Posted by: N.S. Palmer | June 13, 2010

The Hijab and the Flag

By N.S. Palmer

Some Americans react with hostility to Muslim attire. Source: The New York Times.

Unenlightened Americans are being mean to Muslim women.

That’s the central message of “Behind the Veil,” an article in the Styles section of this morning’s New York Times.

And the article is correct: A few Americans are indeed being mean to Muslim women.* Gratuitous meanness is unenlightened.

But let’s reflect for a moment about the article’s contention (with which I agree) that the meanness is gratuitous.

The article recounts the troubles of Hebah Ahmed, a woman who started wearing a Muslim veil after the 9/11 attacks that were blamed on Muslim terrorists from Saudi Arabia.

The veil, called a hijab, covers Muslim women’s faces and bodies, though part of the face is left uncovered so that they can see where they’re going. Ms. Ahmed’s veil provoked strong reactions from some Americans:

Hebah said she has been kicked off planes by nervous flight attendants and shouted down in a Wal-Mart by angry shoppers who called her a terrorist. Her sister was threatened by a stranger in a picnic area who claimed he had killed a woman in Afghanistan “who looked just like” her. When she joined the Curves gym near her home in Edgewood, N.M., some members threatened to quit. “They said Islamists were taking over,” Ms. Ahmed said.

The Heckler’s Veto

What the article describes is called a “heckler’s veto.” Ms. Ahmed is having trouble because other people object to her attire and its Muslim affiliation.

The premise of a heckler’s veto is that if an idea offends anyone in a speaker’s audience, then the offended person can shout at the speaker to stop him or her from stating the idea. Pro-American speakers often encounter screaming mobs that try to prevent any debate by exercising a heckler’s veto.

To her critics, Ms. Ahmed’s veil symbolizes an alien religion and an endorsement of terrorism. They would like to exercise their heckler’s veto to prevent her from bringing that symbol into their presence, whether it’s on a plane or in a grocery store.

Ms. Ahmed and other peaceful Muslims, of course, argue that the hijab and other Muslim customs do not symbolize terrorism to them. They symbolize merely a religious tradition and its customs.

Because both sides have legitimate arguments, one can decide the dispute either way. In America, we have decided that freedom of expression should override a heckler’s veto.

Well, sometimes. Let’s consider another case where the same issue is involved.

The Confederate Flag

The Confederate Battle Flag. Source: Wikipedia.

In the 19th century, Southern states tried to secede from the United States because the Union government’s economic policies favored the industrial north at the expense of the agrarian south. Slavery was an issue, but a minor one. It was legal in both Southern and Northern states. Though U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s “emancipation proclamation” is widely thought to have freed all American slaves, it applied only to Confederate states, where Mr. Lincoln had no legal authority. It said nothing about ending slavery in the Union states over which Mr. Lincoln actually had at least some legal jurisdiction.

Based on the U.S. Constitution, the Southern states argued that they had a right to secede from the Union. But their Constitutional argument was crushed by the superior military power of the Union, which invaded and subjugated the Confederate states.

As a result, many Americans in former Confederate states see the Confederate flag as a symbol of their “lost cause,” and of the principles of the original U.S. Constitution that decentralized most power to the states.

But those flag supporters have their critics. Critics argue that the Confederate flag is merely a racist symbol affirming white superiority over black people and denying the evils of slavery. Seen that way, the Confederate flag is deeply offensive to African-Americans and to anyone else who believes (as I do) that people of all races are equal in rights and human dignity.

So this is another case in which a symbol’s supporters claim that it means only good things to them. Its critics suspect that the supporters are really motivated by hatred and racism, but that they are concealing those motives behind high-sounding rhetoric about the Constitution and states’ rights.

In the case of Muslim attire and practices, received wisdom rejects the heckler’s veto. Polite society accepts Muslim symbols as meaning what nice Muslims like Ms. Ahmed say that they mean. Anyone who doubts it is considered to be a narrow-minded hater.

Yet in the case of the Confederate flag, received wisdom embraces the heckler’s veto. Polite society accepts the flag as meaning what its critics say that it means. Anyone who defends it is considered to be a narrow-minded hater.

Threatened by boycotts and federal sanctions, Southern state legislatures have acted against the wishes of majorities to remove Confederate imagery from flags and to ethnically cleanse building and street names of references to Confederate heroes. Students wearing T-shirts with the flag are sent home from school to change clothes. Any public display of the flag is subject to harassment, violence, and even (sometimes) arrest. Why? Because hecklers might be offended by the flag.

