Who really surrendered at Appomattox Court House?

This past weekend marked the 150th anniversary of America remaining whole. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, ending the Civil War.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. (Library of Congress)

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House. (Library of Congress)

For such an important moment in our nation’s history, there were few parades and celebrations marking Appomattox. Those that did occur featured as many reenactors in grey, who honored the memory of the “Lost Cause.”

Usually the winners write the history books, but in the case of the Civil War, the losers have had too much of a final say. The cause of Southern secession is remembered in many places as a noble fight for states’ rights and sovereignty, not one of treason against the federal government. The Civil War remains a cornerstone of Southern cultural identity.

The North ended slavery in America, but one need look no further than the bumpers of Ford F-150s in North Carolina — to say nothing of Mississippi’s state flag — to see how stubbornly resistant to change the South remains.

So as nice as the Appomattox surrender was, can we have a do-over? The states of the Confederacy drag down the rest of the country and, for economic and cultural reasons, we’re better off without them. I’m not saying it would have been better if the South had won the Civil War. It wouldn’t have. But given where we are today, it might be time to think about a peaceful separation.

And by that I mean this: We should seriously consider taking the 11 states that formally seceded — plus Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma (territories with pro-Confederacy leanings at the time), and Missouri and Kentucky (which had dual governments) — and kick them out of the Union.

Here’s why:

The U.S. Census Bureau used to produce an annual report on how much money each state, county and congressional district received in federal spending. Then, a few years ago, Congress and the Obama administration told it to stop. Ostensibly, it was a cost-saving measure, but it’s more likely that they were just tired of state-shaming.

Most famously, the Tax Foundation used the data to figure out which states received more money than they sent to Washington, and which received less.

Other organizations have run similar calculations since, and the results are always the same: The Confederate states are the real Welfare Queens, consistently taking in far more federal spending than they return in tax revenue.

Wikimedia Commons

The Confederate States (Wikimedia Commons)

A handful of states are head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to mooching off of the federal government, most notably Texas, but as a group Confederate states received more than $1.25 per $1 in federal taxes paid. Taxpayers in the rest of the country are basically subsidizing Southern states that would otherwise be financially insolvent.

But money is only one part of the failings of the South relative to the rest of the country. It does no better socially. From voting rights to reproductive health to LGBT equality, the Confederacy consistently has to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.

Quality of life is also worse in Dixieland. Obesity is more prevalent, along with all of the health problems that accompany it. Fewer Southerners have a high school diploma, and more of them can’t read. Teen pregnancy is higher. And so on. And you can draw a straight line between the the underfunding of these states’ public schools, which are then told to push thoroughly-discredited abstinence-only sex education curricula, and those negative quality of life outcomes.

The United States of America could instantly boost its standings in international rankings of well being simply by giving the Confederates what they’ve wanted for 150 years: independence. The U.S. could balance its budget and have a healthier, better-educated populace. Plus, we’d jettison much of the Tea Party caucus that’s blocked progress on literally every major public policy issue facing America today.

Of course the political and economic realities are such that we’re stuck with each other. Who would be responsible for America’s outstanding debt? Who would get the military infrastructure? What current treaties would bind the Southern states? Could other like-minded states join them (looking at you, Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Utah, West Virginia (oh the irony) and Wyoming)?

The questions are endless and only get tougher the more you think about them. But there is value in asking, and in acknowledging that the fiercest opponents of government handouts are among the biggest takers.


Christian Trejbal is a freelance editorial writer, editor and political consultant based in Portland, Ore. He wrote exclusively for The (Bend) Bulletin and The Roanoke Times before founding Opinion in a Pinch. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Opinion Journalists Foundation and is open government chairman. Follow him on Twitter @ctrejbal and facebook.

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  • UFIA

    I see what you did there.

  • jd

    I always though the feds should pass a law (to help balance the budget) that no state shall receive more than 105% of the taxes they send to Washington and no state should receive less than 90%.
    Illinois is near the bottom of receiving tax dollars from Washington, if we got what Texas gets we’d wouldn’t be in the red.

  • Nelson Kerr

    a museum honoring traitors to the United states is not quite my style

  • ComradeRutherford

    It took 150 years, but The South clearly has won that war.

  • ComradeRutherford

    I think it was Granny Clampett that said, Lee didn’t surrender, he thought Grant was a servant and handed Grant his sword for cleaning…

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  • lynchie

    couldn’t agree more. But we are left with no choices except not voting.

  • dcinsider

    As long as you’re white.

