I was recently reading a blog post that mentioned Lord Acton, the British diplomat and writer/philospher who's most famous for his quote: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." I had never heard of him, so I did some research and I stumbled upon his principled position on the civil war, which whapped me upside the head. I'll quote the Wikipedia passage:
Acton took a great interest in the United States, considering its federal structure the perfect guarantor of individual liberties. During the American Civil War, his sympathies lay entirely with the Confederacy, for their defence of States' Rights against a centralised government that he believed would, by what he thought to be all historical precedent, inevitably turn tyrannical. His notes to Gladstone on the subject helped sway many in the British government to sympathise with the South. After the South's surrender, he wrote to Robert E. Lee that "I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo," adding that he "deemed that you were fighting battles for our liberty, our progress, and our civilization."
It's a very interesting position, and the more I think about it, the more I see the wisdom in it. Wow. I used to think the Civil War was about secession (and Gone with the Wind punch lines), but now I see it was really about the crushing of states's rights and essentially and inevitably erasing individual rights and personal liberty in the bargain. Big government's fist, smashing with intent, and malice. I also used to think the end of America as conceived by the genius Founding Fathers started with mandatory public education, federal income tax, Wilson/FDR's big-government programs, and then continuing under Johnson's disastrous and failed socialist bromides including the Civil Rights Act, Jimmy Carter's well-intentioned economic and diplomatic fiascoes, etc., but it really began and ended with the Civil War. Period. Excuse me, the War of Northern Aggression, which, ironically, seems sadly to be closer to the truth. I can't even think of an appropriate joke right now to insert.
I came back home and was discussing this with a friend from South Carolina, or rather East South Carolina as he says himself, and he called me 'redneck' with a smile in his eye. I wasn't at all offended; in fact I said I think I am becoming one – on our way home we passed a Krispy Kreme and I was so excited when I saw the 'Hot Now' sign lit up that I had to stop in.