Understanding Governor McDonnell’s Apology

By now many of you have read Governor McDonnell’s apology for failing to recognize slavery in his proclamation designating April as Confederate History Month.  It directly addresses the concerns expressed by many that by failing to address the crucial issue of slavery the proclamation distorts the very history that it claims to celebrate and promote for further study.  The governor’s announcement included the following amendment to the original proclamation:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history…

I think it’s safe to say that this is not what the Sons of Confederate Veterans had in mind when they asked the governor to reinstate the proclamation.  Let’s face it the last few years have not been kind to the SCV; consider the recent controversy surrounding their attempt to place a statue of Jefferson Davis and Jim Limber next to the Lincoln-Tad statue at Tredegar in Richmond.  I was surprised that the governor decided to wade into these waters after two previous administrations decided to discontinue the practice.  McDonnell could have set aside April as a month to remember the Civil War in a way that was much more inclusive rather than resorting to the old Lost Cause saw.

While the governor’s change of heart will be applauded by some let’s not delude ourselves in thinking that McDonnell happened to pick up a book by Ira Berlin or David Blight and had one of those moments of insight.  These statements and subsequent decisions must be understood as political.  We should remember that the Civil War memory outlined in the original proclamation would have gone unchallenged only a few decades ago and it would have gone unchallenged because it reflected the view of the ruling class.  The governor implies as much in his apology:

When I signed the Proclamation designating February as Black History Month, and as I look out my window at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, I am reminded that, even 150 years later, Virginia’s past is inextricably part of our present.

Perhaps what the governor failed to appreciate is that the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial is the result of a fundamental shift away from a not-too-distant past when white Virginians controlled local and state government. It reflects the sacrifices that white and black Virginians made to bring about a more inclusive society.  That political monopoly that existed throughout much of the twentieth century extended to control over how the state would remember its history in public spaces and through public proclamations.  It’s not that the story of black Virginia only recently appeared.  It was always there.  Is anyone really surprised that black Virginians would be upset at the issuance of a proclamation whose very content essentially reflected a time when only white Virginians were in control? Had black Virginians been able to voice their concerns and frustrations from within city and state government in the past they would have done so.  The governor’s proclamation clearly did not satisfy the “shared history” that many have come to embrace in recent years.  I am not surprised and I applaud their commitment to stand up against a Lost Cause narrative that is infused with racism and distortion.  The governor is absolutely on target when he noted that “Virginia’s past is inextricably part of our present.”

Finally, the governor would have us believe that the proclamation was meant solely to promote tourism and education:

The Confederate History Month proclamation issued was solely intended to promote the study of our history, encourage tourism in our state in advance of the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and recognize Virginia’s unique role in the story of America. The Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved the establishment of a Sesquicentennial American Civil War Commission to prepare for and commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the War, in order to promote history and create recognition programs and activities.

While I don’t believe the governor intended to cause any undue anger and frustration within the black community it is difficult to believe that given the content of the proclamation his sole motivation was education and tourism.  It’s also hard to believe that just this kind of fallout was not raised by one of his political advisers when the document was framed.  My suggestion is to allow the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission to act as the voice of the state government.  Anyone remotely familiar with this organization will know that they have done an outstanding job of promoting both education and tourism throughout the state.  Again, there was absolutely no reason for this proclamation.

I think that what happened today is significant.  It demonstrates once and for all that a substantial voting block of Virginia’s population will no longer tolerate the sanctioning of a Lost Cause narrative by state officials.  That’s a good thing for those of us who hope to see a sesquicentennial commemoration that asks its citizens to face the tough questions of the past in hopes of building a shared history of the conflict that may help us to push forward as a community.  I remain hopeful.

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47 thoughts on “Understanding Governor McDonnell’s Apology

  1. Larry Cebula

    Sure, it is politically motivated, but it is a really good apology. When you have a guy as far right as McDonnell writing that “it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice” that is hugely significant. I wonder what the SCV will say?

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I was certainly not looking for or expecting the governor to issue an apology and amendment, but it certainly was well written. The folks in the SCV will surely go ballistic and the cries of “political correctness” are no doubt forthcoming. Clearly, the governor was ill-advised and was forced to make a political calculation as to what would maintain satisfactory approval ratings. Again, I think we should celebrate the fact that we live in a time when such protest is possible and that the political structure is such that it can even bring about change. A significant portion of Virginia’s citizenry spoke up loud and clear in declaring that the proclamation’s Lost Cause theme is unacceptable.

      PROUD TO BE A VIRGINIAN!

      Reply
  2. John Maass

    I attended a meeting of the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission last fall. I’d say half of the items discussed had to do with tourism and education in Va.’s public schools. While I too doubt that the Gov.’s “sole motivation was education and tourism,” I’d bet most of it was. That is what the Sesquicentennial commemoration is about for most Virginians in and out of state govt.

    Reply
  3. Michaela

    To separate the experience and the events of Southern History into commemorating individual groups, such as Southern Whites that supported or did not support the Confederacy, and slavery is distorting memory. Regardless of the rather limited number of white slave owners, slavery was something that framed society in every aspect in 19th century America. Before yesterday the Gov wanted you to remember your Virginian ancestor who fought in the 55th Virginia regiment by leaving out that this war was started over slavery and fought to perpetuate the right to own slaves. Your ancestor inevitably fought for THAT. Now we should include slavery as an “additive” to that commemoration. To commemorate the bravery and chivalry of a soldier without the direct connection to slavery is similar to commemorating a street gang member who delivered a good and honest fight disregarding the bigger issue that his gang holds the area hostage by selling drugs and terrorizing people. The glorification of individuals and the mythology of heroes in our past does not do anything to understand historic events. 90% of middle school children I taught in Virginia did not get the cause or even the dates right of the American Civil War. But they all new that Robert E. Lee was a Southern gentleman. We had enough “commemoration”. It is time for Southern History Education month.

