Let the Documents Speak For Themselves

This really is the best possible time to host a blog on the Civil War and historical memory.  If the next four years follows the past year we are in for a wild ride.  At the same time there is something rather depressing about the level of discourse surrounding many of these high profile events.  Consider the upcoming Secession Ball, scheduled for next Saturday in Charleston South Carolina.  The event marks a specific event in the history of South Carolina and the nation.  While organizers trot out the standard arguments distancing their event from the role that slavery played in helping to bring about the very event that is being celebrated the NAACP is working hard to distort and butcher their own version of the past.

NAACP State President Lonnie Randolph had this to say about the upcoming gala:

“There is nothing to celebrate about killing a million people. South Carolina still lives under the rule of the Confederacy today,” Randolph said.  He compared the Secession Ball to celebrating Sept. 11, Adolf Hitler, or the American Indian massacre at Wounded Knee.   “We want some consistency. We want South Carolina — and America — to be consistent in the way it treats and honors all its citizens.” Randolph said the argument that secession was about states’ rights misrepresents the facts of slavery.  “The state wanted to right to buy and sell people. Tell the whole truth,” he said.  He spoke at a news conference at the Charleston branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, where he was surrounded by area leaders of the organization and ministers.  Handouts at the meeting encouraged attendance at the march and mass meeting with the admonition: “A Call for Unity: Don’t Celebrate Slavery and Terrorism.”


Participants will watch segments of “Birth of a Nation,” a 1915 silent film that portrayed Ku Klux Klan members as heroes….  “The states wanted the right to sell human cargo,” he said [Randolph], adding the public would not tolerate similar disrespect of other minority groups – a Holocaust celebration or an event celebrating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. “The reason this can take place so easily is we’re still suffering the effects of the Confederacy in this state,” Randolph said.

The NAACP is not going to win any converts by pushing a narrative of the war that is heavy on emotion and rhetoric and short on historical content.

Here is what I would do to protest this event.  Station both black and white residents of Charleston in different sections of the city and at a scheduled time, during the Secession Ball, have them read the actual document that was approved by South Carolina’s secession convention.  You could organize literally hundreds of people for this.  I think it would be quite powerful to see South Carolinians take ownership of what South Carolinians in 1860.  As Larry Wilmer noted the other night on the Jon Stewart Show, highlighting the role of slavery in this event is not “politically correct, it’s correct correct.”  And that’s it.

Let the documents speak for themselves.

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

140 comments… add one
  • Margaret D. Blough Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:16

    Ms. Chastain-There were many, especially in the Deep South who advocated reopening the African slave trade in 1850s as slave prices soared. Such movements foundered on opposition by Virginia, in particular. It wasn’t a moral argument (since the people making it had no qualms about selling slaves against their will who were born in the US). Virginia for decades produced, by natural increase, far more slaves than its agriculture, working with a soil exhausted from tobacco farming, and other needs required. Therefore, Virginia was a major importer in the massive interstate slave trade. In essence, Virginia wanted to be protected from competition from cheap foreign imports. When secession began, secessionists believed that Virginia’s participation was essential to success; they weren’t about to infuriate Virginia.

  • Margaret D. Blough Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:05

    Ms. Chastain-

    Have you ever actually bothered to read ANYTHING from the antebellum period on the issue of expansion of slavery? Expansion was THE issue. It’s the reason that the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed which jettisoned the thirty-year old Missouri Compromise. Rather than resolving the issue, the Kansas-Nebraska Act inflamed the situation and turned “Bleeding Kansas” into a preliminary to the Civil War. One of the big issues was control of the branches of the federal government. For decades, the 3/5 compromise had given the slave states an edge in Congressional representation and, thus, in Electoral College votes. Their control of the presidency and the Senate gave them the edge on control of the judiciary. An increasing number of free states would dilute and eventually destroy that edge and risk arriving at the critical point where amendments limiting or eliminating slavery could both pass Congress and be ratified. Further, slave state whites considered it an insult to Southern honor to not be able to take their slaves wherever they wanted, even into free states. The issue of expansion is a constant theme in documents by which rebel states explained their reasons for joining the rebellion. As then President-elect Abraham Lincoln wrote to his old friend and future Confederate VP Alexander Stephens in December 1860:

    >>Your obliging answer to my short note is just received, and for which please accept my thanks. I fully appreciate the present peril the country is in, and the weight of responsibility on me.
    Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.
    The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.<<

    You act as if there was no right of anyone to dare to criticize slavery, especially to contend that it was morally wrong to own other human beings as property. There was never any undertaking to the slave states express or implied that it would be the case. The first recorded statement of moral opposition to slavery in what became the US was the 1688 Germantown, PA declaration from Quakers/Mennonites. One of the first pamphlets Thomas Paine pubished in America was an anti-slavery tract. Benjamin Franklin and John, Abigail, and Samuel Adams were openly anti-slavery. Franklin became the president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in 1787 the year of the Constitutional Convention. John Adams was the principal author of the 1780 Massachusetts constitution which is still in effect and is, IIRR, considered to be the oldest written constitution currently in existence. It was that constitution on which the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts based its finding that slavery was unconstitutional in Massachusetts in 1783. Pennsylvania had passed its first gradual emancipation law in 1780, also before the Constitutional Convention. One of the major sources of opposition to ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania was objections from the significant Quaker/Anabaptist communities to its favorable provisions regarding slavery. James Madison, a slaveowner, recorded this statement from himself in the his Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 in the entry for August 25, 1787, "Mr. Madison thought it wrong to admit in the Constitution the idea that there could be property in men." The provisions that protected slavery, at least where it was, in the Constitution were not due to universal approval or even tolerance of the issue among all of the delegates. Deep South delegates made it clear that, without those provision, including a twenty year moratorium on any congressional action against the African slave trade, that South Carolina, Georgia, and, likely North Carolina, would refuse to ratify the Constitution. There were bitter attacks on slavery by other delegates to the Convention but protection of the Union was deemed so critical that they agreed to the demands of the slave states in whole or in part.

    As has been pointed out to you frequently, the slave states for decades prior to the Civil War refused to allow any discussion of ending or even limiting slavery not only within their own borders, but also in Congress for nearly a decade, and they raged against the free states' inabilty to suppress any and all discussion of opposition to slavery within the free states' borders. The slave states contended from at least 1820 on that slavery was a positive good for all races and brooked no dispute of that.

    You also totally fail to understand the First Amendment. Whether or not it is advisable, demonstrators have every right to peacefully demonstrate against the Secession Ball outside where it's being held. Government does have the right to prescribe reasonable, CONTENT-NEUTRAL time, place, and manner restrictions. Ironically, most of the case law, except for that arising out of labor dispute picketing, came about in cases challenging state and local laws in Southern states attempting to suppress civil rights demonstrations and marches in the 1950s and 1960s. The First Amendment includes not just freedom of speech but the right to peacefully assemble.

  • Bruce Miller Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:08

    Kevin, after reading the news items you cited, I’m wondering what you found in Randolph’s or the NAACP chapter’s statements that led you to say that “the NAACP is working hard to distort and butcher their own version of the past.”

    You stated your differences with their proposed protest strategy, and with the references to Nazis and terrorists.

    I don’t have a particular opinion about the specific tactics they chose for the protest. So I have no objections myself to the NAACP and their supporters getting in the faces of those coming to celebrate the SCV’s Secession Gala by protesting outside the event itself.

    But I honestly can’t point to anything in those articles that I recognize as trying “to distort and butcher their own version of the past.” With the showing of “Birth of a Nation”, the event obviously does contribute to the celebration of Klan terrorism in the postwar period, and terrorism is the right description of the actions that are documented extensively in the Congressional hearings on Klan activity at the time.

    Nazi comparisons are always tricky, and I tend to avoid them. But racial ideology *was* very much at the core of the Nazi ideology. In fact, that and worship of the Leader was about the only things at the core of Nazi ideology. And the NAACP is absolutely right to point to the element of promoting white racism involved in this SCV event, even if they do it in the Gala by the process described by the German word “Verharmlosen” (literally to make something harmless), minimizing the seriousness and significance of it.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:13


      Exactly what does this event have to do with the Klan and “Birth of a Nation”? Comparisons with Nazis and terrorists are a non-starter and get us nowhere in terms of a constructive dialog.

      • Bruce Miller Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:45

        I misread the McClatchy piece you cited; I thought it meant the SCV was going to show excerpts at the Secession Gala. Instead, it’s the NAACP that plans to show them to participants in the protest. I can understand using it, though, as what it is: an artificat of the Lost Cause ideology that also functioned as the ideology of segregation and Jim Crow laws. Which is how I assume the NAACP chapter intends to use it.

        I guess I would question whether constructive dialog with the SCV is possible. My limited experience in that area suggests that it’s not. For people of good will influenced by Lost Cause pseudohistory, sure. But for groups like the SCV dedicated to celebrating pseudohistory, stimatizing them is probably the only kind of dialogue that has any hope of actually communicating with them.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:48

          It’s not so much the SCV that I am concerned with; rather, I want to see the NAACP focus on a scholarly and coherent view of the past that steers clear of the very references that alienate and divide.

  • Bruce Miller Dec 12, 2010 @ 12:10

    One thing I think we should remember in these celebrations of secession. We’ve been through nearly ten years now of post-9/11 idolatry of the military. Admittedly, it’s often used to excuse the fact that it’s a small percentage of the public who actually serve in the US military – disproportionately Southerers.

    The chronically vapid Kathleen Parker wrote in today’s Washington Post, “With the exception of our military, we are a flabby lot, and I’m not just talking about girth. We are merely disgusting in that department. I’m talking about our self-discipline, our individual will, our self-respect, our voluntary order.” This kind of celebration of the military as the highest and best and purest of American society (which the Christian Right particularly promotes) has become entirely routine, scarcely occasioning notice.

    I think Americans who aren’t totally cynical about these things need to make the point that in celebrating secession and the Confederacy, the participants are celebrating *treason against the United States*. The most serious instance of treason ever in American history, actually, that cost more American lives than any other war. And the soldiers these brave white Southerners were killing with their war celebrated by their present-day admirers as abstract Nobility and Courage and Love of Home or whatever, the soldiers they were killing in massive numbers were soldiers of the US ARMY. The same Army fighting today in Afghanistan and Iraq. The same US Army composed disporportionately of Southerners fighting for the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, not for the Confederacy or the “sacred institution of slavey and white supremacy”.

    If our political culture has become so currupted that we can’t celebrate democracy and the Constitution as the core of American patriotism, I would hope most Americans could at least manage simple nationalism and understand that celebrating treason against the United States and the massive killing of soldiers of the US Army is not a decent or patriotic thing to do.

  • Woodrowfan Dec 12, 2010 @ 7:02

    I think that being “from” a place, especially if one is raised there and has extensive ties throughout the community, can give a person some insights into that place. However, it can just as easily blind someone to things that are clear to an outsider. However, I certainly agree that simply saying “I am the xth generation from this place, so your argument is invalid” comes from someone who has run out of arguments…

    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 7:08

      I completely agree. My experiences growing up in Atlantic City left some very powerful impressions on me in terms of its racial dynamic, which led to extensive reading in various scholarly studies to help me better understand it all. I claim no special privilege having grown up there; in fact, some of the best studies were written by historians who had no connection to the place.

