On Friday, the Confederate battle flag was lowered for the final time on the statehouse grounds of South Carolina. Huzzah! I am glad that the majority of South Carolinians rallied to get the state legislature, spurred by Governor Nikki Haley (R), to pass legislation that caused its relocation to a place where it belongs — in a museum.
Unfortunately, those that want to see the flag fly at the statehouse accused South Carolina politicians of bowing to “political correctness” in removing the flag. They claim that it is not a symbol of treason or slavery but rather a celebration of their heritage. Many brave and valiant Confederate soldiers died under that banner and, many claim, that is what they celebrate when it is flown. I merely point out that many brave and valiant people have died protecting their homes fighting for causes that were evil. World War II comes to mind. I do not see the citizens of France flying the Vichy flag as part of their heritage, for example.
The Civil War is part of the history of the United States. (Note that it is the United States.) As such museums, books and other chroniclers of our history should depict the various elements of that war. However, a secessionist flag should not fly on government buildings. Ours is a “government for the people, of the people and by the people”. Not just for some people. All the people. I have written on this blog in the past about my lack of understanding as to why people still demand to fly the Confederate flag. I hear what they say, but I don’t buy it if our nation is truly united. Divided perhaps by politics, but not by our values as a nation. I really did not get the continued demand by various state governments to fly it. Perhaps that argument is finally behind us. I also do not get why individuals continue to fly it, but that is their choice and it is a freedom of speech issue. They can do so if they desire, but I hope that they truly understand its meaning.
Symbols are symbols for a reason. They stand for something, otherwise none of us would care about them. The symbol of the United States is our national flag. There is no “southern” flag and there is no “northern” flag. There is only one flag — the symbol of our collective nation.
Perhaps some believe that the Confederate flag now stands only for states’ rights. I do not really buy that argument either. I thought that since we have individual state flags, that those would be the symbols of one’s home state and the government located there.
Others argue that white supremacists and organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan usurped the Confederate flag and that it really was not a symbol of racism or slavery. For the sake of discussion, I will say that it may have been “usurped” by white supremacists, but why does one think that they chose that symbol? I would remind us all that the Confederate flags did not reappear on capital buildings and other state buildings in the South until the 60’s. The nineteen sixties in response to changes in Civil Rights laws targeted at ending the Jim Crow era.
Those that argue that the Civil War was over states rights or the preservation of their economy or “way of life” are correct, in so far as they point out that the states rights issue, the economic issues, and the “way of life” issues were all based on slavery. Whether individual Confederate or Union soldiers approved or disapproved or owned or did not own slaves is not relevant. Slavery was the proximate cause of the war. The Missouri Compromise and the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850 are the precursors to the war. The southern states wanted slavery to continue and to spread as new states entered the Union. The northern states wanted to contain slavery to the South. Indeed, one could almost argue that the Civil War was about states’ rights — northern states rights. Specifically, their right not to return fugitive slaves to the slave owners. The South Carolina Declaration of the Causes of Seceding States says it clearly.
But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia.
“Fugitives” of course are slaves.
Or this passage from the Texas version of the Declaration.
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* [emphasis in the original]; 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.
There are other passages and numerous speeches from the time that make it clear that the southern states did secede from the Union over slavery. To be fair, the people of that day were products of their times and circumstances. I hesitate to put the values and knowledge of today up against those of the past when they did not have the same advantages to learn and understand all that we do today. None-the-less, one cannot say that slavery was not the prime issue of the war.
I think my biggest problem with the Confederate flag as a symbol is that we should not re-fight, re-litigate, or rehash something settled 150 years ago. We are united. We are one nation. I do not think that most people who fly the Confederate flag wish that the south had succeeded in breaking apart and forming their own nation. I cannot imagine what our nation, indeed our world would be like had they succeeded. That is my biggest stumbling block as to why people continue to “fight” the Civil War. What do they think would be better had they won?
Some may think that I “hate” the south or do not understand it. Not so. I’ve lived in Texas, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida and Maryland — all south of the Mason-Dixon line — for a total of over 30 years as both a child and an adult. I enjoy the south. I also enjoy other parts of the United States. To me it is not a matter of liking or disliking a particular region of our great nation. It is a matter of why some people continue to hang on to one of the most traumatic events in our history in some romantic belief that life was “better” then. I guarantee that folks in other parts of the country hang on to their heritage. Coloradans as mountain people are very independent. New Englanders are a different breed with different customs, traditions and even language. Each of our national regions have their own history, heritage, and pride, but they do not insist on flying any flag other than the United States flag or insist secession is something to celebrate.
I am proud of the great citizens of South Carolina. They are moving on with grace and humility. Others are getting the picture. As Americans — north, south, east and west — let’s all move on.