    Reply
    1. JB

      Good Lord! that’s bad history. For starters, the War was fought between two slaving countries, dontchaknow. And the president of neither made banning slavery where it existed a priority. I mean, when do we admit that the ‘Great Emancipator’ simply had no designs to emancipate anyone, and said so quite plainly that if he could win the War and NOT free Blacks he’d do it lickety-split? That his ‘Proclamation’ freed exactly ZERO slaves in either Northern or Southern states (which is why the 13th Amendment was necessary)?

      “Your ancestor inevitably fought for THAT.”

      You’ve never actually read a decent book on the Civil War, have you?

      Reply
      1. Jim Morgan

        JB,

        You wrote: “…That his ‘Proclamation’ freed exactly ZERO slaves in either Northern or Southern states.”

        This is not so. Everyone, including Lincoln of course, knew that the Emancipation Proclamation would take effect only with a Union victory but a final victory was not necessary for it to take effect in those area occupied by Union troops.

        The Emancipation freed every slave living in those territories on January 1, 1863. That included much of Tennessee, Louisiana, western Virginia, eastern/coastal North Carolina and other such places.

        Jim Morgan

        Reply
      2. EarthTone

        JB,

        I often hear people criticize Lincoln because the EP did not free all slaves in the USA. The fact is, Lincoln COULD NOT, by his lonesome, free the slaves in the Union states – because he lacked the Constitutional authority to do so. It’s like criticizing him for not being able to walk on water… you can’t blame him for failing to do what was not in his power to do.

        What he could do, is work toward passage of an amendment to end slavery. In 1864, during his re-election run, Lincoln did in fact campaign to abolish slavery, and to create a national consensus that this is what the country needed to do.

        After the election, he pushed the Congress to pass the 13th Amendment; it did in get through Congress by February 1865, before the war ended.

        The 13th Amendment was ratified by the end of 1865. This did end slavery in every state. Lincoln was not there to see it happen; he was assassinated earlier that year.

        It should also be noted that three former slave states – MD, MO, and WV – abolished slavery before the end of the war. The EP, while it did not officially end slavery in the Union slave states, put various social and political pressures on those states to end slavery. Once the EP passed, the end of slavery was probably inevitable. I myself consider the EP and the 13th Amendment to part of a 3 year continuum for the freeing of blacks in the slave states.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          ET,

          You make a good point, but I think it would be more accurate to say that Lincoln couldn’t be sure that the courts would uphold such a move since the Constitution protected private property, including the slaves still held in the Border States. I also don’t see Lincoln working gradually toward emancipation and the 13th amendment in the sense that he had that as a goal from the beginning. Allen Guelzo seems to paint such a picture and I don’t see it. For what it’s worth I tend to see Lincoln as more of a pragmatist who responded to both political and military contingencies. This is not to say that Lincoln did not hope that somehow slavery would end at some point. He holds this view consistently throughout his life.

          Reply
          1. EarthTone

            RE: “I also don’t see Lincoln working gradually toward emancipation and the 13th amendment in the sense that he had that as a goal from the beginning. ”

            Agreed, I mentioned that in a longer version of my text before I started editing it for brevity.

            As Lincoln stated in his first inauguration speech, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

            But as Lincoln would later say, “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me.” I think that Lincoln was a gradualist, but was “pushed” to the EP by the war.

            But he did make the decision to champion abolition during his 1984 election campaign, and he did help get the 13th Amendment out of the Congress. I think he deserves credit for that; he had the option to not to do those things, I think, and I appreciative of the choices he made.

            PS, you are perhaps psychic; I have a copy of Allen Guelzo’s book “Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation” in front of me as I write this. I have only browsed through the book, so my opinions are not yet informed by his comments.

            Reply
      3. Margaret D. Blough

        JB-You do know, don’t you, that when Lincoln published that statement to Greeley, he’d already not only written the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation but presented it to his cabinet as something he was committed to doing. He accepted Secretary of State Seward’s advice to wait to make the announcement until after a Union victory so it wouldn’t look desperate. He’d spent most of 1862 trying to persuade the loyal slave states to end slavery voluntarily which they had the unquestioned right to do. He even secured a Congressional commitment to aid them in doing so but the loyal slave states said no at that time. On April 16, 1862, he signed the Compensated Emancipation Act ending slavery in DC. By March 1862, Congress had issued a new Article of War forbidding returning fugitive slaves to rebel owners.

        >>And the president of neither made banning slavery where it existed a priority. << That's an absurd statement. Of course, they didn't. If Davis had, he would have been impeached and/or committed. Secession occurred because of the perceived threat to slavery from the election of a Republican as president and increasing Republican strength in Congress. As for Lincoln, onsidering that most slaves were in rebel states, preserving the Union benefitted them as well.

        Reply
        1. JB

          ..he’d already not only written the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation..

          I think you meant to address your post to EarthTone, but anywho: Lincoln presented the EP only as “Necessary War Measure” (his words) meant to disrupt labor in the South and expedite their capitulation. He was quite clear on what he wanted to do with the freed slaves–move them offshore to Central America, the Caribbean, or back to Africa: anywhere but the US–but couldn’t do anything until they were technically emancipated first. Ergo, he was not committed to any form of emancipation that lead or would lead to basic equality* (after all, they can hardly be ‘free’ if subject to an en masse rounding up and deportation). Had he lived, I think the legacy of the EP would be quite differently played by historians.

