During this weekend, the City of Fairfax had its 9th Annual Civil War weekend at the Blenheim House. Featured at this event were re-enactors who portrayed the roles of General Robert E. Lee, General James Longstreet, General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, and General Lewis Armistead. As it is known, recently the blog world had a debate pertaining to the issue of Southern history. Considering how the current trend was, I decided to take advantage of this weekend and ask questions to these men in order to understand some of the view points of those who lived at the time.
*Note: I am aware that re-enactors are not the actual individuals that they portray. However, since these men have studied the lives of the people they portray so thoroughly, it is about the next best thing.*
There were three questions that were very specifically asked to these gentleman,
1) What are your views on state’s rights?
2) Is secession constitutionally legal?
3) What are your views on slavery?
For the first question, all four men cited the book A View on the Constitution by William Rawle. The text, which was used by all cadets at West Point, discussed the issue of secession and details that it was legal for any state to leave the United States. In effect, the nation was a republic built on smaller republics. If one of those said smaller republics wished to leave the bigger one, then it was allowed to do that. Bringing things into a contemporary light, the gentleman played General Longstreet pointed out that the United States could, therefore, leave the United Nations and not be told that it had to remain in the organization.
Therefore, the answer to the second question was rather obvious. All four men believed beyond any doubt that secession was legal. In fact, if one were to think of it to today’s standards, you could still argue that a state could secede from the Union, but that is another debate for another day.
The final question dealing with slavery was an interesting. Both Generals Longstreet and Armistead did not own slaves. In their opinion, the war was fought heavily over the issue of state’s rights and that, while slavery was an issue, it was this one which was central to fighting the war. Now, Generals Lee and Jackson did own slaves. However, both men did acknowledge that slavery, while not moral, was a legal institution.
Now, granted, these questions are broad based, but it does give a sight insight into the thinking of some people who lived at the time. If ever there is an opportunity to go to an event like this, by all means go. It is actually a lot of fun, but more importantly, the people who work at these events LOVE to talk about it. They enjoy teaching and educating the public on their interests and want to make sure that all aspects of history are explored.