One hundred sixty-one years ago today, in 1860, the General Assembly of South Carolina, the Palmetto State, voted unanimously to secede from the United States following the victory of President Abraham Lincoln.
A formal declaration of secession proclaimed that “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinion and purposes are hostile to slavery.”
Earlier, on November 3, 1860, the Charleston Mercury asserted:
The issue before the country is the extinction of slavery…. The Southern States are now in the crisis of their fate; and, if we read aright the signs of the times, nothing is needed for our deliverance, but that the ball of revolution be set in motion.
Following the end of the Civil War, revisionists engaged in broad efforts to rewrite that history, developing a mythical theory often called the Lost Cause, deflecting the explicit defense of slavery and its retention as motivations for secession. A prime example of the influence of the Lost Cause is the motion picture Gone With the Wind.
Currently, this pseudohistory promoted for more than a century and a half struggles with institutional racism, community disputes about critical race theory, the disposition of Confederate monuments and statuary, and voting rights.
The resistance to recognizing and acknowledging the historical veracity has contributed to furtherance of white supremacy and renewed calls for social and racial separatism voiced in the code of a populist nationalism.
For reasons little understood, our country fails to face that reality and, contrary to Shakespeare, we continue to strain the quality of mercy to our own deficit. It is time to recognize and forgive us our own trespasses. It is not that difficult.