  • It is an excellent facility with helpful staff. I encourage anyone visiting Richmond to check it out.

  • caphillprof

    The James brothers never surrendered.

  • caphillprof

    The Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond turned out to be very good. We were surprised.

  • LasloPratt

    You could not be more wrong. What we need to do with the Southern states is sell them! I suggest to the Saudis. We could use the money to pay down the deficit – which the Southerners should be on board with, since they inevitably elect people who publicly fret about the deficit – and they would have a government based on religion, which they also seem to really want. Honestly, I do not see a downside here.

  • goulo

    I think you’re quite mistaken about Germany’s attitude toward its own history. There are FAR more US apologists for the Confederacy than German apologists for the Third Reich. I’ve visited Germany many times and often seen museums, expositions, statues, parks, etc dedicated to exposing and condemning the horrors of the Nazi period, very explicitly not glorifying it. I’ve also visited many US Civil War sites and Old South plantations, and in comparison, the horrors of slavery are pretty white-washed, and the old “Gone With the Wind” culture is typically glorified.

    Here is a good article giving some comparisons:
    http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2009/09/21/remembering-national-tragedies-the-u-s-vs-germany/

  • MoonDragon

    She was also a Goldwater Girl, is quite hawkish, has ties to a C Street religious right group, and is a Third Way Democrat (and DLC partisan). I’d hardly call her left leaning. She’s better than anything the Republicans have to offer, but she’s not a liberal.

  • Jay

    oh my god, give me a break. you know what i’m talking about: she was the first lady of arkansas, which, last time i checked IS a part of the south. as a then-resident of the new confederacy, or whatever we’re calling it, she would have been deported to the new third world in this wacky, thought-provoking experiment. my point being: this is ridiculous.

  • quax

    So sorry I hurt your sensibilities, and that I wasn’t passive-aggressive enough to pass your civility test.

  • Indigo

    We don’t know yet whether America Blog is lost, but it’s trending in a direction that puts me in mind of Marco Rubio’s claim to represent the “youthful” ideas of the 21st century. Oh, myyy!

  • Indigo

    Your hostile phrasing puts me in mind of the segregationists of the 1950s. My, how they ranted. My, how you rant. Have another sip of whatever that is you’re on.

  • Nelson Kerr

    new Mexico was Northern territory in the CW, When texan invaded the starving dregswalked home to Texas barefoot

  • Nelson Kerr

    the purpose of of this is to point out that we have idiots like Perry threatening secession in Texas and Judge Roypy Moore in Alabama deciding that federal law doesn’t have to be followed.If the south doesn’t want to be part of the US let them get the hell out of it

  • kurtsteinbach

    Unless you think that Mike Huckabee is really going to be our next President, you need to check your map. Hillary Rodham Clinton is from and was born in Illinois, which the last time I checked is NOT a part of the South. Next time you have a thought, try to remember what mommy tried to teach you: If you can’t say something nice; don’t say anything at all. . . .

  • quax

    You even have conservative German newspapers regularly write about WW2 atrocities like this (Google translate is your friend).

    Get back to me once Dixieland media regularly reminds its readers and viewers about the systematic oppression and lynching of the Southern blacks.

    The North was obviously way to soft on the ‘bible’ belt, how else did this whiny, weaseling attitude endure that always bemoans that others nation/tribes were worse than the Confederate slaveholders.

  • Germany made displaying the symbols of their national shame outside of a museum or educational situation illegal. They also enacted strict punishments for disseminating anti-government propaganda. So strict that their laws against Nazism would be considered blatantly unconstitutional in the US.

  • Zorba

    K, you forgot to add, “Well, I never!” ;-)

  • 2karmanot

    The prosecution rests! :-)

  • FLL

    Yep. The historical pattern of settlement in Indiana was from the Southern states, while the pattern of settlement in neighboring Ohio and Illionois was from the Northeastern states. During the 1920s, Indiana was a very visible political center for the KKK, and many Indiana politicians during the 1920s ran and were elected as publicly acknowledged members of the KKK. Nothing similar happened in Ohio or Illinois.

  • mirth

    The loss of Enchantment would be devastating.

  • mirth

    I’ll just point out that we would no longer be the USA.
    SSA, maybe – Separated States of America.
    Or, FSA – Fractured States of America.
    The LP gas industry would probably lobby for the latter.

  • Indigo

    Or one of those Alternative History essays?