    • Will Stoutamire Dec 12, 2010 @ 7:56

      Very true. Like Mr. Hall, I only drag out the personal history when someone decides that not believing in “their narrative” of the war means I can’t possibly be from “their region,” or when said person decides that my refusal to accept Lost Cause ideology is a direct attack on “the South” – at least, as Dr. Simpson so candidly pointed out, the white South. Despite our flaws, I am a very proud Southerner and I do feel that it is worth asserting that I am one of “us” when a fellow Southerner attempts to create an “us”/”them” argument, if only to blow holes in their false dichotomy. This is, you pointed out Kevin, ultimately about how we as a nation should remember the events of 150 years ago.

      One’s ancestry certainly gives no special understanding of a particular past. If I were to believe what much of my family and ancestry tells me about the Civil War, I would be in an entirely different camp in these discussions – and I used to be, when I was ten. Perhaps I only bring up my personal background as a means of showing someone who is creating an “us”/”them” argument that it is possible for one to both respect a personal/regional past and recognize the reality of certain uncomfortable and disturbing historical actions, and that the debate we had yesterday should not be seen as scholars (the “ivory tower”) v. Southerners – another false dichotomy. It is the unwillingness of certain individuals to accept these narratives, and their desire the cover them up with a web of alternative interpretations, that drew me into memory studies in the first place, be it of the Civil War or another event.

      The “intentionally denigrating the South” line of Lost Cause arguments annoys me to no end, because I do not see accepting the current scholarly narrative as doing any more that acknowledging our best understanding or interpretation of what happened. I simply do not see it as a means of attacking the people amongst whom I grew up.

      • Margaret D. Blough Dec 12, 2010 @ 9:00

        Will-Very well put. The boat my father’s side of the family took to America arrived about 125 years ahead of the first boat that bore one of my mother’s ancestors here. I don’t regard my father’s side of the family as giving me any claim of superiority, particularly in terms of the ability ot understand US history, over my mother’s side.

        I think modern scholarship on slavery scrupulously avoids treating anyone as caricatures, whether they be slaves or slaveholders or anyone else. There is no historical interest or challenge in labelling someone as a monster. Monsters can be cordoned off in a safe area because they are certainly not like us. The difficulty is confronting and accepting the fact that people, many of whom, if we could meet them and get to know them, we’d find decent and likeable, not only found nothing wrong in owning slaves but vociferously defended their right to do so even though they lived in a country whose very existence was based on a belief that each individual has an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Others, both North and South, tolerated the existence of slavery, even if they didn’t personally own slaves or think slavery was a good thing. I honestly can’t imagine any scenario in which going to war over slavery would have ever gained significant support in the free states and territories without the survival of the Union first being placed at risk by those who would destroy it to protect slavery. Even many of the immediatist abolitionists still favored a world in which white males would be the leaders and black men and women regardless of race would be followers (hence the birth of the modern women’s suffrage movement at the Seneca Convention after women were relegated to the balcony at a major international abolition conference in England). Almost no one comes out of this period looking good. What is important to understand is how this came about and how a nation whose origin came out of the Enlightenment could not end slavery without a horrific civil war.

        • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 15:56

          Ms. Blough, most of my comments are not about modern scholarship on slavery. As was noted earlier in the thread by someone, there’s a lack of media attention given to scholarly secession events. Thus, the general public is likely only marginally aware of modern scholarship on slavery or anything else.

          My experience is mostly with what one finds in the popular culture, including the internet. The objectivity of scholarly study on this subject, and on the South itself, apparently does not “trickle down” much to movies, television, novels, magazines, news reports, comment threads, etc. In those places, you’re far more likely to encounter North=totally good, South=totally bad, Southern slavery=the greatest evil ever perpetrated in the entire history of humanity.

          Because this attitude is soooo pervasive, writing a novel portraying a Southern white man as good and decent generates internet comments like:

          “Regional fiction (Larry McMurtry, etc.) can be fun. But this sounds like a romantic-series adjunct to Neo-Confederacy, if without the explicit politics. The innate superiority of the Southern whatever.”


          “It sort of reminds me of a spoof of Ayn Rand crossed with Southern superhero comics. I found it fascinating as a piece of anthropology, opening a window into a mindset that seems completely alien to me.”

          Portraying a Southern white man as decent, even honorable, is an “alien mindset” to the commenter — who, it turns out, is a writer from Connecticut.

          Incidently, I’ve never run across an explanation why compensated emancipation worked nearly everywhere else but wouldn’t have worked here, had it been attempted early enough — so that only war to destroy the South could end slavery.

          • James F. Epperson Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:06

            “Incidently, I’ve never run across an explanation why compensated emancipation worked nearly everywhere else but wouldn’t have worked here,”

            Because, as several folks have pointed out, the South was not interested in any kind of emancipation. Can you point to a single antebellum Southerner who supported compensated emancipation?

            • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:11

              Connie has made a number of claims that have yet to be supported. At some point we might get a textual analysis of the secession documents that would demonstrate that we are focusing too much on slavery and race.

              • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 19:26

                Not “focusing too much on slavery and race” but focusing on them to the exclusion, or minimization, of other pertinent issues.

                As to the secession documents… First, let me quote from William H. Seward as a lead-in to Mississippi’s secession declarations.

                In his speech to the U.S. Senate in March 1850, on the Admission of California and the subject of slavery, Mr. Seward said:

                “…it will appear that the question of dissolving the union is a complex question–that it embraces the fearful issue whether the Union shall stand, and Slavery, under the steady, peaceful action of moral, social and political causes, be removed by gradual, voluntary effort and compensation, or whether the Union shall be dissolved, and civil wars ensue, bringing on violent but complete and immediate emancipation. We are now arrived at that stage of our national progress when that crisis can be foreseen, when we must foresee it. It is directly before us. Its shadow is upon us. It darkens the legislative halls, the temples of worship, and the home and the hearth. Every question, political, civil or ecclesiastical, however foreign to the subject, Slavery brings up, Slavery is an incident, and the incident supplants the principal question. We hear of nothing but Slavery, and we can talk of nothing but slavery.”

                In other words, in contemporary vernacular, whatever issues came up, they were chalked up to slavery. Slavery supplanted the original question, regardless of how foreign it was to slavery.

                What this translated to, a decade later, was the north/non-slave states using slavery as the reason/excuse for victimizing the Southern states in many ways.

                Mississippi’s declaration of causes begin with the statement,

                “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery…”

                And then goes on with a laundry list of ways the state had been victimized by “hostility to slavery” — quite a number of them having nothing to do with slavery, except to use it as an excuse for the victimization:

                “…deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France…dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico (i.e., this is about territory, not slavery) … tramples the original equality of the South under foot … promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst …enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice …invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives … has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security … has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits and to destroy our social system … ”

                The last item illustrates the true aim was — not freedom, equality and wellbeing of the slaves, because if that had been the north’s concern, it wouldn’t have first devastated the land and economy into which they were freed.

                No, the real aim was to ruin Mississippi’s (and the South’s) agriculture, prostrate its industrial pursuits and destroy its social system (which is more than just slavery and race).

                And that is exactly what happened. And I believe the same thing would have happened had non-compensated emancipation occurred without war — the only difference would be that half-a-million men wouldn’t have had to die.

                • Kevin Levin Dec 13, 2010 @ 2:11

                  How can you focus on Seward as a “lead-in” to MS secession statement when it was written 10 years earlier? Seward was not alone in the rhetoric he utilized during the Compromise of 1850. You will find the same sense of immediacy in the final speeches by John Calhoun and countless others. Why are you singling out Seward. The end of the Mexican-American War and the pattern of voting in the Wilmot Proviso left any number of Americans with the sense that the two-party system may not hold given the issue of slavery and westward expansion. You don’t seem to have any sense of the context in which the speech was given. Your analysis is neither helpful or interesting.

                  As for MS you just made the point that most reasonable conclude after reading the document. At the center of the their thinking sits the issue of slavery and the maintenance of a social system and economy based on slave labor. No one is suggesting that the North wanted to bring freedom and equality to slaves.

                  You still seem to be hung up on this idea of compensated emancipation. Slaveholders did not push for this in any large numbers during the antebellum period so why do you continue to bring it up? Perhaps your question misses the perspective of most slaveowners. It clearly reflects very little understanding of the goals of the slaveholding South. You asked for a book to read that may help you with better understanding these issues. I suggest you read Charles Dew’s _Apostles of Disunion_. It will take you one or two days to read it and should help you with thinking through some of these issues. I thank you for your comments, but this thread has now run its course.

                  By the way, still no evidence that the Republican Party printed literature encouraging slaves to kill white people. I’ll let that one go.

  • Marianne Davis Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:46

    I hesitate to ask, but I can’t be the only person who is confused. Why do we insist that someone’s genealogical chart gives them access to truth? The longer one’s people have been in a region, the more one knows about it? Regional witchcraft, with its cousins racial and gender bona fides, strikes me as strange and ultimately destructive. Evidently, since I have lived in half a dozen states and a couple of countries, I should skip this sesquicentennial.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:56

      I am in complete agreement, Marianne. This language of “us” v. “them” is little more than a distraction from the more interesting question of how we, as a nation, should remember and commemorate the past.

    • Andy Hall Dec 12, 2010 @ 6:42

      Why do we insist that someone’s genealogical chart gives them access to truth?

      It doesn’t, of course. Who one’s related to and where one’s born are accidents of birth, that infer neither deeper historical understanding of the past not insight into the beliefs and motivations of those gone before — particularly in those cases where, those long-dead people left nothing behind that speaks for them. It is, as your suggest, a sort of regional witchcraft.

      I feel it appropriate to bring up my own geographical and genealogical background occasionally to counter that “sense of place” argument that gets thrown up so often, and to challenge the notion that Southerners must, necessarily, support a specific, blinkered, and objectively false narrative of the war. It’s a tactic on my part that does nothing to move the actual analysis at hand forward, but sometimes slamming a door on one particular line of specious argument has its place, as well.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 6:46

        Such an accusation typically comes from people who have little else to say.

      • Woodrowfan Dec 12, 2010 @ 7:05

        My first thought on reading this was those areas of the south which were strong Unionist in 1861-65, which are now die-hard Dixie. I wonder how many southern Unionists who fought in blue in the war would be horrified to find their great-great-etc grandchildren hanging up pictures of Lee and Jackson and waving the stars & bars…

        • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 7:08

          That’s an excellent point.

      • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 15:30

        Did anyone say, “I am the xth generation from this place, so your argument is invalid” on this thread? If so, I must have missed it.

        A reminder — Mr. Stoutamire initially brought up his Southern lineage. You can ask him about his reasons for doing so.

        Mr. Levin said the South is not my region. That is not his judgment to make. I cited the presence of my ancestors in this region to explain to him one of the reasons why *I* feel I belong here. He may not think that is a valid reason for calling the South my region. I do. Anything read into my statement further than that originates with the people doing the reading-in, not me.

        Mr. Hall, a “sense of place” exists, though it diminishes continually in our mobile society. Certainly long-dead people leave something behind. It’s called “culture” — the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought (American Heritage Dictionary). It passes from generation to generation and each new generation tacks on its own contribution. Thus, there is a coherence and continuity to it that shrinks in cultures where the contributions of previous generations are forgotten or rejected, and new contributions from other cultures, perhaps not always harmonious with the existing one, are tacked on. Some people like the newness and variety of “multicultures” but that doesn’t mean those who do are somehow superior to those who prefer the continuity of generationally built cultures that create a “sense of place.”

