Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Confederate Quote of the Day: Allistair Cooke on the Right of Secession

Alistair Cooke, British Author & Historian
The monumental serenity and gentleness of Lee have provoked many sentimental plays and reams of idolatrous prose.  But there might be a fine play in the second moral – and political – conflict he had to resolve:  that of never drawing his sword ‘save in defense’ and yet accepting the command of the Southern forces.  In any case, he went back to Virginia to fight for a principle that, ironically, Lincoln himself had enunciated better than anyone, thirteen years before Secession.  “Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better.’

The nub of the conflict between North and South was the definition of ‘any people, anywhere’ (how about the people of Virginia?).  To Lincoln, it came to mean exclusively ‘the people’ of the United States.  The South took him at his earlier word and presumed that any region as closely knit by culture and economics as the South could claim to be a ‘people’ free to assert the right of self-determination.  But Lincoln, in his first proclamation of the war, had declared the ‘combination’ of the Southern states to be illegal.  And to this day, the historians and popular sentiment have overwhelmingly agreed with him.  Yet, it seems to me, we have all been bedazzled by the Gettysburg Address, a small masterpiece of rhetoric of very dubious logic.  Its most famous phrase is very close to political nonsense.  Quite apart from the anarchy implied in any government ‘by the People,’ there remains the ticklish question of how many people or states or ethnic minorities constitute a ‘people’ who may justly wish to govern themselves.  Woodrow Wilson held no such bland assumptions about the whole being more sovereign than its parts when he created nations out of ethnic minorities yearning to be free of government by the Austro-Hungarian empire.  I’m afraid we must conclude, with Justice Holmes, that the winner is always right.
--Alistair Cooke, Alistair Cooke's America

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