We can’t hide from history, even the warts
The Confederate flag issue. Heritage or bigotry?
Here in Tampa, Florida, the Civil War is not exactly a large topic of conversation. But one man owns a plot of ground next to Interstate 4 just east of town and he has long displayed a huge Confederate battle flag, on a very high pole, visible to anyone driving past. Needless to say that came up in discussion after all the rest of the South seemed to erupt in another battle — of words, this time — over the continued reverence by some for that flag.
(Incidentally, I have not heard, in a very long time, a Southerner refer to the Civil War as “The War Between the States.” Maybe they gave up on that. By conceding that it was a civil war they are admitting to the illegitimacy of the Confederacy. Hummmm … )
I was inspired by all this fuss to do some reading. And I learned — as if I didn’t already know — that the whole point of the secession was to protect the institution of slavery. Nobody up “Nawth” was objecting to white Southerners living in grand brick plantation houses. Nobody cared about the small-time Southern farmer who had forty acres and a mule. No, the South’s major export was cheap cotton, made cheap by the use of slaves.
So I read both Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and the Constitution of the Confederacy. I had never read either before. Davis never mentioned “slave” or “cotton” in his speech (in that speech anyway). But he referred, several times, to agricultural needs and to the South’s single most important export. Everyone knew what he meant.
The Confederate Constitution was a word-for-word copy of the U.S. Constitution, with modifications. The most frequent modifications had to do with slavery. The document almost obsesses about slaves:
“No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves, shall be passed.” – Article I, Section IX
“The Citizens … shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in such slaves shall not be impaired.” – Article IV, Section II
“The Confederate States may acquire new territory, …In all such territory the institution of negro slavery as it now exists in the Confederate States shall be recognized and protected by Congress and by the territorial government, ..”. – Article IV, Section III”
It’s obvious that the leaders of the South’s secessionist movement and Confederate government were determined to keep slavery – and it’s obvious that this is why they seceded.
A side issue I expected to come up eventually did. Someone asked if we should rename Fort Lee in Virginia. Well, it’s hardly alone. Growing up as an Army ‘brat’ I lived a time at Fort Hood, Texas, named for a Confederate general. There’s also Fort Polk, Louisiana; Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Pickett, Virginia; Fort Rucker, Alabama; Fort Stewart, Georgia and perhaps some I cannot think of offhand. It has always struck me that we Americans name military posts for generals who rebelled against the United States. I know of no other nation that does this.
I regard all this as mildly-interesting history. I don’t propose we rename army posts. Or schools. As for the battle flag, the real issue is not the piece of cloth. What we as a society need to do is make that flag irrelevant. For me, probably for you, it’s just history. For too many, it’s a reflection of their poor education and all-consuming bigotry. That’s what we need to fix.