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A tale of five flags

Once upon a time, there was a group of states within a larger nation who did something terrible…they allowed slavery. Eventually there was a dreadful civil war between those states and some other states who did not approve of slavery. Although the war was only incidentally about slavery and rather more about centralised versus decentralised power, it did at least have the happy effects of ending slavery.

The National Flag of The Bad Guys: The Stars and Bars!

The flag which The Bad Guys flew in battles

How do we know they were ‘The Bad Guys’? Because of slavery, of course, but mostly we know this because they lost and the winners get to write the history books.

So much later, after the war was over, one state used a flag which harked back to the old battle flag. They argued that most of the people who fought in that war from their state were just fighting for hearth and home and very few of them actually owned slaves anyway. Regardless, those days were part of their history and they rather liked their old flags.

Oh no…Echos of The Bad Guys!

This upset some people mightily and they threatened economic boycotts and all manner of other nastiness if the state did not change their flag to remove the symbolism of The Bad Guys of Old.

So the governor said people could vote on this, but then decided that no, actually, they couldn’t, or maybe they could… but in the mean time, here is a splendid new flag and will you leave me alone now?

The Flag Spangled Banner?

So folks stopped for a moment, looked at this new flag and agreed that it was just about the dumbest, ugliest dish-rag to flap over the state capitol ever. “Screw that!” they all cried, and so the arguments continued to rage.

Eventually however, they agreed to another splendid brand new flag and everyone was happy because this new flag does not look anything like the flag used by The Bad Guys of Old, right?

The State Flag of the Good Guys: The…er, um, ah…Stars and Bars

Those Americans… who says they have no concept of ironic humour? You just gotta love ’em.

53 comments to A tale of five flags

  • … more about centralised verses decentralised …

    poetic readings ??


  • S. Weasel

    Ha! I’ll bet you couldn’t find one in a hundred who recognize the name stars and bars, let alone could identify the flag itself. A few more might know the Bonnie Blue flag (long live the independent Republic of West Florida!), but only because it has its own theme song.

    We like our symbols simple and few, thank you, and the Southern Cross on the Navy Jack is the only emblem of Evil Southern Redneckity we have room for.

  • David Packer

    Maybe North Dakota should look into a new design; their state flag is basically the regimental colour of the First N. Dakota infantry regiment as carried at the time of the Spanish American war and the Philippine insurrection. Clearly this must upset Hispanic Americans.

    “Traditional family” groups should be up in arms about the flag of Kentucky which shows two men embracing, clearly about to have a full on snog.

    Irish Americans might like to boycott Hawaii, the state flag of which features the Union Flag, symbol us evil, baby eating, Brits.

  • Being from Georgia and having been raised in very small southern towns I can personally attest to the fact that the current fight over the flag is most definitely not about ‘southern heritage’. I was raised as a redneck and so I can act the part when I’m around them well enough they open up their true feelings. The bigotry of the south is hidden but it won’t really go away until the boomer generation is gone. Sure, there’s a very small portion of the younger generations who pick up on it from their parents (hence the current non-news event of the ‘whites only prom’) but they’re such a small minority and they general come to their senses about a year after they graduate.

    But the situation with the flag also has a great deal to do with Georgia politics and our move away from being a one-party (democrat) state to something of a plurality. (Being an LP member one bad guy might be better than two!).

    Anyway, I have an old, pre-1956 flag I still fly on occasion just to piss off the rednecks. Although most of them don’t know what it is because they swear that the southern cross has been the state flag since the time of Abraham…

    That and any true southern patriot (anti-slavery but pro-states-rights) would fly the Bonnie Blue anyway…

  • Looks like they incorporated the U-flag while they were at it.

  • ellie

    We’re not (quite) as crazy as you seem to think. The Confederate battle flag draws special ire because that was the flag Southern segregationists resurrected in 1954 as a symbol of opposition to the US Supreme Court decision in Brown v Board of Education, which outlawed, more or less, segregation in public schools.

  • That should have been the “EU”-flag.

  • Neel Krishnaswami

    The US Civil War was “only incidentally about slavery”? Well, that’s not what the secessionists said at the time; here’s an excerpt from the Mississippi declaration of secession:

    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. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    It’s just historically inaccurate to claim that the US Civil War was “really” about states’ rights — that’s an argument invented by segregationists in the twentieth century. Letting them get away with it just fouls the federalist nest, because most people quite sensibly reject any argument that stinks of an apologetic for Jim Crow.

