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A Yankee Apology
by James Perloff
Southern Partisan, Second Quarter 1997

As a conservative, I normally take an uncompromising stand on every issue, weather abortion or gun control, defense spending or religious freedom. So I long wondered why I felt ambivalent about the War Between the States. On one hand, I could never condone slavery. Who could doubt the universal intent of the founding fathers in declaring "...all men are created equal?" And hadn’t the Yankees fought to preserve the USA I treasure as a patriot? On the other hand, I admired the South’s deep-rooted conservatism.

During the War Between the States, few people were uncertain about their sympathies. So had I lived then, resolute conservative that I am, surely I would have taken a stand. But on whose side?

Deciding to investigate, I obtained a heavy volume of Abraham Lincoln’s correspondence and speeches. Having recently read the distinguished letters of America’s patriarchs, such as Washington and Jefferson, I expected something commensurate. I was surprised and disappointed. Lincoln’s early writings often sounded rather neurotic, and presented a political not above penning anonymous denigrations of opponents in the local press. I saw little of the nobility of Lincoln’s Mount Rushmore neighbors. But, age often yields character, and as Lincoln approached the presidency, his writings began to manifest deep-felt
concern for mankind. During the war, he appeared steeped in its gravity. One could sense a burden over the casualties, sincere patriotism and reverence for God. After reading Lincoln, I concluded he had been on right’s side.

However, Proverbs 18:17 says: “ The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him. “ Deciding the Confederacy deserved equal time, I was pleased to find a dusty copy of Jefferson Davis’ The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

Previously, I had not known such books existed. Being raised in the North, I had only heard Yankee perspectives on the war. The South’s viewpoint reached me through prisms of Northern historians. I even attended Colby College--alma mater of Benjamin Butler, whose infamous order, permitting his troops to treat any disrespectful lady of New Orleans “as a woman about town plying her vocation, “ made him one of the most hated figures in Dixie.

Davis’ book revealed a new world. Here were not the words of a politician, but of a statesman, like his namesake, our third president. Rise and Fall not only contained a blow-by-blow of the entire war, but an exhaustive, lucid exposition on secession and state’s rights. Jefferson Davis apparently did far more homework that President Lincoln. He not only studied the Constitution, but the original minutes of the constitutional convention, the ratification statements of each state, and nearly all the important debates and correspondence related to those proceedings. Davis exploded the arguments of Lincoln, Webster and other 19th century Unionists, and demonstrated that the states originally confederated understanding that each would retain its sovereignty.

I was astonished to learn from Davis that in 1844, Massachusetts, of which I am a lifelong resident, passed a resolution threatening secession from the Union over the annexation of Texas. Massachusetts politicians had made similar noises in 1803 and 1811 following the purchase of Louisiana and its subsequent admission as a state.

Thus, Yankee views on secession’s legality appear to have hinged more on Yankee advantage than constitutional observance. Lincoln claimed to have waged war to keep the Union together. Recently I read some of the famed diaries of Confederate women, which opened my eyes to the devastation Union armies visited upon the South, and helped me realize why Southerners so long spoke the name “ Yankee” with contempt. So I am forced to ask: Was it Lincoln’s great love for the South that he wanted to remain united with it ? If so, he seems to have been saying, “My Southern brethren, I cherish you so much I am going to invade your homes, and starve your children.“

To this, Lincoln apologists would reply, “It was not Lincoln’s love of the South, but his love of the Constitution and principles therein that motivated him to keep the Union together.“ Indeed, in his 1861 inaugural address, he claimed to fear the South’s secession would lead to “despotism“ there. He glossed over the fact that the Confederacy’s Constitution was nearly a duplicate of the U.S. Constitution, slightly amended. In Rise and Fall, Davis placed the two side by side.with the amended language italicized, so that any reader could objectively compare them. The Confederate Constitution admitted of despotism no more than that of the U.S.

In 1788, the Massachusetts state convention ratified entry into the Union by a vote of just 187 to 168. Let us suppose that, a couple of years later, a second vote has rescinded the first, and Massachusetts respectfully announced: “Upon further consideration, we have decided that belonging to the Union is not in the state’s best interest.“ I wonder if anyone can imagine George Washington issuing the following proclamation:

“ It has come to my attention that Massachusetts intends to depart the Union. I declare Massachusetts in rebellion! I am requesting the Governors of the states to muster armies which are to proceed to Massachusetts and invade it. I am dispatching federal warships to blockade Boston Harbor. Upon capture, the city is to be burned to the ground. Federal commanders shall torch other Massachusetts cities and towns as they see fit.

“I, George Washington, do further declare, that because the people of Massachusetts have perpetrated this brazen treason, all their rights are forthwith revoked. Of course, if any Massachusetts resident disavows his state’s dastardly decision, and swears an oath of loyalty to the federal government, his rights shall be restored. Such cases excepted, federal soldiers should feel free to loot any Massachusetts home. Crops not seized for army provisions should be destroyed without regards to the needs of the rebels and their families. After all, war is hell.

