Nearly all of the news articles and blog posts about the Confederate flag and recent controversy in South Carolina are lacking in a satisfactory explanation of the culture and beliefs surrounding the flag’s use. Many Americans have a weak grasp on our history, and as a result, both sides of the debate can easily be manipulated on controversial issues such as the Confederate flag. By examining history, we discover that there has been an unbroken vein of racism running through the South in every decade since the Civil War. Not surprisingly, the modern revival of the Confederate flag has been firmly linked with defending White Supremacist and segregationist beliefs. At the same time however, there are plenty of non-racist heroes in the South’s history that present-day Americans can be proud of. By understanding these two irreconcilable cultures which exist in the South, modern Southerners need not be demoralized by their region’s history, but can instead draw inspiration from those who heroically stood up for justice.
Table of Contents
-Origin of Dixie
-The Antebellum Era in Pop Culture
-The Rise of Dixie
-The Spread of Dixie Influence
-Peace in Kansas, War in America
-Reconstruction and the Nadir of Inter-ethnic Relations
-Resurrection of the Confederate Flag as a Political Symbol
2. A Lost Cause
-The Cause of the Civil War, in the Confederacy’s Own Words
-The Lost Cause Ideology
3. Some Background on the Confederate Flag and Current Events
-Historic Use of the Confederate Flag
-Modern Use of the Confederate Flag in State Flags
-South Carolina Flag Controversy
-Upgrading Anti-flag Rhetoric to Anti-racist Rhetoric
-Non-racist use of “Dixie” and Confederate Flag
4. The South
-Stereotypes of Southerners
-Academic Pessimism vs Heroic Idealism
-History of the Antebellum Era
-The Black Belt
5. The South that Could Have Been
-The Legacy of Colonial Georgia
-The Great Emancipator
6. 2015 reaction against the Confederate flag–Modern Republicans and Southerners against the flag
-Shaping Public Opinion or Merely Following It?
-A Southern Wind of Change
-South Carolinans Speak Out
7. Rebels With a Cause
The 2015 racist mass murder in Charleston, South Carolina has renewed the debate over the use of the Confederate flag. To Americans who live outside of the South, slavery and 100 subsequent years of segregation are the greatest contributors to what comes to mind when thinking of “The South”. The Civil Rights era 50 years ago is still within living memory of many, and every schoolchild is familiar with photos of Civil Rights protesters being attacked by racist police and lynch mobs. The apparent apathy of the average Southerner to KKK lynchings, George Wallace and Orval Faubus refusing to integrate schools, and present-day clinging to the slavery-tinged Confederate flag may make it seem like all who live in the South are rabid racists. However, it is of the utmost importance to understand that not everyone who lives in the South is racist, and not all racists in the US are from the South. This seems obvious at first, but non-Southerners can’t help but be suspicious that racism must be an integral part of the culture from a region which practiced slavery, Jim Crow, had frequent lynchings, and where many continue to support a symbol of the Civil War…
The situation becomes clear if we realize that the South, like all societies, is bifurcated between tribalists and non-tribalists. Many modern supporters of the flag do not view the flag as a representation of racism, but as a symbol of the Southern nation and culture–which existed before the Civil War and only became a formal identity with the inception of the Confederacy. (This Civil War-centric nation and culture, which undeniably has many racist elements, will be hereafter be referred to as “Dixie”, and “Southern” will refer to a general geographic area and non-Civil-War-centric culture).
Origin of Dixie
The name “Dixie” is derived from the Mason-Dixon line, a survey line which formed the border between Pennsylvania (one of the first states to outlaw slavery) and Maryland. The line marks the cultural divide between the “North” and “South” and historically served as an informal boundary between slave-holding states and non-slave-holding states.
The modern borders of Dixie vary and usually include states beyond those which belonged to the Confederacy. One thing is constant however, all the states encompassed by Dixieland were slave-holding and segregated states.
Dixie became a popular name for the South in the 1850s after Dan Emmett published the song “I Wish I was in Dixie”. The song was written as a blackface minstrel song–a theatrical style where “white” actors mock mannerisms which were considered stereotypically “black”.
Many racist memes and stereotypes present in US culture today have their ultimate origins in minstrel shows and blackface iconography.
If you point this out, many Dixielanders will immediately object and mumble about “heritage not hate” and how few people today would support bringing back blackface minstrel shows. Ok, but what exactly is this “heritage” that Dixielanders are so proud of? If we examine history, it becomes clear that respect for people of “non-white” heritage is not included.
