I try to stay clear of most political subjects on This Side of the Diaper. I have discussed political issues in relation to how they effect my family . . . specifically my two younger sons Eli and Charlie. But mostly I try not to get too controversial. But sometimes a subject comes along and the information flying around social media is so all over the place that I have to put my two cents worth in.
I watched with interest as the Confederate Battle Flag was lowered from the South Carolina statehouse last week. I watched as one group of people celebrated and one lamented. That is the way with these kind of things. Rarely is everybody pleased.
The latest Confederate Flag controversy stemmed from the brutal and senseless murder of 9 black members of the Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston by a white supremacist. I think it is important, as this discussion continues, that we remember these people and be respectful of their memory.
In the aftermath, citizens of South Carolina and the country at large urged the state of South Carolina to remove the flag from its statehouse. The controversy spilled onto social media and took off. I am of the opinion that the Confederate Battle Flag has no place on government buildings in the U.S. It was carried by troops representing seceding states and is, simply put. a symbol of treason against our country. If you want to put one in your yard, or on your shirt or tie one to some PVC and haul it around in your truck then I believe that is your right. I spent 25 years in uniform supporting your right to freedom of expression. But if you are going to do that, then live up to the responsibility that comes with rights. Be honest with yourself and the legacy of the flag and the ‘country’ that it stands for.
Like I said, I usually stay clear of this type of argument. But some of the information flying around social media regarding the Confederate Battle Flag, the Confederacy and the Civil War is so far off base it would be funny if it wasn’t sad. There are a couple of key points that are being completely misrepresented.
Let’s get the easiest one out of the way first. I realize that the Confederate Battle Flag was never a national flag of the Confederacy. My answer is so what? Are we really going to split hairs so fine that every time somebody refers to this flag that they have to actually refer to it as the “Confederate Battle Flag . . . which wasn’t a Confederate National Flag but was carried by troops raised, equipped, deployed and used as instruments of national policy against the Union by the Confederacy”? It’s the Confederate Flag. I am guessing Dylan Roof probably didn’t know that tidbit of trivia regarding it’s historic usage.
Once the history of the Confederate Flag is discussed, we inevitably start talking about the Civil War. That brings me to the second bit of misinformation that keeps polluting my social media. That is the idea that the Southern States didn’t secede from the Union because of slavery. The most common reason given is the Federal encroachment on individual state’s rights. Guess which rights the Federal Government is accused of encroaching on? We can euphemistically call them “property rights”.
The fact is that slavery was the express reason that the Southern States seceded. Don’t take my word for it, lets take a look at words written by the citizens of seceding states in 1860 and 1861. I came across this site while researching my historiography and thesis on the Civil War and the Reconstruction period for my degree in history.
Let’s look at some of the language used by states when describing their reasons for seceding. Mississippi gets right to the point. Paragraph two:
“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.”
“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property . . .”
“Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union (The United States) to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?
The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.”
Not all seceding states made formal declarations as part of their secession ordinances, but the ones that did, with the exception of Virginia, specifically mention slavery as part of the reason they seceded from the Union. Can we please stop pretending that the South didn’t secede over slavery?
So much for the history. What does all this mean today? It boils down to symbolism. The Confederate Flag is a symbol that means different things to different people. My great-great-great-great grandfather fought under that flag at Gettysburg. Ironically, what that flag represented to my great grandfather is pretty similar to what it represents to me. The context, however is different. It represented, and still represents, an army raised by a government formed to preserve the enslavement of a race of people. That was ok with him, apparently. It is in no way ok with me.
These issues link us to the past. One meme I keep seeing on my Facebook feed says basically that nobody today should be held responsible for something that happened over 150 years ago. The image on the meme makes it obvious that the reference is to slavery. One version of the meme even has a Confederate Battle Flag on it. I get it, nobody alive today is responsible for slavery or the Civil War. I get that. But if you don’t want to be held responsible for something that happened over 150 years ago, then why raise a Confederate Battle Flag and take credit for it?
Like I said earlier, flying that flag by private citizens is exercising freedom of expression. Flag supporters are actually right, ironically enough, that flag is part of our heritage. It is part of our past. You can look into the past and see what the flag represented to the people who stitched the first one. You can read their words. Then you can decide what those words mean to you. Then you can decide what you want to do with the flag. Do we celebrate it or do we put it back into the past?
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