Why the Confederacy Could Not Succeed, or One Cannot Wall Out the World,
a 2014 article by member Valerie Protopapas
Many books over the years have given me insights into history—insights that occasionally cause things to come together to produce a “Road to Damascus” moment. Recently the remembrance of one caused me to revisit my long-held belief that the attempt by the States of the South to establish a confederated republic upon the North American continent was doomed to failure from the beginning. Of course, this is hardly an unreasonable assumption. The strength of the North was overwhelming. Manpower, money, industry, even the production of foodstuffs from wheat to cattle made the South’s enemy too powerful to be successfully resisted for any length of time especially as the war would be waged in the South! A war lasting longer than two years must see the Confederacy fall of attrition if nothing else—which, in fact, was the case. Indeed, General Jubal Early declared that the Army of Northern Virginia had been forced to surrender because it was exhausted from defeating the foe, a not altogether preposterous assessment. Only the courage and fortitude of the Southern people allowed them to resist for as long as they did.
In the same vein, I also considered the claim of those who believed that the South might have prevailed had certain actions been taken early on. General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson—among others—believed that the failure of Confederate forces to follow up the smashing victory at First Manassas (Bull Run) and take Washington City was the most critical of the South’s lost opportunities. In like manner, Jackson opined that the invader should have been met with the black flag from the moment federal armies crossed the Potomac and entered onto Virginia’s soil. Jackson, a true Christian gentleman, was not shy in his contention, stating:
“I myself see in this war, if the North triumph, a dissolution of the bonds of all society. It is not alone the destruction of our property…, but … the prelude to anarchy, infidelity, and the ultimate loss of free responsible government on this continent. With these convictions, I always thought we ought to meet the Federal invaders … and raise at once the black flag … ‘No quarter to the Violators of our homes and firesides!’ It would … have proved true humanity and mercy. The Bible is full of such wars, and it is the only policy that would bring the North to its senses.”
Had the black flag been raised, it is probable that the federal government would not have been able to sustain a lengthy war at that time. Massive casualties involving ordinary Northern citizens rather than the dregs of European jails would soon have led to a demand by the people of the Union to bring the war to an end before more of their fathers, brothers, sons and husbands were dispatched on Southern soil. Indeed, it is possible that had these stratagems been utilized, the war might well have ended in 1862 with the establishment of the Confederate States of America as a nation rather than Lincoln’s contention that it was a cover for treason and insurrection.
Yet something about even this idea bothered me. Yes, there would not have been defeat by attrition. And, yes, there might even have been victory—for a time! But would that victory and the country born of it been permanent—or even of any duration? Remembering the cultures of the South and its Northern foe made me recall something in another story about a war—the War of the Ring in the book, The Lord of the Rings by British author, J. R. R. Tolkien. What brought the South of 1860 to my mind in that book, was a conversation between the worldly-wise wandering wizard Gandalf the Gray and the stay-at-home, naïve hobbit, Frodo Baggins. Frodo had received a found token—a mighty Ring of Power. What brought the North to mind for me was the fact that the existence of this Ring, long thought lost, had become known to its evil creator who had sent forth his wicked minions to retrieve the Ring and kill its Bearer. In other words, two diametric forces were abroad in the same land. Knowing the strength of the Ring’s creator, Gandalf warns Frodo that “Middle Earth,” the world outside of the hobbit’s prosaic, parochial homeland of the “Shire,” was daily falling into darkness as the necromancer sought his possession using all of his strength. But the hobbit—himself prosaic and parochial and knowing little of matters outside of his own door including the danger of the talisman he holds—naively declares that all he wants is just to be left alone to live his life in peace. Sound familiar? At this point, Gandalf gives Frodo a warning, a warning from which ante-bellum Southerners too would have profited had they received it; that is, while a people—hobbits and Southerners—can wall themselves in, they cannot wall the world out! And this, of course, is the crux of the matter. The South could—and would—attempt to live as if there were peace for many years while events turned against them. However, ignoring their danger did not prevent war.
