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Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell graciously has decided to apologize for omitting the minor inconvenience of slavery from his proclamation of Confederate History Month. He made a very nice statement condemning slavery. He called his little oversight a "major omission." He still hasn't a fucking clue.

Yale Constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin agrees that we need to remember the Confederacy:

I think Governor McDonnell of Virginia is correct that we need to remember the Confederacy and the causes that led Americans to forsake their country and commit treason. Americans need to know their history, and how the world we live in came to be.

And he quotes Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens' infamous 1861 Cornerstone Speech:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

There's more, and I recommend clicking through to Balkin. But the point is this: forgetting slavery wasn't just a major omission; slavery was the Confederacy's defining characteristic. Balkin also quotes from the articles of secession from Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Suffice to say that slavery is mentioned.

In a separate post, Balkin quotes directly from the Constitution of the Confederate States of America. Once again, apparently surprisingly to McDonnell, slavery gets an occasional mention. As if it were the key to the Confederacy's existence. Which, actually, it was. I've cut Balkin's quotes, and I again urge you to click through:

Article I, section 9, clauses 1 and 2:

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.

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.

In other words, the slave trade was encoded in the Confederate Constitution.

Article I, section 9, clause 4:

No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.

Balkin points out that this specifically guarantees the right to own "negro" slaves. Ownership of slaves of other races may or may not be banned, but the right to own "negro" slaves was to be forever. The Confederate Constitution not only defined itself by slavery, it defined itself by racism.

Article IV, section 2, clause 1:

The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.

As Balkin points out, this goes beyond Dred Scott. It is a specific Constitutional protection of slavery. No state can bar people from transporting their slaves across state lines. Slavery is seen to be that important. It also very specifically, and very blithely, defines human beings as property.

From Article IV, section 3, clause 3, Balkin quotes a section on what is to happen should the Confederacy acquire new territory:

In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States.

Once again, the importance of slavery could not be more clear. Defining "negroes" as an inferior race, and protecting the ownership, transportation, and commerce of "negroes" wasn't just a major aspect of the Confederacy, it was the very definition of the Confederacy.


I am sure that Governor McDonnell of Virginia will want to include careful study of these provisions as part of his celebration of Confederate History Month. Surely we cannot understand why the Confederacy was such a noble and glorious cause worth commemorating without understanding the values and visions of the framers of the Confederate Constitution.

With all due respect- and I do mean all due respect- to Governor McDonnell, the history he wants to commemorate is one of the most heinous ever. It was even worse than so many historical examples where slavery was allowed, because it very specifically designated one race as uniquely and Constitutionally defined as suitable for slavery. If that's the history of his own people that McDonnell wants to remember, so be it. Let's remember it. When people celebrate or commemorate the Confederacy, they not only are celebrating and commemorating treason, they are celebrating and commemorating inhumanity itself. Which defines them, and no one else.

Originally posted to Laurence Lewis on Thu Apr 08, 2010 at 08:49 AM PDT.

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