Why We Fight

There was some despairing yesterday over the "Secession Ball" planned in South Carolina. It's understandable, but it should be noted that there's been considerable progress made in the campaign against the charlatanism of neo-Confederates:


During the centennial of the Civil War starting in 1960, Georgia celebrated the Confederacy and the view that the state had seceded in a valiant act of defending states' rights against Northern aggressors. This time around, state historians are taking a different approach, declaring that Georgia seceded to defend the institution of slavery. 

On Jan. 19, the date in 1861 when the state seceded, the Georgia Historical Society and others plan to dedicate a historical marker at the old statehouse in Milledgeville. The marker, citing Georgia's secession ordinance, will say that the state seceded in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was "anti-slavery."

This comes on the heels of Virginia's about face. To me, this really is about the tireless efforts of historians--lay and academic--to speak honestly and forthrightly about the second American revolution.

It was asked, yesterday, why I referred to those who claimed that secession was right, and anything other than an attempt to raise a republic of white supremacy, as "creationists." My irritation with the piece on South Carolina came from its unwillingness to cite actual South Carolina documents authored by actual secessionists, along with the words of actual historians. Instead we had a "liberal sociologist," thus giving the impression that this was yet another liberal/conservative split analogous to health care or something. 

While acknowledging that most neo-Confederates are politically conservative, I think that the political divide is really beside the point. I tend to believe that conservative critique of, say, health care reform warrants a hearing and some intellectual respect. Neo-secessionism deserves nothing of the sort. The point of calling them "creationists" is to communicate the precise degree of intellectual disrespect I hold for that viewpoint. People who say "the Civil War was about tariffs" should be distinguished from people who debate the stimulus package, or tax cuts, and categorized with birthers, truthers and assorted Holocaust-deniers.
I do not mean to be cruel here--the ignorance about the Civil War is so thick, that many don't choose to think the Civil War was about something besides slavery, so much as it's the default position. I started from a place of thinking that it was about slavery and some other stuff that I couldn't name. This is the fantastic success of the Lost Cause. But I communicate contempt not so much for those with a vague ignorance, not even so much for those who have trouble making peace with their own ancestors, but for those who would literally celebrate the effort, not simply to make a slave of my ancestors, but to make a slave of me. 

The Confederacy was not simply about preserving slavery, it was about expanding it into space and time. Jefferson's generation were, to some extent, reluctant slaveholders. (I shudder writing that.) Slaveholders, circa 1850, were not reluctant at all--indeed they believed they'd found a superior social system which would endure, and were hard at work attempting to expand that system to the west and to the South. 

When you celebrate the Confederacy, you are not celebrating something that was nobly flawed, nor are you celebrating a rash hot-headed mistake. You are celebrating a world wherein the president of the United State could not exist. You are celebrating a fully formed ideology, the goal of which was to raise a republic that would make slaves of nearly every black person you see before you today, until the time of God's judgement. God's judgment has come and gone, but the bilker's of history endure.

When you celebrate the Secession, you celebrate American apartheid. You celebrate evil. No one should ever let that pass.
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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.

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