        Many times, the charge that someone is presenting a “blinkered, and objectively false narrative of the war” is just an opinion. Those who believe the victor-version of the war are far more prevalent, and more likely to demand agreement with their view, than those who have a different view of it. This has been my experience, anyway.

        • Will Stoutamire Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:39

          Because this has been brought up twice now, please read my post from earlier today explaining why I brought up my paternal ancestry. You had stated: “I suspect some of the “academic” events will be designed for (or will accomodate an element of) the denigration of the South and Southerners. I disapprove of the gratuitous denigration of my region and its people.” The sole reason I brought up my ancestry was to show that I am from that region and of that people, and am not seeking to “denigrate the South” by asking others to acknowledge the root causes of secession. In absolutely no way was I saying that my ancestry somehow negated everyone else’s arguments – that would be ludicrous.

          Now, I must point out where, in this present comment, you seem to be falling into a similar trap. You write: “It’s called “culture” — the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought (American Heritage Dictionary). It passes from generation to generation and each new generation tacks on its own contribution.” Perhaps I am reading you wrong, and please correct me if I am, but this appears to be a way of arguing that you have special knowledge – “human work and thought” – passed down to you over time that gives you a certain “sense of place.”

          This generational knowledge falls into the realm of oral tradition and memory. It is inherently fallible, oftentimes political, and almost always selective. It must be carefully compared with documentary evidence before being accepted as any kind of historical fact. It cannot exclusively be relied upon in a scholarly debate.

          Which brings me to your last charge – that we here are stating our opinions in regards to the causes of the secession. Mrs. Chastain, we are stating our interpretations of the documents, or opinions grounded in the critical assessment of available documentary evidence. Thus far, others have asked you to provide an analysis of the secession documents that supports your view, proof that Southerners did not want to expand slavery, and proof that Southerners were even amenable to compensated emancipation. You have failed to backup your argument with source material, despite our requests to do so. That is the definition of pure opinion.

    • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:52

      Did anyone claim that their pedigree gave them access to the truth? I certainly didn’t claim the general presence of my kin in the South gave me any special knowledge about it. If you’re referring to my comments, that is something you evidently read into them.

      I don’t know Mr. Stoutamire’s reasons for citing his ancestry, but my reason for citing mine was to show one reason (though not the only one) why I feel such a connectedness to my region. In our modern mobile society, most people’s manifold connections to their ancestral lands has been all but obliterated, so it’s not surprising that someone who has lived in many places doesn’t feel it. However, to call something you do not feel, but others do, as “regional witchcraft” strikes me as arrogant and disrespectful.

  • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:48

    Thank you, gentlemen. It’s been a stimulating and enjoyable discussion.

  • Mike Gorman Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:15

    Connie, I am a Southerner myself, and fully marinated in the mythology. Grew up in Richmond and went to VMI (my Southern cred is sound). I am also an historian. As a Southerner, sure I’m offended when I am stereotyped. I’m also offended by those who would be stereotypes themselves. We have to face the truth of our history, especially if we don’t like it. As an historian, far too often commemoration of important events, especially potentially controversial ones, is given over to what I call yahoos (but you may insert any partisan group here) that are only interested in confirming what they already believe, not educating people (or themselves) on the events of the past. Therefore they perpetuate mythologies that act as a barrier to understanding for those that actually seek to learn. So yes, I am disgusted when there is no educational or interpretive element to the commemoration of important events, modern or historical. I am further disgusted when the same groups that claim to be interested in “their” history go to enormous lengths to ignore it. If the only thing attracting notice is the secession ball (which by itself would have been predictable) and there was no other commemoration that we (who usually have our ears to the ground about these things) have heard of, I find that disgraceful. I am extremely disappointed in Charlestonians – a city I adore – for doing so little with their vast and important history.

    • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:34

      Mr. Gorman, I can relate to some of what you said but not all. I can’t imagine that the secession ball is going to be a barrier to anybody wishing to learn history. How many universities are there teaching history, how many books in how many libraries, how many periodicals, how many websites, how many conferences and simposia — stacked up against this once in a hundred-and fifty-years event that will last a matter of hours and be restricted to those who can afford a ticket?

      The ball is no threat to anyone’s access to history. Many of the objections seem — to me — to be motivated by disapproval that anyone should have a different viewpoint of history.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:47

        But the people on this site object to it because of its failure to acknowledge relevant history and not simply because it constitutes a “different viewpoint of history.” There is a difference.

        • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:51

          But that assumes that people on this site have some sort of authority to decide for everyone what is relevant history.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:56

            No one here is laying a claim to the “authority to decide for everyone what is relevant history.” This is a blog about my personal and professional journey into the world of how Americans have gone about remembering and commemorating the Civil War. If you are interested in what I have to say than you should read it and comment when you feel it is appropriate.

            The only authority that I have is what you give me as a result of the number of times you visit as well as the frequency of your comments – nothing more, nothing less.

  • Mike Gorman Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:43

    What a travesty. Little-old-me is doing a tour in April to commemorate secession in Richmond, and I know there are several other events going on at the same time (none of which are celebratory in nature). If the best thing South Carolina could think to do to commemorate the first state to secede is to throw a party for the yahoos, that’s a sad state of affairs indeed. I like your idea of letting the documents speak for themselves, but I’m shocked and ashamed that the historians aren’t the ones out there speaking for the documents. Sad day.

    • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:57

      Well, see? There you go. There are secession events planned that you evidently approve of, but you’re appear to be annoyed because they don’t attract media attention, and a single one that you don’t approve of does attract it. I don’t understand why you’re so focused on the “yahoos” — well, actually, I probably do…. If it bothers you so bad, why not just ignore it and concentrate on the events you approve of?

      I suspect some of the “academic” events will be designed for (or will accomodate an element of) the denigration of the South and Southerners. I disapprove of the gratuitous denigration of my region and its people but you won’t see me protesting those events. I quite undertand — the opportunity to get a fix of the warm fuzzies of moral or intellectual superiority is too good for some folks to pass up.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:03

        You said: “I disapprove of the gratuitous denigration of my region and its people but you won’t see me protesting those events.”

        First of all, it’s not your region and you do not have a monopoly on how the history of the South and American history ought to be remembered and commemorated. You have been given plenty of opportunity to make your point on this site, but you seem to be content with going after and insulting other people. I suggest that you air your grievances out on your own site.

      • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:15


        I am a Southerner. I can trace my direct paternal ancestry back to Orangeburg County, SC, in the 1780s-1790s. My great-great-great grandfather was a Confederate and a small slaveowner (5-8 slaves, depending on the census).

        Perhaps this is only my opinion, but I feel it is in no way a denigration of the South or of my ancestors for me to recognize that slavery was a core founding principle of their society. It is simply a historical reality. This is not some attempt to exhibit moral superiority or pass judgment, so much as it is to understand their actions in the past.

        • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:47

          Mr. Levin, the South is certainly my region — not in the sense that it belongs to me, but that I belong to it. Mr. Stoutamire mentioned his Southern ancestry — my Chastain ancestors arrived in Virginia in 1700, most of my other European ancestors immigrated to the South before 1800. My Cherokee ancestors were here for ten thousand years. Yes. It is my region.

          I have not claimed a monopoly on how the South’s history should be remembered and commemorated. You’re doing more of that than I am, with your implication that it should not be commemorated with the secession ball.

          Exactly what insults do you imagine I’ve made? I have not called anyone here yahoos, or overweight middle-aged men and women in “period dress,” or suggested that you all are inmates in charge of the asylum.

          Mr. Stoutamire, I don’t classify recognizing the role slavery played in the South as denigration, either, although for way too many people, it isn’t merely historical reality. It’s a club for South-bashing — and for people who use it thus, it is indeed their tool for the inflation of their assumed moral superiority and judgmentalness.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 14:00

            No one has denied that you have a right to remember it in a way you see fit. I would love to see the event commemorated as well; unfortunately, this event really has nothing to do with the relevant history. This has been pointed out by numerous people.

            You still have not followed up on your original claim about how to properly interpret South Carolina’s secession documents. You’ve had plenty of time to write up a thorough analysis for those of us whose criticisms you claim are unwarranted. We are still waiting.

            • Mike Gorman Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:48

              Wow – kicked a hornet’s nest on this one…but that’s great. History is nothing if not provocative. Will, thank you very much for those links. As I suspected, the secession ball is not the only show in town – glad I can put Charleston back on my preferred cities’ list, and I REALLY wish I could make it to some of these events. I’m suspecting that as usual, the media focuses on the people either hyperventilating with angst or dressed in funny clothes. Connie – all I’m saying is that I’d like to see a little maturity in these commemorations, and by itself, the “secession ball” isn’t it. But thanks for your thoughts: I’ve always noticed a trend when I speak “against” the Lost Cause. The response is 1) question my heritage, 2) question my knowledge, 3) complain that I’m assaulting “their” heritage. I’m quite used to it. In fact, working on the front lines, I get it all the time. My answers: 1) Southern. 2) professional historian. 3). My history too. You and I may disagree on fundamental issues, but one thing that you and I agree on is that there are powerful forces on either side trying to tell us all what the TRUE MEANING of the Civil War is. I don’t like either side, since it reminds me more of religious orthodoxy than history. The problem I have is that too often the zealots are the ones setting the agenda for someone in Iowa, say, who has no idea what we weirdos/yahoos/your-favorite-insult-here are doing. I would ask that all sides recognize your own zealotry and try to think beyond it. Right now the “slavery-only” (as you describe it) school is winning for precisely because the Lost Cause school that I grew up with all-but-denied that it existed it (and some still do). The breakdown, I think is over an issue of judgment – I really don’t find it surprising that a war was fought to preserve an economic system and a way of life, however repugnant that might be for us to swallow. There are a lot of Spanish, Japanese, Germans, Soviets, Koreans, Vietnamese, Iraqis and Afghans that were and are prepared to fight and die for essentially the same thing (and I find them very interesting too) – it is very interesting that those, for instance, in Germany, are essentially fighting the same interpretive battles over the memory of World War II and who gets to define it. The screaming zealots on either side put up barriers to understanding (and we’re no different – that whole “Greatest Generation” thing reminds me a lot of the “Treasury of Virtue” school of the postwar North), but like here, one side has to do a lot of denial to make their argument, and the reason they do so is usually because to acknowledge it would be to accept some misguided personal culpability. I reject that wholesale. I had absolutely nothing to do with the War, and wouldn’t be surprised to find either slaveholders or slaves in my lineage if I cared to look…nor would I feel the slightest need to defend them or their actions. I’d be much more interested in finding out as much as I could about them with a clear eye, and with as little judgment as possible. I don’t know or care if your ancestor was Wade Hampton or Charles Sumner. It’s all OUR history now. Let’s do it right. I would gladly stand with you against those, especially in the NAACP, who wish to see the war solely through a right-and-wrong, good-and-bad, North-and-South, present-ist, racial lens…if there weren’t such an effort to deny their points. Gainsaying does not an argument make, and throwing nuance at an argument without acknowledging the bedrock doesn’t work either. That is why I’ve taken a dim view on events such as the “secession ball.” As Southern as I surely am, the yahoos (yes, yahoos) who dress in funny clothes to attend a “secession ball” embarrass me to no end. I liked dressing up and hearing fairy tales too…but then I grew up.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:52

                Thanks for an incredibly thoughtful comment, Mike. I agree with everything you said. In fact, this post is mainly a criticism of the NAACP for the way they’ve chosen to respond to this event. That seems to have been lost in all of this.

