Saturday, January 26, 2013

I Wish I Was in Dixie, Hooray! Hooray!

Chuck Thompson appears to have a lot of fun with the theme of his new book, Better Off Without 'Em,  He imagines a new Confederate States of America and the long term effects of secession.  Judging by the first pages, Chuck's main gripe is with the way religion has come to dominate Southern politics and in turn infect the nation.  The South is indeed the Bible Belt of America, and as one BBC pundit put it, Dallas is the buckle.  This is where you can find more megachurches with firebrand preachers per square mile than anywhere else in the country.

Touchdown Jesus,  Solid Rock Church, Ohio

But, Thompson apparently has a hard time coming to terms with Texas, which is probably the one state the United States can't do without.  I would add Florida and Virginia, but Thompson apparently has fewer problems with these states.  Of course, his views are couched as barbed wit, not meant to actually advocate secession.  He just wants it to be known that he can live without the lower eleven, as I imagine many other Americans living above the Maxon-Dixie line could as well.  It would certainly break the stranglehold the Southeastern Conference has had on the BCS championship game in college football.

With any such argument, there are some problems.  Notably, when the Southern states seceded back in late 1860 and early 1861 they didn't do so as one.  Far from it.  South Carolina was the first to secede, having threatened to do so on at least two previous occasions.  Other states reluctantly followed suit, and Virginia literally split over the issue, with West Virginia choosing to remain in the Union.  Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware also chose to remain in the Union.

The CSA was nothing more than a loose-knit confederation, with the intent of forming a protective shield against "Northern aggression."  It is highly doubtful these states would have clung together had they somehow managed to withstand the assault that followed.  After all, they believed firmly in their individual state charters and rights, believing their state constitutional rights took precedent over the US Constitution, citing Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence.

One can't help but sense a similar type of discord today like that which took place in state legislative halls and in Congress during those antebellum days as the Southern states saw their institution of slavery being threatened by such do-gooders as Harriet Beecher Stowe.  Abolitionists had risen up and taken over the Whigs, cleaving off to form the Republican Party in the 1850s, and putting forward a man, who might as well have been black, given how Southerners viewed Lincoln's ascension to the White House.  Only today, it really does seem to be about state rights.

James Oakes argues in his new book, Freedom National, that the issue of slavery was always at the forefront of Lincoln's mind, and while he may have used every carrot to keep border states like Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina in the Union, he never for one moment imagined not finding a way to end this pernicious institution.  What follows is a sublime study of how the ending of slavery was the casus belli for the Civil War and that Lincoln knew full well that the only way to end of slavery was through war powers, which Eric Foner notes (in his seminal book on Reconstruction) began when the first Southern states fell, Louisiana and Tennessee.

Ruby Bridges being escorted to school
So, where are we now?  That seems to be the question Thompson is asking.  Have the Southern states really grown more part of the Union since Reconstruction, or are they still playing the poor victimized stepchildren of the United States?  Thompson cites quite a number of statistics to show how the Southern states trail the rest of the Union in just about every economic and social yardstick, comparing the new CSA to a third world nation.  This is most visibly seen in a flawed education system that allows parents, who can afford it, to take their kids out of the public school system, allowing it to rot like a canker left over from Reconstruction days, when public education was instituted in the South.

Southern leaders' narrow minded views are couched in religious language, which appeal directly to their constituents.  Thompson doesn't seem to want to explore how much this kind of language has infected other states.  House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) can easily be seen as a reincarnation of Clement Vallandigham, and the Midwest strain of conservatism strongly resembles that of the Copperheads, which split Midwest political lines in the late 1850s and early 60s.  Of course, one can argue that this zealous language is little more than a means of gaining legislative power, and not borne of any real conviction, but then we have seen the rewriting of school syllabuses to introduce "intelligent design" in Kansas as well as Louisiana, and that textbook decisions in Texas can affect the nation as a whole.

I suppose you can only take your argument so far in 300+ pages.


  1. There are a lot of really narrowminded people in the South, but you can no doubt say that about every predominantly rural part of the country. Of course, there are a lot of really narrowminded people in metro Atlanta, which is something of a melting pot. Very few born southerners call Atlanta home.

    1. Actually, what I meant is that there are very few born Atlantans who call Atlanta home.

    2. You can almost call it a cosmopolitan city ; )