Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Confederacy and the Roots of American Progressivism.

This past week I began Hillsdale College's second course series on the U.S. Constitution titled "The Progressive Rejection of the Founding and the Rise of Bureaucratic Despotism" also known as Constitution 201. I have a great deal of respect for Hillsdale College, an independent liberal arts college located in rural Michigan. My admiration stems from the school's rejection of all federal monies, thereby refusing to compromise its values and principles, which mirror my own. Founded in 1844, Hillsdale is an old school with, from what I've been able to ascertain from photographs, a beautiful, quaint campus and small student body. If I were to find fault, the only one I could muster to date is its admiration for Abraham Lincoln, which apparently extends back, well, to the days of Lincoln.

But I don't fault Hillsdale for that, the school is, afterall, located in Michigan; and if I displayed malice toward everyone who admired Lincoln, I'd spend my life bent out of shape. For the most part, if I can't come up with a good reason for arguing a point regarding the man (by that I mean, if I think I might actually accomplish something), I keep my mouth shut. But some injustices I simply can't ignore.

One such occurred in Hillsdale President Dr. Larry Arnn's introduction to Constitution 201. Dr. Arnn alluded to the seeds (at least some of them) of progressivism in the United States as having been sown in the Confederacy. He based this thought on two tenants of American progressivism: rejection of the nation's founding principles and the use of science as a liberal tool for the "betterment" of all mankind.

To support the argument, Dr. Arnn referenced the speech made by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens on March 21, 1861 in Savannah, Georgia citing the subordination of the Negro race as a corner-stone of Confederate society. Vice President Stephens stated modern science "proved" the Negro genetically inferior to the white man. I'm certainly not agreeing with Vice President Stephens or any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who agreed with that "finding" at the time. What I find umbrage with is the use of Stephens' speech defending slavery as indicative of "progressive" thought in the South.

For two hundred years before Stephens made that speech, slavery had thrived in the British colonies and had been justified using the same opinion Stephens espoused even without the "proof" of science.
More disturbing to me is the challenge that Stevens was speaking "in opposition to the equality principle of the American founding." Based on the evidence presented, opposition to the "founding" existed from the start. To add insult to injury, Dr. Arnn made no reference to the Republican Party's gross disregard for the Constitution in its subjegation of the South and its subsequent, purposeful destruction of the checks and balances critical to the survival of the Federal Republic established by our founders under said Constitution.

Now, I don't consider myself a sophisticated person. I'm not particularly well versed in political terminology, but for me the term "liberal" (synonomous with "progressive") conjurs up an individual who believes everyone should be equally successful and that government should ensure that success through regulation and wasteful expenditure of other people's money. My money. Hillsdale's introduction to Frank Goodnow's (American Political Sciences Association) paper titled "The American Conception of Liberty" echoes this concept of a liberal. The intro states, "Progressive political science was based on the assumption that society could be organized in such a way that social ills would disappear."

Now, let's think back. What is considered the great social ill on the day Vice President Stephens made that speech? Oh yes, slavery. At least it was to those not in the South. Personally, I think the "liberal" Republicans would have done well to focus that energy relieving society's ills on the North's factories, orphanages, and sweatshops, but then I don't buy the Civil War having been about slavery, either.

The equality principle referenced, of course, is found in the Declaration of Independence—"...all Men are created equal,..." It didn't matter that the clause was written by a Southerner and slave owner and that the Declaration was signed by a number of slaveowners who risked their Lives, their Fortunes, and their sacred Honor so that our nation would win its independence. It doesn't take a genius to figure out there's a disconnect here and there always will be. The point I want to make is this particular "equality" principle was missing in the Constitution, and it is the Republicans'/Lincoln's bizarre adherence to the Declaration of Independence's taking precedence over the Constitution as this nation's founding document that excuses the Republicans' subsequest violations of the Constitution and destruction of the republic that to this day they are credited with saving.

I argue, as the South has for, gosh, two centuries now, that The Declaration is the document by which we informed King George we were opting out of his empire. The Constitution, written eleven years later, with the Articles of Confederation sandwiched in between, is the document, ratified by thirteen sovereign states, that formed the Federal Republic of the United States of America —under a limited central govenment, its powers granted by the consent of the governed through powers delegated by their sovereign states. It is the document our founders designed specifically to keep in check the anticipated growth of what would become, by its very nature, a large, all-powerful central government. Note that it is a large, all-powerful govenment that is critical for carrying out a liberal agenda. Equality, validated in the Declaration, formed one of the tenants of the Republican Party —not because it cared about each individual, but because representative government wasn't working for it. Sovereign states, which could counter the overreach of the central government, got in the way of its "liberal" agenda.

