Friday, September 19, 2008

What is the Southern Perspective? A Story of One View Among Many Diverse and Perverse Ones

I was raised in Eastern Pennsylvania, and upon researching it a few years ago, I discovered that sixty of my relatives from just one branch of my family alone fought for the Union in what I was taught was called the Civil War. I knew that brother fought against brother and that it was one of the bloodiest wars in history, touting what may still stand as the highest death toll of any U.S. war. I believed, as the writings of Union soldiers attest, that the war was waged to liberate slaves that were held in the South. I knew that there were slaves held in the Northern States, but I also knew that many of our founding fathers and their wives advocated that all individuals be granted freedom, including slaves. I know that my husband admired Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, particularly the Gettysburg Address, and he kept a vellum print of the speech in Lincoln’s own handwriting among his precious, boyhood treasures.

I knew nothing of any kind of contemporary controversy regarding the cause of the South until after I married my Pennsylvania born husband and lived in Shreveport, LA for 18 months while he finished graduate school. During my first month there, on a rare Saturday that we were able to spend together, we drove down Kings Highway, accidently turning right into the middle of a huge KKK rally. I rolled down the window and tried to sit on the car door, screaming “Jesus was a Jew” (My only experience with contemporary racist groups involved skinheads that hated Jewish people.) My husband grabbed me and pulled me into the car, explaining that these men were not concerned about Jews. He also reminded me that we lived in the drive-by shooting capitol of the U.S., and he didn’t like the idea of taking me to the hospital or burying me. On a couple of other occasions thereafter, I did have to both drive through and drive to avoid rallies of these hooded men while on call for the “charity hospital’s” recovery room where I worked as a nurse. I remember on the way in one morning, I considered that I was likely going in to recover a patient who had been shot at the rally I was now trying to traverse. I had taken that job because I left a job at what I called “the rich, white people’s hospital” because, among other things, the staff there was more concerned about a new patient’s skin color than they were their medical diagnosis.

When I first moved to Louisiana (when David Duke was in office), my husband and I both changed denominations and started fresh at a new church together, attending a Southern Baptist church. (I didn’t last very long there, either.) It was huge, and I joined the choir, so I had a good view of the congregation which had not one “person of color,” except when a local newscaster came as a guest of the local sportscaster who was a church member. The pastor acknowledged her from the pulpit which surprised me as it drew attention to her. At the next choir practice, I asked an attorney and former minister in the choir just why our church was entirely Caucasian in a town with a Black majority? He told me that “they have their own churches.” I was then told that our church supported Black churches financially as missionary efforts which is where he understood the “Missionary Baptist” denomination came from. (That may well be an urban myth.) I then took note of the pastor’s mention of our church’s “missionary churches” in the area that very next Sunday. And not long after this, when a local TV station signed off for the day (back before 24 hour infomercials), the local Shreveport station played the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” to the shock of my husband. I had no idea why he would find this provocative until he explained that Shreveport played an important role in the War and that people there still hated the North, not necessarily because they were from a different place with different traditions but because of the War itself. These experiences mark the beginning of my education in all things Southern. That was almost 20 years ago.

As previously stated, my husband studied under one of the most notable experts in the history of the War Between the States, James Robertson, where his fellow undergraduate classmates declared my husband to be an “officially domesticated Virginian.” He was taught that the War only concerned economics, something that had little or nothing to do with slavery according to that perspective. My husband was taught and believed that the most notable figures, devout Christians who argued the Southern Cause, did not make racist or racialist arguments. He was taught that the South fought against a greedy and manipulative North who had exploited the South for their own financial gain and to increase their political power in the process. The Southern States eventually withdrew from the union, one by one, a right that they believed was provided by the Constitution. The Constitution provided for recourse against a tyrannical ruler, and the Southern States believed that the Northern interests that dominated the federal government at the time induced a state of tyranny that exploited the South.

At this point in my understanding of the history and both perspectives of the North and the South, personally, I believe that the South had due cause to secede from the union based upon the Constitution which afforded men the right to resist tyranny. But, I deny that this was a holy war but one that was waged over money and was fueled by greed on the part of both North and South. And unfortunately for those who hold the Southern Perspective, I cannot find any writings and have not heard any arguments to date that can separate slavery from the economics of the Confederate South. I believe that America suffered serious detriment that resulted from the South’s defeat including broad expansion of the power of the federal government over individual states and the establishment of personal federal income tax. It established a detrimental sense of governmental paternalism that I believe that our founding fathers strongly opposed (including both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison). I also deeply appreciate the concerns that the Christians in the South felt in regard to non-orthodox religious movements that were far more prevalent in the North. I also appreciate that there were numerous slave owners in the North at the time of the War who shared both the religious, racial, and economic sentiments that typified the South. But none of those factors made the South’s efforts holy, Christian and virtuous. At the heart of it, I see only issues of autonomy and economics.

