Trivia buffs often ponder this question: What was the difference between Dred Scott and a mule?
Not ordinary trivia buffs, mind you, but trivia buffs of the Civil War, the Confederacy, and landmark Supreme Court decisions. That would exclude a certain woman from Minnesota who first suggested that the founding fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery, and then doubled down by counting a nine-year old as one of those founding fathers.
The Confederacy, or at least the Confederate flag, has made a comeback in recent years. It appears to be fashionable, and was last noticed locally . Or more precisely, on what was celebrated as Tax Day.
Why? Why would one fly the wrong flag on Tax Day? What’s wrong with Old Glory? It would seem that Old Glory just does not convey the sentiment behind the Confederacy. The tradition and the rich history which, to be properly examined, forces one to examine the most tumultuous time in our nation’s past: the Civil War Era.
As most citizens know, the Civil War was fought between a group of secessionist states called the Confederate States and the Union. Most citizens however, are slowly being made to forget the main cause(s) of the Civil War.
Was it over slavery? Or was it over, as a popular news channel often claims through its hosts and guests, "States' rights?" The answer? Both.
As long as we understand that it wasn’t "States' rights" as much as "States' right."
The right to own slaves.
The story of Dred Scott, one such slave who fought to be free, is well-known. He lost, since the 13th Amendment did not exist at the time of Dred Scott vs. Sandford. In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney noted:
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic whenever a profit could be made by it.
"OK," I can hear you say, "what does that have to do with the thesis that the Confederacy was mainly about slavery?"
Other than the preponderance of that sentiment in the Confederate states at that time? Not much. Take a look at segments from some of their declarations of secession.
The first two sentences from the declaration by Georgia:
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.
The first three from Mississippi’s:
In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
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.
From the declaration by Texas (emphasis is in the original):
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.
If that does not convince you, read the declarations in their entirety, and if you are numerically curious, count how often the word “slave” appears in the texts. The Confederacy’s main goal was to ensure that people like Dred Scott remained chattel, like a mule.
A recent CNN poll estimated that today about eight out of every ten Republicans show admiration for the leaders of the South. This is in direct contrast to the Republicans of the Civil War era, when an identical number favored the Union leaders who fought the South.
It’d therefore appear that these Republicans of today more closely resemble the Southern Democrats of that era. So when someone waves the Confederate flag today, I do not necessarily conclude racism or ignorance. But I do think that they are telling me to re-title my article to "Two Mules." That upsets me just a little. In retaliation, I pose the following query:
Assume for a moment the Civil War was about "States' rights." We all know that the Union defeated the Confederacy. If it was indeed over rights and not just one right, simply enumerate the rights that the victors stripped away from the Confederate states, other than the one taken away by the 13th Amendment.
What were these other rights, and why don’t the declarations of secession cite them as grievously as they do the right to own slaves?