The Truth About the Confederacy
Tony Wikrent, Corrente
Mon, 04/11/2011 – 10:03pm
The 150th anniversary of the Fort Sumter bombardment that formally began the Civil War is tomorrow, and wrong-wingers throughout the South and the rest of America are fixing a big celebration. There’s going to be a seemingly infinite issuance of blogs, articles, radio interviews, and television appearances that will proffer a prettified picture of a brave and stolid South, courageously defending the “true conservative Constitutional” principles of states rights, individual responsibility, and limited government. If you’re one of the many Americans who don’t really know that much about the Civil War, you have probably been perplexed by the number of wrong-wing Republican politicians who have made open statements of admiration the past year or two for the Confederate ideas of states rights and secession. This very lengthy diary is designed to fully inform you what the Confederacy was really like – a society suffering acutely from class differences; a society ruled by a slave holding oligarchy that was sickeningly arrogant and grasping, as well as racist. A number of myths about have been developed about the “Lost Cause” of the Confederacy for over a century, and those myths and lies are probably going to be repeated so often the coming days and weeks that you’re going to want to puke. My intent for this diary is to help shatter those myths and lies.
“Plant corn! Plant corn!” the editor of the Macon Telegraph wrote. “We must have large supplies, or poverty and suffering will come upon us like a strong man armed.” The True Democrat in Little Rock, Arkansas demanded that not a single seed of cotton be planted. The Florida Sentinel of Tallahassee bluntly warned that the planters’ addiction to cotton would lead to famine and the fall of the Confederacy.
But, Southern planters generally ignored these laws and pleas, and continued to grow as much cotton as possible. United States Senator from Georgia, First Secretary of State of the Confederacy, and Confederate General Robert Toombs, and a half dozen other planters in the area of his Georgia plantation, were upbraided by the local Citizens’ Committee of Public Safety for planting almost all their acreage in cotton. Toombs responded in the best fashion of today’s libertarians and conservatives: “My property, as long as I live, shall never be subject to the orders of those cowardly miscreants, the Committees of Public Safety . . . . you cannot intimidate me.”
By the fall of 1862, there was so much cotton being harvested that the South’s warehouses could not store it all. As a result of the South oligarchs’ arrogant greed, there was never enough food grown to meet the South’s needs. Thousands of letters from desperate women whose men were in the Confederate Army began to flood the offices of local and state officials. Most of them included pitiable pleas for assistance, or requests that their husbands be allowed to leave their military units and return home, even if only temporarily. One woman wrote directly to Jefferson Davis: “If I and my little children suffer and die while there Father is in Service I invoke God Almighty that our blood rest upon the South.” An open letter to the Savannah Morning News bluntly declared “The crime is with the planters . . . as a class, they have yielded their patriotism, if they ever had any, to covetousness . . . . for the sake of money, they are pursuing a course to destroy and demoralize our army-to starve out the other class dependent on them for provisions.”
These pleas also fell on deaf ears. Rather than responding to the desperation of the majority of the people, in the spring of 1863, the Confederate Congress passed a series of taxes, including a ten percent levy on all agricultural products including livestock, fodder, and food crops such as wheat, corn, potatoes, peas, beans, and peanuts. Soon, many “impressment officers” were taking far more than one tenth of a farm’s goods. Moreover, they were reluctant to “inconvenience” the richest and most powerful, so they stripped poorer farms almost bare, before even considering what the large plantations might offer. This, of course, is not that much different than what conservatives today have achieved with their four decades of tax cuts – the tax rates for the rich have been cut, but the poor actually pay an increased percentage because of local and state retail taxes, and increased FICA taxes. Williams notes that “On the Civil War’s eve, nearly half of the South’s personal income went to just over a thousand families. The region’s poorest half held only five percent of its agricultural wealth.”
The slave holder exemption, of course, was based on the slave holders’ fears of a slave revolt – all the prattle about paternalistic love for an inferior race, and that race’s child-like love in return, apparently forgotten. In a number of counties, government officials begged to be released from draft quotas because they feared sending more men off for military service would fatally weaken local slave patrols. C.F. Howell of Jackson County, Mississippi wrote his governor that “now we have to patrol every night to keep them down.” One planter in Alabama ignored the Confederacy’s need for military manpower and openly pleaded with the men of his area to stay at home and save their families “from the horrors of insurrection.”
The slave holder exemption turned out to be a huge mistake, because Confederate soldiers were forced to recognize that the South’s oligarchs had begun the war not so much to fend off supposed Yankee encroachments on their rights, but to preserve slavery and protect the oligarchs’ investment in slave property.
Confederate authorities noted over and over again that the Unionists they sought to repress and kill were comprised of the poorest men in their areas. One Confederate official tried to explain to his superiors that the locals “have little understanding and less sympathy for the difficulties of slave holders.” South Carolina planter and former governor James Henry Hammond, who had married expressly to acquire 7,500 acres and 147 slaves from his bride’s family, wrote candidly to a friend that “The poor hate the rich & make war on them everywhere & here especially with universal suffrage. . . The war is based on the principle and fact of the inequality of mankind-for policy we say races, in reality, as all history shows is as the truth is classes.” Hammond was a vocal proponent of the death penalty for advocating abolition.