Monday, May 10, 2010

Confederate Memorial Day, a personal viewpoint.

Today in South Carolina is Confederate Memorial Day. It is a day set aside in seven states, all of them Southern ones that are designed to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. I can't help but shake my head in wonder that a war in which well over 600,00 people perished, for a reason which essentially boiled down to government control, economics and ownership of human beings, is being remembered in such a way by only the states who found themselves the instigators and the ultimate losers of that war.

Slavery had always been mostly a southern matter as most northerners had given up on slavery by the Revolutionary war. One can remember indentured servants, which occurred prior to the Revolutionary war. These were people who went under contract for a set period of time, usually seven years, after which they were granted freedom from their indentured contract. That contract offered passage, food, clothing and shelter in exchange for work for the contract holder. Many Europeans chose this route as a passage to America and a chance at a new and better life.

 The folks who came to the US from Africa had no such option. They were forced to leave their homes, and were never given a time frame where they could have a chance to start life on their own. In both cases however life was very hard for the indentured servant or the slave. Their lives were not their own. They could be sold to new masters, could be punished, often violently so. Women had it especially hard. They had little rights because of gender, and were in danger of sexual violence of which they had little or no protection.

The practice of indentured servant hood gradually evolved into the practice of apprenticeship as the population grew. The need for trade skills grew in demand, and more families wanted their children to have an education. Apprenticeship was a method where people would go under contract to earn a trade and get at least some education.

Reading the history of the decades leading up to the tragedy called the civil war, one can quickly surmise that there was certainly a difference between the way the southern states ran their economy and the way the north did.

The attempt to end slavery in the US had begun with the abolitionist movement of the 1820's. The expansion period were several states and territories were added to the United States became a sticking point as Southern States wanted new states and territories to allow slavery. Missouri and Kansas were key hot points in that debate. In Kansas fighting broke out over the matter that lasted for three years as a result of something called The Missouri Compromise, which was enacted in an attempt to give states the ability to have popular sovereignty.

The political fragmentation of the Whig party which led to the birth of the Republican party was another factor as the parties split pretty much along geographical lines. The presidential election of 1860 was a key element to the secession of first South Carolina followed by Mississippi, Texas, Lousianna, Alabama, Florida and Georgia. Lincoln's inaugeration was May 4. The following month the war began and Virginia, North Carolina Arkansas and Tennessee joined the Southern end of what proved to be the opening rounds of the Civil War.

What is sad is that up to 75% of Southerners were not slave owners. Those that did own them were the more affluents citizens of the region. As slaves were an expensive commodity.  It was for their so called property rights that this conflict was largely for. 

It makes me shake my head in wonder at the pride that people still perpetuate over this tragedy. It is almost like a badge of honor, and I do wonder if many people really know the history of the conflict or of the decades leading up to. The South saw the collapse of their economy, the destruction of a great deal of property and the loss of lives of hundreds of thousands of individuals so that 25 to 30% of their population could own human beings. the power vacuum following the war invited unscrupulous people to delay a sound recovery, and the newly freed slaves found themselves displaced, without resources and often right back into a near slave existence. It took a long time to recover, and what is even sadder is that the anger, prejudice and hatred brought on by the Civil war has been handed down from generation to generation. We need to set that mindset of animosity aside for good here in the South.

 I think we need to remember our history here in the South, but I cannot romanticize it. The history of the South is rich, and glorious, but it has a lot of darkness in it as well. All human history has that. We should remember the people who fought and died in the Civil War. They are an important element in American history and their lives mattered to their families and friends. Did they have to have their lives cut short like that? Absolutely not. As happens so often in human history, a few with money and power has the capacity to make decisions that can have dreadful and tragic results for those with no power and little money. I hope that we can learn from the tragic lessons of that war so that our nation never has to endure something like that again.

1 comment:

Punk With a Palate said...

I have some of the same views. Alot of my counrty-fried friends think nothing twice of the flag,and say it's not prejudice, theyre not racist and that's not what it stands for. But the swastica wasn't either, but when used for something negative, why would you ever want that to represent who you are? I mean if you have southern pride, why not pick the state flag...isn't that what you say your proud of? Sometimes I'm like...stupid stupid south... how could you ever have thought slavery was a good idea...then I realize that it was a human thing...not just southern...but when people stand up to support these kind of things, it makes me think, they just don't get it.