Confederate monuments are being linked to rise of Jim Crow in early 1900’s and resistance to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950‘s-1960’s. The truth of the matter, however, is the earliest monuments were erected immediately after Reconstruction ended in 1877 and Union occupation forces were withdrawn from Southern States; by wives, widows, and daughters of Confederate veterans. The money was raised at tea parties, bazaars, and book sales. Economic conditions did not allow for construction of many monuments until the early 1900’s. Monuments erected at beginning of Civil Rights Movement coincided with Civil War Centennial (1959-1965) and 100th anniversary of adoption of 13th Amendment.
Those who believe monuments should be removed need to have a better understanding of the history of bondage in America and why these monuments are inscribed with words that speak of honor and the cause they fought for was considered in defense of freedom and resisting tyranny.
Bondage of one person by another goes as far back as Babylon in the 18th century BC. The word slavery derives from 10th century AD German expansion eastward to Slavic areas. So many Slavs were captured the generic name became slave.
Bondage of all servants/workers in the early settlement years in America, black, white, and Indian, was for a certain number of years (indentured). Beginning in 1619, blacks began being considered bonded for life. The first state to legalize slavery was Massachusetts in 1641, followed by Connecticut in 1650, and Virginia in 1661.
Nearly all of the slaves that were brought to America became slaves at the time one tribe in Africa raided another tribe and sold captives to slave traders, primarily, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. Who bears the blame for slavery in America? The people who sold the slaves or the people who bought and kept them in bondage for life? Both.
It is estimated, up until the Revolutionary War, between 1/2 and 2/3 of white migrants to America were indentured. Both slaves and indentured servants were considered personal property. The indenture could be sold and inherited just like slaves or any other property. They could not marry or leave the plantation without permission of the master. Running away and other acts of disobedience could be punished by whipping and extension of the indenture period.
The distinction between the slave and indentured was the slave was bound for life and the indentured for a certain number years, generally 4-7. However, because of the harsh conditions of the early colonial period, many indentured died before their indenture period ended and were never free.
The Civil War began when South Carolina seceded from the Union and, when Abraham Lincoln mobilized 15,000 soldiers, Virginia feared invasion and seceded. Lincoln’s purpose was to preserve the Union and not to free slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation was in 1862, two years after the war began, and only freed slaves in states still in rebellion. Slaves in areas occupied by the Union army, such as the Eastern Shore, were not freed until the 13th amendment was ratified by Congress on December 6, 1865.
Abel Upshur (1790-1844) of the Eastern Shore gave the legal and constitutional justification for nullification and secession. He argued that the states were sovereign from their original formation and had never given up that sovereignty when they entered the union; the Constitution constructed a union that was of a federal (federation) nature distinctly different from a union of a national character. Regardless of the federal character of the union, sovereignty was indivisible and existed only in the individual states.
He also believed the Declaration of Independence only shifted sovereignty from the British crown to individual states. The Articles of Confederation confirmed this by declaring that “each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, by this Confederation, expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress Assembled.” Whereas, the preamble to the Constitution declares “We the people of the United States,” he argued as a matter of record the States, not “the people of the United States” appointed delegates to the Convention at Philadelphia to represent the people of their states. The states, not “the people of the United States,” had the power to ratify or reject the constitution.
Upshur’s writings on nullification and secession were written 20 years before the Civil War and required reading for a generation of law students at the University of Virginia and William and Navy.
At the time the Civil War began, slavery had been woven into the cultural fabric of the Southern states over a period of 250 years. The legal and constitutional arguments of nullification and secession had become accepted dogma. The efficacy of the rhetoric on the morality and endurance of slavery was being questioned by many slave holders in the South. The War, invasion, and reconstruction brought enduring memories and monuments.
You can remove the memorials to this history but you can not remove the history.
Charles Landis lives in Onancock and is author of An Introduction to the History of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. Contact is firstname.lastname@example.org