So What's This All About?

In case you didn't know, I'm in the multi-year-long process of posting a Christian devotional at the TAWG Blog. The TAWG Blog is, and always will be, mostly apolitical. For the most part, Bible-believing Christians will find little to disagree with there. But I also firmly believe that God's word can--and should--inform everything in life, and this should include politics and popular culture. How should we vote? How should we respond to hot topics such as abortion, capital punishment, taxes, and other issues? Which party, if either, is closer to the Biblical ideal? Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, Evangelicals whose political leanings are on the Left, have made the case in several of their writings that God wants his followers to vote politically on the Left more than on the Right. At times, some of them have gone so far as to equate voting on the Left with obedience to Christ, either subtly or not-so-subtly contending that the converse is true as well: If you vote Republican, you're sinning against the Savior.
I don't agree. I think that to the degree they actually resort to the Bible, they're misinterpreting it. With a whole bunch of caveats, I think politically conservative positions are a lot more compatible with the Scriptures than the Leftist positions.
Just to clarify, I would never accuse people who disagree with me--especially siblings in Christ--of what they accuse me of. I don't judge my own heart, much less anyone else's, and I don't equate political disagreement with theological fidelity to God. I have no reason to doubt their love for the Lord and "for the least of these," but I believe that they're sincerely wrong.
So there are two main purposes for this blog. One is to make a case for my political beliefs based on Scripture. The other is a bit more vague, basically to work out my political beliefs and figure out what's based on Scripture and what's based on my own biases. I certainly don't have all the answers. Some of this stuff I'm still figuring out. And I'm certainly open to correction. As long as you make your case civilly and based on Scripture, feel free to make a comment, and I promise I'll post it and consider your arguments thoughtfully and prayerfully. Who knows? Maybe we'll learn a little something from each other.
May God bless our common striving together towards both the "little t" truth and "Big T" Truth. Our watchword here is a line from C. S. Lewis's The Last Battle: "Further up and further in!"

P.S. -- Below on the left is "Topics I've Covered" which lists everything I've posted topically. It's come to my attention that some people would like to see everything just listed for them. If that's you, you can get it here. Thanks to my friend Stephen Young for the tip!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

One Nation Under God, Indivisible: Was the Civil War over Slavery or Something Else?

            America has always had a complicated relationship with slavery. Today there’s virtually unanimous assent that it’s an abominable practice, but of course it hasn’t always been so. Please pardon me as I quote from my TAWG Blog on this:

This argument in no way condones the crime and injustice of slavery, but it should be recognized that by placing any limits on the institution, the Bible made huge strides in reform. There's never been a culture, society, or nation, that didn’t practice it at one time or another, and there were almost never any legal restrictions on how one could treat his slaves. For all recorded history, it was practiced almost universally, and no one questioned its intrinsic morality. Few rejected slavery in principle. There were slave revolts, because no one wanted to be a slave, but the former slaves usually turned around and owned slaves as soon as they got the chance. Then suddenly, about two hundred years ago, some believers started examining their Bibles and concluded that the whole institution was completely incompatible with Christian practice. Within less than a hundred years, slavery went from being practiced everywhere to being practiced almost nowhere (at least legally). This is almost completely due to an abolition movement which was almost entirely led and populated by fervent Christians who explicitly took God's word seriously.

            I know that the abolitionist movement was started and headed by fervent Christians, so you could argue that the Bible was the spiritual catalyst for it, but was there a political catalyst? Talk show host Michael Medved, based on his research and sources, makes the case that the one big event that spurred on this new mindset of rejecting and fighting slavery started with. . . the American Revolution. That’s the point at which he traces the beginnings of the movement.
            How could it not have some effect? The very first words of our Declaration of Independence are “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” How could those men who wrote that be anything but anti-slavery? Millions of people all over the world took inspiration from these words and started to foment dissatisfaction with the status quo of holding human beings in bondage and owning them and selling them like animals or furniture. Not the least of which were blacks who started agitating for abolition using the exact words of the Declaration of Independence in their arguments
            But of course we know it’s a little more complicated than that. The main author of those words, Thomas Jefferson, was an owner of hundreds of slaves, along with Washington and many others of the Founding Fathers. And they—in both their Declaration and in their Constitution--failed to eliminate the practice.
            But here are some points to consider:

