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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Today, while teaching Reconstruction to my eighth graders, a student asked me about the legality of Southern secession. He said, "If its what the people of the South wanted, and they didn't show any aggression directly towards the North, weren't they within their rights to secede when Lincoln took office?"

Now my mind went two places:

1. You're right. The North basically engaged in an illegal, and immoral invasion of a sovereign nation precluded by an unconstitutional change of rule that would have crippled a region if it didn't bow to their whim. I compared it to an ex stalking you until you begrudgingly got back together.

2. Well, no. The people who were able to speak wanted separation, but there were millions of voices that were not allowed to be heard, and the United States had a moral obligation to try and regain this lost land, and give voices to those muted by slavery.

I asked the class (an honors group) to think about it and get back to me. Personally, I love the South. I love the "Rebel" heritage and am a staunch supporter of the right for Southern states to fly the Confederate Battle Flag as a symbol of that heritage. I also abhor racism, and feel it is mankinds biggest challenge morally. I understand how that symbol may offend some, particularly African Americans, and find myself not sure what to think.

I'd be very curious to hear what you guys think, particularly our esteemed Southern Gentlemen.

Indulge me...thanks.
 

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The Federal government has the authority to suppress insurrections. That covers a lot of turf.
 

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You might want to have your students read the secession resolutions, particularly that of South Carolina. Contrary to what you will hear from many posters here, it is clear that the reason they tried to secede was to preserve the right to own human beings. If you think it's decent and humane to honor that, go right ahead.
 

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It's an interesting historical and Constitutional question. Lincoln argued that the Constitution was an inviolable compact- once you were in you couldn't get out, therefore secession was illegal. Southern states would argue that under the 10th Amendment (as well as the Virginia and Kentucky Resolves) they had the power since it was never prohibited by the Constitution.

This is the academic part of the debate, the practical reality was that the US government had several forts in Southern states and once the south started shooting at those the rest of the debate doesn't matter so much.
 

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Your student echoed these thoughts:

". . .a union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare of mankind. If the union is dissolved and the government disrupted, I shall return to my native state and share the miseries of my people, and save in defence, will draw my sword on none."

--- General Robert E. Lee, CSA

Racism and Southern Heritage are severable. Racism exists everywhere, in the North and around the world, as well as in the South. Southern Heritage exists only in the South! And the heritage of the South has many redeeming qualities from honor, to a sort of bushido, to manners, etc. Actually, the North is more racist and segregated than the South, in my experience, without a lot of the redeeming qualities. I suspect that the "background radiation" of racism was no higher in the South than anywhere else.

Robert E. Lee's family owned no slaves going into the Civil War, but U.S. Grant's family owned slaves until slavery was outlawed by the XIII Amendment was adopted after the Civil War.

Blacks fought for the Confederacy, as did the Cherokee Nation.

An interesting aside, the anti-slavery movement took hold in New England primarily because it was the most sea-faring part of the country. Its population had become more aware of the evils of slavery because of the fact that so many of its mariners and occasional female passengers (see"odalisque") had been captured and enslaved by the Barbary Pirates (Moslems) in the first decades of the United States' history.

And remember this quote from an Irish born Confederate general as you sort through the generally available information on the South:

"Surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern school teachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the War; will be impressed by all the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit subjects for derision."

--- General Pat Cleburne, CSA
 

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You might want to have your students read the secession resolutions, particularly that of South Carolina. Contrary to what you will hear from many posters here, it is clear that the reason they tried to secede was to preserve the right to own human beings. If you think it's decent and humane to honor that, go right ahead.
This is where the debate gets muddy. Whether slavery was right (obviously it wasn't) and whether secession was legal are two separate issues. The North's attempt to ban slavery is the reason that the South wanted to secede. It has nothing to do with whether or not it was legal.

One thing to keep in mind, by 1819 the South had lost any possibility of having control in the House of Representatives. With the Compromise of 1850, they lost parity in the Senate- an arrangement that had kept the peace for 30 years. In 1860 a President was elected who did not receive a single electoral vote from a Southern state- and was in fact not on the ballot in most Southern states. The increasing alliance between Northern and Western states had rendered the South politically irrelevant. The system was fairly well stacked against them.

Also, fundamentally, revolution is the right of any people. When a government does not meet the needs of the people it is the right of the people to rebel, or to removed themselves from that government.

Any talk about Southern invasions of the North is simply foolish. As Jefferson Davis said in his inaugural address "All we ask is to be left alone."
There was never any serious intent to invade the North.

As I said before, all of this becomes academic once the South begins firing at Federal forts- that was an act of war and the North responded in kind.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
The issue isn't "was it legal?" or even "was it right?"-- the question is "whose business was it?"

What if the South had conquered the North, and (assume) later justified it because women and immigrants were disenfranchised there?
This is an excellent motivational question that I could pose to them. Also the fact that Lee owned zero slaves and Grant owned many is thought provoking.

My goal as their teacher is not necessarily to teach them right and wrong, as I know that 99.9% of the time history is far to complicated for that, but to get them to think about all of the complexities, major and minor, that create a situation. By allowing their minds to wander, they can get a better idea of their morals, their ideals, and their beliefs; therefore making a better educated, more learned, and hopefully enlightened group of future citizens who will one day run our country.

Turkey, back to your point about women and immigrants, i know that the South did embrace Jews, Scotch Irish and many other immigrant groups (check out The Jewish Confederates by a Charlestonian named Rosen) but were women given equal standing and equal voice in the days of the Confederacy?

Also an interesting aside from the aforementioned book:

In Charleston before the civil war, there were about 1000 Jews living there. Those 1000 Jews owned fewer African slaves than did the Free Blacks living in Charleston, who numbered around 250. I know thats a drop in the bucket as far as statistics and slaves go, but it was very eye opening and quite shocking to me when I first read that free Blacks owned slaves in the South.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 · (Edited)
This is where the debate gets muddy. Whether slavery was right (obviously it wasn't) and whether secession was legal are two separate issues. The North's attempt to ban slavery is the reason that the South wanted to secede. It has nothing to do with whether or not it was legal.

One thing to keep in mind, by 1819 the South had lost any possibility of having control in the House of Representatives. With the Compromise of 1850, they lost parity in the Senate- an arrangement that had kept the peace for 30 years. In 1860 a President was elected who did not receive a single electoral vote from a Southern state- and was in fact not on the ballot in most Southern states. The increasing alliance between Northern and Western states had rendered the South politically irrelevant. The system was fairly well stacked against them.

Also, fundamentally, revolution is the right of any people. When a government does not meet the needs of the people it is the right of the people to rebel, or to removed themselves from that government.

Any talk about Southern invasions of the North is simply foolish. As Jefferson Davis said in his inaugural address "All we ask is to be left alone."
There was never any serious intent to invade the North.

As I said before, all of this becomes academic once the South begins firing at Federal forts- that was an act of war and the North responded in kind.
Slavery is obviously central to all of this. And just as obvious, was the moral standing it had...none.

Your points about the West and North uniting politically to make the south irrelevant also are intriguing. Thats the very reason the electoral college was set up, to prevent any one state or region (specifically the smaller ones) from feeling irrelevant.

Ironically enough, the elction in 1876 that ended Reconstruction, had a Democrat, Tilden, win the popular vote, while Hayes won the E.C. In a compromise, Hayes acquiesced to Democrats, ended Reconstruction, and allowed the South to fall into the hands of some very devious people making the lives of African Americans "worse than when they were slaves" until as late as the 1960's. The effects of Reconstructions premature ending, in my opinion, are still felt today in the South with what is basically a very "segregated" society. In places like Savannah, and Charleston (part of the South that I've visited, and have grown to love), there are still very distinctive WHITE areas and BLACK areas. While its not forced segregation, its certainly still segregated.

As far as Confederate troops firing upon Yankee forts, it was bound to happen, as the Yankees were seen as an occupying force.
 

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The argument of whether the Union was constitutionally or morally justified to prevent the South from secession is really far too complex for a message board forum, at least from my perspective. Way too much detail to write. It really wasn't just about slavery, although a lot of our history books will surmise that it was indeed. Make no mistake about it though, slavery is this country's greatest sin looking back and racism is one of our biggest problems going forward.

As for our southern heritage, well its the thing I love most about the south. As liberty ship just said, racism is as big of a problem, if not more of one, in northern states as it is in the south today. The difference is we have this great heritage to look back upon. Like it or not, that confederate flag means more then just slavery to many of us.

I would make a suggestion to any umm....yankees?....who want to make a pilgrimage to learn more about and experience southern culture. Head to Charleston for shopping, but go to Savannah for your southern education. No southern city feels as genuinely untouched by time as Savannah.
 

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The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
 

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As far as Confederate troops firing upon Yankee forts, it was bound to happen, as the Yankees were seen as an occupying force.
It did happen. But it didn't have to happen. Had cooler head prevailed, there might have been a possibility of a negotiated settlement.

As for segregation in the South, it was there in the North. I grew up in NJ, my father was born in the Italian section of Philadelphia. Now I live in SC and teach high school history. A few days ago one of my students was picked up by his grandfather, an older African American gentleman, who was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat. When I asked him about it, he told me he grew up in South Philly. I told him my dad did too. He asked me where, and I told him. His response was "Oh, that's water ice territory, we never went down there." (The reference here is to Italian Water Ice, for those who don't know). I told my dad the story and he l said that whenever they went to the movies, which was in the African American neighborhood, they ran the risk of getting beat up. Whenever black kids went into the Italian neighborhood, they ran the risk of getting beat up. That was in the 1930s and 1940s and there are still vestiges of it in modern Philadelphia.

It's easy to oversimplify these things, the North was not the progressive, egalitarian, color blind society that people want to think. The slogan of the Democratic Party in the Northern Congressional elections of 1862 was something like "The Union as it was, the Constitution as it is and the {N-word} in their place." They wanted to make clear their opposition to Emancipation. There were several regiments that refused to fight after the Emancipation Proclamation. There was significant racism on both sides, and while many opposed slavery, few whites, even among the Boston abolitionist crowd saw Blacks as equal.
 

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What a weird dialogue. Craziness I say. The same posters who are pro-southern are also against Obama. Hmmm what to think of that. Why do opinions of the Civil War correlate to political ideologies? Ick at Confederate flag. Who would want to remember that heritage? I guess Germans would want to have Nazi flags to remember that heritage. With that being said I will take my Hitler award now please thanks.
 

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What a weird dialogue. Craziness I say. The same posters who are pro-southern are also against Obama. Hmmm what to think of that. Why do opinions of the Civil War correlate to political ideologies? Ick at Confederate flag. Who would want to remember that heritage? I guess Germans would want to have Nazi flags to remember that heritage. With that being said I will take my Hitler award now please thanks.
I guess that's aimed at least partially at me. And I will say for the record that I am not pro-southern. I am very happy the war turned out the way it did. I am also an historian, and I realize that historical debates are more complicated than which team you cheer for. I understand the Southern point of view, just as I try to understand the point of view of the Visigoths against the Romans (Anyone care for that debate?) This is a debate I've heard several times. It is usually very simplistic. It goes something like this: Slavery was bad, so the North was right. It's not that simple. Slavery was surely an issue, but it has very strongly influenced the debate in a direction that is fundamentally wrong. Slavery and secession are two separate issues. New England threatened to secede in 1815 over the War of 1812. South Carolina threatened to Secede in the 1830s because the Tariff of 1828 made imported goods too expensive and helped to ruin the economy of the South.

As to why there is a correlation between people's political opinions and this issue, most people who favor a limited federal government believe that power should rest with the states on most issues. That's the way the Constitution was set up, and that's why the 10th Amendment was adopted. If the Federal government is not given a power, if the states are not denied a power, and if no personal liberties guaranteed by other parts of the Constitution are at stake, then powers are supposed to rest with the states. So that line of reasoning leads us back to the issue of state's rights and responsibilities.

Lastly, it has always been my experience that when people use Hitler as an example in any debate it's only because they have nothing useful to say.

Oh, and I vote for free will.
 

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In places like Savannah, and Charleston (part of the South that I've visited, and have grown to love), there are still very distinctive WHITE areas and BLACK areas. While its not forced segregation, its certainly still segregated.
Sociologist David R. Williams, Norman professor of public health and professor of African and African American studies, has examined racial discrimination and health in the United States and elsewhere, including South Africa, where in 1991, under apartheid, the "segregation index" was 90, meaning that 90 percent of blacks would have had to move to make the distribution even. "In the year 2000," says Williams, "in most of America's larger cities-New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee-the segregation index was over 80." Only slightly lower, that is, than under legally sanctioned apartheid.​
 
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