From the beginning of the new nation, there had been considerable differences, cultural, social, religious and political, between the sections. After the Revolutionary War, as the effort to create a working union among the thirteen disparate “States” continued, those differences not only persisted but were exacerbated as sectional views regarding the concept of nationhood became more incompatible. Eventually, the “confederation” and then the “union” began to fracture along those lines, a rupture further intensified by the addition new territories to the body politic. With every new State, the original grievances played out over and over again, never being entirely resolved and creating more ill will and suspicion. In fact, it is more accurate to say that there were from the beginning, two nations and not one. Murray Rothbard in his essay, “Just War” described one of those nations thusly:
“The North’s driving force, the ‘Yankees’—that ethnocultural group who either lived in New England or migrated from there to upstate New York, northern and eastern Ohio, northern Indiana, and northern Illinois—had been swept by . . . a fanatical and emotional neo-Puritanism driven by a fervent ‘postmillenialism’ which held that as a precondition of the Second Advent of Jesus Christ, man must set up a thousand-year-Kingdom of God on Earth. The Kingdom is to be a perfect society. In order to be perfect, of course, this Kingdom must be free of sin . . . . If you didn’t stamp out sin by force you yourself would not be saved. This is why “the Northern war against slavery partook of a fanatical millenialist fervor, of a cheerful willingness to uproot institutions, to commit mayhem and mass murder, to plunder and loot and destroy, all in the name of high moral principle. They were ‘humanitarians with the guillotine,’ the ‘Jacobins, the Bolsheviks of their era.’”
By the middle of the 19th Century, Yankee philosophy had swept through most of the rest of the country with the exception of the South. Thus, as the majority of the States were rushing towards New England’s glorious future, they found themselves continually stymied and frustrated by a people whom they considered profligate, sinful and slothful—Southerners. The matter reached such a pass that at one point, after a Southern Senator had voted down some “progressive” Northern legislation demanding instead that the federal debt be satisfied, he found himself approached by two of his Northern colleagues. One of the gentlemen railed against the South’s continuing efforts to stymie “progress”—as they saw it—and suggested that perhaps it was time for the two sections to part company with the South seceding from the union and forming its own country! The Southern gentleman—who had more affection for the union—was aghast and asked if it would not be simpler—and less draconian—just to pay off the debt!
And therein lies the insoluble problem! Unlike the rest of the nation caught up in the Spirit of the Age of Empire, the South was perfectly content to live according to the ways of Jefferson and the rest of its forefathers, following the teachings of Western Civilization with all that that entailed. Certainly Southerners embraced “progress,” but often that which their Northern brethren called “progress” deviated from what they properly believed to be right and true. They had seen such “progress” make war on Christianity and morality and preach egalitarianism and the cult of the State. To the people of the South, far more important than mere progress was Christianity, knowledge, family, honor, friendship and loyalty to one’s Section and State. Seeking a type of Middle Earth in that united States, the South represents the Shire for it was filled for the most part with (reasonably) contented inhabitants who possessed a reverence for history, a delight in food and drink, a love of home and hearth, a strong strain of faith and family, a fervent spirit of independence and a natural inclination to mind their own business and a belief that others should do the same.
Southerners regarded their beloved South as a whole—and their beloved State in particular—as a garden to be cultivated and enjoyed, not a utopian citadel to be forced upon others. Parenthetically, nowhere is the difference between these sectional attitudes made more clear than in the fate of the South’s virgin forests after the War! Harriet Beecher Stowe had declared that Southern forests were not harvested for profit because Southerners were too lazy and stupid to do so. When profit-driven Northerners obtained these treasures through theft, they were decimated, never to recover. A translation of Tolkien’s Middle Earth into 19th Century America, makes it is easy to see the Southerner as the author’s beloved hobbit—and the Yankee as the hated orc.
The major sticking point between the Sections was, as it always is in such circumstances, economic. From slavery to tariffs and the so-called “American system,” the matter was one of money and, of course, political power for which money is, as the old adage goes, the “mother’s milk.” In 1828 over thirty years before South Carolina signed its Articles of Secession, Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton clearly delineated that ongoing problem on the floor of the Senate:
“Before the (American) revolution [the South] was the seat of wealth … Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac: and this in the face of the fact, that the South, … has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing. Such an export would indicate unparalleled wealth, but what is the fact? … Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue …Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of Government expenditures. That expenditure flows…northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North. Federal legislation does all this!”
The manufacturing economy of the North wanted protection for their goods through high import tariffs. The Southern States wanted reasonable tariffs to protect their exports and to keep the price they paid for manufactured goods both domestic and imported at a reasonable rate. For though Southern produce such as cotton, tobacco and sugar, were particularly valuable, the tariff situation affected their price. And unlike Northern industries, the cost of production was dependent upon matters over which the planter had no control such as weather, pests and blight. Nonetheless, Southern cotton—which was superior to that grown anywhere else—was so valuable that many a Yankee officer spent more time stealing cotton than waging war.
