The Confederate States of America. Was it a legitimate nation? I mean...they had a flag and everything - but more often than not, a flag just isn't enough.
Greetings Cosmic Americans!
Last week, I gave a talk on the turning points of 1862. As a sidebar, I mentioned that the Confederacy was indeed a nation...it just didn't last for very long. What followed was an audible groan from the audience. The (mostly northern) group insisted that what passed as a nation in the southern United States was in fact nothing more than a collection of said states in rebellion. No nation.
I asked them to think about that for a minute. The Confederacy resembled a nation in many respects. They had executive and legislative branches of a national government. They had a constitution. They had an army and a navy. They were granted belligerent status by European powers. Not enough? Even the Lincoln administration recognized the Confederacy as a nation de facto when it was convenient. For example - you do not exchange prisoners with rebels, nor can you blockade yourself. But in the end many deny the Confederacy national status because they lost the war. I am not sure that I won many over. They seemed determined to disagree with me. Always careful to choose my battles, I moved on to the topic at hand
But as naming is the origin of all particular things, perhaps we should reflect on some further aspects of nation, nationalism, and indeed...legitimacy. If by recognizing a Confederate nation are we implying as well the existence of Confederate nationalism? Historians have debated this problem for some time. Some say it did not exist in strength - pointing to protests, the relatively few number of slaveholders, etc. Others say that government officials "created" Confederate nationalism and thus duped the white southern populace into supporting the cause. Still others say that despite the privations that went hand in hand with living through war, white southerners remained virulently committed to Confederate nationalism.
I side with the latter - and push the issue even further. The evidence suggests a strong southern commitment to a national vision that existed before the war broke out. In the South, this commitment easily fit with a new national experiment that to white southerners more closely resembled the intentions of the founding generation. Generally speaking, they were nationalistic and created a nation to fit their vision - a slave-holding democratic republic free from the tyranny of an outside power.
Sound familiar? They didn't put George Washington on the national seal for shits and giggles.
And here's where the trouble really gets brewing. Recognizing the Confederacy as a legitimate nation (albeit with a pretty short shelf life) might give one away as a member of the neo-Confederate ranks. Not meaning to complicate the obvious, I would still like to point out that such logic is profoundly flawed. Dear readers, rest assured - I am not throwing my support behind the Confederacy. But I will stand behind my position. The white people of the South created a new nation. They went to war to protect it and in short order...failed on a catastrophic level.