Is celebrating secession offensive? Yeah. Duh. And so much more than that…

Today I retweeted something that I got from Chris Haire, who got it from @skirtCharleston:

someone shouted “you lie” at mayor riley when he said secession was caused by a defense of slavery at sesquicentennial event this am.

Did that actually happen? Apparently so:

Charleston Mayor Joe Riley was interrupted by an audience member who yelled out, “You’re a liar!” as Riley talked about the direct relationship between slavery and secession during the unveiling of a historical marker Monday.

About 100 people crowded along a Meeting Street sidewalk at the site of the former Institute Hall — where South Carolinians signed the Ordinance of Secession exactly 150 years before.

“That the cause of this disastrous secession was an expressed need to protect the inhumane and immoral institution of slavery is undeniable,” Riley said, prompting the outburst. “The statement of causes mentions slavery 31 times.”…

Where else in the world, I ask you, would such a simple, mild and OBVIOUS statement (few historical documents make fewer bones about motives than the document Mayor Joe alludes to) elicit such a response? Wherever it is, I don’t want to go there. We’ve got our hands full dealing with our homegrown madness.

Earlier, I got this come-on to an online survey:

POLL – Celebrating Secession: Do you find it offensive to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the signing of  the…

Sigh. OK, I’ll answer the question which doesn’t seem worth asking: Yes. Duh. The operative word being “celebrate.”

As for the word “offensive,” well, that seems rather inadequate. I suppose in our PC times, it’s the highest opprobrium that most folks in the MSM seem capable of coming up with. “Appalling” would work. “Insupportable” would, too. “Unconscionable” would be another. Then there’s always “embarrassing.”

My point is not that someone somewhere — say, to oversimplify, the descendants of slaves — would be “offended.” That’s too easily dismissed by too many. (As the surly whites who resent blacks’ resentment over slavery would point out, everybody’s offended by something. They would say this as though such moral equivalence were valid, as though black folks’ being touchy about celebrations of secession were like my being offended by Reality TV.) My point is that the very notion that anyone would even conceive of celebrating — rather than “commemorating,” or “marking,” or “mourning,” or “ritualistically regretting” — the very worst moment in South Carolina history, is a slap in the face to anyone who hopes in general for the human species (one would hope it could make some progress) or specifically for South Carolina.

It’s awful enough that this one act stands as the single indisputably biggest impact that South Carolina has ever had on U.S., or world, history. But what does one say about a people, a population, that — 150 years after this Greatest Error of All Time, which led directly to our bloodiest war and to a century and a half of South Carolina trailing the rest of the world economically — they would think it cute, or fun, or a lark, or what have you, to mark the episode by dressing up and dancing the Virginia Reel?

I mean, seriously, what is WRONG with such a people, such an organism, that would celebrate something so harmful to itself, much less to others?

Lonnie Randolph of the NAACP calls it “nothing more than a celebration of slavery.” Well, yeah. Duh again. But that pretty much goes without saying. The point I’d like to add to the obvious is that it is also a celebration of stupidity, of dysfunction, of never, ever learning.

In fact, what we’ve done, from the time of Wade Hampton to the time of Glenn McConnell, is devolve. We’ve slipped backwards. The guys who signed the Ordinance of Secession were acting in their rational self-interest, something even the merchants of the North probably understood. Be morally appalled at that if you’re so inclined (and most people living in the West in this century would be), but it made some kind of sense. But for anyone today to look back on that act and celebrate it, seek to identify with it, get jollies from dressing up and in any way trying to re-enact that occurrence, makes NO sense of any kind, beyond a sort of self-destructive perversity.

And don’t give me that about the act of secession being an assertion of freedom-loving SC whites throwing off the oppressive gummint yoke, because it just proves my point. That attitude — that “Goldang it, but ain’t nobody gonna tell me how to live MAH LAHF” or make me pay taxes or whatever — is probably the single pathological manifestation most responsible for the fact that we have been unable to get it together in this state and climb out from under the shadow of the conflict that we insisted upon precipitating. The far more refined forms of this — Sanfordism, and other ways of asserting that we do NOT need to work together as a society to solve common problems, because we are free individuals who don’t need each other — have done just as much to hold us back as the old racist creeds of Tillman and the like.

