God Bless the South and May She Rise Again, From the Great White North
Like many people of my generation the first time I remember seeing the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, commonly, if somewhat inaccurately, known as the Confederate flag or the rebel flag, was on television. It was painted on the roof of a 1969 Dodge Charger known as the General Lee that was arguably the real star of the show The Dukes of Hazzard in which it was driven by cousins Bo and Luke Duke as they foiled the schemes of Hazzard County’s Boss Hogg and easily evaded capture by Sherriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.
This show aired when I was very young and at the time I had no clue that the car’s roof, name, and distinctive horn tune were all allusions to the bloody war the American states fought between themselves from 1861 to 1865. When I later learned about this war my sympathies were immediately and instinctively drawn to the side of the South. Where did that instinct come from? From watching The Dukes of Hazzard? From growing up listening to country and western music, including such songs as Johnny Horton’s “Johnny Reb”, Hank Williams Jr.’s “If the South Woulda Won (We’d Have Had It Made)”, Alabama’s “Song of the South”, and Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna Do It Again”?
I ask this question, not out of some sort of naval-gazing, introspective, obsession, but because I have frequently had it asked of me by Americans when I have ventured to express an opinion about the war. It always seems to strike the Yanks as strange that a Canadian would sympathize with old Dixie. The follow-up question when I am talking to an American who is informed about Canada is usually about whether I think Quebec should be allowed to separate from Canada. The assumption behind this question is that it is hypocritical to support the right of secession for one group of people in one time and place and not for another group of people in another time and place. This, however, elevates the question of the right of secession to the level of a universal moral principle which it is not.
I am a Canadian Tory who believes firmly in the Loyalist tradition and heritage of my country. It would be remarkably inconsistent with that viewpoint to accept that the Thirteen Colonies had the right to secede from the British Empire in 1776. Needless to say, I accept no such thing. King George III was a good king and not the tyrant of Yankee propaganda. The Colonies, despite the lofty classical liberal language in which they worded it, declared their independence for reasons that were petty at best. They objected to the Tea Act of 1773 – which actually lowered taxes and the colonial price of tea – and the Quebec Act of 1774 guaranteeing the French Canadians their right to freely practice Roman Catholicism, which, in Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s words “by a curious twist of reasoning was considered a major menace to freedom” (1).
However petty their reasons for secession, that they had won their independence in war was acknowledged in the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and having secured that independence they preceded to establish their federal union. The union they established was, like the Dominion of Canada that would be established in 1867, a confederation. The difference between the two, was not merely that the American confederation had a republican government and the Dominion of Canada a parliamentary monarchy. Canada was established as a confederation of provinces, the United States as exactly what its name suggests, a confederation of states. States, unlike provinces, are sovereign. The Thirteen Colonies, having secured in 1783 the independence they declared in 1776, became states, i.e., sovereign political entities, and while there was no point in history between their being colonies of the British empire and their being joined in union with the other states, by their constitutional theory their existence as sovereign states was logically prior, albeit not chronologically prior, to that of their union. In a confederation of sovereign states, the members generally have the right to secede, and the American constitution implicitly acknowledges this right in its Ninth and Tenth Amendments. Several of the American states explicitly reserved this right for themselves in their acts ratifying the American Constitution, the right was widely acknowledged by America’s Founding Fathers, and indeed in the disputes about slavery in the nineteenth century, the Northern states at one point threatened to secede. My point, in all of this, is that in 1860-1861, when the Southern states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America, they were exercising a right that was established and acknowledged in the framework of the constitution from which they were seceding, which was not the case for the original colonies when they declared their independence in 1776.
In other words there is no hypocrisy or double standard on my part in saying that the secession of the Thirteen Colonies was an unjustified and illegal revolution on the one hand and saying that the South was within its constitutional rights in seceding on the other. The hypocrites are those who celebrate the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence but who deny that the Southern states had the right to secede.
There is, of course, a long tradition in my country of sympathy for the South. Our own Confederation – note the similarity in the term used for the union of the provinces of British North America into the Dominion of Canada to that chosen by the Southern states after secession – occurred in 1867, two years after General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. The triumph of the North in the American internecine war was the catalyst for the Confederation of Canada. Only five decades previously the United States had failed in an attempt to conquer British North America, they had declared their “Manifest Destiny” to rule all of North America, and now, the side that Britain and its North American provinces had openly sympathized with, had lost. Confederation was considered a prudent move to ward off another invasion by Yankees drunk with their own victory over their Southern brethren.