          [*I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.]

          Reply
          1. Kevin Levin Post author

            JB,

            You’ve missed a few points here. You are correct that Lincoln continued to push for colonization through the summer of 1862, but once blacks joined the Union army he shelved the idea and never once returned to it. You are correct in pointing out the military purpose behind the proclamation; at the same time Lincoln understood that it would hopefully eventually lead to the end of slavery nation wide. Finally, Lincoln did publicly discuss the possibility of certain civil rights for blacks near the end of his life. As I said before I think the best way to view Lincoln is over time in terms of the evolution of his views concerning race. I can pull out plenty of quotes to show any number of things about Lincoln, but they need to be understood in their proper context like any historic passage.

            Reply
  4. JB

    I don’t get it. Is every public official who celebrates Memorial Day or Veterans Day obliged to mention the My Lai Massacre, the Firebombing of Dresden, Abu Graib, the Tuskegee Experiments, Japanese Internement, the slaughter of 300,000 Filipinos (look it up), the 1,000,000 Iraqis killed to date or (fill in horror-of-choice HERE)?

    Is everyone who celebrates Presidents’ Day obliged to say, “But we can’t forget that Washington owned slaves, now! And you MUST remember that Lincoln once said, I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races – that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

    How is it one culture’s celebrants can be allowed to forget evils in their past and not another’s?

    Reply
    1. Michaela

      JB, Nowhere did I claim that slavery was unique to the South. I wrote that it “framed society in every aspect in 19th century America”. However, I would argue that there was a difference in 1861 between the North in South regarding the laws regulating slavery. I am not sure why you would assume that I never read a decent book on CW history. Your rather emotional response prevents me from clearly understanding your argument.

      Reply
      1. Michaela

        JB,
        I am neither interested in the glorification nor the vilifying of the past. But as I am always interested in asking as many questions as possible about the past, yes, I do think all the above you listed should be mentioned when we commemorate our past. Commemoration of historic events without mentioning the full story and all “evils” as you call it seems to be the preferred view of revisionists. Whether that is in this country or any other country. Lastly, that there are still people who believe that the Civil War was fought over States rights is a sign that not enough has been mentioned. But I appreciate your more thoughtful approach to the discussion in your second comment. And I look forward to your response. Thank you.

        Reply
        1. JB

          [Y]es, I do think all the above you listed should be mentioned when we commemorate our past.

          OK–try it. You’d have howls of protests from The Greatest Generation if you, on Veterans Day, mentioned the Japanese Internment or Dresden. You’d be booed off the stage by vets if you attempted to mention My Lai or the Phoenix Program at a commemoration of those who fought or died in Vietnam. You’d be denounced as a leftist hater-of-America if, on Memorial Day, you just couldn’t help mentioning Gitmo’s record of human rights abuses or the number of “collateral damage” kills we’ve scored thus far in Afghanistan.

          BUT….if you don’t mention S-L-A-V-E-R-Y loud-n-clear on any and all commemorations of Confederate history, and brand every single Confederate forehead with a scarlet “S” (whether they owned or not) you are a revisionist historian with an agenda.

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      2. JB

        I am not sure why you would assume that I never read a decent book on CW history.

        Well, because of your comment “Your ancestor inevitably fought for THAT.” Surely you’ve heard the story of the anonymous Confederate Virginian captured after First Bull Run who, when asked why he was fighting, replied, “Well, ’cause you’re down here, I guess.” That, in their own words, is why many Southerners fought: The Federal Gov’t was invading their state, their township, their home, and more often than not, bringing hell-on-earth with it. Teach that history along with the history that includes the facts that a.) both sides own slaves; b.) neither president emancipated anyone; c.) racism was endemic to both cultures, etc., and we’ve got no problem here.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin Post author

          JB,

          With all due respect anyone who claims that “neither president emancipated anyone” needs to do some basic reading. Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation freed slaves from January 1863 through to the end of the war. It led directly to the end of the institution throughout the country. There is a vast literature on the role of slavery as an initial motivation to join the ranks and a sustaining force late in the war. Your little example fails to address the complexity of the question. I would suggest reading recent books by Ken Noe, James McPherson, Peter Carmichael, Earl Hess, Chandra Manning – to name just a few. The claim that the federal government “invaded” Virginia is not a historical claim, but an assumption based on your reading of the Constitution and other legal documents.

          You are correct in noting that both sides owned slaves. The southern states that remained in the Union clearly included slave populations, but that has little to do with the issue at hand. The question is whether it is possible to understand the Confederate experience without including slavery. Finally, I am going to ask you to watch your tone on this site. These threads can get heated, but let’s do our best to remain on topic and not engage in personal insult. Thank you for your understanding.

          Reply
          1. JB

            Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation freed slaves from January 1863 through to the end of the war.

            Only where it–the Emancipation, that is–was illegal and technically non-binding: in the parts of the CSA then under Federal control. If George III had issued a like document during the Revolution and enforced it only in select areas of the colonies and then by bayonet, our history books would not be hailing him as an emancipator of anything–especially since England still engaged in slaving.

            The claim that the federal government “invaded” Virginia is not a historical claim, but an assumption based on your reading of the Constitution and other legal documents.

            Say wha..? I’m not claiming so–the majority of Virginians in 1861 claimed so! As they said then: The legal justifications for secession in 1860-1 were far more sound than they were for Revolution in 1776.