  • Leonard Lanier Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:38

    Last weekend, the Citadel and the South Carolina Sesquicentennial Commission held a two-day symposium on secession and its bitter legacy. Speakers included Blight, Freehling, Neely, Robertson, Davis, and Scarborough. The Citadel press release contains more information:


    Needless to say, this event received almost no coverage compared to the media blitz about the “Secession Ball.”

  • Mike Gorman Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:17

    It is very difficult for me to understand how such an incredible event as the Secession of South Carolina is being commemorated by a ball, complete I’m sure, with overweight middle-aged men and women in “period dress,” beneath their post-war “Confederate flags.” Have there been any seminars, tours or publications that haven’t gotten our attention, or is this the extent of the commemoration of the event? Is there any intellectual voice to this commemoration or will we continue to see the inmates running the asylum? I am genuinely curious to know what has been done there in an intelligent vein.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:22

      I had a chat with Gordon Rhea the other day about a talk he has been asked to give about South Carolina and secession at the Charleston Library. Other than that I don’t know what’s going on. Sound like a missed opportunity to me.

    • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:43

      Mr. Gorman, must everything meet with your approval before it can be carried out?

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:20

        Must everything meet with your approval. Mike has every right to voice his point-of-view. You seem to be the one who is trying to limit discussion about this issue. Who put you in charge?

        • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:39

          But I’m not attempting to limit discussion. I’m not talking about organizing protests of your blog. I’m not denigrating you and your commenters as “overweight middle-aged men and women in “period dress,” or suggesting that you all are inmates in charge of the asylum. Can you truly not see the difference?

          I’m pointing out what I see here — not mere disagreement with or disapproval of (the secession ball supporters, for example) — not merely an expression of a viewpoint about historical events or documents, but an underlying belief that nobody should be allowed to have contrary viewpoints.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:53

            Please point out to me where I’ve said that “nobody should be allowed to have contrary viewpoints.” Isn’t the fact that you are posting on this site evidence to the contrary? This post is really a critique of the NAACP’s response to this event. I am suggesting that they should do something that highlights the actual history behind the event since the organizers of the ball have failed to do so.

            Once again, I have to ask whether you are going to share with us what has been missed in pointing out the importance of slavery to South Carolina’s decision to secede. You’ve had plenty of time to do so and yet you have nothing to say. That is very suspicious.

            • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:23

              Mr. Levin, the notion that nobody should be allowed to have contrary viewpoints wasn’t stated by you are anyone. As I clearly said, it is a belief that underlies some of the comments in this thread — and yes, that is a conclusion I have drawn.

              The belief is again demonstrated by your opinion that the organizers of the ball have failed to highlight the actual history behind the event. No, what they’ve failed to do is highlight history as you think they should.

              Yes, I’ve read all the declarations and ordinances of secession, the Confederate Constitution and other documents. Some years ago, I put them in a word processor and highlighted those passages that had to do with slavery with blue, and those that did not with red. Interesting thing, it’s always the blue passages people pick to “prove” their all-slavery, only-slavery viewpoint — and all that red gets ignored (particularly with respect to Georgia’s declaration).

              Slavery was important to the secession of South Carolina and Deep South states because it was the excuse used by others states for victimizing the South, for trying to rob the Southern states of their constitutional standing and protections. Read the South Carolina declarations — you can’t miss it.

              To me, that slavery was important in the secession of the Southern states is not the issue. WHY it was important is the issue.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:29

                You said: “Slavery was important to the secession of South Carolina and Deep South states because it was the excuse used by others states for victimizing the South, for trying to rob the Southern states of their constitutional standing and protections.” Perhaps you can explain how the South was being “victimized” or robbed of their “constitutional standing.” The problem is that the historical record is pretty clear on this issue, which is why it is being ignored by organizers of the secession ball. That’s not just my opinion. As to the WHY of slavery I suggest you go back and read the very same documents. Again, the nice thing about all of this is that the folks involved went out of their way to explain themselves.

                Finally, if you don’t approve of me or your fellow southerners who have left comments here perhaps you should go elsewhere. That’s just a suggestion.

                • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:30

                  Mr. Levin, are you unaccustomed to dissent on your blog? You keep inviting me to leave.

                  According to South Carolina’s secession document, the states had agreed to “the right of property in slaves” but some had abandoned the agreement. If they’d really been concerned about the plight of the slaves, there were other ways to handle it rather than “making war on slavery.”

                  There’s even more information in the secession declarations of the other states, but before I go there, let me ask you a couple of things.

                  Why do YOU think the issue of slavery was so important to secession? And why did the north choose such a draconian method for “warring” against slavery instead of using methods that had been tried and worked elsewhere? Just in you own words.

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:48

                    If you took the time to read through the blog you will see that not only am I accustomed to dissent, but I welcome it. The difference is that while many of my readers challenge my own views with carefully articulated points you seem to be more upset with me and others. I just thought you might be better off spending your time elsewhere.

                    As to your question I must point you to the documents in question for the clearest explanation of why slavery was central to secession. White southerners in the Deep Southern states clearly articulated their belief that the election of a new Republican president constituted a direct threat to the institution of slavery. If you take the time to read Charles Dew’s short study that I mentioned in a previous comment you will see that some worried about the stability of a society built on white supremacy. Others perceived a shift in the balance of power in the federal government with the election of a Republican. I think it’s important to remember that the initial round of secession in the Deep South must be understood separately from the Upper South, which did not perceive Lincoln and the Republicans as an immediate threat. This is not to suggest that slavery wasn’t important to them. You may want to take a look at the new book by William Freehling, which brings together speeches from Virginia’s secession debate (_Showdown in Virginia_). Up until Lincoln’s election most southerners had no problem utilizing the power of the federal government to protect their interests. Consider the Fugitive Slave Act is a perfect example. In this case, while southerners pushed the federal government to carry out the terms of the Act it was northerners who took the states rights position in passing Personal Liberty Laws which urged local authorities to refuse to assist slave catchers. The Supreme Court also worked to reinforce slavery in the Dred Scott decision. So, while southerners were content to work with the federal government to protect slavery throughout most of the 1850s, the election of Lincoln convinced enough people that only secession guaranteed the future of slavery. At least that is what is outlined in the secession documents. That’s a basic outline of how I interpret this period of history. I should note that I am not an expert on it. Just about everything I understand about secession and slavery is through careful reading. Here is a short list of books that have shaped my thinking:

                    Manisha Sinha, The Counterrevolution of Slavery (UNC Press)
                    William Freehling, Both volumes of his Road to Disunion (Oxford University Press)
                    Elizabeth Varon, Disunion! (UNC Press)
                    Daniel Crofts, Reluctant Confederates (UNC Press)
                    George Rable, The Confederate Republic (UNC Press)

                    I hope that helps.

                  • Marc Ferguson Dec 11, 2010 @ 18:36

                    Ms. Chastain,
                    What was the “draconian method” used to war against slavery, and what were the “methods that had been tried and worked elsewhere”?

                    Inquiring minds want to know.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 2:02

                      We still haven’t heard from Ms. Chastain re: her original claim that by focusing on slavery and race in the secession documents we are missing other salient issues. I wouldn’t hold your breadth in anticipation of an answer to this question.

          • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:40

            “But I’m not attempting to limit discussion.”

            Sure you aren’t. And thus I’m sure you’ll agree with me that the person who said the following was trying to limit discussion:

            “What makes you think it’s any of your business what these folks at the secession ball do or believe? As long as they’re not trying to force everyone to adopt their viewpoint (the way you all-slavery, only-slavery folks think everybody should be forced to agree with you) then why is it your concern?”

            Now … who said that?

            • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:37

              One draconian method was the fomenting of the hatred of Southerners — the South — not just slaveholders, by abolitionist rhetoric (which was quite hypocritical, if Julia Ward Howe is any indicator).

              THE method that had been tried previously and worked nearly EVERYwhere that slavery had been ended was compensated emancipation. I think it was not seriously considered here because there was an mindset in the north that wanted to see the South in poverty.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:40

                The interesting thing about making historical claims is that you need to support them with evidence. Once again, I really have no idea what point you are making. Perhaps Professor Simpson can figure it out. Lincoln offered slaveholders compensation as late as 1862.

                • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:06

                  Mr. Levin, Lincoln offered *some* slaveholders compensation but, oops, there was already a war underway in 1862. Seems, he shut the barn door after the cow ran off, didn’t he? How “late” the compensation was offered is not the issue. That it was not offered *earlier* is the issue. Why was it not offered in 1850, 1840, 1830? That would have been the time to do it.

                  Instead, what happened was the campaign of demonizing Southerners, starting in the 1840s or so, by abolitionist rhetoric. According to an amateur historian I’m acquainted with via the internet, Republican leaders and their newspapers portrayed Southerners as depraved and ignorant barbarians. In 1860, the Republican Party distributed material encouraging the murder of white Southerners by slaves. I don’t think it’s a stretch to assume that people who wished to see Southerners murdered disapproved of enriching Southern slaveowners with compensated emancipation.

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:14

                    Why would a slaveholder ask for expect compensation during the antebellum period? Go back and read the pro-slavery rhetoric that took hold by the 1830s. Abolitionists were a very small number throughout most of the antebellum period; in fact, most white northerners did not support their rhetoric. Abolitionists were physically harmed and Elijah Lovejoy was even shot for his views. In the 1850s slaveowners pushed for and got a Fugitive Slave Act, which placed the federal government at their disposal to retrieve escaped slaves. Later in the decade the Dred Scott decision added even more weight to the belief that slavery was protected under the constitution. How exactly does compensation fit into this. The American Colonization Society was established in 1816 and suggested compensating slaveowners followed by transportation back to Africa. Apparently there were few takers.

                    You’ve made a claim about the Republican Party and the distribution of certain materials. So, here is another specific claim that you’ve made without any evidence. You will provide specific references before I approve another comment from you. This is the third or fourth claim without any support.

              • Marc Ferguson Dec 12, 2010 @ 15:24

                I assume you were responding to my questions. So, allowing free speech is a “draconian method”? As for compensated emancipation, can you offer any evidence that Southern slaveholders ever had any interest in exchanging slavery for compensation? What evidence would you point to for your suggestion that there was a “mindset in the north that wanted to see the South in poverty,” and further that this somehow explains why compensated emancipation was always a nonstarter?

                • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:16

                  Compensation would’ve had to been seriously discussed/offered for them to show interest, wouldn’t it? Why should they have paid any attention to discussions of compensated emancipation (had they occurred) after 1840 or so, when the aboes started their hate-rhetoric against the South?

                  Interesting that abolitionist rhetoric that advocated the mass murder of white Southerners by slave rebellion apparently is “free speech” and not draconian, but secession ballers who don’t adhere to “approved” history are offensive and worthy of scorn,

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:18

                    There was rhetoric on both sides and it was just as emotional. Let’s not turn this into a partisan issue. Now, back to your claim that the Republican Party released documents advocating that slaves murder their masters or other white southerners. You will provide specific references (URL) to an example[s] before I approve another comment from you.