The Antebellum Era in Pop Culture
Arguably, the most heavily romanticized time period in the South is the Antebellum (Pre-Civil War) era and subsequent decades of transition. Portrayals of this time period in pop culture often revolve around plantation life. After the Civil War, Dixielanders did all they could to return the South’s social structure to the Antebellum hegemony of “whites” over “blacks”.
In contrast, contemporary portrayals of Antebellum society weren’t always so positive. Narratives by individuals who had escaped slavery was a popular literary genre at the time.
The anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852) was the best-selling American novel of the 19th century and provoked Dixie authors to publish at least 30 “anti-Tom novels” (which gave a positive portrayal of slavery) in the following decade. It is considered by many to be one of the first “sparks” directly leading to the Civil War. Despite the novel’s influence in turning public opinion firmly against slavery, Dixielanders have had the last laugh. In the original novel, Tom often defies the orders of his masters and as a result is beaten to death. But slavery-sympathetic blackface stage adaptations of the novel, called “Tom shows”, widely popular in both the north and south all the way to the early 1900s, have turned the phrase “Uncle Tom” into an insult meaning someone who is willingly subservient to a racist establishment. Copyright laws at the time gave Stowe little power to stop the blackface performances which perverted her work.
The Rise of Dixie
One of the greatest hypocrisies in American history is the fact that, despite the Declaration of Independence containing the famous words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves, and nothing was done to immediately outlaw slavery–an institution which stood in glaring defiance to those immortal words. Indeed, the Constitution explicitly protected the slave trade for 20 years, in order to ensure slave-owning states would feel secure and therefore willing to remain in the union. The Constitution also contains the Fugitive Slave Clause (which requires non-slave states to return escaped slaves to their owners and prevents slaves from becoming free if they manage to escape to a state where slavery is illegal) and the infamous Three-Fifths Compromise (which counted three-fifths of the slave population when calculating the number of Representatives in Congress–thereby giving Dixie states an unfair advantage).
Thomas Jefferson (the author of the Declaration of Independence) would later ban the slave trade in 1808, the earliest date allowed by the Constitution. During his presidency, Jefferson made the Louisiana Purchase, which nearly doubled the size of the United States. The spread of slavery into the new territory quickly became a major issue.
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 balanced the number of slave and non-slave states by admitting Missouri as a slave state and admitting Maine as a non-slave state, with the stipulation that no future slave-owning state could extend beyond Missouri’s southern border. Dixielanders found this compromise tolerable, but others feared that literally dividing the country in half over such an important issue was not such a wise idea.
“…but this momentous question, like a fire bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. it is hushed indeed for the moment. but this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” -Thomas Jefferson
The Spread of Dixie Influence
In the decades following American independence, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee, and Seminoles had begun taking steps to assimilate into American culture. Unfortunately, many attempts to “civilize” these groups forced them to adopt Anglo customs rather than allowing their Native customs to be integrated into American culture, to the extent that ignoble practices such as Dixie-style slavery were taken up by some individual Native Americans. Despite everything that went wrong, these groups’ willingness to become part of American society was one of the first massive-scale endeavors to make America a multi-ethnic nation. But whereas Southerners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wished to integrate Native Americans into American society, Dixielanders on the other hand were not so keen on allowing “non-whites” in the South to have equal citizenship opportunities. In 1830, President Andrew Jackson (who was from Tennessee) authorized the Indian Removal Act, which removed the so-called “Five Civilized Tribes” from the South and relocated them to “Indian Territory” (which would later become Oklahoma). While the Trail of Tears is well known, few Americans today realize it was so thoroughly an act of Dixie violence.
After the Mexican-American War, the debate over the spread of slavery erupted once again. The Wilmot Proviso of 1846 was a proposal to ban slavery in all territory acquired from the Mexican-American War. After four years of failed attempts at passing the Proviso, the Compromise of 1850 admitted California as a non-slave state and allowed New Mexico and Utah Territories (both of which included land beyond the Missouri Compromise line) to vote on slavery. The Compromise was written by Henry Clay, a politician from Kentucky who also wrote the Missouri Compromise and found a solution to the Nullification Crisis of 1832-33. It was brokered by northern politician Stephen Douglas in an attempt to give it nation-wide appeal.
At the same time America was spreading westward, some Dixielanders looked to the south as well. The All of Mexico Movement encouraged the annexation of all Mexican land; however, this idea was largely unpopular.
The main reason why Dixielanders were opposed to the All of Mexico Movement was not respect for the sovereignty of neighboring countries, but because it meant absorbing more “non-white” residents into America.