            The question is whether it is possible to understand the Confederate experience without including slavery.

            I think McPherson’s Cause and Comrades answers this question in the affirmative, so yes.

            Somehow, M. Levin, I don’t think you’d have a problem with my ‘tone’ if I were saying things you agreed with. Nonetheless, I extend my apologies to anyone here offended by anything I’ve said thus far.

            Reply
            1. Kevin Levin Post author

              McPherson maintains the centrality of slavery and race in Cause and Comrades, though like other historians he does explore a wide range of factors that motivated soldiers. Do you think the state’s black population viewed Union armies as invaders? That’s not the sense I get when I read accounts of their entry into Richmond in April 1865.

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            2. Jim Morgan

              JB,

              You wrote: “Only where it–the Emancipation, that is–was illegal and technically non-binding: in the parts of the CSA then under Federal control.”

              How was it illegal in those areas? If an occupying force imposes martial law, as they often do until such time as regular legal systems can be reestablished, that becomes the effective legality. The Emancipation Proclamation was certainly legal by an understanding of the normal laws of war even then.

              Jim Morgan

              Reply
              1. Kevin Levin Post author

                Of course it was. After all it consisted of two executive orders that were issued for military purposes. On what grounds could it be considered illegal? Thanks Jim. I forgot to comment on that.

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                1. JB

                  If an occupying force imposes martial law…

                  So the Federal Gov’t was an invading army that can impose martial law? But I thought M. Levin had said that claiming it was “invading” Virginia was not “an historical claim”… I mean, the US cannot “occupy” another part of the US, right?

                  If the CSA seceded illegally–as is argued here–and those states were still part of the Union, then the Emancipation violated the highest law of the land, the US Constitution (see Article I, Sections 2 and 9; Art IV, Sec 2; Amendments IV, V, IX and X). Besides, the courts determined that Lincoln violated the Constitution when imposing martial law (see Ex parte Milligan). Only the Congress can impose martial law because only the Congress can suspend the Writ of Habeus, per the Constitution. Lincoln’s Emancipation was illegal every which way, which is why he never ventured to impose it except in “occupied” areas, as you call them, much as Bush and Obama claim that the Constitution does not apply to Gitmo.

                  Reply
                  1. Kevin Levin Post author

                    JB,

                    Thanks for the comments. To be completely honest I am growing weary of this thread. The purpose of this post was not to debate the legality of the war or Lincoln’s policies; rather, it was meant to raise a discussion about how the Civil War is being remembered through Governor McDonnell’s proclamation. Of course, others are free to continue this discussion if interested.

                    Reply
                    1. JB

                      The purpose of this post was…meant to raise a discussion about how the Civil War is being remembered through Governor McDonnell’s proclamation.

                      That was my initial reason for posting here also, as when I asked, “How is it that one culture’s celebrants can be allowed to forget evils in their past and not another’s?”, which never drew a response, really.

                  2. Margaret D. Blough

                    The war powers were invoked by a civil war. However, this was considered to be only constitutionally supportable in areas that were still in active rebellion and not under federal control. It wasn’t the first time federal troops were used in this way. George Washington himself led troops into Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion. The Emancipation Proclamation did not turn on whether or not martial law was in effect.

                    You seem to be mixing together several Supreme Court cases & omitting the most critical one, The Prize Cases 67 US 635 (1862) . You can find it at(http://laws.findlaw.com/us/67/635.html) The Prize Cases did not specifically deal with the suspension of habeas corpus, but it did deal with other actions, such as the naval blockade of Southern ports, taken by President Lincoln to deal with the rebellion during the period between the attack on Ft. Sumter and the opening of the emergency session of Congress, that he called, on July 4, 1861. The Supreme Court upheld his actions and stated:

                    >>The law of nations is also called the law of nature; it is founded on the common consent as well as the common sense of the world. It contains no such anomalous doctrine as that which this Court are now for the first time desired to pronounce, to wit: That insurgents who have risen in rebellion against their sovereign, expelled her Courts, established a revolutionary government, organized armies, and commenced hostilities, are not enemies because they are traitors; and a war levied on the Government by traitors, in order to dismember and destroy it, is not a war because it is an ‘insurrection.’

                    Whether the President in fulfilling his duties, as Commander-in-chief, in suppressing an insurrection, has met with such armed hostile resistance, and a civil war of such alarming proportions as will compel him to accord to them the character of belligerents, is a question to be decided by him, and this Court must be governed by the decisions and acts of the political department of the Government to which this power was entrusted. ‘He must determine what degree of force the crisis demands.’ The proclamation of blockade is itself official and conclusive evidence to the Court that a state of war existed which demanded and authorized a recourse to such a measure,
                    under the circumstances peculiar to the case. <<

                    Kevin-Sorry for the thread creap but this was a point that needed to be addressed.

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                    1. JB

                      The Emancipation Proclamation did not turn on whether or not martial law was in effect.

                      What a curious thing to say. It had to rely on martial law being imposed, as only then is the Constitution in suspension, a Constitution that de facto recognized slavery until the 13th Amendment.

