In reading my following arguments, someone will likely conclude, “But you are defending the Confederacy” or “You are defending slavery” or “You are wacisth.” However, I advance the opposite conclusion: any black racial commentator, while not agreeing with some of my conclusions, will agree with the presuppositions behind those conclusions. Further, with the black activist I agree that many of the neo-conservative counter-arguments on the race war are either lame or hypocritical.
(Further, I need to say one more time so no one draws the wrong conclusion: I reject the Confederacy as a political unit, leaving other questions about society and culture aside. Even more: while I think abolitionist exegesis is bad, I don’t think slavery is a long-term good for society, so I am certainly not advocating that).
Further, and in full agreeance with the black commentator, Southern appeals to “states rights” as opposed to slavery’s being the cause of the War are either misleading or frankly wrong. True, the most notable white supremacist of the 19th century denied he was fighting to free slaves.
Further, I am not saying that the Confederacy was right en toto. I certainly do not agree with the Davis Administration on its key points. The conservatives who say, “It wasn’t about slavery, but states’ rights” miss the point: precisely what were the states seeking to preserve? The conservative would answer, “Their rights.” Very true, but what was the most notorious of those rights? The formal cause of the war was states’ rights–I agree. The material cause was slavery. There is no getting around that. (Of course, there are other causes, too, like economics).
Granting that man-stealing is wrong (and so the Yankee capitalists who engaged in it should have been put to death), we need to ask if the current unionized model of labor is really superior to biblical slavery. Of course, I am not saying the South did it correctly all the time.
Trick question: how many slaves came to America on ships carrying the Confederate Flag? What about the Union Flag?
“Okay,” the American Communist might say, “we admit that the Yankee merchants who kidnapped the Africans should have been executed because of God’s law, but the South was wrong to buy stolen property.”
To which I say, “Maybe. But what exactly would have been the best thing to do for the African?” Few people have seriously thought about this question. Set them free? It sounds noble and Oprah-ish, but think about it. Today, if you go to the ‘hood’ or to an Obama gathering and you ask them why blacks are so poor today, the response will not be “Crime” or “rap music” or “welfare system,” but it will be “Da Man is keepin’ me down.” Both liberal and conservative whites get angry at that response, and I used to, but think about it for a moment: the interlocutor touched on something important: if you place someone in an advanced society who does not have the resources, culture, values, or skills to participate in that society, what will happen to him? He will fall behind ad infinitum.
The southern gentleman knew this. He knew that simply saying, “Thou art loosed” to the slave would be the worst thing for him. The slave would not have the resources to continue in society. He would immediately be thrown to the gutter without any recourse to labor or wealth.
So what should have happened instead? I don’t know. Just pointing it out. Sometimes the solution is worse than the ailment. In fact, any government solution is necessarily worse.
What should have happened? As I’ve mentioned before on dominion, if the slave was regenerate, the master should have placed him in progressing degrees of responsibility so that he could practice being a priest-king of the new creation. If we want to fault the Southerner, this could be a valid criticism. Further, I don’t think the South was as fully Reformed as some want to make it. Some states like Maryland, elements of the Carolinas, Florida and Louisiana were Catholic and probably resisted any kind of biblical reformation. So while my idea is noble and fundamentally correct, I entertain no delusions of its actually working.
But back to the original objection: the southern slave owner should have not bought the property and/or returned it because it is “stolen goods.” Again, the nature of the case precludes a solid answer. On one hand if I have stolen goods in today’s society, I’ll probably get in trouble, so I can understand the objection on that ground. However, does that mean that William the Conqueror’s (my ancestor, actually. Pretty cool, huh?) invasion of England was wrong? Probably, but reasoning by extension that does not mean the entirety of English history is necessarily illegitimate. As Dabney points out,
“The Norman Conquest resulted in a complete transfer of almost all the land in England to the hands of new proprietors; and nearly all the land titles of England, at the present day, are the legal progeny of that iniquitous robbery, which transferred the territory of the kingdom from the Saxon to the Norman barons. If lapse of time, and change of hands, cannot make a bad title good, then few of the present landlords of England have any right to their estates.”
Defense of Virginia, 299.
With a brutal inference Dabney concludes, “If the Virginian slaveholder derived from the New England or British slave-trader, no valid title to the African, then the trader had no valid title to the planter’s money” (301). I am going to carry Dabney’s analysis one step further: future possessors of that money from the exchange are necessarily sinning by using the money. I disagree with the idea of reparations for former slaves, but if you grant the abolitionist’s point that buying previously stolen slaves is sinful, then you must logically carry the thought to the money from the exchange. While I think Je$$e Jack$on is a racist clown, if the above objection stands, then the conservative who votes Republican and watches Fox News really has no way to answer him.
Far from being the racist curmudgeon people make him out to be, Dabney observes,
“The title by which the original slave catchers held them may have been iniquitous. But these slave catchers were not citizens of the Southern colonies; these slaves were not brought to our shores by our ships. They were presented by the inhuman captors, dragged in chains from the filthy holds of the slave ships; and the alternative before the planter was, either to purchase them from him who possibly had no right to sell them, or re-consign them to fetters, disease, and death. (302).”
Sometimes noble ideology is the cruelest of schemes. And this one quote by Dabney shows how utterly despicable liberalism is. Lincoln wanted to send them back to Africa. Aside from the sheer impossibility of it, it would have been a two-fold death sentence. If the return voyage didn’t kill the slave, Africa would have.
Towards a Critique of Dabney
This does not mean I agree with Dabney in all aspects. He defends the lawfulness of fugitive slave law:
“”But when we have proved that the relation of master and slave is no intrinsically unrighteous, and have shown that the fugitive slave law carries this out,” then we should obey it (Discussions III: 66).
The first half of Dabney’s argument is logically sound: any discussion of slavery as right or wrong must first answer the question of the relation between master and slave, and this has not been done.
I do not agree with his conclusion, though. Deuteronomy 23:15 provides a method of freeing the slave, lawfulness of the purchase notwithstanding.
Further, Dabney’s attitude towards blacks after the War is hard to justify. Sean Michael Lucas made much of Dabney’s refusal to grant black’s full status in Presbytery. And Dabney was wrong. However, I suggest Dabney should have handled it this way. He should have simply kept his mouth shut and nothing would have changed. Freed slaves weren’t about to become ruling presbyters any time soon.
I’ll prove it by way of illustration. While I do not endorse his theology, the sexually depraved theologian Paul Tillich pointed out that something like Erastianism always happens. He is not advocating that the state rule the church, but notes that the “civic elite” usually find roles of leadership within the church. This is official in countries like England and Germany. But in Presbyterian towns the most educated and affluent usually sit on college and seminary boards, if not rule in the church. There is nothing wrong with that. They are probably affluent because they are good stewards. They deserve leadership roles. Except at RTS Jackson.
Which brings me back to my point: the wealthy, civic elite likely had no intention of giving freed slaves anything more than a nominal role. Thus, Dabney’s fear of an uneducated, unprepared populace leading the church would never have happened anyway.