  • Indigo

    I have ancestors on both sides of that nasty conflict. As my great-aunt Fern (whose dad fought in that conflict, I don’t know which side) used to say, “There was nuthin’ civil about it!” Sadly, very little civility surrounds the topic to this day. I wonder whether the author of today’s speculation is as contemptuous of modern Germany where the atrocity rating went off the scale less than a century ago. But Germans today are rich and nice people don’t talk about it. Uh-huh.

  • Indigo

    While Indiana role models that southern stereotype in the north.

  • Keep the South, just pass a law limiting federal payouts to states at 100% of what they pay in. The southern welfare sisters will soon collapse.

  • 2karmanot

    true

  • dcinsider

    I’m almost certain that part of Alabama still has not surrendered.

  • Bill_Perdue

    Sci Fi.

  • nicho

    Actually, Appomattox didn’t end the war. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia there, but the war continued. The Army of Tennessee fought on and surrendered on April 26. The last battle was in Texas, and the remnant of the Confederate Army surrendered there on June 2.

  • Bill_Perdue

    No, they don’t.

    “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy.

    For their study, Gilens and Page compiled data from roughly 1,800 different policy initiatives in the years between 1981 and 2002. They then compared those policy changes with the expressed opinion of the United State public. Comparing the preferences of the average American at the 50th percentile of income to what those Americans at the 90th percentile preferred, as well as the opinions of major lobbying or business groups, the researchers found out that the government followed the directives set forth by the latter two much more often. It’s beyond alarming. As Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.”

    http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/new_study_finds_the_us_is_not_a_democracy_so_what_is_it_20140417

  • dcinsider

    I hate to say it, but tough luck. There are good people in all those states, just as there are good people in Iran, Russia, and other oppressed countries. So as part of the “Left Behind” group, you will need to rise up and overthrow your Confederate overlords. Those of us in the USA will offer you assistance, but you will have to do the dirty work.

    Remember, anti-gay feelings were entrenched throughout this country in the 1950’s including the North. However, Northern activists fought and did the hard work to change that reality, and they lost jobs and lost families in the process. Meanwhile, our Southern colleagues sort of sat there, played go along to get along, and fretted about our activism and how that might upset their delicate balance of life as a “bachelor.” They “came out” once a year when they came to P-Town. They chose the genteel existence of a life in the closet and knowing winks of their neighbors who would tolerate them to an extent, and only if they kept quiet.

    That failure of activism in the South left y’all about a decade or more behind the rest of us, as we are witnessing today. In the end, you have no one to blame for that other than yourselves. And don’t whine about the Bible belt. Activism means struggle, and loss and hardship. Southern LG people simply chose not to fact that struggle, and as a result they live in a society that does not value them.

    Change your own society. That will be your challenge. Good luck.

  • mirth

    Such a cool idea! We can build a high solid iron fence along the border between us and them with armed guards at checkpoints where they must submit their papers before entering their former country.

  • dcinsider

    In the Confederate States, they would be drilled, fracked, and polluted out of existence in the first year.

  • FLL

    The present-day reality (as opposed to that of the nineteenth century) is that most of New Mexico and the southern half of Florida are “Northern” states, that is to say, the population is Yankee and not of Southern heritage. So you’ll have to tweak your map a little. Also, people in the Southern states are well aware that they take in more in federal money than they give in tax revenue. For that reason, they’ll take what the U.S. Supreme Court gives them and they’ll like it. Financially, what other choice do they have? By the way, Florida gives more in tax revenue than the federal government gives to Florida, probably because half (or perhaps most) of Florida is Yankee. Best regards from Fort Lauderdale.

  • So, you mean they’d enact right to work legislation?

  • As the author of this piece, I don’t think that secession has any real possibility of happening. That said, I’ll play along with the hypothetical.

    I can think of a few ways to handle the question of people who cannot afford to move:

    * Do nothing about it. It’s tough luck. Fate left you in the wrong place. When national lines change, sometimes people wind up on the side they don’t want to be on.

    * Provide some need-based grants for people who want to move in either direction. Think of it as a transaction cost of making the whole project happen.

    * Leave these people in place, but let everyone choose which nation’s citizenship they want. People in the South who choose USA citizenship would just be living in another country, the same as if they might if they were an American living in Canada or Paris.

    None of these is ideal, so I’d love to hear from others how else this situation might be handled.

  • Donna Hurst

    I’m always curious what authors of pieces like this recommend for those of us who live in one of these states do if we can’t afford to move.

  • MoonDragon

    But the actual swamp and the critters there in do not deserve to be a part of it.

