Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Confederate Stuff (Full)

[On request, I've here combined my four "Confederate Stuff" pieces, written for Facebook, into a single, more easily sharable post.]


Confederate Stuff
Part 1: Introduction:

Other than some things I've written in a few Facebook groups, I've tried to stay away from this whole Confederate flag donnybrook that plays itself out in my feed every day lately. It's one of those issues that, over the decades, has proven remarkably impervious to facts or to reason and in the past, there just hasn't seemed much point in engaging with it.

The other side of the coin, however, is that the current controversy offers an opportunity to have a conversation about the subject that, for decades upon decades, has badly needed to happen but has never been allowed to get off the ground. One of the things that comes through my feed on a regular basis is a endless plethora of memes featuring a Confederate flag and the words, "If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson." And, of course, those memes are inevitably circulated by people who prove worst in need of such a lesson. I have a sweet tooth for such things. Maybe that much-needed conversation won't happen this time, but maybe it will.

What has people dissing the Confederate flag at the moment is Dylann Roof, a right-wing terrorist who walked into a church in South Carolina and started shooting because he wanted to kill black people. In pics, Roof is seen waving the Confederate flag, which seems to have set off a sort of national gag reflex. We speak of the object as a "Confederate flag" and its roots do stretch back to the Civil War but that association, which I'll also cover, is distant in time, the stuff of museums. What is this flag today? For over 60 years, it's been one of the most prominent emblems of segregation, racial hatred, white nationalism. It was adopted as the flag of Strom Thurmond's "Dixiecrats," the then-Southern-based right-wing of the Democratic party that, in the 1940s, split with the national party over race and ran a campaign of "Segregation Forever." In the '50s and '60s, it was thrown up all over the deep South to express resistance to civil rights. It was and, indeed, still is ubiquitously flown by the Ku Klux Klan and other like-minded orgs. The amount of reactionary terrorism carried out by wavers of this flag alone is staggering. This is the flag's modern context. And like it or not, this is what it represents today.

I'll confess to being somewhat puzzled by the anti-flag reaction in the wake of Roof. This matter has been a festering wound on the soul of the U.S. for all this time--why start getting outraged now? Something about the Roof killings seems to have gotten to people in a way the rest hasn't. It may just be a matter of exposure. Those in the corporate press don't exactly trip over one another to cover the activities of groups like the KKK these days. Terrorism by domestic white Christian rightists in the U.S. is virtually invisible in the national corporate press. It is, in fact, a far worse problem than terrorism by Muslim rightists but our news mavens' general rule is that if it doesn't praise Allah, it isn't worth the time of day. It isn't something people see, and out of sight probably equals out of mind. For some reason, the Roof story drew national attention rather than, as is usually the case, being relegated to the level of a local crime story. When people finally saw it, they were disgusted by it.

They should be.

But if all that comes of the current uproar is finally consigning this hateful rag to a museum, an opportunity to address some much deeper wounds will have been squandered. Those people who wave this flag while saying others need a history lesson need to finally get a history lesson of their own.


--j.



Part 2:

Lately, memes promoting and defending the Confederate flag flow through my feed pretty regularly. Most who circulate such material, like most who wave the Confederate flag itself, are far removed from the crude racists of the Ku Klux Klan variety. Many of them don't have a racist thought in mind. Ask them about it and they'll usually tell you the flag is about, to quote a popular slogan, "heritage, not hate."

But what heritage?

The irony of those who wave the flag while parroting that other popular slogan, "if this flag offends you, you need a history lesson," really is lost on most of those doing the parroting. For generation upon generation, their heads have been filled with a ludicrously false Confederate apologist version of the American Civil War cynically manufactured after its conclusion by those in the South looking to expunge the sin of slavery and white supremacy from their cause in much the same way Holocaust deniers try to expunge genocide from fascism.

The first African slaves in America were brought to the Jamestown colony in 1619. During the 18th century struggle with England, Thomas Jefferson, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, wanted to lay blame for slavery at the doorstep of the King and be done with it. The idea didn't  go over very well. At the insistence of the powerful Southern planter caste, slavery became integrated into the U.S. Constitution. Still, during the radical fervor of the Revolutionary era, abolitionist sentiment flourished. Between 1777 and 1804, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey--most of the U.S. outside the south--either abolished slavery outright or enacted programs of gradual abolition. But slavery, particularly in the wake of the cotton gin, became vital to the agrarian economy of the South, one of the wealthiest in the world. In what later became the Confederate states, a handful of rich planters, their fabulous wealth inextricably tied up in the institution, called the shots.

For over 40 years prior to the Civil War, slavery had been the top issue in the U.S. As the nation expanded, there was a constant tension between slave and free states, leading to a series of efforts to maintain a balance between the two. The southern planter caste--already granted, by the 3/5 compromise in the U.S. Constitution, disproportionate representation in the U.S. government--was particularly sensitive about maintaining this balance so as not to be outnumbered in the federal government, something the planters saw as a threat to their survival. Abolitionist sentiment in the U.S. continued to grow; the Underground Railroad appeared, aiding slaves in escaping to free territories. Lax enforcement of fugitive slave laws became a major grievance of the planters. In 1850, South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union if California was admitted to it as a free state. The Compromise of 1850 diffused the situation but it also mercilessly tightened fugitive slave law and beat back an effort to preclude the spread of slavery. With the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, congress decided that, instead of seeking any balance, the locals in a territory could decide if they were to be a free or slave state. The result was "Bleeding Kansas," a guerilla war between pro- and anti-slavery forces that went on for a decade. In 1859, the fiery abolitionist John Brown led his raid at Harpers Ferry. Brown's plan was to break into the armory and arm slaves to resist their masters. If failed but the prospect scared the living hell out of the Southern planters. Abraham Lincoln proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. In 1860, he ran for president on a platform of opposing the expansion of slavery to any further territories. Upon his victory, South Carolina didn't even wait for his inauguration; in December, the state seceded.

Confederate apologists will offer all sorts of alternative explanations for this action. I've always found the most entertaining to be those who throw around "state's rights" without mention of what "right" was at issue. There is, fortunately, no ambiguity on this point; South Carolina issued a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." After a long recounting of U.S. history, the document is not only centrally concerned with slavery, it's solely concerned with it--it doesn't even pretend as if there's anything else behind the state's actions.