What’s the Difference?

The inconsistency most likely arises because Muslims in America, whatever their merits or demerits, are an “official victim” group against which it is socially and legally unacceptable to hold any bias.  Their hecklers, on the other hand, are just plain vanilla Americans, with no special status or rights.

In the dispute over the Confederate flag, however, the roles are reversed. Supporters of the disputed symbol are just plain vanilla Americans with no special status or rights. Their hecklers are members of, or profess to act on behalf of, an aggrieved official victim group (African-Americans).

  • Not as mean as some Muslim men are to Muslim women, but it’s still wrong.

Copyright 2010 by N.S. Palmer. May be reproduced as long as byline, copyright notice, and URL ( are included.


  1. “In the dispute over the Confederate flag, however, the roles are reversed. Supporters of the disputed symbol are just plain vanilla Americans with no special status or rights. Their hecklers are members of, or profess to act on behalf of, an aggrieved official victim group (African-Americans).”

    Well said Noah. The demonizing of this primarily Southern group – most of whom are pillars in their communities – only strengthens the radicals and drives us further away from common purpose. A free, law abiding, and prosperous society.

    • Thanks, Jet! I’m afraid that most people know so little of history that they are easy prey for propaganda. But some of us know what’s what.

  2. I don’t think these are equivalent cases. People have a right to dress modestly. No one has a right not to be offended. At least not in common law jurisdictions.

    Consider a parallel case. Imagine if your mother or sister found herself in some sub-Saharan country, simply because her husband had been transferred there. Coming from the West, she would have spent her entire life firmly believing that exposing her breasts to strangers was indecent. Would it be right and just for bare-breasted Africa women to screech at her in the streets for covering her breasts in public? Should men have the right to call her a witch and demand she not be served because she was hiding something? If she told them “perhaps my daughter will one day be comfortable going topless, but I simply never will because I wasn’t brought up that way,” would they be right to override that sentiment because they felt offended? I think we would have real problems seeing it that way. And yet, that’s the suggestion here when we’re the bare-skinned natives.

  3. I think it’s a very different thing for a private individual to float the Stars and Bars from having it over a state legislature. I don’t pay taxes to the guy with the pick-up truck down the street, and he’s not deciding what laws will and will not affect my life. But the people in the legislature do, and all of it going on under that flag sends a very definite message to citizens whose ancestors were owned by other citizens.

    I won’t mince words. The Stars and Bars flew over a country that constitutionally denied the basic human rights of a vast minority of its people; it legislated them not merely as an underclass, but as actual property, like horses, oxen, and dogs. It denied them the right to marry, to their own labour, to their own childen, even to their own bodies. The Stars and Bars is the symbol of a hateful system that Apartheid pales beside, and to blithely disregard all that accept it merely as the symbol of some fallen Camelot stretches credulity beyond its limits. As I said, it’s one thing for some ignorant white guy to stick it in the window of his truck (I even see it here, in Canada). It’s another thing entirely for a government to give it official endorsement. Again, I won’t blanch at saying it: for most of humanity, the message it sends is only a little shy of, say, Bavaria running a flag with the swastika on it up the flag pole: a open endorsement of a regime of systematized human brutality and debasement; the casual sentimentalization of inhumanity and a barefaced, unrepentant disregarding of incalculable human suffering. To equate any of that with a woman whose religious upbringing compels her to cover her face from men she’s not married to is really to go too far.

  4. “In the 19th century, Southern states tried to secede from the United States because the Union government’s economic policies favored the industrial north at the expense of the agrarian south. Slavery was an issue, but a minor one. Slavery was legal in both Southern and Northern states.”

    This cannot go unchallenged. It is simply wrong, a misrepresentation of history, and a disservice to hundreds of thousands of men who died for a higher cause.

    By 1861, slavery was legal nowhere north of the Mason-Dixon Line aside from those anomalous areas of the (West) Virginia panhandle and Delaware that inched beyond it.

    The southern states rose at the election of Lincoln; some had left the Union even before his inauguration. They did so not because Lincoln had championed tariffs in his debates with Douglas, but because he had dared to suggest that slavery, while being left alone where it currently existed, should not be permitted to spread into the territories. Even though he pledged not to strike at it where it already was, even this was too much.

