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It's the 150th anniversary of the first shots of the Civil War, at Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861.  Incredibly, there are still people fighting about the causes of the Civil War - people unable or unwilling to admit that slavery was the primary cause, and that without slavery, there almost certainly would have been no Civil War.  We have "secession balls" in South Carolina, denunciations of Lincoln as a tyrant by Confederate romanticizers, claims that thousands of blacks fought willingly for the South, and a never-ending stream of prattle about how "state's rights" or tariffs or some other thing were the primary, or even only cause.
You may find yourself so stunned by the arrogant certitude of apologists for the Confederacy that you are unsure how to respond.  I am here to arm you with facts.  The Southern elite - the slaveholders - told us, at the time, in very clear language, just why they were seceding, and the best argument against historical revisionism is to examine what the Southerners themselves were saying at the time.

    First, though, note that what follows is a slightly condensed version of three lengthy diaries that I previously posted, on the Confederate Constitution; the various Declarations of the Causes of Secession put out by the various Southern states; and the speeches and writings of the Secession commissioners, men appointed by the Deep South states to persuade political leaders in the slave states of the Upper South to join the Confederacy.  Here I have brought together all three lines of historical evidence to demonstrate that the people of the South in 1861 saw secession in no uncertain terms as the only way to preserve slavery and to keep African-Americans in a permanent, subordinate position to Whites.  

So the first thing to do when confronted with neo-Confederate apologists is to ask them this: Why was the Constitution of the CSA so focused on protecting slavery?

     I fully understand that no historical event realistically has a single cause.  As we shall see, there were indeed multiple concerns that the Southern elite had regarding federal and state powers, and this is especially clear in the differences between the constitutions of the USA and the CSA.  However, something else will rapidly become clear as well: the one 'right' that concerned the white southerners above all else was the 'right' to own human beings with dark skin as property.  
     Most of the Confederate constitution is, in fact, word-for-word identical to the U.S. constitution.  What the white southern elite set out to do was not so much create a radically different system of government, as to ensure that white supremacy and black slavery were embodied in the constitution as fundamental law of the land.  You can find an especially useful copy of the Confederate Constitution at this website, which italicizes every part that differs from the wording of the U.S. Constitution.  Much of the difference is in trivial details, like changing 'United' to 'Confederate' states, or apportionment of representatives, terms of office, etc.  Other parts - not so much.

First, the preamble:

WE, the People of the Confederated States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent Federal government, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.

Note the explicit declaration that each state acts in a 'sovereign and independent character.'  Okay, score one for 'state's rights'.  (Also note the ivocation of God, which is completely absent from the U.S. Constitution).  

ARTICLE I, SECTION VIII.

The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, for revenue necessary to pay the Debts, provide for the common Defence, and carry on the government of the Confederate States; but no bounties shall be granted from the treasury, nor shall any duties, or taxes, or importation from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry...

That part about 'duties and taxes' is also not in the US Constitution.  OK, score one for tariffs.

...To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes; but neither this, nor any other clause contained in this Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate the power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce; except for the purpose of furnishing lights, beacons, and buoys, and other aids to navigation upon the coasts, and the improvement of harbors, and the removing of obstructions in river navigation...

Another change, preventing the CSA Congress from doing such things as spending money on roads, canals, etc.  OK, score two for states' rights and limiting the federal government.  But what's this?

SECTION IX.

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.

Now it's getting interesting.  This part prohibits reopening the foreign slave trade.  Notice, however, that it allows a specific exception: importing slaves from the United States (which of course becomes a foreign country, if the CSA is independent).  One suspects that the Southern slaveholders thought that moves toward abolition in the remaining U.S. slave states just might lead their slaveholders to sell their 'property' south rather than outright lose it to abolition.  More to the point, though, the Confederacy did not need the foreign slave trade to maintain a slave society: there were almost 4 million slaves in the U.S. in 1860, and most of those were in the Deep South states that led the creation of the CSA.  

The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it. No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves, shall be passed.

     Take a look at that last sentence again.  The CSA Constitution specifically says that the CSA Congress cannot pass ANY law 'denying or impairing' the 'right of property' in Negro slaves.  In other words, slavery is to be protected from government 'interference' - always.  Score one for slavery.

