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The South and the Union. [from the Baltimore (Md.) sun, February 4, 1908.]

To whom should the Southern people build monuments, to Lee or to Grant, to Lincoln or to Davis?

Some years ago a clergyman of Washington, who had been a brave Confederate soldier, made an address in Alexandria, Va., to the Camp of Confederate Veterans, an audience consisting mainly of Virginia people. He referred to the war between the States and said that he supposed that there was no one within the sound of his voice who would now wish that the result had been different. Like sentiments have come from other men of note in the South, and very lately General Alexander, a soldier distinguished in the war between the States, said the like at West Point, where he was serving on the board of the Military Academy.

If this is the right view to take of the result of the late struggle between North and South, let us consider carefully what it means and what an honest man's duty is in the premises. If he believes this, I hold that he must say as follows:

I am glad that we failed in our efforts in 1861-1865 to establish a government separate from and independent of the Government of the United States, because if we had succeeded and won the political independence we were fighting for our conditions as a people would have been worse than it is now. Having been compelled to come to this conclusion what must I, in consequence, further conclude about the good and brave men who in 1861 led us in asserting and maintaining our cause?

Were they right or wrong, in the broadest sense of those terms; not merely did they have a right, but were they wise in exercising that right? Granted that the Southern States had a right to secede, [333] as a large majority of the people of the United States believed in 1860, was it expedient, was it wise to exercise that right? What must be said of the wisdom of the men who led us into a terrific struggle, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and hundreds of millions of money to win a success which when won would, as is assumed above, have put us in a position not only worse than we had then, but worse than our present condition? There can be but one reply. Brave and good men we know them to have been, but very unwise, if not foolish, in leading their people to withdraw from the Union. Compare them with such men as the Virginians, Botts and Lewis, who steadily refused under much odium and obloquy to take any step to leave the Union.

Are not these the men whom, if the assumption is correct, we Virginians should honor with monuments and hold up to our children as guides and counselors in public affairs? Compare General Lee and General Thomas, Virginians who took opposite sides in the contest; both brave men, each fighting for the cause he thought right. But which was right? If it was better for us to fall, surely it must follow that Thomas was right and Lee wrong. When men rise up in resistance to an established government, they must establish, or aim at establishing, some better government for their people. If this aim could not have been realized, even had they been successful in their effort, they can have but small claim to the love and honor of the people whom they, however good their intentions, have led to disaster and ruin. If the independence they aimed at was to be a blessing to their people, success or failure should make no difference in our estimate of them, except that in failure they are even more deserving of the sympathy and reverence of their people, like Aristomenes, Sertorius, Emmett and other unsuccessful patriots. But if success could have brought (as is assumed) no blessing, then the sooner these leaders are forgotten the better. Had Washington and the other leaders in 1776 failed in their efforts to throw off the British yoke, they would still have a strong claim on the gratitude and love of their people, not because they thought they were right, but because they were right. The leaders in Monmouth's rebellion no doubt thought they were right, and died bravely in that unfortunate effort; but they were mistaken and wrong, and are justly held responsible for the great evils that befell their followers in that ill-judged and ill-fated enterprise.

If it was better for us to fail in the war of secession, a great mistake was made in the South in 1861. Who were responsible for it? Our [334] leaders. Let us weep for them. But if we accept the assumption, we cannot tell our children to imitate them. Let not sentiment blind our judgment. Impelled by a mistaken sense of duty they tried to destroy (we must logically conclude) “the best government the world ever saw,” and failed. We must, then, to be consistent, be thankful that they failed and strive to overcome a sentiment in their favor, and learn to honor and imitate the men who fought on the other side; who fought in a cause that not only they thought was right, but which we now know to have been right. We are compelled by the logical consequences of what has been assumed to believe that we profit now by their bravery and endurance, and are enjoying the blessings of this ‘great and glorious’ Union because they in their superior wisdom prevented us by force from wilfully throwing away, like naughty children, those same blessings. Let us be consistent and learn to build our monuments to Lincoln and Grant, but for whom we should have forfeited forever the privileges and blessings now secured to us and our children in our common country.

