Thursday, July 2, 2009

Shades of Confederate Gray

"Common sense should play more of a role in historical evaluation than it often does." -- Gary Gallagher

September 22, 1862: the first part of the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves in states engaged in active rebellion against the Union. The slaves in the Confederacy -- unless the state returned to the Union by January 1, 1863.

January 1. 1863: the second part of the Emancipation Proclamation named 10 states in which slaves were now to be considered free, specifically exempting the Virginia counties (now West Virginia) which sided with the Union and various portions of Tennessee and Louisiana which were under Federal control. Those areas under the control of or loyal to the Union were allowed to keep their slaves.

December 6, 1865: the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude (except as punishment for crimes) in the entire United States.

Shouldn't those dates line up better? And why does the Emancipation Proclamation specifically not applied to Union slave owners?

Randall J. Holcombe has an excellent article (link) pointing out the differences between the North and the South. The majority of constitutional variations had to do with morally neutral measures like making the post office be self-sufficient. Most of the differences between the Union and Confederate Constitutions relate to innovative legislation closing loopholes -- each congressional bill could only be about one thing with no riders sneaking in, government contractors weren't to be given blank checks, tariffs were practically eliminated, and line-item veto was given to the president.

In the middle of his praise for all these anti-pork-barrel measures Holcombe also says: In broad outline, the Confederate Constitution is an amended U.S. Constitution. Even on slavery, there is little difference. Whereas the U.S. Constitution ended the importation of slaves after 1808, the Confederate Constitution simply forbade it. Both constitutions allowed slave ownership, of course.

You know me -- I had to look that up and see if it was true. The idea that the Constitution of the Confederate States imposed harsher restrictions on Slavery than the Northern States seemed a bit far fetched. I found multiple websites offering line by line comparisons of the two documents. (link)

And it's true, I mean the Confederacy clearly upholds the rights of slave owners -- but so does the US constitution. On top of which, the US Constitution never banned the importation of slaves while in Section 9 of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America it says:

(1) The importation of negroes of the African race from any foreign country other than the slaveholding States or Territories of the United States of America, is hereby forbidden; and Congress is required to pass such laws as shall effectually prevent the same.
(2) Congress shall also have power to prohibit the introduction of slaves from any State not a member of, or Territory not belonging to, this Confederacy.

Walter Williams (link) in an article (link) in the Washington Times says: Many [blacks] knew Lincoln had little love for enslaved blacks and didn't wage war against the South for their benefit. Lincoln made that plain, saying, "I will say, then, that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races ... I am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race." The very words of his 1863 Emancipation Proclamation revealed his deceit and cunning; it freed those slaves held "within any State or designated part of a State the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States." It didn't apply to slaves in West Virginia and areas and states not in rebellion. Like Gen. Ulysses Grant's slaves, they had to wait for the 13th Amendment, Grant explained why he didn't free his slaves earlier, saying, "Good help is so hard to come by these days."

You could have knocked me down with a feather. What does all this mean?

I think it means that we see history through the eyes of those who write history and too often we accept what we are told without looking for all the facts. As much as the Victorious Union would like to claim it's only role in slavery was as a liberator -- the facts do not bear out this conclusion. Not all the states joined the Confederacy over issues of slavery (link) and there were quite a few slaves in the North (link).

We should not be afraid to admit the truth of these facts. Denying history does not change the past, nor does it absolve the North of slavery to claim the Civil War was all about slavery when it wasn't. Our ENTIRE Country, like many other colonial countries was founded in a time of slavery. It was an accepted and legal (and completely reprehensible) practice on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line. The fact that we know better now does not change that historic reality.


  1. ...thank you.

    Seriously. I was shocked to read this, not only for the historic facts it contained (and which I had never seen), but also because it was posted by a person who was NOT born and reared in the South.

    You have no idea how heavy that "historic" burden feels to many of us who were born and have always lived here (in the South). To see any acknowledgment that the abomination of slavery was anything other than Southern or Confederate brings tears to my eyes.

    The hurt from those accusations has continued here for more than a century now. Believe me, few Southerners are proud of our ancestors' perpetuation of slavery, and the contemporary racial discrimination that we still see today.

    Thanks, Lochlanina. I needed to read that. I suddenly feel free from my generational past. Isn't that ironic?

  2. Wow - I so agree with Renee. I'm sitting here with my mouth hanging open. Amazing that even growing up in the South I never heard any of this.

  3. Okay, my son Robert was signed in on the computer. The above comment was from Kay.


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