With the atrocious actions that occurred recently in Charleston, South Carolina, there’s been renewed discussions about the Confederate flag and the causes for the Civil War. Ta-Nehisi Coates already wrote a great piece, but I wanted to add my quick thoughts.
First and foremost, it’s just utter whitewashing (no pun intended) bullshit for people to assert that the Civil War was not about slavery. We have primary freakin’ documents outlining exactly what the Confederate States of America formed and fought for! I mean, fuck, man. It’s frustrating. There’s actually a more historical term for this; it’s called The Lost Cause. Basically, how do people commemorate the South of old with the slavery-loving Confederacy? That’s kinda what we see with the Confederate flag, too.
I don’t really get the Confederate flag. The question gets asked, is it heritage or hate? What heritage exactly? It was born out of white supremacy. What heritage is it speaking to? Misunderstanding of the Civil War? Cowardice in addressing white supremacy? Also, flags are dumb.
For the record, the designer of the flag, William T. Thompson, discussing it…
Yeah, I went through a phase when I was a bit younger when I thought the Civil War was about state’s rights and their sovereignty. Then I got out of that phase and realized it was about slavery. They wanted to build a nation based upon white supremacy where the black person was inferior to the white person and where the institution of slavery could maintain its course. Does that mean every Confederate soldier that fought had slaves or even wanted to maintain slavery? Not necessarily, but it’s absolutely what the people in high places of power in the Confederacy believed and it’s what the flag stood for.
“Why is everything about race?” Because that flag is about the superiority of the white race. Claiming the Southerners were mostly concerned with an overreaching federal government is to be very, very charitable and generous and whitewashing of 1860’s Southerners.
And moreover, I hate to say that a war was fated to happen, but the Civil War over slavery was inevitable the moment this country was created because the Slavery Question was never properly addressed and each generation pushed it down the road until it blew up in 1860.
It doesn’t really matter the motivation or the gregariousness of Lincoln or the North. They did some horrible things, too. It doesn’t change what the motivating factor was for the South, which was slavery.
Should I start pulling quotes from the top “minds” of the time of the Confederacy? Here’s VP Alexander Stephens:
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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 normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Great heritage, indeed.
There’s a great many things the South can take pride in. Why is the Confederate flag their number one source of it?
If you want to have Southern pride, go for it. I don’t get the Confederate flag angle, however.
Let’s continue with primary sourcing…
How about South Carolina? The first state to leave the Union and to encourage others to do so, too. Their whole declaration is about how the Northern states and therefore, the federal government are undermining slavery. A snippet:
“We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
“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.”
Or how about Elizabeth Brown Pryor talking about Robert E. Lee, you know, like the mot famous general of the CSA, who wrote about him in, “Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.” So, again primary sources. She talks about how he had no problem whipping slaves and thought punishment was good as a deterrent. “I think Lee did not like black people. It was very clear from his letters.” She added he was pro-slavery, that it was ordained by God.
Primary fucking documents.