Sean CW Korsgaard
The Civil War is over. The Confederacy lost and we’re better for it. I really shouldn’t have to say that in the year 2014, well over 150 years since the end of the Civil War. Though the guns may have fallen silent in the South, the arguments about the war and its legacy certainly have not.
A couple weeks ago, the CT ran an editorial on a particularly thorny topic, the perennial issue about displaying the Confederate flag. This bristled a particularly thorny bunch, the Virginia Flaggers, who left a number of nasty comments and vague threats on the website. While easy to laugh them off as misinformed misanthropes with too much time on their hands, the truth of the matter is actually quite troubling.
While the folks who refer to the American Civil War as ‘the War of Northern Aggression’ or look back at the Antebellum South with misty-eyed nostalgia are thankfully decreasing in number, for decades discussion about the Civil War has been clouded by a number of popular myths about the Confederacy or the war itself. Initially spread by groups such as the Lost Causers, and maintained by groups like the Virginia Flaggers today, the idea that the Confederacy was this country club of gentlemen fighting honorably for states’ rights against their misguided Northern brethren was a false fantasy flaunted as fact, and popularized by works like “Gone with the Wind.”
No longer. No more.
The war was over states’ rights, they claim, or tariffs, claim others — history, however, tells a different story. The war was fought over disgusting racism. But don’t take my word for it, take theirs:
“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 normal condition,” CSA vice president Alexander Stephens said.
He was hardly alone. In each of the eventual Confederate State’s declarations of secession, you will find multiple references to slavery as an “entrenched and treasured Southern institution,” which was done to preserve, in the words of Texas’ Ordinance of Secession, “the servitude of the African to the white race,” along with crimes committed by the North such as refusing to return fugitive slaves, admitting Kansas as a free state, and not allowing “the right of transit,” or allowing slave-owners to take slaves with them into free states.
In addition, slavery would be enshrined into the Confederate Constitution and their respective state constitutions. Among other things, these constitutions made slavery one of the requirements of statehood. The abolition of slavery quite literally was outlawed in the constitution, enshrining it even above the equivalent of our own first amendment. Slaves picking cotton were depicted on Confederate currency, and owning slaves was not only a voting requirement, but exempted you from military service.
The Confederacy also had price and wage controls, internal passports restricting internal travel, government nationalized salt and alcohol production, required railroads to operate at a loss and required shippers to transport government goods at no charge. They also outlined the Confederacy as a “permanent federal government,” and outlawed secession in the CSA Constitution. That is, the very institutions flaggers point to as causes of the war were in fact institutions of the Confederacy.
Not all Southerners were slave-owners, some may say, and this is true. Of course, the unspoken continuation of that is because many of those same southerners were violently opposed to either slavery or secession, to the point Confederate soldiers had to garrison regions from Eastern Tennessee to Central Texas to prevent them from siding with the Union, while others, such as West Virginia successfully seceded from the Confederacy. Hundreds of Southerners would be executed for remaining loyal to the United States, or even for voicing opposition to what many felt was “a plantation owner’s war.”
Despite this, one out of every four Southerners who fought in the Civil War did so in Union blue, with every Confederate state except for South Carolina managing to field at least a full battalion, with the total number reaching 100,000 men. That number only counts white southerners, not the scores of slaves who served.
Even the much-vaunted rebel flag isn’t actually the Confederate flag — the Stars and Bars was actually the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, while one of three varying flags were used by the Confederate Government. If anything, usage of the Stars and Bars is worse — troops under that flag not only took arms against the United States, but regularly kidnapped free black citizens and sold them as slaves, killed Union prisoners of war and committed many other acts against their countrymen that would see many of them put before a tribunal if committed today. It’s a banner not only of traitors and slave owners, but war criminals, so treating it as an icon to be lauded is especially detestable.
Some might ask what makes the Stars and Bars any worse than the Stars and Stripes. It’s a simple distinction. To use the words of Alexander Stephens against him, the two nations lie on opposite foundations. While the United States has committed its share of sins, we have far more virtues, not the least of which, we do our best to repent for those sins.
The Civil War itself could be seen as an example of such. We made a choice between a government of the people, by the people and for the people, and one where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness take a backseat to the peculiar institution. Nearly one million Americans died so we as a people could make the right choice, and make good on our founding promise, even as we still work toward that same goal today.
That is why Confederate nostalgia is such an aberration — its defeat and downfall should be celebrated, not mourned. And if you, like the Virginia Flaggers, feel otherwise, then you need a history lesson.
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