Archive for the ‘fort sumter’ tag
Within the Veil was he born, said I; and there within shall he live, — a Negro and a Negro’s son. Holding in that little head — ah, bitterly! — the unbowed pride of a hunted race, clinging with that tiny dimpled hand — ah, wearily! — to a hope not hopeless but unhopeful, and seeing with those bright wondering eyes that peer into my soul a land whose freedom is to us a mockery and whose liberty is a lie. — W.E.B. Dubois, “The Souls of Black Folk”
I realize I’m a few days late posting anything on this, but Tuesday was a 12-hour war of attrition at work, and I didn’t get around to writing anything until today.
Nevertheless, for anyone who may have been living under a rock for the past couple weeks, Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. On April 12, 1861, the confederate shots bombarded Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, S.C. Nearly four years to the day and 500,000 dead troops later, Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Four years and two days after the start of the war, Lincoln was shot by the firebrand, John Wilkes Booth, at Ford's Theatre in Washington.
As an original resident of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, I am interested in examining both the causes of the Civil War and the effects from the fallout. My Civil War professor at Clemson University, Paul Anderson, supplied me and my fellow history students with this pithy summation of the root causes of the War Between the States:
Both slavery and anti-slavery caused the Civil War.
Southern aristocrats and politicians, of course, were fighting for the extension of slavery into the territories and for the continuation of slavery in the South, the South’s economy being almost exclusively dependent on the peculiar institution. That’s not to say that the North didn’t have a stake in the preservation of slavery. It was both a purchaser of Southern goods and an implicit participant in the slave trade, as slaves would often be brought to America on Northern ships. I’m sure Northern ship owners profited mightily from this enterprise.
the unique aristocratic tone of the state’s politics and culture.
Against that backdrop, the loss of Charleston signaled the immediate end of the slaveholding Confederacy, but it also ushered in a second kind of civil war, an internal struggle between the antique ethic and a newer, empowered force of democracy.
Many Southerners today talk a lot about the issue of states’ rights and how the start of the Civil War was, in part, fueled by the federal government encroaching on state sovereignty. While states’ rights was on the minds of Southern leaders, they were thinking of states’ rights to preserve slavery and fight for its extension into the territories. There was simply no other main cause of the war. All other purported “causes” dreamed up by Southerners today attempting to soften the legacy of their ancestors are subsets of the main cause. Lincoln’s first inaugural address, which was devoted almost entirely to the issue of slavery, makes this abundantly clear:
One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.
Southern leaders prior to the war and afterward, shook in their trousers at the thought of four million black people previously subjugated by rich whites. Thus, in the aftermath of the Civil War, a “new kind of civil war” commenced, as Anderson puts it, between the struggle mentioned above. South Carolina’s 1895 constitution signaled the
shotgun wedding of democracy and white supremacy.
And a new kind of subjugation, then, persisted for another 100 years following the end of the war in the form of the Black Codes and Jim Crow. It’s a sad commentary that we, as a nation, took so long to recognize the true liberty of four million other human beings who played no small part — mostly against their will and without compensation — in helping build the economic foundation of our-still young country in the 19th century. The 150th anniversary should be as much about honoring their legacy as remembering the half million people who died for their respective causes.