“We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race—the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the very first instance of the kind, of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race…. We are anxious to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged … that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent. It is a great mistake.” -John C. Calhoun, South Carolina politician and Vice President from 1825-1832.
Building on the colonialist sentiments that the Mexican-American War awakened, a secret society called Knights of the Golden Circle wanted to annex all of the Caribbean and Central American countries, in addition to Mexico. They argued that, since the Spanish colonies in the region still relied largely on slavery, it would have been easy to assimilate them into the Dixie way of life.
“We will expand, as our growth and civilization shall demand – over Mexico – over the isles of the sea – over the far-off Southern tropics – until we shall establish a great Confederation of Republics – the greatest, freest and most useful the world has ever seen.” -Robert Rhett, South Carolina newspaper publisher and politician. He was the leader of a group of fiercely pro-slavery and pro-secession politicians called the “Fire-Eaters” and called for secession as early as 1844.
In the early 1850s, Virginia oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury encouraged the exploration and mapping of Brazil so Dixie slaveowners could eventually move “with their goods and chattels [slaves] to settle and to trade goods from South American countries along the river highways of the Amazon valley.”
In contrast to the secrecy of the KGS, Some individuals preferred to take more overt action. The act of private individuals going on colonial expeditions was called “filibustering” and was a frequent occurrence during this era. In 1853, Tennessee-born William Walker and his followers captured the capital of the Mexican state of Baja California. He modelled his territory’s laws after those of Louisiana, thereby making slavery legal (Mexico had outlawed slavery in 1829), before the Mexican military forced him to retreat in 1854. Back in America he was taken to court for his illegal and immoral act of war, but was quickly acquitted by a sympathetic jury.
In 1854 Nicaragua became enveloped in a civil war, and Walker, to whom one faction had appealed for military support, was able to come out victorious and become the de facto leader by 1855. Shockingly, President Franklin Pierce recognized Walker’s government as the legitimate power of Nicaragua.
In 1856, the Costa Rican army courageously attempted to remove Walker from power. Recognizing that his rule was threatened, Walker officially declared himself president of Nicaragua and turned the country into what was essentially his personal colonial plantation. English became the official language, he encouraged Americans to immigrate, and he legalized slavery. These rash changes caused him to lose support from President Pierce and financial backers such as railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt. He was defeated by a coalition of Central American nations in 1857 and executed for his crimes in September 1860.
The spirit of compromise was short lived, as the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 rendered the Missouri Compromise obsolete and deepened the growing animosity over the fate of slavery. It allowed residents of the Kansas and Nebraska Territories to vote on whether or not the future states in this region would allow slavery.
Pro-slavery advocates from Missouri flooded into Kansas, without the intent of permanently residing there, in order to influence the vote on slavery (they were nicknamed “Border Ruffians”). Many anti-slavery advocates soon took up the same strategy in an attempt to counter them.
Urged on by Dixie politicians such as Missouri Senator David Rice Atchison, armed groups of pro-slavery advocates began intimidating voters and attacking settlers who held anti-slavery views (who were called Free-Staters). Achieving enormous success, in 1855 the pro-slavery faction won 37 of 39 seats in the territorial legislature. A few months later, many New England residents came to Kansas and set up their own militias to counter the Border Ruffians. Anti-slavery forces convened and elected their own legislature. The next year, President Franklin Pierce declared this legislature illegal and deemed them outlaws. In July 1856, a few months after Pierce’s declaration, a congressional committee determined the majority of actual Kansas residents were Free-Staters and the corrupt election was legally void, but Pierce ignored this decision. In any case, the committee’s decision came too late; the small-scale civil war known as Bleeding Kansas had already reached its peak.
The Free-Staters’ new, and unwarranted, reputation as outlaws led to the Sacking of Lawrence on May 21, 1856. A sheriff assembled a force of nearly 1000 Border Ruffians to help him arrest Free-Staters living in the town. His force commandeered a cannon and used it (Atchison is reported to have fired the first shot) to attack the town, which was subsequently burned and looted.
“The prosperity or the ruin of the whole South depends on the Kansas struggle.” -David Rice Atchison
“I say…completely surrounded by my younger brothers, each supporting a U.S. rifle, and on the manly countenance of each, plainly seen, his high & fixed determination to carry out to the letter the lofty & glorious resolves that have brought him here–the resolves of the entire South, and of the present Administration, that is, to carry the war into the heart of the country, never to slacken or stop until every spark of free-state, free-speech, free-niggers, or free in any shape is quenched out of Kansas!” -David Rice Atchison
Atchison told his followers to defend slavery “with the bayonet and with blood” and, if needed, “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in the district.”
