The Fourth Secession
I feel like ranting about the South but, because I have some sort of cold/flu — either a very bad cold or a moderate flu or some combination thereof — I'll restrain myself to a few abbreviated observations. Perhaps I'll make the literary effort later.
So, stipulating that the basics of the U.S. Constitution were devised as a compromise over slavery (see earlier posts and podcasts if this is an unfamiliar concept), it increasingly has made intuitive sense to me that, therefore, those gentlemen in Philadelphia must have had slavery on their minds at an earlier time. How much earlier is a question. Presumably, also, if they had had the foresight to imagine the kind of Constitution that they would agree they probably had slavery on their minds during the Revolution. How important a motive might it have been?
As it turns out, this is not a fit subject for academic inquiry. To my knowledge there is only one book out there, Slave Nation (Sourcebooks, 2006), by Alfred W. and Ruth Gerber Blumrosen, with an introduction by Eleanor Holmes Norton. Alfred is professor emeritus at Rutgers Law School; his late wife Ruth, also a former Rutgers professor, assisted in the establishment of the U.S. EEOC among other acts of public service. Two serious people. The book has a cover blurb from Yale's David Brion Davis (since the passing of John Hope Franklin perhaps the leading American authority on slavery): "A radical, well-informed and highly original reinterpretation of the place of slavery in the American War of Independence." You'd think the book might have garnered at least one academic review. It didn't. Nor, according to Google Scholar, is it cited even once in the academic literature. It got published, landed with a resounding thud, and promptly disappeared.
Part of the reason why is simple. The Blumrosen's argue — convincingly to me — that the primary motive for the Revolutionary War, via the instigation of Virginia, was to protect the institution of slavery. None of this stuff about yeomen, all good and true, rising up in defense of their natural rights from British perfidy. None of the myth about Boston, or the Tea Party. (Is it because the British were confused about the location of the ringleaders that we make the same mistake?) None of the history that has won innumerable academic accolades and Pulitzer Prizes. The Blumrosens gave us a terribly bitter pill. No wonder they've been so studiously ignored.
The other part is more complex. The book documents clearly and very solidly how, even at that time, the shame and double dealing surrounding slavery required a great deal of obfuscation, tacit language, and sensitive diplomacy. Indeed, well after independence John Adams writes somewhat regretfully to Thomas Jefferson that posterity will never really know why the decision for revolution was taken. There is, in fact and unfortunately, no text that provides us an unequivocal "smoking gun". But by assembling texts that bear on the absolute priority of slavery (when read between the lines), by explaining what the authors of the era meant, by constructing timelines that link texts and actions, and by providing the circumstantial case for the underlying narrative, the Blumrosen's have won the debate unless and until someone can further deconstruct their ascribed meanings and show them wrong. The ball, fairly, is in the opposing court.
Which leads us to the title of this post. We now have four — count them, four — secession attempts by the South, each of which have resulted in trouble of epic proportions: the first, the Revolutionary War; the second, the Civil War; the third, the exodus of white male southerners from the Democratic Party over Civil Rights legislation; and the fourth, today's apparent secession from reality by the Republican Party, to the great and lasting detriment of the rest of the nation. Peculiar, no? One wants there to be a logical explanation but perhaps that is too much to ask.
The evil of slavery runs deep in Dixieland. One could argue, without fear of great exaggeration, that the South has always measured itself, and still does, by the most abhorrent, pathological moral standards on earth. And that kind of culture is a non-trivial barrier to political compromise.