For many years, I have sought to distinguish myself from our political enemies. After all, what right-thinking man or woman would want to be associated with an empire of corruption, abortion, sexual deviance, self-loathing and greed? Certainly not me.
And those of us in Dixie who are repulsed by the Empire’s “values” are not unique in history. A century and a half ago, vast numbers of Southerners struggled with this very question – especially in light of their political separation from the still-young, but failed experiment in union with New England and other non-Southern States. States which did not share our culture, norms, faith or economic concerns.
As the war progressed, assertions of fundamental national disparity between North and South multiplied. The Richmond Examiner and its contributors were particularly vocal in this regard. In the weeks after the Battle of Manassas, one correspondent ardently opposed the very suggestion of reconstruction with the North. Instead, he urged that southerners ought to institute national distinctiveness from the North in every way possible, from a different system of revenue to different weights, measures, and currency. “Would to God that our language was different from theirs,” he concluded, invoking what was seen as a principal marker of national identity by nineteenth-century thinkers as well as modern scholars. As the war progressed, the Examiner continued to assert national difference. In April 1862, the paper approvingly excerpted a passage from the New Orleans Bee that detailed racial distinctions between Yankees and southerners. Whereas northerners were intolerant, abusive of power, and inclined toward fads and “isms,” southerners were a more honest, moral people who distrusted “new-fangled theories.” To the Examiner, this confirmed that the war was not only about the protection of slaver against northern assaults but also about “certain radical and irreconcilable differences of national character” between North and South. The theme persisted. In December 1862, for instance, the Examiner printed an editorial criticizing Lincoln’s claim that the United States was one nation indivisible – a natural fact, in the opinion of the U.S. president, proved by the lack of any distinct geographical barrier between North and South. Conceding that no such barrier existed, the Examiner shifted the terms of the debate with the argument that “moral differences of race, and political differences of institutions, constitute means of separation as effective and insurmountable as any physical barrier interposed by nature.” Jews and Gypsies were adduced as proof that racial distinctiveness could equate to national distinctiveness even in the absence of a clearly demarcated territory.”