One day later, Senator Charles Sumner was beaten within an inch of his life by South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks for giving a fiery speech condemning the spread of slavery into Kansas. While this outraged people in the north, many prominent Dixie politicians were publicly supportive. Astoundingly, Brooks did not lose his seat in congress, saw no jail time, and only received a small fine. To add insult to injury, Brooks resigned his political position, triggering an election to fill the vacant spot. He put his name on the ballot and was effortlessly reelected, showing that his constituents overwhelmingly approved his actions! (Massachusetts congressman Anson Burlingame insulted Brooks and was subsequently challenged to a duel, but Brooks was too cowardly to travel north and meet him.)
Ironically, some Free-Staters advocated not only against slavery, but also against allowing “blacks” to even enter the state. Fortunately, there was a third faction of genuine anti-racists, the most famous of whom was John Brown. Two days after Sumner’s beating, John Brown decided to take matters into his own hands, and his group killed 5 pro-slavery advocates; this is known as the Pottawatomie massacre. Brown’s small group spent the next several months bravely defending Free-Stater towns from attack. In July, President Pierce ordered 500 Federal troops to capture Topeka, a recently-formed Free-Stater stronghold, in order to force the Free-Stater legislature to disperse. They complied and hostilities across the state gradually calmed when a new governor urged both sides to stop the bloodshed.
From 1855-59 four different constitutions were proposed for Kansas, some in favor of slavery and others opposed. Demonstrating the weakness of democracy when deciding such a critical moral issue, the vote on the pro-slavery constitution was boycotted by anti-slavery advocates and vice versa. President James Buchanan supported one of the pro-slavery constitutions, but the obvious corruption of the elections even embarrassed Stephen Douglas (the Illinois Senator who wrote the Kansas-Nebraska Act and set the stage for this clusterfuck) and prompted the Governor of Kansas Territory (who was pro-slavery!) to honorably resign rather than accept it.
Happening concurrently with Bleeding Kansas was the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case of 1857. Scott was a slave whose master had brought him into states where slavery was banned, living there for years, but continued to hold him as a slave. Scott sued in order to gain his freedom, but the Supreme Court ruled that not only was Scott still a slave, but that it was impossible for people of African heritage to be American citizens; therefore they were ineligible to sue in federal court! (Shortly after the ruling, Scott was transferred to a new owner who ended up freeing him. He died a free man in St. Louis, Missouri in 1858).
In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument…They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.” -Excerpt from the Supreme Court’s ruling, written by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney.
John Brown came into the national spotlight once again in 1859 when he raided an arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. His plan was to start a widespread slave rebellion throughout Virginia, before eventually moving on to neighboring states. Due to poor planning and lack of expected reinforcements, Brown was quickly defeated. He was executed for treason against the state of Virginia on December 2, 1859. Among those to witness his execution was John Wilkes Booth, who, despite hating Brown and abolitionism, could not help but admire his unbreakable spirit.
“This court acknowledges, as I suppose, the validity of the law of God. I see a book kissed here which I suppose to be the Bible, or at least the New Testament. That teaches me that all things whatsoever I would that men should do to me, I should do even so to them. It teaches me, further, to “remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” I endeavored to act up to that instruction. I say, I am yet too young to understand that God is any respecter of persons. I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!” -John Brown
To many in the South, Brown’s raid made it undeniable that northerners had spiritually declared war on the expansion of slavery. Dixielanders were now ready to wage a war of their own.
Peace in Kansas, War in America
The Republican Party was founded in 1854 as a coalition against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Abraham Lincoln joined the party a few years later and ran against Stephen Douglas for the Illinois Senate seat. Lincoln lost to Douglas in 1858, but his speeches were so powerful that people from other states frequently came to listen. Lincoln gave his famous “House Divided” speech during the debates with Douglas, concluding that the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Dred Scott decision had eliminated any hope for a compromise on slavery. He correctly predicted that the only possible outcomes remaining were for America to legalize slavery everywhere, or abolish it completely; America could not stand divided amongst itself.
To defend the implicitly pro-slavery sentiment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act while at the same time appeasing northern voters in non-slave states, in addition to avoiding the alienation of his fellow Democrats (who dominated Southern states) while at the same time being steadfastly against secession, Douglas played up racial tensions in his speeches.
