Still Fighting the Civil War

In an embarrassing faux pas, it was recently discovered that Mississippi hadn’t officially ratified the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. The focus in many articles was of the nature of a silly clerical error, as the ratification had passed both the House and the Senate unanimously. Others pointed to the fact that it took until 1995 for this to even pass. The 130 year tardiness, while absurd, is not even what concerns me.

I am just finishing up rereading Never Call Retreat, The third volume in Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War. Each time I delve into a professional history of this war, I am reminded of just how much of today’s right-wing politics is rooted in Confederate philosophy. To what extent? For this answer, one need look no further than the founding document of the Confederate States of America.

Injecting religion into politics and overt white supremacist passions are found right at the very beginning of said document: (via Wikipedia):

The Preambles of both Constitutions do have some similarities, though it seems that the Confederate Constitution authors set out to give a different feel to the new preamble. Both preambles are provided here. The bold text shows the differences in the two.

  • The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
  • The Preamble to the Confederate Constitution: “We, the people of the Confederate States, each state acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity — invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God — do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.”

The major issue leading to factional unrest and, ultimately, rebellion was that of slavery in the territories. To ensure that the “peculiar institution” was unmolested in all current and future lands of the CSA, the Constitution included the following:

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 states; 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 by 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.

Since Nixon’s Southern Strategy, an appeal to Confederate values has vaulted more and more political extremists into prominence. Still consumed with romantic ideas of “The Lost Cause,” a just war over “States’ rights,” and 19th Century human bondage apologetics, Southerners are manipulated into voting against their own interests. We see the ratification of a Constitutional Amendment as a silly oversight in the same month that will see the arguments to strike down the Voting Rights Act of 1965 presented to the Supreme Court.