  • David Packer

    Does Mississippi still have its Confederate battle flag? In know they adopted theirs in 1896.

    I must say, speaking as someone who is a bit of a flag freak, the newest Georgia flag is at least attractive. More than can be said for some state flags…

  • S. Weasel

    It’s just historically inaccurate to claim that the US Civil War was “really” about states’ rights

    Ah. Here we go. I’m amazed we got to eight messages first.

  • Russ Goble

    I figure I should put in a few remarks about my home state’s little embarrassment. A couple of notes, just to clarify how some of this came about, though Perry’s short and sweat little history is quite funny and, fairly accurate.

    First, on the note of centralized vs. decentralized. The Confedarate south was in many ways similar to a 3rd world aristocracy. A few people controlled a lot of the resources. There was not a large middle class. And slave ownership was really the symbol of “success.” So, while slave ownership was not at the core of the dispute between North & South, it was the 100 pound elephant you couldn’t get around. More importantly, the South’s position really wasn’t so much a difference between centralized vs. decentralized power in a libertarian sense, but it was more of an interpretation of American federalism. Basically, who gets to wield the power. The South believed the States had near absolute juristiction, while the North believed the federal government had more say. But, it’s very important to note, especially post Civil War, that the Southern States, run by the “Dixiecrats”, were not for a decentralized government. They just believed in a heavy centralized power in the state capitals instead of in Washington. So, there is a common misconception that the South wanted a smaller government, but that’s really not true. They just had a different interpretation on who wields the power.

    Also, Perry’s history actually leaves out a very important note. Georgia’s flag (and several state flags in the South) actually had the Confederate government flag (i.e. the “National flag of the bad guys”) incorprated into the state flag. This was the case from 1865 thru the 1950s. So the “new” Georgia flag is actually quite similar to the flag post Civial War, but pre-1950s.

    Why did they change the flag in 1950s? Because the federal government had decided segregation was an abomination only slightly less worse than slavery. And they decided that the lynching of random blacks from trees might not be the best enforcement of local police power. So, they were passing federal anti-lynching laws (i.e., it became the federal government’s juristiction). The southern states at the time were almost universally controlled by the subsect of the Democratic party known as the dixiecrats. They didn’t like this federal intrusion. So, they did the political equivalent of “flipping a bird” at the folks in Washington. They either rose the old “battle flag” of the South over the state capitals or in the case of Georgia (and Alabama I think) replaced the old confederate government symbol in the state flag with the battle flag.

    So, the important thing to note hear is that the Georgia flag became the way it was in Perry’s first example entirely due to Dixiecrats desire to keep blacks “in their place.” This is important to note, because, believe me, I’ve heard enough of the pro-old flag rednecks around here say “it’s not hatred, but heritage” even though they are clueless on the heritage of their flag. Bottom line, yes the Civil War was fought for reason beyond slavery, and their were a few principles of the Old South that are occasionally admirable and their definately is good and romanticized Southern Culture, but the Georgia flag containing the Battle Flag had EVERYTHING to do with racism, and really nothing else. Long post, but, I just want to make sure the history is correct.

    The reason the latest “new” flag is a decent comprimise is that it truly recognizes the confederate history of Georgia while while removing what has become (rightly or wrongly) THE number one symbol for hatred against African Americans. So, yes, it technically harkens back the days of the “bad guys”, but it does so with 2003 perceptions. Basically, its the best comprimise their is and apparently, even the African American members of the state legislature are happy so maybe we can move beyond this stupid issue.

    One other note, the last “new flag” (the predominately blue one) was best described by Virginia Postrel. She said it was the flag equivalent of a piece of legislation. It tried to please everyone but ended up pleasing no one. The sad thing is, the flag they just decided on was actually proposed in the original flag debate a couple of years ago. But they chose hideous blue one instead.

    I also wish I could explain how much this issue has dominated the local news over the last several months. Basically, the state legilature meets for a couple of months out of the year and this was the biggest news to come out of there this year. Sometimes, I really hate our obsession with symbols over actual ideas.

    Sorry for the long post from Georgia boy.

  • Neel: Slavery was the issue that was the ‘deal breaker’, so to that extent is was indeed a war about slavery (Russ’s 1000 pound elephant), but that misses the point that it was about a state’s right to decide the issue, not Washington DC’s. I stand by my remarks.