                    • Marc Ferguson Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:03

                      She’s probably referring to, and mischaracterizing, Helper’s _Impending Crisis of the South_.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 18:05

                      That’s very possible, but I want her to provide an answer and an analysis of the text. This is something like the fourth claim that she has made without any supporting evidence and I am getting tired of it.

            • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:41

              Mr. Simpson, my questions did not limit discussion but encouraged it.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:42

                You have a very strange way of promoting discussion. It seems to me all you’ve done is try to convince fellow readers that their view of the past is too “narrow”, which I guess means that you would rather they see the past the way you do.

              • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 13, 2010 @ 0:51

                In truth, your attempts to limit discussion have encouraged it, much of it highlighting your inability to answer simple questions.

  • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 8:43

    The reason that some are so energized against this celebration of secession, is, I think because the Secession Ball is dehumanizing a third or so of the population of South Carolina, as if they didn’t exist then and don’t exist now. The Civil War destroyed the South and destroyed, as said earlier, a million people. I find it hard to believe someone would celebrate that, especially the secession was about *one ting only* and that was the right to keep and own slaves. There is no other issue behind the term “States Rights” than this.

    • Andy Hall Dec 11, 2010 @ 9:58

      I think because the Secession Ball is dehumanizing a third or so of the population of South Carolina, as if they didn’t exist then and don’t exist now.

      A while back, Kevin had a post about the North Carolina ACW Sesquicentennial website, and praised the effort for its inclusion of other voices not often heard — specifically, NC Unionists and freed slaves who became USCTs. One SCV member in the comments section completely lost his composure, going on a multiple-comment screed about it, calling those people traitors and comparing them, among other things, to al Qaeda. There is absolutely no room for them in the NC commemoration, this person argued, because they did not actively support the Confederacy. It would have been amusing, except that his response really does represent the sort of knee-jerk anger that comes from people whose carefully-crafted worldview is challenged, even in a civil and well-reasoned way.

      So yes, slaves don’t count. Those opposed to secession and supporting abolition don’t count. Officers like Percival Drayton, a South Carolinian who remained loyal to the Union and served as Farragut’s flag captain, don’t count. In these folks’ view, Southern = Confederate, and as a Southerner (by residence, by birth and by lineage), I can’t tell you how much that bothers me.

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:11

        Hi Andy,

        I remember that post, well. My post on the subject also attracted similar responses. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the realization that not all southerners identify with the past in the same way. It’s much easier to point the finger at me since I am perceived to be an outsider and, therefore, illegitimate. It’s much more difficult to deal with people like you and Robert Moore. It really makes a difference that the two of you blog.

      • Lee White Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:53

        And it bothers me as well. My North Carolina born ancestor who lost nearly everything because of his decision to wear blue instead of gray had southern ancestory back to Jamestown.


    • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:41

      The secession ball dehumanizes a third of the population of South Carolina? In what way are they dehumanized? Are the people who celebrate secession the sole dispensers of humanization for everyone, or at least that third? What a ridiculous notion. “As if” they didn’t exist? What, are they just going to disappear while the ball is underway? Get caught way like some temporary rapture?

      Your post reflects judgementalness. I suspect that you don’t merely “find it hard to believe” someone would celebrate the destruction and death of the war (I don’t think that’s what’s being celebrated, anyway, btw, so don’t substitute your perception for their intention)– I think you’re attempting to use emotion to manipulate others to see your point of view as the only one.

      • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:05


        To what Stephen is referring is the way the slavery system considered blacks to be something inferior, less than human; to the way South Carolina and the rest of the South continued that belief through Jim Crow and into the 1960s; and to the way that some hold to that belief still today.

        This was set to words by nearly every Confederate leader at the time (not post-war, mind you). Perhaps the most famous pronunciation of this can be found in the Georgian, Alexander Stephen’s “Cornerstone Speech”: “its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

        This is why celebrating secession, and thereby celebrating the attitudes of the time, can be seen as dehumanizing those millions of black Americans who were considered subhuman and whose “subhuman nature” provided the basic foundation of the society that those South Carolinians, Georgians, and others were trying to establish. It doesn’t mean that the people attending the ball feel this way, but it reflects a gross insensitivity to those whose ancestors were considered property and a willful ignorance of the motives for secession 150 years ago this month.

        As to whether or not they are celebrating the “destruction and death of the war” – nobody in their right mind would joyously celebrate the horrors of war. What they are celebrating, however, is secession itself, the Confederacy, and the war they caused. From the ball’s website: “This event will commemorate and celebrate the state of South Carolina for the second time becoming an independent nation on December 20th 1860.” They are, in short, celebrating an open act of rebellion, regardless of its causes (which, in order to be celebrated, they must consider to have been just). And from the website of the sponsoring SCV group: “The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.” This statement is so historically inaccurate, in light of all the documentary evidence to the contrary, so as not to be worthy of further comment.

        Again, this issue is not whether or not these events should be remembered or commemorated. The issue is whether they should be celebrated. Especially when that celebrating requires the participants to turn a blind eye to the text of very documents and debates to which they are so proudly paying homage.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:11


          Thanks for including the SCV passage: “The citizen-soldiers who fought for the Confederacy personified the best qualities of America. The preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South’s decision to fight the Second American Revolution.”

          Of course, the problem with this is that the event being commemorated next Saturday took place eight months before the first major battle of the Civil War. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with Confederate soldiers. In fact, as James McPherson and others have rightly pointed out the war was not inevitable at this point nor was it inevitable before April 1861. The clash at Fort Sumter is what led to the war.

          • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:29

            Kevin, very true. Did it come across that I was making that assumption or that they are? If the former, I should’ve made myself more clear… I was referencing the full body of materials that the SCV has put out this year, particularly those commercials, which celebrate the war.

            I’d be interested to see some photos from this event – whether or not they have Confederate battle flags, Confederate military uniforms, etc.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:31

              I was simply clarifying a point that I’ve been wanting to make.

            • Andy Hall Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:49

              It’s a 98.4% certainty that State Senator McConnell will be there in full regalia. It will be farbtabulous.

        • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 14:15

          “This event will commemorate and celebrate the state of South Carolina for the second time becoming an independent nation on December 20th 1860.”

          I guess I have to keep pressing this point because it keeps getting lost somehow with the desire to find some other noble reason for the rebellion of the South. The independent nation of South Carolina was for one purpose only: to keep slavery alive, and to keep African-Americans (they were born here & not overseas, so American by birth) from independence and participation in that so-called independent nation.

          There is no other casus belli here. All other arguments are trumped up to dress up this rather nasty truth. The South Carolinians at that time wanted to keep Negroes in their place forever.

          I don’t imagine that the people who want to celebrate a Secession Centenary Ball have the same goals as those in former days. I don’t think people today are that ignorant and selfish, and I think they generally want to do the right thing because they think they’re good people.

          However, it is simply appalling to think of celebrating the founding of a nation whose sole reason for separation from the Union was the continuation of slavery.

          This stated purpose is repeated over and over and over again by the South in the documents the South published. I can understand the reluctance to face that fact especially if you are proud of the South – you might want to avert your eyes or attempt to minimize it.

          But the ugly truth is that the sole reason for Southern rebellion was to keep African-Americans in chains to serve their masters. These slaves were not consulted as to whether they agreed with the continuation of their own slavery, and were not asked or invited to participate in this new “independent” nation.

          It just seems odd that the people who celebrate the continuation of slavery don’t ever imagine what it would be like if at some point they themselves were enslaved. I’m sure they would not be so keen on a ball, and might find it distasteful to imagine such a thing being organized, let alone celebrated.

        • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 14:48

          Mr. Stoutamire, I disagree that celebrating secession is celebrating the attitudes of the times — we celebrate anniversaries in the west without celebrating the slaughter of American Indians, is that not so? The idea that these elements can’t be separated, and thus both baby and bathwater need to be thrown out, particularly with regard to the Confederacy, is certainly pushed in some circles, but I reject it.

          I also disagree that the secession of South Carolina was an act of rebellion. The colonies rebelled. They were legally bound to the crown of England. The difference is the type of government South Carolina seceded from. The colonies did not create the British monarchy but the states did create the federal government, voluntarily entered the union, and were legally free to leave it — though not for light or transient reasons. I know there’s a lot of argument and disagreement over this, but it’s interesting that the feds didn’t get around to deeming secession illegal until after the USA had bludgeoned the seceded states back into the the union.

          Nobody is dehumanized by the secession ball. There are no doubt hundreds of thousands of people in South Carolina who don’t even know about it, despite the media bashing. How could they possibly be dehumanized by it? The claim of dehumanizing is less about those who are purportedly “dehumanized” and more about labeling the secession ball supporters as “dehumanizers.” It is yet another attempt to emotionally manipulate people to force them to take the “accepted” view of history.

          The belief of black inferiority, BTW, was not unique to the Confederacy or the South or to the system of slavery. Jim Crow and the denial of civil rights for blacks existed from border to border, and from sea to shining sea and, as you noted, still does. If racial problems occurred more in the South, it’s because it was the most biracial region of the country: http://www.censusscope.org/us/map_nhblack.gif

          The reason it is pushed as being uniquely Southern is to let the rest of the country off the hook with these issues. It’s mystifying to me how people who are so eager to pass judgment on Confederates for that belief get so quiet about northerners who held the same belief — including one who should never, ever have held such a belief, considering her purported views about abolition.

          How many people who cite Stephens’ “cornerstone speech” also cite this passage from Julia Ward Howe’s “A Trip to Cuba” ? How many of them even know about it?

          Published 1859-60 by Ticknor and Fields, Boston

          Wherein a famous “abolitionist” suggested “compulsory labor” (i.e., SLAVERY) would be better for “the negro among negroes” than none….

          Start on Page 11 of the chapter “Nassau”


          The earliest feature discernible was a group of tall cocoa-nut trees, with which the island is bounteously feathered; — the second was a group of negroes in a small boat, steering toward us with open-mouthed and white-toothed wonder. Nothing makes its simple impression upon the mind sophisticated by education. The negroes, as they came nearer, suggested only Christy’s Minstrals, of whom they were a tolerably faithful immitation… There were many negroes, together with whites of every grade; and some of our number, leaning over the side, saw for the first time the raw material out of which Northern Humanitarians have spun so fine a skein of compassion and sympathy.
          Now we who write, and they for whom we write, are all orthodox upon this mighty question. We have all made our confession of faith in private and public; we all, on suitable occasions, walk up and apply the match to the keg of gunpowder which is to blow up the Union, but which, somehow, at the critical moment, fails to ignite. But you must allow us one heretical whisper, — very small and low. The negro of the North is the ideal negro; it is the negro refined by white culture, elevated by white blood, instructed even by white iniquity; — the negro among negroes is a coarse, grinning, flat-footed, thick-skulled creature, ugly as Caliban, lazy as the laziest of brutes, chiefly ambitious to be of no use to any in the world. View him as you will, his stock in trade is small; –he has but the tangible of instincts of all creatures, — love of life, of ease and of offspring. For all else, he must go to school to the white race, and his discipline must be long and laborious. Nassau, and all that we saw of it, suggested to us the unwelcome question whether compulsory labor be not better than none….