The other states followed South Carolina's lead and several of them issued these declarations. And all of them, without exception, are centrally concerned with slavery.

Mississippi:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

Reflecting the white supremacism at the heart of the Confederate project, the document rails against those who "advocate negro equality, socially and politically." This was echoed by Georgia in its own declaration, which rants against those allegedly seeking to bring about "the equality of the black and white races."

Ditto with Texas: "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

And Florida: "It is in so many words saying to you we will not burn you at the stake but we will torture you to death by a slow fire we will not confiscate your property and consign you to a residence and equality with the African but that destiny certainly awaits your children."

The government of Alabama granted a special commission to Stephen F. Hale to act as a sort of ambassador to Kentucky, his job being to feel out KY Gov. Beriah Magoffin's views on the dispute. Hale wrote a fairly long letter, which still survives, outlining his state's view of the matter:

"If the policy of the Republicans is carried out, according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate--all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country. Who can look upon such a picture without a shudder? What Southern man, be he slave-holder or non-slave-holder, can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters, in the not distant future, associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality, and the white man stripped, by the Heaven-daring hand of fanaticism of that title to superiority over the black race which God himself has bestowed?"

In the service of their own cause, abolitionists frequently referred to Jefferson's principle, enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal." Jefferson Davis didn't like that sort of talk. He'd been serving as a senator from Mississippi. In January 1861, when his state seceded, he offered the institution a farewell address:

"She [Mississippi] has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.... When our Constitution was formed... we find provision made for that very class of persons [Negroes] as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men--not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste..."

Davis went on to become the president of the Confederate States of America.

And so on.

The Confederate Constitution used the U.S. Constitution as its basic model, rendering various changes here and there. It attempted to end any controversy over slavery. Article I provided that "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." Article IV provided that "The citizens of each State... shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired." The same article provided that, in any new territories, "the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states."

This was the cause of the Confederacy; the record is as clear on this as it is exhaustingly extensive.

Only three years after the war, Alexander Stephens, who had been the Vice President of the Confederate States, wrote a book, "A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States." It was one of the first of what would become a depressingly dizzying array of revisionist texts that would appear in the century-and-a-half that has followed. In Stephens' account, the war was a contest between a tyrannical central government and those opposed to it, slavery wasn't really a very important part of the equation at all, and how dare any writer claim the Confederates were "pro-slavery"! Stephens can be even more torturous a read than I; I've taken an except from his introduction here:

"It is a postulate, with many writers of this day, that the late War was the result of two opposing ideas, or principles, upon the subject of African Slavery. Between these, according to their theory, sprung the 'irrepressible conflict,' in principle, which ended in the terrible conflict of arms. Those who assume this postulate, and so theorize upon it, are but superficial observers.

"That the War had its origin in opposing principles... may be assumed as an unquestionable fact. But the opposing principles... were of a very different character from those assumed in the postulate. They lay in the organic Structure of the Government of the States. The conflict in principle arose from different and opposing ideas as to the nature of what is known as the General Government. The contest was between those who held it to be strictly Federal in its character, and those who maintained that it was thoroughly National. It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other.

"Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles, which had been in conflict, from the beginning, on divers other questions, were finally brought into actual and active collision with each other on the field of battle....

"It is the fashion of many writers of the day to class all who opposed the Consolidationists in this, their first step, as well as all who opposed them in all their subsequent steps, on this question, with what they style the Pro-Slavery Party. No greater injustice could be done any public men, and no greater violence be done to the truth of History, than such a classification. Their opposition to that measure, or kindred subsequent ones, sprung from no attachment to Slavery; but, as Jefferson's, Pinkney's and Clay's, from their strong convictions that the Federal Government had no rightful or Constitutional control or jurisdiction over such questions; and that no such action, as that proposed upon them, could be taken by Congress without destroying the elementary and vital principles upon which the Government was founded.

"By their acts, they did not identify themselves with the Pro-Slavery Party (for, in truth, no such Party had, at that time, or at any time in the History of the Country, any organized existence). They only identified themselves, or took position, with those who maintained the Federative character of the General Government."

Whew! Did you get all that? Back in 1861--7 years earlier and only a few days before the Confederacy would start the Civil War--Stephens had a very different--and much clearer--view of these matters:

"The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions--African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the 'rock upon which the old Union would split.' He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it--when the 'storm came and the wind blew, it fell.' Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

When people who wave the Confederate flag use the slogan "Heritage, Not Hate," this is the "heritage" in question, whether they realize it or not.

But is that all there is? No. I'll get to that in the next round.


--j.



Part 3:

I've covered the ugly, racist "heritage" represented by the Confederate flag. That's what's being celebrated by those who revere it, whether they recognize it or not. But that "whether they recognize it or not" part is a rather complicated matter, one not typically treated with much sensitivity by internet flame-wars.

The Confederate states had launched what became the most murderous war in U.S. history and nearly destroyed themselves. Defeat was a bitter pill that had to be swallowed but the fact that all of it had been done in the name of such an utterly disreputable cause was, for far too many, simply more than they were willing to acknowledge. In the years after the war, various writers in the South began to craft a self-serving mythology that has been dubbed the "Lost Cause." It portrayed the antebellum South as a sort of beautiful paradise of chivalrous Christian gentlemen and genteel Southern belles sipping mint juleps on the porch while smiling, contented darkies worked the land. Slavery was a benign institution--loyal simpletons, living out their God-given station in life while overseen by benevolent masters. Far from being fought for its preservation, the war was a noble effort at self-defense by saintly warriors out to defend freedom and resist tyrannical government encroachment. The mythologists ubiquitously described the Confederates as the true heirs of the American revolutionaries.

This mythology began to develop almost immediately after the war's end and, in fact, drew from even older pre-war Southern cultural self-mythologizing (to an extent that, in my view, is underappreciated but that's a different topic). As it evolved, it encompassed the Reconstruction era; the popular image of rapacious Yankee carpetbaggers descending on the prostrate South while radicals, aided by scoundrelous scallawags, empowered corrupt, iniquitous governments across the former Confederacy in order to extend their own power and profit is a product of it. The post-war Ku Klux Klan--in reality, perhaps the most violent terrorist movement that has ever operated on U.S. soil and the first that could accurately (if anachronistically) be dubbed fascist--was a noble enterprise to defend the Southern way of life from these interlopers who sought to destroy it.