  • Neel Krishnaswami

    The flags of Mississippi

    The current flag has the Confederate battle flag as an element of it. (I don’t know what the official name for the doohickey at the upper left is, but that’s where it is.)

  • David Packer

    Didn’t Lincoln say something about keeping slavery if it would save the Union?

    And yes, I know, Mississippi adopted their flag in1894, not 96, mea culpa.

  • David Packer

    Re. Neel’s last post.
    The upper left corner of a flag is the “canton”, although I shall now forever think of it as the “doohickey”.

    I suppose that from this side of the Pond the flag debate can resemble attempts to demonise the Union Flag and St George’s Cross by Federasts and other anti patriots. It was good to read an indepth explanation of the somewhat different situation with US state flags.

  • Incidentally, in 2001 there was a vote on changing the Mississippi flag to change the “doohickey” from the Southern Cross to a field of 20 stars (representing Mississippi being the 20th state to join the union, in 1823). The end result would have been a flag that wouldn’t look too different from Georgia’s new one (excepting the yellow seal).

    I’ve personally become a fan of the “Magnolia Flag” myself, which includes the Bonnie Blue flag in the canton. There’s some debate on whether or not there should be a red stripe on the non-pole side, apparently (as a Tennessean by birth, having strange stripes on the flag appeals to me too).

  • Guy from Mississippi

    Mississippi attempted to change its flag a couple of years ago; the legislature punted to a plebiscite. The “new” proposed flag was changed only in the canton, to a blue field with a circle of (I think) 19 stars, with a single and much larger one in the middle (to commemorate entry as the 20th state).

    It wasn’t unattractive, though I think any redesign was doomed to failure (even if it weren’t designed by committee) on the simple grounds that those who care about “their Southern heritage” are quite a bit more concerned with keeping it on the flag than those who think it is, at the very least, a signal of extremely poor taste and insensitivity are concerned with getting it off the flag. I think total turnout for the election was maybe 25-30% of the registered voters.

    Don’t ignore the imposition-from-outside aspect either; I knew a fair number of people who didn’t really care about keeping the old flag who voted for it just to thumb their noses at the NAACP. (And several of them aren’t even Mississippi natives.)

    Anyway, the end result doesn’t surprise me. The battle flag (which, aside from connotations, I find aesthetically quite pretty) has flown over too many white robes to be permissible, while the Stars and Bars never suffered such abuse. The issue isn’t that the battle flag represents the Confederacy; it’s that it represents the fight to keep Jim Crow laws in place.

  • Della

    it did at least have the happy effects of ending slavery.

    Slavery hasn’t ended:

    Global advocacy group Anti-Slavery International claims that an estimated 27 million people around the world are slaves today.
    Child laborers form the bulk of slaves in Africa, and the organization believes there are more than eight million children in slavery around the world.
    Slavery is particularly virulent in Sudan, where militias seize black Christian and animist southerners and sell them to Arab Muslim northerners, who use them as domestic workers or concubines.
    Slavery also continues in another Islamic country in northern Africa, Mauritania, where it has existed since ancient times.

    You could also argue that many tyranical regimes around the world treat their people pretty much the same as slaves.

  • I am familiar with the Stars and Bars, because William Boyd wrote a novel with that name. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be. I’m not American, though.

    Can someone explain to me why the Stars and Bars has three stripes? I am assuming that the seven starts represent seven Confederate states.

  • Russ Goble

    I think Guy from Mississippi nails it. The Battle Flag is a symbol of hatred and segregation while the old Confederate “national” symbol is really just a historical footnote.

    And he’s right about thumbing the nose at the NAACP. I really can’t respect that organization any more for a number of reasons, not the least of which is focusing on state flags and how many black faces are on TV instead of giving parents choices in urban school districts or lowering taxes, which would have real benefits for African Americans. But, with that said, I wanted the flag changed just like they did.

    Again, hopefully this stupid issue is behind us. On the one hand I appreciate our Governor’s leadership on this, but on the other hand, it wouldn’t have become an issue if he hadn’t made a stupid comment about “letting people vote on it” on the campaign trail. But, he fell into the trap that many fall into: “hey, who doesn’t like democracy?” I think he realized what Guy From Mississippi said. The people who care about the flag issue are small but would have turned out in droves while most everyone else could give a shit and would probably go to their kid’s soccer practice instead. And that would likely have led to the battle flag being put back on the flag and our national embarrassment continuing.