Such must logically be the convictions of the man who now looking back at the struggle between the States thinks it was better for the Confederacy to fail. For the sake of my children and the rising generation, who have largely taken the places of those who formed the late Southern Confederacy I can honestly say that I wish I could accept the above-described assumption and all the logical consequences that are shown to follow. It would be better for them and their future in their present environment if we old soldiers of the Confederacy could honestly and truly say to them: ‘We made a grave mistake in 1861, and it was best for the Confederacy to fail. Forgive us the mistake, costly and ruinous as it was, for the sake of our good and honest intentions. Bring up your children to love those who risked their lives or died to preserve the Union.’

But in truth the whole assumption is false. A most grievous wrong and mortal hurt was done to the cause of constitutional liberty by Lincoln and his followers in forcing the seceding States back into the Union. A tyrannical sway was established over them. Our State governments have been debased and corrupted by negro suffrage forced upon us by them, a wrong the guilt of which and the evil consequences of which few are now found to deny. This is a cancerous sore eating into the heart of the body politic. The Union into which Virginia was forced in 1865 is utterly different from the one into which she entered voluntarily in 1788. This Government of [335] the United States is now a government of one section, by that section and for that section. The Republic of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other great men of those times has been changed into a nation ruling subject provinces; subject we say, just as really now as in 1866 in ‘reconstruction’ days when Virginia was ‘Military District No. I’; for whatever political rights we now enjoy we have only as the gift of our conquerors. As puppets in their hands the conquered States voted such amendments to the Federal Constitution as the Republican party prescribed, and occupy a position in this present Federal Union which the great Virginians of 1776 would have rejected with contempt and loathing. ‘What rights have they who dare not strike for them?’ When we are asked to be glad that the ‘Lost Cause’ was lost, let us count up what the loss has cost us, and is costing us, and promises to cost us. Consider the years of the ‘reconstruction.’ time. Gradually the apologists for it have been silenced, and no respectable Northern authority of any late date attempts to justify its shameful infamies. And there it stands, a pernicious precedent for like usurpations and tyranny in the future. Think again of the amendments to the Constitution made at that time, and passed by farcical devices, which will let any future President make more to suit himself in any future war or serious crisis. Then consider the pension burdens—the millions paid by the South to the Northern soldiers who conquered them—ever growing as the real soldiers die, till the monstrous burden has become a reproach that the best Republicans blush to mention; then the tariff, so adjusted in the long domination of the Republican party that the agricultural South gets from it next to nothing, while the money that it has to spend buys hardly two-thirds of what it would buy but for the tariff.

Is there need for any other reason than this to account for the fact that the able men whose fathers owned and farmed the lands of the South have abandoned them and gone to crowd the competition for employment by the monopolists of the cities on such terms, however humiliating, as suit their employers? Yet we are told that never were there greater opportunities for men of merit to rise. Men of what sort of merit? Does not their merit consist in their acquiescence in the present plutocratic control of the Government? Can a man, whatever his merit, win success now who declares boldly that bribery and corruption have largely brought about the present enormous accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few hundred money kings? [336]

Then we have a standing army now three-fold what was abundantly large as late as 1898, and which the President may at his pleasure make five-fold. The terrible danger to liberty in that no intelligent man needs to be told. Expansion was the name affected by its defenders for the foreign conquests of the United States, but, growing confident from impunity, they now frankly call it by its proper name—imperialism. Such staunch and veteran partisans of the North as the late Mr. Godkin, Senator Hoar, Carl Schurz, Charles F. Adams, and other like men have set forth its terrible evils. They show the vile things done on a large scale, and press in vain on the President for a hearing. The President sets forth afresh in his address in Philadelphia on November 22, 1902, his reasons for rejoicing in the career of the armies of conquest in Cuba, Porto Rico and in the Asiatic waters; but his Judge-Advocate-General has to report that I in 20 of this army, the nobleness of which the President so commends, has been convicted of crime within the last twelve months—1 in 20 of the whole army, not of the part in the tropics, and convicted, not merely tried. The President's order to defend his army has betrayed him more than once into salving his censures of the tortures (atrocities that the world hoped were left behind with the seventeenth century) by pleading in justification that the Fillipinos, too, were cruel and treacherous in their dealings. When men have trapped the tiger which they saw torturing—after the instinct of its kind—its human prey, would Mr. Roosevelt extenuate their barbarity if they tortured the beast?