This entirely self-serving blend of half-truths, misrepresentations and fanciful fabrications proved incredibly popular in the South. Organizations like the Southern Historical Society, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (the latter of which became particularly powerful) sprang to life, the promotion of the myth being among their central goals. They wrote, lectured, created monuments, museums, successfully lobbied for laws requiring that history textbooks reflect the mythology and created blacklists of books that failed to do so. Mildred Lewis Rutherford of the UDC--a teacher from Georgia who became one of the best-known "historians" of her age--spent much of her life as an apostle of the myth, which had become a full-blown ideology (a series of them, really) that broke the bounds of the South. In 1915, D.W. Griffith directed THE BIRTH OF A NATION, a film based on the revisionist novel "The Clansman" by Thomas Dixon Jr. With its images of mounted Klansman heroically riding to the rescue against villainous Reconstruction reformers, it became a smash hit, the first American film ever screened in the White House (for then-president Woodrow Wilson) and a major factor in the 20th century rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, which used it as a recruiting tool for years. In 1936, Margaret Mitchell published "Gone With The Wind," which became a massive bestseller, netted for her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and became one of the most popular representations of this mythology ever created. Until, that is, the movie version was released in 1939. The film took Best Picture at the Academy Awards and became the biggest box-office success in cinema history, a title it still holds 76 years later.

Pro-Confederate ideology has continued to mutate and evolve. As Americans began to come to terms with the unvarnished horrors of slavery, one doesn't hear as much from Confederate apologists about those "contented darkies" (although they're still around in some quarters). As a counter, a significant apologist literature has developed around the longstanding myth of black Confederate soldiers who willingly took up arms in defense of the Confederacy, sometimes said to number in the tens of thousands. The actual number: zero (I'll be dealing with this matter later). Other apologists have tried to get around slavery by focusing on Confederate legalistic arguments, taking the position that the Confederate states had a "right" to secede and, in rather Orwellian fashion, casting those states as defenders of free association standing against tyranny.

In the century-and-a-half since the war, elements of this long-nurtured Lost Cause mythology have taken very deep root in the U.S., particularly in the South. The perceptions of many--probably most--who revere the Confederate flag have been shaped by generation after generation of this propaganda; they don't even realize their view of the matter is a product of carefully cultivated fictions. Others fancy the romanticism of the mythology, which can seem particularly appealing in the increasingly oppressive present. A growing contingent of rightists simply see history as a weapon to be used in contemporary political disputes and don't really care about the truth. There are lots of reasons why people cling to the flag besides simply looking to glorify a white supremacist cause (though those looking to do that are yet another faction who cling to it). If any reasoned discussion is going to proceed, recognizing this is essential. There's no doubt the arrogance bred with ignorance one so often receives from those who brandish the flag brings down a lot of scorn and contempt by those more familiar (or more concerned) with the history in this matter but the other side of that coin is that not every fellow--and not, in fact, most fellows--waving the flag is some dim-witted racist.


--j.



Part 4:

My plea for greater understanding shouldn't be misunderstood; those who wave the Confederate flag are, whether or not they know it and whether or not they acknowledge it--and whether or not they like it--venerating something that is utterly abhorrent. Let there be no mistake about this: the Confederate cause was mass murder in the service of human bondage and racial superiority and there's nothing honorable, benign or remotely worthy of reverence in that. As a counter to this, it's sometimes objected that most of the individual soldiers who fought for the Confederacy didn't own slaves and many had motives other than upholding slavery but even if those premises were sound--and as I'm about to demonstrate, they aren't--this line of reasoning is still terminally fallacious. Some buck private from Alabama doesn't set the policy and no more dictates the cause in which he's serving than do servicemen today. And the flag represents the cause.

In the case of the Civil War, the likelihood is that theoretical buck private was inducted into the army against his will, which, alone, renders rather dubious any appeal to whatever he thought he was there to do. The Confederacy had to resort to forced conscription almost immediately. In April 1862, just over a year to the day after launching the war, the first Confederate draft was enacted. The Southern planter caste, which had been entirely responsible for bringing about the conflict, exempted itself from the draft, so there weren't a lot of rich plantation owners in foxholes to offer up their reasoning for the war they'd brought about.[1] It is, however, a mistake to assume few in the South owned slaves.[2] Altogether, about 1/3 of families in the Confederate states were slaveowners. In Arkansas, it was 20%, the lowest percentage in the Confederacy. In Mississippi and South Carolina (the birthplace of secession), it was nearly half. Most slaveowners didn't own big plantations but the Confederate states' entire economy was built on slave labor.

Those deluded souls who brandish the Confederate flag under the popular slogan "Heritage, Not Hate" haven't just had their perceptions of the Confederacy shaped by false propaganda. They're also being, intentionally or otherwise, quite selective in what Southern "heritage" they're celebrating. To an extent, this could be forgiven--the other side of the story has, until fairly recently, been largely ignored by historians (in my view, a spectacular failure of the craft). Popular histories tend to leave the impression of a Southern population unified behind the Confederacy but nothing could be further from the truth. It's estimated that about half the white population of the South opposed the Confederacy. In addition, a large portion of the Confederate population were slaves, who, for obvious reasons, certainly had no loyalty to the Confederate cause.[3] Slaves made up nearly half the population of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana and were a numerical majority in both Mississippi and South Carolina, the birthplace of secession. Most of the South was opposed to the Confederacy.

Sam Houston, the hero of the Mexican war and the governor of Texas during the onset of the crisis, was dramatically removed from office when he defiantly refused to support the Confederacy but in most accounts of the war, most Southern opposition tends to fall through the cracks. The anti-Confederate and pro-Union factions within the South, which overlapped but weren't always entirely the same, didn't publish much. Many of them lived in places where it wasn't physically safe to hold such views. Some waged guerilla war against the Confederate army. Their stories are collected in, among other places, the records of the Southern Claims Commission, which was established by the U.S. government in the 1870s to reimburse those who had, during the war, remained loyal to the Union and had furnished property to (or had property officially confiscated by) the U.S. Army. A fairly limited scope but it eventually produced a large and much wider-ranging record, a record of which historians have made far too little use.