  • Neel Krishnaswami

    Perry: The secession declarations explicitly mention the northern states’ unwillingness to enforce the federal Fugitive Slave Act, which gives the lie to the idea that it was an argument about the proper division of power between the federal and state governments. The governments of the slave states didn’t care about federalism when it came time to re-kidnap slaves freeing themselves.

    Besides being historically inaccurate, trying to perpetuate the states’ rights story of the Civil War is just terrible politics. When we are seen in the company of romanticisers of slavery, non-libertarian lovers of freedom and decentralization (who could otherwise be our allies) conclude that our libertarianism is a sham, and that “federalism” is a code word for “segregation”. The requirements of historical accuracy, morality, and practical politics coincide — it’s well worth our time to try breaking the link between federalism and the Lost Cause in public discourse.

    This might seem academic to people on your side of the Atlantic, but it’s something that I have seen again and again. These days I try and develop the argument using economics — in particular Tiebout’s argument that you can use decentralization and mobility to overcome the free-rider problem in the provision of public goods. But most people aren’t economists, and they connect federalism and racism because for the last half-century we’ve let some of the bad guys appropriate our vocabulary.

  • snide

    Don’t be obtuse Della, he was obviously talking about slavery in the Old South in his amusing little tale of flapping cloth thingies

  • I have always liked the Stars & Bars from an aesthetic point of view. I know it represents a vile confederacy but it is still a damn good looking flag.

    The civil war was about economics and slavery was a part of it. The civil war not only about slavery, it was a major part of the whole “Southern way of life”.

    Southerners and slavery/segregation is the classic case of the abuse of valid concept. I am for state’s rights and a looser federal state. For instance, I could see one state allow abortion and one next to it not or better yet cannabis sales.

    (I have always believed in the legalisation of pot but was not a regular user. More like very irregular. However since my cornea decided to disintergrate, I have a new appreciation for wanting it. Alas, it is only allowed for cancer case in the bloody State of Maine.)

  • Michael:

    Not sure about the symbology of the three “bars.” but the seven stars would represent the first seven states to secede. IIRR, the number of stars varied while this flag was in use, sometimes being 11 in number (four more states seceded after the surrender of Fort Sumter and Lincoln’s call for troops) and sometimes even 13 (for Kentucky and Missouri, two border states that never actually seceded, but nevertheless has legislatures “in exile” in the South).

    Incidentally, the Stars and Bars was only the first Confederate national flag. The “Stainless Banner” was adopted in 1863; it was a white field with the “Southern Cross” (aka the Beauregard Battle Flag) in the canton. This flag had the problem of looking like a surrender flag when there was no breeze. The third national flag was the Stainless Banner with a broad red stripe along the fly, but this was adopted in 1865 and only flew above Richmond shortly before it fell…

  • The South seceded cause they couldn’t get a Federal slave code for the territories (land acquired by the US that wasn’t a state yet) see ‘The Impending Crisis’ (I forget who wrote it) or ‘Battle Cry of Freedom’ by James McPherson. Such legislation would have led to the biggest increase in government power in the US gov’t till the New Deal, so all this stuff about small vs big gov’t or central vs non-central gov’t is irrelevant it was about slavery vs non-slavery. The idea that the South was in favour of small gov’t is a lie peddled by Confederate sympathisers, shame on you for peddling it.

  • Get a grip Alan. I said it was about centralised vs. decentralised power, not ‘small government’, which is something completely different. Tyranny at state level is still tyranny.

  • Della


    Don’t be obtuse Della, he was obviously talking about slavery in the Old South in his amusing little tale of flapping cloth thingies

    I’m not being obtuse, many people seem to regard the American civil as the last battle against slavery, and after that slavery didn’t exist anymore anywhere. But America isn’t the world, slavery still exists, and is apparently on the increase.

  • Russ Goble

    Alan: I don’t think anyone on this board is peddling that myth or is a confederate sympathiser. I believe it’s more a matter of symantics. I was pointing out just what you said, that the confederate states didn’t have problems with a powerful government, they just believed that power should be held at the state level. It’s more a symantic difference with what Perry said.

    But, it does bring up the point about the language. Neel is correct about how the debate over segregation and how the bigots use of the phrase “states rights” has damaged a very important concept: federalism and the idea that States have certain powers while the federal government has others. If a politician, particularly if it’s a Republican uses the phrase “states rights” he/she is automatically labeled as pandering to the rednecks.

