Monday, June 13, 2011

Fossils, Luddites And Rednecks: Denials About Slavery And War

Continued from last week:  Most modern Southerners, with the exception of fossils, Luddites and rednecks, find slavery so repulsive that we pretend the institution couldn’t possibly have been the cause of secession and the Civil War. Facts, however, tell a different story.

Background:  I visited Warrenton, N.C., where my ancestral cousin, Lyndon M. Welborn, trained for the Confederate army, to learn more about my family’s Civil War experience. In Warrenton and in later research, I uncovered information about why men fought for the Confederacy. Personal reasons varied, but slavery kept surfacing as a main cause.

From my book-in-progress, Dear Father I Am Sorry To Tell You (Copyright B.J. Welborn; all rights reserved.):

Richard Furman, 1755-1825, 
was a prominent minister and president
 of America's first Baptist convention. 
Furman University in Greenville, S.C.,
 took its name from him. 
            When South Carolina broke from the Union, delegates to the Secession Convention in Charleston attached a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” to its 1860 Ordinance of Secession. Three other states also attached a list of reasons for secession to their ordinances: Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.
            South Carolina’s declaration stated that a reason to dissolve its compact with the Union was because non-slave holding states were violating a national agreement (the retooled Fugitive Slave Act of 1850) to return runaway slaves.   South Carolina secessionists alleged northern states were violating the Fourth Amendment to the
Constitution.  The Fourth Amendment stated “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due."
            South Carolina secessionists declared Northern states were “discharging from service” fugitive slaves; Northerners harbored runaways and helped them flee to freedom. South Carolina’s secession leaders, mostly members of the slave-owning planter class, pointed out that South Carolina slave owners had been paying taxes on their slave property, as required by the Union.  Moreover, South Carolina was exercising a Constitutional right by seceding.  South Carolina was a good Constitutional citizen. 
            Leading South Carolinians equated Lincoln with abolitionism.  They declared abolitionism a terrifying threat to Southerners.  Historian Walter Edgar, citing historic newspaper reports in his book South Carolina, A History, writes of the Reverend Richard Furman of Greenville, S.C. Reverend Furman told his congregation that Lincoln’s first election would mean “every negro in South Carolina and every other Southern State will be his own master; nay, more than that, will be the equal of every one of you.”  Furman warned that abolitionist preachers would be willing to marry “your daughters to black husbands.”
Warren County's second courthouse was
standing when North Carolina troops gathered
 there for a festive send-off in 1861. The first structure
burned down; this courthouse was built in the 1850s.
            Edgar also writes about S.C. Congressman John D. Ashmore, who echoed Furman’s sentiments by proclaiming that electing Lincoln as President “equals abolitionist victory equals Africanization.”
North Carolina did not elaborate its terse Ordinance of Secession.
North Carolina’s African-American population today totals twenty-two percent, many still living in the east, where flat sandy land had allowed profitable plantations, in contrast to the state’s mountainous west.  South Carolina today is more than thirty percent black.  The black population lives mainly in the eastern “Lowcountry,” where huge plantations once thrived.  North Carolina’s black population currently clusters in Warren County, now forty percent African-American, and in five surrounding counties with populations more than fifty percent black.
            “I guess many people living here now are descendants of the slaves who worked the big plantations around here?” I asked Hunter as we walked to the library. Richard E. Hunter, Jr,  Warren County's superior court clerk, reigned as keeper of Warrenton's historical flame.
            “That’s right,” he said. “The sandy soil around here made perfect growing conditions for tobacco.  And cotton.”  
Hunter was right about the library’s riches.  In a basement room dominated by a fine old conference table, I found shelves of musty books on North Carolina history.  I mined nuggets of information about Lyndon and his regiment, as well as Lyndon’s three brothers who fought in the Civil War.  I also found a long list of other ancestors who had fought, some who gave the last full measure for The Cause.  
            Millions of American families claim ancestors who fought in the Civil War, which took more American lives than all other wars in our nation’s history combined, ten percent of the nation’s population at the time.  Nearly 40 percent of Southerners claim ancestors who fought for the Confederacy.
The books in the basement didn’t reveal reasons my forebears became Confederate fighters, but I am sure that when war erupted, ordinary men who were not abolitionists joined Federal ranks to preserve the Union, and regular men indifferent to slavery joined Confederate ranks, aiming to safeguard their way of life.
Later, I would learn that Lyndon volunteered for the Confederate army, against his father’s wishes, because of a matter of the heart. (See Archives, March 15)  His brothers fought because the Confederacy drafted them. One brother, David, petitioned to avoid military service, but that action ended in devastating defeat. 

Coming soonThe Story of David. See PREVIEWS page.