The widespread Canadian sympathy for the South in the 1860s is downplayed by the historians who like to play up our role as the destination point for the Underground Railroad but it was not just fleeing slaves who found refuge here – Jefferson Davis and his family fled to Montreal in 1865 and he found sanctuary in Canada until he received amnesty from the American government in 1868. Twelve years ago, Toronto Star editor Adam Mayers put out a historical monograph on the Confederate agents who had come to Canada in 1864 and in the last year of the war attempted raids and early forms of covert operations against the North from bases within Canadian territory, how they found the Canadian populace largely sympathetic to their side, and how all of this became the historical context in which Canada’s own Confederation was framed. (2)
As slavery and the slave trade had been abolished already in the British Empire by this time and Canada had been the destination point for the Underground Railroad, clearly the sympathy to the South on the part of British and British North American governments and the general Canadian populace could not have been due to sympathy to slavery. The reasons for that sympathy are suggested by Mazo de la Roche in her novel Morning at Jalna, which presents a fictional version of the events Mayers wrote about. Mazo de la Roche was an old-fashioned, “more British than the British”, Canadian Tory of Loyalist stock, whose “Whiteoaks of Jalna” series portrays a romanticized version of British Canada, in which the Whiteoak family represent British culture and society attempting to survive in North America in the face of modernizing forces coming from south of the border.
The author’s own sympathy for the Confederate cause is quite apparent and, indeed, can hardly be exaggerated when we consider the period in which the book was written. Morning at Jalna is the second in the series in terms of internal chronology, being set in 1863, but the last in the series to be written and published. It came out in 1960, a hundred years after Abraham Lincoln was elected and the Southern states began to secede, in the middle of the Second Reconstruction period, in which the Southern states were raising the rebel flag again in defiance of a hostile American government that was threatening to racially integrate the South by armed force if necessary, in the wake of the American Supreme Court’s ruling in Brown v. Board of Education. At this time, when the South was coming under attack in the media across North America and Europe, de la Roche wrote her novel in which ten years after Captain Philip and Adeline Whiteoak settled their estate in Ontario, they invite their friends Curtis and Lucy Sinclair to visit them at their manor Jalna. The Sinclairs are plantation owners from somewhere in the South, and they arrive with a full entourage of loyal and happy slaves. Curtis Sinclair turns out to be in the service of the Confederacy, and he obtains permission from Captain Whiteoak to meet with other Confederate agents at Jalna. While Captain Whiteoak is not fully informed about the agenda of these meetings he is nevertheless happy to assist the Confederate cause in some way and his wife, a younger version of the feisty grandmother who features in most of the series, is chomping at the bit to get revenge on the evil Lincoln and his gang. The Whiteoaks do not believe in slavery, but their sympathies lie entirely with the South both because it is being overrun by Yankee plunderers, rapists, and murderers and because they respect its hierarchical, chivalrous, and highly cultured and aristocratic civilization.
The reasons the Whiteoaks give for their sympathy with the South are undoubtedly de la Roche’s own reasons for such sentiments and they for the most part coincide with mine. I do not accept the idea that the question of slavery trumps all other considerations. The fact that this idea is so widespread in the present day shows just how ridiculous we have become. The United States invaded the Confederate States of America, overpowered that rural, agrarian, society with their modern, well-supplied and technologically advanced forces, and laid waste to their farms and towns with scorched earth tactics, and we are supposed to accept that they were in the right because they wanted to free the slaves who for the most part had been sold to the South by Northern slavetraders in the first place? Nonsense.
The Christianity that had formed and shaped the culture of the states below the Mason-Dixon line was a better form of Christianity than that which had formed the culture of the Northeast. Puritanism, a fanatical form of non-conformist, Calvinist, Protestantism that had banned Christmas and Easter, closed theatres, outlawed games and other amusements on Sunday afternoons, and otherwise tried to make life miserable for everyone, during the brief period in which they had been allowed to govern England, was the religion of the Yankee. Its adherence to the orthodox doctrines of Nicene Christianity had atrophied by the nineteenth century, but the ugly Pharisaic and Philistine spirit of Puritanism still lived on and can be detected in every word of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in which the Yankees announced the imminence of the pouring out of the grapes of God’s wrath on the slaveowning South by their own self-righteous hands. By contrast the South, whose Christianity was more traditional and orthodox, in “Dixie” sang of their love for the land that was their home, and that they were fighting to protect.
Today, the heirs of that ugly, Puritan, spirit have capitalized on the fact that Dylann Roof, the young lunatic who shot up a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, had posed with the Confederate flag, to demand that the flag be removed from Southern state capitols and from graveyards where men who fought under that flag are buried. They have demanded that retailers stop selling it and are harassing people who choose to display it on their vehicles. There have been demands that monuments to Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and other Confederate leaders be pulled down and that streets and building named after them be renamed. There have even been calls to ban Gone With The Wind and reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard have been yanked off television.
Well this Canadian, like those of the 1860s, wishes the South well, and hopes that they will recover enough of the spirit of their ancestors to raise the rebel flag once more, and tell these self-righteous, sanctimonious, neo-Puritan, busybodies where they can shove it.
(1) Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited: From de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Pol Pot (Washington D. C.: Regnery Gateway, 1990), p. 51.
(2) Adam Mayers, Dixie & the Dominion: Canada, The Confederacy, and the War for the Union, (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2003).
A Protestant Christian, patriotic Canadian, and a reactionary High Tory with a libertarian streak, at the same time a monarchist, indeed a royal absolutist, and a minarchist.
You can e-mail me at gerrytneal(at)hotmail(dot)ca