    I remember how Reagan was accused of this. Yet, since Reagan definately had a particular political philosophy when it comes to the size and scope of government, I took him at his word that he honestly liked the traditional federalist construct. Afterall, he did want to ditch the Education Department and let the states handle that (which they traditionally always have). So, I think he believed in a non-racists view of states rights. Now, do I believe he and his handlers were unaware of how the use of that phrase would resonate in the South and were OK if it gave them a bounce with the redneck demographic. I don’t doubt it. I don’t underestimate the cynicsim of politicians. But, it is a sad tale about how a good an important concept like states’ rights has been damaged by the old segregationists and what Alan rightly refers to as confederate sympathisers.

  • luis

    Actually, its remarkable just how much of the history of the ACW was written by the losers, or their descendants. It is quite an obsession in those parts.

  • S. Weasel

    Oh, well, I don’t know. I am a confederate sympathizer, if we’re talking about the right to secede from the union.

    Quite apart from the moral wrong, introducing slavery into our fledgling republic was the stupidest thing the United States has ever done. Looking at the divisiveness and resentment that is still smoldering, these centuries later, it seems entirely possible that slavery was the seed that will ultimately grow into our own destruction – and we planted it ourselves, at the very beginning, because we were too lazy to plant our own damned cotton. And, while that has a nice greek tragedy, poetic-justicey ring to it, it’s not a thought that gives anyone satisfaction.

    But, even if we accept slavery as the central issue of the war, what bearing does that have on secession? The north changed the contract, and the south decided that rendered the contract void. If it was okay for Massachusetts to opt out of the crown, why was it not okay for South Carolina to opt out of the union?

  • mark holland

    Neel and David,

    A flag is divided into four cantons. Although the upper hoist canton (the hoist is the edge next to the staff, the other edge is the fly) is usually just called *the* canton as this is usually where something of note can be found. Doohickies are good though.

  • Della

    Here’s a confederate flag I found on a white power website.

    Here is the flag of an orginisation bent on the domination of the European continent.

    Can anyone spot any similarities?

  • Perhaps there’s a lesson here that many other groups of people could learn.
    It’s time to get over it, whatever your personal it is.
    This applies to some of the groups that insist on remaining mired in the past while wasting time and energy that could be better used to address the present and future.
    Judicious Asininity

  • Russ Goble

    Now, Della. That’s just mean 😉

    Talk about shooting fish in a barrell.

  • Russ Goble

    S. Weasel, I rarely disagree with you, but this is one of those times. I disagree with your statement that we introduced into the republic. That’s a little off. It was their before the Republic and many of the founders did debate ending it, but it was clear that the republic would have never happened had that occured. But, like I said it was their before our nation’s founding. So, blame the English!! (just kidding.)

    With regards to secession, yeah, I think the legality of the south’s right to secede is constitutional. But, you know, we are still far better for having fought the Civil War. Lincoln made the right choice. And the nation and world is much better off. Kind of like that little war in Iraq we just had. I’m not saying the ends always justify the means, but sometimes, ESPECIALLY in hind site, it does. We can’t always live in a fundamentally sound world.

    You are correct that slavery and it’s impact is still a wound on our nation’s soul. But, the problems it created are really now being kept alive by the Left and has to do more about us, as Americans, getting away from our founding principles than holding to them. Unfortunately, many of the followers of MLK chose to ignore the meaning in his words. Moreover, the victors of the Civil War also share some of that blame. After all, I believe the nation would be better off if desegration and affirmative action had been put into place in the 1870s rather than the 1970s. Perhaps, it might have been done away with by the turn of the century and before the creation of our modern welfare state which has prevented so many African Americans from achieving their full potential. But, alas, that’s an alternate reality that is certainly open to debate given that most whites back then had serious racial baggage. That’s why it’s important to note that the North was still predominantly racists as well, they just didn’t believe blacks should be slaves. They still thought of them as 2nd class citizens though.

    On a another note, that’s certainly a good point about the losers keeping the Civil War alive. But, in Atlanta at least, it’s hard to forget the Civil War. The evidence of it is in the various historical sites and markers that are literally everywhere. Heck, I live right on the path of Sherman’s march to the sea. Hey, it’s a major event that happened right here. So, I don’t think fascination with the Civil War is really all that unusual. But, yes, there are many who still want to fight the rights and wrongs of that war, and here in the south we still have our share of nuts who think the “south will rise again.”

    Bottom line, it was fought, the South lost, and the world is much better off for it. Yeah, it had unforseen consequences as really any major event does.

