Monday, June 20, 2011

Warning! History! Philosophical Discussion! Confederate Cemetery Marietta Georgia - Warning! History! Philosophical Discussion!

As I stated in a previous post, being in the East and the South somehow makes history seem so much more real to me. I have been both fascinated and appalled by the Civil War and the fact that in some areas of the South it seems to be alive and well even today. Growing up in Northern Wisconsin the Civil War was no more real to me than 70 degree temperatures in January. Again, I believe my fascination now is directly related to the fact I am now visiting places that before were only words in a textbook (or in country music songs!) - Lookout Mountain, Chickamauga, Chattahoochee.

I have been thinking about the causes, outcome and reprecussions of the Civil War and actually got wondering why soldiers or commanders, such as Robert E. Lee, were not tried for treason or were not considered traitors. After visiting the Marietta Georgia Confederate Cemetery where everything refers to "heroes" of the Confederacy I felt compelled to do some research. I had initially, and erroneously, remembered that the Civil War was only about the ability to own another person based on his or her skin color. I now realize that the reasons went much deeper than that -- something that I unfortunately did not pick up from my high school textbooks.

It appears that Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and other high ranking Confederate officials were indicted due to their participation in the confederacy but the charges never escalated to treason except in Davis' case,  due to their being pardoned by President Andrew Jackson before he left office.

"After the American Civil War, no person involved with the Confederate States of America was tried for treason, though a number of leading Confederates (including Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee) were indicted. Those who had been indicted received a blanket amnesty issued by President Andrew Johnson as he left office in 1869."

One argument that any trial of Lee for treason would no doubt have not been successful was because it was the North that actually declared war upon the South. Another is that there is no provision in the United States Consitution that says that the individual states cannot secede from the Union. Some argue that the Confederate States were only utilizing the principle set forth in the Declaration of Independence that states if "....any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government...." and obviously from the point of view of most Southerners, not including the blacks, the Union had become destructive to their way of life and it was only their duty to secede and form their own separate country.

There are many essays and opinions written about the treason issue which then begin to involve States' Rights, limited Federal Government and allegiance to one's homeland. It seems that during the era preceeding the Civil War one's allegiance was more tied to what state one was from rather than allegiance to the United States. This only makes sense to me as at that time the country was less than 100 years old. Old ties die hard. At that time we as a nation had also not lived through many unifying incidents such as the Depression, World Wars I & II, the Korea Conflict, Vietnam, and most recently 9-11.  Many people believed at the time that the Constitution of the United States called for strong states' rights and a weaker, limited federal government than what they saw to be evolving. Somehow that does not seem to be so farfetched from what we are experiencing as a nation right now politically - the Tea Party wants extremely limited federal powers while the Democrats would like to see a stronger federal government. It is both heartening and disillusioning that these very same arguments have existed for over 200 years. It is also disillusioning to remember that at one point in time we as a nation were not able to civilly and amicably resolve our differences so that all sides could live with the concessions and decisions. Somehow discourse falling into outright war does not seem so farfetched when you look at the political climate today. Politicians seem more interested in blaming the other side and are not willing to give and take.

So to wrap up my rambling the question is - Could this nation ever again be drug into a civil war? In my opinion probably not such a civil war as occurred in the 1860s. But I do believe that we could end up in a class based "war" or revolution much like what has been occurring lately in the Middle East and other places around the world. What the rich don't seem to understand is that their smooth and orderly way of life is dependent on the peons being happy also.  And right now there are quite a few discontented people who have been denied the American Dream much as the African Americans were denied the American Dream before the Civil War.

Are you one of them?

Disclaimer - these thoughts are entirely my own and written down while I was quite sober thank you. Any wine based beverage that you would like to supply will evoke further musings both on and off tangent.

1 comment:

  1. Lisa, as you know I am a Civil War historian and reenactor. I also went to the same wonderful Oshkosh schools that you did and can attest to the fact that the Civil War was taught from the northern perspective only. I was, like you, always amazed that the southerners were so willing to fight for slavery. It wasn't until I got involved in reenacting that I really learned about the reasons that southerners fought in the Civil War.

    If you were to ask the average southerner why they were fighting they would have said 1. they were protecting their homes from invasion by the Union army; 2. they were fighting to protect their right for self determination guaranteed in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights; 3. they were more loyal to their state than their nation.

    Most southerners did not own slaves, were against slavery, and would not have fought for the south if the war was just about slavery. Unfortunately, the southern states were controlled by the slave owning class (they were the rich and powerful). Each state confederate constitution stated that they had a right to slavery. But, that wasn't what was sold to the average Johnny Reb. It was "state's rights" and "protect your home and hearth" that were the battle cry for most of them which is why they fought so hard against the north. It is the reason more than 620,000 Americans died in this war that literally pitted brother against brother.

    From the northern perspective, if you told the average Billy Yank that he was fighting to free the slaves he would have disagreed with you (at least initially). The average northerner was fighting to preserve the union. Even Abraham Lincoln said that he would tolerate slave states as long as slavery was not allowed to expand.

    People on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line agreed that slavery was out dated and immoral; a practice that would die on its own due to its impracticality. Unfortunately, the firebrands in both the north and south drove the conversation and led the nation into its largest bloodletting in American history. I cannot fail to see to similarities to that time to our current divisions. I hope that cooler heads prevail this time around...