John Foster, in his Aug. 8 letter, captured more than his share of ignorance in stating that “the main issue in the South’s secession was self-determination” and that “… slavery was a peripheral issue …” There would certainly be a simultaneous and vast convulsion by historians all across the country, past and present, upon reading this, and if Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” had not just retired, I certainly would have forwarded Foster’s letter to his show where it would have reaped its just rewards.
Foster is in desperate need of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Battlecry of Freedom” by James M. McPherson. Within 100 pages, he would fully realize the vast error of his statements and be very thankful that Jon Stewart has retired.
The main issue of the Civil War for both sides was human bondage, plain and simple. Many arguments, debates and communications were perpetuated by Southern politicians and plantation owners in order to gain political support. The most common perpetuation by this group was “states’ rights” and “self-determination,” which were the political equivalents of putting lipstick on a pig.
The statement by Foster that the Confederate secession was “exactly analogous” to the colonies’ secession is more fodder for “The Daily Show” and more convulsions for historians. The main issues leading up to the American Revolution were taxation issues borne out of a lack of representation in the British Parliament and the rejection of monarchies and aristocracies as a form of government. Where is the analogy between this and the perpetuation of human bondage?
Foster displays a rare instance of accuracy when stating that the American Revolution was an act of treason, as was the Confederate secession per any dictionary definition. As far as “illegal” and “illegitimate,” these terms in the context of treasons and secessions are always validated by who wins and who loses. In this regard, Terry Verigan is correct on his statements of treason, illegality and illegitimacy. James Madison from Virginia, who is generally recognized as Father of the Constitution, considered secession as a violation of the Constitution, and this is the document that Virginia ratified.
Concerning the statement that “Southerners fought mainly to repel invading armies … not to keep slaves (the vast majority had none),” I refer Foster once again to “Battlecry of Freedom” but also to the academic paper “Measuring Slavery in 2011 Dollars” by Samuel H. Williamson and Louis P. Cain, which states, “at the time the South seceded from the Union, the purchase of a single slave represented as much as $130,000 and more in today’s prices.”
On behalf of Foster, I offer an apology to all the historians, and please come back, Jon Stewart.
retired chemical plant employee, Solvay Inc.