Country music superstar Trace Adkins stopped by the formal commencement of Tennessee’s sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War Friday where he did a little dreaming out loud of a day when the U.S. federal government shows more respect for state sovereignty.
Adkins, whose great-great-grandfather fought in the war, said he believes the period of remembrance underway to honor the 150-year anniversary of America’s bloodiest conflict is a unique opportunity to reconnect people to their heritage and teach children about history and the sacrifices their ancestors made for their most cherished beliefs.
“Over the generations it has seemed to me that Southern children, because of that terrible slavery issue, have been made to feel apologetic — if not guilty or ashamed — of their heritage,” Adkins told an audience gathered for the Sesquicentennial Signature Event at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville (pdf). “And I for one hope my children don’t feel that way, because everybody knows or should know that the majority of soldiers that fought for the Confederacy did not own slaves. I know that my grandfather didn’t, and had no aspirations of owning slaves. It wasn’t part of his makeup.”
“The main issue” that motivated the South to resist the North, said Adkins, “was states’ rights.”
“That’s what my grandfather told me — that that’s the reason why his grandfather went to war in the first place,” said Adkins.
Furthermore, he added, while the issues of slavery and secession from the Union may have been “settled” by the war, fundamental questions about what role the states have in plotting their own political destinies were not resolved. Had they been, “we wouldn’t still be arguing about it today,” said Adkins.
Adkins also revealed — for the first time in public, he said — that as a statement of allegiance to states’ rights and tribute to the men of the Confederacy who fought to defend the concept, he refuses to cut his hair.
“I’ve had a lot of people over the years ask me, ‘Why’s your hair so long?,’” said Adkins. “The answer to that question is, towards the end of the war when the outcome was obvious to everybody, there were a group of incredibly dedicated Confederate soldiers who said, ‘For me this issue is not settled, and until the issue is settled, I’m not going to cut my hair.’ Neither will I.”
Adkins has in the past written about his understanding of and support for states’ rights. In his 2007 memoir, “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Freethinking Roughneck,” he asserted that the Civil War “was essentially fought over states’ rights, a concept that gets glossed over as if ‘states’ rights’ was a slogan that somebody pulled out of thin air and didn’t have any real meaning”:
“But it did have some meaning. It still has meaning. States are still saying to the federal government, ‘You are not going to dictate to us how we may conduct our lives in our own state.’
“Today, instead of the blue and the gray, we now have blue states and red states. As we the people of the United States of America become more fragmented and less united, I believe we’ll see more and more states going their own way, passing their own laws, to the point where people will have to choose which state to live in based on which key laws each state passes in its own legislature. It’s not just a conservative or liberal matter, it’s more of a lifestyle choice. For instance, if you believe in abortion rights, you need to live in New York. If you oppose abortion, live in Alabama or South Dakota. If you believe in gay marriage, you might want to move to Massachusetts. If you’re against motorcycle helmet laws, then you can reside in Arizona. Strict or less strict gun laws. Medical marijuana. These are but a few state issues that now dictate where people can ideologically choose to live in the United States. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, as long as Americans are free to travel and live in whatever state best fits their lifestyle and beliefs. That’s what states’ rights means to me today.“