Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Understanding the South's "Perfect Society" Theory

Recounting the South's "perfect society theory" is something that most revisionist historians consider "best forgotten." While revealing, it painfully exposes both an ugly side and a profoundly beautiful secret of 18th and 19th century America.

During this period of Europeon settlement, nationalities were merged. In the north, this was a more deliberate process. It was quite common to see Italians, Irish, Polish, Swedish and Germans congregating to the same neighborhoods, churches, stores, taverns and livery stables because they shared a common language. Gradually, they assimulated and in doing so, intermarried. Yet, deeply ingrained prejudices persisted.

In the South, things were slightly different. While it's true that more immigrants came from England, Scotland and Ireland, there was strong representation from non-English speaking countries.  French, Spanish, Dutch, German and Italian immigrants were sometimes the majority in their counties. But, acceptance by the English speaking majority came as quickly as their learning the language.

Why was this?

Former Louisiana State University Boyd Professor, William Cooper described the South as having "a perfect society." In short, "no matter where you came from, no matter how rich or poor that you were, you were always a rung above the slave."

This included native Americans and people of color. Even when slavery ended the practice of "blurred if not non existent ethnic lines" continued to be the norm.

For those who have spent time in Texas, it can be observed how Mexican Americans are considered, "Texans first." You don't observe the same connection  in California, a state that was largely settled by northerners.

Southerners urged President, James Buchannon to purchase Cuba from Spain in 1857. Not because they wanted to exploit the island! Southern politicians recognized Cuba's agrarian economy and plantation culture. They were eager to welcome Cuba into the American family, as a state will all of the privileges that accompanied statehood.

Buchannon, a Pennsylvanian knew that Kansas and Nebraska were on tap for statehood. He understood that the added representation of two new "free" states could be offset by allowing Texas to split into two states and admitting Cuba.

While the focus has been traditionally on the slavery issue, little is mentioned about what would have amounted to  "immediate acceptance of Cuba's Spanish speaking population."  English would have been taught in Cuban schools. But, it would have been similar to Louisiana, where most of the Southern part of the state continued to utilize French as it's primary language well into the 20th century.

Most significantly, there was not a "class system based on whether you were English, Spanish, French or whatever!" You were simply Americans and Southerners. Everyone wanted to learn English because it was practical and gave them access to more information.

There was never the same level of religious prejudice in the south. This included a lesser degree of anti-semitism. Many are astounded to learn that Jefferson Davis' Attorney General and most trusted advisor was Judah H. Benjamin of Louisiana, an orthodox Jew. Benjamin was touted as the "finest legal mind in the south." He was seen as a Southerner first and while some disliked him, it had more to do with his personality than his religious preference.

There are writings about the Normalacy Klansmen in the South who were openly antagonistic to Jews and Catholics. But this came much later.  In the 19th century, the standard prevailed. It has since returned.

Ethnic groups are all but non-existent in the south. Even in heavily Spanish concentrated areas such as South Florida and South Texas, it is simply a matter of time before natives assimulate and become Texans and Floridians. Most native Southerners see this as the norm.  There has never been anything close to the ethic prejudice seen in the North.

Can the nation follow the Southern example?

I think they will. English, as the official language makes ethnic desegregation easier. Once we are all speaking the same first language, we start the quick process of dismissing our differences and accensuating our commonalities. We become more sensitive to issues that effect us all.

A prime example was the Texas out-of-state tuition waiver for children of illegal aliens. This surfaced in the 201l Republican presidential debates and contributed to Mitt Romney's nomination.

Texans overwhelmingly voted to extend it. Not because they wanted to reward lawbreakers or promote amnesty! It was simply the practical remedy to a failed national immigration policy. And, it was a matter of compassion! 

Northerners,  Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman and Mitt Romney didn't see it that way! They made it clear that the Texas approach was the wrong approach. Texas Governor, Rick Perry was demonized for his defense of a Texas legislative vote of 177 to 4 in favor of the waiver!

One key difference that must be noted! Perry is a Southerner. He is a fifth generation Texan. He didn't see these children as liabilities. He saw them as assets. Above all, he saw them as Texans.

This is where the general misunderstanding of Southerners is most manifested. Did anyone believe that the children should be denied the waiver because they were mostly Hispanic? No. In fact, the nationality of the parents hardly entered anyones' mind! It was more a question of "what would be the most constructive way to fix a problem that the federal government created?"

Are we suggesting that Northerners all hold deep rooted ethnic prejudices? Not really. But we are acknowledging that ethnic differences are more readily highlighted in the north. To Southerners, it didn't bear the same level of importance.

There was also the deep rooted Southern reverence for the 10th amendment. As Governor Perry correctly phraised, "under the constitution, in accordance to the 10th amendment, this is Texas' decision." In the thinking of Bachmann, Santorum and Romney, those students had broken the law. It was beyond their comprehension that some good might actually come from developing them, as opposed to punishing them. In the eyes of Texas' legislature, "two wrongs didn't make a right."

It goes back to the fact that these students had been accepted as Texans. They weren't Hispanics or Latinos. They were simply Texans.

History has always attempted to paint the Southern states as "racist or anti-black." One detail that is often overlooked is the fact that on April 2nd, 1865, the Confederate Congress approved the drafting of slaves for military service, with the promise of freedom upon honorable discharge. Symbolically, this confirmed the intention of the South to welcome slaves into the Confederate nation as Southerners.

In short, the South is a society largely unfettered by ethnic differences. This could be a critical factor in the event that the states decide to separate. Could this actually happen? It happened in 1861! The nation is arguably as divided today as it was in 1861. There is one key difference.

In 1861 the North was fighting to preserve the Union. In 2012 there is no slavery issue. But preserving the Union as we know it, is on a lot of minds. In the end, the South's "perfect society" may be the nation's salvation. In it's reasoning comes triumph over the "diversity cultists" who will make every attempt to "balkanize" America.

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