modern protestation out of the South that the Civil War was about something, anything, other than slavery; the southerners of the time were quite clear about their reasons. The articles of secession are candid about the desire to preserve slavery and the feeling that the Northern States were insufficiently vigorous in their enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. (States Rights were not, it appears, so sacred when it was time to enforce that law.)
My purpose is not to berate the actions of people who lived 150 years ago. History is crowded to bursting with barbarity. And, for that matter, I’m sure our time will have plenty to answer for when future generations take a look back. But modern day Lost Cause apologists drive me crazy. It seems to me that our country is still wounded by slavery and the Civil War. And, while that wound is gradually scabbing over, it is still festering. I don’t think the wound can really heal until everyone in the country, including the south, recognizes: 1) that slavery was evil; 2) that the Civil War was prompted by a defense of that evil; 3) that the South was beaten; and 4) that it was a good thing the South lost because its reasons for taking up arms against the country were immoral.
Once those lessons have been internalized, I’ll happily concede that a lot of the people fighting for the South were probably decent people who thought they were doing the right thing. Until then, honoring the symbols of their cause and pretending that what they were doing was somehow noble is simply repugnant.