The historical record has been further distorted by the ceaseless activities of Confederate apologists, as I covered in the last sheaf of these notes. In "Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong," historian James Loewen documents how Confederate apologists, pimping their mythologized version of the war in the decades following its end, managed, as part of their propaganda efforts, to erect monuments to the Confederate dead that seemed intended to erase from memory the existence of Southerners who opposed the Confederacy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected one of their monuments in Jones County, Mississippi, a county that remained loyal to the Union and that, at one point, launched an armed revolt that the Confederate military had to put down. Loewen:

"In the border states, the UDC and SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) erected pro-Confederate monuments and markers that make Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri--states that were predominately Unionist--look predominately Confederate. Kentucky's legislature voted not to secede... Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States as against 35,000 for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones! West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union, yet in 1910 the UDC erected a statue of Confederate Gen. 'Stonewall' Jackson on the State Capitol lawn. The Daughters are still at it: the only memory of Civil War soldiers at the Charles Town, West Virginia courthouse is a pro-Confederate plaque the UDC affixed in 1986."[4]

In the most visible manifestation of opposition to the Confederacy, a massive number of southerners joined the Union army. The war is always said to have pitted "brother against brother," but the extent of this is little understood. For every two Southerners who served in the Confederate army, one served in the Union army. The South, in fact, provided more men to the Union army during the war than were killed by the Confederate army.

For those with longstanding roots in the South, this is their heritage as much as or, arguably, even more than than the Confederacy. Those who fly the Confederate flag while crowing about their "heritage" are choosing a very specific part of their ancestry to celebrate--the white supremacist part devoted to maintaining slavery. And, as noted, this is the case whether or not they know it and whether or not they acknowledge it. The Confederacy shouldn't be an ongoing concern; it belongs in a museum, not ubiquitously hanging from flagpoles and defiantly pushed in people's faces in a hurtful and divisive way. Southerners are notoriously hardheaded. I know; I'm one of them. I don't, for a moment, believe them impervious to reason on a matter such as this. Far too many of them don't understand it though, and become very upset and even offended when people cast a critical eye toward their reverence for their symbol of the Confederacy. Some of them have no interest in wanting to understanding it--they're deeply emotionally invested in it for various reasons and there probably isn't any helping them. For most, though, that's not the case. That's part of why I've spent the last few days up to my eyeballs in these notes, writing more about the subject than I ever wanted. If it contributes some little bit to a greater understanding, both from my fellow Southerners and from those outside-looking-in, I'll have accomplished my goal.

But most likely, no one will ever read any of it, so what can you do?

--j.

---

[1] The wealthy did the same in the North when, later, the U.S. established one. The cry of "rich man's war, poor man's fight" went up on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

[2] Confederate apologists have often misrepresented census figures by placing the raw number of free people against the number of slaves, which makes it appear as if there were far fewer slave owners than there were. The relevant data concerns the number of families who owned slaves, numbers which are available in the same census data.

[3] In the last few decades, Confederate apologists, in an effort to counter greater public awareness of the horrors of slavery, have transformed their longstanding mythology about loyal slaves who accepted their lot and crafted a significant body of propaganda advancing the notion that there were black Confederate soldiers who took up arms in defense of the Confederacy. These soldiers are said to number in the tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands.

The actual number is closer to zero. Slaves were hauled along with the Confederate army; their job was to act as bearers, servants, laborers. Race-based gun bans had existed in the South for many years before the war. Every Confederate state, in their respective legal codes, made it a criminal act, typically punishable by death, for anyone to arm or train in the use of arms slaves. Most of them extended this prohibition to free blacks as well.

By December 1864, the position of the Confederate army had become desperate. Robert E. Lee petitioned to be allowed to induct black soldiers. In reaction to this, Howell Cobb of Georgia, reflecting the general consensus that this violated the basic premise of the Confederacy, called the request "the most per­ni­cious idea that has been suggested since the war began." He wrote, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong." Even with its military decimated and on the verge of total collapse, the Confederate congress only acquiesced to allowing the draft of blacks by a single vote and only out of utter desperation. The authorization was passed on March 23, 1865; the war ended a few days later, on April 9, 1865. The first group of black soldiers were put in training; they never saw any real action.

For years, G.K. Edgerton became a sort of mascot of the neo-Confederates, pimping the black Confederate soldiers myth and other elements of apologist ideology. He was embraced particularly warmly by those looking to separate the Confederacy from slavery because he, himself, is black. Here he is doing his clownish routine in my hometown. Edgerton was, at one point in life, the head of the Asheville, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which threw him out nearly 20 years ago (for unrelated activities). Skip Alsop, the executive director of the NC state branch, said of him, "His elevator doesn't doesn't go all the way to the top. It doesn't even reach the second floor." An utter crackpot, Edgerton spent years crisscrossing the country dressed in Confederate grey and spreading Confederate apologist lies. Slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, slavery was "a great institution of learning" for blacks, there were black Confederate soldiers, etc.. He has a history of associating with white supremacists, including Kirk Lyons, an open neo-Nazi with whom he worked for years.

[4] Loewen covers how Confederate apologists, as part of their propaganda work, spread pro-Confederate monuments far and wide. One stands in Cleveland, Mississippi, a town that wasn't even founded until two decades after the war--at the time of the war, it was empty wilderness. Apologists managed to erect monuments to the Confederate dead in places as far-flung as Montana, which neither had any "Confederate dead" nor even existed at the time of the war.




Monday, July 6, 2015

Confederate Stuff, Part 4

Written for Facebook:

Part 4:

My plea for greater understanding shouldn't be misunderstood; those who wave the Confederate flag are, whether or not they know it and whether or not they acknowledge it--and whether or not they like it--venerating something that is utterly abhorrent. Let there be no mistake about this: the Confederate cause was mass murder in the service of human bondage and racial superiority and there's nothing honorable, benign or remotely worthy of reverence in that. As a counter to this, it's sometimes objected that most of the individual soldiers who fought for the Confederacy didn't own slaves and many had motives other than upholding slavery but even if those premises were sound--and as I'm about to demonstrate, they aren't--this line of reasoning is still terminally fallacious. Some buck private from Alabama doesn't set the policy and no more dictates the cause in which he's serving than do servicemen today. And the flag represents the cause.

