Removing a Local Confederate Monument

Robert Hatton StatueIf you’ve been paying attention to the news, then you know that there has been a concerted effort in recent weeks to reconsider the presence of Confederate monuments and symbols.

Earlier this week, a letter to the editor in the Wilson Post called for the removal of General Robert Hatton’s statue, which sits in the middle of the Lebanon town square. The letter elicited a number of online responses, many of them commenting on the writer’s ignorance regarding the Civil War’s origins. These commenters claim that the war was not about slavery.

The best way to understand why someone in the past made the choices that s/he did is to look at what s/he said or wrote. It’s not a fail-safe method, of course–people aren’t always honest. In this case, however, the secession conventions in several southern states left clear statements explaining why they were leaving the Union.

These convention statements don’t mean that every white southerner owned slaves or supported the institution (they didn’t). They don’t mean that every white northerner hated slavery and wanted racial equality (they didn’t). They don’t mean that the Lincoln administration initially saw the war as a way to end slavery (it didn’t). What they show, however, is that southern states clearly left because they feared the United States’ interference with slavery’s continuation.

Several southern states also sent commissioners to other southern states to convince their leaders to secede. They left correspondence behind that clearly shows that they used fears about the end of slavery and about racial integration should slavery end to fan the flames of secession.

Unless one believes that southern politicians coordinated a vast conspiracy to leave behind public records that hid their true intention, then it’s clear that they left the Union because they wanted to protect slavery. Whatever that means for the future of Confederate monuments and symbols today, let’s not distort history to ignore this fact.

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6 Responses to Removing a Local Confederate Monument

  1. DAVID MICHAEL MYERS says:

    I think your analysis assumes that the intentions of “political leaders” [pathological politicians] accurately reflect the attitudes and desires of the citizens whom they “represent.” Don’t be naive.

    I was born and raised in Okolona MS. I was told by family members that my great-grandfather owned three slaves and that my grandfather owned NONE. Those family members of whom I had personal contact ALL opposed slavery. Everyone I knew when I lived in MS opposed slavery.

    Is it not possible that the REAL reason for the secession of the Southern states was OVERWHELMINGLY economic? I think so. Even Lincoln’s original reasons [to preserve the union] confirm that.

    I think you are dead wrong in your assertions that the preservation of slavery was the PRIME reason for secession.

    David Michael Myers
    cogito01_at_comcast_dot_net

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    Certainly, preserving slavery had a significant economic motive. Threatening $3 billion in slave property undoubtedly prompted concern among owners of enslaved people and those who were part of the economic system that undergirded the institution. But if you read what the politicians and secession commissioners wrote, there is also a significant racial element (e.g., fear of interracial sex, racial integration, etc.) that dreaded the idea of former slaves being considered equal. To chalk up secession entirely to economics doesn’t fit the evidence–there’s more to the story. Given the economic investment, attributing secession primarily to economic reasons also doesn’t negate the desire to preserve slavery. It’s not an either-or proposition (it’s either economics or race). It’s both of those reasons and more.

    I’m not sure I understand your point about your family and experience in MS. I lived in MS for several years and only encountered one person (a student) who thought that slavery was a good thing. That doesn’t say anything about circumstances and attitudes over 155 years ago.

    Mark Cheathem

    • M.D. Blough says:

      Ira Berlin, in his writings, makes a distinction between societies with slaves and slave societies. He makes it clear that the distinction does not rest on HOW each type of society treated its slaves, but on the role that the institution of slavery played in the basic organization of the society. In the former, slavery was one of a number of forms of labor and could be eliminated without fears of massive societal issues. In the latter, the patriarchal nature of slavery formed the basic organizational paradigm of the society and a threat to slavery was a threat to every other relationship including husband to wife and father to children. In addition, the violent slave revolts in the Caribbean stoked fears for generations.

      Those who try to divorce slavery from the reason for secession have to overlook the history before it, including the Gag Rule, when the US House of Representatives effectively abrogated the petition clause of the First Amendment in order to ignore petitions against slavery, for about a decade. The slave states threatened secession if the first Republican candidate for President, John Fremont, won the 1856 Presidential election. By the time of the Civil War, many Protestant denominations (The organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church prevented this from happening) had officially split over the issue of slavery, including the Baptists (this was the birth of the Southern Baptists) and the Methodist Episcopal Church. Slavery was the issue that split the Democratic Party 3 ways in 1860, thus ensuring Lincoln’s victory. While the secessionists hoped that the midwestern states would also secede, they saw those states as forming their own nation. I know of no evidence that any free state was ever invited to join the Confederacy. Then there are the changes that the secessionists made to the US Constitution before adopting the revised version as the Confederate Constitution. The most significant changes protected slavery. In both words and actions in the events leading up to the firing on Ft. Sumter, secessionists made it clear that the protection of slavery against a government led by a party opposed to the expansion of slavery was the reason for rebellion.

  3. James P. Benassi says:

    There is a difference between flying the Confederate Battle Flag on the capitol grounds and the many monuments such as the statute of General Hatton. The fact his statute was erected is part of history. If there is something left out, the appropriate monument or display should be added. Better to tell the complete, truthful, and sometimes painful history than try to rewrite it.

    Overlooked for the most part is what we got out of the Civil War: Reconstruction and the Gilded Era, both which were failures. Slavery was ended but the slaves were not freed.

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