Back Issues

Volume 9, Issue 5: Disputatio

Confederacy and Modernity

A Long Letter From Lars Johnson

Dear Editors,
I had not planned to respond to your Black Confederates issue. When I wrote to you about your "A Southern Apologetic" issue back in 1992, you quoted a very small portion of my letter and made a very innocuous response. In light of this past experience, I decided to, to borrow a phrase from you, acknowledge the impossibility of discussion and argument and leave well enough alone.

However, your response to Nathan Miles and Matthew Kingsbury in vol. 9, no. 3 has motivated me to contact you. Christians should make every effort possible to be fair and accurate in both their presentation and analysis of the facts. I believe you have violated this responsibility in both the issue in question and in your response to the comments from Miles and Kingsbury.
Miles and Kingsbury were in no way stating that Lee and Jackson were "fit companions for Hitler and Goebbels" nor even stating that the Confederacy was equivalent to the Stalinist or Nazi regimes. They were simply trying to use these historical situations as analogies to help explain why some blacks supported the Confederacy. These analogies may be over-drawn. They may not even fit at all, but that does not mean that your interpretation of their letters is correct.
I do not doubt the essential accuracy of the articles by Douglas Wilson and Chris Schlect about black Confederates. However, what is the point? If you were simply trying to show that the relationship between blacks and the Confederacy was more complex than we may believe, then fine. Your objective goes beyond that, however. You are trying to defend the Confederacy by saying that most blacks supported the Confederacy.
Well, I must beg to differ. Far more blacks served in the Union military (190,000 in total) than in the Confederate armed forces. While certainly many of these Union blacks were free men from Union states, a large number were from Confederate states. You claim 40,000 blacks fought with the Confederacy, but the vast majority would have served in local or state units of limited duration. It wasn't until early 1865 that the enlightenedı Confederate government was willing to enlist blacks into the national army. Earlier in the war, this "enlightened" government had even refused to provide arms for the Louisiana Native Guards, which was a militia unit made up of free blacks from New Orleans.
The contribution of blacks to the Confederate war effort, whether as personal servants in the military, home front workers, or military construction workers cannot be construed as necessarily indicating real support for the Confederacy. Slaves often evidenced personal loyalty and affection for individual whites and their families, because many slave owners treated their slaves reasonably well; my own ancestors in North Carolina treated their slaves kindly. In addition, the influence of Christianity taught the slaves to work diligently for their masters (see Eph. 6:5-8). Also, where could home front blacks go and what could they do prior to the arrival of Union forces? Once Union forces did arrive, however, it was not uncommon for large numbers of slaves to seek sanctuary within Union lines. Finally, with regard to blacks involved in military construction projects, the truth is that large numbers were conscripted into such work.
While the articles by Mr. Wilson and Mr. Schlect had their problems, they pale to insignificance compared to the Appomattox and Wounded Kneeı article by Stephen Thomas. I have no desire to whitewash the treatment of Indians by the federal government, but Mr. Thomas completely leaves out Southern complicity in such treatment. Has he forgotten the Cherokees Trail of Tears? Where does he think these tribes originally lived? The Five Civilized Tribes were not assimilated and welcomed into Southern life; they were forced out of the deep South into Oklahoma during the 1830s. While this removal was accomplished by the federal government, it was done at the behest of the Southern states. It certainly wasn't Northerners who were going to benefit from the opening up of the lands of the Five Civilized Tribes to white settlement.
The most egregious error, however, is Mr. Thomas's claim that the South was fighting to regain its independence against Northern aggression. Of all of the 50 states, only Texas and Hawaii have ever been independent nations. The rest have continually been part of some broader union
There was no aggression by the North in general, or the federal government, which forced the Confederate states to seek independence. It was the action of the Confederate states that caused the war, because it was they who broke the covenant with the rest of the Union. The first seven states to secede did so solely as a result of the election of Abraham Lincoln as President in 1860 and before he had even taken office--in spite of the fact that he had won the election fairly in accordance with the Constitution. Once these states seceded, they proceeded to steal federal government property, mistreat federal authorities, and eventually attack United States armed forces. It was only after the provocation of the Confederate attack on Ft. Sumter that President Lincoln proceeded in accordance with the Constitution to suppress this insurrection by armed force (see Article 1. Section 8 and Article 2. Section 2 of the Constitution). It was at that time that four more states seceded and joined the Confederacy. In seceding, these states acted in rebellion against the United States and violated the principles of Scripture, as found for example in Romans 13.
I repeat my earlier question: What is the point? The number of blacks who truly supported the Confederacy is irrelevant to the fundamental questions of the Civil War: What is the relationship of the states to the broader Union? Did the states have the right to secede? How important was the issue of slavery in creating the constitutional crisis that caused the war? In addition, your articles have not informed your readers how the matter of black Confederates, or even the issue of the Civil War as a whole, should affect us as Christians. Does all of this fit into some type of Christian worldview, or are you all simply Christians who also have an emotional attachment to the Lost Cause and to Jeffersonian politics?
You may wish to dismiss this letter, as you did with the letters from Mr. Miles and Mr. Kingsbury, as resulting from the propaganda machine of the Reconstruction. However, any such effort on your part would be wrong. I am writing within the heritage of Dr. Robert Breckinridge of Kentucky, maternal grandfather of Dr. B. B. Warfield. He was a distinguished Old-School Presbyterian and served Christ and the Church as moderator of the 1841 General Assembly, preacher, author, president of Jefferson College, and founder, professor, and president of the Seminary at Danville, Kentucky. Dr. Breckinridge was also well-known as a politically active evangelical Christian, supporting a small anti-slave political movement in Kentucky during the 1840s and later serving as the temporary chairman of the 1864 Republican Convention. Dr. Breckinridge was no radical or Unitarian; he was an orthodox Calvinist who supported emancipation and the preservation of the Union.
I realize that this is a long letter for your Sharpening Iron segment. In spite of that, I challenge you to reprint this letter or at least significant parts of it, and interact meaningfully with it. So far, your presentation of the subject matter has been rather one-sided, without any serious attempt to examine the other side. I trust that this tendency will change in the future.
In Christ,
Lars R. Johnson

