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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

On Slavery and the War between the States

I'm reading an interesting book on Stonewall Jackson's Valley Campaign. Since moving to the Valley in 2002, I'm fascinated by its history which attracted me to Stonewall in the Valley by Robert Tanner when I was browsing the shelves of our little independent library in Woodstock. Initially I just planned to look up all the entries on Woodstock, but when I read the first chapter I was hooked.

One paragraph that leaped out at me referred tangentially to slavery. It described Jedekiah Hotchkiss, the famous mapmaker of the Confederacy. If you've ever seen samples of his maps you were no doubt impressed by their accuracy. A satellite map can hardly compare. The man had a great gift for "seeing" the lay of the land. A few years ago, Larry and I saw a display of his work at Winchester's Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. Wow! How could anyone on horseback with little opportunity for a bird's eye view make maps so detailed and so accurate? And to think it was a hobby. At any rate, Hotchkiss's profession was education and he began a number of schools in the Valley, the New Yorker's adopted home.

Here's the paragraph that impressed me:

Hotchkiss was representative of the Shenandoah in two other respects: he abhorred slavery and stoutly opposed secession. Slavery had long been declining throughout the Valley, and what few slaves remained were among the best treated of the South. Concerning disruption of the Union, the Shenandoah consistently opposed it. When the Union began to fragment, the people of Staunton pledged their loyalty to it en masse. Every county of the Valley rejected disunion with a majority of votes for the southern moderates John C. Breckinridge or John Bell in the presidential election of 1860. Even so, the Valley never doubted that it belonged to Virginia and Virginia to the South. The South, commented the Winchester Virginian, was "one family...and if South Carolina secedes, and thus inaugurates a final issue with the North, we are necessarily forced to stand in defense of our homes, interests and people"

Most people have a black and white view of slavery. The Civil War was necessary to end slavery. Really? So over 600,000 casualties were "necessary" to end an institution that died naturally everywhere else on the planet. (Well, actually slavery continues today but you'd never know it from the ho-hum attitude of many who would gladly argue about slavery and the evil South.)

Whenever I point out that the Jesus did not condemn slavery or demand its immediate end, nor did the early Church, some people act like I'm a rabid slaver with horns. I'm certainly not saying the Church approved of slavery; that would be untrue. But the Church accepted a societal condition and worked independently to ameliorate and reduce the institution. Paul told slaves to be faithful to their masters and they treated as equals in the Christian community. Christians also ransomed and freed slaves, but the Church never advocated rebellion or revolution to end the practice.

Slavery was on the way out. Its days were numbered. It was economically unfeasible and ended in other places through compensated emancipation. Was ending it a few years earlier really worth 600,000 dead men, poisoned race and North/South relations due to draconian "reconstruction," and the creation of a Leviathan, out-of-control central government? What do you think?


Anonymous said...

Why did South Carolina specify slavery-protection as a reason for secession? (It's there in the primary source). Why did Lee fight for the South (and therefore slavery)? Why didn't the Shenandoah pitch in with West Virginia?

The type of slavery practiced in the South was particularly noxious with some owners raping their slaves, and all children born into slavery - this was a feature, not a bug, to the owners - just as natural as an organic farmer gathering up seeds from his plants - but it made for a deeply rooted and perverted notion of slavery that was hard to uproot. And it did double duty damage to the family.

We are burdened with abortion today because there were too many compromisers on slavery yesterday - stealing their credibility on abortion!

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Some of the deep South had slavery as a major issue, but Virginia certainly did not. Lee was opposed to secession, but he considered himself a Virginian. The original agreement between the colonies was a "Confederation" where each member "state" considered itself sovereign. Virginia only ratified the Constitution with a state ratification of its right to secede in the future if necessary. And Virginia wasn't the only state to do so.

Virginia didn't join West Virginia because they considered the Union an unjust aggressor, which it was. People try to make this issue the noble North and the evil South, but the fact is, the war was all about MONEY. The industrial North was raping the agrarian South financially. Most taxes came from tariffs and the South was paying the heaviest burden.

Were there abuses of slaves? Of course. People are people and some people are evil. Were there abuses against indentured servants and the immigrants who worked in the canneries and stockyards of Chicago? Absolutely!

Was rape a "feature" of slavery in the South as you suggest? You give no data to support what you're saying. If you go to Monticello and look at Jefferson's extensive records for his slaves (amount of food per person, housing, etc.), you hardly see an abusive slave master. As for accusations of his fathering children with Sally Hemings that is much disputed.

As for abortion, we are inflicted with that because of Margaret Sanger and contraception which separated the pleasure and procreative aspects of sex. When sex for fun became a "right" abortion became inevitable. Your link with slavery is really a stretch!

Slavery was (and is) a terrible evil. But, as I said, ending it a few years earlier was not worth the cost required by the War between the States (or the Civil War if you prefer). And the results in forming an out-of-control central government run by an oligarchy has devastate the country.

Anonymous said...

Madison knew, before the Constitution was ratified (he reported it in his notes on the Convention, published much later), that slavebreeding was going on, and that the slave import ban to be implemented in 1808 would be but a token brake on slavery. The fact of slave breeding made it possible for slavery to continue indefinitely in the South, making it hard to see how it could have ended other than with a Civil War. Slaveowner upon slaveowner, generation upon generation, was brought up to see the slaves as livestock rather than real persons. The eventual result of the Leviathan was actually sealed into the Constitution itself, rather than the Civil War.