I've always heard it argued that the concessions made to the slave states during the writing of the Constitution were done so the Southern states would ratify it. Darn right—, we played a major role in writing the thing. If the Northern, non-slave holding states did not agree with the Constitution, they shouldn't have ratified it. They could have written their own Constitution, instead of desecrating ours. It was a bad marriage from the start with one partner, in bad faith, determined to change the other.
For eighty years the South was the bulwark against the proponents of strong central government and the tyranny of democracy over representative govenment. The most damaging attack made against the republic was that made to representative government 150 years ago by Lincoln's Republican Party. That's where the seeds of liberalism were sown, not in the Confederacy. That group of Republican tyrants created a fertile field, which continues to put forth its ever-increasing bounty of crop-choking weeds to this day. The party doesn't matter. What matters is the restraints are gone.
You want to promote the South for laying the foundation for "liberal progressivism"? Well, maybe we do deserve the blame. We lost the War.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Lucy, you are a professor's worst nightmare...the student that knows more than the teachers (in a sense). I love this post and your way of expressing yourself. Keep your thoughts and the posts coming!

  2. Mindy, I'm so glad someone finally commented on this post--it's being looked at, but no one is saying anything about it one way or the other. Thanks.

  3. I find that many times on my blog. I know people read it, but don't make a comment. My co-worker, Wayne, read the post and re-posted it on Facebook after I did. His post with a link to your blog received a comment.

  4. Wonderful. Give Wayne my thanks. I'll hope for another comment from that direction!

  5. Great blog, Charlsie. Was all of the Republican party abolitionist-minded at the time of the War? Many Republicans, including Lincoln, openly spoke out against "equality" of the races. Also, the "science" Stevens referred to was that of phrenology, a practice by which head shape and size was measured with superior results being given to white Europeans. It was popular not just in the South, but throughout the USA at that time.

  6. You know, the thing that bothers me most about Dr. Arnn’s remarks is that they were unfair, unwarranted, and unnecessary. The course was on the Constitution and the “progressive” agenda attacking it. I wracked my brain at the time trying to make sense of why he’d even brought that troublesome adjunct up, and the only thing I can come up with is the focus on Lincoln and the oxymoronic effort to tie the man to the Founders, thereby justifying those Constitutional violations made by the “Party of Lincoln” and that includes the waging of unwarranted war. The only legitimate tie I can see is Lincoln’s overt adherence to Jefferson’s “all men are created equal” in the Declaration. It was the Constitution being taught, and probably not, I now believe, by the right people.

    If someone wants to go all giddy over Lincoln and praise him for saving the Union and justify their devotion and feeling good about their choice because he “freed the slaves”, fine, do it, but don’t hide behind the Founders and the Constitution. What Lincoln and his party did, as well as the people who followed them to war, was reject the Republic of our Founders. In a nutshell, they thumbed their noses at the Founding Fathers and said, “We reject what you established because we don’t like what the South is doing and we will change it by force of arms—not by the way you intended, because you no longer matter and you were wrong, and in the future all the states will do as they’re told on matters where the Federal government whimsically decides to intervene.” This reaction is all the more sinister since the South attempted to peacefully leave the “Union” to pursue its own interests. With the South gone those of Lincoln’s ilk could have perverted the Constitution, however, they wanted. [Of course that’s a little too black and white. The forces of evil couldn’t have codified the destruction of Federalism without, ultimately, the helpless Southern states, because there were Northern states that would have finally balked. But that’s another story.]Not to mention that for economic reasons the North couldn't let the South go, which is why they didn't.

    Such adherents to Lincoln and “Union” should have the intestinal fortitude (or testicular if you prefer) to admit to what they are really supporting. Those people reject Madison and Washington, etc. (yes, even Jefferson they would realize, if they’d read beyond the Declaration). They reject them as surely as the liberals and the left do—like the Northerners/Unionists who waged war on the South a hundred and fifty years ago—like those who gave the Radicals control of Congress in 1866. Such adherents to Lincoln and the altered Constitution should come out and say, "we believe the Founders were wrong in what they created and what Lincoln did was make a better nation." Instead, they try to tie him to them and justify what he did by claiming adherence to the Constitution. The Union and the Republic are not the same. What he did was force a Union by destroying the Republic.

    Arnn’s attempt to defend the Founder’s Constitution as the real McCoy, after the egregious violations conducted against it and its subsequent desecration at the hands of the real traitors, by implicating the South as the first progressives with that dubious link, which amounted to nothing more than racism that was rampant nationwide and which Lincoln publicly adhered to, appalled me. I dropped out of the course—I probably should have stuck around to see how he danced around those Reconstruction Amendments which clearly prove the Radicals were the progressives of the day—but I had no stomach for it. Yeah, they defend the “Founder’s Constitution”, all right, but only after the real traitors have perverted it beyond its original intent. And to add insult to injury, they turn around and disparage the South, the very people who defended what it stood for. Sorry, they got it bass ackwards.


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