“And to citizens of other states, take warning! Consorting with the Massachusetts rebels will not be tolerated. It has come to my attention, in fact, that certain leaders and legislators in New Hampshire and Connecticut have expressed sympathy for their cause ! I am ordering federal troops to round up these “border state “ turncoats. They will jailed without hearings. I hereby revoke the right of habeas corpus just accorded under the Constitution. In times as these, suspicion alone shall be suitable cause for imprisonment....”

No one believes Washington would have issued such a proclamation. And if he had, he would have swung from a tree. True, Lincoln did not state things so bluntly, but the foregoing accurately reflects Yankee policy. What had changed between 1789 and 1861 to warrant such a response?

Lincoln claimed to be fulfilling the will of the founding fathers. Yet those eminent men had not gone to war over slavery. Would they have warred over secession? Davies supplied ample quotations from Washington, Madison and Hamilton and others to establish that they would not. It was quite difficult to coax several of the states into the Union; had they for a moment believed that withdrawal would be branded as treason punishable by invasion, no state would have joined. And as Davis incisively pointed out, the Declaration of Independence, to which Lincoln professed such homage, itself constituted secession form Britain!

Comparison of Davis to Lincoln highlights the former’s integrity, but surprising duplicity by “Honest  Abe.” Regarding Fort Sumter, Davis laid out the correspondence between Washington and the South’s envoys. He demonstrated that the Lincoln administration acted deceitfully--perhaps to ensure that the Confederacy would fire the first shot, and thus justify, in the world’s eyes, armed conquest of the South. Apparently, one reason the South lost the war was that it behaves honorably. But, to the North, the ends justified nearly any means.

Lincoln frequently invoked God’s name in association with his cause.Referring to the war, he declared: “The will of God prevails.  In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time.“ Lincoln implied that Northern victory bespoke God’s favor. Perhaps so.Or did we Yankees win simply because we possessed vastly superior numbers, weapons and ships?

Victory does not certify heaven’s approval.Did Stalin’s seizure of Lithuania signify that God loved the Red Army? When a woman struggles against two muggers and they overwhelm her, does their “triumph“ mean providence has conferred its blessing on them? Conduct, not victory, best measures fulfillment of God’s will. Generally, the record attests that the South fought and managed its diplomacy more honestly. It did little to reciprocate the North’s pillaging style of warfare--a style that continued with the rape of Reconstruction. To me, these matters attest to righteousness far more than the verdict of Appomattox.

What were the war’s results? True, the evil of slavery ended. However, had the South won, does anyone believe the institution would still exist there? Industrialization and modernization would have purged it, just as they had previously in the North. From a conservative perspective, the war’s most lasting significance was the crushing of state sovereignty. It made the states and their people little more that vassals of a powerful centralized government. Without Northern victory, Washington could not have so easily burdened us with the income tax; FDR could not have ushered in socialism with the New Deal; and no Supreme Court could have banned school prayer or forced abortion on unwilling states.  Now, via federal law, the “ politically correct “ are attempting to destroy every vestige of Christianity and morality.

Davis declared: “The result established the truthfulness of the assertion...that the Northern people, by their unconstitutional welfare to gain the freedom of certain Negro slaves, would lose their own liberties” How right he was! I believe the war had even broader implications. In my 1988 book The Shadows of Power, I examined the American foreign policy from Wilson through Reagan. I concluded that certain U.S. diplomats in this century have labored to place America under a world government. This goal is today shared by a number of liberals, socialists and Clinton foreign policy officials, and is pursued through such stepping stones as the GATT, environmental accords and the U.N. Its ultimate fulfillment would ominously threaten mankind. For if the world came under a single government, whose policies would rule? If a global authority turned despotic, where could one turn to escape it? Thus the War Between the States stands as a haunting forerunner of a critical danger now on our horizon: then it was state sovereignty versus national government; today American sovereignty versus world government.

I understand that you Southerners call the war “The Lost Cause “ I do not consider it lost. Today, if anyone fights for conservatism and the Judeo-Christian ethic, battles against federal bureaucracy and our submersion into world government--I believe that person rides beside Robert E. Lee and carries a Confederate banner with Stonewall Jackson.

In the preface of Rise and Fall, Jefferson Davis wrote that his intent was “ to furnish material for the future historian, who, when the passions and prejudices of the day shall have given place to reason and sober thought, may, better than a contemporary, investigate the causes, conduct, and results of the war.“ For me, that moment has arrived. Finally, I know where I stand on the War Between the States. And as for you Southerners, I wish you had driven our Yankee hides all the way back to Boston. It is my great sorrow to be saying this to you 135 years too late.

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