Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Slavery, Abortion, and Our Lady of the Confederacy

September 21st, 2011, Promulgated by Gen

This has to be one of the most interesting articles I have read recently. It comes from the December 2001 issue of the New Oxford Review, and discusses the similarity in mindsets regarding slavery (when it was held as acceptable) and abortion (which, we can only pray, will be deemed unacceptable in coming years).

In the Confederate Museum at New Orleans is a crown of thorns made by Pope Pius IX expressly for Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America. In a side chapel at the Catholic cathedral in Charleston, S.C., is a statue of Our Lady of the Confederacy sent to the people of the South by the same pope. In many Southern homes to this day is the volume of verse by the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy” — Fr. Abram Ryan, a Catholic priest of Nashville, whose brother, a Confederate soldier, was killed in combat with Union troops. The state song of Maryland, “Maryland, My Maryland!” which decries the “tyrant” Abraham Lincoln and calls upon Marylanders to rise to arms against the “Vandal invader,” was composed by the Catholic poet James Ryder Randall. And one of the most courageous and eloquent exponents of the justness of Southern civilization, and of the principles and purposes of secession and of the formation of the Confederate States of America, was the renowned missionary priest, Bishop of Savannah Augustin Verot.

So much for the suggestion of John L. Botti that “no explanation is needed” for his entirely fictional narrative “The ‘Catholic’ Politician of 2001 & the Southern ‘Gentleman’ of 1860.” To address even the issues that led, sadly enough for all concerned, to the War Between the States, requires a great deal of explanation, indeed. Further, to his query “Is there any difference?” between the Southerner of 1860 and the advocate or practitioner of abortion in 2001, the answer is yes — wholly, utterly, and completely — as a huge body of literature attests. Again, because Botti does not cite a single historical personage or a single historical text, the entirely fictional nature of his text cannot be overemphasized.

About 15 years ago, in an essay published in both National Review and Crisis, Lewis Lehrman also attempted to equate slavery in the Old South and abortion today. Among the respondents who attempted to correct that grievous misconception was Sheldon Vanauken, the late lamented Contributing Editor of the NOR, whose name well remains on your magazine’s masthead. Van contributed many articles to the NOR that made a similar case for Southern civilization and principles as the sole example available for Americans of our time who wish to redress any number of the ills of our society, abortion foremost among them. It is astonishing that the NOR has so soon forgotten his brave and eloquent reflections.

Significant works that explore for Catholics the theme reintroduced so ineptly by Botti, however admirable his intentions, include American Catholic Opinion in the Slavery Controversy by Madeleine Hooke Rice; Catholics and the Civil War by the Rev. Benjamin J. Blied of St. Francis Seminary; Rebel Bishop: A Life of Augustin Verot by Michael Gannon; and — most especially — The Slaveholders’ Dilemma and A Consuming Fire: The Fall of the Confederacy in the Mind of the White Christian South, both by the eminent historian Eugene Genovese, now a Catholic. Several biographies of the Catholic jurist Roger Taney, who, as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, strove in vain to inaugurate Northern support for compensated emancipation rather than inflammatory abolitionism, and who penned the hugely misunderstood Dred Scott decision, have appeared in recent years. Readers of The Wanderer have recently been given a learned series of columns on actual Southern history generally and the realpolitik of Abraham Lincoln specifically by Joseph Sobran, who in his own newsletter has expanded on the subject.

Southerners have for generations faced the necessary challenge of fending off simplistic condemnations of slavery while striving to call attention to the larger enveloping issues that led to secession, war, and defeat, and of which slavery was of course an inextricable part, but by no means the whole matter. As the foregoing studies demonstrate, most emphatically in the case of the Catholic bishops of both American and Europe, hugely important questions of the very nature of a Christian moral order in the fledgling modern era were the context in which the South resisted by arms the purported “coming of the Lord” announced in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. These questions included the very viability of a specifically Christian order in American society, of the increasing secularization and industrialization and therefore the explicit materialism of the states of the North, and of the proper means of ameliorating in the South the admitted shortcomings of slavery — while avoiding the revolutionary unrest that was arising everywhere in Western civilization, including in the American Northeast, in response to Enlightenment ideologies and the vast dislocations of peoples caused by the “modernization” of capitalistic economies.

Accordingly, the issue of the American War Between the States generally, and specifically the practice of slavery as it actually evolved in the U.S. between 1619 and 1861, is to be judged within a centuries-old tradition which, for reasons once held sound by the Church, affirmed the propriety of the ownership of one person by another, provided, of course, as St. Paul stressed to Philemon of Onesimus, the relationship affirmed the eternal moral worth of the bonded servant and fulfilled the obligations of Christian charity.

In a contrast to slavery in the American South as total as it is stark, abortion-on-demand today is the practice of a people bereft of tradition, disinterested in even social — let alone biblical — constraint, and committed to the very notion of unrestrained individualism made inevitable by the political and social consequences of the Yankee conquest in 1865.

Ironically for Botti, then, it was the very principle of Federal power in the name of “Union,” which in 1861-1865 destroyed Southern civilization and overwhelmed the sovereignty of the states, that more recently, in Roe v. Wade, struck down states’ laws against abortion. Contrary to his glib assertions, those who resisted Federal force in 1861, however imperfect their quest of Christian civilization, waged with arms the war he espouses only with words. Thus it was that, in 1866, a year after Appomattox, the eminent English historian Lord Acton wrote to Robert E. Lee, the defeated former commander of the Confederate armies of Virginia: “I believed that the example of that great [Confederate] reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. 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, as so many “Southern sympathizers,” was a Catholic.

Not ’til Christians of all sections, whether Catholic or Protestant, and whether white or black — or Hispanic or Asian — rediscover the virtues of Southern life and conviction as they actually, historically, existed will there be possible the unity of historical understanding and Christian brotherhood necessary for adequately addressing the grave questions of a proper moral order in our national life. For only in this unity would it be possible to discredit the ideologies to which Botti no doubt means to allude, ideologies that, victorious in 1865 and triumphant through all realms of American life in the decades since, are nowhere more manifest — as the might of a national regime that will countenance no dissent on the part of the people or the states — than in the various abortion-related rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court.
David A. Bovenizer
Lynchburg, Virginia

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One Response to “Slavery, Abortion, and Our Lady of the Confederacy”

  1. avatar snowshoes says:

    You do not shrink from using extreme examples to make a point! Of all the assertions in the article with which I might disagree, I agree with your underlying point that states’ rights appear to be at a low ebb now, esp with reference to the rights of the person, such as the right to life. Ironic tho, that we’re lamenting states’ rights in this state… Where will OUR cavalry come from? Of course, from Calvary…

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