  • Russ Goble

    A note to those non-Americans in this discussion. Let me apologize whenever I use “Civil War” or “The Civil War.” I know it’s not the only civil war the world has ever seen. Habits are hard to break. I never said Americans aren’t occasionally self-absorbed.

  • Whaq

    I love how excited people can get about this whole issue, especially when they’re not necessarily even from the South or U.S. citizens, even. . . .

    An incidental note:

    The “Battle Cross” was initially known as the official flag of the Army of Virginia. It was adopted because in battle, all the black powder smoke in the air tended to confuse troops on both sides as to whether they were shooting at Old Glory or the Stars & Bars. After Lee kept kicking ass for the first three years, the flag became enormously poplular throughout the confederate states.

    FYI, that’s all. . . .

  • Proud Brit

    David – you are correct, Abraham Lincoln and the Northern States promised to make slavery legal forever in the South if the South did not try to leave the Union. So Samizdata is correct, slavery was not the main reason for the war.

    I am proud of my country for eliminating slavery long before American did. I am ashamed of my country for exporting the very idea of slavery to America in the first place when they were one of our colonies. So for that matter, the Union Jack could be considered one of the “Bad Guy Flags.”

  • Nick Forte

    I fear the debate over the cause of the Civil War will never be resolved. This is because there was no SINGLE cause. There was not even a predominant cause. The various participants in the war fought for a myriad of different reasons. On the Southern side, it is true that many advocates of secession argued that slavery was threatened if the South remained in the Union. This view was strongest in the Deep South (South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas), were most of the slaves were located.

    But is must be remembered that there were two waves of seccessions. The states of the Deep South seceeded in the early months of 1861 and many of their articles of secession did claim slavery as a major issue.

    The Upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas) did not seceed until after Lincoln called for a levy of state militias to put down the “rebellion”. It was their view that the Federal government was abusing the sovereign rights of the seceeding states that drove the Upper South out of the Union. In fact, prior to Ft. Sumter, Virginia voted against secession. Also, both Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, two Virginians who were unargueably the Confederacy’s two best generals, viewed slavery as an abomination and wouldn’t have taken up arms simply to fight for slavery. They were fighting to defend their home and hearth from what they viewed as a foriegn invasion.

    Even this dichotomy between the motivations of the Deep South and Upper South over simplifies the issue. The South also had other greviences against the North, particularly over the tariff. The Republican Party, representing the manufacturing interests of the Northeastern states, was highly protectionist at that time. Lincoln had written quite extensively on the benefits of high tariffs. The South, with few manufacturers, generally supported free trade.

    Two days before Lincoln’s inaugeration, the new Republican dominated Congress passed the notorious Morrill Tariff, which raised the average tariff rate from 20% to 47%. Nine days later the Confederate Congress adopted a 10% tariff.

    Although a low tariff was good economic policy for the Confederacy, it was terrible politics for the South’s goal of independence. Overnight it changed the reaction of the North to secession. Prior to the passage of the 10% tariff, most Northern newspapers editorilized in favor of letting the South go. Even abolitionist papers took this position, believing that Southern independence would allow the North to eliminate all vestiges of the fugitive slave acts, making slavery unsustainable in the Confederacy. The passage of the 10% tariff was viewed a direct economic challenge by the North and eliminated Northern tolerence to Southern independence. After its passage, most Northern papers changed their editorial positions and called for the military subjugation of the South. With a little more discretion by the Confederacy on the timing of the passage of the tariff and Lincoln may not have been able to sustain Northern support for the war.

    As for abolition, this didn’t become a part of the North’s war aims until the war was already half over. Lincoln not only denied that he was fighting the war to free the slaves, he even supported the passage of an unrevokable amendment to the Constitution that would preserve slavery were it already existed in perpetuity. Very few people realized that this proposed amendment was actually approved by the House of Representatives after the Southern delegations had already departed.

    Add to the above a strong cultural mistrust between dour Puritan Yankees and Southern “cavaliers” and you have a complex cocktail of “causes” for the Civil War. Trying to divine a single cause of the war, although understandible, is simply a misguided act of foolishness.

  • G Cooper

    Proud Brit writes:

    “I am proud of my country for eliminating slavery long before American did. I am ashamed of my country for exporting the very idea of slavery to America in the first place when they were one of our colonies. So for that matter, the Union Jack could be considered one of the “Bad Guy Flags.””