    Bleeding Kansas and the Missouri Compromise were not crises about export tariffs. John Brown did not rise up in favour of pro-North tariffs. Elijah P. Lovejoy was not murdered and his printing press destroyed because he had written in favour of tariffs. Julia Ward Howe did not spring from bed on the heels of an inspiring dream and pen, “As He died to make men holy, let us die to make them subject to the discretionary power of Congress to instil prejudicial tariffs; His truth is marching on!”

    In identifying the root cause of the war, and attempting to prevent its reoccurrence ever, Lincoln did not issue a proclamation seeking to curb the power of Congress to legislate on tariffs. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution have nothing to say on the matter of tariffs. Southern states were re-admitted to the Union when they ratified constitutions that banned slavery, not when they ceded any right to oppose pro-industrial tariffs.

    Britain and France did not withhold their support for the South because they championed the right of the North to economically lord it over the South. They did so because to do otherwise was ideologically impossible: they had both banned slavery at least a generation earlier and were waiting for the US to catch up. The people of Manchester, starved of the southern cotton they needed for their industries, nevertheless rose up in a monster pro-North rally. They didn’t do that because they identified with soldiers dying to make America safe for tariffs.

    And if these illustrations are too vague, perhaps the actual words of the seceding governments as to the real casus belli will be more convincing…

    The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war…

    South Carolina:
    The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue…

    … The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation…

    In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove…

    … Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

    The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States…

    …I hope that these facts will suffice to end the insistence that the Civil War was fought on the basis of vague, abstract economic notions. Tariffs come and go, but slavery was meant to be perpetual, and the South meant to keep its distinct advantage even if the North had no stomach for it. And certainly, the South went to war on that concrete basis, and clearly (as demonstrated above) said so at the time. Only the bad taste slavery leaves in the mouth of modern Southerners causes them to deny the hearts and minds of their own grandfathers. Slavery was not a “minor” issue. It WAS the war, eight years in the making.

    • I know that you’re quite well-versed in American history, but your account and interpretation of the facts differ from mine. I can’t respond to most of your specific points right now, but I will look into them.

      Several years ago, I did review a large collection of letters that soldiers on both sides of the conflict wrote home to their families from the battlefield. Slavery was barely mentioned in any of the letters. On the Union side, soldiers seemed mainly concerned about “preserving the Union.” On the Confederate side, they seemed mainly concerned about defending their homes and communities against the invading armies from the north. That suggests to me that pro forma state proclamations notwithstanding, slavery was not the main issue for most people other than ardent abolitionists.

      Perhaps the most telling fact is that, as you mentioned, slavery was eliminated in Britain and other countries without bloodshed. Could it really have been the reason for the most devastating war ever waged on our soil? That is at least open to doubt. Slavery is economically inefficient, which means it would gradually have disappeared anyway.

      It’s worth recalling that almost no one in that era had much humane concern for African-Americans. Lincoln wanted to free the slaves and then deport them. The most enlightened attitude probably belonged to the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson. Before the war, he had used his own funds to establish a school where slaves and their children would be taught to read. His letters home were full of questions about the students’ progress, and included money to pay for school supplies.

      You will find no one to defend slavery, but the circumstances surrounding the war were much more complex than the simple black-and-white morality tale told by the victorious Union historians.

      • “Several years ago, I did review a large collection of letters that soldiers on both sides of the conflict wrote home to their families from the battlefield. Slavery was barely mentioned in any of the letters.”

        First of all, I have to say I find that a highly dubious, or at least highly selective, prospect. Secondly, out of the several hundred thousand men who fought in the war, it could hardly be all that difficult to find an opinion backing any horse as casus belli; from slavery on down to “them damn Yankees is too slow to tip their hats to our Southern belles”. What we can say is that thirteen states, for the only time in US history, rose up and left the Union within months of the election of a president with publicly-stated anti-slavery sentiments, plainly said so to the world in their public statements, and were openly and generally supported by their populations. Where do you see economic references in any of this?

