Two terms often used today in political debate are “free market capitalism” and “redistribution of wealth.” On Aug. 12, conflict between outsider white supremacists protesting the removal of a tribute to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and counter protestors led to violence, injury and death in the peaceful college town of Charlottesville, Va.
Lee was neither a traitor nor a villain. President Abraham Lincoln asked him to command the Union army, and he probably would have if the cause had been just, but the cause was to “redistribute wealth” from southern farmers and planters to northern industrialists. Lee chose to defend the southern state’s right to engage in “free market capitalism,” and trade with whomever they chose.
Northern special interests persuaded Congress to pass the Morrill Tariff Act while President Buchannan was still in office. This was designed to force southerners to sell cotton to northern industrialists at deflated prices, and purchase finished goods from northern manufacturers at inflated prices, due to limitation if not elimination of European completion. The imbalance was so unfair that trade with foreign nations was more profitable in spite of shipping costs. As a result, the southern states own navy was used to blockade southern ports from Virginia, around Florida, all the way to Texas. Did our nation’s Civil War begin because northern troops were trying to liberate Negro slaves and escort them to freedom in the North, or because Navy ships were attempting to enforce an unfair blockade at Charlestown, S.C.?
Did northern states welcome fugitive slaves, or comply with fugitive slave laws? Did the Underground Railroad stop at the Mason/Dixon Line, or the Canadian border? Did northern industrialists want the slaves freed, or producing cotton for their mills? Did northern workers want free southern slaves competing with them for jobs, or producing job security in southern cotton fields? If the sole northern purpose was to free southern slaves, why was the Emancipation Proclamation issued after the war started, and applied only to the southern states in succession, while the northern border states continued to practice slavery throughout and even after the war? Was the proclamation truly for emancipation, or to curb the threat of foreign intervention on behalf of the South by nations that had abolished slavery, but were not above purchasing slave-raise cotton at reasonable prices? Was the Civil War fought over cotton-raising slaves, or slave-raised cotton?
Outsider white supremacists in Charlottesville carried flags which news media erroneously referred to as “Confederate” flags. In my childhood, rectangular revisions of the square Rebel Battle flag were sold along with Davy Crocket coon-skin caps and rubber Jim Bowie knives. Unfortunately, the state of South Carolina chose to raise an erroneous rectangular version of the battle flag to commemorate a nation that no longer existed because it lost the only war it ever fought. Prior to this, white supremacists utilized the American flag during their demonstrations, and further degraded our flag and the symbol of Christianity by burning crosses while committing hate crimes.
History has proven that ignorance of history causes the repeat. Statues of and tributes to Lee should remain standing because this great general could have led the fight to suppress southerner’s rights to engage in free market capitalism, but he chose to defend their right to sell their goods in the most lucrative markets, thereby preventing northern special interests redistributing southern wealth into northern coffers. Did Lee attempt to preserve slavery, which benefitted northerners as well as southerners? Why do white supremacists see him as racist symbol? Could that be because they rely too much on the narrative of hate mongers such as those who portrayed Travon Martin as a “hooded thug” who attacked an “innocent” George Zimmerman, although he disobeyed directions to stay in his car until police arrived?
Lee became a southern general to combat the economic injustice Lincoln allowed. Lincoln was opposed to slavery, but he was not an active abolitionist; his recorded words tell us his goal was to restore the Union. Why was the Union divided? Because northern special interests that controlled Congress did not want European competition for southern products! Did Lee attempt to preserve the slavery the northern textile industry depended on, or the right of southern cotton producers to get a fair price for their product in an unlimited, international market? Was Lee a white supremacist, or a champion of economic justice who deserves our respect?
Think about it, please.
Robert C. Currie Jr. is a resident of Laurinburg. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.