ARTICLE IV, SECTION II.

The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all 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 such slaves shall not be impaired.

     Hmm...another change from the U.S. Constitution, with the explicit purpose of protecting 'property' in 'slaves'.  Score two for slavery.

No slave or Person held to Service or Labour in any State or Territory of the Confederate States under the Laws thereof, escaping or unlawfully carried into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such slave belongs, or to whom such Service or Labour may be due.

     You see, those ungrateful slaves kept trying to run away.  And some white people tried to help them!  And the Federal government was insufficiently zealous in tracking and capturing the slaves and sending them back to the people who were holding them prisoner, whipping and beating them, selling their wives/husbands/children to other slaveholders as if they were livestock!  We won't stand for that in the CSA.  No sir!  Let's see - score three for slavery.

SECTION III.

The Confederate States may acquire new territory, and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States lying without the limits of the several States, and may permit them, at such times and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States shall be recognized and protected by 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.

     Translation: the institution of slavery will automatically be extended to any territory the CSA acquires in the future.  As you may recall, the tyrannical Federal government had repeatedly passed laws prohibiting the extension of slavery to some of the new territories acquired by the U.S. especially after the Mexican War.  Not ALL of the new territory, mind you...just some of it.  And not TAKING AWAY slaves from any slaveholder, anywhere; just prohibiting the introduction of slavery into these areas where it had not previously existed anyway.
     The framers of the Confederate Constitution were not going to stand for such tyranny by the Federal government, such an outrageous infringement on their fundamental right to spread slavery into new areas.  No sir.
Score four for slavery.

     So - were the Southern elite, the framers of their constitution, concerned about tariffs? About expansion of the federal government? About the sovereignty of state governments relative to the Federal government?  Well - yes, yes, and yes.  It's in their constitution.  But above all else we see their concern for their 'property rights' in other human beings.  Slavery was never even mentioned by name in the U.S. Constitution; the Founding Fathers had to finesse the issue to get all the states on board with the new government for the U.S.  The authors of the Confederate Constitution took no chances; owning other human beings as property was explicitly written into their constitution, in multiple locations, and was explicitly intended to be permanently protected as a 'right' in the basic and fundamental law of their country.  Does anybody really and truly believe that we would have had a bloody four-year civil war because of disagreement about duties on imported goods? Or disagreement about whether the Federal government could fund roads or canals?  Try asking them, the next time anybody actually suggests something like this to you.
The second thing to ask our hypothetical partisan for the merits of the C.S.A. is this: Why did the representatives of so many seceding states explicitly SAY that the issue was slavery and white superiority?  
     Let's consider some enlightening excerpts from the secession resolutions passed by some of the Southern states, to explain and justify their decision to secede.  Let's be clear: these aren't cherry-picked obscure rantings of marginal groups in the antebellum South.  These are the official declarations put forth by these states, approved by the same conventions that voted to secede.  In any consideration of WHY a group of people perform certain acts, I think we can all agree that when they write out documents explaining their motives and then vote upon, and approve, said documents, we've got pretty strong evidence.  We'll start with Georgia and proceed West to Mississippi and Texas - then double back and finish up with South Carolina, where it all began.  I used the copies of the declarations posted at this site, but you can find them in many locations all over the web.  I quote directly at some length, because there is no copyright issue - these are historic documents.  
      Here's the first two sentences from what the state of Georgia had to say about its causes for secession:

The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.

Whoops.  Not 'limited government' or 'state's right' or 'tariffs,' but 'African slavery.'  Now, look what comes directly afterwards:

They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property...The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state.

I don't see anything about economics there, but I do see a whole lot about the anti-slavery position of Lincoln and the Republicans.

...The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen. The opposition to slavery was then, as now, general in those States and the Constitution was made with direct reference to that fact. But a distinct abolition party was not formed in the United States for more than half a century after the Government went into operation...

Any minute now, we'll hear about those tariffs...