        I don’t for a moment doubt that if we had access to the letters, phone calls, and emails flowing home from Afghanistan from the various Allied soldiers there, we should hear all sorts of issues that they hoped their involvement might solve. But there is no denying that they arrived there in October, 2001, a month after 9/11 (much as South Carolina seceded a month after Lincoln’s election) with the stated objective of finding and bringing to justice bin Laden and Al Qaeda. If you were to wake up 150 years from now to read in the history books that “tens of thousand of American soldiers gave up their lives in Afghanistan so that no woman would ever again have to wear the burka; the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon were minor issues”, you would be obliged to inform anyone holding such an opinion that it was risible. You would tell them that, while the rights of women and the rule of law and sanctity of democracy had been longstanding issues, that they were collateral matters that did not lead to war but were secondarily remedied by it (or so the hope would be); that by far the principal cause was the attacks on 9/11 (which prompted, for the first and only time in history, the evocation of Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty), the last and most significant act in a series of military strikes against Islamic lands on the one hand and terrorist attacks against Western lands on the other, and that Western governments had plainly said so at the time before the court of world opinion. Moreover, you would ask, with righteous incredulity, how in the name of humanity the murders of nearly three thousand people could possibly be considered “a minor issue”. What if you were to do this, only to have them wave away such overwhelming and plain evidence in favour of a few (claimed but unsubstantiated) crumbs in support of their pet theories which hoped to rescue the reputations of one faction or another?

        “Perhaps the most telling fact is that, as you mentioned, slavery was eliminated in Britain and other countries without bloodshed.”

        Slavery was never a significant institution in the British Isles per se; it was so rare that its status wasn’t even legally weighed (and found wanting) until 1772. Its status in the settlement colonies after the American Revolution was generally contraindicated; for instance, it was effectively cut off at the root in Upper Canada (modern Ontario; by and large populated by Loyalist emigrants from the newly-inaugurated United States) at the institution of the very second law its legislature passed, in 1793. Only in the British West Indies was it a significant fixture in the Empire; islands far less populous than the Metropole, entirely dependent on trade with it and in no position whatsoever to resist the Royal Navy. Imperially speaking it was no great imposition when Parliament moved against slavery in 1833 (though the trade in slaves itself was abolished much earlier, in 1807); there was no basis for civil war in the British Empire on that basis. The comparison simply is not germane; it is akin to comparing the difficulty of legislating a ban on the Spanish language in California versus the same in Norway.

        “slavery was not the main issue for most people other than ardent abolitionists.”

        In the North, no; I’ve already said that. In the South, it was, unquestionably. The stated reasons of the legislatures and the timing of their secession (and the unambiguous public support for it) are tied unquestionably to threats to the institution of slavery. Not tariffs.

        “You will find no one to defend slavery”

        On the contrary, Scott. The South found several hundred thousand men to defend it; its justice and permanency remained a publicly-acknowledged precept of the Confederate constitution (Article I, Section 9 (4)) until the gasp of the last soldier in grey to die in the war. Stonewall Jackson may have opposed the institution privately, but his public acts were perforce in defence of it until he died. No doubt many a Wehrmacht soldier hated Hitler and had a Jewish friend or two; nevertheless with their every shot, they held back the liberators of Auschwitz.

      • LP, as promised, I have retired to the Batcave to study the issue. I’ll be looking at a lot of the original documents. If you will have patience, I will defer any further reply until I’ve had a chance to finish my research.

    • LP, You are a studious and prolific writer, well done. However, it appears that your historical view of the Civil war is somewhat conventional and whitewashed. Your condemnation of “modern Southerners” denying “the hearts and minds of their own grandfathers” reeks of pretentiousness. Consider the words of a notable British citizen of the time, Charles Dickens: “The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”

      I encourage you to dig a little deeper and you will find that the Civil War between the States was not simply a noble war to abolish slavery as you assert. The war hinged on the States Right to Constitutionally secede. The States that seceded were primarily offended by the 40% Federal Tariff on their goods. President Lincoln was willing to enshrine slavery forever in our Constitution in order to maintain the Union. Consider this Constitutional Amendment which passed in the Northern controlled Congress:

      “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State. (See U.S. House of Representatives, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, The Constitution of the United States of America: Unratified Amendments, Doc. No. 106-214).

      If the war had was simply about slavery then the passage of the above Amendment would have induced the Confederates back into the Union.

      This was a “…war of conquest to require the Southern states to continue paying the taxes which paid for the federal government and to change the system of government given to us by our Founders and instead replace it with a strong national government thereby removing most of the political power from the states and the people.”

      The deep irony of this to me is that many Southerns now support the Federal Government’s invasion of foreign countries (like Iraq & Afghanistan). This is a direct contradiction of the beliefs of their forefathers. Consider what Robert E. Lee wrote to British historian, Lord Acton, about what the result of the war would be:

      “…The consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of the ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.”