  • 2karmanot

    Well, Lauwd Almighty, Isn’t that precious! Gawd bless your lil’ concerned heart.

  • 2karmanot

    Actually MD, ‘The Great Dismal Swamp’ would be a great name for the new country of the old South.

  • PeteLI

    Not New Mexico though! They’ve not done much wrong.

  • atalex

    It is mistake to assume that a New CSA would not be able to compete economically with the New Union. Most of the New Confederacy would reenact slavery in everything but name to maintain competitiveness.

  • MoonDragon

    If it were just the people, I’d agree, but these assholes don’t deserve the Everglades, Lake Okeechobee, the Great Dismal Swamp, the high plains of West Texas, the Great Smokey Mountains (or any of the Appalachians for that matter), The beaches of the Emerald Coast, Gulf shrimp, or any part of the Grand Canyon.

  • 2patricius2

    We may not want Miami – the ocean waters will probably be swallowing up the city by the end of this century….

  • Hue-Man

    Not so dumb – Czechoslovakia, Quebec (1995 referendum failed by 50,000 votes), Belgium currently. Additional issues that came up in Quebec were – passports, currency, “deferred federal taxes” for individual retirement accounts and businesses, border controls, and former interprovincial agreements (freedom of movement, trade, health care reciprocity). One final issue is citizenship – if you were born in Quebec, do you have automatic Canadian citizenship? Breaking up is hard to do – these TeaParty secessionists have no idea what a gut-wrenching exercise it would be.

    TeaParty/GOP are constantly berating the poor and cutting their benefits. If it works so well, why isn’t the same applied to the “Indolent States of America”? How can they pull themselves up by their bootstraps if the Federal government continues the gravy-train? Maybe mandatory drug testing of the entire ISA population is necessary…

    Obamacare comment is especially off-base since these are the very states that have mostly blocked Medicaid expansion for their citizens!

  • dcinsider

    I’ve said this for many years. They would be a third world country, but a nice place to visit for vacation (good weather) and our dollar against theirs would enable us to have cheap vacation, not to mention cheap labor. And I would not mind some of those rednecks needing a visa before they got into my state.

  • Alas, we’d probably want to ensure that the two new nations were contiguous. I’d expect a lot of people moving to one side of the border or the other before a split, though, so maybe all the people in those communities who want out could swap with people who want in. Omaha, the new Austin!

  • MoonDragon

    Can we keep Austin, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and Palm Beach County? And maybe Miami, but only maybe.

  • I live in a former confederate state. I was born here and returned after living “up north” for almost 20 years. I’ll be moving out of here as soon as I can. I agree with the “let them secede” sentiment in response to the neo-confederate bullshit. the reality is that they have no intention of leaving. Mississippi and Alabama are the third world anyway and that’s WITH federal money flowing freely to them. Without it? This is bullshit said by people who like to mouth off. It’s not an actual proposal.

  • therling

    My great-great grandfather risked his life in one of the Wisconsin Regiments of the Grand Army of the Republic to keep these states from breaking up the US. I think of him every time I see that offensive flag. It’s the flag of those who sought to kill him. Almost 10 percent of his fellow Wisconsinites did not come home.

  • BillFromPA

    I wonder if any Neo-Confed has ever thought through what would follow a successful secession. Of course the timing would be critical but let’s assume Lincoln lost re-election, McClellan won and sued for peace. At that point the Federals, or as I always call them , ‘Americans’ would still posses a huge army and navy, westward expansion continued throughout the war so those territories would all be Free, the very thing that the south was fighting to prevent. The America that remained was in full Industrial Revolution mode while the sough was still an agrarian sector.

    Fast forward, would America and/or the CSA have jumped into WWI? Would there evenhave been a fleet at Pearl later on? Would either or both Americas have joined WWII and what would the result of thad=t decision have been? And what of the millions of Black salves who were teased by the possibility of freedom? Few people know that up to the time of Fort Sumter the main authority keeping slave revolts tamped down in the south was the U.S. Army and as soon as ant Federal force caputher southern

  • Dave

    Elections have consequences.

  • S. Parilla

    This is article is ill-conceived and offensive, AMERICAblog. There are many people who would agree with you on most things that live in what are, to Chris Trejbal, throw-away states. If a plan like this were enacted, many millions of people would suffer (they’d lose Obamacare to mention just one example), but that’s okay (or at least, certainly not worth mentioning) because they’re all Confederates who are fat and dumb? Seriously?

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