In the case of the Civil War, the likelihood is that theoretical buck private was inducted into the army against his will, which, alone, renders rather dubious any appeal to whatever he thought he was there to do. The Confederacy had to resort to forced conscription almost immediately. In April 1862, just over a year to the day after launching the war, the first Confederate draft was enacted. The Southern planter caste, which had been entirely responsible for bringing about the conflict, exempted itself from the draft, so there weren't a lot of rich plantation owners in foxholes to offer up their reasoning for the war they'd brought about.[1] It is, however, a mistake to assume few in the South owned slaves.[2] Altogether, about 1/3 of families in the Confederate states were slaveowners. In Arkansas, it was 20%, the lowest percentage in the Confederacy. In Mississippi and South Carolina (the birthplace of secession), it was nearly half. Most slaveowners didn't own big plantations but the Confederate states' entire economy was built on slave labor.

Those deluded souls who brandish the Confederate flag under the popular slogan "Heritage, Not Hate" haven't just had their perceptions of the Confederacy shaped by false propaganda. They're also being, intentionally or otherwise, quite selective in what Southern "heritage" they're celebrating. To an extent, this could be forgiven--the other side of the story has, until fairly recently, been largely ignored by historians (in my view, a spectacular failure of the craft). Popular histories tend to leave the impression of a Southern population unified behind the Confederacy but nothing could be further from the truth. It's estimated that about half the white population of the South opposed the Confederacy. In addition, a large portion of the Confederate population were slaves, who, for obvious reasons, certainly had no loyalty to the Confederate cause.[3] Slaves made up nearly half the population of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana and were a numerical majority in both Mississippi and South Carolina, the birthplace of secession. Most of the South was opposed to the Confederacy.

Sam Houston, the hero of the Mexican war and the governor of Texas during the onset of the crisis, was dramatically removed from office when he defiantly refused to support the Confederacy but in most accounts of the war, most Southern opposition tends to fall through the cracks. The anti-Confederate and pro-Union factions within the South, which overlapped but weren't always entirely the same, didn't publish much. Many of them lived in places where it wasn't physically safe to hold such views. Some waged guerilla war against the Confederate army. Their stories are collected in, among other places, the records of the Southern Claims Commission, which was established by the U.S. government in the 1870s to reimburse those who had, during the war, remained loyal to the Union and had furnished property to (or had property officially confiscated by) the U.S. Army. A fairly limited scope but it eventually produced a large and much wider-ranging record, a record of which historians have made far too little use.

The historical record has been further distorted by the ceaseless activities of Confederate apologists, as I covered in the last sheaf of these notes. In "Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong," historian James Loewen documents how Confederate apologists, pimping their mythologized version of the war in the decades following its end, managed, as part of their propaganda efforts, to erect monuments to the Confederate dead that seemed intended to erase from memory the existence of Southerners who opposed the Confederacy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy erected one of their monuments in Jones County, Mississippi, a county that remained loyal to the Union and that, at one point, launched an armed revolt that the Confederate military had to put down. Loewen:

"In the border states, the UDC and SCV (Sons of Confederate Veterans) erected pro-Confederate monuments and markers that make Maryland, West Virginia, Kentucky and Missouri--states that were predominately Unionist--look predominately Confederate. Kentucky's legislature voted not to secede... Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States as against 35,000 for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones! West Virginia seceded from Virginia to stay with the Union, yet in 1910 the UDC erected a statue of Confederate Gen. 'Stonewall' Jackson on the State Capitol lawn. The Daughters are still at it: the only memory of Civil War soldiers at the Charles Town, West Virginia courthouse is a pro-Confederate plaque the UDC affixed in 1986."[4]

In the most visible manifestation of opposition to the Confederacy, a massive number of southerners joined the Union army. The war is always said to have pitted "brother against brother," but the extent of this is little understood. For every two Southerners who served in the Confederate army, one served in the Union army. The South, in fact, provided more men to the Union army during the war than were killed by the Confederate army.

For those with longstanding roots in the South, this is their heritage as much as or, arguably, even more than than the Confederacy. Those who fly the Confederate flag while crowing about their "heritage" are choosing a very specific part of their ancestry to celebrate--the white supremacist part devoted to maintaining slavery. And, as noted, this is the case whether or not they know it and whether or not they acknowledge it. The Confederacy shouldn't be an ongoing concern; it belongs in a museum, not ubiquitously hanging from flagpoles and defiantly pushed in people's faces in a hurtful and divisive way. Southerners are notoriously hardheaded. I know; I'm one of them. I don't, for a moment, believe them impervious to reason on a matter such as this. Far too many of them don't understand it though, and become very upset and even offended when people cast a critical eye toward their reverence for their symbol of the Confederacy. Some of them have no interest in wanting to understanding it--they're deeply emotionally invested in it for various reasons and there probably isn't any helping them. For most, though, that's not the case. That's part of why I've spent the last few days up to my eyeballs in these notes, writing more about the subject than I ever wanted. If it contributes some little bit to a greater understanding, both from my fellow Southerners and from those outside-looking-in, I'll have accomplished my goal.

But most likely, no one will ever read any of it, so what can you do?

--j.

---

[1] The wealthy did the same in the North when, later, the U.S. established one. The cry of "rich man's war, poor man's fight" went up on both sides of the Mason-Dixon.

[2] Confederate apologists have often misrepresented census figures by placing the raw number of free people against the number of slaves, which makes it appear as if there were far fewer slave owners than there were. The relevant data concerns the number of families who owned slaves, numbers which are available in the same census data.

[3] In the last few decades, Confederate apologists, in an effort to counter greater public awareness of the horrors of slavery, have transformed their longstanding mythology about loyal slaves who accepted their lot and crafted a significant body of propaganda advancing the notion that there were black Confederate soldiers who took up arms in defense of the Confederacy. These soldiers are said to number in the tens of thousands and sometimes even hundreds of thousands.

The actual number is closer to zero. Slaves were hauled along with the Confederate army; their job was to act as bearers, servants, laborers. Race-based gun bans had existed in the South for many years before the war. Every Confederate state, in their respective legal codes, made it a criminal act, typically punishable by death, for anyone to arm or train in the use of arms slaves. Most of them extended this prohibition to free blacks as well.

