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Time to Bury the Dead Culture of the Confederacy
Fredric W. Henderson
With the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox and the collapse of the Confederate States of America 127 years ago in 1865, the doctrines of free trade, slavery, and secession had been defeated militarily on the bloodiest battlefields in American history. The very economic and political policies that had ensured that military victory, reestablishing a national commitment to the American System of the nation’s founders, as opposed to the destructive free trade policies of the British System of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Parson Thomas Malthus, also firmly established the basis for their defeat politically. By the turn of the century, however, that had all changed. America finally became captive to the very doctrines against which the great war of 1861-65 had been fought. By 1914, the United States, with the First World War, and in its aftermath the postwar Versailles agreement, had become the resolute partner of Great Britain in enforcing throughout the world the very policies that it as a nation had been created to oppose. Today, the last remnants of the bankrupt Versailles system are collapsing. Quite possibly, its most destructive legacy is that the world has lived with a British lie for 150 years. With the ratification of the North American Free Trade Agreement, that lie is about to visit a terrible revenge upon the nation, by bringing back slavery in a new form. Americans urgently need to recover the true history of the War of Secession of 1860-65, and the period that followed it. In no other way can we as a nation explain how we have abandoned the commitments of the nation’s founders, embodied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution; realized in the administration of George Washington through the national bank and “internal improvements” policies associated with Alexander Hamilton; carried on through the policies of the John Adams presidency; last explicitly manifested, before the Civil War, in the 1824 administration of John Quincy Adams and Henry Clay; and firmly reasserted to save the nation in the wartime policies of the Lincoln presidency. In no other way can we explain, by the turn of the century, the triumph of the obscenely pro-British outlook of Theodore Roosevelt (President 1901-08), and the even more pernicious policies and worldview of Woodrow Wilson, who followed him to the White House in 1912-20. Wilson is the embodiment of this evil inversion of national ideals. He was the President who engineered the United States’ entry into World War I on behalf of the British, and who consolidated the Anglo-American alliance at Versailles. Wilson was the first southerner elected to the presidency following the Civil War; he recorded in his diary that such was the greatest honor that could be bestowed upon a man, save having been born into the British aristocracy. Under Wilson, the unconstitutional Federal Reserve System was established, flanked by the twin national policing agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service. Wilson reflected the view, albeit in a more refined form, that had been the foundation of the South before the secession crisis.
In this sense, Americans have lived with 150 years of the British lie that something other than the fundamental struggle between republicanism and oligarchy was the core of the battle between North and South that erupted into war in 1861. The Confederacy was nothing more than a British critter, enslaved to British oligarchical economic, political, cultural, and social doctrines. Its “war for independence” was a British-inspired attempt to split the one bulwark of republicanism in the world into an impotent set of petty satraps, easily subjugated to British interests. As I have developed in other published locations, the American South of 1860 was a society based on British free-trade economic doctrines and practice; slavery and the other manifestations of its economic backwardness were imposed on the region by an insanely destructive opposition to the economic doctrines that had developed the rest of the nation. [fn1] The southern economy had become almost exclusively a slave-based agricultural one, dependent on British markets to sell its cash crops of cotton and some rice, totally indebted to British or British-allied finance, and dependent on outside sources for food imports and consumer and capital goods. Close to 80-90% of all land in the slave states was owned by 2-3% of the people--the 350,000 slaveholders in a population of 11 million. Of these, no more than 100,000 owed two-thirds of all land and 90% of the enslaved black population of 4 million. The bulk of the remaining whites were either landless or eked out a living on tiny farms on the poorest land. What little industry existed there, was rudimentary and primitive. Almost none of the extensive mineral and natural resources in these southern states was developed or harnessed. The South’s political institutions paralleled the slaveholders’ economic views, paying homage to the aristocratic, oligarchical traditions of the old world, particularly Great Britain’s.
The American System
The institution of slavery was central to what was viewed as a uniquely southern mission: the defense of an oligarchical worldview viscerally opposed to technological progress. Southerners justified their actions by arguing for the superiority of their political, economic, social, and cultural institutions. The so-called popular culture of the South, thus created, was the clearest expression of this, and it would be from here that the most insidious and damaging of its effects on its own people, and on the nation as a whole, after the war, would spring. Just as such “culture” would be the basis in 1861 to mobilize for war a region in which the vast majority of people were brutally oppressed by its institutions, so today the legacy of such ideas has been used to pervert most Americans’ sense of national purpose into a course of national suicide. The nature of this culture and its genesis can only really be grasped from the standpoint of what it was concocted and deployed to destroy. Although few Americans know this today, it was well understood even by ordinary citizens a century ago that the United States had developed a new system of political-economy which had the potential to put an end to slavery in all of its forms, permanently; and that this new system was the antithesis to the British capitalism which turned human beings into mere commodities. Communism, the crazed theory of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, was merely the radical extension of the British dog-eat-dog capitalist system. According to classical capitalism, as defined by the British school, the supreme goal on Earth is to increase wealth and power continually through exploiting natural resources and subordinating labor to capital and money. In the Marxian system, the workers constitute themselves as a class and overthrow their masters, take possession of the means of production--and proceed to pitilessly exploit both labor and workers. The foreign policy extension of predatory English capitalism, has always been called “free trade.”
Henry Charles Carey, the Irish-descended author of The Harmony of Interests, was the principal theorist of the American System. He loathed the British capitalist system as a social disease to be fought and conquered. Contrary to the British view, he saw that what is specifically human in man, what sets him above the beasts, is what keeps him from exploiting others and from being exploited by them. Man’s greatest source of strength, the very guarantee of his liberty and his power over nature, Carey argued, lies in his association with his fellow men to form a society (in the words of the federal Constitution, “a more perfect Union”) with other human beings for the purpose of producing enough nourishment for all and a greater common happiness. The ultimate purpose of all human effort, according to Carey, was not just the accumulation of the things of this world, but a higher civilization: “the production of the being known as Man capable of the highest aspiration.” This characteristically American ideal was put into practice in the United States most particularly through the policy of setting protective tariffs to protect infant industries from predatory foreign competition; and the policy of “internal improvements,” such as waterways and highways which facilitated commerce in the broadest sense.
Carey wrote of the national “mission” of the United States,
“To substitute true Christianity for the detestable system known as the Malthusian, it is needed that we prove to the world that it is population that makes the food come from the rich soils, and that food tends to increase more rapidly than population, vindicating the policy of God to man.”
He was making it clear that this American System of
political-economy was the coherent application to civil society of
the teaching of Jesus: that divine love agapë, or in the English of the King James
Bible, charity, is the ruling principle of the universe.