“The Most Libertarian Part of the Country”

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:

  1. Crocker refuses to admit slavery was tyrranical. This speaks volumes about the credibility of his argument.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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4 Comments

Filed under History, Political Philosophy

4 responses to ““The Most Libertarian Part of the Country”

  1. I am totally with you on this one.

    In my own wrestling with Southern identity, it seemed to me that the apology-for-the-Confederacy course would have been a way to avoid feeling guilty for the past. If there were no crimes, there’s no guilt, right? A second option is radical dissociation: the all-Southerners-were-Nazis p.o.v. that you rightly disapprove of. I found myself coming to terms with the past by moving from feeling guilty to being ashamed, and Southern literature helped me get there. Shame, because elements of Southern culture might have been so good had the whole thing not been tainted by slavery.

  2. I think that’s a good approach. In some respects, I get what Crocker is saying when he calls the antebellum South the most libertarian part of the country. I’m enough of a Jeffersonian to sympathize with South Carolina’s attempt to nullify federal tariffs, and so much of what the North represented presaged the worst excesses of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. But celebrating certain aspects of Southern culture shouldn’t be irreconcilable with condemning slavery.

  3. Jspot

    As a carpet bagger (of sorts) i’ll say this.

    History’s most damming aspect is the fact that it has already happened causing an internal conflict caused by human interpretation (simply this happened how does this effect me today). Granted I’m no shrink but this is why i feel that it is OK to appreciate the history of any event time period or arena, but to acknowledge it as history. This means that Playing solider is cool (or perhaps attending a meeting of the glorious dead with Soukie) reliving history today (a la sons of the confederacy) can be a bit damming. Southern lit celebrates this historical perspective as it should, It drives it.
    Cheers

  4. Pingback: On Lincoln «

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