Half Right

Some Recommended Reading

The South Was Right : James Ronald Kennedy, Walter Donald Kennedy

The Cousins' Wars : Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America : Kevin Phillips

The Destructive War : William Tecumseh Sherman, Stonewall Jackson, and the Americans : Charles Royster : Vintage Civil War Library

My challenge for a well-researched web site advocating the southern perspective stands open. The years roll on, and none have been offered. I recently did receive a suggestion for a book worth reading, The South Was Right by Kennedy and Kennedy. It is certainly a well-researched work that advocates a southern perspective. It is nothing like a balanced work.

Lets start, therefore, with a recommendation for a complementing work. The Cousins' Wars might be read with The South Was Right, to put the American Civil War in a larger perspective. The two works agree on several key points. The northern states were settled primarily from England, while the southern states were settled from Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The cultures were different. The South Was Right refers to the South as a leisure driven culture, while the North was a work driven culture. The Cousins' Wars notes that the rural peasantry supported the Royalist Cavaliers in the English Civil War in part because the Royalist's High Church calendar had many holidays, while the Puritan Parliamentary faction wanted fewer interruptions to their work week. Catholic / Protestant and Royalist / Parliament elements also drove the English Civil War, whose origins and issues are at least as complex as the American Civil War. Such issues kept shifting and twisting from war to war, but the continuous evolution of and conflict between the ancient and modern cultures runs true though numerous conflicts.

The Cousins' Wars presents the English Civil War, Glorious Revolution, American Revolution and American Civil War as interrupted spasms of the same conflict. One could without difficulty take this pattern one step further back to the Protestant / Catholic Armada Crisis. The net result of these conflicts was a transition from rural monarchy to a modern industrial democracy. The Puritans were an urban, progressive, low church, democratic faction. They migrated to New England, where they continued to evolve and advocate their world view as Patriots and Abolitionists. The opposition Cavaliers continued the ancient medieval, rural, conservative, high church, aristocratic tradition. They migrated to Virginia and the South. When the series of wars started, the nobility monopolized economic, military and political power. The majority of the People were bound to service on the land. Human rights was an abstract theory discussed by radical philosophers. The laws of the time upheld the oppression of the majority by the minority. The laws could be changed only through war. The wars came. With the end of the American Civil War - on paper at least - all (male) men were equal, and none were bound to service on agricultural land owned by an aristocratic leisure class.

It is easy to argue that the American Civil War did not end this drive towards democracy and equality, but that Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King continued a conflict not yet fully resolved even today. If one examines the voting pattern of the Bush-Gore 2000 presidential elections, the rural conservative against urban progressive divide still exists. As usual, the issues and priorities have changed as time passes.

The South Was Right stands well as a manifesto for the rural conservative faction. While I can honor much that the conservative rural faction is pushing for, it is a vast understatement to say that The South Was Right does not portray the Puritan / Patriot / Abolitionist tradition in the best possible light. The Cousins' Wars subtitle, "Religion, Politics, and the Triumph of Anglo-America" suggests that the rise of the western democracies might possibly have been a good thing. I would concur. A reading of The South Was Right makes it clear that western democracy is not an unmixed blessing, at least from the perspective of the former leisure class aristocrats.

The South Was Right is solid where it highlights the differences between the U.S. and Confederate Constitutions. I personally would like to see a modern Constitutional Convention. I would cheerfully start out by adapting the changes made by the Confederate founding fathers with regard to the federal budget and balance of power between state and federal governments. Yes, give the president a line item veto. Yes, let the states call constitutional conventions with limited agendas. Yes, tone down the commerce clause, though maybe there the Confederate wording might not be optimal in a modern world. I'd go further, but that's another story. See my Polyticks pages if you are truly interested. Regardless, one cannot deny that the Confederate founding fathers correctly saw and / or foresaw problems with a Constitution that quite arguably gives too much power to the federal government.

And yes, the South cared about tariffs as well. The South Was Right documents the southern view that tariffs on cotton and other southern products were being used to assist northern industrial development. Tax the South to benefit the North was an oft repeated accusation before the war. This view is not unfounded. The tariff issue nearly resulted in a South Carolina succession a few decades before the Civil War. Still, the tariff issue was not important in starting the Civil War. Both North and South voted essentially unanimously with little debate for continuing existing tariff policies in the years leading up to the Civil War. Nor were the debates, propaganda and skirmishes leading up to the war centered on tariffs. The Lincoln Douglas debates, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Bleeding Kansas and Harpers Ferry raid were hot slavery related elements that built up to a slavery related conflict. There are no similar tariff related incidents. No one in the South threw goods being taxed into any harbor, nor was any harbor closed until tariffs owed were paid, as occurred in Boston prior to the Revolution. Nor was there any mention of tariffs in the Crittendon Compromise, the last gap effort to stop the war. The Crittendon Compromise dealt with slavery related issues only. While the tariff issue was not totally dead in 1860, it was submerged entirely by far greater concerns about slavery.