    Only by somone with little history. Anyone with perspective would know that its proper name is the Union Flag. It is only the Union Jack when flown by the Royal Navy.

    As for the stuff about Britain and slavery, please…. isn’t it enough to have seen the cousins chasing their own tails all day?

    There is nothing about slavery that both the United Kingdom and the USA didn’t have to learn from Africa.

  • S. Weasel

    I’m really disappointed in you, Russ. I think if you put a little effort into it, you could disagree with me lots.

    [Snipped the rest. I was warming up for one of those southerner-on-southerner blustery rants that bores the britches off the yankees].

  • Russ Goble

    Great post Nick. One minor quibble, though. Texas as part of the Deep South? I’ve never heard that before.

    Those are some great points. I remember the tariff issues, but didn’t know quite the detail you described regarding the South’s low tariff being the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    I still think slavery really was a large part of it, though saying it’s THE cause is certainly quite debatable for the all reasons stated by most everyone before. Also, if memory serves, there was even talk of slavery being done away with in the South as early as the 1820s and that it might never have lasted until 1860 if it weren’t for the creation of the cotton gin. Maybe it’s an oversimplified fact that Ely Whitney’s invention extended slavery, but it’s one that was beaten into me repeatedly growing up. Great interesting discussion. All taking place on a frickin British libertarian site. This site, and it’s participants, rock.

  • I think the centralization/decentralization distinction sorta misses the point; the South wanted to maintain quasi-authoritarian state governments, and more or less did so well into the 20th century (despite the War Between the States). The Klan and its white-collar sympathizers and enablers aren’t libertarian except where the rhetoric of federalism (which isn’t even necessarily a libertarian concept) helps their cause.

    BTW, a federal promise never to abolish slavery was an empty one absent a proposal for an amendment to the constitution to (a) forbid abolition and (b) forbid ever removing that provision. [Note I’m not advocating such an amendment!] And even then the Warren Court would have found a way around it 🙂

  • Chris: Do certainly never said the Confederacy were libertarians! I don’t think anyone else here suggested that either. However do I agree with Nick’s post that the South had the right to secede, but that is another issue entirely.

  • driven to drink

    Being a native Georgian and a resident I find the flag issue, well, a nonissue. The state has taken a device out of the hands of both racists and race victimizers. Its a good deal all round.

    As far as The War Between the States is concerned; it was an economic war not a cultural war. The northern states were mainly industrial while southern states agarian. The north being more populous had a stranglehold on the house of representatives, and were continously pushing through tariff and import-export taxes that were bleeding the south dry. That is why the admittance of new states into the union became so crucial. And nothern industrialist and financiers who were profitting from the current situation used slavery as the moral issue to force ‘good Christians’ into the northern fold. Remember these are the same people that worked thousands of Irish and Chinese immigrants to death in building the railroads, didn’t too many people sqawk about that. The south wanted to count slaves as one person in the census but northern legislators fearing reapportionment voted that down and only allowed slaves to be considered 3/5 a person, that being more to their advanatage. Slavery was an abomination and its day was quickly coming to an end, but like all things in the free market profits trigger change. But the civil war was fought for money and power.

    Also Spain and Portugal imported many more slaves than Britain to the New World. Most slaves to the New World went to the Carribean and South America. Many slave trading companies were northern companies. The importation of slaves into the U.S. ended in 1815. Lincoln only freed slaves in secessionist states, slaves in the north or border states were still slaves.

    And “redneck” was term used for an Irish itinerant farm laborer because of the sunburns they sported from picking crops.

  • driven to drink

    Also the south remained occupied by the U.S. military for 12 years after the surrender at the Appomatox courthouse, that’s 5 years longer than the U.S. occupied Japan after the Second World Wa. Only a political deal in 1877 freed the south from martial law.

  • Thomas DiLorenzo has a good article at Mises.org about the role of the tariff issue in the American Civil Secessionist War. He has this to say:

    “The U.S. House of Representatives had passed the Morrill tariff in the 1859-1860 session, and the Senate passed it on March 2, 1861, two days before Lincoln’s inauguration. President James Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian who owed much of his own political success to Pennsylvania protectionists, signed it into law. The bill immediately raised the average tariff rate from about 15 percent (according to Frank Taussig in Tariff History of the United States) to 37.5 percent, but with a greatly expanded list of covered items. The tax burden would about triple. Soon thereafter, a second tariff increase would increase the average rate to 47.06 percent, [historian Frank] Taussig writes.”