By December 1864, the position of the Confederate army had become desperate. Robert E. Lee petitioned to be allowed to induct black soldiers. In reaction to this, Howell Cobb of Georgia, reflecting the general consensus that this violated the basic premise of the Confederacy, called the request "the most per­ni­cious idea that has been suggested since the war began." He wrote, "You cannot make soldiers of slaves, or slaves of soldiers. The day you make a soldier of them is the beginning of the end of the Revolution. And if slaves seem good soldiers, then our whole theory of slavery is wrong." Even with its military decimated and on the verge of total collapse, the Confederate congress only acquiesced to allowing the draft of blacks by a single vote and only out of utter desperation. The authorization was passed on March 23, 1865; the war ended a few days later, on April 9, 1865. The first group of black soldiers were put in training; they never saw any real action.

For years, G.K. Edgerton became a sort of mascot of the neo-Confederates, pimping the black Confederate soldiers myth and other elements of apologist ideology. He was embraced particularly warmly by those looking to separate the Confederacy from slavery because he, himself, is black. Here he is doing his clownish routine in my hometown. Edgerton was, at one point in life, the head of the Asheville, North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, which threw him out nearly 20 years ago (for unrelated activities). Skip Alsop, the executive director of the NC state branch, said of him, "His elevator doesn't doesn't go all the way to the top. It doesn't even reach the second floor." An utter crackpot, Edgerton spent years crisscrossing the country dressed in Confederate grey and spreading Confederate apologist lies. Slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, slavery was "a great institution of learning" for blacks, there were black Confederate soldiers, etc.. He has a history of associating with white supremacists, including Kirk Lyons, an open neo-Nazi with whom he worked for years.

[4] Loewen covers how Confederate apologists, as part of their propaganda work, spread pro-Confederate monuments far and wide. One stands in Cleveland, Mississippi, a town that wasn't even founded until two decades after the war--at the time of the war, it was empty wilderness. Apologists managed to erect monuments to the Confederate dead in places as far-flung as Montana, which neither had any "Confederate dead" nor even existed at the time of the war.


Saturday, July 4, 2015

Confederate Stuff, Part 3

Written for Facebook:

Part 3:

I've covered the ugly, racist "heritage" represented by the Confederate flag. That's what's being celebrated by those who revere it, whether they recognize it or not. But that "whether they recognize it or not" part is a rather complicated matter, one not typically treated with much sensitivity by internet flame-wars.

The Confederate states had launched what became the most murderous war in U.S. history and nearly destroyed themselves. Defeat was a bitter pill that had to be swallowed but the fact that all of it had been done in the name of such an utterly disreputable cause was, for far too many, simply more than they were willing to acknowledge. In the years after the war, various writers in the South began to craft a self-serving mythology that has been dubbed the "Lost Cause." It portrayed the antebellum South as a sort of beautiful paradise of chivalrous Christian gentlemen and genteel Southern belles sipping mint juleps on the porch while smiling, contented darkies worked the land. Slavery was a benign institution--loyal simpletons, living out their God-given station in life while overseen by benevolent masters. Far from being fought for its preservation, the war was a noble effort at self-defense by saintly warriors out to defend freedom and resist tyrannical government encroachment. The mythologists ubiquitously described the Confederates as the true heirs of the American revolutionaries.

This mythology began to develop almost immediately after the war's end and, in fact, drew from even older pre-war Southern cultural self-mythologizing (to an extent that, in my view, is underappreciated but that's a different topic). As it evolved, it encompassed the Reconstruction era; the popular image of rapacious Yankee carpetbaggers descending on the prostrate South while radicals, aided by scoundrelous scallawags, empowered corrupt, iniquitous governments across the former Confederacy in order to extend their own power and profit is a product of it. The post-war Ku Klux Klan--in reality, perhaps the most violent terrorist movement that has ever operated on U.S. soil and the first that could accurately (if anachronistically) be dubbed fascist--was a noble enterprise to defend the Southern way of life from these interlopers who sought to destroy it.

This entirely self-serving blend of half-truths, misrepresentations and fanciful fabrications proved incredibly popular in the South. Organizations like the Southern Historical Society, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy (the latter of which became particularly powerful) sprang to life, the promotion of the myth being among their central goals. They wrote, lectured, created monuments, museums, successfully lobbied for laws requiring that history textbooks reflect the mythology and created blacklists of books that failed to do so. Mildred Lewis Rutherford of the UDC--a teacher from Georgia who became one of the best-known "historians" of her age--spent much of her life as an apostle of the myth, which had become a full-blown ideology (a series of them, really) that broke the bounds of the South. In 1915, D.W. Griffith directed THE BIRTH OF A NATION, a film based on the revisionist novel "The Clansman" by Thomas Dixon Jr. With its images of mounted Klansman heroically riding to the rescue against villainous Reconstruction reformers, it became a smash hit, the first American film ever screened in the White House (for then-president Woodrow Wilson) and a major factor in the 20th century rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan, which used it as a recruiting tool for years. In 1936, Margaret Mitchell published "Gone With The Wind," which became a massive bestseller, netted for her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and became one of the most popular representations of this mythology ever created. Until, that is, the movie version was released in 1939. The film took Best Picture at the Academy Awards and became the biggest box-office success in cinema history, a title it still holds 76 years later.

Pro-Confederate ideology has continued to mutate and evolve. As Americans began to come to terms with the unvarnished horrors of slavery, one doesn't hear as much from Confederate apologists about those "contented darkies" (although they're still around in some quarters). As a counter, a significant apologist literature has developed around the longstanding myth of black Confederate soldiers who willingly took up arms in defense of the Confederacy, sometimes said to number in the tens of thousands. The actual number: zero (I'll be dealing with this matter later). Other apologists have tried to get around slavery by focusing on Confederate legalistic arguments, taking the position that the Confederate states had a "right" to secede and, in rather Orwellian fashion, casting those states as defenders of free association standing against tyranny.

