This was a short article I drafted in response to some news reports which cast an interesting light on the wave of secessionist thought that followed the re-election of Barack Obama in 2012. My essential idea was that the neo-secessionist movement tended to be drawn to a past which may not have in fact existed.
December 21 has come and gone and 2012 has not marked the end of history. That crisis past, this is a good moment to ask what this year might mean for history. It has certainly been an illuminating year for the history of the South.
President Obama’s reelection brought a wave of talk of secession. There is nothing new in this. Disputes over states leaving the Union preceded the Civil War (they were certainly alive during the War of 1812). They catalyzed the War between the States and were barely stilled by the Supreme Court’s 1869 decision in Texas v White. They reverberate in the present in the online petition of “Michael E.” of Slidell, La, for that state to be allowed to secede.
Mr E‘s petition does not tell us much about what drives present secessionist thinking: he simply petitions the Administration to allow Louisiana to withdraw from the Union, quoting from the Declaration of Independence. More insight comes from the League of the South’s journal, Free Magnolia. This journal’s articles suggest present hopes for secession are driven much less by race than by nostalgia. By way of example, one writer, Ms Laura Tesh, laments the perceived fading of Southern culinary habits –
How deeply have we been assimilated to alien Northern values and culture, even in little things? Today, even in the South, grocery stores have shelves of plain flour and in a hidden corner, self-rising flour. … Many Southerners eat lunch (the noon meal) and dinner (the evening meal), rather than dinner (the noon meal) and supper (the evening meal).
Equally upset was Mr Franklin Saunders:
Not so long ago Southerners were famous for their forms and manners. Even the humblest and poorest dwellings observed their daily forms, especially at table. Woe betide the child who ate before the blessing, and greater woe yet waited for him who reached for the fried chicken before the preacher. Men opened doors for women, and ne’er a cussword passed their lips in female company. The F-word was unspoken, let alone the now-ubiquitous twelve letter adjective-pronoun-noun-verb-adverb. One slip and you were branded for life as unworthy of decent company.
Restoring the farmer’s freedom to sell anything grown or processed on his own farm at his own risk and the consumer’s own risk. Scare you? Not me. I’ll take my risks with my local farmer whom I know over gigantic corporations whom I don’t know…
Not only did 2012 bring current secessionist talk to light for examination, it brought events which threw doubt on whether that nostalgia is well-founded.
The Baton Rouge Advocate, for example, recently covered an event organised by that city’s Interfaith Federation discussing the coming of Buddhism (particularly with the arrival of the Vietnamese community) and Islam, among other faiths, to the region.
Symptom of change had, however, already arrived in the South: another story from Alexandria, La, this recorded the preservation of a historic bank building in that city. The bank was built in the mid-1950s in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright, a “mid-century modern design that then was considered ahead of its time”.
Modernity, though, had arrived even before that: The New Orleans Times-Picayune this year reported a tourism award to Domino Sugar’s refinery at Chalmette, La. The refinery in question is the largest in the Western Hemisphere and has operated since before World War One.
2012, and the wave of secessionist thinking it brought, brought up for examination some long-standing issues of history. At the same time, the news from the South itself suggested that the history itself had moved on.