It is, indeed, a pathology. And parties that “celebrate” secession are a manifestation of it.

19 thoughts on “Is celebrating secession offensive? Yeah. Duh. And so much more than that…

  1. Doug T

    But, but the bible said it was OK to have slaves!!

    Terrific piece, Brad. You nailed it.

    On a similar note,a friend sent me something just today extolling the brilliance and contributions of Thomas Jefferson, attempting to compare favorably the country’s founders vs our supposed European Socialist-styled leaders of today.

    Well, Thomas Jefferson raped his women slaves. Washington had slaves, and only male land holders could vote.

    I don’t remember Glenn Beck mentioning any of that.

  2. Mark Stewart

    Note to McConnell et al: go try on a Nazi Waffen SS uniform in the mirror so you can see why you look like the biggest jackasses in America today to everyone else.

    This kind of nonsense is not historical, its ahistorical.

  3. Brad

    Yeah, Jefferson’s never been my fave. Not because of the slavery thing, but because he never had to work a day in his life (because, you know, he had slaves) and I think it affected his political philosophy. Would he have so unrealistically idealized the notion of a nation of yeoman farmers if he’d ever been one? I don’t know.

    But in any case, I prefer John Adams, whose attitudes toward slavery — and toward work, and pragmatic governance, and life in general — were far less ambiguous than Jefferson’s.

  4. David Carlton

    “And don’t give me that about the act of secession being an assertion of freedom-loving SC whites throwing off the oppressive gummint yoke, because it just proves my point.”

    Indeed–and, as a practicing southern historian, let me point out something that even those who cite the “Declaration of Immediate Causes” persistently overlook about it–*nowhere* does it point to a single grievance of South Carolina against the federal government!!–at least apart from complaints that the feds weren’t doing *enough* for them.

    In point of fact, this is what the federal government was doing: It had opened much of the western territories to slavery through the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act; it had passed a law calling for federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave clause of the Constitution. The judicial branch, in *Dred Scott,* had declared any congressional prohibition of slavery in the western territories to be unconstitutional. Oh, and that tariff you often hear about–the one in effect at the time had passed with overwhelming support from *southern* congressmen, and was widely attacked in the North for allowing cheap foreign imports to destroy American jobs [That’s why there’s no mention of the tariff in the “Declaration”; if they’d named passage af an act they’d voted for as an act of tyranny, they’d have been real laughing stocks–they said this, in debate].

    Oh, but Republicans had won the election!! So what? The Senate was still in Democratic hands, and the Republicans actually lost seats in the House. The Supreme Court was still the Roger Taney *Dred Scott* Court. The secessionists knew their Declaration of Independence, and knew they couldn’t justify secession on what they *feared* might happen; they needed to show an “endless train of abuses and usurpations.”

    But if the federal government wasn’t abusing or usurping, what could they point at? Two places: the northern *states,* and the northern *people*. The northern states were failing to enforce the Fugitive Slave clause of the Constitution, and were allowing those dreadful abolitionists to run around loose, making speeches, publishing newspapers, and, worst of all, even supporting antislavery terrorism [John Brown]. Of course, northerners thought they’d had “states rights” too [and there was that ever-pesky Bill of Rights], but the secessionists insisted that the constitutional compact obligated northern states to actually uphold slavery; if voters thought otherwise, they were acting unconstitutionally as well. And, of course, it was unconstitutional to vote for a political party that southern slaveholders didn’t approve of. See where this is going? People who think the seceshes were all right because they were against big gummint haven’t the foggiest understanding that the world of the secessionists was completely different from ours. These were people who, in the end, were seceding because they thought elections were only constitutional if they produced the “right” results. Er, come to think of it, they may have been more like their modern admirers than we realize.

  5. Marion

    As a direct descendant of two of the signers of the Declaration of Causes, where SC stated its reasons for secession, I want to point out that the only reason for secession was that they felt the institution of slavery was threatened by the national government and the south was therefore entitled to withdraw from the group. You just have to read what they explicitly said. This is not rocket science. Everything else is smoke and facesaving.Celebrating that decision is a disgrace.

