Tuesday, November 30, 2010

More Civil War disingenuousness

We're coming up on the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, and the NYT's Katharine Seelye has an article in today's paper about "Celebrating Secession without the Slaves." The article is interesting enough, but falls into the common reporting trap of presenting two sides of an issue as roughly equivalent in defensibility. Especially on such a sensitive issue, it would be nice if a newspaper that aspires to quality journalism would point out that one side on the issue is being deeply disingenuous.

For example, the article quotes without comment a spokesperson for the Sons of Confederate Veterans who says "We're celebrating that those 170 people [who signed South Carolina's ordinance of secession on Dec. 20, 1860] risked their lives and fortunes to stand for what they believed in, which is self-government."

However, all it takes is one quick glance at South Carolina's "Declaration of the Immediate Causes", which explained secession, to realize that what they believed in was slavery, and if self-government was necessary to sustain slavery, then they were happy to believe in that too. The document mentions slaves or slavery more than a dozen times, and the key statement of grievances is quite unambiguous:
"We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. "
And what prompted secession right then? Here, too, the document is clear: the fact that a man had been elected "whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery" and that in March 1861, his party would come into office, with as one of its goals "a war... against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States." Not a war against self-government, not a war against state rights, but a war against slavery.

Is it too much to ask that the NYT offer some factual evidence, rather than just competing opinions?

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