Doug Wilson replies: When anyone today seeks to present a Southern perspective on the constitutional issues surrounding the War Between the States, he had better be prepared for the immediate ad hominem attacks which will follow, accusing him of "racism." So we prepared for this, and decided to take our stand with the Confederacy in a slightly unusual way. That is, we sought to honor, esteem, and respect thousands of black Confederate men as our betters. We also conducted a debate in that issue with a representative of white supremacy. This left certain readers unhappy with us because we were not playing by the agreed-upon rules i.e. anyone who defends the South must, when he grins, display only one tooth, and must also evidence an overt bigotry against blacks. This we refuse to do because race hatred is lawless.

But some readers did not want to give up the point so easily, and wrote in comparing the situation to Stalinism and Nazism. Now if Miles and Kingsbury were simply trying to show that many blacks supported the Confederacy because it was in their interest to do so, we would simply have agreed. But their examples on the point were inflammatory, and were intended to be so. In discussions about the South, most moderns don't know what to do if the racism issue is removed, as we took care to remove it. Our response indicated to them that we won't discuss the issue on that level. We refuse to be racist, and we refuse to be maneuvered into a default racism.
All this is to answer your question, "What is the point?" The point is that we want to discuss the meaning of constitutional government, and we want to remove in advance the favorite technique of moderns who do not know what constitutional government is. In order to do this effectively, the race issue must be removed entirely.
Now to your constitutional argument. If the Articles of Confederation established a "perpetual union," then by what authority was a secret convention held in order to dissolve it and replace it with another perpetual union? And if it is argued that the Constitution represented the same perpetual union, then why did the individual states have to ratify this new Constitution, with failure to do so leaving them outside the "perpetual union?" In order to work, your argument has to go both ways at once.
Your argument also does not deal with certain historical data. For example, both Virginia and New York ratified the new Constitution with express riders maintaining that in their ratification they reserved the right to "resume their powers" and secede from the Union.
We believe that the anti-federalists like Patrick Henry were correct, and that he saw the problems coming--problems which afflict us to this moment. The South was judged militarily for her sins, among which we would include the political sin of ratifying such a flawed document as the Constitution in the first place.

Back to top
Back to Table of Contents

Copyright © 2012 Credenda/Agenda. All rights reserved.