The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests...The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade...they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually for the support of these objects...The manufacturers and miners wisely based their demands upon special facts and reasons rather than upon general principles, and thereby mollified much of the opposition of the opposing interest...they received for many years enormous bounties by the general acquiescence of the whole country.

Okay, now we see some economics.  Funny how this appears only after the Georgians invoked slavery.

...Northern anti-slavery men of all parties asserted the right to exclude slavery from the territory by Congressional legislation and demanded the prompt and efficient exercise of this power to that end. This insulting and unconstitutional demand was met with great moderation and firmness by the South. We had shed our blood and paid our money for its acquisition; we demanded a division of it on the line of the Missouri restriction or an equal participation in the whole of it. These propositions were refused, the agitation became general, and the public danger was great. The case of the South was impregnable. The price of the acquisition was the blood and treasure of both sections-- of all, and, therefore, it belonged to all upon the principles of equity and justice.

Whoops.  Funny how it keeps coming back to slavery.  Apparently the good people of Georgia were outraged - outraged! - by the idea that the Federal government might leave slavery in Georgia alone, but not permit slavery to be expanded into more and more territory.  Because, you see, that is "inequity" and "injustice."

The Government of the United States claimed territory by virtue of the treaty of 1783 with Great Britain, acquired territory by cession from Georgia and North Carolina, by treaty from France, and by treaty from Spain...In all of these acquisitions the policy of the Government was uniform. It opened them to the settlement of all the citizens of all the States of the Union. They emigrated thither with their property of every kind (including slaves). All were equally protected by public authority in their persons and property...

Funny how it keeps coming back to slaves.

...In 1820 the North endeavored to overturn this wise and successful policy and demanded that the State of Missouri should not be admitted into the Union unless she first prohibited slavery within her limits by her constitution...The North demanded the application of the principle of prohibition of slavery to all of the territory acquired from Mexico and all other parts of the public domain then and in all future time...The claim itself was less arrogant and insulting than the reason with which she supported it. That reason was her fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the States where it exists.

Funny how...well, you get the idea.  This next part helps to show just how crazed the Southern slaveholders were made by the election of Lincoln:

The Presidential election of 1852 resulted in the total overthrow of the advocates of restriction and their party friends. Immediately after this result the anti-slavery portion of the defeated party resolved to unite all the elements in the North opposed to slavery and to stake their future political fortunes upon their hostility to slavery everywhere. This is the party to whom the people of the North have committed the Government. They raised their standard in 1856 and were barely defeated. They entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded.
The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers...The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.

Note the great offenses of Lincoln and the Republicans in 1860: 'hostility to slavery' and 'the equality of the white and black races.'  These are the outrages which the Georgians say are driving them to secession.

...The faithless conduct of our adversaries is not confined to such acts as might aggrandize themselves or their section of the Union...for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property. Our confederates, with punic faith, shield and give sanctuary to all criminals who seek to deprive us of this property or who use it to destroy us.

Another grave injury.  The 'criminals' who help slaves escape from the people holding them and their families prisoner are shielded from punishment!

A similar provision of the Constitution requires them to surrender fugitives from labor. This provision and the one last referred to were our main inducements for confederating with the Northern States. Without them it is historically true that we would have rejected the Constitution.
In the fourth year of the Republic Congress passed a law to give full vigor and efficiency to this important provision. This act depended to a considerable degree upon the local magistrates in the several States for its efficiency. The non-slave-holding States generally repealed all laws intended to aid the execution of that act, and imposed penalties upon those citizens whose loyalty to the Constitution and their oaths might induce them to discharge their duty. Congress then passed the act of 1850, providing for the complete execution of this duty by Federal officers. This law, which their own bad faith rendered absolutely indispensible for the protection of constitutional rights, was instantly met with ferocious revilings and all conceivable modes of hostility. The Supreme Court unanimously, and their own local courts with equal unanimity (with the single and temporary exception of the supreme court of Wisconsin), sustained its constitutionality in all of its provisions. Yet it stands to-day a dead letter for all practicable purposes in every non-slave-holding State in the Union. We have their covenants, we have their oaths to keep and observe it, but the unfortunate claimant, even accompanied by a Federal officer with the mandate of the highest judicial authority in his hands, is everywhere met with fraud, with force, and with legislative enactments to elude, to resist, and defeat him...