In the century-and-a-half since the war, elements of this long-nurtured Lost Cause mythology have taken very deep root in the U.S., particularly in the South. The perceptions of many--probably most--who revere the Confederate flag have been shaped by generation after generation of this propaganda; they don't even realize their view of the matter is a product of carefully cultivated fictions. Others fancy the romanticism of the mythology, which can seem particularly appealing in the increasingly oppressive present. A growing contingent of rightists simply see history as a weapon to be used in contemporary political disputes and don't really care about the truth. There are lots of reasons why people cling to the flag besides simply looking to glorify a white supremacist cause (though those looking to do that are yet another faction who cling to it). If any reasoned discussion is going to proceed, recognizing this is essential. There's no doubt the arrogance bred with ignorance one so often receives from those who brandish the flag brings down a lot of scorn and contempt by those more familiar (or more concerned) with the history in this matter but the other side of that coin is that not every fellow--and not, in fact, most fellows--waving the flag is some dim-witted racist.


--j.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Confederate Stuff, Part 2

Written for Facebook:

Part 2:

Lately, memes promoting and defending the Confederate flag flow through my feed pretty regularly. Most who circulate such material, like most who wave the Confederate flag itself, are far removed from the crude racists of the Ku Klux Klan variety. Many of them don't have a racist thought in mind. Ask them about it and they'll usually tell you the flag is about, to quote a popular slogan, "heritage, not hate."

But what heritage?

The irony of those who wave the flag while parroting that other popular slogan, "if this flag offends you, you need a history lesson," really is lost on most of those doing the parroting. For generation upon generation, their heads have been filled with a ludicrously false Confederate apologist version of the American Civil War cynically manufactured after its conclusion by those in the South looking to expunge the sin of slavery and white supremacy from their cause in much the same way Holocaust deniers try to expunge genocide from fascism.

The first African slaves in America were brought to the Jamestown colony in 1619. During the 18th century struggle with England, Thomas Jefferson, in his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, wanted to lay blame for slavery at the doorstep of the King and be done with it. The idea didn't  go over very well. At the insistence of the powerful Southern planter caste, slavery became integrated into the U.S. Constitution. Still, during the radical fervor of the Revolutionary era, abolitionist sentiment flourished. Between 1777 and 1804, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, and New Jersey--most of the U.S. outside the south--either abolished slavery outright or enacted programs of gradual abolition. But slavery, particularly in the wake of the cotton gin, became vital to the agrarian economy of the South, one of the wealthiest in the world. In what later became the Confederate states, a handful of rich planters, their fabulous wealth inextricably tied up in the institution, called the shots.

For over 40 years prior to the Civil War, slavery had been the top issue in the U.S. As the nation expanded, there was a constant tension between slave and free states, leading to a series of efforts to maintain a balance between the two. The southern planter caste--already granted, by the 3/5 compromise in the U.S. Constitution, disproportionate representation in the U.S. government--was particularly sensitive about maintaining this balance so as not to be outnumbered in the federal government, something the planters saw as a threat to their survival. Abolitionist sentiment in the U.S. continued to grow; the Underground Railroad appeared, aiding slaves in escaping to free territories. Lax enforcement of fugitive slave laws became a major grievance of the planters. In 1850, South Carolina threatened to secede from the Union if California was admitted to it as a free state. The Compromise of 1850 diffused the situation but it also mercilessly tightened fugitive slave law and beat back an effort to preclude the spread of slavery. With the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, congress decided that, instead of seeking any balance, the locals in a territory could decide if they were to be a free or slave state. The result was "Bleeding Kansas," a guerilla war between pro- and anti-slavery forces that went on for a decade. In 1859, the fiery abolitionist John Brown led his raid at Harpers Ferry. Brown's plan was to break into the armory and arm slaves to resist their masters. If failed but the prospect scared the living hell out of the Southern planters. Abraham Lincoln proved to be the straw that broke the camel's back. In 1860, he ran for president on a platform of opposing the expansion of slavery to any further territories. Upon his victory, South Carolina didn't even wait for his inauguration; in December, the state seceded.

Confederate apologists will offer all sorts of alternative explanations for this action. I've always found the most entertaining to be those who throw around "state's rights" without mention of what "right" was at issue. There is, fortunately, no ambiguity on this point; South Carolina issued a "Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union." After a long recounting of U.S. history, the document is not only centrally concerned with slavery, it's solely concerned with it--it doesn't even pretend as if there's anything else behind the state's actions.

The other states followed South Carolina's lead and several of them issued these declarations. And all of them, without exception, are centrally concerned with slavery.

Mississippi:

"Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

Reflecting the white supremacism at the heart of the Confederate project, the document rails against those who "advocate negro equality, socially and politically." This was echoed by Georgia in its own declaration, which rants against those allegedly seeking to bring about "the equality of the black and white races."

Ditto with Texas: "We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states."

And Florida: "It is in so many words saying to you we will not burn you at the stake but we will torture you to death by a slow fire we will not confiscate your property and consign you to a residence and equality with the African but that destiny certainly awaits your children."

The government of Alabama granted a special commission to Stephen F. Hale to act as a sort of ambassador to Kentucky, his job being to feel out KY Gov. Beriah Magoffin's views on the dispute. Hale wrote a fairly long letter, which still survives, outlining his state's view of the matter:

"If the policy of the Republicans is carried out, according to the programme indicated by the leaders of the party, and the South submits, degradation and ruin must overwhelm alike all classes of citizens in the Southern States. The slave-holder and non-slave-holder must ultimately share the same fate--all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country. Who can look upon such a picture without a shudder? What Southern man, be he slave-holder or non-slave-holder, can without indignation and horror contemplate the triumph of negro equality, and see his own sons and daughters, in the not distant future, associating with free negroes upon terms of political and social equality, and the white man stripped, by the Heaven-daring hand of fanaticism of that title to superiority over the black race which God himself has bestowed?"

In the service of their own cause, abolitionists frequently referred to Jefferson's principle, enunciated in the Declaration of Independence, that "all men are created equal." Jefferson Davis didn't like that sort of talk. He'd been serving as a senator from Mississippi. In January 1861, when his state seceded, he offered the institution a farewell address:

"She [Mississippi] has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.... When our Constitution was formed... we find provision made for that very class of persons [Negroes] as property; they were not put upon the footing of equality with white men--not even upon that of paupers and convicts; but, so far as representation was concerned, were discriminated against as a lower caste..."

