Northern crusader-ism, Southern opposition
July 29, 2012
One of the beliefs that was commonly held by Southerners in the nineteenth century was that the emotional, social cause-driven politics of New England and the Upper North made self-government there dangerous and threatened Southern prosperity and peace. Indeed, President Jefferson Davis, in an 1862 speech before the Mississippi legislature, said that he believed the Yankees were incapable of self-government, especially if such is understood as what Southern leaders liked to call ‘Free Government’ (something entirely different from New England democracy). He explained his reasoning thusly:
Those men who now assail us, who have been associated with us in a common Union, who have inherited a government which they claim to be the best the world ever saw– these men, when left to themselves, have shown that they are incapable of preserving their own personal liberty. They have destroyed the freedom of the press; they have seized upon and imprisoned members of State Legislatures and of municipal councils, who were suspected of sympathy with the South. Men have been carried off into captivity in distant States without indictment, without a knowledge of the accusations brought against them, in utter defiance of all rights guaranteed by the institutions under which they live. These people, when separated from the South and left entirely to themselves, have, in six months, demonstrated their utter incapacity for self-government. And yet these are the people who claim to be your masters.
Davis’ claims about the incapacity of Yankees to preserve personal liberty and self-government are very much in line with the thinking of South Carolina statesman Robert Barnwell Rhett. Author and historian William C Davis describes the views of the ‘Father of Secession’ and Confederate congressman on pages 112-113 of Rhett: The Turbulent Life and Times of a Fire-Eater:
[Rhett] was tired of all the insulting abolition petitions. Southerners were accused of being murderers and arsonists, fearful of truth, enemies of humanity. Worse, fifteen hundred or more abolition societies in the North, he believed, lay bent on inciting insurrection among their slaves and the destruction of slavery itself. A new one formed every day, he exaggerated. States in the North refused to surrender fugitive slaves.
“Here is a subject in which passion, and feeling, and religion, are all involved,” he added perceptively. “All the inexperienced emotions of the heart are against us; all the abstractions concerning human rights can be perverted against us; all the theories of political dreamers, atheistic utilitarians, self-exalting and self-righteous religionists, who would reform or expunge the bible, – in short, enthusiasts and fanatics of all sorts, are against us.”
…Rhett felt that emancipation was part and parcel of the evil that had emerged in France the previous century, for the Enlightenment was not the only evil it helped to visit upon the world. The misguided push for universal rights and against slavery was “born in atheism, and baptized in the blood of revolutionary France,” and it accomplished its purposed.
Stephen F Hale, Alabama’s Secession Commissioner to Kentucky, signer to the Confederate Constitution and Lieutenant Colonel in the Confederate Army (who died from battle wounds in 1862), expressed the same ideas that Davis and Rhett held on the subject in an 1860 letter to the governor of Kentucky, excerpted below from page 93 of Charles B Dew’s Apostles of Disunion:
Stephen Hale understood the threat to Southern prosperity & peace
[T]he northern States and their people have been waging an unrelenting and fanatical war for the last quarter of a century; an institution with which is bound up not only the wealth and prosperity of the Southern people, but their very existence as a political community. This war has been waged in every way that human ingenuity, urged on by fanaticism, could suggest. They attack us through their literature, in their schools, from the hustings, in their legislative halls, through the public press, and even their courts of justice forget the purity of their judicial ermine to strike down the rights of the Southern slave-holder and override every barrier which the Constitution has erected for his protection; and the sacred desk is desecrated to this unholy crusade against our lives, property, and the constitutional rights guaranteed to us by the compact of our fathers.
Mississippi Secession Commissioner and Confederate Congressman Fulton Anderson, considered one of the Old South’s greatest orators, spoke of this destructive and emotional propensity in the North in his speech to the Virginia Secession Convention in 1861. Dew writes of his speech on page 63 of Apostles of Disunion:
Anderson explained at some length why the states of the lower South would never return to the Union.”An infidel fanaticism” had so corrupted the Yankee mind that a return to sanity and conservative principles was impossible among “the present generation of the Northern people.” They hold Southerners in contempt, he insisted; they believed “that we are a race inferior to them in morality and civilization,” and they were committed to a “holy crusade for our benefit in seeking the destruction of that institution which… lies at the very foundation of our social and political fabric.”
Again and again throughout the period Southern leaders spoke on this theme of rash Yankee fanaticism, a natural tendency to take up one ‘holy crusade’ after another. They warned the South that this passion and self-righteousness endangered Southern liberty, prosperity and security. They noted how it was tied up in a revolutionary moral perspective that grew out of Enlightenment thought. Some of these Southerners, such as Rhett, warned that this Northern crusade would not end with slavery but once the social activists of the North had dispensed with the cause of the Negro they would move onto another social cause, and then another, and so on. It was in their nature as a people and culture, Rhett and others warned.
Were not these Southern leaders proven correct? Indeed, following abolitionism, Northern radicals took up numerous other social causes and have continued to do so up to the present. Meanwhile, the South has resisted each of these movements (from abolitionism to Obamacare) and attempted in vain (as a conquered society and minority member of a forced-Union) to stop such people from disturbing and re-organising society again and again. This tendency on the part of Northern radicals can be traced back to early Colonial times to influential do-gooders like Cotton Mather and forward to crusaders such as Diane Allen, Cass Sunstein, Ted Kennedy, Michael Bloomberg and Thomas Menino. The endless drive to continually re-make society, restrict personal liberty (in modern times, consider the Patriot Act, the TSA, the emergence of constant drone surveillance, etc) and impose Northern social and political values on the South and the entire word is what makes this Northern proclivity dangerous rather than simply a cultural curiosity. Of course, as an ever-shrinking (due to negative demographic trends) minority member of the Union, the South has never been able to stop Northern radicals from imposing their values upon the whole of the United States. There is no reason to think that as long as the US persists and Southern people remain part of it, this will change. As even the most conservative-minded, US flag-waving Southerners came to understand in 1860-61, in the long-run our survival and well-being depends upon our being a free and self-governing people, able to say ‘no’ to whatever the latest moral fad is which Northern radicals wish to impose upon us.