GLEN COVE, NY — Last month was Confederate History
Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This commemoration was met with
resistance by some who are unaware of Virginia’s history. Virginians
should have been free to celebrate this occasion without apology for
slavery, indeed with only the slightest mention of slavery. The roots
of the dispute between Virginia and the North are much older than the
dispute that divided the United States over slavery.
Virginia and Massachusetts were the two largest states at the time
of American Independence, and both had legal slavery. But the similarities
end there. Massachusetts was in the heart of New England. Virginia
was a southern state but was similar in some ways to its neighbors
to the North in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, and even to southeastern
Slavery was not yet an issue at that time between North and South.
The first person hanged for witchcraft in Salem was a black slave girl.
Perhaps the cruelest suppression of a slave revolt in American history
was in New York. The greatest distinction on the question of slavery
between North and South was the trans-Atlantic slave trade, which was
phased out in 1808 under Article I, section 9, of the Constitution.
A major part of the economies of Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode
Island was based on the importation of slaves from Africa. The New
England slave traders sold most of their slaves to plantation owners
in the South, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, where they
usually became plantation workers. Slaves were merely cargo to the
New England ship owners. Slaves who survived the voyage became part
of their masters’ plantations, with specific jobs and identities.
High mortality rates may have been economical on the Atlantic crossings,
but they certainly were not so on the plantations, where the slaves
were well fed and received medical care.
What distinguished New England from the rest of the United States
was the region’s extraordinary intolerance. Catholics and Quakers
were legally persecuted in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
In Connecticut, no one could teach at the college level who believed
that bishops could ordain clergy or that anyone could play a role in
his own salvation. Students could be expelled for attending an unauthorized
sermon. Throughout New England, those who sympathized with the king
during the War of Independence were driven out of the country.
The rest of the country, settled in part by generous spirited Cavaliers,
was not at all like the land of the New England Roundheads. Episcopalians,
Presbyterians, Dutch Protestants, Baptists, Catholics, Jews, and Quakers
lived together in peace. Even the defeated Tories had a place in this
wider society where social conventions dictated respect for diversity
New England attitudes spread to the region around the Great Lakes,
while the plantation economy spread to the deep South. The Ohio River
became a kind of barrier between the South and the North, until Missouri
was admitted as a slave state. The Ohio River was never, however, a
barrier between hostile cultures. That barrier ran through the middle
of the states north of the Ohio.
The North began to envy the wealth of the South and tried to steal
it through a system of tariffs. When this failed, the North turned
to sanctimony and began to denounce slaveholders in moralistic and
inflexible terms without consideration of the reality. These abolitionists
then brought on a war.
Lincoln was fully aware that an aggressive re-provisioning of Fort
Sumter would start the war. He did it anyway because war was the result
he wanted. Virginia still hoped it could avoid war. Lincoln arrested
enough members of the Maryland state legislature to prevent Maryland’s
secession. In so doing, he laid the foundation for Virginia’s
secession and adherence to the Southern Confederacy. He tried to force
Virginia to supply troops to fight against the South, which would inevitably
bring the war to that state.
Virginia chose to secede. Virginia, which had existed about three
times as long as the United States, was proud of its history. Its people
rallied to the Southern cause to defend the state. Virginia gave the
Southern Confederacy some of the greatest military leaders in world
history. Just as George Washington and Henry Lee won our nation’s
independence, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson defended the South
against overwhelming Northern numbers and munitions for an extraordinarily
This is a history of which all Virginians should be proud. We must
always remember that the average Confederate soldier did not fight
for slavery, states’ rights, the Constitution, or low tariffs.
He fought to protect his home from invasion. He must not be denied
the honor due him by those more interested in the political causes
of the Northern aggression.
Not everyone in the North had evil intentions against the South. The
people of New York City fought a six-day battle in the streets against
the war. Many citizens of Maryland, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri
were imprisoned without trial for opposing the aggression.
The Northern victory was followed by 10 years of military government
in the South under the name of “Reconstruction.” Elections
were rigged, and Northern adventurers were allowed to come south and
steal with impunity.
If Virginia has a Confederate history month next year, it should celebrate
fiercely and with pride, without apology for anything. Virginia finally
succumbed to Northern perfidy only after heroic resistance.
The Confederate Lawyer column is copyright © 2010
by Charles G. Mills and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation, www.fgfBooks.com.
All rights reserved.
Charles G. Mills is the Judge Advocate or general counsel for the
New York State American Legion. He has forty years of experience in
many trial and appellate courts and has published several articles
about the law.
See his biographical sketch and additional columns here.
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