We are a band of brothers and native to the soil
Fighting for our Liberty, With treasure, blood and toil
And when our rights were threatened, the cry rose near and far …
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star!
For Southern rights, hurrah!
Hurrah for the Bonnie Blue Flag that bears a single star.
Today’s topic is more or less an expansion on an interesting discussion spawned by my recent blog describing the experiences of my Great-Great Grandfather during the Civil War.
I have spent many hours pouring over my genealogy and I have taken great pride in those members of my family who fought for The Confederacy.
Not because I believe they were right, but because I firmly believe that they thought they were right.
As I have honored my Southern heritage and studied my family history, it has occurred to me many times that my ancestors were in all likelihood, racists. To believe otherwise is to deny some pretty heavy probabilities.
Racism was endemic not only in the South, but throughout most of the country at one time and I suppose a valid argument could be made that it still is.
But, we fought a terrible war a long time ago, based mainly on the perceived “right” of one man to own another human being. We called the issue “State’s Rights” and basically that’s accurate, but among the many minor rights being contested, the really big one was, of course … slavery.
Here’s where the question of moral relativism comes in.
I firmly believe that there is no way one can rationalize that slavery itself, or the defense of slavery was ever morally correct.
Anyone who believes that now, or ever believed it was just plain wrong.
So I am left with this quandary.
What am I to think about my ancestors who lived … and in some cases died defending a cause that by today’s standards would not be morally defensible?
How am I to account for the choices made by my family members who took up the Confederate cause and fought with great valor and determination for what they believed?
Of course, the most prevalent argument today is that there is no defense. They were wrong and they should have known it.
But, in 1860, owning slaves was a legal “right” according to the Constitution. The law protected the institution of slavery and it had become an economic necessity not easily done away with. Even those who wished it gone, had no easy solution to the problem that had built up gradually for over two centuries.
Given these facts, aren’t we compelled to at least consider allowing latitude for the perspective of the era in which people were living.
And can’t we admit that given time, people in a society do frequently become more enlightened in their attitudes and more liberal in their judgement as circumstances change.
After all, slavery was abolished, the Constitution was amended and today only a very few people even attempt to justify the attitudes that were prevalent in 1860.
Inevitably, a certain percentage will always cling to the past, whether it is the white person who still insists that black people are inferior despite all evidence to the contrary … or the black person who continues to be suspicious of the general motivations of white society, even though it took an enormous number of white votes to elect Barak Obama to the Presidency.
The vast majority of the white population of this country, North and South was openly racist in the 19th century. It’s a documented fact that the Emancipation Proclamation was not at all popular with the soldiers fighting to perserve the Union. The “Great Emancipator” himself, Abraham Lincoln, did not believe the black man the equal of the white. Only a tiny minority of fanatical abolitionists of New England supported the concept of black equality in that era.
Thankfully, this attitude has almost completely reversed itself in the 150+ years since. Now only the most fanatical fringe elements of society espouse white supremacy.
I want to believe that my ancestors would still fight and die for what they believed in and would defend what they held dear, but I also believe that were they alive today, they would not defend the right to enslave other human beings.
Am I being naive? Maybe, but I don’t think so.
History documents that people DO change given the opportunity and that their attitudes largely reflect the environment they are exposed to as they grow up and the beliefs of those who raise them.