  6. Mark Stewart

    Lighten up Frances?

    If we can’t honestly address the past, we can’t move forward. There is a lot to admire in the south. We don’t need to rationalize the second worst impulse in humanity. Yeah, at least our history is not one of cannibalism.

    Tone deaf.

  7. Steve Gordy

    Brad, why are you trying to talk in reasonable terms to a bunch of whiny-a@@ “Gone with the Wind” wannabes? They don’t have to give you REASONS why they feel the way they do; they just feel that way, and therefore their feelings must be honored.

  8. Nick Nielsen

    As near as I can tell from reading the Declaration of Causes, the whole thing was essentially a temper tantrum because they weren’t getting their way. To actually believe that secession was a good thing requires an amazing amount of self-delusion.

    I’ve pointed out to a few people that the Declaration of Causes was all about slavery, and have been asked what a damnyankee knows about South Carolina history. Apparently more than a good many native South Carolinians…

  9. bud

    Here’s my question to everyone who suggests the observance of secession day should not be a celebration: What if the southern state had seceeded from the union over an issue OTHER than slavery? Let’s say, for example, the Declaration of Causes had featured a long history of the oppressive nature of tariffs or taxes against the southern states or marriage laws (Utah went through that)? Would the observance then rightly be viewed as a celebration?

  10. Brad

    What I was gonna say just then was, “If any o’ you homos touch my stuff, I’ll kill ya…”

    Which would have been funnier, because of the punchy, offensive word in the middle. Which of course I’d be using ironically, which would make it OK. But I didn’t think I could get away with it given my civility policy. Someone would inevitably misunderstand, and say “If YOU can use words like that…”

    I’m all about civility. But it can be a comedy killer…

    Of course now I’ll get a lecture from my friends about how that line wouldn’t have been funny at all, etc. To which I would say, lighten up…

    Actually, that brings up a related topic…

    There’s no doubt that up to a point, edgy, non-PC language or bawdy talk (to use a favorite 18th-century term) can be consistent with, and sometimes even enhance, comedy. But it’s a very delicate balance, and most people writing in entertainment today have NO CLUE where the line is. They just think dirty words or references to body parts are funny in all circumstances.

    Judd Apatow shows us where the line is. In 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, he rides that wave perfectly, masterfully. Then, in Superbad, you think, “This is too far; this is too deep into potty-mouthed puerile nonsense,” but you hang with him because you’ve come to trust his work, and in the end it pays off. But then, in Pineapple Express, it just sort of falls apart; the formula fails.

    Then look at something else that tries to ride that same wave. Say, “Zack and Miri Make a Porno.” It stars Seth Rogen, check. It has others from that pantheon, such as Craig Robinson (the club doorman from Knocked Up). Check.

    But from the very first moments, from the first bathroom jokes and crude references, you just get… depressed. How pathetic. How completely lacking in humor…

    It’s a delicate line.

  11. bud

    Actually I thought the 40 Year Virgin would have been better with somewhat less nasty language. Overall it was a pretty good movie but it did cross the line somewhat. The Zack and Miri movie just obliterated the line. Great movie idea that was completely ruined by excess.

  12. Chris Oder

    Zack and Miri doesn’t work because Kevin Smith movies without Jay and Silent Bob are not that great. Exhibit A: Jersey Girl.

    It’s all been downhill since Clerks. His next one, Red State, has John Goodman in it so it might not be too bad.

  13. Brad

    Ack — that was Kevin Smith (I didn’t watch enough of it to figure that out before bailing)? That explains it. You’re completely right. “Clerks” was it for him. After “Clerks,” I watched a couple of his others, and they were seriously lame…

  14. Burl Burlingame

    Maybe I can convince some northern states to hold Celebrations of Victory Over Southern Slavery. It’s a far more legitimate cause.

  15. Richard Dugan

    I am glad I discovered your blog Brad. I was beginning to believe that there were no intelligent writers left from South Carolina. You have restored my faith in finding truth everywhere even when you must look very hard for it.


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