As of the writing of this column, people are making comparisons of the Oregon Wildlife Refuge occupiers and those who fired on Ft. Sumter to start the Civil War. Some sympathizers are sure to even sport the Confederate flag, based upon a myth that the government of the South was some sort of republic that respected the rights of all non-slaves. Perhaps it's time to revisit how the Confederate States of America actually operated.
Much has been written about President Lincoln's Administration, which has been called everything from socialist to downright tyrannical. What people don't know is that the Confederate States of America was pretty similar in its behavior.
In the Charleston City Paper, Jack Hunter writes that
Dissuading the South from seceding by promising to protect slavery didn't work, because the issue was secondary to the primary issue of constitutional government and states' rights. Southerners clung to the Founding Fathers' vision of a decentralized republic in which central planning, federal dictates, and permanent standing armies would have been impossible because the Constitution did not allow for a national government powerful enough to implement such measures.
Meanwhile, in the North, Hunter claims
Lincoln enacted the first income tax and the first draft, and supported internal improvements and nationalizing banks. Such centralizing, socialistic, and militaristic restructuring of America was certainly more comparable to the fascism that defined Hitler's Germany than the agrarian-based economies and loose-knit state militias that defined the Confederate States of America.
Lincoln suspended habeas corpus and imprisoned thousands upon thousands of newspaper editors, judges, politicians, and any other citizens, public or private, who dared to get in his way. Conducting the first "total war" of the modern era -- in which Lincoln's armies intentionally targeted innocent women, children, and old men in the South -- was nothing less than an act of "genocide" against Southerners. There is nothing even remotely comparable in the actions of Confederate President Jefferson Davis or even Southern leaders like Robert E. Lee to the fascist tactics of Lincoln.
He's right about actions the Northern government did during the Civil War, but not about the C.S.A. First of all, research of mine shows that in secession documents, the Southern states don't use the term "states' rights" (or any other variation of that) with rights being described as "the right to own slaves." The states even refer to themselves as "the slave-holding states," instead of the South.
Moreover, the fact is that President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate government set up a military draft a year before the North, and more Southern draftees were thrown into action than Northern draftees (a greater percentage of Northern forces were volunteers). You could be exempt from the draft, of course, if you owned more than 20 slaves.
Moreover, in General John Gordon's biography (that I am currently reading), he describes how the government requisitions all guns. Gordon and his men had their guns taken for military service (the guns were "requisitioned" by Georgia's government). They were given "pikes" instead (long sticks with knives at the end). I am not joking. And in Thomas Chaffin and Barrett Whitener's book "The H. L. Hunley: The Secret Hope of the Confederacy" documents how the South was even more effective at censoring the press and squelching dissent even more than even the North.
It's important to note that the C.S.A. was, just like Lincoln's government, a military government. If you're a military government, it's what you do. This is an important lesson for those who think military government is great, or who have romantic notions of the South's government during the Civil War, or believe only Lincoln's regime trampled on anyone's rights. If you want to call Lincoln a fascist, be prepared to add the Davis regime to the list.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.