      *most of above quotes can be found at denson6.html

      • I’m not the one doing the “whitewashing” here, fellahs (heavy emphasis on “white”).

        “Consider the words of a notable British citizen of the time, Charles Dickens”

        Consider the words of the people who actually voted to secede from the Union, and told the world why; you can do so because I have quoted them above. I’m sorry, but I have to say that pretentiousness is really on the side of espousing that the opinion of a single Englishman wallowing in noblesse oblige several thousand miles away from the issue trumps the clearly and consistently stated public declarations of the legislatures that actually voted to secede from the United States that they did so in order to defend slavery from northern states increasingly hostile to the institution. Do you really expect me to adopt the view that Charles Dickens—or you, for that matter—knows better than the legislature of South Carolina (et al.) why it left the Union?

        “the Civil War between the States was not simply a noble war to abolish slavery”

        That’s not what I said; I said the southern states seceded, and ultimately initiated the Civil War, in order to defend slavery (and again, I will insist that this is the case because we have been told so in plain English by the very people who voted to do so; I read English, you read English; that this was their inciting motivation is BEYOND QUESTION: they have stated it so). What I’ve said and what you suggest I said are different things. The North had two options when Fort Sumter was fired upon: knuckle under and accept the division of the country as a fait accompli, or respond militarily and preserve a union it maintained was insoluble—a view I do not support myself, but accept as the position of the North at the outset of actual hostilities. I do not purport that the North set out to extinguish slavery. Lincoln himself promised it was safe where it existed. But “where it existed” wasn’t good enough in the South, and I will explain why presently. Eventually, as it was apprehended in the North that the institution of slavery was the sustaining fuel of the war and a likely incitement to future ones even if this one were concluded in favour of Northern arms, the North came to understand that their struggle was to root out slavery: first to eliminate it as a threat to the Union, and finally, finally, finally, because it was an absolute moral good. Lincoln’s overwhelming re-election in 1864 in the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation is the undeniable endorsement of this view. But that was a long time in coming. It was certainly not the North’s principal motivation in April, 1861.

        “The war hinged on the States Right to Constitutionally secede.”

        For the North it did. This was not an issue in the South; it was an accepted fact. The North opposed that principle. But if you’re saying it itself provided the motivation of the South, you’re promoting the nonsensical notion that the southern states declared independence—spontaneously en masse, by the way—for not other reason than simply to test the theory. That’s clearly ridiculous. The South exercised the supposed right of secession not to see if the theory would fly, but in order to defend an institution that was clearly doomed, eventually, within a union with increasingly numerous free states (again, I will return to this point).

        “The States that seceded were primarily offended by the 40% Federal Tariff on their goods.”

        So were free states with agriculturally-based economies. Your theory fails to explain why they did not join the exodus of states that otherwise were, in every single instance, slave states, or why federal troops had to occupy Missouri, Delaware, and Maryland (slave states all) to prevent their secession… but not a single free state (at least until the draft riots in New York City).

        “This was a “…war of conquest to require the Southern states to continue paying the taxes…”

        No source is attributed here. If we’re evoking the late Charles Dickens again, well… suppose the ghost of Charles Dickens appeared before you now and declared, “You went to university to study Pottery Making in the Time of the Pharaoh Reneb.” In keeping with the esteem in which you hold his opinions, presumably your immediate response would be something on the order of, “Gee, my degree says I studied Mechanical Engineering; but you’re Charles Dickens, so you must know better than I do!” This is effectively what you’re saying with regard to the various state declarations of secession which, as quoted, unanimously and unambiguously give the defence of slavery as their impetus.

        “If the war had was simply about slavery then the passage of the above Amendment would have induced the Confederates back into the Union.”

        First of all, that amendment was not passed, so whatever ameliorative effect it might have had is a matter of supposition. Secondly, amendments can be themselves modified by amendments, or even repealed (18th/21st). Thirdly, what the South feared was amendments to the existing constitutional provisions for slavery, which were equally possible and, self-evident from attitudes outlined by South Carolina, far more likely. The Civil War occurred, obviously, because thirteen states were past the point of being mollified by the promises, real or imagined, of the North.

        Furthermore, if you are correct in defending the idea that tariffs led to the Civil War, it could have been headed off by the far, far simpler process of Congress simply repealing the tariffs.

        “*most of above quotes can be found at denson6.html”

        …The response to which is “Not Found The requested URL /orig2 denson6.html was not found on this server.”