          Whether secession should be celebrated, and how, should not be dictated by a few for everybody. Again, if you don’t want to celebrate it, don’t go to the ball. But if others want to because they have a different view of history, or a different understanding of the documents, why shouldn’t they?

          • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:05

            Of course racism pervaded much of the country. Some of the worst race riots took place in northern cities following the “Great Migration” of African Americans out of the South. What does this have to do with a specific commemoration being held to commemorate an event in response to the election of a president that many feared would bring about the end of slavery and race mixing? I would also suggest that slavery is best understood as a national problem even though only the southern states continued to hold slaves on the eve of the war and hoped to spread the institution to the western territories. In my own classes I work very hard to get my students to look beyond the old distinctions of an evil South and a virtuous North. It fails to yield much of anything that is historically interesting.

            As difficult as this might be for you to understand no one here is engaging in “South bashing” whatever that is. The problem seems to be that there are different views on what is appropriate as a form of Civil War commemoration on the eve of the sesquicentennial. It’s an important discussion and I use this blog to share my own particular views.

            • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:13

              What does racism have to do with Lincoln’s election and secession? Well, ask the people who keep bringing it up.

              Why do you think the sourthern states wanted to extend slavery into the western territories? So we wouldn’t end up today with a map that looks like this: http://www.census.gov/geo/www/mapGallery/images/black.jpg
              Keeping the map looking like this is why the north wanted to keep slavery out of the western territories.

              I didn’t say anyone here is engaging in South-bashing (there is some bashing of some Southerners) but it certainly occurs.

              Lemme give you an example from recent personal experience. I wrote and self-published a novel title Southern Man. It portrays a Southern white guy as an ordinary, not-perfect but decent human being falsely accused of sexual harassment. It recently received an “honorable mention” from an Amazon/Kindle reviewer who goes by the handle Red Adept and appeared on her blog.

              Go here http://redadeptreviews.com/?p=3857&cpage=1 and look at the comments.

              This is South-bashing, Mr. Levin, out of the clear blue. Presumably if you are a novelist who DOESN’T portray Southern white men as inbred, moronic, scum-sucking racists (i.e., Neil Young-style) you’re exhibiting an “alien mentality” or making a “neo-Confederate claim” that Southerners are inherently superior.

              Perhaps you academics in your ivory towers are insulated from it, but down here below, South-bashing happens. All. The. Time.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:24

                Are there no ivory towers in the South? Why are you criticizing people for bringing up slavery? It’s part of the history surrounding this particular event. Like it or not Americans in 1860 talked a great deal about the future of slavery. The state of South Carolina chose to secede from the United States to protect the institution of slavery. That’s not “South bashing” it’s acknowledging our history.

                I have no idea what point you are trying to make with the map. Perhaps you can add some additional analysis to your claim to help me and others understand what it is you are getting at. Are there any primary sources from the secession period that may help us to better understand your point?

                • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:27

                  “Are there no ivory towers in the South?”
                  Sherman burned them. Every last one. Personally.

                • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:47

                  My “down here” doesn’t mean down South. It means down here on the earth as opposed to up there in ivory towers. I haven’t criticized anyone for bringing up slavery. I didn’t define South-bashing as an acknowledgement of history. I think I made it quite clear how I define it.

                  I also explained clearly the point of the map. If you’re a civil war historian, you surely know about the issue of keeping slavery from expanding westward.

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:52

                    You said: “I haven’t criticized anyone for bringing up slavery.” That’s pretty much all you’ve done. LOL

                    I have a thorough understanding of the debate surrounding the expansion of slavery into the territories, but I still have no idea what point you were making with the map. Sorry.

              • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:29

                I do not know what your point is. You *seem* to be saying that the goal of extending slavery into the western territories was to ensure that black Americans weren’t concentrated in the South.

                Can that really be what you mean?

                Do you understand what slavery is? You seem to be fairly amenable to the idea of keeping people in slavery to further some other goal.

                Would you be as amenable to that idea if you were the one that was bound up and marched into the west against your will, to serve a master as he pleases and until he pleases?

                Because I can’t understand your idea as anything but a way to justify slavery and the propagation of slavery than as a way to keep a certain type of people eternally owned by another.

                Surely I am mistaken and you were just not clear in what you meant.

                • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:20

                  Yes, you are mistaken. I’m talking about the mentality that existed in the mid 1800s. And yes, the mentality back then was to keep blacks bottled up in the South.

                  Yes, I understand what slavery is. The “war on slavery” that preceded the War Between the States, had the latter not occured, would have brought about abject poverty in the South and racial warfare. Of course, the war did occur, and these things did happen, more or less, but only after a half-million lives were taken. To say that it was preferable that some other way should have been found to end slavery in no way equates to being “fairly amenable to the idea of keeping people in slavery.”

                  Well, maybe it does to you.

                  Please spare me the emotional manipulation of the rest of your post.

                  • Margaret D. Blough Dec 11, 2010 @ 19:22

                    Ms. Chastain- What you refuse to recognize is that the slave states refused to discuss anything that involved even the possibility that slavery could be peacefully ended even over an extremely extended period. From 1836-1844, slave state congressmen and their northern allies put a “gag rule” in effect in which the House of Representatives would not even receive petitions against slavery, even in the District of Columbia which was federal territory. They did so despite the fact that the First Amendment of the US Constitution includes the Petition Clause, the right of the people to petition their government for the redress of grievances. One constant theme in secession documents in which slave states explained why they took that action is the complaint that free states were unwilling and/or unable to suppress criticism of slavery among the free states’ own citizens. There is no reason why free states would not consider discussing methods of gradually ending slavery; with a very few exceptions, such as Massachusetts and Vermont, that’s exactly how the free states BECAME free states in the first place. As late as 1862, the U.S. Congress provided for compensation for slave owners when it abolished slavery in D.C. and, at President Lincoln’s request, committed to providing financial assistance to any loyal slave state which took action to end slavery within its borders. Despite personal pleas for support from President Lincoln, congressmen from the loyal slave states refused to consider recommending that action to their states. The result was that when the 13th Amendment was ratified, slavery ended in the loyal slave states as well as the rebellious ones without slave owners receiving a dime.

                    The idea of limiting slavery’s expansion was not a new one. It was first done via the Northwest Ordinance under the Congress of the Articles of Confederation which was ratified & kept in effect by the first Congress under the Constitution.

              • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:36

                >>>Why do you think the sourthern states wanted to extend slavery into the western territories? So we wouldn’t
                end up today with a map that looks like this: http://www.census.gov/geo/www/mapGallery/images/black.jpg
                Keeping the map looking like this is why the north wanted to keep slavery out of the western territories.

                The point of this claim still escapes me. However, I guess it’s an admission that the (white) South advocated an aggressive policy to expand slavery (thus suggesting that it was nowhere near a dying institution) while white Republicans wanted to contain it and northern white Democrats hoped that it would not spread despite having a de jure chance to do so. Faced with Lincoln’s victory, many white southerners, led by South Carolina, decided to strike out on their own in the defense of slavery. Thus the secession ball, and thus the problem with not owning up to what those dancing at the ball were celebrating. Why deny that?

                • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:17

                  Mr. Simpson, why did “the white South” want to extend slavery into the west, which is hardly plantation country? That’s ranch country. Slavery would not work there. You put a bunch of slaves in charge of driving your herd of longhorns across the state to market, they’re just gonna keep riding. They’ll have to have guns to protect the herd and a slave with a gun is not a slave….

                  So why would they want to expand slavery into territory where it couldn’t very well exist? Why constitutionally limit the importation of slaves? If you’ll pardon the pun, that looks like people starting to see some very faint handwriting on the wall…

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:21

                    If you were familiar with recent scholarship on slavery you would know that slaveowners utilized slave labor in numerous ways. You may want to read Charles Dew’s excellent study of the Tredegar Iron Works as well as William Link’s _Roots of Secession_, which is an excellent analysis of slavery in urban settings. Slaveowners believed they had a constitutional right to take their slaves to the territories and this was confirmed to them in the Dred Scott decision of 1857. There is no evidence that slaveowners saw “very faint handwriting on the wall.” In fact, the value of slaves continued to go up throughout the 1850s and continued in some parts of the Confederate South into the war itself.

                    I suggest you do some reading on the subject.

                    • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:46

                      Yes, I know slave labor was used for saw-mills, construction and all kinds of non-agricultural applications. And this would have contributed to its end. Who wants to pay for the total support of how many other individuals, 24-hours a day, from cradle to grave, when they could just give them money for the time they worked?

                      The value of slaves went up because of supply and demand; there were fewer of them when the slave trade was outlawed.

                      Why do you imagine the importation of slaves from outside the Confederacy was prohibited by the Constitution? Do you imagine that would have no impact at all?

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:50

                      How would it have contributed to its end? What do you know that slaveowners did not know in expanding their role? What books are you reading that would lead you to this conclusion?

                      The value of slaves was based on a host of factors. What does any of this have to do with your claim that southerners were not interested in spreading slavery westward?

                    • Will Stoutamire Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:56

                      You just wrote: “Who wants to pay for the total support of how many other individuals, 24-hours a day, from cradle to grave, when they could just give them money for the time they worked?”

                      Do you see the problem with that statement? Slaveowners had quite literally been doing that, for centuries, for agricultural labor, domestic work, and a host of other jobs. Why hadn’t they stopped before? There is absolutely no reason to just assume that they would do anything else simply because new industries had come along.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 17:01


                      I don’t know if you are familiar with it, but I highly recommend John Majewski’s new study, _Modernizing a Slave Economy_ (UNC Press). http://www.amazon.com/Modernizing-Slave-Economy-Economic-Confederate/dp/0807832510/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292203831&sr=8-1 He focuses on Virginia and South Carolina and shows that southerners did not see a contradiction between maintaining slavery and developing a more industrially based economy. Peter Carmichael analyzes young Virginians from slaveholding families, who grew up during the 1850s. They also pushed for a more progressive economy that did not conflict with slavery. http://www.amazon.com/Last-Generation-Virginians-Reunion-America/dp/0807861855/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1292203853&sr=8-1

                    • Will Stoutamire Dec 12, 2010 @ 20:36

                      Kevin, thanks. I will add those to my list.

                      They appear to argue exactly what I was trying to point out…

          • Bob Huddleston Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:22

            Andrew Jackson on the Absurdity of Secession:

            “To shew the absurdity — Congress have the right to admit new states. When territories they are subject to the laws of the Union. The day after admission, they have the right to secede and dissolve it.”

            Andrew Jackson to Martin Van Buren, 25 December 1832

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:24

              Hey Bob, wasn’t Andrew Jackson a southerner? 🙂

              • Bob Huddleston Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:25

                Nope. He was an American.

                • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:27

                  I stand corrected. Thanks Bob. 🙂

                • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:34

                  You’re saying Southerners are not Americans? Even Confederates were Americans. Fill in the blank: The Confederate States of ______. Hint: It starts with “A” and it ain’t Antarctica.

                  • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:54

                    My favorite biography of Jefferson Davis is William Cooper’s, _Jefferson Davis, American_ http://www.amazon.com/Jefferson-Davis-American-William-Cooper/dp/0375725423/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1292113434&sr=8-1 I highly recommend it.