                  3. Michaela

                    JB,
                    I clearly answered your question with regards to “How is it that one culture’s celebrants can be allowed to forget evils in their past and not another’s?” Never did I propose to mention all only on one historic event and half on another. I pointed out to you that I did not determine slavery to be a Southern issue and that I do not consider mentioning all sides of this country’s history a form of glorification or vilifying. But the Gov.’s proclamation is on Confederate History month. A commemoration cannot include just one group’s history when the current population of that country exists of more than one group that has a common history in that past. “Confederate” history is the history of white and black Southerners. Thus, as far as both are concerned it is tightly connected to slavery. Never did I say: don’t mention anything about Lincoln’s views on race relations. I also did not comment on the memory of any other historic event or person in America because I do not understand how that has anything to do with the issue of this post: the Gov.’s proclamation and the initial exclusion of slavery.
                    And whether a soldier was drafted against his will or voluntarily joined the cause has nothing to do with the fact that fighting in the Confederate army perpetuated the Confederate State’s view on slavery. Slavery is the issue and Gov. McDonnell did not mention that until his apology. Again, this is not a question of putting the Confederate soldier on trial. It is a question of how we remember history. The viewpoint of individual soldiers is very important to understand the dynamics among soldiers and at the home front, but it does not change the reason for which the Confederate Army as an institution fought: to maintain slavery. It is changing and rewriting history to omit this in a proclamation for the commemoration of Confederate history.

                    You seem to be particularly confused about my comments, but I hope I was helpful to clarify my answer for you.

                    Reply
                    1. JB

                      …but it does not change the reason for which the Confederate Army as an institution fought: to maintain slavery.

                      Wrong. Bad history. Slavery was not under threat in 1860-1 when said army took to the field. Lincoln made this clear in his first inaugural. Congress made this clear by passing the Corwin Amendment in 1861. All the slave states–North and South–had to do was ratify said amendment to the Constitution and slavery would have been unassailable by the abolitionists, North and South. By then, however, the CSA had been formed and an army raised in her defense.

                      It is a question of how we remember history.

                      I wholeheartedly agree.

                    2. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Regardless of whether Lincoln’s agenda included the eradication of slavery in 1861 is not the issue. The soldiers themselves believed it was. All you have to do is read their letters.

                    3. JB

                      “Confederate” history is the history of white and black Southerners.

                      True. Never said otherwise. Just like “History of WWII” should include the internment of the Japanese. But should a day/week/month honoring veterans of WWII? Hardly. The governor’s initial instincts were correct.

                      All you have to do is read their letters.

                      I have. You’re cherry-picking in the extreme, M. Levin. But you’re entitled to, I suppose, on your own site.

                    4. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Yes, I’ve “cherry picked” my way through most of the scholarship on Civil War soldiers published over the past few decades.

                      You have every right to believe that the gov’s “initial instincts” were correct. However, as I’ve stated more than once the proclamation stands or falls on the reaction of voters. Thirty years ago this would not be an issue. It is now. Ultimately the deciding factor is whether enough people believe it reflects their beliefs about how best to remember the past.

                    5. JB

                      You’re a gracious host to contend with online, M. Levin, and I thank you for allowing me to post my contrarian’s opinions here.

                    6. Kevin Levin Post author

                      You are very welcome.

                      One of my goals from the beginning was to create a forum where these issue can be discussed intelligently and in a civil manner.

                    7. Bob Pollock

                      JB,
                      There is no reply button, so I am submitting this here.

                      As an extension and a representative of the Confederate government, the Confederate Army did fight to preserve a society and a government dedicated to maintaining the institution of slavery. Yes, Lincoln tried to assure the seceding states that he would not touch slavery where it already existed, he had been saying that all along, but that clearly was not enough for the secessionists, even if they trusted a “Black Republican,” which they did not. They wanted to be able to expand slavery and be assured that they could take their property anywhere they wanted. It was widely believed that if slavery was restricted it would eventually end. The Corwin amendment also did not address slavery expansion, and by that time secessionists were too far along in their revolution to be bothered with what they saw as another in a long line of compromises. Your assertion that slavery was not under threat in 1860-61 might be true, but the secessionists most certainly believed it was. Furthermore, even if the Corwin Amendment had been ratified, nothing is ever “unassailable.”

                    8. Kevin Levin Post author

                      Michaela,

                      You said: ““Confederate” history is the history of white and black Southerners.”

                      This is a crucial point and one that I completely agree with. It is absurd to suggest that you can understand the history of the Confederacy/Confederate soldiers as somehow separate from slavery. The very idea of the Confederacy as outlined in its constitution is wrapped up in the institution and the armies themselves functioned as a branch of that government. To promote such an idea is to truly engage in BAD HISTORY.

    2. Denise

      Your Lincoln quote is from the 4th Lincoln Douglas debate on September 18, 1858. What does it mean in the context of his overall thoughts. What were his real feelings on slavery? Would he have let slavery continue to exist if that would have held the union together? Did he act out of political expediency to end slavery as a last resort to save the union or was it consistent with his beliefs all along? Did he compartmentalize his feelings to be against slavery and also believe in social equality between white and black?

      Although I am a scientist by training, I know if you look hard enough one can find evidence to support any previously drawn conclusion. I did find some Lincoln quotes and will accept any assertion that they were chosen to fit my own forgone conclusion, that like any one in his position, he said and did what he had to do when he found he held the power to do it.