·         They considered liberty from Great Britain to be the highest good. In their reasoning, better that some men might be free from tyranny rather than no men might be free. If they’d agitated or legislated against slavery in their founding documents, the slave-holding states would’ve never joined the new government, and the American Revolution would’ve died in its cradle.
·         And you can tell from the documents their mixed feelings about it. They knewin their heart of hearts—that it was wrong. They were sorely embarrassed by the practice, which is the reason why in the Constitution they used euphemisms for it like a “person held to service or labour.” But they saw no way to just free all the slaves immediately, especially since the institution and legality of slavery was mainly a state, not a federal matter. From outright abolitionists like John Adams (who never owned a slave in his life) to Jefferson, the common understanding and meme could be summed up thus:

Slavery is an egregious evil, and must be penned in till it suffocates.

           The Father of our Country, George Washington himself--a (very troubled) slaveholder, summarized all the "big name" Founders when he said "It is among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by slow, sure and imperceptible degrees.”
            The main idea was that we’re going to work towards phasing it out until it’s eventually eliminated. Some suggested that the government might compensate owners for their freed slaves. We eliminated the overseas trade of slaves coming into our country in 1808 (signed by Jefferson). Technology and markets would advance and grow and speed the day when slavery could be finally and peacefully phased out. Slavery was peacefully abolished in England around the turn of the century, so why not here?
            But over time, a new way of thinking began to take over. Starting around the early 1820’s and 1830’s, the South became more and more bold in its view of slavery, which could be summed up thus:

Slavery is a positive good and must be expanded indefinitely in both space and time.

            Do you see the problem here? As long as slave owners and non-slave owners could agree that slavery was immoral and needed to be eventually phased out, people could work together. But as long as Southerners in general (and its sympathizers) held onto the “positive good” view, any sort of long-term compromise would prove to be unsustainable.
            Folks, the more I research this, the more I discover that Anti-Bellum southerners were obsessed with not only keeping slavery legal but extinguishing any criticism of it. As Lincoln put it so well,

            The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: we must not only let them alone, but we must, somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches, we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them, Alike unavailing to convince them is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.
            These natural and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only; cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly -- done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated -- we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Douglas's new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that Slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State Constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected of all taint of opposition to Slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.

