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The Confederate Lawyer
May 12, 2010

Virginia’s Confederate History
by Charles G. Mills

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 New York.

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 of opinions.

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 long time.

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.

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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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