Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote another of his smear pieces aimed at the SCV and the sesqucentennial commemorations of the War for Southern Independence. I saw the reference at the Rebellion blog today.
Here is the article.
Here is my response, listed in the comments section below the article:
Interesting that the Brighton Pittsford Post Pool Rules indicate:
"4.No personal attacks. Don't bash anyone based on their race, creed, heritage, or orientation."
...And then the Post chooses to publish an article dedicated to bashing those who would remember their Confederate Heritage.
If you go to the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV.org) website, you will see that in no place on their events calendar is the word "celebration" used to describe the SCV's activities surrounding the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. Only the word "commemoration" is used by the SCV.
Throughout the article, Potok draws invalid parallels between the SCV and racist hate groups and white supremacists (he is careful to not come right out and say it). The SCV has issued statements against racism, and has also issued strong statements against the Klan, and any racist or white supremacist organization that usurps the use of the Confederate battle flag.
Ya mean there's more to the Confederate cause than racism, hatred and white supremacy? Uh...yeah. A lot more.
Are there racists in the SCV? I dont doubt it.
But there are racists in the Democratic Party, the SEIU, AFL-CIO and the Sons of Union Veterans, you can bet dollars to donuts.
There are a lot of points on which to condemn Potok's polemic. One is his dismissal of "revisionist history".
What he calls revisionist history is based on primary source material easily located in what you would consider conventional pro Union texts, but barely mentioned or swept under the rug. Growing up in western NY, I was only exposed to the simplistic history taught in our public schools.
The history taught in the North and the "new" South is spun to minimize the information which might explain to a modern reader why the people in the Southern states fought so tenaciously and so desperately for as long as they did. The historical information in our public school textbooks has been selectively sanitized and simplified by the victors of the war in order to teach the generations which followed a clear simple and moral justification for the war from the Northern point of view. The actual history, you might expect if you think about it, was quite complex.
When I was a kid in school, I was fascinated by the Civil War. Of course, I fantasized about what it was like to be a soldier in that war, but only from the Northern perspective. It never made sense to me that so many soldiers would fight for a morally reprehensible institution like slavery. Why would they do that? I really wanted to know.
90% plus of the common soldiery of the CSA had no slaves, and most were small scale farmers. Might some of them have benefitted from slavery indirectly? Probably. In the south, the issue of slavery was a proximate cause of the war. But the southern motivation to secede from the Union was much more philosophical and based in Constitutional law than Mr. Potok would have you believe.
(Watch out now, here comes some "revisionist history".)
Motivation to secede from the United States, and later to fight in the Confederate States Army had many reasons. Some common reasons include: Economic interest in Slavery among the wealthy. The more middling classes of the CSA: believed in States right's (Jeffersonian) view of the vs. Nationalist (Hamiltonian) views of the US Constitution. Some southerners felt that the federal government had become tyrannical, and had seized power not enumerated in Section I, Article 8 of the Constitution. Others were simply defending hearth and home when Lincoln called for 75,000 men from each of the states to volunteer to put down the "rebellion".
70% of the federal government income came from tariff income collected in Southern port cities. When asked "Why not let the south go in peace?" Lincoln replied: "I cannot let them go. Who will pay for the government?"
While Potok selectively chooses from references that cite white supremacy as an underlying doctrine for which the Confederates fought (very far from the mind of most soldiers as a reason to fight), he of course neglects to mention that the belief in what he calls "white supremacy" was the prevailing opinion north of the Mason Dixon line as well.
If you read each of the ordinances of secession or the documents released by each state that explains the causes of the crisis leading to secession, slavery will be mentioned by some states, and others will focus solely on how the federal government was overstepping its constitutional limitations, and by those actions the Federal government was threatening the economic well being of that state.
Potok says: "And the right to own slaves was, most certainly, the primary reason the Southern states seceded from the Union"
No, not really. The slavery issue affected the balance of power in congress, and the issue was raised repeatedly with regard to the creation of new states. Each new slave (or free) state would affect the number of representatives and senators. The population of slaves in a territory would affect the number of congressmen in the House of Representatives because of the "3/5ths clause" of the Constitution. There was also a conflict created in Kansas and Missouri in the 1850's when the congress decided to let a territory choose its own path, free soil or slave. Slave owners and Freesoilers both moved into Kansas, and bloodshed followed because of the political balance of power at stake. The Fugitive Slave Act of Congress was being actively nullified by the Northern States, creating consternation in the South regarding the rule of law. When the Presidential vote of 1860 was split between 4 candidates, and Lincoln was elected after electoral college wrangling (but had received about 40% of the popular vote overall, and did not carry a single Southern State), it was the final straw for secessionists in the south, starting in South Carolina.
So the primacy of the war being fought over the morality of slavery and the pro and anti white supremacy explanations referred to by Potok are more modern rationalizations for the war; these reasons were popularized by Marxists as the 19th Century closed.
Potok closes with this:
"Events celebrating secession, therefore, are effectively glorifying the South's defense of slavery and the white supremacist doctrine that underpinned it. They will undoubtedly offend millions of Americans, and rightfully so. But more damaging is the continuing dissemination of false propaganda that does nothing but prevent an entire region from coming to grips with its history, even after 150 years."
Some who commemorate Confederate heritage are simply recalling that their ancestors sacrificed and suffered for a cause in which they profoundly believed. The vast majority of the SCV members are the descendents of the 90% of the Confederate States' Army that did not own slaves. They fought to be free of what they considered to be a tyrannical federal power.
No SCV camp "celebrates" the war. The SCV is more intimate with the knowledge of the suffering caused by the war than any other Americans alive today. No SCV camp "celebrates" slavery.
Ironically, the war ended the idea of a voluntary union/federation of sovereign states. It therefore ended the idea that the United States government derived its just power from the consent of the governed. Beginning in 1865, those who fought in the Confederate States Army were literally ruled at the point of the bayonet (until the end of Reconstruction).
Hope the "revisionist history" didn't shake you up too much...
Any reader should also note that the Southern Poverty Law Center now has an active role in the Department of Homeland Security. The working group to which they are attached makes recommendations on training and how to use all of the local resources – police, social services, media, NGO’s, you name it – to fight “extremism," as arbitrarily decided by the Executive branch and the DHS. Feel safer now?
Resorgimento! Deo Vindice!