                  • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:20

                    This is what is called in hockey “own goal”: If they were Americans, then this was rebellion, and rightly punished; If they were members of the CSA, which is *not* America (an “independent nation,” as the SC secessionists so coyly put it), then they are not Americans.

                    As others have pointed out again and again, it boils down to the evasion of slavery as the cause of war and secession as a means to ensure the eternal enslavement of black Americans. If you want to celebrate secession, it is a free country, and you can do so.

                    What you won’t get in your celebration is a pass, and you won’t get respect, and you won’t get admiration.

                    • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:30

                      Confederates were Americans, and it was not rebellion. Lemme see if I can explain it. After secession and the formation of the CSA, there were two Americas. The United States of America and the Confederate States of America. They both had “America” in their name, so the citizens of both countries were Americans. See how that works?

                      I haven’t evaded slavery as a cause of the war. And it is ludicrous to describe secession as “a means to ensure the eternal enslavement of black Americans.”

                      Nothing on earth is etermal, Mr. Matlock, except human souls. Do you sincerely imagine that if the Confederacy had won the war, there would still be slaves in the South? That somebody like me would take on the support of another human being from cradle to grave, so they could swish a Swiffer around my floors and punch buttons on my microwave oven? Surely you don’t believe time and progress would have stopped at the borders of the CSA?

                    • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 18:16

                      I of course would not wish to think ill of you or imagine you to be someone who would want to see or to continue slavery.

                      But that was the goal of the Confederacy: slavery forever, slavery extended, and slavery triumphant throughout the Americas. You, personally, might not want to see slavery continued, but contemporaneous people with your viewpoint had those viewpoints suppressed, sometimes by violence and death, by both law and custom in the Confederacy before and during the War. I’ve heard some say that slavery would have wither away on its own over time. Well and good. But it did not, and was not withering, but growing and extending, and only a federal intervention to restore the Union and stamp out rebellion was capable of ending slavery. Neither political will in the South nor popular opinion was for the ending of slavery (again, of course, leaving out the 25-30% of the population that were invisible slaves). The only thing that ended slavery was a war, a bloody and terrible war that set the South back 80 years, resulting in destroyed farms and businesses and cities. It was a war that was entirely avoidable on the part of the South had they simply admitted that slavery was an institution that must be abolished, that all men are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — a statement, I believe, that the South as well as the North had signed onto several years previous.

                      It is the casualness with which the enslavement of Americans is dismissed that does bother me. As if these Americans have no voice in the matter and simply didn’t exist. As if these several millions of people directly affected by it were simply mute and unworthy of liberty, that someday their chains would wither away but in the meantime — well, they would remain slaves.

                      It’s one thing not to know about it, to think of slavery as something that was just a weird behavior in a few remote areas a long time ago, done by a tiny few people with no descendants. It’s another to be aware that an entire society and the basis of an entire nation was based on slavery, and then to dismiss it as “well, some people like vanilla and some people like strawberry.”

                      Again, it is a wonderfully free country. We can all do things with our liberty that might seem offensive to some, and that is our right. Those who use their liberty for events that are distasteful and offensive, however, are not exempt from the scorn of others in society.

                      And I have only scorn for those who would seek to celebrate secession. There is no good reason to celebrate secession because it was for the purpose of slavery and for the continuation of slavery.

                      I would not want to make anyone my enemy by stating my opinion, but I won’t hold back my opinion to protect the sensibilities of some who wish to avoid seeing what is apparent.

                  • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:00

                    “You’re saying Southerners are not Americans? Even Confederates were Americans.”

                    And not all southerners were/are white. In fact, in South Carolina, in 1860 there were more black South Carolinians than white South Carolinians.

                    Here’s my question: if this is a “southern thing,” isn’t the head of the state’s NAACP chapter (a southerner) allowed to comment? As Kevin’s pointed out, his post looked at the content of that comment.

                    Connie Chastain’s real target has to be Lonnie Randolph. On one hand, if he’s a southerner, he has the right to speak about what happens in his own state, right? Then Ms. Chastain’s got to defend him. On the other hand, Mr. Randolph’s attacking the ball, so it seems to me that Ms. Chastain must direct her comments to him.

                    Heck, she isn’t even a South Carolinian, so maybe by her own reasoning, she can’t comment. I lived in South Carolina for three years, so I might have a better claim to comment.

                    • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:18

                      Mr. Matlock, your passion about the subject of slavery is … impressive, but looks to me a bit like tunnel vision. When people look back in history and slavery is the only thing they focus on, when they focus on it to the exclusion of the admirable and noble elements of history and past society — or when they focus on it to the exclusion even of other bad elements of history, they can go there without me.

                      Let me give you a very simplistic illustration of how I see it. Suppose ABCDEF was the entire history of the South and the war.

                      For the twelve years I’ve been a denizen of cyberspace — and for many, many years before that — all I heard about the War Between the States and the antebellum South was ABC, ABC, ABC. In other words slavery, slavery, slavery (this discussion is a fine example of ABC, btw). That is how it was being drummed into the public to totally define the historic South (just as we’re supposed to totally define the contemporary South as racism, racism, racism).

                      Some generational Southerners such as myself, who not only saw a bigger picture, but lived in the middle of it, resisted the totally evilizing charicature of our region and people. So they’ve been emphasizing DEF — the rest of the picture, as it were. Some people get upset. “It’s dishonest to say DEF is all that exists! It isn’t complete unless you include ABC. You’re giving an incomplete view of history!”

                      Do you see the irony here? These are the people who’ve been giving a one-sided view of history as ABC for years, decades.

                      But why should the DEFers add ABC? It’s not like nobody knows about it. ABC been drummed into Americans by academia, government, the popular culture for generations. It’s the DEF that’s been neglected and needs to be emphasized, to “catch up” with the overemphasis on ABC.

                      You make some similar, one-sided statements, and offer some alternate-universe-type scenarios as unprovable as those you dismiss. You are welcome to your ABC interpretation but everybody isn’t required to share it.

                      Ms. Blough’s comments to me are a further illustration of this. I realize the limitations of internet discussion groups and comment threads, but there was sooo much more going on than back then than what happened in Congress — the evilizing and targeting of slaveholders by abolitionists, for example, whose own private views about black inferiority wasn’t all that distant from Alexander Stephens’, if Julia Ward Howe is any indication. Moreover, 1862 was waaaay too late to start talking about compensated emancipation, the method used to end slavery nearly everywhere else. Serious discussion should have started in 1852, or ’42 or ’32…. You get the idea.

                      I haven’t seen anyone dismissing slavery as “some people like vanilla and some like strawberry.” As appalling as it looks to us today, most white people back then believed in black inferiority and the inability of blacks to successfully handle personal liberty or function in a free society. In the South, the solution was slavery. In the north, the solution was to keep their populations as white as possible, and they made laws to ensure it. That is why the population map I posted earlier looks like it does. Both approaches violate the spirit and the letter of the Declaration of Independence, but we see who is held accountable today and who is let off the hook, don’t we?

                      The north had enriched itself shipping slaves, not only to the South, but elsewhere, and churning out textiles in mills supplied with Southern, slave-raised cotton. When the north belatedly developed a “conscience” about slavery, it victimized the South for being in a circumstance the north had played a crucial role in creating (and from which it benefited richly). The north had accumulated vast wealth using methods that were by no means morally superior to slaveholding but it demanded that the South divest itself of its wealth in slaves, because slavery was morally reprehensible. They were demanding, in other words, that the South become what it did become after the war, and when it refused, the north fought a war to bring that circumstance about.

                      Incidently, it wasn’t just war that set the South back and mired it in poverty for a century. Despite the expense of the war, nearly all the states of the South reached the end of the war with surpluses in their treasuries. Reconstruction governments not only stole the surpluses — they spent the states so deeply in debt it took generations to overcome. I think this, and other outcomes of the war and reconstruction, were deliberate, engineered from hatred for Southerners created by sectionalism, abolitionist rhetoric, and the determination of the north to absolve itself of all wrongdoing in the matters of the war, slavery and race. Hatred of Southerners may have slipped beneath the surface of American culture but it’s still firmly embedded and you see it all around you, particularly in (but not limited to) the popular culture.

                      Frankly, I scorn the hypocrisy that portrays the north as morally superior, pure as the driven snow, despite its crucial role in creating some of the country’s major problems — many of which people still attempt to blame almost exclusively on the South.

                      This little secession ball, a one-time event that will last a few hours and be attended by a relative handful of people, is a drop in the bucket of offensiveness, in my opinion. The outpouring of indignation it has generated (not just in these comments) is a function of the firmly embedded hatred of Southerners that rouses itself to anger when Southerners refuse to take sole responsibility for the problems in this country.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:24

                      Focusing on the role that slavery played throughout American history is anything but “narrow.” What is so problematic about trying to understand this crucial subject? I’ve been at it for 15 years and I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.

                    • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:28

                      Mr. Simpson, what reasoning of mine are you referring to? Where have I said this is a “southern thang”? (You know, for this to be a “scholarly” blog, with “scholarly” comments, I sure find people putting a lot of words in my mouth, and jumping to conclusions my comments simply do not lead to.)

                      I have a target? Asking questions is targeting?

                      I simply question the respect for freedom of thought/expression exhibited by those who denigrate the secession ball because they disapprove of the motives of the organizers/attendees. Protest activity is a public statement that the thing protested should not be allowed, and there WERE suggestions, or one suggestion, of protesting the event on this thread.

                      If people disagree with the secession ball and motives of the organizers, why not organize their own event? As far as I know, there’s nothing stopping Mr. Randolph or anyone else from organizing his own event that reflects their views on it. I simply note that protesting — in effect saying the ball should not be allowed — which looks an awful lot like intolerance.

                      What ever happened to, “I may not agree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it”?

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:32

                      Mr. Randolph is organizing an event in response to the secession ball. If you bothered to read the article that I linked to you would know this. What I wrote in the post was simply a suggestion as to how to respond. No one is arguing that the organizers do not have a right to gather and celebrate secession. They are simply exercising their First Amendment rights.

                    • Will Stoutamire Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:47

                      Mrs. Chastain, you do understand that voicing protest or dissent to a particular event is not a violation of freedom of speech, correct? Nobody here has suggested that the secession ball be shut down, it is their right to do as they choose. It is also our right to publicly oppose their actions, either online or in person.

                      Holding a citywide event, as Kevin has proposed, wherein the actual secession documents are read aloud and the history is not whitewashed, is perfectly legitimate and does not trample on anyone’s freedom of speech.

          • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 15:26

            I certainly wouldn’t deny that racism was (and is) a problem throughout the country. As Kevin just pointed out, the evil South/virtuous North dichotomy is a gross oversimplification of the reality of slavery and racism in American history. I’m sure we can all agree on that. I’m not trying to “let the rest of the country off the hook,” so much as acknowledge the roll of slavery and racism in this particular instance. One of many in our collective past in which it played a pivotal roll.

            I have to respectfully disagree with your assertion that we can separate a celebration of secession from the attitudes of the time/the causes of secession. I live in Arizona now. From a scholarly perspective, we will be commemorating our upcoming centennial – but we will still also acknowledge the long presence of American Indian groups in the Southwest and the poor treatment they received at our hands. One can’t possibly recount the history of the settlement of Arizona without doing due justice to the Indian Wars and the destruction they wrought. We don’t turn a blind eye to those actions; we recognize them, try to understand them, and try to make a better today.

