The Irrepressible Conflict

Exactly 150 years ago today, the guns began to roar in Charleston Harbor. The bloodiest conflict in American history was under way. A century and a half later, there is still wild disagreement over what it was all about. But that’s the problem — it wasn’t “all” about any one thing. War is a continuation of politics by other means. Just as politicians can have very mixed motives for supporting the same measures, such is true for those who agree to let slip the dogs of war.

During last week’s budget showdown, Jesse Jackson called the standoff “a Civil War fight.” At first blush, one is incredulous at the effort to rhetorically link a conflict that killed 600,000 with an effort to trim what amounted to less than one week’s deficit spending from a bloated Federal Budget. And yet, even a broken clock’s right twice a day. Much as it galls me even to think it, Jackson and his fellow ideological traveler Jerry Brown have a point…

Fifteen decades after Ft. Sumter, the nation is still divided between those who would concentrate ever-increasing amounts of power in Washington D.C., and those who see such concentration as antithetical to liberty. Today’s Federal Government intrudes more deeply and more forcefully into the daily lives of Americans than any grievance the colonists had against Great Britain in the 1770s. I’m still amazed at the mental gymnastics required to approve of the secession of the colonies in 1776, roundly reject the secession of the South in 1861, then support the secession of all the Soviet republics in 1991, and now the rebels in Libya in 2011!

Ah, but the critics say, the difference is that the evil South seceeded solely over slavery. I’ve long since learned this is definitive proof of the adage that “the victor writes the history.” A century and a half has not been enough to resolve the irrepressible conflict between federation and consolidation, but it has been enough to place the ideological descendants of the Founders onto “stools of everlasting repentence.” A sense of shame is indoctrinated early, with the very first discussions of the Late Unpleasantness casting the four years between 1861 and 1865 as a great moral drama with clearly defined good guys and bad.

But for those who insist, in the face of the evidence, the War was all about–solely, definitively–slavery, there are many uncomfortable facts:

– The Upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas) didn’t seceed upon the election of Lincoln and the fear he would immediately move against slavery. No, it was only after Ft. Sumter, and Lincoln’s call for legions of troops to invade the South, that the Upper South also headed for the exits. Slavery was not the decisive factor there–the attempt by D.C. to deny the right of secession was.

– If the War was entirely conceived as a holy crusade to end slavery, Lincoln would not have overruled Gen. Fremont’s abolition order in Missouri. This, as well as the irony in the Emancipation Proclamation, shows how slavery was a political football next to the primary objective: preservation of a dominant Union at the expense of State sovereignty. Lincoln himself was very clear on this point. The War created a Yankee empire every bit as much as the Franco-Prussian war resulted in a German empire with Prussia at its head.

I could continue, but a single blog post does not a comprehensive history make. The link back to today, however, is this: just as those who dare raise the heresy that some Confederates might have fought for reasons unrelated to slavery are painted as ‘racists,’ many in our political chattering class cannot but hurl the same charge at those who favor smaller, less intrusive government. The Tea Party may be evidence this knee-jerk accusation has lost some of its ability to silence Big Government critics–if so, it’s significant and not a moment too soon.

Count me as one of those who is tired of political discourse resulting in having to defend my own character from assumptions. Such assumptions are in fact the basis of real bigotry. I wish no ill to any person based on their melanin content or country of origin. I ask only to be left alone to earn my own way in the world, without fear of self-righteous redistributionists seizing my labor for the benefit of others. Those who worship the State can call that attitude whatever they want.

I call it a desire for freedom. And I’ll call anyone “neighbor” who desires the same.

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