      ….Now I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil… –October 7, 1858 Debate at Galesburg, Illinois

      ..He [Stephen Douglas] is blowing out the moral lights around us, when he contends that whoever wants slaves has a right to hold them; that he is penetrating, so far as lies in his power, the human soul, and eradicating the light of reason and the love of liberty, when he is in every possible way preparing the public mind, by his vast influence, for making the institution of slavery perpetual and national. —-October 7, 1858 Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg, Illinois

      …When Judge Douglas says that whoever, or whatever community, wants slaves, they have a right to have them, he is perfectly logical if there is nothing wrong in the institution; but if you admit that it is wrong, he cannot logically say that anybody has a right to do wrong.
      –October 13, 1858 Debate at Quincy, Illinois

      ..This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave.
      –April 6, 1859 Letter to Henry Pierce

      ..An inspection of the Constitution will show that the right of property in a slave in not “distinctly and expressly affirmed” in it. –February 27, 1860 Speech at the Cooper Institute

      ..We believe that the spreading out and perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare. We believe — nay, we know, that that is the only thing that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself….–September 17, 1859 Speech in Cincinnati, Ohio

      ..I say now, however, as I have all the while said, that on the territorial question — that is, the question of extending slavery under the national auspices, — I am inflexible. I am for no compromise which assists or permits the extension of the institution on soil owned by the nation.
      –February 1, 1861 Letter to William H. Seward

      ..One section of our country believes slavery is right, and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong, and ought not to be extended…–March 4, 1861 Inaugural Address

      ..I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling…–April 4, 1864 Letter to Albert Hodges

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        Denise,

        Lincoln’s views on race are extremely complex. It is all too easy to pick out choice quotes that can prove just about any conclusion under the sun. I am not a Lincoln scholar, but I’ve read a great deal about the man and specifically on the question of race. I find the most interesting studies to be those that track Lincoln over time and which take a careful look at the context in which his views were made public.

        If you are looking for a good place to begin I still recommend David H. Donald’s _Lincoln_. Hope that helps.

        Reply
  5. Margaret D. Blough

    JB>>JB April 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm
    The Emancipation Proclamation did not turn on whether or not martial law was in effect.

    What a curious thing to say. It had to rely on martial law being imposed, as only then is the Constitution in suspension, a Constitution that de facto recognized slavery until the 13th Amendment.<<

    The Constitution was never in suspension. The Congress and the courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, remained in very feisty activity throughout the war. Two Congressional and one presidential election were held during the war. The Constitutional theory on which the EP was based was the war powers of the presidency, a theory originated by former president John Quincy Adams. In addition, the EP drew authority from the two Confiscation Acts passed by Congress. There is no question under the customary laws of war that property, which the slave states claimed slaves to be, used by an enemy, whether it be a foreign nation or an internal insurrection, to further its war effort can be seized. There is also a great deal of historical precedent in the customary laws of war for offering freedom to an enemy's slaves (even when the offerer itself allows slavery) in order to undermine the enemy's ability to fight. The British did it during the American revolution. Both sides did it in some of the South American revolutions.

    The Constitution permits the suspension of habeas corpus in during an insurrection. The only issue in ex parte Merryman (which was not a US Supreme Court decision; Taney was sitting as a Circuit judge) was whether the president could do it without prior Congressional authorization. The difficulty was that by the time of Ft. Sumter the old Congress had dissolved and the new Congress was not scheduled to have its first session until December. Lincoln called it into emergency session beginning on July 4, 1861. In the Prize Cases, decided while the war was still ongoing, the US Supreme Court upheld one of Lincoln's most important acts during the period between Ft. Sumter and July 4, 1861, declaring a blockade of Southern ports, to be constitutional.

    BTW, arguing that the Constitution's de facto tolerance of slavery prevented the President from taking action to prevent the use of slave labor to further a rebellion aiming to divest the US & its Constitution of jurisdiction over a substantial portion of its territory smacks of the definition of chutzpah: A man murders his father and mother and pleads for mercy on the grounds that he is an orphan.

    Reply
    1. JB

      The Constitution was never in suspension.

      Tell that to the hundreds who were imprisoned without trial for offenses as minor as discouraging someone to enlist; the scores of publishers arrested who had their newspapers closed down; the Maryland House of Delegates’ elected officials rounded up and sent to military prisons without trial in May 1861 for ‘harboring Southern sympathies’, nothing more, and the suppression of free elections in that state that fall; the false arrest and imprisonment of thousands of protesters throughout the North during the War; Lincoln’s suspension of Habeus without Congressional approval and in violation of the Constitution (for which he drew Taney’s condemnation until it was duly rubber-stamped by the Republican Congress); the unlawful and forced creation of W. Virginia and the establishment of its puppet gov’t by the Executive…

      BTW, arguing that the Constitution’s de facto tolerance of slavery prevented the President from taking action to prevent the use of slave labor to further a rebellion…etc

      You can only make a case for chutzpah on my part if every.last.slave.owner in the South was in actual ‘rebellion’, which is not possible to do. Not that Lincoln cared: Every last slave owner in the South–their loyalties be damned–and in areas NOT occupied by the Union Army was targeted, certainly. (Lincoln, ever the master lawyer, carefully excluded the parishes of Louisiana and counties of Virginia then in possession of the Army from the Proclamation, naturally.)

      The Constitution permits the suspension of habeas corpus in during an insurrection.

      True. But only by Congress–no Ifs/Ands/or Buts. Lincoln ignored that part, of course.

      All of this hinges on the age-old argument: Did the South legally secede? If so, Lincoln invaded a foreign country (without Congressional approval–also a violation of the Constitution). To which the Southerner has always asked, quite reasonably: Where was secession illegal in Constitutional law? And what does the Xth Article grant the states if not the power not given expressly to the Federal Gov’t to forbid, namely, the right to peaceably secede? The Constitution is based on Anglo-Saxon Common Law, which essentially says: Rights not expressly prohibited or curtailed are considered granted. (Roman Law says differently.) Since rights of secession are nowhere expressly prohibited, then they are assumed to belong to the states. Which is why New England states had previously threatened secession under Jefferson; Southern states during the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations”, etc. without the Federal Gov’t threatening invasion of those states.