            Have you ever heard the term “Southern honor”? Ever wondered what it’s referring to? Well, no matter how people use it today, in those days it meant that Southerners were—I’ll use the term again—obsessed with making sure that not only would slavery be kept legal, not only that no one condemn slavery, but that everyone everywhere offer unconditional praise of it. If you did offer anything but unconditional praise, they could get violent pretty quickly, since their “honor” was besmirched.
            Think I’m kidding? Look up the story of the “Caning of Charles Sumner” on Wikipedia. In brief, Senator Charles Sumner in 1856 made a speech on the floor of the Senate denouncing slavery and the “Slave Power” (by which he meant the South and its stated goals of expanding slavery). He wasn’t calling for national abolition. He was merely calling for Kansas to be admitted as a free state (where slavery would be illegal). Representative Preston Brooks approached Sumner and proceeded to beat the man nearly to death with a cane on the floor of the U.S. Senate. From the Wiki article: “Brooks continued to beat the motionless Sumner until his cane broke at which point he left the chamber.”
            Want to know a sign of a man obsessed? In relationship to X (whatever X is), he asks himself “How does X affect my relationship with my obsession?” If he’s obsessed with his relationship with Christ (as all of us should be), he asks himself “How does X affect my relationship with Christ?” If it helps his relationship, he welcomes X. If it doesn’t help, he’s ambivalent at best towards it. If it hurts his relationship with Christ, then he’s hostile towards it.
           To be brutally frank, that sign comes up again and again and again the more you examine the Antebellum and Civil War South. Their concern for "states rights" pretty much began and ended with how it benefited their institution. They cared about law and order just insofar as it helped them hunt down their slaves, but amazingly dropped this concern when it no longer benefited white supremacism (e.g., the KKK). They cared about the Founding Fathers when it looked like some quote from the Founders could help them, but didn't care too much for statements like Jefferson's opening words of the Declaration. They very specifically copied the Constitution--word for word in a lot of places--but explicitly put in protection for slavery (no euphemisms, the term itself) which the U.S. version lacks. 
            Look, I don’t use terms like obsession lightly. When I say that the Southern Democrats (generally) were obsessed with preserving and promoting slavery, I mean it.
            As we move to my next point, please remember what I said in the last posting: What soldiers on the field are fighting for doesn’t really matter that much. What matters is what the governments themselves say they’re fighting for. Let’s take a look at this, shall we?
            How's about the President of the Confederacy, Mr. Jefferson Davis? Do you think that he knew why the South was pulling out? What did he say (before and during the War, not after)? He said that his state had seceded because "She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races."
            Here’s an excerpt from Mississippi's "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union":

            Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

            How’s about South Carolina? Taking a look at their “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” what were their specific complaints? As James W. Loewen of the Washington Post pointed out, “It noted ‘an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery’ and protested that Northern states had failed to ‘fulfill their constitutional obligations’ by interfering with the return of fugitive slaves to bondage. . . South Carolina was further upset that New York no longer allowed ‘slavery transit.’ In the past, if Charleston gentry wanted to spend August in the Hamptons, they could bring their cook along. No longer — and South Carolina’s delegates were outraged. In addition, they objected that New England states let black men vote and tolerated abolitionist societies. According to South Carolina, states should not have the right to let their citizens assemble and speak freely when what they said threatened slavery.”
            Out of the originally seven seceding states, only four bothered to put down in writing specifically why that particular state was leaving. Each one of these either listed slavery or something related to slavery (e.g. the election of anti-slavery Lincoln) as their main reason(s) for leaving. 
            As another piece of evidence, I submit the words of the Vice-President of the CSA himself, Alexander H. Stephens:

            The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong.
            Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

            Remember how I mentioned that the Founders were embarrassed by slavery and were looking forward to its eventual extinction? Frederick Douglass, one of the most famous abolitionists in America, pointed out that if the states chose to outlaw slavery tomorrow, not one word of the U.S. Constitution would have to be amended. The states could peacefully remove slavery as they chose.
            Not so the Confederacy. When they made a constitution, they weren’t embarrassed at all by slavery. No euphemisms here:

Art. I, Section 9, Clause 4 "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." Please note that one's right to own slaves is right next to forbidding ex post facto laws. 

Art. IV, Section 2, Clause 1 "The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired."

