The Confederate South as a feudal republic

Not open for further replies.


Puritanboard Clerk
This is part of a paper I did for my War Between the States class. I found it interesting and a few War Between the States buffs might as well. Constructive criticism would be appreciated. This isn't the whole paper nor the main argument, but it is something I noticed in studying the social structure underlying much of the Christian thought of the folk who fought in both wars of American Independence.

Several interesting studies have been done in the past decades on the feudal aspect, or intent, of early America. Social critic Rousas J. Rushdoony sees the spheres of local and central government over a people as an example of modified feudalism in the American Colonies, a tradition that the Confederacy would imperfectly continue. Rushdoony notes concerning feudalism as birthed in Europe, "œUnder feudalism, a variety of laws governing various areas became the order of the day and was pushed to its limits"¦The modern concept of state law, total in its scope and jurisdiction, was thus alien to feudalism."[1]
The refusal to centralize power in any area set the framework for the Confederacy´s insistence on "œstates´ rights." The Confederates would see any encroachment of the federal government as a blueprint for tyranny. Although not explicitly stated, it is not far-fetched that Confederate thinkers would draw upon their country´s past struggle for freedom in 1776 and apply some of the colonials´ conclusions to their own time. Seeing the American Revolution (and the Colonial background) in feudal terms, such an interpretation makes sense. Rushdoony writes, "œTo the colonists, as to the barons who rested Magna Carta from King John, English liberty mean feudalism in essence, localism as against centralism, contractual government as against absolutism"¦Each colony was a free English state under the king, and their relationship to him was feudal and contractual [2].

The heritage of feudalism checked the coming of new ideas and religious theories into the New World. True, much of the North lost its disctinctively Puritan outlook with many opting for Unitarianism instead. However, the Calvinism that had been lost in the North migrated to the South. Until then a Christian political and social vision dominated New England. Gregg Singer notes, "œThis Christian theism had so permeated the colonial mind that it continued to guide even those who had come to regard the Gospel with indifference or even hostility. The currents of orthodoxy were too strong to be easily set aside but those who in their own thinking had come to a different conception of religion and hence of government also."[3]

The Rev. Robert Dabney, while not a Medievalist in those terms, operated under feudal presuppositions that his "œStates´ Rights" political worldview denoted. Many of the advocates and critics of States´ Rights fail to note the feudal presuppositions inherent within such a proposition: sovereign states allying together for a common cause. Rushdoony, again, notes the feudalism in the colonies, especially in their form of government: "œLimited government and constitutionalism were basic aspects of colonial faith and life, and common pulpit themes"¦The American political system, thus, is, first, a development of Christian feudalism." [4]. Placed in a feudal context 100 years later, Dabney´s words take on a fuller meaning, "œIt was wholly another thing for the Federal Government to declare war against seven seceded States, no longer under their authority, but withdrawn form it by sovereign acts more formal and legal than those which had made them parties to the Union."[5]

Within above said context, however, it takes a different twist on its previous meaning. It would not be far-fetched to suggest that what passed for States´ Rights rhetoric was merely neo-feudalism applied to modern issues.

[1] Rousas J. Rushdoony, This Independent Republic (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1964), 11. Rushdoony would go on to list village law, fief law, canon law, etc.

[2] Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Nature of the American System (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, 1965), 6, 19.

[3] C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of American History (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1964), 284f.

[4] Rushdoony, This Independent Republic, 22.

[5] R.L. Dabney, D.D., "œThe True Purpose of the Civil War," Discussions vol. IV (Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, [1897] 1994), 103.
Not open for further replies.