Posterity's Blush: Civil Liberties, Property Rights, and Property Confiscation in the Confederacy

By Dirck, Brian R. | Civil War History, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Posterity's Blush: Civil Liberties, Property Rights, and Property Confiscation in the Confederacy


Dirck, Brian R., Civil War History


In 1881 Jefferson Davis published The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, his contribution to the growing literature of the Lost Cause. As the Confederacy's ex-president, he was in a unique position to write an insider's account of the short-lived Southern nation. His book was more Confederate apologia than Confederate history, however, and it was a weary read. Dry and colorless in its narrative, legalistic and utterly without humor in its style, Rise and Fall was most of all self-righteous. Never once in nearly thirteen hundred pages of text did Davis admit a mistake, either by himself personally or by the Confederacy. (1)

In particular he assumed that he and his cause possessed the moral high ground where civil liberties were concerned. Davis severely criticized Abraham Lincoln's administration, and Northerners in general, for what he viewed as their spotty wartime record on freedom of speech and the press, declarations of martial law, and suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. "No autocrat ever issued an edict more destructive of the natural right to personal liberty," Davis wrote in reference to Lincoln's 1863 suspension of the writ in New York. His judgment of other Union measures for internal security was equally harsh. "The government of the United States ... presided over the ballot box, held the keys of the prisons, arrested all citizens at its pleasure, suspended or suppressed newspapers, and did whatever it pleased under the declaration that the public welfare required it," Davis wrote. (2)

He believed that his nation's record provided a stark contrast to the Lincoln administration's usurpations. Notorious for constructing minute, detailed rationalizations to defend his conduct, Davis largely passed over in silence the more thorny policy initiatives of his own administration--the military draft, impressment of civilian goods, declarations of martial law, and suspensions of the writ of habeas corpus--saying in effect to the reader that his record in these matters was so above reproach as to require no defense. Like many white Southerners, Davis believed that concern for individual rights had always been the hallmark of a Southern people whose "conservative temper" led them to embrace severe limitations on the authority of the national government as a means of preserving individual citizens' autonomy. (3)

Chief among these individual liberties was the white South's deep concern for the sanctity of property rights. In Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Davis was particularly critical of the North's confiscation laws, which he described as having "violated all the principles of the law of nations." According to Davis, "the armies of the United States were literally authorized to invade the Confederate States [and] to seize all property as plunder.... Our posterity, reading that history, will blush that such facts are on record." After decades of waging a spirited defense of property rights in human beings, white Southerners like Davis saw the defense of property in general as the South's special mission, the intellectual and moral center of gravity in a Southern philosophy of individual freedom and liberty. (4)

One of the last remaining bastions of Lost Cause mythology has been the pervasive idea that the Confederacy really did have a better record than the Union where protection of personal liberties was concerned. Recently, however, Mark Neely's pathbreaking study, Southern Rights: Political Prisoners and the Myth of Confederate Constitutionalism, convincingly called into question this belief. The first book-length, scholarly examination of the Confederate record on civil liberties, Southern Rights chronicled a Confederacy which was no better--and in some cases worse--than the North in this regard. There was, Neely wrote, "a longing for order in the South, released by independence from the North and quite at odds with the region's fabled desire for liberty or `southern rights. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Posterity's Blush: Civil Liberties, Property Rights, and Property Confiscation in the Confederacy
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.