        Regardless, I refer the honourable gentleman to (, particularly the following commentary: “While later claims have been made that the decision to secede was prompted by other issues such as tariffs, these issues were not mentioned in the declaration. The primary focus of the declaration is the perceived violation of the Constitution by northern states in not extraditing escaped slaves (as the Constitution required in Article IV Section 2) and actively working to abolish slavery (which they saw as Constitutionally guaranteed and protected). The main thrust of the argument was that since the Constitution, being a contract, had been violated by some parties (the northern abolitionist states), the other parties (the southern slave-holding states) were no longer bound by it.”

        “President Lincoln was willing to enshrine slavery forever in our Constitution in order to maintain the Union.”

        What Lincoln actually sad on the hustings was, “I say that we must not interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists, because the constitution forbids it, and the general welfare does not require us to do so.” The key words here were “in the states where it exists”. I will now explain why this was an insufficient assurance to the southern states.

        Throughout the early history of the United States, a careful balance was maintained as states were admitted. There was an extra-constitutional, but very real, convention of admitting states to the Union in pairs: one slave state, one free state. In 1820, the Missouri Compromise limited slavery in the territories to a northern limit of 36 degrees, 30 minutes north. If you look at a map, you’ll see that left the bulk of the territories available to the organization of free states. But at least the South could count on extending the institution westward (and, in their imperial dreams, presumably ever southward, into Latin America). The compromise stood until 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska Act effectively repealed it by opening the question of slavery up to popular sovereignty in the territories. Abraham Lincoln came out against it, insisting the Missouri Compromise be respected, and earned himself an early reputation as an enemy of slavery. The act was passed, leading to what might be termed ‘slave rushes’ like Bleeding Kansas. What might have been an orderly (however unfortunate) expansion of slavery westward suddenly exploded into a general potential for slavery to exist anywhere the American flag could be planted that had not already been admitted to the Union as a state. Lincoln, when he said that slavery should be unmolested “in the states where it exists”, was in essence saying that he opposed its spread into the territories. That was hugely at odds with the actual existing law of the United States, and make no mistake, it is no coincidence that his election on November 6, 1860, was followed almost instantly (December 20) by South Carolina’s secession… Mississippi’s on January 9, 1861. Florida’s on January 10. Alabama on January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, Texas on February 1. Those states had all left the Union before Abe Lincoln ever sat down and tested how comfy his chair was in the Oval Office. Another four states would leave before he had been in office 100 days. An entirely new country, the Confederate States of America, had been created, on May 29, 1861, out of the country he had served as president for less than two months. And yet, some would have us believe the South quit for vague, effusive, ephemeral economic reasons… The question must then be asked: why then? Why so vociferously? Why so suddenly?

        You may ask why Lincoln’s election matters. It’s simply this: for the first time, the United States had elected as president a man who had, openly and explicitly, first expressed moral misgivings about slavery and had then opposed its expansion to new territories. Clearly, such a man could be counted upon to act in keeping with these sentiments whenever possible. To deny slavery a foothold in the territories had the practical upshot that never again would a single slave state be added to the Union; perforce, every single state thereafter would be a free state, and populated by people opposed to slavery (because what slave-owner could ever move there?). Very quickly, the careful 50-50 free/slave balance of the Senate would have evaporated; the House of Representatives, already long preponderously free-state in orientation, would have become overwhelmingly so. In short order, free states (that had already demonstrated themselves practically and even legally antagonistic to slavery; see South Carolina’s quotes (above) from its Ordinance of Secession for specifics) would have an unassailable majority and could act against slavery even to the point of amending the Constitution, without remedy to the South… other than to cease to be affected by it by ending its membership in a federal union with the free states. And that, gentlemen, is precisely what they did, and there was a civil war in the United States in the 1860s.

        I will flatter myself to say, particularly as a technical foreigner, that I have an unusual familiarity with US history, at least prior to about the First World War. I’m well aware that slavery was an issue in the deliberations of the Constitution in 1787, and I can show you where it affected that document (as well as the Declaration of Independence in its final form in 1776). The Civil War was a long time in coming. And when it came, it came because of the need to defend slavery. There is an unbroken chain of effect: secession (on the election of Abraham Lincoln) on the stated reason of defending slavery from an outspoken opponent of the institution elected president exclusively by free states (not a single slave state contributed so much as one elector to Abe Lincoln in 1860; not one single free state provided even one elector to anyone else), to the creation of a new nation (the CSA) predicated on preserving the institution of slavery in perpetuity, to the demand of this new nation that “foreign” troops be evacuated from its territory, to the firing on Fort Sumter. Its historicity is undeniable.