Art. IV, section 3, Clause 3 "The Confederate States may acquire new territory; and Congress shall have power to legislate and provide governments for the inhabitants of all territory belonging to the Confederate States, lying without the limits of the several Sates; and may permit them, at such times, and in such manner as it may by law provide, to form States to be admitted into the Confederacy. In all such territory the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress and by the Territorial government; and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories shall have the right to take to such Territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the States or Territories of the Confederate States." For all those who say that the Southern states just wanted to be left alone and weren't interested in expanding slavery into new territories, the very Constitution of the CSA begs to differ. 
            If in the future a state within the CSA decided to abolish slavery, it couldn’t do so—it had no right to do so—without amending their constitution. Even if that state somehow got the constitution amended so that it could outlaw slavery within its own borders, by constitutional law that state would be forbidden from keeping out-of-state owners from bringing their slaves into the supposedly non-slave state. This pretty much would defeat the purpose of outlawing slavery within your state's borders, wouldn't it? J. J. McCullough, in his side-by-side comparison of the U.S. Constitution and the CSA version, summarizes them thus: "Four different clauses [in the CSA Constitution] entrench the legality of slavery in a number of different ways, and together they virtually guarantee that any sort of anti-slave law or policy would be unconstitutional. People can claim the Civil War was 'not about slavery' as much as they want, but the fact remains that anyone who fought for the Confederacy was fighting for a country in which a universal right to own slaves was one of the most entrenched laws of the land." 
            But at this point we need to correct a common misunderstanding. The Republican Party, like its titular head President Lincoln, hated slavery, but it (and he) never called for the U.S. government to outlaw slavery where it already existed. They believed that the federal government—under the U.S. Constitution—had no legal right to ban slavery in a state where it already existed. They opposed the extension of slavery into new territories and states (as the territories requested statehood). This was perfectly in line with the Founders’ view on slavery as an evil institution which we can’t just outlaw immediately, but which we need to put on the road to eventual extinction.
            But the Southern states were absolutely paranoid that somehow, someway, someone might come and set their slaves free--which fed into even worse paranoia that their slaves were going rise up to rape their wives and daughters and murder them in their beds. When Lincoln was elected President but before he was sworn in, while he was still a private citizen, seven states declared secession, and Fort Sumter was fired upon.   
            “But Keith, I heard that the reason the South seceded was because of unjust tariffs, not because of slavery.” First off, before I address that, I need to ask you a serious question: Does that make sense to you? That half the country would fire bullets at their fellow citizens because of a tariff that they considered unjust? Or a series of tariffs? Really?
            As it happens, this is a myth. Tariffs went up and went down in the decades before the Civil War. Once again, let me quote Loewen: “High tariffs had prompted the Nullification Controversy in 1831-33, when, after South Carolina demanded the right to nullify federal laws or secede in protest, President Andrew Jackson threatened force. No state joined the movement, and South Carolina backed down. Tariffs were not an issue in 1860, and Southern states said nothing about them. Why would they? Southerners had written the tariff of 1857, under which the nation was functioning. Its rates were lower than at any point since 1816.”
            Quite frankly, the more you examine this “tariffs caused the War” motif, the more it’s revealed to be the scam it really is. It’s only after the War, when slavery was thoroughly discredited, that you get Southern apologists like Jefferson Davis (the President of the CSA) and others claiming that the conflict was over tariffs instead of slavery. Before and during the War, Confederates weren’t at all ambiguous as to why they were fighting. If you can find any source anywhere where a Confederate apologist (in a leadership position) says that the main reason he’s fighting is because of tariffs before or during the War, please bring them to my attention, and I’ll reconsider my stance. If you think you can submit evidence which counterweighs all the evidence I’ve put forward in this short blog posting, I’d love to see it.
            So why was the War fought? Well, opposing sides might be fighting a war for aims which are different from each other’s reasons. The South—without a doubt—was fighting to preserve its “way of life” which was (in their minds) inextricably tied to slavery. The North was not fighting to end slavery, at least not at first. They were fighting to preserve the Union and rule of law. But in the sense I’ve discussed, the Civil War was about slavery, if only because the South was so paranoid about it and started shooting at their fellow Americans over it.
            I just want to end today’s posting on a different note. I was born and raised in the South, and there’s nowhere else I’d rather be as long as I live in the United States. By and large I’m proud of what the South stands for today. In this day and time, the South is the largest single bulwark for personal and economic freedom in this country and thus in the world. I thoroughly believe that if the rest of the world and the rest of the world were more like the South today, as regarding personal and economic freedom, the world would be a better place. But when we’re talking about the South of 150 years ago, that’s a different matter, isn’t it?
            Now for your enjoyment and edification, here's a 5-minute Prager course taught by Col. Ty Seidule, head of the department of history at West Point.

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