The South Was Right is strong when it talks about colonial era legal theory. It supports my broad generalization that the South was more often correct legally, while the North was correct morally. Two legal issues will illustrate. The South Was Right insists that under revolutionary era law, only the white males of sovereign states can decide who has the right to vote in that state. It correctly documents how the XIVth amendment was pushed through under duress, with highly illegal, immoral and violent methods used. The South Was Right should be read for an ugly account of how the XIVth was passed if nothing else. It is said that if one likes laws or sausage, one should not view the process by which they are made. This is especially true if one approves of the XIVth Amendment. Impostor representatives casting votes and fixed bayonets in assembly halls as votes are taken do not fit with the traditional concept of "due process."

Still, one has to read the XIVth Amendment. The major point of the amendment was to give blacks voting rights and the protection of the U.S. Bill of Rights. The Kennedys argue that the southern white males had the sole right to determine who gets to vote, who gets citizenship, and who gets basic human rights. This was legally correct under revolutionary era law. Pardon me if I choke a bit that the Kennedys are arguing against blacks having human rights and voting rights. The South Was Right carefully avoids racist arguments in presenting their legal arguments. Still, the charade of pretending that race and slavery had nothing to do with it is very thin indeed. Whenever The South Was Right whines and cries about how the North used violence or ignored proper legal due process to change southern government, one should ask if the change relates to race and human rights. The Kennedys frequently argue that blatantly racist and sexist revolutionary era laws and policies should still be in effect. Even given as fact that the XIVth was put in place illegally, and thus legally ought not have force of law, there is absolutely no way in the modern world we could step away from applying the Bill of Rights to blacks or strip black voting rights on basis of race.

The Kennedys argue that voting rights ought to be tied to education, quoting revolutionary era philosophers to support their position. The argument is not totally irrational. However, during the revolutionary era, only the wealthy were educated. The argument that only the educated should wield political power was a method used by the Puritan Parliamentary faction to reserve political power into the hands of the nobility and wealthy merchant classes. In America, during the late 19th and early 20th Century, the systematic denial of education to blacks coupled with tests to acquire the privilege of voting was a significant part of state sponsored segregation. In a country where race and class are not issues, where education is readily available to all, the use of tests to acquire a privilege of participating in politics is plausible. In the United States, where systematic denial of political power was long practiced, the argument cannot be separated from race and class. The resconstrunction Yankees, in attempting to enfranchise the blacks, had race and human rights related motives. Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King the Federal Government during the 1960s, in striking down voting rights tied to education and segregation in the school systems, had race related motives. One cannot assert, as the Kennedys assert, that voting is the privilege of the educated and at the same time deny that many of those who disagree are not acting to resolve racial inequality.

While The South Was Right carefully avoids racist arguments, the Kennedy's consistently and insistently protest that racist laws and policies were changed, somehow tiptoeing around the racial consequences of what would happen if their obsolete legal arguments somehow become law in the modern age. Yes, the North used violent and illegal means attempting to overthrow a racist society. If Thurgood Marshall and Martin Luther King later continued this struggle in a more legal and nonviolent way, my applause to them, but applying 20th Century standards of legality and nonviolence to the 19th Century is asking much. Thoreau had written Civil Disobedience. The cornerstone of nonviolence had been laid, but quietly. During the war, Civil Disobedience was an obscure work that certainly was not in common practice. This was still the height of the Imperialistic Age, with the common man still thrilled by his Right to Bear Arms and thus his power to shape the fate of nations. It took the Civil War's and World War I's carnage to damp the west's enthusiasm for overthrowing cultures at gunpoint. One should be careful about applying one century's moral standards to another time.

If The South Was Right illuminates the very dubious legal procedures used to pass the XIVth and other reconstruction era policies, I am interested also in the downfall of these measures after 1868. The High Reconstruction lasted only four years. The Radical Republican brute force efforts to alter southern culture were doomed to failure. Both North and South soon recognized this, and the Democrats returned to power in 1868. Just after the war, the Republicans had altered the U.S. Constitution. The post-reconstruction Democrats did not remove any of the Reconstruction amendments. They remain on the books. However, the Supreme Court made a series of decisions that effectively nullified the federal government's ability to enforce the Bill of Rights. The points emphasized were that the Congress has no police powers, no ability to write laws enforcing the Bill of Rights. Legally, yes, this is almost a plausible interpretation. It could be argued that the radical Republicans blew the wording of their amendments, failing to insert "Congress shall have the power to enact enforcing laws" clauses when extending the Bill of Rights to apply to all races. Such clauses were not considered necessary at the time the amendments were passed, but became traditional later to prevent political Supreme Courts from using one particular legal trick to nullify constitutional amendments.

