Sunday, April 06, 2014

Confederate "Heritage" Month, April 6: Slavery and chivalry

A writer name Emily Anne Eliza Shirreff was the author of tract published in 1864, during the American Civil War, by the Ladies' London Emancipation Society, The Chivalry of the South. The tract was directed against British aristocratic and business circles who sympathized with the Confederate cause.

She focused on the role of slavery in the conflict:

Such as slavery was then, when the women of England gathered in aristocratic halls to address pathetic appeals to America, such or worse is it now, when aristocratic dinner-parties arc entertained with praise of those very men who were held up to execration before. Approbation of slavery is not yet indeed confessed in open terms, the leaders of the movement are too dextrous to bring unpleasant sounding words bluntly forwards, till the way is carefully prepared for them. The state of fueling which they have hitherto successfully cultivated is one of hatred and contempt for the Federals, and proportionate admiration and sympathy for the Confederates. That upon the success of the Confederates hangs the triumph of slavery, the misery of millions to be bequeathed to generations yet unborn, is too insignificant a question to be taken into account in forming their estimate of the two parties. [my emphasis]
The Confederacy and its leaders were as open as they could be about slavery being the heart of their glorious cause. Those in Britain more geographically removed from the war were evidently more diffident on that subject.

Once the whites in the former Confederacy began to be distanced in time from the institution of slavery, those defending the Confederacy and seeking to restrict the rights of free black citizens began to deny that slavery was the cause of the war. In their case, we're talking months if not weeks or days in distance of time from slavery.

Sherreff adds, "The utter ignorance that could lead men to suppose that the secession, of the Southern States was a movement to assert national freedom from an oppressive yoke, has been exposed too often to need considering here."

Her tract deals with the pro-Confederate propaganda claim about the civilized white society of the South. She writes of the alignment of the slaveowners and their supporters with the Democratic Party at that time:

Socially aristocratic in the worst sense of the term — in that sense which means the oppression of the many for the benefit of the few—the slaveholders have politically lent their whole influence to the democratic party. The ultra-democrats, even in the North, have been accordingly the Southern or proslavery party, who until very lately were opposed to the war, and to all measures of emancipation; yet England, nominally hating slavery and really mistrusting democrats, has been led to sympathise with that party.
Here, her use of lower-case "democrats" is clearly aimed at adherents of the Democratic Party.

She continues directly to talk about how the particular situation of Southern slavery and agriculture gave particular force to expansionist politics in the US:

Again, the charge of unprincipled ambition is certainly one which may more fairly be brought against the South than against the North. I do not mean that either section is indifferent to territorial aggrandisement — nor have old-established monarchies in Europe been quite free from the same reproach — but every buccaneering expedition which has affixed a stigma of disgrace to American ambition has been in furtherance of Southern
views. Slave labour requires new fields to make its unthrifty ways yield any profit, and accordingly the annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, the designs on Cuba, were to extend the dominion of the slaveholders. Every such expedition was for the furtherance of slavery; and now England is brought to sympathise with the men who planned and profited by them! [my emphasis]
And, as the title of the tract promises, she takes on the famous Southern chivalry:

Englishmen have not been ashamed, when driven to give a reason for their dislike of the Federals, to say, " They are not gentlemen." They have not been afraid to own that their sympathies on questions of human rights, of freedom or slavery, of morality or foul licentiousness, were decided by such small conventionalities of manner and language as might fitly decide whether a person should be invited to a fashionable assembly Truly this is the lowest frivolity that ever was thrust into argument under the name of opinion.
But she goes on to address the pro-Confederacy propaganda argument:

And the only intelligible grounds alleged areo that the Yankees are traders! A singular accusation, seeing that wo have ourselves been called "a nation of shopkeepers." The Southerners, on the other hand, are landed proprietors, and in their luxurious mansions they lead a refined life of ease and leisure that reminds us of country-house life in England. Not denying the value of this as a political argument, it would be well for some who hold it to read a few chapters of Olmsted's "Explorations in the Cotton Kingdom," to see what lies
beyond these few patrician mansions and show-plantations which delude so many unwary travellers.
But, leaving this aside, which we have not space to examine, we will return to that one capital accusation — the Yankees are traders. ...

The Yankee is a trader and deals in all vulgar wares; the Southern gentleman has choicer merchandise — he deals in human flesh, he sells his own son into bondage, his own daughter he sells to bondage and dishonour! True, there is some black blood in their veins to darken the instincts of paternity in him, still he denies not their parentage, and is right in thinking that he will not forfeit in England his character as a gentleman!

Nor does he traffic in human flesh alone; he traffics in human corruption, in the vices of his dependants, in those of his own sons. The more children are born on his estate the more dollars will go into his pocket. Whoever the father may be they follow the mother's lot, and go to increase the number of his human chattels. How slight a set-off against these profits are the corruptions tainting his very hearth; the jealousies and heart-burnings of the women of his own race, and the misery of the outcasts thus doomed from birth. Such things arc not entered in his ledger. ...

The trading spirit of the North has tended to spread the value of education; accordingly in no country is it so universal. The peculiar trade of the South makes education dangerous, and as a natural consequence of ignorance, creates idle apathy in some, and idle ruffianism in others. In spite of the supposed lowering tendencies of trade in the North a healthy state of morals is found to flourish, and a high respect for women is an honourable characteristic of the whole country. But the interest of his trade places the Southerner's home amid scenes of licentiousness which make an Eastern harem seem an abode of purity, and he is trained from boyhood to see—for the sake of gain — how far womanhood can be degraded; to see women treated like beasts of burden, and working like them under the lash even in that condition which elsewhere calls for the reverent tenderness in all but the most brutalised of men. That full measure of barbarism is probably to be found only when the presence of slavery has corrupted from early youth the very instincts of manhood; yet it is the men so corrupted who are now held up to our admiration. [my emphasis in bold]
And she returns again to the core issue:

The one great difference that exists between the two sections of the country and from which all other points of variance spring, is that which is kept as far as possible out of sight by the advocates of the South, and that is the existence of slavery. ...

Gain, And the extension of slavery to ensure the gain, are the watchwords of this rebellion, the most unprincipled, because the most groundless, the world ever saw. And to uphold the rebels is to give our sanction to the slavery which is their boast, and to a love of gain so intense and so pitiless that to achieve its purposes it tramples on the most sacred rights of humanity and shrinks not from dooming a whole race to every form of misery and degradation. [my emphasis]
Shirreff's pamphlet was polemical. But the analysis holds up very well 150 years later.

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