Next year marks the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and while some white Southerners have chosen to commemorate it with an acknowledgment that the war was absolutely about slavery, others would rather revel in the fantasy that the "peculiar institution" had nothing to do with it:
Jeff Antley, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Confederate Heritage Trust, is organizing the secession ball in Charleston and a 10-day re-enactment of the Confederate encampment at Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the war were fired on April 12, 1861. He said these events were not about modern politics but were meant to honor those South Carolinians who signed the state’s ordinance of secession on Dec. 20, 1860, when it became the first state to dissolve its union with the United States. [...]
“We’re celebrating that those 170 people risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government,” Mr. Antley said. “Many people in the South still believe that is a just and honorable cause. Do I believe they were right in what they did? Absolutely,” he said, noting that he spoke for himself and not any organization. “There’s no shame or regret over the action those men took.”
In Montgomery, Alabama -- at one time, a hotbed of violence in defense of apartheid -- neo-Confederate sympathizers are celebrating the anniversary with a parade, as well as a "mock swearing-in" of Jefferson Davis, the sole president of the Confederacy. Incidentally, this is what Davis -- senator from Mississippi -- had to say about the prospect of secession, in the final months of 1860, shortly before his state left the Union in rebellion:
"The recent declaration of the candidate and leaders of the Black Republican Party must suffice to convince many who have formerly doubted the purpose to attack the institution of slavery in the states. The undying opposition to slavery in the United States means war upon it, where it is, not where it is not."
A few weeks later, on January 9, 1861, Mississippi issued its ordinance of secession:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
Ta-Nehisi Coates has already posted South Carolina's declaration of secession at his blog, but it's worth excerpting here, as those men -- unlike their present-day admirers -- weren't shy about their intentions:
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety. On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
To those without the courage to face the deeds of their ancestors, the war was about "self-government." To the rest of us, this was treason in defense of slavery, and nothing will change that fact.
-- Jamelle Bouie