By contrast, the industries of the North were frequently plagued with corruption or were profligate and thus failed to create the type of wealth seen in the South even with the protection of high tariffs. It thus became apparent to Northerners that they could not gain the wealth they desired except by confiscation of Southern wealth through high tariffs. And as the South was permanently isolated by strictures against the spread of slavery into new territories (strictures which Southern States themselves had helped put into place) the balance of power in the Congress inescapably fell into the hands of the North assuring that the South would be their permanent economic colony.
By 1860, this situation together with the rise of radical abolitionism had led to the complete degeneration of what little “national sentiment” remained. Indeed, by that time, the desire of Southerners to be “left alone” and to live according to their own customs was barely tolerated by the rest of the nation and then only so long as their wealth kept moving North. Few were the Southerners who did not understand that the only thing standing between them and the desire of their countrymen to destroy their way of life under the guise of “ending slavery” was the fact that they—through slavery—were paying for the nation’s economic health. Yet, by 1860 even money no longer restrained the voices raised against the South. Remove that tribute and there would no longer be any reason to restrain violence. The proof of this contention is most clearly found in the war immediately waged upon the South by the North—led by the federal government under Lincoln—when the Cotton States sought to withdraw from the Union taking their wealth with them. It was not the States and the People of the South that Lincoln and the rest of the Union wanted to retain, but the wealth of the South and if that wealth could not be obtained through peaceful union—and political theft—then it would be obtained through murderous conquest.
Then there remains the question of why the South was so hated, especially by New England. Of course, the first answer is always slavery! The licentious and indolent planter aristocracy with their brutal taskmasters enslaved, debauched and exploited the innocent Negro while the rest of the Union stood by helpless to put an end to this moral monstrosity because it was protected under the Constitution. At least that is the way the matter is portrayed today. However, back in the day as they say, with a few exceptions, a very different rhetoric was in play. Oh, the “planter aristocracy” was indeed portrayed as licentious, greedy, evil and indolent without a doubt and the rest of the whites of the South who were not of that class were seen as morally deficient or just plain stupid, violent and brutal.
From the highest to the lowest, the people of the South were regarded by their fellow Americans as only slightly better than the savage aborigines with whom they had been at war since the first ships landed in the New World. It was only because of their race that Southerners were tolerated at all and, in fact, even that was called into question. When Jefferson was elected president, Northern newspapers wrote of “our first black President” and not because Jefferson owned slaves! There were a lot of Northerners who also still owned slaves. It was the amicable relationship between the races in the South that caused New Englanders to look with disgust on men with whom they had but lately fought—and triumphed—against the forces of King George! Yet, it is obvious that New England’s disgust and contempt for the South and her people could not very well have been centered around slavery or the slave trade, which was a very “going concern” North of the Mason-Dixon line in the immediate post-Revolutionary period. In fact, early on, there were more abolitionist societies in the South than in the North until the rise of “radical abolitionism” put an end to the movement in that Section.
But radicals had no love or concern for the Negro, only contempt and hatred for the white Southerner. Their plan of action was simple: foment servile insurrection and, it was hoped, encourage blacks to murder whites which would, in return, lead to the local militias killing blacks. This series of events would, of necessity, destabilize the region’s society, creating room for growing Northern influence—and profit. Not to mention, of course, ridding the world of the cursed Southerner, white and black. For those who can find little excuse for the secession of the Cotton States, it must be remembered that some of the writings of these radical groups were placed into the Congressional Record by members who supported their anti-Southern sentiments and plans.
Such loyalty that remained in the South was to the original union created some eighty years before in the ratification of the Constitution. Indeed, General Robert E. Lee voiced the sentiment of most of the people in the South when he stated, “All that the South has ever desired was that the Union, as established by our forefathers, should be preserved, and that government as originally organized, should be administered in truth and purity.” In a way, this is very much what Frodo the Hobbit said to Gandalf the Wizard; that is, we only want to live as we have always lived!
However, by 1861 it was obvious that the already embattled Constitution was doomed to irrelevance with the election of Abraham Lincoln and his sectional party. Though Lincoln had promised not to “interfere” with slavery—and he meant it!—he also intended to continue the South’s economic servitude with even higher tariffs. And he planned to press forward with a vision of the nation establishing the supremacy of the central government over the States and the People. The Republican Party had no place in the South; it was a purely sectional party which now held both the majority in Congress and the White House. Between the ever-increasing millenialist fervor of the cults of New England—as described by Mr. Rothbard—and their own political impotence, the people of the South could no longer ignore the handwriting on the wall.
