Sunday, April 15, 2018

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2018, April 15: Avery Craven's neo-Confederate version of the origins of the Civil War

I'm finally caught up with today's date on this year's series of posts.

Today I'm looking at another scholarly journal article by another well-known historian of the Lost Cause/neo-Confederate persuasion, Avery Craven's Coming of the War Between the States: An Interpretation Journal of Southern History 2:3 (Aug 1936).

Nobody called it "the War Between the States" at the time it was happening. It was a civil war, known in the official US records as the War of the Rebellion. But War Between the States is a polemic, neo-Confederate label for the conflict. And that is the narrative on which he relies.

Slavery, of course, didn't cause the war in this account. It was because the North rejected the "strict adherence to the Constitution" insisted upon by the slave states. This was the legalistic version that Jefferson Davis advocated in his memoirs. "[I}n its own eyes, the South was the def ender of democratic government against the onslaughts of those who would distort sacred institutions in order to promote their own material interests. All that the Revolution had won, all that 'the [Founding] Fathers' had achieved, was involved in the struggle."

But, as always, when any kind of empirical realities are developed around the various alternative causes promoted by the neo-Confederates, it still comes back to slavery:
When opposition to slavery developed, a new threat of economic loss, now joined with fear of racial conflict and social unrest, was added. When that drive became a moral attack on the whole Southern way of life, the defense broadened in proportion and emotions deepened. The Constitution was not enough against those who would not respect its provisions; the whole South must become unified for political efficiency. The section must have that security which the Constitution guaranteed and an equal right to expand with its institutions as a matter of principle. Keen minds set to work to reveal the virtues in slavery and the life it permitted in the South. When they had finished a stratified society, with Negro "mud-sills" at the bottom, alone permitted genuine republican government, escaped the ills of labor and race conflict, gave widest opportunity for ability and culture, and truly forwarded the cause of civilization. The stability and quiet under such a system were contrasted with the restless strife of the North which was developing socialism and threatening the destruction of security in person and in property. The Southern way of life was the way of order and progress. [my emphasis]
Just not progress in democracy or freedom.

Abraham Lincoln in this account was a blithering fanatic:
Abraham Lincoln, in his "House Divided" speech, prevented himself and his party from being thrust aside by a desperate appeal to old moral foundations. Though his own policy and that of "Judge" Douglas gave identical results, the latter was not born of moral conviction. And until the issue was conceived in terms of "the eternal struggle between two principles-right and wrong-throughout the world" the fight must go on. That is why a man who was willing to save the Union at the cost of a bloody civil war, even with slavery untouched, would not save it by a compromise which yielded party principle but which did not sacrifice a single material thing. The party was one with God and the world's great experiment in Democracy.
I'll leave it for others to sort out whose side God was on. Lincoln himself was restrained on the topic. Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address in 1865, famous for his "with malice toward none" phrase:
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. [my emphasis]
Not only Lincoln but everyone else during the Civil War itself knew that slavery was its cause.
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding.

Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

"Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." [my paragraph breaks]
But were Lincoln and the Union on the side of democracy in the Civil War? Absolutely.

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