Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Why the Confederate battle flag must go

By now you are probably aware of the increasing (and increasingly strident) calls for the Confederate battle flag to be removed from South Carolina's state capitol grounds (where, lest we forget, it was originally placed in 1962 by act of the almost-wholly-Democrat legislature and signed into law by then-governor, later US Senator Fritz Hollings, D.-SC.)

As a matter of federalism, of course, SC has the right to fly the flag if its representatives want. But, as Paul advised in 1 Cor. 6., just because one has the right to do something does not mean it is beneficial.

My friend Bill Hobbs linked in FB to this article about the flag kerfuffle: "The ludicrous, self-defeating hypocrisy of flying the Confederate battle flag." It's not a short read but it is worth the time. My thoughts are below.

The CSA's flags should not be displayed except in historical settings such as museums or re-enactments. 

There are some hard truths about the CSA. I am a Nashville native and grew up here. My family's roots in Middle Tenn. go back to just after the Revolutionary War. I have ancestral-family members who fought (and some died) for the CSA on both my mom's and dad's side (also for the Union on my dad's). Alexander Stephens, vice president of the CSA, was my wife's great-great grandfather's brother. My maternal grandmother's grandfather, CSA, has the singular distinction of being the only American POW, before or since, ever busted out of POW camp by his wife. He was never recaptured.

So I take no back seat to anyone for Southern heritage and upbringing.

Like probably most native Southerners of my generation, I was raised being taught that the real reasons for the Southern states' secession was to preserve states rights and that the northern economic lobby was choking the South's economy with high tariffs on Southern goods.

Slavery? Well, it was in the mix somewhere, but slavery was not the real reason for secession.

It is a lie, pure and simple.

The states rights and tariffs arguments are entirely absent from Southern apologia until after the Civil War. In 1860 and before, no one in the South was using those topics to justify secession. Furthermore, in 1860 federal tariffs on Southern goods were lower than they had been since 1816.

It was the Southern politicians who had actually attacked the concept of federalism and state rights when, some years before the Civil War, some non-slave states had started declaring that when slaves were brought into those states by the masters, they could be declared legally manumitted by state law. Southern politicians fought that tooth and nail and applauded the Dred Scott decision of the US Supreme Court, which denied Dred Scott, a black man, the right to sue for his freedom US courts even if he resided in a free state. (Seven of the Supreme Court's judges "had been appointed by pro-slavery presidents from the South, and of these, five were from slave-holding families.") 

Nor was the North's industrial power significant at all in the secessionists' decisions. In 1860, Southern goods accounted for 75 percent of all American exports' dollar value ("King Cotton" being the main export) and the market value of the slaves across the South was greater than the entire Net Asset Value of all the industrial base of the North.

The North's industrial revolution had begun in the 1840s, but was hardly in full speed in 1860. The war great accelerated it, leaving the North economically ascendant afterward, but before the war the South was the dominant economic section of the country (and it was economically wrecked by 1865). 

Why did the states secede? To protect slavery, period.

Search for the 11 seceded states' actual acts of secession, beginning with South Carolina's, and you will see that slavery was the sole reason for secession. South Carolina's act makes this very unambiguous: protection of slavery was the only topic presented as driving secession. Same with Mississippi. And the others.

There were four sections of S.C.'s secession act. The opening section claims and justifies the right of the state  to secede in the first place. Then:
The next section asserts that the government of the United States and of states within that government had failed to uphold their obligations to South Carolina. The specific issue stated was the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and clauses in the U.S. Constitution protecting slavery and the federal government's perceived role in attempting to abolish slavery.

The next section states that while these problems had existed for twenty-five years, the situation had recently become unacceptable due to the election of a President (this was Abraham Lincoln although he is not mentioned by name) who was planning to outlaw slavery. The declaration states the primary reasoning behind South Carolina's declaring of secession from the Union, which is described as:
... increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the Institution of Slavery ...
Then  the final section was simply the declaration of secession. There are no issues presented to justify secession except slavery. Note the contempt of "states right" in the secession act, in its denunciation of "... the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act... ." The other 10 seceded states' enactments are not significantly different.

The Confederate States of America was founded to do one thing only: to preserve the power of one class of people to literally own as chattel property another class of people. There is no other reason the CSA existed.

That is the "heritage" that CSA flag defenders are really defending; I hope, truly, that most of them do not know that.

We Southerners must stop trying to defend the indefensible

To defend the Confederate States of America is to side with the abjectly, morally indefensible. To use the CSA's battle flag or national colors as a symbol of Southern pride should be deeply, deeply offensive to modern Southerners, who are the most racially harmonious people in the nation (by no means has the year of Jubilee arrived, but jeepers, just compare to practically any Union-states- heritage city).

Have we Southerners nothing to display as an emblem of regional heritage and pride but the flag of a morally corrupt and thankfully temporary regime?

God save us.

Update: This Atlantic article decisively refutes the idea that the Confederacy was founded for any reason other than preservation - indeed, expansion - of slavery, using the words of the CSA's founders themselves: "What This Cruel War Was Over."