            That is one of the differences, in my opinion, between a commemoration and a celebration, and may help to better explain why I am hesitant about this particular event in South Carolina. One can commemorate Dec. 20th by having a special exhibit, perhaps a seminar, maybe even a reading of the debates and ultimate declaration of secession (the debates providing the proper context for the declaration and its meaning). But celebrating secession, wherein the participants consciously refuse to acknowledge the very reasons laid out in those debates for the actions of their ancestors, is another matter entirely. It’s the willing blindness to the past – it’s the SCV declaring that the Confederacy stood for “freedom and liberty” – that irks me.

            Of course all of this is premised upon us sharing a similar interpretation of the various secession documents. We clearly don’t, which places us at an impasse. I thank you for the discussion.

      • stephen matlock Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:06

        The secession was solely about keeping slaves and extending slavery into the territories. Absent slavery, *there would have been no secession and no civil war*.

        Why that merits a celebration is beyond me.

      • EarthTone Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:35

        Connie Chastain: {The secession ball dehumanizes a third of the population of South Carolina? In what way are they dehumanized?}


        As I read your comments about whether or not the Secession celebration is “dehumanizing,” I am reminded of the story of a particular runaway slave in the antebellum era. The slave was a manservant to a well-to-do master, who had gave his slave a materially comfortable bondage experience, compared to other slaves.

        After the escaped slave was captured, the master asked “Didn’t I feed you well? Didn’t I clothe you well? Didn’t I provide for you well? How could you run away?”

        The master just didn’t get it. He gave the slave everything but that which the slave truly wanted: his freedom. And it was because the master could not understand, or internalize, the humanity of the slave, which would motivate the slave to seek freedom as any white man would.

        The key point here is that it takes some level of awareness and sensitivity to recognize humanity or inhumanity. You have to put your own views – which may well be heartfelt and reasonable, in your mind – to the side, and then, put yourself into the shoes of another person.

        I wish there was an intellectual construct that I could present which could be used so that you would be able, as a matter of logical calculation, understand how certain acts dehumanize others. (And thus avoid what you call “emotional manipulations.”) But at this point in the discussion, if you haven’t seen how this particular incident can be seen as dehumanizing, it’s doubtful that anything further that I add will change your view.

        I can only pose this question. If you were a slave; and you saw your masters celebrating their own “freedom,” while your own enslavement was guaranteed… how would you FEEL? And how would a descendant of that slave feel, when seeing the descendants of those masters re-enact and celebrate this event?

        IF you can capture the feelings of that slave in yourself; that will at least open the door to understanding why people have reacted as they have. Absent that, I just don’t know if you’ll be able to get it.

        • stephen matlock Dec 12, 2010 @ 5:50

          I suspect we will not be hearing from Ms. Chastain again. While the debate was stimulating, it was going nowhere.

          I can only hope that people who purport not to see the problem with celebrating secession will eventually become conscious of what it meant to all Americans at that time and not just their own class.

          That, I think, is the attempt being made here, to read the Secession Ball in light of all the events surrounding it.

          • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:19

            Mr. Matlock. I’m still heeee-ere.

            • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:29

              Yet the debate is still going nowhere.

              • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 14:33

                No kidding. 🙂

        • Connie Chastain Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:34

          Earth Tone, there are no slaves today. Nobody will BE enslaved at or by the secession ball. Whatever the motives of the organizers and attendees, their thoughts/beliefs have absolutely no power to dehumanize anyone. To say they do is giving them magical/metaphysical powers.

          The charge of “dehumanizing” does not describe anyone to whom it is “done unto, ” because nobody will be dehumanized by the event. It is an accusation made against those who will participate in order to stigmatize — to evilize — them. Simply because they don’t interpret history the way some folks think they should.

          • Kevin Levin Dec 12, 2010 @ 16:36

            Congratulations Connie. You really do have a wonderful way of acknowledging that people can have different views of what is a complex, emotional, and personal subject.

  • James F. Epperson Dec 11, 2010 @ 7:02

    And, of course, the best source for documents on the Secession Crisis is:


    The publisher is a friend of mine .

  • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 6:34

    Hey, I know what would be much more effective. Why don’t you round up everybody who has a view of secession and war you all-slavery, only-slavery folks don’t agree with and have them thrown in prison?

    What makes you think it’s any of your business what these folks at the secession ball do or believe? As long as they’re not trying to force everyone to adopt their viewpoint (the way you all-slavery, only-slavery folks think everybody should be forced to agree with you) then why is it your concern?

    Why is it important to protest the secession ball? If you don’t support it DON’T GO to it. It’s that simple.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 6:47

      So, you’ve gone from making a claim about the history behind this event to challenging those who may question the motivation behind the ball. It seems to me both of your points are related. The secession ball commemorates a specific decision that was made in South Carolina in December of 1860. The men responsible for the decision to secede from the Union were very clear as to why this was done. The secession ball has chosen to commemorate this event without acknowledging the complete story behind it and that explains why it is getting so much attention.

      The invitation is still open for you to move from accusation to actually doing some history. I claim no more a right to discuss these issues than you do. Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:25

        Mr. Levin, I’m asking why it is the business of you folks in this discussion to challenge the motivation of those behind the ball. If you want to disapprove of the activity itself, go right ahead, but I have as much right/authority to question your motive for this blog as you do to question the motive of those behind the ball.

        Yes, the men responsible for the decision to secede in South Carolina were clear about why they did so, but if the people behind the ball are not acknowledging the complete story (in your opinion), so are those who ignore huge swathes of text in the declarations of causes and other documents to reach their erroneous all-slavery, only-slavery conclusions (in my opinion).

        Same coin. Different sides.

        Besides, what I see on this blog is not the claim of a “right to discuss these issues” but plans to protest the ball, apparently from the belief that it should not be allowed.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:23


          You question whatever you want. However, you were the one who started off by claiming that folks who focus on the connection between South Carolina’s secession and slavery were nit-picking and yet you have yet to share what has been missed. I am beginning to suspect that you have not read any of the documents related to the states’s decision to secede. You are merely attempting to steer the discussion elsewhere.

          Finally, I am not planning on protesting anything and if I were I have every right to do so as does any other individual.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:32

          “I’m asking why it is the business of you folks in this discussion to challenge the motivation of those behind the ball. If you want to disapprove of the activity itself, go right ahead, but I have as much right/authority to question your motive for this blog as you do to question the motive of those behind the ball.”

          You might want to examine the irony in this statement. You are questioning Kevin’s motives, so by your own reasoning it’s fine for him to ask his questions and raise his points. Both of you are well within your rights. So what’s the problem?

          • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:03

            I’m not questioning Mr. Levin’s motives — merely pointing out that if he has the right to question other people’s motives, I have a right to question his.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:51

              My motivation is an interest in how Americans choose to remember the Civil War. Hence the name of this blog. I hope that helps.

        • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 16:34

          “Besides, what I see on this blog is not the claim of a “right to discuss these issues” but plans to protest the ball, apparently from the belief that it should not be allowed.”

          Huh? It seems to me that you are the person who’s holding forth on what should and should not be allowed and what should and should not be discussed.

          • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:05

            There’s a discussion about gathering people in parts of Charleston on the night of the ball to protest it, and to “confront” people. I’m not doing anything remotely similar to protest this blog.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:50

              No there isn’t. I was simply suggesting that rather than reduce people to “Nazis” and “terrorists” as did the NAACP in the news item linked to in this post, it might be better just to stage a reading of the actual secession documents. I wouldn’t describe that as “confronting” people. LOL

              • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 19:29

                I didn’t say you discussed it. I said there was a discussion… See this post:

                Robert Welch December 11, 2010 at 4:51 am

  • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:59


    I like it. They could stage a series of dramatic readings based on the debate transcripts in different parts of the city.


    I would definitely include some people in front of the location of the ball.

    I prefer to spread people around the city because than the event becomes something more than simply a direct response to the ball. Residents would be showing unity and the courage that comes with acknowledging a collective past.

    • Robin Foster Dec 11, 2010 @ 8:37

      I agree. This is time to educate.
      Since emancipation we hear much said of our modern colored leaders in commendation of race pride, race love, race effort, race superiority, race men and the like. One man is praised for being a race man and another is condemned for not being a race man. In all this talk of race, the motive may be good, but the method is bad. It is an effort to cast out Satan by Beelzebub. The evils which are now crushing the Negro to earth have their root and sap, their force and mainspring, in this narrow spirit of race and color and the Negro has no more right to excuse or to foster it than men of any other race. I recognize and adopt no such narrow basis for my thoughts, feelings, or motives of action. I would place myself and I would place you, my young friends, upon grounds vastly higher and broader than any founded upon race or color. Neither law, learning, nor religion is addressed to any man’s color or race. Science, education, the word of God, and all the virtues known among men, are recommended to us not as races but as men. We are not recommended to love or hate any particular variety of the human family more than any other.—Frederick Douglas, Blessings of Liberty and Education, http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=543

      • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 9:01

        Hi Robin,

        Since you are in Charleston I wonder what you think of my idea of reading the documents on the night of the ball. 🙂 Thanks for the comment.

        • Robin Foster Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:26

          Perfect! I am actually in Columbia. I will share with my friends and tweet about it! Great idea! Do you have a list that of the best one’s to read that could be shared?

  • Margaret D. Blough Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:52

    I think your proposal is excellent. If they wanted to extend it, they could also read the transcript of the debates of South Carolina’s secession convention, especially Lawrence Keitt’s ringing rejection of anything other than slavery as the reason for secession.

    I think over-the-top claims about the inevitable nostalgia events that the moonshine and magnolias advocates will be sponsoring doesn’t advance discussion. My experience has been that while there really is a small hard-core segment that attempts to justify slavery and even mourn its loss, the more common reaction is denial and the attempt to substitute an sanitized version of the past in the place of a reality that is too uncomfortable to contemplate.

  • Robert Welch Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:51

    Why station them at various points in the city? Put them on the front steps of the location of the ball or right across the street. Confront them directly with the hypocrisy of their racism. I think Frederick Douglass’ “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” speech might be a wonderful counter as well.

    For seem reason it still staggers me that some people revel in their ignorance of history.

    • Margaret D. Blough Dec 11, 2010 @ 18:16

      Robert- Because what you propose all too often turns into a shouting match between the angriest and most confrontational people on both sides. What civil rights agencies recommend is precisely what Kevin suggests-positive events at other venues to spread the message that the controversial event doesn’t speak for everyone. In this case, it is to not only point out that the event which they are celebrating precipitated a brutal war in which many died and many others suffered but that there were other South Carolinians, in fact a majority of the population, who were enslaved and, if the secessionists had had their way, would have remained enslaved. Samuel Johnson’s jibe directed at the American Revolution applies even more pointedly to secession, “”How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?””

      • Robert Welch Dec 11, 2010 @ 19:05

        Very true, and very well put. As I was writing my post, the one thing that came to mind was Fred Phelps and his tactics of confrontation, which are always counter-productive and never received well (nor should they be.) Perhaps on a personally immature level I just feel the need to make the attendees feel uncomfortable, which would only lead to counter-protest and argument, rather than actual dialogue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *