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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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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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Discussion Starter · #29 ·
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.
I guess I was blinded by the diverse area that I live in, and the diverse areas in NY I frequent. Thinking about that now, I can see how there are some neighborhoods that are very black in NYC, not so much "only white". However, 2000 was almost 8 years ago, and the real estate boom in the five or six years that followed has seen many "whites" move into these areas. To me those lines were more clearly drawn in Charlseton and Savannah, perhaps because they are geographically smaller (as well as smaller population wise).
 

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Discussion Starter · #30 ·
As far as the debate over the Confederate Flag:

I can see how someone would compare it to a German flying a Nazi flag, but also see a few differences. Firstly, the Nazi flag symbolized a political party, rather than a nation. The nation then adopted that flag when that party took control. The Confederate Flag was a flag that always represented a region, a nation if you will. I also think for the years after Reconstruction, that because there was no EXTREME backlash against all things Confederate (Democrats taking power in the South, Jim Crow laws passed, etc..) that many have had the chance to "cool down" per se over it. Where as with the Nazi's, people were immediately told of their evils, and how they were purely racists. Southerners had argued (and unfortunately some still do) that slavery wasn't about racism, but about their rights given to them by Amendment X, for almost 100 years after the end of the Civil War. Maybe we have been softened to it.

BTW, I am a STAUNCH Obama supporter...I try and keep an open mind, however, toward what others feel...but I'm no Joe Leiberman.
 

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Discussion Starter · #38 ·
Can you imagine a country of the US' size idly sitting by as half of its land mass simply walks away? Wars have been fought over much less.
Again, looking at in from our point of view, I would agree, but remember, the world of the 1800's, particularly in the Western Hemisphere, was filled with Independence movements, and was the "norm".

I just left the class and we had a pretty decent discussion about all of this. I appreciate the variety of opinions that this topic can elicit, and I used some of the examples you guys brought up...just for them to think.
 

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Discussion Starter · #49 ·
Not a lot of time no and I have no doubt racism remains to a degree. I live in rural Illinois, I've heard my share of racist remarks from good 'ol boys here. But lets even look at the KKK, the hallmark of american racism. In the 1924 it was estimated there were 6 million members. Today numbers say 3000 and it clutches at anything they can get their hands on including immigration and same sex marriage. What was once a serious organization of hate and racism that inspired real fear is now something america mocks on the jerry springer show. I think that tells a lot about how far we've come. Racism is around but if we want to improve life for minorities the fight doesn't lie with racism, it lies in improving their economic status and social conditions in their own communities.
John- in my view, its not the overt racism that is the most dangerous, its the racism thats embedded within our societies that we can't see that has the most dangerous potential. Not groups like the KKK who come across as idiots even in their best attempts to appear grounded.
 

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Discussion Starter · #50 ·
Your students might want to know the following:

2. Lincoln stated in his inaugural address that his only purpose for the impending war was not to eradicate slavery, but to "preserve the Union," and if that could be accomplished while preserving slavery, he would do it. In other words, the war was expressly fought by the North to prevent secession -- to prevent the very same kind of separation from an unwanted government that occurred in 1776. And, in 1776, all 13 of the Colonies permitted slavery. I have not heard anyone argue that England was justified in preventing the secession of the American Colonies on the grounds that they permitted slavery.
In our discussion today, I read to them portions of the Declaration Of Independence (specifically focusing on "consent of the governed") as well as the 10th Amendment and asked them to think about how that applied to the colonists in 1776. I asked if they thought the Southerners had similar grounds to walk away from the United States.

We also discussed the role race played. While it can't be denied it played a large one in the institution of slavery, they seemed a little aghast when they heard that free-blacks in the South also owned slaves.

To bring the discussion around 180, we talked about what democracy meant to them, and to a man each said that it meant people got to choose their own government. Based on this, millions of Southerners were not given a voice in this Democracy, therefore the North had a right to use force to bring them back. To which some students responded that to Southerners, slaves weren't "people" but "property", so Democracy was, in their eyes, being upheld. To which another bright young mind shouted, "I say all the kids under 18 rebel, and secede, form their own country in the name of Democracy!". Thats when I inserted Turkey's scenario of the South invading the North to protect the rights of women and immigrants who were not granted Democratic freedom. one thing that all agreed upon, was that money was the central issue in this war, and the main reason for the North's refusal to accept Southern secession, not the high and mighty ideals, like freedom, democracy, and liberty.

Sometimes these kids really make the job more enjoyable than any other I could have chosen. The fact that 13 year old minds can grasp such a concept, one that many adults have a hard time understanding, and discuss it in a civil matter makes me proud to be their teacher, or better yet, their discussion moderator.
 