      There is…a great deal of historical precedent in the customary laws of war for offering freedom to an enemy’s slaves…in order to undermine the enemy’s ability to fight.

      True. In fact, TOO true. That’s exactly why Lincoln did it: “[T]o undermine the enemy’s ability to fight.” Nothing more, nothing less. Didn’t he himself call it simply a “war measure”? Didn’t he sack Fremont when Fremont issued a type of EP of his own? YES.

      So: Let’s not pretend after the fact that it was all done by a “Great Emancipator” (who said he wished he could wage war without the EP) for humanitarian purposes (and who thought blacks less human than whites). And let’s not pretend that said “Emancipator” secretly probably maybe waged the war for that purpose too, as well as save the ol’ Union.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Levin Post author

        JB,

        One of the reasons that I don’t care to respond to this legal thread is that there is so much emotion wrapped up in your responses. I might be more inclined to weigh in if it weren’t for that. I am not a legal scholar and I am not terribly interested in taking sides in what appears for you to be a morality play.

        The courts upheld Lincoln’s suspension of habeus corpus. The courts were in session throughout the war. Davis suspended habeus corpus in scores of cases. Didn’t Roosevelt remove and imprison Japanese Americans through executive order during WWII w/o the involvement of Congress and didn’t the Supreme Court uphold the decision in 1944?

        Finally, the New England states never formally issued a threat of secession at the time of the Hartford Convention. The convention called for eliminating the three-fifths clause that strengthened southern political power, and to require a two-thirds vote of Congress for the admission of new states, declarations of war, and laws restricting trade. Let’s put this myth to rest please.

        Again, I have no problem with you arguing for any conclusion, but it’s incredibly distracting to have to wade through the invective and emotion. Just a thought.

        Reply
      2. Margaret D. Blough

        JB-You just answered your own point when you dismiss the subsequent ratification by a “Republican” Congress as rubber-stamping. Whether you like it or not, that means Congress did ratify the actions. In any event, Congress was no rubber stamp. It actually, on several occasions, was far more radical than Lincoln towards the South. I suggest you read the Supreme Court decision in the Prize Cases, which, BTW, rejected your argument on the need for a declaration of war. If it had been the UK or France that had fired on a US military base during the period after the old Congress adjourned and the new one had convened and supporters of the foreign powers had attacked US troops coming to the nation’s defense and burned bridges to cut off the Capital, would you have still believed that the President could do nothing because Congress was not there to authorize him to take action? The Supreme Court of the United States rightly found that idea absurd.

        As for West Virginia, they were no puppets. They exercised the right of a free people not to be coerced into joining a rebellion. Their representatives to the Richmond convention voted against secession even though it placed their own lives in danger. The government in Richmond had joined the rebellion so that the loyal part of the state created a provisional government that gave the necessary Constitutional approval to the creation of the state.

        Mark Neely has written scrupulously documented works on assaults civil liberties during the Civil War; his first book treated what occurred in the North and his second book dealt with what occurred in the South. Both suspended habeas corpus at various points. Both arrested civilians (the Confederacy expelled Parson Brownlow long before the US expelled Clement Vallandingham). The Confederacy did not imprison suspected Unionist bridge burners in East Tennesssee without a warrant. They hung them after drumhead court martials with the written sanction of Judah Benjamin and Jefferson Davis and brutally used armed force to suppress dissent in East Tennessee. The sad fact is that civil liberties take a beating in democracies & republics in time of war.

        The Confederate Congress and the rebel states all impressed slave labor, regardless of the wishes of the owners, to use in the war effort.

        I ask you: Where in the Constitution do you find the power to secede? It has specific provisions on the admission of states but none on how a state might leave the Union. The Constitution drew from many sources, but, as the obverse of the original Great Seal of the United States States, which predates the Constitution, says, the US is “Novus Ordo Seclorum”: A New Order of the Ages. As for your belief that a purported right of secession was ever acceded to by prior US governments, that simply is not true. Madison gave orders to his military commander approving taking action to suppress an attempted New England secession if it occurred. It didn’t occur. During the Nullification Crisis, South Carolina caved after Jackson publicly threatened to personally lead troops into the state to suppress a secession attempt and to hang the ring leaders. I suggest you read Jackson’s “Proclamation to the People of South Carolina.” http://www.sagehistory.net/jeffersonjackson/documents/JacksonProcSC.htm. Madison publicly supported Jackson, writing to Jackson’s private secretary & Madison protege Nicholas Trist on December 23, 1832:

        >>I have received yours of the 19th, inclosing some of the South Carolina papers. There are in one of them some interesting views of the doctrine of secession; one that had occurred to me, and which for the first time I have seen in print; namely that if one State can at will withdraw from the others, the others can at will withdraw from her, and turn her, nolentem, volentem, out of the union. Until of late, there is not a State that would have abhorred such a doctrine more than South Carolina, or more dreaded an application of it to herself. The same may be said of the doctrine of nullification, which she now preaches as the only faith by which the Union can be saved.

