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Ashcroft's Vow 'To Do More' to Defend 'Southern Patriots' Is Frightening
Steven Jonas

In an October interview with the magazine Southern Partisan (Riverfront Times [St. Louis, MO], Dec. 28, 2000) Attorney General designate Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri had this to say about the principal leaders of the Confederate States of America:

"Your magazine helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like [Gen. Robert E.] Lee, [Gen. Stonewall] Jackson, and [CSA President Jefferson] Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in this respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda."

It is interesting to examine some of the positions taken by the leader of the Confederate Rebellion, Jefferson Davis, on the principal questions of his time, including slavery and secession, to see which ones Sen. Ashcroft might feel need defending, or protecting from the thought that those positions were part of a "perverted agenda."

The quoted material used below is all taken from the book The Approaching Fury: Voice of the Storm, 1820-1861 by the Civil War Historian Stephen B. Oates of Amherst University (New York: Harper Collins: 1997, page numbers in parentheses).

Would, for example, Sen. Ashcroft want to defend the following statement Davis made about his own party (the Republicans):

"Your platform on which you elected your presidential candidate denies us [the slave-holding states] equality in the Union. It refuses us equal enjoyment of the territories... I ask you, do you give us justice; do we enjoy equality?... Without equality, we would be degraded to remain in the Union....

"Your votes refuse to recognize our domestic institutions which existed before the formation of the Union, our slave property which is guarded by the Constitution.... The leading members of your party... made speeches after the election announcing that the Republican triumph signaled the downfall of our domestic institutions! And you dare to ask us, 'What is the matter?'" (p. 368)

Or perhaps it is this statement that some might teach as indicating that Davis was following a perverted agenda, one for which Sen. Ashcroft would want to set the record straight:

"The state of Mississippi gave warning and declared her purpose to take counsel with her southern sister states whenever a President should be elected on the basis of sectional hostility to them. With all this warning, you paused not. Such a President [the first Republican] has now been elected. The quarrel, then, is not of our making. Our hands are stainless. It is you who are the aggressor....

"If in the pride of power, if in contempt of reason and reliance upon force, you say we shall not go, but shall remain as subjects to you, then, gentlemen of the North, a war is to be inaugurated the like of which men have not seen before." (p. 369)

Or perhaps the following is a statement of Davis' that some critic might perversely use to further his or her own agenda:

"I would, however, say a word to those who have attacked our social institutions by evoking the Declaration of Independence and its phrase 'all men are created equal.' By that Jefferson clearly meant not equality of the races, but the equality of the men of the political community at that time. The phrase had no reference to Negroes, who were not then regarded as citizens." (p. 371)

Sen. Ashcroft referred to "traditionalists," saying that they "must do more." One wonders if that would include doing more "to stand up and speak," for example, about Davis' view of the institution of slavery:

"The abolitionists, howling at us from afar, could not see how well treated our slaves were. They called slavery a sin. By what standard did they measure it? Not by the Constitution, which recognized property in slaves. Not by the Bible; that justifies it. Not by Christianity; for servitude was the only agency through which Christianity reached the Negro race. Not by a comparison of the slave's lot to that of the free black in the North; the one well provided for in all his physical wants and steadily improving in his moral condition; the other miserable, impoverished, loathsome from deformity and disease which follow after penury and vice. Negroes were not fit for freedom because they were unable to care for themselves. As the descendants of Ham, the graceless son of Noah, they carried God's curse on Ham and so were slaves by divine decree. How then could slavery be a sin? It is, in fact, a moral, social, and a political blessing." (p. 219)

Finally, there was the famous explication of the theory of white supremacy uttered by the Vice-President of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens. About it Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy, said: "what Stephens said was true, perfectly true." (p. 382) To defend that theory, and the institution of slavery too of course, Davis and Lee and Jackson gave their lives (in Jackson's case) and subscribed "their sacred fortunes and their honor." In Sen. Ashcroft's view "[w]e've all got to stand up and speak" lest it be taught that this agenda is a "perverted" one. Here is what Stephens had to say about the theory of white supremacy, which would presumably be, to Sen. Ashcroft's way of thinking, not a perverted one:

"Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were, and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature's law. With us, all of the white race, however, high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law, Not so with the Negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Cain, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. Our new government is founded on the opposite idea of the equality of the races. Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the Negro is not equal to the White man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural condition." (pp. 381-2)

And so, we now have as a nominee for the office of Attorney General of the United States a man who characterizes men like Lee, Jackson and Davis, who subscribed "their sacred fortunes and honor" to defend a political philosophy and economic system based on the theory of white supremacy and the institution of slavery, as "patriots." Further, Sen. Ashcroft feels that they need to be defended, and that he's "got to do more" in carrying out that task.

Of course, perhaps Sen. Ashcroft may have meant nothing more than to faithfully echo the words of his colleague, the Republican Majority Leader of the US Senate, Trent Lott. In a 1984 interview with the same magazine, Southern Partisan, he said (Applebome, P., "Dueling with the Heirs of Jeff Davis," News of the Week in Review, New York Times, Dec. 27, 1998, p. 1):

"I think that a lot of the fundamental principles that Jefferson Davis believed in are very important to people across the country, and they apply to the Republican Party."

One might want to ask Sen. Lott himself which are the particular principles espoused by Davis to which he subscribes. The theory of white supremacy? The justification of slavery? The rights of the states in which slave-holding was legal to continue the institution of slavery in perpetuity? Or perhaps it was the rights of slave-holders to bring the institution into any of the then unorganized territories. But that is for another time. In any case, one might think that Sen. Lott's last quoted sentiment above is odd, given how Davis felt about the first Republican president.

But given the role of the Attorney General, to say nothing of that of the Majority Leader of the Senate, in upholding and defending the law of the land, that is not the only odd thing about the thinking of either Sen. Lott or Attorney-General-designate Ashcroft.