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Discussion Starter · #51 ·
It is amazing how so many southerners continue to relive the war today and still consider it the "War of Northern Aggression". As Shelby Foote put it, "Southerners are very peculiar about that war"*

(* Or something very similar, the quote is in the beginning of the book "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz).
The resonance of these feelings today, in my opinion, is due to the failure to complete a true "Reconstruction" in the South. By giving up on it after the 1876 election, the South was allowed to fall back to a system that wasn't much different than it was before the war. Only now, many more people were left starting over again with nothing. Its only been in recent years that cities in the South, like Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta have broken free from the economic despair that they were chained to for the first 100 years after the war. Had the North eradicated these "Southern Democrats" from passing Jim Crow laws, and had they pressed to really get rid of groups like the WHite League and the KKK, perhaps the entire South would be on equal economic footing with the North, and a resentment would not exist.

On that note, do you think if Katrina was headed for Washington, Boston, or NY the reaction would have been as slow? I think the "half assed Reconstruction efforts" continue today with government inaction to the problems that are unique to the South. When NO was under threat a few weeks back, those parishes that were in the most danger still were not protected as well as they should through the levy systems that the government knew they needed. The government knew even before Katrina that those areas were just sitting ducks, and now AFTER, still nothing. Maybe thats just beurocracy, but to me it still seems Washington has a constant nose turned up at those geographically below them, even with a Southerner in the White House.
 

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Discussion Starter · #66 ·
In other words we all went to war for "The Man," right?

I've greatly enjoyed your posts and admire your passion as a teacher, but this statement -- or should I say pronouncement -- troubles me. I hope I'm taking it out of context (not sure how I could be, given that you've written 5,000 words on the subject, but I'd like to give you the benefit of the doubt), but this kind of cynicism has no place in an 8th grade classroom. If these kids can't be idealists at 13, when can they be? Plus it's a debatable proposition and a ridiculous generalization in the first place, given that each man and woman brought his or her own unique motivation to the conflict. There were thousands of Americans -- politicians, generals, foot soldiers, and everyday citizens -- who had high and noble ideals about this conflict. We have their letters and journals.

tjs
I, in no way whatsoever, suggested this. I was merely a conduit for their conversations and ideas. While some kids viewed the legality of secession in different ways, all of them agreed that money played a central role. hats what I stated in the post that concerns you. You say yourself, that this idea is debateable, so why should the theory not be discussed?

Like I said, and like I tell them ALWAYS...its not my job to tell them whats right and wrong, but to tell them what happened and guide them to think in the most broad way, why things did happen, so it can be prevented/encouraged in the future.

"Idealism" is very dangerous, because its simply false. In every conflict, every historical event, as idealistically as the particpants may have acted and thought, they always had alterior motives. By not allowing kids to think this way is a disservice to them, and their collective futures.

These are also kids, who as 6 year olds, witnessed 3000 people die in front of them, and smelled their charred bodies for weeks as cleanup was going on. These kids have lived in reality, and maybe before 9/11, educating children, especially kids who witnessed that horrible day first hand, has changed.

For centuries we were taught that Columbus was a brave man, who was a hero to all. Yes, he was brave for sailing where he did, despite him having physical evidence that he could sail around the globe, but he was also a murderer whose main interest was attaining wealth for himself, and his queen. Is that idealism far enough our past to forget? Or is it because of its distance from us on the time contineum the "ideals" of the Columbus Discovery can be debunked with fact?

Also, while each participant had their own motives for fighting, the ones pulling the strings had clear motivation, clear enough for an eighth grade honors class to see after analyzing facts and primary sources. The facts brought these kids to this conclusion, not my suggestions, and if they can see something for what it is, why should I debunk their ideas just so they could hold onto false ideals.

Having said that, I would not expect, nor ask, a regular class to partcipate in such a difficult discussion. Many would not understand the difficult concepts, and manyt would simply not pay attention, making it a waste of their time, and mine.
 

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Discussion Starter · #91 ·
Confederate Constitution

Not saying slavery wasn't an issue, but please read this section taken from the Confederate Constitutions preamble.

"each State acting in its sovereign and independent character"

Pretty much tells me that the South believed this "Federalist" type govt was not for them.
 

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Discussion Starter · #101 ·
I've also had a simple message to those who prefer to fly the confederate flag instead of the flag of the United State of America - go somewhere else. Renounce your birth righted citizenship and leave this country.
1. Isn't that what they tried to do? So you support Southern Secession?

2. Its xenophobic comments like that that are the scourge of our nation. Its like the racist pricks who made my family feel that speaking their language (Italian) was wrong, forcing them to give it up, leaving my child without a linguistoc heritage.

Just because someone flies a different flag doesn't mean they don't love America. That kind of xenophobia just makes us stupider as a nation.
 
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