States’ Rights Stupidity
Posted on October 18, 2003 Posted by John Scalzi
One of the reasons that it’s depressing to talk to Confederate sympathizers is that they have no understanding of just how profoundly idiotic they sound to anyone who does not bathe in the same feculent oil pit of ignorance that they do. One of my correspondents yesterday chose to attempt the “The US was bad, too, you know” argument for justifying Confederate evil, to which I pointed out that be that as it may, it was the Confederates who constitutionalized slavery, while the US constitutionalized making all men free. To which the response was (and here I have permission from my correspondent to quote him):
“Yeah, after 89 years. I doubt under the CSA they would have been enslaved that long.”
In one sense I admire the chutzpah required to forward this sort of argument, in that it willfully ignores both the fact that the eventual Confederate states were the ones primarily active in prolonging the institution of slavery within the United States during those aforementioned years (especially in the two decades running up to the Civil War), and rather incomprehensibly suggests that a political entity that had encoded slavery into its very founding documents would then dispense with the institution in a historically expeditious manner. The Confederate states’ reluctance to let go of their slaves while part of the US, I would submit, rather dramatically undercuts the suggestion they’d be all in a rush to let them go when they weren’t being pressured by those annoying free states in the North. Now, I will admit my correspondent was correct in noting that slaves were in fact not long enslaved under the CSA. But there’s the Union to thank for that, now, isn’t there.
More than I admire the chutzpah in forwarding this argument, however, I’m agog at both the pan-hit ignorance that this fellow exhibits in formulating this argument, both in his understanding of US history and his appreciation of the aims of the Confederate political entity, and the assumption of ignorance (or contempt for the possibility of intelligence) forwarding such an argument implies towards those to which it is offered. But as I said, it just goes to show the recursive mental processes of Confederate sympathizers, who apparently live in such an intellectually hypoxic state that an argument like this seems reasonable.
I wouldn’t suggest all Confederate sympathizers are stupid, though I’d be willing to place money that rather more of them loiter on the left side of the bell curve than not. Rather, I’d suggest that even the more intellectually gifted among them appear to refuse to think deeply about their abiding interest, attempting to win on nitpicks, because that’s all they’ve got. They’re trying to score through the intellectual equivalent of scrabbling up the grass to make a field goal, while the other team is dropping touchdown-laden long bombs deep into Confederate territory time and time again. It’s not a winning strategy for the Confederate sympathizers, but then, the Confederacy is all about losing, isn’t it.
The prime example of this “small points” strategy, if you ask me, is the fetish Confederate sympathizers have for that “State’s Rights” thing. Suggest to your contemporary Confederate sympathizer that the Civil War was about them white folks down South wanting to keep their cheap black labor, and he’ll get all puffed up and indignant at the idea that slavery had anything to do with it. It’s all about states’ rights, he’ll say, and ramble on about how the Confederate states had a perfect right to secede once it became clear they had come to an impasse with the Federal government of the United States (the subject of the impasse? Well, slavery. But shhhh!). Thereby, the United States had no right at all to attack and invade the Confederate states, who in forming the Confederate States of America were, after all, exhibiting the same drive for self-determination the US exhibited against the British during the War of Independence.
I’ve noted before that the Confederate sympathizer position on states’ rights is rather highly debatable — which is, lest we forget, one of the major reasons we all had that Civil War thing going on — and that in any event, having suggested their innovative view of states’ rights, the Confederate states were then obliged to defend it by use of arms. They were unable to do, so their interpretation of states’ rights is aside the point (indeed, because of the Confederate’s ineptitude in this regard, it’s been rather dramatically settled in the other direction). Some of my correspondents think this is a simple “might makes right” argument on my point, but I prefer to see it not as “might makes right” but rather “might defends right” — i.e., the Confederate application of the states’ rights argument was disastrous and evil, so it’s just as well that it was stomped on the neck and shot through the brain pan.
But just for shits and giggles, let’s grant the Confederate sympathizer position that the Confederate states had a right to secede from the United States, and thence form new, independent countries individually or severally (as indeed they did in creating the CSA). So, okay, Confederates, have your states’ rights and your new country. Enjoy! It’s on us.
There’s just one catch: Once you’re an independent country, you have no “states’ rights.” Yes, yes. We grant that you have the right to secede and form a new country. However, I don’t see anything that says the United States is obligated to let you keep your shiny new country. If you’re not a state in the US, then you’re just land held by people who are not us. And you know how the US is about land held by people who aren’t us. We wonder why we shouldn’t be holding that land. Just ask Mexico, from whom we took two-thirds of its land mass, more or less because we felt like it. Or ask the Native Americans.
Now, let’s take a look at the new, entirely legal CSA. First, your country is rather inconveniently located on what was previously roughly a third of the total US land mass. Well, that’s bad. Second, y’all went and attacked US forces at Fort Sumter, which even if we grant was technically on your land, was still pretty hostile. Third, what population remains in the newly-truncated US is now not exactly inclined to let you sneak off with a goodly part of the continent. Fourth, there are no treaties between our countries which suggest the US is obligated not to stomp your ass and take your land. Even if one were to suggest that the various state constitutions implied that the US were obligated to treat the states with respect if they were to secede, I would suggest that by banding together in a new federal entity and subordinating their independence therein, the obligations the US may have had in regards to those state constitutions were voided. Save for passages regarding slavery and a few other tweaks, the CSA constitution is a copy of the US constitution, and therein the states are not allowed to make foreign policy. And I don’t think I need to remind anyone the US certainly didn’t have any non-hostility agreements with Confederacy.
So, to wrap up: A new, hostile country right on our border, sitting on land that used to be ours, which we have no legal impediment not to squash like a bug. And, let’s not forget, thanks to codifying slavery into its constitution, the CSA is also officially and undeniably evil.
Honestly, now: Are you Confederates so unbelievably stupid as to think the US would continue to let you exist?
To be entirely truthful about it, I would rather the US had granted the Confederate states had the right to exit the Union. It would have made the subsequent stomping the Confederacy’s racist and evil sorry ass all that much cleaner and sweeter. It would have been straight-out conquest, with which the US (on our own continent, at least) has never had much of a problem. Also, I don’t really see how the former Confederates would have subsequently had much cause to bitch. After all, they did run off with a third of our land, much of which (hello, Texas!) we had recently acquired from another country, namely Mexico (yes, I know, the Republic of Texas. Whatever, guys). They did a land grab, we did a land grab back. That’s the way these things work.
But no. The US rather charmingly held these states to be in mere rebellion. Which meant that the individual states were eventually readmitted intact to the Union, thus retaining their already-existing character, and the former erstwhile citizens of the CSA allowed to reclaim their identity as American citizens. Hell, we didn’t even hang Jefferson Davis. In all, the Confederate states and their citizens were lucky the US was under impression those states still belonged to the Union. The alternative, I assure you, would have been grim. It would have made the Reconstruction look like a county fair.
That former Confederate states have “state rights” at all is predicated on the fact that the Confederate position wasn’t correct, or at the very least, poorly backed up by the Confederacy itself. In other words, the only reason that Confederate sympathizers can argue that their interpretation of states’ rights was correct is because, to their good fortune, their interpretation turned out to be so very wrong. The fact that they argue “states’ rights” at all points to how little they have to work with when discussing the virtues of the Confederacy. But I guess Confederate sympathizers would prefer to have a idiotic argument than no argument at all. Again, isn’t that just the Confederacy all over.
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