The Republic of Winston

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On Febuary 19, Confederate re-enactors will recreate the swearing in of Jefferson Davis in Montgomery, Alabama, the original capitol of the Confederacy:

Organizers say they are not trying to create controversy. "We are trying to present a historical account of what happened 150 years ago," said Thomas Strain Jr. of Tanner, a member of the national board of the Sons of Confederate Veterans...

Robert Reames of Birmingham, state commander for the SCV, prefers to call the Civil War "the War Between the States." He said the re-enactment Feb. 19 will have a simple message: "That our ancestors did what they did in a honorable fashion and we're here to remember that honor."

One good way to "present a historical account" would be to give some context to the events which led to the War Between the States. Fortunately we have such context, provided in an anthology of primary documents--speeches and resolutions--passed during Alabama's secession convention in January of 1861. The anthology is online, and searchable by anyone interested in understanding why Alabama seceded. Indeed, one need not even dig far to understand the relevant events which led to the War Between the States:

WHEREAS, anti-slavery agitation persistently continued in the non-slaveholding States of this Union, for more than a third of a century, marked at every stage of its progress by contempt for the obligations of law and the sanctity of compacts, evincing a deadly hostility to the rights and institutions of the Southern people, and a settled purpose to effect their overthrow even by the subversion of the Constitution, and at the hazard of violence and bloodshed; and whereas, a sectional party calling itself Republican, committed alike by its own acts and antecedents, and the public avowals and secret machinations of its leaders to the execution of these atrocious designs, has acquired the ascendency in nearly every Northern State, and hopes by success in the approaching Presidential election to seize the Government itself...

A few more selections from some of the delegates:

Who is Mr. Lincoln, whose election is now beyond question? He is the head of a great sectional party calling itself Republican: a party whose leading object is the destruction of the institution of slavery as it exists in the slaveholding States. Their most distinguished leaders, in and out of Congress, have publicly and boldly proclaimed this to be their intention and unalterable determination. Their newspapers are filled with similar declarations. Are they in earnest? Let their past acts speak for them. 

 Nearly every one of the non-slaveholding States have been for years under the control of the Black Republicans. A large majority of these States have nullified the fugitive slave law, and have successfully resisted its execution. They have enacted penal statutes, punishing, by fine and imprisonment in the penitentiary, persons who may pursue and arrest fugitive slaves in said State. They have by law, under heavy penalties, prohibited any person from aiding the owner to arrest his fugitive slave, and have denied us the use of their prisons to secure our slaves until they can be removed from the State. 
They have robbed the South of slaves worth millions of dollars, and have rendered utterly ineffectual the only law passed by Congress to protect this species of property. They have invaded the State of Virginia, armed her slaves with deadly weapons, murdered her citizens, and seized the United States Armory at Harper's Ferry. They have sent emissaries into the State of Texas, who burned many towns, and furnished the slaves with deadly poison for the purpose of destroying their owners.

And:

WHEREAS, the only bond of union between the several States is the Constitution of the United States; and WHEREAS, that Constitution has been violated, both by the Government of the United States, and by a majority of the Northern States, in their separate legislative action, denying to the people of the Southern States their Constitutional rights; 

And WHEREAS, a sectional party, known as the Black Republican Party, has, in the recent election, elected Abraham Lincoln to the office of President, and Hannibal Hamlin to the office of Vice-President of these United States, upon the avowed principle that the Constitution of the United States does not recognise properly Page 25 in slaves and that the Government should prevent its extension into the common Territories of the United States, and that the power of the Government should be so exercised that slavery, in time, should be exterminated:

And finally:

I feel impelled, Mr. President, to vote for this Ordinance by an overruling necessity. Years ago I was convinced that the Southern Page 94 States would be compelled either to separate from the North, by dissolving the Federal Government, or they would be compelled to abolish the institution of African Slavery. This, in my judgment, was the only alternative; and I foresaw that the South would be compelled, at some day, to make her selection. The day is now come, and Alabama must make her selection, either to secede from the Union, and assume the position of a sovereign, independent State, or she must submit to a system of policy on the part of the Federal Government that, in a short time, will compel her to abolish African Slavery. 

Mr. President, if pecuniary loss alone were involved in the abolition of slavery, I should hesitate long before I would give the vote I now intend to give. If the destruction of slavery entailed on us poverty alone, I could bear it, for I have seen poverty and felt its sting. But poverty, Mr. President, would be one of the least of the evils that would befall us from the abolition of African slavery. There are now in the slaveholding States over four millions of slaves; dissolve the relation of master and slave, and what, I ask, would become of that race? To remove them from amongst us is impossible. History gives us no account of the exodus of such a number of persons. We neither have a place to which to remove them, nor the means of such removal. 

They therefore must remain with us; and if the relation of master and slave be dissolved, and our slaves turned loose amongst us without restraint, they would either be destroyed by our own hands--the hands to which they look, and look with confidence, for protection--or we ourselves would become demoralized and degraded. The former result would take place, and we ourselves would become the executioners of our own slaves. To this extent would the policy of our Northern enemies drive us; and thus would we not only be reduced to poverty, but what is still worse, we should be driven to crime, to the commission of sin; and we must, therefore, this day elect between the Government formed by our fathers (the whole spirit of which has been perverted,) and POVERTY AND CRIME! 

This being the alternative, I cannot hesitate for a moment what my duty is. I must separate from the Government of the United States, and abandon the Government of my fathers, one under which I have lived, and under which I wished to die. But I must do my duty to my country and my fellow-beings; and humanity, in my judgment, demands that Alabama should separate herself from the Government of the United States.

For me, the saddest portion of this is the fact that Alabama is not without a loyalist heritage as it relates to the Civil War. First, the state sent a number of Union regiments into the war--both black and white. Second, I don't know if we have any readers here hailing from Winston, Alabama, but under Chris Sheats, Winston actually seceded from the secessionist, declaring itself "The Republic of Winston." Like a lot of upcountry counties, Winston had a small slave population and saw no real advantage in secession.

Again, I understand why the NAACP is protesting. But I really wish we did more than yell "You're wrong." I'd love to see a parade of USCT re-enactors and the 1st Alabama calvary.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle. More

Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.

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