The Fall of the House of Dixie
The Fall of the House of Dixie
The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South by Bruce Levine
Dr. Bruce Levine from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign presents the lecture “Confederate Emancipation” on May 7th, 2008. It probes the public debate that dominated politics in the South during the last six months of the war, the controversy whether to emancipate and arm slaves on behalf of the Confederacy. The lecture explores racial and pro-slavery ideology, the interaction of blacks and whites, among other things.
Often in history when one portion of a society sets out with the limited goal of confronting one task, redressing a few grievances, or correcting a single injustice, it finds that centrifugal forces seem to take over. Protest becomes revolution, and, in the end, whole nations, peoples, even cultures find ancient institutions turned upside down.
As Bruce Levine reveals in his perceptive new book The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the American South, what began in 1861 for Abraham Lincoln and the North as an effort to put down a rebellion and win a war of rather strictly limited goals, resulted a few years later in a crusade to end slavery, and then a revolution in the status of Negroes in America and the world, from chattel servants, to soldiers, and then into citizens. At the same time, the South, setting out to present a bold front to the North in an effort to retain slavery where it was and win the right to extend it unfettered wherever the Stars and Stripes flew, soon went into revolution to seek a new nationhood that actually outstripped the old Union in the speed with which it rewrote concepts of civil rights and governmental power in time of crisis. And at the end of it all, old Dixie was driven down.
The Fall of the House of Dixie both directly and indirectly addresses one of those ironies that humans can only know after the fact. The surest means for the South to preserve slavery was to do nothing in 1860-1861. Lincoln genuinely believed that no president or Congress had the power to interfere with slavery where it already existed. Moreover, as the 13th Amendment subsequently demonstrated, that was a constitutional issue. In Lincoln’s time, no emancipation amendment would have stood a ghost of a chance of passage. In fact, even today, the 15 slave states of 1860 would still have enough votes to deny such an amendment a ¾ majority needed for ratification. By seceding and going to war to hold on to slavery, they gave Lincoln the power to classify slavery as a legitimate target of war.
Along the way, the crumbling of the edifice of slavery within the Confederacy saw the overturning of most of the other walls of the Old South’s society. Women had to run plantations and farms; law and order disintegrated; deserters, draft dodgers, free blacks and slaves ran loose at will to make parts of the countryside unsafe for Confederates; the ancient habit of the poor whites to tug their forelocks at the planters’ bidding practically disappeared, and in one of history’s greatest ironies, at the end the Confederacy was trying to turn to its own slaves to become soldiers to help save it and their own slavery.
The Fall of the House of Dixie is not just another history of the war. It goes beyond that, to give a compelling picture of how a protest got out of hand, the catastrophic results that followed for Dixie, and how in the aftermath both North and South shamefully began to retreat from the revolution they both had made.