    Tariff collections were coordinated through – you guessed it – Fort Sumter. DiLorenzo claims that “Lincoln later revealed that he manipulated the Confederates into firing the first shot;” I presume that evidence of this is somewhere in the pages of his book, The Real Lincoln.

  • Wild Pegasus

    Russ Goble writes:

    “A note to those non-Americans in this discussion. Let me apologize whenever I use “Civil War” or “The Civil War.” I know it’s not the only civil war the world has ever seen. Habits are hard to break. I never said Americans aren’t occasionally self-absorbed.”

    Well, in truth, this war was not civil. A civil war is several groups warring to get control of the same government. This was not a civil war, but a war for secession/unification. I think the term War Between the States is probably the best term to use.

    Incidently, I grew up the son of an Irish Yankee Philadelphian and a English Eastern Shore Virginian. Talk about getting mixed signals. 🙂

    – Josh

  • Curious Cat

    What was wrong with that royal blue one with STATE OF GEORGIA written all over it? That was pretty.

  • Nick Forte

    Chris, you are right. A promised never to abolish slavery would have been hollow without an unrevokable constutional amendment. What is left out of almost every history book on the war is that such an amendment was approved by Congress. It read as follows:

    “Article Thirteen

    No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

    It was approved by the Senate on February 28, 1861 and by the House of Representatives on March 2, 1861 and signed by President Lincoln, the only proposed amendment to have ever been signed by a president. One state, Illinois, ratified it before the start of the war.

  • Curious Cat

    I have to say I agree with you, Neel Krishnaswami. I’m a black American and have refelcted on the topic of slavery and racism early in life, but I finally came up with my own conclusions and resolved these issues on my own.

    Anyway, I believe you have a point in regard to the issue of slavery and the Civil War. I do think it has to do with economics. The North was superior in technolgy to the South. Northern economy was involved in industry and textiles. Southern economy was primarily agriculturally based. Large acres of land required farmer hand, back breaking labor which is why slave labor is desirable. If the South had the technological might of the North, things might have been different. I’ll explain later.

    Slaves had no rights; they were considered proterty straight up. You didn’t have to pay them because you owned them thus reducing the cost of labor. You feed them, clothe them, and keep them healthy to keep them working. Working for free all day long so the master can make money? What kind of working conditions are those? They were the owner’s rules and you had no say. You don’t like it, ten lashes. You run away, ten lashes. That’s how you keep your slaves in line and working on your time schedule. Most importantly, you don’t educate them because they would eventually start figuring things out.

    Well, that never stopped the slave wanting his freedom trying to head North. Thanks to Harriett Tubman it was possible for many slaves to escape north. Not good for the Southern Farmer because he just lost his greatest source of income, and when the north would not endorse sending back his fugitive…problems. bickering. secession. Washington attempts to instill law and order (wait a minute, I’m the federal government. I have the final say). civil war. slavery ends. respite ensues from the losing southern end. they try to get back at the now free black man who became the source of their problems through lynchings. segregation. racism. civil rights. one chain after another as it tones down, but not without the help of some federal laws.

    I’ve always wondered how life would have been for Black Americans if agricultural technology had been introduced much earlier than it had…like shortly after the Revolutionary War. What if the tractor and Cotton Gin became cheap and available at an early, early stage? I doubt plantation owners would have kept their slaves. I gotta machine that does the work in four hours that would take forty of you all day to do. You’re all fired. A machine vitually takes care of itself. You don’t house it, feed it or clother it. Would racisim have evolved at all if such technology existed at an early stage?

    Or how about this approach? The Constitution declares that “All Men were Created Equal”. Everyone had a write to vote. Everyone! Men and women of all races could vote. Would Southerners have changed their tactics? Slaves are free men now so they have the right to choose to leave my land, but I need the workers or else, I’ll lose money. Now, I have to think like an economist. I have to find a way of encouraging them to stay. Well, I guess I’ll have to pay them and give them benefits. I could offer an incentive, the more cotton per day you picked, the more you got paid. That might have had a different effect. Would racism have developed then? Don’t know.

    Perhaps these those are a it too simplistic, but its credible food for thought. History might have turned out very differently.

  • cardeblu

    Just as an aside: Unless I’ve missed it, I’ve noticed that not one comment here has called the war by its, ahem, proper name.

    “The War of Northern Aggression”


  • Vermonter

    War of Northern Agression, my A-s. Sherman was to good for you.