Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War, by Charles B. Dew
Anyone who makes the fallacious claim that the Deep South rebelled from the Union in late 1860 and early 1861 because of state’s rights without slavery being an issue should be told, “Here’s your sign,” and then told to read this book. The author, a native Southerner whose devotion to historical truth fortunately (for us) outweighed his love for his native people, gives a damning and historically impeccable account of the pivotal role of racist fears and slavery propaganda in leading to the secession of the South’s states through a thorough account of the speeches and writings of the obscure secessionist commissioners appointed by South Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi in late 1860 and early 1861.
The book itself is a short one, just over 100 pages of written work (followed by the meticulously cited notes). The book opens with a touching introduction of the author as a native Southerner, then examines the first wave of Alabaman and Mississippian secession commissioners, then the South Carolinians, then the Alabamans, and then the mission to Virginia, and follows with a conclusion on how the secession commissioners themselves joined the “party line” of figures like Davis and Stephens in whitewashing their own racist and slavery-based appeals after the Civil War was lost, serving a role in formulating the neo-Confederate Lost Cause myth that still remains potent in the memory of the historically ignorant.
The one complaint that could be made about this book is that it could easily have been made much longer, and much more destructive of the false claims of neo-Confederate historians, by including even more of the primary documents of the slave commissioners themselves, with their florid and overheated rhetoric about Black Republicans, the horrors of submission to authority, the specter of race wars and the most shocking horror of them all, the prospect of racial amalgamation. Racial rhetoric did not advance much in the South between 1860 and 1960, as the same arguments that got trotted around the dog and pony show for secession were also used by racists in the 20th century against integration. The book as a whole is required reading for anyone who wants to know what arguments really reflected the Southern drive to secede in 1860 and 1861, and the answer isn’t “state’s rights” but rather the specific right to own and exploit other people.
In reading this book I also had a very dark realization that the same techniques used by the secession commissioners in 1860 and 1861 were techniques I had seen used by the dissidents within UCG over 2010. The same spirit motivated each of them–the refusal to accept equality, the same overheated rhetoric about the “other side,” the same refusal to accept legitimate authority and obey it, which was equated with surrender and submission, the same elitism, the same prickly sense of personal honor and unwillingness to honor and respect others, the same tendency to repeat the same false accusations and insults and buzzwords and talking points over and over again in different letters and appeals, and the same goal of disunion in order to preserve unjust systems of government and debased and immoral cultural traditions. It is a sobering thing to see the same script being followed for the same goal of rebellion, a way of demonstrating the continuing relevance of the American Civil War even in seemingly unrelated issues.