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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