I grew up in Kentucky barely 30 miles from the Jefferson Davis Monument. I’ve strolled the cemeteries full of time-rounded headstones and walked the battlefields where uniform buttons and the pale oxidized lumps of Minie balls still peek from the ground after a hard rain. I’ve watched reenactors run screaming over hills and heard the gut-punch thump of a period canon fired in memorial at sunset.
But the Confederacy is not my heritage. It’s not anyone’s heritage. The Confederacy is ourshame. In the whole of the Confederacy, there is not one thing to be proud of. Not the men. Not their actions. Certainly not the ideals.
You’ll see people today proclaiming that the Confederacy was launched over an issue of “state’s rights,” or on some esoteric principle. No. That idea didn’t even appear until decades after the hot portion of the Civil War turned into the cooler years that have followed. You’ll also see it expressed simply that the war was fought for slavery. But that’s not quite right, either.
The Confederacy was launched not on a platform of slavery, but on a foundation of racism. That it maintained slavery as an institution was a feature. That it upheld racism was thedesign. Read the words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, speaking at the Athenaeum in Savannah, Georgia:
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. … 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.
… look with confidence to the ultimate universal acknowledgement of the truths upon which our system rests? It is the first government ever instituted upon the principles in strict conformity to nature, and the ordination of Providence, in furnishing the materials of human society. Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination and serfdom of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation of nature’s laws.
Head below the fold for just a reminder of what that all means.
Read that again.
• The Founding Fathers accepted slavery into the Union, but believed it was both evil and on its way out.
• The Confederacy was founded on the idea that “all men are created equal” is “fundamentally wrong.”
• The Confederacy has its “cornerstone” entirely on racial inequality.
• The Confederacy was “founded upon exactly the opposite ideas” of the United States.
This isn’t the voice of some latter-day apologist who dreamed up noble phrases to paint over events of the time. This is the reality. This is what the men who carried out this treason believed. This is what the men who carried out this treason said. This is what the men who carried out this treason acted to achieve.
There is, in the whole Confederate enterprise, not one admirable notion. Is it part of our history? Yes, it is, to our everlasting shame. It’s a part of our history the same way that the apartheid state is a part of South African history. It’s a part of our history the same way that the Nazi Reich is a part of German history. It’s a part of our history that should embarrass us.
It’s the part of our history in which traitors who not only didn’t believe in the American union, but also didn’t believe in the basic ideals of America, formed a state whose core was nothing less than pure racism.
It should be no more acceptable to wave a Confederate flag in the United States than it is to fly a swastika. No more acceptable to proclaim yourself sympathetic to the Confederate cause than to proclaim yourself a supporter of ISIS. There is no moral difference. None. These are the banners of the enemies of our nation and of our ideals—enemies whose existence is based on inequality and subjugation.
Romanticizing these causes isn’t admirable, it’s an illness.