  5. Re: “thirteen states”: I misspoke; I should have said eleven. The flag dazzled me with its 13 stars. 🙂

    • One request. I know both of you to be intelligent, informed men who feel passionately about this issue. I also believe absolutely that you are both dedicated to the truth.

      At the moment, I agree with Jet’s viewpoint more than LP’s, but I respect both of you. Even if we disagree, we are all on the same team.

  6. First I apologize for the faulty link. I must have deleted a portion of it in transfer. Here it is in it’s entirety:
    We agree on many things. Slavery was, and is, a abhorrent practice. The stated reasons why Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina & Texas seceded from the Union were clear and despicable to any modern society. You correctly state that they intended enshrine slavery into perpetuity (as did Lincoln with his promotion of the passed but un-ratified 13th amendment). We also agree that in light of the state taught understanding of history “it’s a very different thing for a private individual to float the Stars and Bars from having it over a state legislature…” You invoke the ghosts of John Brown (Lincoln said he was a “misguided fanatic”) Elijah Parish Lovejoy, songstess Julia Ward Howe, and The people of Manchester. I invoked the ghost of Charles Dickens. 🙂 While they are all indicative of the politically and emotionally charged times, none of them had any control over the initiation or conclusion of the War.

    ((the southern states seceded, and ultimately initiated the Civil War, in order to defend slavery))

    In truth President Lincoln was the one who initiated the War by refusing to withdraw the Union troops from Sovereign States who had Constitutionally seceded from the Union. While Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina & Texas (to their shame) clearly seceded to support and promote slavery, the other nine Confederate states do not cite slavery as the reason in their “Ordinances of Secession.” Their Ordinances stated such reasons as: The Union “…invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity…” and “…instead of giving protection with the Constitution to the people of fifteen States of this Union have turned loose upon them the unrestrained and raging passions of mobs and fanatics, and because we now seek to hold our liberties, our property, our homes, and our families under the protection of the reserved powers of the States, have blockaded our ports, invaded our soil, and waged war upon our people for the purpose of subjugating us to their will…”

    ((The South exercised the supposed right of secession not to see if the theory would fly, but in order to defend an institution that was clearly doomed))

    Many historical accounts reveal that much of the southern population simply wanted the Federal Government to stay out of the workings of individual states. For example: the Secession Convention in Virginia had a large Union majority which voted on April 4, 1861, 80-45 against secession. If President Lincoln had pledged to refrain from the use of force in order to get the seceded states back into the Union (instead of issuing a Proclamation calling for 75,000 militiamen on April 17, 1861) it is quite likely that Virgina along with Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina would not have seceded. But President Lincoln was already set on using force (so he could maintain the flow of 75% of the money to operate the Federal Government which was derived from the Southern States) and had told Colonel Baldwin (a VA delegate conveying proposition of peace) on April 4th, that it was now four days too late to delay war (he had already issued secret orders on April 1, to send a fleet of ships to Fort Sumter to provoke a war).

    “I hope the President will withdraw the troops from Fort Sumter; and relieve the Southern people from the menace which their presence created, that I was sure such a step would prevent the secession of Virginia and the border States, and that the cotton States would not persevere in their mad schemes without the aid and co-operation of the border States.” Allen B. Magruder, Esq. to William Henry Seward, Secretary of State (Interview between President Lincoln and Col. John B. Baldwin)

    Many view Lincoln as a righteous Abolitionist who freed the slaves (which he ultimately did). Others view him more as the original Neo-Con politician who raped the Constitution, initiated “scorched earth” war on his own nation, and manipulated the morality of generation to fulfill his political ends. While I can judge his actions, I am no position to judge his heart any more than I am in the position to judge the hearts of the many Southerns who were simply protecting their home and hearth under the banner of the Stars and Bars. Cotton was the “Oil” of their economic time, and slaves were the only way many people thought it could be harvested. We would be wise to consider history in our current insatiable thirst for oil.

    • “You invoke the ghosts of John Brown (Lincoln said he was a “misguided fanatic”) Elijah Parish Lovejoy, songstess Julia Ward Howe, and The people of Manchester. I invoked the ghost of Charles Dickens.”

