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I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy…. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization, and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo. -Lord Acton, in a letter to Robert E Lee right after the war

The history of the War of Southern Independence, as rendered by the north, would have you believe that every southerner owned slaves who were let out of their shackles only to be whipped or violated. That the buying and selling of human beings for the purpose of forced labor is repugnant is not subject to debate by any right thinking person. That it existed in this country is lamentable – as is the fact, for instance, that the age of consent for females was raised from 12 to 18 only in the 20th century or that the world continues to support slavery by buying goods – from oil to clothing – from countries where it is still practiced.

Slavery was on the decline in the South, and had been for at least a quarter of a century, and quite probably would have disappeared as all useless institutions – except government agencies – tend to do when their economic objective disappears. Consider that the same day he signed the emancipation proclamation Lincoln signed a contract for the forced deportation of 5,000 Africans and, of a sudden, the Southern plan – although too little, too late – seems positively humane.

  I am with the South in life or in death, in victory or defeat. I never owned a negro and care nothing for them, but these people have been my friends and have stood up to me on all occasions. In addition to this, I believe the North is about to wage a brutal and unholy war on a people who have done them no wrong, in violation of the Constitution and the fundamental principles of the government…We propose no invasion of the North, no attack on them, and only ask to be let alone.

“Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late… It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision… It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”
— Major General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA 

Confederate emancipation : southern plans to free and arm slaves during the Civil War    Oxford, England ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2006    Bruce Levine Slaves Confederate States of America History 19th century Hardcover. viii, 252 p. : ill., ports. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [223]-241) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG   

In early 1864, as the Confederate Army of Tennessee regrouped after being defeated at the Battle of Chattanooga, Major-General Patrick Cleburne (the “Stonewall of the West”) proposed that “the most courageous of our slaves” be trained as soldiers and that “every slave in the South who shall remain true to the Confederacy in this war” be freed.

In Confederate Emancipation, Bruce Levine looks closely at such Confederate plans to arm and free slaves. He shows that within a year of Cleburne’s proposal, which was initially rejected out of hand, Jefferson Davis, Judah P. Benjamin, and Robert E. Lee had all reached the same conclusions.

At that point, the idea was debated widely in newspapers and drawing rooms across the South, as more and more slaves fled to Union lines and fought in the ranks of the Union army. Eventually, the soldiers of Lee’s army voted on the proposal, and the Confederate government actually enacted a version of it in March. The Army issued the necessary orders just two weeks before Appomattox, too late to affect the course of the war.

Throughout the book, Levine captures the voices of blacks and whites, wealthy planters and poor farmers, soldiers and officers, and newspaper editors and politicians from all across the South. In the process, he sheds light on such hot-button topics as what the Confederacy was fighting for, whether black southerners were willing to fight in large numbers in defense of the South, and what this episode foretold about life and politics in the post-war South.

Confederate Emancipation offers an engaging and illuminating account of a fascinating and politically charged idea, setting it firmly and vividly in the context of the Civil War and the part played in it by the issue of slavery and the actions of the slaves themselves.

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