As someone who has spent nearly all his life in rural Tennessee, I understand how the emotions stemming from the Civil War continue to impact and influence our present times. There remains a prideful zeal among Confederate descendants throughout the area. Observing a rebel battle flag whipping in the wind is commonplace in my town, and other Confederate signage is visible on a daily basis. Although I’m a descendant of Confederate veterans, the allure and adoration of the Southern cause has never attracted me. Well over a century-and-a-half following the Civil War, it is easy to determine that the Confederacy was severely flawed, and no singular misgiving could be greater than that of slavery.
Former South Carolina Governor and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has recently found herself at the center of this racial-related controversy. A few weeks ago, Haley failed to mention slavery as a major factor leading to the Civil War. A short time later, the Republican Presidential candidate then claimed the United States has never been a racist country. Both remarks by Haley showcase a particular deafness on race relations in the country, specifically pertaining to the history of the country. While Haley does demonstrate a degree of factual unawareness, it is important to note that her comments stem from a historical movement to refurbish the Southern image following the Civil War.
Shortly after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, one of Lee’s trusted generals, Jubal Early, worked to position the Confederacy in a more positive light following the war. Early was a well-educated lawyer and a talented writer who was able to tackle the monumental task of framing the South’s plight in a heroic fashion. Early’s post-war mission is often known as the Lost Cause theory.
A bachelor through life, Early is an excellent symbol of the defiant and proud Confederate. The native Virginian was dubbed “Bad Old Man” by Lee for his surly and onery demeanor. As history tells us, Early was the only man allowed to curse in front of Lee, which certainly helped him earn the nickname. Early was the living and seething embodiment of the rebel spirit. He remained wholly uninterested in being pardoned following the conflict’s conclusion and was even more disgusted by the thought of Reconstruction.
With Lee having surrendered and Confederate President Jefferson Davis on the run and then detained, Early traveled around North America, including Mexico, Cuba, and Canada, putting pen to paper and justifying the South and their actions. He was the forerunner in defending the South and ensuring that history books would have a Southern perspective.
The most egregious part stemming from Early’s effort is the minimization of slavery. Despite the attempts to depict slavery as whistling and content black folks working happily in a field, the truth remains that it was a barbaric and cruel practice that should be remembered as such. Slavery was not a benign system; rather, it kept people in bondage due to the color of their skin.
Despite voices to the contrary, slavery was the solid foundation of the Confederacy and the major factor leading to the Civil War. In fact, Article IV in the Constitution of the Confederate States enshrines slavery and states that it must be “recognized and protected.” Furthermore, Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, delivered a speech justifying rebellion and stating, “…the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.” Simply put, this evidence clearly leads one to believe slavery was a primary cause leading to the Civil War.
Many facets of the Civil War, specifically regarding slavery, have the rightful tendency to elicit emotional responses, and Haley has received plenty of backlash for her comments. Over the past several years, many have seen
Haley boasts an undoubtedly impressive political résumé, but there is a general failure to recognize the country’s history. While she has ambitious political aspirations moving forward, she appears to have subscribed to the alternate history presented by Early and an unwillingness to recognize truths regarding slavery and race. The native South Carolinian not recognizing a major contributing factor towards the Civil War when the first shots of the conflict occurred less than two hours from her hometown is surely alarming.
Moreover, Haley, defiantly claiming we have never been a racist country, is countered with a historical record dating back to the initial ratification of the United States Constitution. Whether examining the three-fifths compromise, the Dred Scott decision, Jim Crow laws, or the thousands of lynchings that have occurred, it is clear that our country has had consistent and serious issues with race.
Haley has been overcome with an editing of history that is simply not accurate. While some of this can be attributed to Jubal Early taking the initiative post-Civil War to whitewash the reasoning behind the conflict, there is no valid reason for Haley to believe our country hasn’t had significant issues with slavery and race.
If Haley wishes to lead the entire country, I recommend she familiarize herself with the history of the nation. Although some of our past is turbulent and harsh, it is important to recognize our shortcomings so as not to relive them.
Seth James Campbell is from Columbia, Tennessee and is an educator. He also runs Hound Dog Holler Animal Rescue. He has degrees from Columbia State Community College, University of Tennessee, and Trevecca Nazarene University. He can be reached at [email protected].