Prior to the Civil War there had been no need to enforce the Bill of Rights. Rights were too much respected, at least the rights of white males. After 1868, and through the first half of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court gave a green light to state sponsored segregation, forbidding the federal government from protecting the Rights of the People. See my "The Right To Keep and Bear Arms" pages and the Cruikshank case as a key example. There, the Supreme Court ruled that if the good old boys want to take guns from a black militia, the Federal Government has no power to interfere. Thus began the interpretation of the Second Amendment that one only has the right to keep and bear arms if one is acting as the employee of the government.

I am not certain who did the greater damage to the U.S. Constitution, the post 1864 Republican congress in attempting to extend the protection of the Bill of Rights, or the post 1868 Democratic Supreme Courts in preventing the Bill of Rights from stopping state sponsored segregation. The South Was Right documents the former well. The need for Thurgood Marshall's NAACP court cases and Martin Luther King's marches illustrates well the need to undo the post 1868 Supreme Court decisions. Between the radical Republicans and racist Democrats, precedent was set for doing violence to the Constitution. The Supreme Court has been lying to itself ever since, disregarding the intent of the authors in favor of political agendas. Modern court conservatives have attempted to reign in this abuse, but they are fighting far too many political precedents. I can agree with the authors of The South Was Right that the current federal government is broken, and even agree with many of the steps they desire towards fixing it, but we disagree over just how it came to be broken. Radical Republicans struggled with racist Democrats, shattering the Constitution, which has never quite recovered. (The two parties have switched roles over the years. Lincoln's Republicans have become the conservative establishment party, while the Democrats became more involved in in advocating racial issues. Stuff happens.)

(In my humble opinion, the Confederate founding fathers missed the largest problem with the current US Constitution. Supreme Court justices are nominated by the federal executive, and approved by the federal legislature. There is a conflict of interest here, with the fox hiring the guards for the hen house. Sorry. I digress. However, let it not be said I am entirely unsympathetic with the southern conservative's desire for strict interpretations of the Constitution limiting federal powers.)

The South Was Right also documents atrocities by Union soldiers, during both the war and Reconstruction. Again, this is buried history that should be read rather than forgotten. For a more balanced presentation, read The Destructive War, a book centered on how Stonewall Jackson, William Tecumseh Sherman and others invented modern all out warfare. The Destructive War is not entirely right either. Genghis Kahn and many others waged wars far more ruthless than Stonewall or Sherman. Still, the Civil War was an ugly war, and the Reconstruction was an ugly occupation. One should not forget that Union soldiers committed war crimes, but let's not claim the Confederate Army and the KKK were saints, either. I am ready to understand and forgive long dead war criminals, wearing blue, butternut or even white sheets. I will advocate that the stories of these crimes should be told, that people should know that such things happened, so long as the tone of the telling is never again. The South Was Right tells the stories in a one sided way intended to stir old hatreds back into live flame. This is not constructive. This is potentially quite destructive. This should not be forgiven. Live hatred is a problem.

The South Was Right pushes two minor themes, but never seems to connect them. They emphasize how the South was (and to some extent remains) a leisure oriented society, while the North was (and to some extent remains) a work driven culture. The South Was Right also firmly establishes that after the leisure driven society lost its slaves, they became a poor society. The Reconstruction had three elements: retribution, carpet bagging, and race relations. The South Was Right documents well enough the first two elements, while attempting to pretend there were no race problems in the old South. (Right.) I shall concur that retribution and carpet bagging were rampant, wrong, and did real damage to the 19th Century South. I shall argue that northern attempts at reinventing southern culture were a total failure, with hindsight perhaps better not attempted. It was beyond the ability of the Yankees to truly set southern blacks free. While Marshall and King made considerable progress a century later, there is more yet to be done even today.

All this said, there might be practical internal reasons why leisure driven cultures do not develop as much wealth as work driven cultures. At some point one has to stop blaming the Yankees for being Yankees, decide between leisure and work, and decide what one's culture is going to be. If the South wishes to preserve its leisure driven heritage, at some point they have to stop blaming the Yankees for being more industrious and thus wealthier. Accept the South for what it is. If one is proud of the traditional slow pace and easy living, one should accept the consequences in good grace. Wales, Scotland and Ireland are still displeased with England. Their memories are even older and more bitter than the South's. They are taking various steps towards succession. They are still, however, poor relative to England, and apt to stay that way. If there are specific policies prejudicial to the southern states still in place, let's get specific, and let's kill them, but let's not totally neglect the effects of culture on economics. Rural agricultural cultures and zones were not the big wealth producing elements during the 20th Century.

