Neoconfederates like to claim that the confederates seceded to avoid a strong central government. They like to point to Abraham Lincoln as a great centralizer of government, yet anyone familiar with the work of Emory Thomas knows that this view is nothing more than complete baloney. This article draws on Thomas’ work and draws attention to the great centralization of government control that occurred under the confederacy. Thomas details that a person traveling in the confederacy had to have identity papers and internal passports, and hotels had to report to the government who checked in every night. These folks are usually strong Second Amendment supporters, yet the confederacy forced all civilians in Richmond to give up their weapons. They excoriate Lincoln for arbitrary arrests, yet they are silent about the arbitrary arrests in the confederacy.
“[General John H.] Winder issued general orders forbidding the sale of liquor and requiring all citizens to surrender their firearms to the Confederate Ordnance Department. He initiated a passport system to control entrance and exit to and from the city [Richmond]. Railroad companies and hotels had to submit to the provost marshal daily lists of passengers and guests. Winder’s political police made thirty arbitrary arrests during the first two weeks of their reign. … Winder even experimented with price-fixing in Richmond’s food marketplaces. He published a schedule of maximum prices and confiscated any commodities offered for sale at prices above the maximum. The War Department finally ordered Winder to abandon his scheme, not because it interfered with laissez faire economics, but because the system did not work. Farmers simply refused to bring produce into the city if they had to sell at less than free market value.
“Many of Winder’s restrictions, such as the passport system, remained in force in Richmond throughout the war, and martial law reigned elsewhere in the Confederacy as well. The irony of a state rights confederation turning its capital into a police state requires no comment.” [Emory M. Thomas, The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience, p. 63]
To be sure, the Lincoln administration curtailed civil liberties, but neoconfederates who feign outrage at what they claim were abuses under Lincoln actually betray their own historical ignorance, because if they were aware of what happened under the confederacy they wouldn’t consider the Lincoln administration’s actions to be all that bad, comparatively speaking.