      I’m willing to trade you Howe for Dickens. But Brown and Lovejoy were killed by people defending slavery, not merely opining on the situation. Mentioning them is not evoking opinions. They’re flesh-and-blood casualties of a war to end a monstrous institution.

      “In truth President Lincoln was the one who initiated the War by refusing to withdraw the Union troops”

      No, in truth, he was not the one who initiated the war. He was defending US territory from people who were in rebellion, and I’ll come back to the legalities of it in a moment. To hold your position would be, likewise, to hold that the United States has been in the process of effectively declaring war on Cuba by maintaining its presence in Guantanamo Bay in defiance of the stated opposition of Cuba’s government since 1959. Do you hold this to be the case, that the United States provoked war that Cuba simply hasn’t engaged yet? Or would you agree that war would begin the moment that Cubans began shooting holes in the American servicemen existing otherwise peacefully (if provocatively) on the other side of the fence?

      We all agree here to a right of secession; however, I must now qualify it in legal terms. A unilateral right of secession is not recognized either in US law, or in international law, under the circumstances the southern states effected it. They have an internationally-recognized right to initiate secession on the same basis that they initiated union: negotiation. No one has the unilateral right to simply remove jointly-owned property from any arrangement, any more than anyone has the right to join such an arrangement unilaterally and avail himself of the joint property of others. No such negotiations were undertaken; secession was simply presented as a fait accompli. Had there been negotiation, then yes, there would have been an obligation for federal troops to evacuate Confederate territory once an agreement was achieved, exactly as the British left forts they held in the Ohio country after 1783… but not before. Lincoln, in fact, had a legal and constitutional obligation to hold, secure, and provision the federal property of the United States, and legally, South Carolina was still one of them, both in national and international law; no treaty or agreement recognized any other status, either at home or abroad. The war began on April 12, 1861, when South Carolina engaged in hostilities inimical to the legal responsibilities of the President and the soldiers carrying them out. Lincoln was doing his job. South Carolina was starting a war.

      Of the ordinances you mention, three mention slavery. South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Texas have already been accounted for in their Declarations of Cause. As for the ordinances:


      “…and instead of giving protection with the Constitution to the people of fifteen States of this Union..” [This is a reference to slavery. There were fifteen slave states in 1861. Note that Kentucky did not actually secede.]


      “And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South…”


      “…the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States…”

      Note, too, that these were all adopted in the immediate aftermath of the election of Abraham Lincoln.

      “Many historical accounts reveal that much of the southern population simply wanted the Federal Government to stay out of the workings of individual states.”

      Again, this is simply an empty shell of rhetoric, like “states rights”. These are simply euphemisms that stand for something. What could that something be? After all, no one goes to war on the basis of simple abstract principles; something tangible and real has to be at stake. No bird pecks at an empty shell. So let’s fill those shells with something by asking the question: what, exactly, was it the federal government was interfering with in the South (from which seceding states hailed uniquely) that it was not also interfering with in the North, from which no state rose in rebellion? What was the “property” not being defended; what was the character of the duty that the federal government was failing to discharge in Southern eyes? The answer, quite clearly, is slavery. That’s the snail inside the shell that made those Southern birds peck at Fort Sumter.

      “If President Lincoln had pledged to refrain from the use of force in order to get the seceded states back into the Union (instead of issuing a Proclamation calling for 75,000 militiamen on April 17, 1861)”

      Fort Sumter was attacked in the predawn hours of April 12. This is a bit like suggesting FDR is at fault for the US involvement in the Second World War for giving a provocative anti-Japanese speech before Congress on December 8, 1941 instead of refraining from the use of force.

      “It is quite likely that Virgina along with Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina would not have seceded.”

      Which would have remedied the attack on Fort Sumter how, precisely? The war began April 12. What happened on April 17 and afterward, happened as a result of that attack. You’re rather putting the Union cart before the Confederate horse that pulled it.

      I recommend to you, as I did to Scott, the book What This Cruel War Was Over, written by Chandra Manning and published in 2007. It’s copiously researched (an entire third of the book is the citations), based upon letters, diaries, and camp newspapers in which roughly 1200 Union and Confederate soldiers express their reasons for fighting. The book runs a narrative that moves chronologically, gauging opinions as the war progresses (the interesting thing is watching the opinions of Northerners, exposed to black people and slaves for the first time, changing over time). That Southerners were fighting to maintain slavery, for a variety of reasons, from the very outset of the war is firmly established by their own words… the countervailing wisdom of Mr. Dickens notwithstanding.

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