To infer similarities between slavery of the antebellum South and the crackdown on illegal immigration in Arizona might grate against some of our most intimate sensibilities. The analogy is not proposed to insinuate that within the issues of slavery and illegal immigration an equity exists, it is proposed to suggest that from our nation’s divided and tumultuous response to these issues a parallel and warning can be drawn.
On December 24, 1860 members of the South Carolina Congressional delegation presented the following document upon decision formed days earlier:
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
C. G. Memminger
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.
And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations…
The Declaration went on for a number of paragraphs listing grievances taking a tone not dissimilar to that one immortalized by Jefferson in 1776. But it was a bit ironic that a document proclaiming violation of freedoms retained by states would be invoked to maintain the institution of slavery, a violation of the freedoms of man.
On April 12, 1861 Confederate positions began a barrage against Fort Sumter that would continue for a day and a half. Maintaining the fort was untenable, and on April 13 the Union surrendered the fort and evacuated. The Civil War had begun.
Causes of the Civil War were numerous. The abolition movement had grown steadily more intense pressuring the South. American tariffs on trade with European nations were detrimental to the Southern plantation economy. These tariffs forced Southern States to purchase more expensive goods from the North which previously could be procured cheaper overseas. Retaliatory tariffs leveled by European nations disproportionately and negatively affected Southern States.
Perhaps the most important development that hastened war was the election of Abraham Lincoln.
On August 22, 1862, in a letter to the New York Tribune Lincoln explained his intent for the War:
“… I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”
It would be interesting to speak to Lincoln today. If slavery was not the paramount issue, if insuring those inalienable rights endowed by our Creator to all people was not his primary concern, then what was it about the American Union Lincoln was so passionate to protect and to restore?
By reviewing his words to the New York Tribune in 1862, it is not inconceivable to interpret that Lincoln’s quest was pursued primarily for restoration of omnipotent federal power; an unsettling interpretation.
The American character, from the pilgrims on, has been defined by a special reverence for individual independence and individual right. Recalling the Civil War, the slave issue aside, it is natural to understand the Confederate rebellion. A resistance to government power is integral to the American DNA.
This American predisposition is revealed today in the Tea Party rise. Instead of acknowledging its legitimacy it has been derisively chastised by the White House and media.
Barack Obama was hailed as the one leader who could unify us. He has done anything but. If his actions were not exactly converse to his rhetoric, perhaps we wouldn’t see Arizona engaged in promoting a Bill making law that has traditionally resided within the federal domain.
Cultural differences between the Washington Beltway and Middle America are immense, but they have not been insurmountable. As long as the federal government does not step outside its recognized envelope of authority, American citizens will tolerate an awful lot.
The recent health care overhaul was rammed through against overwhelming citizen objection. The Obama administration has warned that an amnesty bill the American people don’t want is coming next and that it will be followed by a draconian tax against carbon that will “necessarily cause fuel prices to skyrocket”.
Arizona’s SB1070 is a preemptive strike; a warning to a despotic administration that the American people are only going to tolerate a limited amount of assault on their sovereignty, it is a precursor revealing dissatisfaction turning to action.
Whether or not SB1070 is proper or right is really not the point. The question is…
Are Americans beginning to feel as intently in 2010 that its government has unjustly pushed them, as did the Confederate citizens of 1860?