Davis went on to become the president of the Confederate States of America.

And so on.

The Confederate Constitution used the U.S. Constitution as its basic model, rendering various changes here and there. It attempted to end any controversy over slavery. Article I provided that "No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed." Article IV provided that "The citizens of each State... shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired." The same article provided that, in any new territories, "the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected by Congress, and by the territorial government: and the inhabitants of the several Confederate States and Territories, shall have the right to take to such territory any slaves lawfully held by them in any of the states or territories of the Confederate states."

This was the cause of the Confederacy; the record is as clear on this as it is exhaustingly extensive.

Only three years after the war, Alexander Stephens, who had been the Vice President of the Confederate States, wrote a book, "A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States." It was one of the first of what would become a depressingly dizzying array of revisionist texts that would appear in the century-and-a-half that has followed. In Stephens' account, the war was a contest between a tyrannical central government and those opposed to it, slavery wasn't really a very important part of the equation at all, and how dare any writer claim the Confederates were "pro-slavery"! Stephens can be even more torturous a read than I; I've taken an except from his introduction here:

"It is a postulate, with many writers of this day, that the late War was the result of two opposing ideas, or principles, upon the subject of African Slavery. Between these, according to their theory, sprung the 'irrepressible conflict,' in principle, which ended in the terrible conflict of arms. Those who assume this postulate, and so theorize upon it, are but superficial observers.

"That the War had its origin in opposing principles... may be assumed as an unquestionable fact. But the opposing principles... were of a very different character from those assumed in the postulate. They lay in the organic Structure of the Government of the States. The conflict in principle arose from different and opposing ideas as to the nature of what is known as the General Government. The contest was between those who held it to be strictly Federal in its character, and those who maintained that it was thoroughly National. It was a strife between the principles of Federation, on the one side, and Centralism, or Consolidation, on the other.

"Slavery, so called, was but the question on which these antagonistic principles, which had been in conflict, from the beginning, on divers other questions, were finally brought into actual and active collision with each other on the field of battle....

"It is the fashion of many writers of the day to class all who opposed the Consolidationists in this, their first step, as well as all who opposed them in all their subsequent steps, on this question, with what they style the Pro-Slavery Party. No greater injustice could be done any public men, and no greater violence be done to the truth of History, than such a classification. Their opposition to that measure, or kindred subsequent ones, sprung from no attachment to Slavery; but, as Jefferson's, Pinkney's and Clay's, from their strong convictions that the Federal Government had no rightful or Constitutional control or jurisdiction over such questions; and that no such action, as that proposed upon them, could be taken by Congress without destroying the elementary and vital principles upon which the Government was founded.

"By their acts, they did not identify themselves with the Pro-Slavery Party (for, in truth, no such Party had, at that time, or at any time in the History of the Country, any organized existence). They only identified themselves, or took position, with those who maintained the Federative character of the General Government."

Whew! Did you get all that? Back in 1861--7 years earlier and only a few days before the Confederacy would start the Civil War--Stephens had a very different--and much clearer--view of these matters:

"The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions--African slavery as it exists among us--the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the 'rock upon which the old Union would split.' He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it--when the 'storm came and the wind blew, it fell.' Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition."

When people who wave the Confederate flag use the slogan "Heritage, Not Hate," this is the "heritage" in question, whether they realize it or not.

But is that all there is? No. I'll get to that in the next round.



--j.

Confederate Stuff, Part 1

Written for Facebook:

Part 1: Introduction:

Other than some things I've written in a few Facebook groups, I've tried to stay away from this whole Confederate flag donnybrook that plays itself out in my feed every day lately. It's one of those issues that, over the decades, has proven remarkably impervious to facts or to reason and in the past, there just hasn't seemed much point in engaging with it.

The other side of the coin, however, is that the current controversy offers an opportunity to have a conversation about the subject that, for decades upon decades, has badly needed to happen but has never been allowed to get off the ground. One of the things that comes through my feed on a regular basis is a endless plethora of memes featuring a Confederate flag and the words, "If this flag offends you, you need a history lesson." And, of course, those memes are inevitably circulated by people who prove worst in need of such a lesson. I have a sweet tooth for such things. Maybe that much-needed conversation won't happen this time, but maybe it will.

What has people dissing the Confederate flag at the moment is Dylann Roof, a right-wing terrorist who walked into a church in South Carolina and started shooting because he wanted to kill black people. In pics, Roof is seen waving the Confederate flag, which seems to have set off a sort of national gag reflex. We speak of the object as a "Confederate flag" and its roots do stretch back to the Civil War but that association, which I'll also cover, is distant in time, the stuff of museums. What is this flag today? For over 60 years, it's been one of the most prominent emblems of segregation, racial hatred, white nationalism. It was adopted as the flag of Strom Thurmond's "Dixiecrats," the then-Southern-based right-wing of the Democratic party that, in the 1940s, split with the national party over race and ran a campaign of "Segregation Forever." In the '50s and '60s, it was thrown up all over the deep South to express resistance to civil rights. It was and, indeed, still is ubiquitously flown by the Ku Klux Klan and other like-minded orgs. The amount of reactionary terrorism carried out by wavers of this flag alone is staggering. This is the flag's modern context. And like it or not, this is what it represents today.

I'll confess to being somewhat puzzled by the anti-flag reaction in the wake of Roof. This matter has been a festering wound on the soul of the U.S. for all this time--why start getting outraged now? Something about the Roof killings seems to have gotten to people in a way the rest hasn't. It may just be a matter of exposure. Those in the corporate press don't exactly trip over one another to cover the activities of groups like the KKK these days. Terrorism by domestic white Christian rightists in the U.S. is virtually invisible in the national corporate press. It is, in fact, a far worse problem than terrorism by Muslim rightists but our news mavens' general rule is that if it doesn't praise Allah, it isn't worth the time of day. It isn't something people see, and out of sight probably equals out of mind. For some reason, the Roof story drew national attention rather than, as is usually the case, being relegated to the level of a local crime story. When people finally saw it, they were disgusted by it.

They should be.

But if all that comes of the current uproar is finally consigning this hateful rag to a museum, an opportunity to address some much deeper wounds will have been squandered. Those people who wave this flag while saying others need a history lesson need to finally get a history lesson of their own.


--j.