This week is the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. Also known as: The War Between the States; The War of Succession; War of Southern/Northern Agression; and The War for Southern Independence, among others things. I prefer The War of Southern Rebellion or The Slave Society Rebellion Against the Union. No matter how you spin it, and the spins are mighty, the cause of the war was slavery.
The South was a society built on slavery, and it could not coexist with the industrializing North. The southerners rebelled to preserve their way of life, a plantation economy ruled by an elite of large slave owners, and a rabble of whites (antecedents of the storied “white trash“) who at least weren’t black slaves. After the war smashed the South, the former slaves enjoyed a brief period of freedom during Reconstruction, but the North made a deal that allowed it to reap the benefits of the South’s resources of agriculture and cheap labor, and left the African-Americans to fend for themselves in the neo-slavery of Jim Crow. Slavery was done, and that was enough for most in the North.
Not everyone felt this way. Thaddeus Stevens and his fellows understood that the South had rebelled, and left the Union. He wanted the leaders of the Confederacy rounded up and shot, or at least imprisoned. He wanted the plantations confiscated and parceled out to the former slaves, and used to compensate Union veterans. He wanted the rebel states to be denied congressional representation until they could demonstrate that they deserved it yet again. His view did not prevail, and the torrent of self-serving, sentimentalizing, dishonest, distorted and reactionary narratives began to pour forth from the North and South. Today, the Confederate flag flies proudly in many locales – it’s just a cultural thing. Yep, and I’m sure there are some old Germans who would like to display the swastika and SS skulls, just to preserve that culture…
You cannot understand American culture and politics today if you don’t contemplate the Civil War and its aftermath.