The trouble with Confederate sympathizers is that they tarnish the substantive case for states’ rights. Today on National Review, John Miller interviews H. W. Crocker III, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War, who jauntily informs us that the antebellum South was “the most libertarian part of the country.” I have several problems with his . . . peculiar historical narrative, but I’ll restrict myself to three observations:
- Crocker refuses to admit slavery was tyrranical. This speaks volumes about the credibility of his argument.
- The Civil War was not about states’ rights or tariffs or regional autonomy. The South seceded because its political class felt that slavery as an institution was threatened by Lincoln’s inauguration. We know that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War because when Andrew Jackson directly challenged South Carolina’s attempt to overrule a national tariff – the so-called nullification crisis – the South meekly acceded to the federal government’s prerogatives. Slavery was the only issue that incited secession.
- Contra Crocker, the War of Independence was not fought over the colonies’ right to preserve slavery. We declared independence because we weren’t represented in Parliament (among other things). Furthemore, ending slavery was not a British war aim – they freed slaves as a way to defeat the Continental Army. Finally, the Declaration of Independence makes no mention of slavery in its list of grievances against the Crown.
My family has deep roots in Virginia, and I remember feeling a great deal of sympathy for the Confederacy while reading The Killer Angels as a kid. But nostalgia shouldn’t blind us to historical fact. Slavery was a great moral evil. The South seceded to preserve slavery. This doesn’t make every inhabitant of the Confederacy a Nazi. But it does condemn their decision to secede.