Finally, one must be careful on the dates when southerners testified on the causes of the war. When Yankees from both sides of the Mason Dixon line were occupying Germany, it was hard to find racists who believed in genocide of inferior races. All of the loyal Nazis that swept Hitler into power apparently died in the war. The survivors were just following orders. Defeat on the field and the presence of an occupying force tended to alter German memories and motives, or at least what was said on the record about their memories and motives.

Selective memory by the losers also occurred after the Civil War. While the southern armies were still strong in the field, southerners were very open in their racism and advocacy of slavery as the cornerstone of southern economy and society. After the war, the South did far more blatant rewriting of history than The South Was Right accuses the North of. The northern history of the war is quite consistent with the debates and editorials that led up to the war. The South Was Right and other blatantly revisionist biased southern histories are not at all consistent with the openly stated intent of the southern politicians that initiated succession and set Confederate policy during the war. That southerners have the cheek to accuse the North of writing revisionist history amazes me.

The South Was Right brings to light much that should not be forgotten. Wars are ugly. Too much history glorifies and ennoble warfare. Both The South Was Right and the traditional Yankee histories, by claiming that their respective sides fought a pure and noble war for pure and noble reasons, are equally deficient. In fact, pure and noble motives on both sides are apt to lead to more ugliness, not less. The South Was Right should be read, but The Cousins' Wars and The Destructive War make good companion volumes. The Cousins' Wars emphasize the history and politics were convoluted. The Destructive War emphasizes that the actual fighting was ugly. If the northern myth of the causes of the war is simplistic white wash propaganda, so too is the Lost Cause myth.

While The South Was Right emphasizes some economic aspects of the war, they neglect the westward expansion. Most of the incidents and debates leading up to the Civil War relate to both cultures wishing to expand west, the North's more rapid growth, and the South's need to protect control of the federal Congress in order to protect slavery. The North would quite likely have allowed indefinitely slavery to continue where it was. They could not, however, tolerate the South's blocking of westward expansion. Just after the war started, the U.S. Congress passed homesteading laws opening much of the west, and authorized the trans continental railroad. This is but one of many ways the North benefited economically by pushing big government working in the interests of big business. The age of the Robber Barons was just opening. The South tried but failed to stop it. The current economic power of the United States is a result of this long term policy of big business and big government walking together with hands in each other's wallets. This tradition started to a great degree by Lincoln, extended greatly again by FDR. It is quite arguable that the time is approaching that government of the Robber Barons, for the Robber Barons, by the Robber Barons might perish from this earth. A problem developed somewhere between Lincoln's fine words and the implementation.

The issue of symbols remains a sticky one. Any symbol lacks meaning, save in the minds of those observing the symbol. To a great degree The South Was Right is correct, Northern propaganda has assigned meanings to symbols quite different from the meanings intended by the creators of the symbols. The words "Union" and "Rebel" are decent examples. The North was fighting in part to alter the social contract, to force their preferred economic, legal and moral system on a culture which did not want to change. They were fighting to change the Union into something new rather than preserve the Union as it existed. The South was fighting to preserve their way of life and system of laws. In spite of the changes in their constitution, they were the conservative faction resisting change. The northern propagandists found it convenient to reverse this, to claim the North was fighting to preserve something that already existed, while the South was rebelling against the Constitution. The winners do get to write histories. The South Was Right is good in exposing many of these old propaganda tricks, in exposing lies, half lies and deceptions that have come to be considered true history. Still, they attempt to perpetuate southern lies and propaganda tricks. The book tells but one side of the story, though it is the side that today needs more to be told.

History should not be lies. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the western democracies have become the dominant powers. Temptation has come to send Yankee troops abroad to fix broken cultures stained by racial problems and poverty. Yes, we can do some good. No, it is not an easy road to walk, especially as many modern "do good" missions might be viewed as extending our culture and values where they are not wanted. The South Was Right is an excellent example of how the traditional oppression of a people can be viewed as a good thing by those doing the exploiting. Racism can be disguised as loyalty to established rights and a rule of law. Law in racist societies is often a tool of oppression, thus fighting to uphold the law is at times evil. Self delusion is quite possible, even in the United States, and the more so elsewhere where the traditions of oppression, aggression and genocide are still practiced openly. Here, we at least have to pretend at political correctness. We must hide a fondness for racist laws behind the legalities used to pass or repeal said racist laws.

The American Civil War and Reconstruction are an excellent example of how not to free a people and put them on their financial feet. The South Was Right is an excellent book on how the North failed, and why the North failed. The bottom line reason for this failure is the existence of people like the authors, sincerely believing in their right to determine who gets to oppress who and how. Of course, the tragedy also required northern interventionists, willing to fight a war for values and freedom, but unable or unwilling to carry through after the war to a point where the situation was better after the intervention than before. The result was disaster. The potential for additional disasters remains.

Recognizing the Battle Flag ends...