        I partake of the wonder that the men you name should view secession in the light mentioned. The essential difference between a free Government and Governments not free, is that the former is founded in compact, the parties to which are mutually and equally bound by it. Neither of them therefore can have a greater right to break off from the bargain, than the other or others have to hold them to it. And certainly there is nothing in the Virginia resolutions of — 98, adverse to this principle, which is that of common sense and common justice. The fallacy which draws a different conclusion from them lies in confounding a single party, with the parties to the Constitutional compact of the United States. The latter having made the compact may do what they will with it. The former as one only of the parties, owes fidelity to it, till released by consent, or absolved by an intolerable abuse of the power created. In the Virginia Resolutions and Report the plural number, States, is in every instance used where reference is made to the authority which presided over the Government. As I am now known to have drawn those documents, I may say as I do with a distinct recollection, that the distinction was intentional. It was in fact required by the course of reasoning employed on the occasion. The Kentucky resolutions being less guarded have been more easily perverted. The pretext for the liberty taken with those of Virginia is the word respective, prefixed to the “rights” &c to be secured within the States. Could the abuse of the expression have been foreseen or suspected, the form of it would doubtless have been varied. But what can be more consistent with common sense, than that all having the same rights &c. should unite in contending for the security of them to each.

        It is remarkable how closely the nullifiers who make the name of Mr Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them. You have noticed what he says in his letters to Monroe & Carrington Pages 43 & 203, vol 2, with respect to the powers of the old Congress to coerce delinquent States, and his reasons for preferring for the purpose a naval to a military force, and moreover that it was not necessary to find a right to coerce in the Federal Articles, that being inherent in the nature of a compact. It is high time that the claim to secede at will should be put down by the public opinion, and I shall be glad to see the task commenced by one who understands the subject.<<

        I don't think either side in the Civil War considered counseling draft resistance to be a minor matter.

        As for the EP, Lincoln made it clear that individual generals, under the rubric of martial law, did NOT have the power to issue emancipation proclamations unilaterally. That was an issue of civilian control of the military.

        Lincoln was on record as opposing slavery long before the Civil War (you blatantly misstate his racial views, which as Kevin said, were complex. He never believed it was morally right to hold blacks as slaves whatever he believed about their status vis a vis whites). However, in peacetime, he strongly believed that the Constitution did not give him the authority to take action against it. The war changed that and the EP reflected what he considered to be his basis for acting. He followed up by proposing and lobbying hard for the passage of the 13th Amendment which ended slavery forever in the entire country. The 13th Amendment passed Congress and began the ratification process before the war ended. Lincoln signed it (even though he didn't have to) in sending it to the states for ratification in order to indicate his total support.

        Reply
        1. JB

          Whether you like it or not, that means Congress did ratify the actions.

          *Sigh.* Only after the fact and after protests from the Supreme Court, making them illegal until approved.

          Where in the Constitution do you find the power to secede?

          This would be the legitimate question to ask if the legal document under scrutiny were based in Roman and not Common Law. Since it is not, however, and the Constitution–being the radical concept it was–does not grant rights (those are inherently granted by a Creator) but merely curb the power of the Gov’t to transgress those inherited rights, then this isn’t the question to ask. The question to ask (again, because of the type of document we’re dealing with) and which hitherto has been ignored, is: What does the Xth Article grant the states if not the power (a power not given *expressly* given to the Federal Gov’t to prohibit, remember) or right to peaceably secede? The fact that it had been threatened by states–North and South–before only proves that from the beginning states considered this one of their most sacrosanct rights–a a final, ‘nuclear option’, no doubt, but a right nonetheless. Which is why many Northern states’ representatives felt their Southern kin were properly exercising their rights and supported them in doing so.

          What it boils down to is a Federalist-vs-AntiFederalist view. Proponents of both founded the country, so both views have colonial and Revolutionary precedent. However, since both are mutually exclusive, one will win to the detriment of the other (they nearly came to blows duriing the very first administration!). 1861, for all intents and purposes, ended the AntiFederalist, Jeffersonian/Madisonian view of states’ rights.

          Lincoln was on record as opposing slavery long before the Civil War

          He was for before he was against it. But then he was against it before he was for it. And after all was said and done, he was always against it with some; always for it with others. He said what would get him elected–we can’t forget that he was, after all, a politician’s politician. His record of racial equality, however, he was quite consistent on.

          I don’t think either side in the Civil War considered counseling draft resistance to be a minor matter.

          Is this an admission of sorts that indeed the Constitution was violated by Lincoln’s administration?

          as the obverse of the original Great Seal of the United States States, which predates the Constitution, says, the US is “Novus Ordo Seclorum”

          I’m not sure what this argument is an appeal to… How many states make up the US? Currently as many 50; possibly one day as few as 2. Same Union. How does a state leaving weaken or ‘dissolve’ the remaining union?

          I would refer you to Edward Payson Powell’s aged but worthy Nullification and Secession in the United States: A History of the Six Attempts During the First Century of the Republic and Howard Perkins’ Northern Editorials on Secession–both great books on the subject.

          Reply
  6. Sherree

    Kevin,

    Unfortunately, it appears that Mississippi’s governor does not understand Governor McDonnell’s apology.

    WASHINGTON, April 11 (UPI) — Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour defended Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s delivering a Confederate History Month proclamation with no mention of slavery.

    While McDonnell, a first-term Republican, has since apologized for his “major omission,” Barbour, the Republican Governors Association chairman, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” he didn’t think McDonnell made a mistake when he left slavery out of the proclamation.

    Speaking of the outcry since the omission, Barbour said, “To me, it’s a sort of feeling that it’s a nit, that it is not significant, that it’s trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn’t amount to diddly.”

    By contrast, McDonnell said Wednesday, “The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed.”

    He called slavery “an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property … left a stain on the soul of this state and nation” and “divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and led to the Civil War.”

    McDonnell’s proclamation calls on Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”

    The Virginia NAACP and the state’s Legislative Black Caucus complained that not mentioning slavery in the proclamation was an insult to all the state’s blacks

    Reply

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