How the South Won the Civil War by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
crossposted on
August 26, 2009

In his BuzzFlash Editor’s Blog of August 15, our Editor/Publisher Mark Karlin had this to say about the Civil War:

“[I]t may have been won by the North, but in truth the South never emotionally conceded. The Town Hall mobs, the birthers, the teabaggers, are all part of that long line of ‘coded’ agitators for the notions of white entitlement and ‘conservative values.’ Of course, this conservative viewpoint values cheap labor and unabated use of natural resources over technological and economic innovation. It also – and this is its hot molten core – fundamentally believes that white people are born with a divine advantage over people of other skin colors, and are chosen by God to lead the heathen hordes. . . Of course, when you start stirring the pot of race — in order to preserve the status quo of entrenched power and wealth – you emerge with a stew of hate boiling over and ready to explode into full-fledged violence. . . The America that Hannity, Beck and Limbaugh so nostalgically yearn for is a bait and switch: what they want is the ‘old-fashioned’ white entitlement values of the Confederacy and the short-lived Constitution of the Confederate states.”

But did the North really win the Civil War? Did those values ever really go away? Or put another way, did the South really lose? Well, yes, the North did win on the battlefield, with the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, the subsequent surrender of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston in North Carolina, and then the capture of Jefferson Davis, who was trying to flee to Mexico. But I would argue that in terms of its original war aims, except for just one of them, the South won the Civil War and then some, right down to this very day. Consider the following war aims.

1. The preservation of the institution of African and African-American slavery (and through the activities of the slave-owners and the slave-masters from the time of the arrival of the first Africans destined for slavery in 1620, there were already many of the latter), and its uninhibited expansion into the Territories of the Plains, the Rocky Mountain region, and the Southwest. (California had already been established as a free state by the Compromise of 1850.)

2. The acceptance by the whole United States of the Theory of White Supremacy on which the institution of slavery was established. Alexander Stephens was Vice-President of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and following the death of John C. Calhoun in 1850, its principal theoretician. At the beginning of the Civil War, Stephens said this about Southern slavery: “Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race. Such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s law. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural condition.” Thus slavery as a general institution was immoral, according to Stephens. But for “Negroes” it was permitted, because they are inferior beings.

3. It was the South that strongly believed in the establishment and prosecution of American Imperialism. Before the Civil War, much of the leadership for U.S. imperial expansion, first on the North American continent came from Southerners. It happens that Thomas Jefferson, for example, who made the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 that enabled the major westward expansion, was also one of the first to advocate the annexation of Cuba, a position later taken up by Jefferson Davis when he was Secretary of War in the Pierce Administration. President James Polk, a North Carolinian slave owner, prosecuted the War on Mexico (1846-48) with a claim that Mexico had attacked Americans on U.S. soil in Texas. The result of that war lead to a huge further expansion of U.S. territory. His claim that “Mexico started it” apparently had as much legitimacy as the claim that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. It was challenged by a little-known Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln, but that challenge got nowhere and he lost his bid for re-election in 1848 largely because of it.

4. The South strongly supported the theory of “States Rights.” One of its outcomes was to provide for the control of the Congress, through the control of the Senate by a minority of the national population. (There are many other outcomes of the theory, which we do not have space to cover here.)

5. The South strongly supported low tariffs on foreign manufactured goods while the North wanted high tariffs to protect domestic industrial development.

6. A major element of Southern politics was the use of the Big Lie Technique. First that Africans and African-Americans were inferior beings, not “human.” Second that the Civil War, initiated in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina on April 12, 1861, was about “Southern Freedom.” Jeff Davis would make this claim right to the very end. At the same time that the CSA was fighting so bitterly and for so long primarily to defend the institution of slavery, it was able to get several hundred thousand white farmers and laborers to give their lives in the cause, using the Theory of White Supremacy to convince them they were fighting for “freedom.”

So, where does that leave us? Well, yes, slavery was banned by the 13th Amendment, but in functional socio-economic terms in the South, it existed on a certain level well into the last century. The theory of white supremacy has come to dominate the national political stage since that time, waxing and waning in importance as it becomes of greater or lesser use to certain political powers over time. As Mark points out, it is now being used to a fare-thee-well by the national Republican Party in their battle-royal to bring down Obama, and sooner rather than later. North American Continental Imperialism ended with the accession to statehood by Arizona in 1912. However, expansion beyond the boundaries of North America began with the annexation of Hawaii (1898). While the U.S. did not actually annex Cuba as a result of the Spanish-American War of the same year (it did annex Puerto Rico), it effectively controlled Cuba until the 1959 Revolution and did annex the Philippines as a result of that war. That is very well-known as to the subsequent history of American Imperialism.

The fact is that through the “states rights” basis of allotting seats in the United States Senate right now a small minority of the population is controlling the direction of so-called “health care system reform.” As for low tariffs, while U.S. industry, except for a few politically favored ones such as sugar beets, no longer needs them, it is so-called “free trade” (e.g., NAFTA and the WTO) that has lead to the free export of capital from our nation and its subsequent de-industrialization. Finally, of course, the Big Lie Technique in American politics never died and now is in the forefront of GOP tactics and strategy.

So who won the Civil War over the long haul? Where I stand on that one is quite obvious.

Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Special Contributing Editor for Cyrano’s Journal Online; a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century (POAC); and a Contributor to The Planetary Movement.

from the archives:

Health Care Reform and the Fascist Response: Why? by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

Protest! by Richard C. Cook

The “Populist Revolt” against the Obama Administration’s Health Care Proposals by Richard C. Cook

19 thoughts on “How the South Won the Civil War by Steven Jonas, MD, MPH

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  3. It’s interesting to see how the South is perceived as being extremely racist or, at least, strongly leaning toward white supremacy. I grew up in the South and for most of my life heard exactly that – that my people were racist. However, I wasn’t, nor was anyone I knew. We were all used to being around blacks, Latinos, Native Americans along with several other diverse groups, including people from all over the world. Everyone got along. So I just assumed that my family and friends and I were the exceptions as far as southern white people go. It was rare that I actually saw any evidence of racism or white supremacy growing up – and those were people that we all avoided.
    Then I moved to the North, New Jersey, within driving distance of Philadelphia and NYC. I frequently see displays of racism as well as racial tension here, particularly between blacks and whites. I see it, yet a lot of white people here will go out of their way to convince you of how okay they are with black people. They try a little too hard, in fact. Some won’t even use the word “black”, as though there were something wrong with being black. They talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. In the South, we actually are fine with blacks and everyone else. It just wouldn’t occur to us to say as much, because why wouldn’t we be fine with people who aren’t white?
    And as far as a sense of white entitlement? White people in the northeast are the very definition of it. I have never seen a more entitled bunch of people in my life. Get out of their way, dammit, because they need their latte STAT. Most won’t even pull over for ambulances, and they get mad at me for doing do. (I actually get honked at for pulling over because I think someone’s life being saved is more important than my getting to work on time. Crazy southerner that I am.)
    My experience in the rest of the North (central and west) has been different, and the people are pretty nice to each other, similar to in the South, but without taking politeness to the same extreme. The northeastern states, however, have a way to go when it comes to race relations and civility in general.
    Just my two cents for anyone who believes the garbage about southerners being racist. Racists are everywhere, but you’ll see a lot more of them in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area than you will in southern states. I’ve spent many years in both regions.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience, livewire. I’ve heard the same from others who have lived in different parts of the US. Generally, generalizations of large groups of people (all Southerners; all Jayhawk fans; all whatever) are not reliable. Racism and racial tensions do exist both in the South and the North.

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  7. Confederatocracy aside, you got Shaine B. Parker back! That’s something…

    It is indeed a strange scene, the South. I’ll take the ancient Longleaf Pines and Liveoaks back any day.
    But then I’d do anything to bring back the north woods and the prairie.

    Never understood all this nationalistic pride, their dominionism is so bankrupt.

    It wasn’t made for you and me, sea to shining sea, it was as it was, paradise, pristine. We ruined it.
    Slavery was individual insult to global injury. We had MANY slaves up north, be not fooled.
    No pride there.

    • Yes, I miss Shaine, too. His computer broke and he’s been using one at the local library but doesn’t have much time to comment. This post is from last year Aug. 2009.

      • Jeez, I didn’t notice the post-date…
        I hope he makes it to the liberry and posts some of those tight comments again, could teach me a few things about comentating…

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  9. I agree with you Gary… I am so sick and tired of the fact because people have the right to speak out against policies they don’t want shoved down their throats… It all goes back to race… It was the race card Obama played and knew that if McCain mentioned race at all in his campaign that he would become a racist… I don’t care if the President was purple if he had the peoples interest at heart…

    This man nor his wife does not…. People can whine about Bush, whine about racist but it all comes down to the truth they don’t want to hear about Obama… The only change you will see is the change leaving your pockets to fund usless bills he wants…

    The constitution is by the people, for the people… Not by the government for the government… People in Washington need to remember it’s our tax money that pays them and their lifestyle that they are so accustomed to…

    We from the south have just as much right to voice our opinion as anyone… Even if it is against Obama… Freedom of Speech remember….

  10. The conservative movement – by its nature – is a white supremacist movement. Any effort to “return to the good old days” is a yearning to go back to white supremacy, male-dominated culture, and days where authority was never questioned even if it was obviously wrong.

    As conservatives deride the 60s movements and civil rights movements, they fail to realize the avenues of freedom opened up for non-whites and women.

    Now, they oppose gay marriage on the basis of morality, and claim that the majority has the right to make such laws that forbid rights of the minority. But if the civil rights bill had come up for a popular vote in the 60s, would it have passed?

  11. read gore vidal;’s ”Lincoln”. Our first dictator was Linclon because he suspended the entire bill of rights. it is not a south verse north issue. northern writers spoke out for succession because it was in the constitution . Lincoln put these northern writers in jail .
    who won ? everybody lost.

  12. The big lie technique is also at the forefront of Democrat politics–Obama–“Change you can believe in.” if you are drugged and icapable of thinking.

    Corporations, generally r by whites, have take over and expanded the doctirne of the south.

    Iteresting insights into the south.

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