In that same speech of November 22 the President touches on another evil so tremendous that even his ardent partisanship could not ignore it—the trusts. Insolently defying us while they rob us—all of us that eat beef or use a coal fire or coal oil—on a scale that yields them profits a hundred fold more than any Eastern despot ever extorted from his subjects, the trusts could not be ignored. The brave words in which the President declared that the Government had the power and would find the way to curb the trusts bring no relief, nor promise any. It is in strange contrast with the humble attitude in which he so lately approached Pierpont Morgan—a mode of procedure so humiliatingly different from the way that Presidents have hitherto summoned citizens to their councils, that it has justly provoked scornful criticism and bitter satire.

As to the future, what may we hope? For those who are humbly submissive to the powers that be there is no doubt a sort of career. Some few Southerners showed long ago that a good name could be [337] sold at a good price to the authorities in Washington. Do any wonder that a Republican party exists in the South, on which that party has brought nothing but blight and ruin for a generation and more? Outside of Heaven there was never a place where a ruler with even one-tenth of what the President and his dependents have to bestow could lack a following. That so few have surrendered to the temptation when that way lay the only opening to political preferment is an honor to the South. But many now who neither seek nor want office are finding out how pleasing it is to be the dominant section, to be assured that they were right in reforming the Union by force in 1861-65, especially those of that section who, seeing the great evils that have come and are coming from a centralized and imperial Federal Union, are having misgivings as to the wisdom, if not the justice, of a forced Union. And many roads to success outside of politics are made easier by such subservience, given, it may be said, more or less unconsciously, but not the less pleasing to the recipients on that account. To agree with the dominant party on that point makes it easy to vote with it, and the wonderful success of that party for the last forty years is very persuasive to win adherents.

To Southerners the fate of the negro is a matter of deep interest; the poor negro whose behavior in the war between the States was worthy of all praise, and whose conduct since has been far better than could have been expected, considering the false position into which he has been forced by his unwise friends in the North. Is not their condition far worse than in 1860, as to the great mass of them? And does it not promise to be worse as time goes on and the hostility between the races steadily increases? Will disfranchising them make them content and submissive and put a stop to the dreadful lynchings and burnings and their dreadful cause (which leads to them almost inevitably, though it cannot justify them), while the great body of Christendom sympathizes with them and considers them as tricked out of their right to vote? Many hope so, but does the present strong tendency in the world toward universal suffrage make it a reasonable hope?

In building monuments to Davis and Lee, Jackson and Stuart we are declaring to the world and to future generations that the cause for which Lee fought and Jackson and Stuart and many thousands of our bravest and best died was a good and glorious cause, the cause of constitutional liberty, and that those who fought against that cause, however unconscious of it they may have been, were fighting [338] in the cause of tyranny—were fighting to enslave a gallant people struggling for independence like their forefathers in 1776.

When the monument to Lee was unveiled in Richmond some years ago a picture in Judge represented Davis and Lincoln, Lincoln saying: ‘If Davis was a patriot, what was I? ’ This picture sets forth a great truth. One of two things is true; there is no middle ground. If Davis was a patriot, Lincoln was a tyrant. If Washington was a patriot, George III was a tyrant. Lincoln conquered the South and built up a powerful nation, in which true lovers of liberty cannot rejoice, for it cost the lives of two noble republics, the old United States of America and the Confederate States of America.

Berkeley Minor. Staunton, Va., January 19, 1903.

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