This whole debate about the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol building has been raising a lot of questions from a lot of different people. Urban View on Sirius XM 126 is a satellite radio station that hosts a variety of African-American talk shows. Of the many programs they have there, the Joe Madison and Karen Hunter shows are the two I follow the most. Lately, both of these people have made the claim that secession is treason. Although I generally agree with each them on a lot of different issues, this is one where I do not.
In both cases they were referring to the American Civil War and claimed that the Confederate States were engaged in treason by trying to secede from the Union. This comes up in conversation when they talk about the idea that the flag represents the idea of State’s rights to some people, while to others, it’s a clear symbol of racism and oppression. Personally, I agree with those who say that the State capitol shouldn’t be flying that flag over a State institution, but ultimately, I think that’s an issue for the State of South Carolina – another example of a State’s right. Both people go onto claim that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery. This is true, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.
Fox News guest, Gavin McInnes made the claim that “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery” and Politifact rated this statement as a lie. He went on to say that you could do a simple search online to find this out, and so that’s exactly what they did. In that article they source the top three links on Google to disprove his claim. Overall, it’s a great article, but they left out a key point about Lincoln and the issue of slavery. Yes, it’s true that slavery was a key issue that prompted and led up to the war, but Abraham Lincoln was more concerned about the preservation of the Union than slavery. In that letter, he made it abundantly clear that the issue of slavery was irrelevant to him. Don’t believe it? Read it.
Before Lincoln was elected as President, the Republican Party was founded as the anti-slavery party in America. Southern leaders at the time had threatened to secede from the Union should the nation elect a Republican President. Being that the Republican Party was named after the Republican form of government proposed by Thomas Jefferson, I think it’s only fitting that we refer to his comments about secession in America. In a letter to William Branch Giles, Jefferson wrote that individual State’s should “separate from our companions only when the sole alternatives left, are the dissolution of our Union with them, or submission to a government without limitation of powers.” In the 1860’s, the southern State’s believed that the federal government would be abusing it’s power by making slavery illegal in their States and because the Republican Party was founded to abolish slavery, they knew it’d only be a matter of time before that fear became a reality.
Obviously, we know now – and should have known then – that slavery is evil and should not be allowed under any circumstance, but that doesn’t mean the right to secede is an act of treason. The American Revolution was essentially our secession from the British Empire. In the Declaration of Independence, they made it clear that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” and went on to say that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it.” You could argue that unalienable rights like “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were under attack due to slavery and you’d be right. I don’t think anyone disagrees with that point, but again, that’s not what Lincoln’s motive for war was. He wanted to preserve the Union at all costs and it wasn’t until half way through the war – in 1864 – that Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
Slavery is a terrible chapter in the history of America. It was so divisive that it led to the secession movement in the south, which then led to the Civil War. Eventually, slavery was abolished and the south surrendered to the American Empire. Today, we are still talking about that historic event, but we’re being misled. Joe Madison makes the argument that this whole Confederate Flag controversy is nothing new and merely a distraction to keep us from talking about voting rights. I agree that it’s a distraction from real issues, but I also see it as a means to preemptively attack the idea of secession. Secession is not treason, it’s the last peaceful option for those who feel oppressed by government. I wonder how people like Joe and Karen would feel about secession had the tables been turned. If the northern States wanted to secede from the Union because the federal government was trying to force slavery upon them, would they still consider that to be treason? You have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes sometimes to gain perspective on an issue. The secession movement is still alive in America, the difference is that this time the issue isn’t so much about slavery as it is about opposition to tyranny. If we accept this idea that secession is an act of treason rather than a peaceful withdrawal from the Union, we may find ourselves in confronted with a second Civil War.