The above matter was succinctly summed up in a Thanksgiving sermon given by New Orleans Pastor Benjamin M. Palmer delivered one month before Louisiana seceded from the Union:
“Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic. The demon which erected its throne upon the guillotine in the days of Robespierre… which abolished the Sabbath and worshipped reason in the person of a harlot, yet survives to work other horrors . . . Among a people so generally religious as the American, a disguise must be worn; but it is the same old threadbare disguise of the advocacy of human rights . . . the decree has gone forth which strikes at God by striking at all subordination and law. The spirit of atheism, which knows no God who tolerates evil, no Bible that sanctions law, and no conscience that can be bound by oaths and covenants, has selected us for its victims… To the South the high position is assigned of defending, before all nations, the cause of all religion and of all truth. In this trust, we are resisting the power which wars against constitutions and laws and compacts, against Sabbaths and sanctuaries, against the family, the State and the Church; which blasphemously invades the prerogatives of God, and rebukes the Most High for the errors of His administration; which, if it cannot snatch the reign of empire from His grasp, will lay the universe in ruins at His feet.”
So, finally, why could not the Confederate States of America have survived even had the war been won early on? Simple! The people of the South wished to continue to exist as they had in the past. They rejected empire and the amassing of control within the central government necessary for the establishment of an empire. They rejected a large standing army—also necessary for the establishment of political and military control. They rejected New England’s “civil religion” that had now spread throughout the nation. Indeed, the rest of the nation had become New England together with its hatred for the South and her people. They rejected the Spirit of the Age that arose among the Yankee and pressed through every aspect of his culture—a humanist, atheist, pantheist-type pseudo-religion that rejected traditional Christianity in favor of “new religions” and cults foreign to the mind and soul of the people of the South. For though Southerners did not seek to inflict their culture—what we today would call Western Civilization—on the rest of the nation wishing only, as Jefferson Davis avowed, to be “left alone,” they soon learned that empires will not permit independence and religious fanatics will not spare the infidel. As with Tolkien’s hobbits, the people of the South found that they could not “wall out” this “brave new Yankee world.” Sadly, however, unlike the fate of the hobbits in their Shire, Southerners and their Dixie were eventually overwhelmed.
In 1933, James Hilton wrote a novel about a land far removed from the shadows of war gathering once again in the world. This was a place of refuge, of peace and enlightenment, a land hidden amongst the world’s highest mountains; a habitation wherein miracles occurred and love prevailed. In the story, a stranded party is rescued by the inhabitants of this paradise after their plane crashes and thus the tale begins. As it plays out, the members of that party learn that this demi-Eden exists only because it is removed from the world, unknown to men though they have now conquered the sky. They also slowly realize that they cannot simply leave this sanctuary because to do so might compromise its safety. However, trouble arises when the story’s hero—who is strangely drawn to this place—feels that he must help his brother to escape. The brother cannot live in this world of peace and contentment being very much the Yankee and filled with the need to control all around him while seeking worldly wealth and power. For the brother, this paradise is a hell.
Eventually the rest willingly choose to remain, contributing to the well being of their kindly hosts with such talents as they possess. People who have never “mattered” suddenly find that they have a purpose in life. But the hero’s brother desperately wishes to return to the darkening outside world and realizing that he will probably die if he makes the attempt alone, the hero accompanies him is his effort. However, in the course of their flight, the brother is killed but the hero survives and makes his way back to civilization. Yet no sooner does he return to “the real world,” then he bends all of his efforts to seek the sanctuary he had so reluctantly abandoned. In the film made of the novel, the final scene reveals the hero once again at the pass in the mountains leading to that place whose name has become synonymous with mankind’s desire for a world without war and suffering, a world of peace, love and hope—Shangri-la.
Though certainly no Shangri-la, the South, in its own way wished to maintain a culture based upon Christian moral principles and ideals, a culture that was passing away as our present world clearly demonstrates. And nowhere was its passing more swift, more heralded and more desired than in the “United States.” Alas for the South, there was no secret valley surrounded by impassible mountains to protect its inhabitants from the Yankee behemoth. Even a victory in war would only have postponed the inevitable day when that Empire assembled sufficient forces to wage war once more. Perhaps it is best that the South was defeated after only four years. Had it won, even for a brief time, the fate of the Southern people after that second “Civil War” might well have been that of the American Indian—virtual oblivion. At least today, we still have the memory of that which was defeated but not altogether lost—at least not yet.