I offer this simplified synopsis as an overview of the Southern Perspective, the perspective that argues that the War had nothing to do with slavery. (Please bear in mind that I don’t claim to be any kind of historian. This is just an honest reiteration of what I’ve been told and what I’ve read in support the Southern Cause.)

The South produced cotton which was shipped to the North and sold to Europe, transported to Europe on ships that were owned by wealthy Northerners, many of them bankers. Goods were primarily shipped to Europe through these Northern shipping routes and not through ports such as Charleston and New Orleans, presumably because the North had a great advantage by means of their larger ships. Because of this shipping advantage, the South could not compete against the North in Europe, an argument that I admittedly do not understand. The North reportedly gouged Europeans on the prices of the cotton by adding exorbitant shipping fees and taxes, revenues that benefited only the largely industrialized North and the infrastructure of the federal government within the North. The South produced the goods, but they felt that they saw very little return or only an inequitable return on those goods. When their secession threat started to crystalize into reality, the North blocked and fired upon the shipping port of Charleston, and South Carolina seceded from the union.

The War was then perceived to be an aggressive North who wanted to continue to exploit the South, while their own industrialized cities put children to work in factories. The primary industries were founded in the North, and this growing industrialization generated a great deal of money. New immigrants migrated to the cities where they could find work in industry, so their representative numbers grew along with the general wealth in the cities. The primary banks were located in the North, and as the Jewish Rothschilds would later earn the disdain of Europe for their wealth acquired in banking, so the Northern bankers would earn the disdain of the South. New states that were admitted to the Union were encouraged to align with Northern values and interests, adding to the power of the North and thus diminishing the political and financial power of the South. Our founding fathers stated that democracy was tyranny at the in of the majority who swayed governance with opinion, not necessarily governing by what was right or true. This democratic tyranny was ascribed to the actions of the North who worked to diminish Southern interests and the Southern way of life. They were losing their representative power in the federal government based on sheer numbers alone at the hands of a North, one that was believed to be largely godless, ruled by the Modernist ideals of the Unitarians and the Transcendentalists who believed that man was basically good and had only a little need for a god that they’d made in their own image.


I can relate to many aspects of this accounting of history, a perspective with an ideology that I was not raised to believe. Let me offer a simple analogy that occurred to me. I can imagine running a home-based business from my home where I made cakes. I can only sell a limited number of cakes in my neighborhood, so I can imagine contracting with a couple of local businesses who would sell my cakes for me, earning some profit from the transaction. I can imagine feeling some angst if I realized that they sold my cakes at a price that was 10 times what I had calculated to be a fair, retail price for the product. And at the end of the day, when I go to my modest home and the business owner goes home to a mansion, I can appreciate the disparagement on a personal level. And if I attempted to find a new market for my cakes, I would be very upset if that first local business owner came and barricaded my home to prevent me from taking my cakes elsewhere. When I offered a similar analogy to my husband he added that it was as if my own government came and barricaded my exit “because the didn’t like my ideas.” I can also imagine what it would be like to try to get out of a supply contract with this first business upon deciding that they were exploiting me for their profit and perhaps my own, personal loss in some circumstances. In some ways, this is a good analogy of the economic factors that the South perceived about their relationship to the North.

I believed this gentle version of the South and I still agree with aspects of it, primarily that the Southern States had the right to secede just as our colonies claimed the right to establish their independence from King George in 1776. For the South, the North was perceived as becoming altogether tyrannical, and I think that they had a Constitutional right to do secede. But I’ve searched and read and researched this topic, and though I believe that many of those who fought for the South were devout Christians, the cause was far from pure and holy. I have not read the writings of Lee or of Jackson who I understand did not express racist sentiments. I have spent some time studying the writings of both Dabney and Calhoon, and of Thornwell and Palmer to a lesser degree, hoping to prove that the claims that these men were white supremacists to be exploitive misrepresentations of what they really believed and lies meant to throw mud at the good men of the South. And I cannot. What I did discover is that the so-called "Biblical patriarchy" reads like the writings of these Confederates.

And I don’t think that those who draw arguments from these Christian men in order to support their doctrines of hierarchy of gender can rightfully argue against the racist and racialist statements made by these men without jeopardizing their contemporary arguments. I don’t think that they can avoid the related stigma of racism and racialism, either when they choose to draw from these writings. If racial hierarchy falls apart, then as Dabney aptly predicted, the authoritarian hierarchy of man over woman as an ontological argument also crumbles.

We don’t need man’s invented ontological arguments if the Word of God teaches Believing husbands to lay down their lives for their wives and wives to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. Do we? I guess it depends on who you ask.
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