Ahh, our old friend the fugitive slave clause.  Note that the 'unfortunate claimants' referred to are the slaveholders.  And these poor 'unfortunates' are met with fraud and force when they try to recapture their 'property' (ie fellow human beings) and return them to a lifetime of forced labor.  The unfairness and injustice of it all.

Such are the opinions and such are the practices of the Republican party, who have been called by their own votes to administer the Federal Government under the Constitution of the United States. We know their treachery; we know the shallow pretenses under which they daily disregard its plainest obligations...The people of Georgia...know the value of parchment rights in treacherous hands, and therefore they refuse to commit their own to the rulers whom the North offers us. Why? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquillity.

     Got that?  Opposition to slavery means 'the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.'  There is something incredibly revealing about this statement.  The secessionists literally found it inconceivable that their society could survive without slavery.  To put an end to slavery was, to them, the equivalent of destroying their families, their homes, their society.  Emancipation of the slaves, social equality of black and white - these things simply could not happen without leading to 'destruction' and 'desolation.'  I think that today it is almost impossible for us to understand the mindset of a people accustomed to a state of unchallenged social superiority over another race, and whose political and social elite did not simply own slaves but were dependent on those slaves for the lifestyles of luxury and ease that they enjoyed.

     Let's move on to Mississippi.  Perhaps there we shall find less emphasis on slavery and more on the principled doctrine of limited government.

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.

Whoops.  What's that?  Not 'Our position is thoroughly identified with the great principles of state sovereignty and states' rights.'  Not 'Our position is thoroughly identified with limited government and federalism as properly understood.'  Not 'Our position is thoroughly identified with fair economic policies, tariffs, and taxation.'

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.

Now as far as Mississippi is concerned, we could quit right here.  But let's not, because the rest of what they have to say is very revealing as well.

Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.

     Got that?  Slavery is so vital to commerce that opposition to slavery constitutes a blow at civilization.  Because only the darkies can stand to work out in the hot sun all day (Massa needs to sit on the porch, in the shade, and sip mint juleps).
     The secessionists of Mississippi go on to list quite a few specific grievances against the Federal government and the Northern states:

The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory...
It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.
It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.
It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.
It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.
It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

The horror!  The tyranny! NEGRO EQUALITY!

It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.
It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists...

Wow!  The North has inflamed prejudice, and is plotting 'schemes' of 'emancipation'!  The villains!

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

     Keep in mind that that four billions of "property" they keep talking about is other human beings.  Now if you're wondering about the parts I left out...go look this up yourself.  Read the whole thing.  You will find not ONE WORD about tariffs or taxes or the like.  But you will find more about the sinister plots of the North to undermine slavery and to 'degrade' Southern whites to equality with Blacks.

     Come with me now to Texas, and let's hear what they had to say about why they seceded.  Surely we will find naught but eloquent appeals to the principles of Federalism and limited government as the cause of secession.

A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.
The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then a free, sovereign and independent nation [emphasis in the original], the annexation of the latter to the former, as one of the co-equal states thereof...She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time...

Whoops.

The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States...

Note that they are concerned about ONE institution in particular, and you know what that is...

When we advert to the course of individual non-slave-holding States, and that a majority of their citizens, our grievances assume far greater magnitude.
The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions-- a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation. Some of those States have imposed high fines and degrading penalties upon any of their citizens or officers who may carry out in good faith that provision of the compact, or the federal laws enacted in accordance therewith.

But...but...but...I thought States' Rights were a GOOD thing, and overruling and disregarding laws with which they did not agree was to be applauded and encouraged.  Wait, I get it.  'States' rights' was a good thing when states were acting to preserve and protect slavery, but an outrageous violation of all we hold dear when states were acting to undermine or disregard slavery.

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States...

     At this point you are saying: This can't be real.  Somebody made this up.  This is parody, satire, snark, the fevered imagination of crazed lefties trying to discredit the Confederate cause.
Again: look it up yourself.  This is available at history sites, Civil War sites, Texas sites all over the net.  Slavery is 'beneficial'; equality irrespective of race is 'a debasing doctrine'; and is in violation of 'Divine Law' (translation: God loves us and is on our side).
     After a long list of complaints, ALL of which regard how the North and the federal government have acted to undermine slavery, we come to this:

In view of these and many other facts, it is meet that our own views should be distinctly proclaimed.

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states...

I do wonder just how much of this is taught in the school's of Rick Perry's Texas. But now, let us return to the source - South Carolina - the first state to secede - and see what they offered up as official justification for their action.

 

Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act.

I agree - you DO owe us an explanation.  So far, so good.  Now, the next part deserves a rather lengthy look.

In the year 1765, that portion of the British Empire embracing Great Britain, undertook to make laws for the government of that portion composed of the thirteen American Colonies. A struggle for the right of self-government ensued, which resulted, on the 4th of July, 1776, in a Declaration, by the Colonies, "that they are, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES; and that, as free and independent States, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do."
...In pursuance of this Declaration of Independence, each of the thirteen States proceeded to exercise its separate sovereignty; adopted for itself a Constitution, and appointed officers for the administration of government in all its departments-- Legislative, Executive and Judicial.
...on the 3rd of September, 1783, the contest ended, and a definite Treaty was signed by Great Britain, in which she acknowledged the independence of the Colonies in the following terms: "ARTICLE 1-- His Britannic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz: New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATES; that he treats with them as such; and for himself, his heirs and successors, relinquishes all claims to the government, propriety and territorial rights of the same and every part thereof."
...In 1787, Deputies were appointed by the States to revise the Articles of Confederation, and on 17th September, 1787, these Deputies recommended for the adoption of the States, the Articles of Union, known as the Constitution of the United States
...By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people.

Okay, so South Carolina at least gives a lengthy and formal defense of the idea of state sovereignty and rights, and limited Federal government.  Now let us see what their specific complaints are, regarding how their 'rights' have been abused.

We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: "No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."


Whoops.  The very first thing they complain about is fugitive slaves.
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution...In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution...Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

Wait a minute.  Now they're complaining about other states doing things they don't like - specifically in regard to slavery (and nothing else)? But...but...but...states' rights...

...The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

...but...but..what about the TARIFFS?

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms [emphasis in the original] of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction...On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

     Actually, Lincoln had explicitly campaigned on the premise of leaving slavery alone where it already existed.  Obama Derangement Syndrome, meet Lincoln Derangement Syndrome...

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

     Not one word about tariffs.  Not one word.  But quite a few words about the outrageous assaults upon the 'right of property' in other human beings.

     The third thing to ask the apologists for the Confederacy is this:  Why did the officially appointed secession commissioners of the Deep South states talk so much about slavery and "negro equality" as they tried to persuade other slave states to secede?  
What's that - you say you never heard of the 'secession commissioners' before?  Well, neither had I, until a couple of years ago, and I consider myself a history buff.  The secession commissioners were men appointed by the governors or legislatures of a number of Deep South states, following their own acts of secession, to basically visit other slave-holding states and convince them to also secede.  So they had to come up with reasons and arguments as to why those states should do so.  It's curious that the story of official delegates from Southern states to other Southern states, advocating secession, should be be so obscure today.  One almost suspects that many people don't want to talk about them.  Perhaps it's because of what they said in their letters and speeches?
   Here I rely in large part on the excellent book Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles Dew.  It's a short but hard-hitting review of what these individuals did and who they were, and I recommend it highly to anyone curious about historical research on the Civil War.  Block quotes are from his work, although much of it is in turn direct quotes of what the commissioners said and wrote.
     Now, about those secession comissioners: as the states of the Deep South prepared to secede in late 1860 and early 1861 - and before the first shots were fired, at Fort Sumter - five Deep South states (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana) appointed 'secession commissioners' to advocate secession in other slave states.  In Mississippi and Alabama the commissioners were selected by the governor, and were sent to EVERY other slave state in the Union.  In the other three states, the state legislatures chose the commissioners; South Carolina and Georgia sent commissioners to nine and ten slave states, respectively (Louisiana only appointed one, to Texas).  
     All in all, over 50 men set out to encourage secession by other states.  As the above should make clear, in everything they said and did they were acting in an official capacity as official representatives of their state governments.  According to Dew,

These individuals were not, by and large, the famous names of antebellum Southern politics.  They were often relatively obscure figures - judges, lawyers, doctors, newspaper editors - who had had modest political careers but possessed a reputation for oratory.  Sometimes they were better known - ex-governors or state attorneys general or members of Congress.  Often they had been born in the states to which they were sent; place of birth was clearly an important factor in the choice of a number of commissioners.

     In other words, these men were firmly in the mainstream of Southern politics and thought in 1860 and 61.  As such, the arguments they chose to encourage other states to secede, and to explain why secession was so important to the south, should be extremely useful in understanding the mind-set of the secessionist movement.       The Mississippi and Alabama commissioners made up the first wave.  While some states, such as South Carolina, clearly had overwhelming secessionist sentiment, in others (such as Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia) it was not nearly as clear how the legislature or people might vote on secession, if it came to that.  What words, what arguments, were used, to convince them to see the secessionist light?
     William Harris, a sitting member of Mississippi's Supreme Court, was that state's commissioner to Georgia.  Here's part of what he said to the Georgia legislature:

They [Lincoln's Republicans and the North] have demanded, and now demand, equality between the white and negro races...equality in representation, equality in the right of suffrage, equality in the honors and emoluments of office, equality in the social circle, equality in the rights of matrimony...Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality...[Mississippi] had rather see the last of her race, men, women, and children, immolated in one common funeral pile {pyre], than see them subjected to the degradation of civil, political, and social equality with the negro race.

     Shortly afterwards, Alexander Handy, also a judge of Mississippi's highest court, had this to say to a Baltimore audience (the then-governor of Maryland, a pro-Union man, had refused to call the legislature into special session).

...the Republican platform 'revealed a clear intent to overthrow the constitution, and subvert the rights of the South'...To the 'black republican' claim that 'slavery is a sin before God and the world,' Handy posited a counterclaim: "Slavery was ordained by God and sanctioned by humanity...The first act of the black republican party will be to exclude slavery from all the Territories...The moment that slavery is pronounced a moral evil - a sin - by the general government, that moment the safety of the rights of the South will be entirely gone.'

      Not to be outdone, a pair of Alabama comissioners addressed the North Carolina legislature at almost the same time.

The North 'proposes to impair the value of slave property in the states by unfriendly legislation,' they claimed, 'and compel us, as slaves increase, to abandon it, or be doomed to a servile war...the [white] children are now born who will be compelled to flee from the land of their birth, and from the slaves their parents have toiled to acquire as an inheritance for them, or to submit to the degradation of being reduced to an equality with them, and all its attendant horrors.'

     Following its vote for secession, South Carolina's appointed commissioners fanned out across the South as well.  The commissioner to Florida was one Leonidas Spratt, a lawyer and newspaper publisher, who was so extreme he had actually launched a campaign to reopen the African slave trade.  Here's what he had to say to the Florida secession convention:

Within this government two societies have developed.  The one is the society of one race, the other of two races.  The one is based on free labor, the other slave labor.  The one is braced together but by the two great relations of life - the relations of husband and wife, and parent and child; the other by the three relations of husband and wife, parent and child, and master and slave.  The one embodies the social principle that equality is the right of man; the other, the social principle that equality is not the right of man, but the right of equals only...There is and must be an irrepressible conflict between them, and it were best to realize the truth.

     The South Carolina commissioner to Texas was one John McQueen, also a lawyer and a former U.S. Congressman.  In keeping with recurrent theme of invoking the horror of racial equality, he informed the Texas convention that 'Lincoln was elected by a sectional vote, whose platform was that of the Black Republican party and whose policy was to be the abolition of slavery upon this continent and the elevation of our own slaves to an equality with ourselves and our children.'
     Alabama's commissioner to Kentucky, Stephen Hale, a state legislator, focused his attention on Governor Magoffin because the Kentucky legislature was not in session.  Hale's letter to Magoffin contained these sentiments:

...slavery was 'an institution with which is bound up not only the wealth and prosperity of the Southern people, but their very existence as a political community.'  The Republican victory was 'the last crowning insult and outrage upon the people of the South,' because Lincoln and the Republicans stood for 'one dogma - the equality of the races, white and black.'
     Lincoln's election was 'nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government detroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugarates all the horrors of a San Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassination and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lusts of half-civilized Africans,' Hale wrote.  'The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate; all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life, or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting all the resources of the country.'  What Southerner, Hale asked, 'can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters in the not too distant future associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality?'

   Virginia was a prize ardently pursued by secessionists.  As the most populous slave-holding state, its manpower and resources would be vital to a Southern Confederacy if it had to fight the Union (keep in mind that no shots had been fired at this point).  Secession commissioners from across the Deep South converged on Richmond in February 1861 to address the state convention on secession.  One of them was John Preston of South Carolina, a former state legislator and famed orator.  Here's what he had to say to persuade Virginia to come over to the Confederate cause.

Preston began by assuring his audience that he would waste no time arguing the consitutionality of  secession.  South Carolina had surrendered none of its sovereignty when it ratified the Constitution...His primary purpose, he informed the crowded chamber, was 'to lay before you the causes which induce the State of South Carolina to withdraw from the Union.'

Aha! State's rights!

'For fully thirty years or more, the people of the Northern states have assailed the institution of African slavery.  During these three decades 'large masses of their people' embraced 'the most fearful' path to emancipation: 'the subject race...rising and murdering their masters.'...There could be no doubt, he continued, 'that the conflict between slavery and non-slavery is a conflict for life and death'...The North and South consitututed two separate, distinct, and antagonistic civilizations...'The South cannot exist without African slavery,' he said. "None but an equal race can labor in the North; none but a subject race will labor in the South.'  There were other 'repellent diversities' that made 'the political union...an unnatural and monstrous one,' but slavery, and race, formed the heart of the matter.

Whoops.  Seems the one 'state's right' that mattered above all others was slavery.
     Much more could be said about the activities of the secession commissioners, and once again I cannot do better than recommend Dew's book.  I think, however, that it is quite clear what these men believed.  Keep in mind that the arguments they presented were designed and intended to persuade their peers of the necessity for secession.  So it is a fairly safe assumption that their themes were those they believed would resonate with the opinions and values of the other slave-holding states.
     And what where those themes?  Repeatedly and openly stating that slavery was a central, and even necessary, element of Southern society - that Southern civilization could literally not exist without slaves.  Repeatedly invoking the 'horrors' and 'degradation' of equality with negroes.  Invoking the specter of 'social equality.'  Invoking the fear of 'servile insurrection' (for some reason, people might just get tired of being slaves and try forcibly to free themselves).  And, of course, invoking the horror of blacks having intercourse with their wives and daughters (for some reason, they did not express concern about white men having sex with black women).
      Considering the overwhelming historical record, it's appropriate to ask: Why is it so difficult for so many Confederate apologists to admit that the ONE state's right that mattered above all else - according to the secessionists themselves - was the 'right' to own slaves?  That the one type of 'property' that they were concerned with, above all else, was the nearly 4 million slaves that they owned?  Worth several billion dollars in 1860 money - which translates into the equivalent of how many tens of billions, today?
     I believe that many people are in fact sincere when they say things like 'heritage, not hate' and 'it wasn't really about slavery.'  But the only reason they can say these things sincerely, I believe, is because they are genuinely ignorant of what the secessionists themselves wrote and said to justify their cause.  We are simply not taught these things in history classes in school, not shown the original speeches and documents, that make so clear what it was about.  But with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War fast upon us, the historical revisionism will be coming fast and furious.  So we had best be prepared to confront the apologists with the words and documents of the secessionists.  Ask them to explain the Confederate Consitutition's provisions on slavery.  Ask them to explain the various declarations of the causes of secession put out by the states.  Ask them to explain what the secession commissioners wrote and said, as official representatives of their states.  And see if, once they are informed and educated, they can still bring themselves to romanticize the 'Lost Cause.'

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