“If you desire negro citizenship, if you desire to allow them to come into the State and settle with the white man, if you desire them to vote on an equality with yourselves, and to make them eligible to office, to serve on juries, and to adjudge your rights, then support Mr. Lincoln and the Black Republican party, who are in favor of the citizenship of the negro. For one, I am opposed to negro citizenship in any and every form. I believe this Government was made on the white basis. I believe it was made by white men for the benefit of white men and their posterity for ever, and I am in favor of confining citizenship to white men, men of European birth and descent, instead of conferring it upon negroes, Indians, and other inferior races.” -Stephen Douglas
“I do not regard the Negro as my equal, and positively deny that he is my brother, or any kin to me whatever.” -Stephen Douglas
Despite Lincoln’s failure to win the Senate seat, he had become a popular figure nation-wide. He ended up carrying all northern states in the presidential election of 1860. Seven Dixie states would end up seceding before Lincoln was sworn in as President on March 4, 1861. Four more would secede after the outbreak of the war on April 12, 1861.
Bloodshed in Kansas came to an end when a constitution was finally agreed upon in 1859, outlawing slavery. Kansas officially became a state on January 29, 1861 with Topeka as its capital. While Kansas is not considered part of the South, understanding the events of Bleeding Kansas and subsequent reactions by people in both the North and South are essential to give some context to the origin of the Civil War. To bring things full circle, nearly 100 years later Topeka residents filed the Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit which would spark the Civil Rights Movement. Geographically, Kansas is located in the very center of America–one might say that whoever won the heart of Kansas won the heart of America.
“The ‘Southern Cross’ holds its place steadily in the Southern heart. It was in every mouth long before the war began; it remains in spite of all arguments against it. These arguments are ridiculous. …The truth is, we shall see the Southern Cross ere the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave is accomplished. That destiny does not stop short of the banks of the Amazon. The world of wonders in the animal and vegetable kingdom, of riches incalculable in the vast domain, watered by that gigantic stream, is the natural heritage of the Southron [Dixielander] and his domestic slave.” -George Bagby, newspaper editor from Virginia.
Inspired by earlier Dixie colonial aspirations, nearly 20,000 Confederates relocated to Brazil (where slavery would be legal until 1888) after the end of the Civil War. They are their descendants are known as “Confederados”. Others went to Mexico, where the French Maximilian I had seized control. Notably, Generals Joseph O. Shelby and Sterling Price led over 1,000 of their troops into Mexico rather than accept the Confederacy’s surrender. (Confederate settlements in Mexico were called the New Virginia Colony, but it quickly fell apart when Maximilian was executed and Mexican rule restored in 1867.)
Present-day Confederados still idolize stereotypes of Dixie culture, but seeing as they are mostly of multi-ethnic heritage, they are not as racist as modern Dixielanders who live in the US. However, the original Confederado settlers certainly were racist.
“So pronounced was their distaste [with Brazil’s more accepting attitudes towards “blacks”] that in 1888, when a senator opposed to slavery was assassinated on the eve of Brazil’s emancipation, the Confederados were first suspected.” -Eugene Harter, The Lost Colony of the Confederacy (2000).
“The Anglo-Saxons are completely ignorant of amalgamation of thoughts and religion. Naturally egotistical, they do not admit superiors, nor do they accept customs which are in disagreement with their pre-formed ideas. They think it is their right to be boss. In my opinion… the Anglo-Saxon and his descendants are birds of prey, and woe to those who get in their way.” -George S. Barnsley, indicating that he and other Confederados had no intent to integrate into Brazilian society.
Today, the residents of Americana, Brazil hold an annual celebration called Festa Confederada, where people dress up in Confederate uniforms and outfits inspired by films such as Gone with the Wind. Yet it seems many are woefully ignorant of the Dixie culture which they are celebrating.
“After the picture* was taken, Gomes said he saw no problem with a black man paying homage to the history of the Confederate States of America. “American culture is a beautiful culture,” he said. Some of his friends had Confederate blood.
Under a tent, I picked at some chicken and watched a young blond Brazilian woman maneuver an enormous Confederate-flag hoop skirt into a chair. I wondered what she made of the symbol. She introduced herself as Beatrice Stopa, a reporter for Glamour Brazil. Her grandmother, Rose May Dodson, ran the Confederado fraternity.
I asked if she knew there was a connection between slavery and the American South. “I’ve never heard that before,” she said. She wasn’t sure why her ancestors had left the States. “I know they came. I don’t really know the reason,” she said. “Is it because of racism?” She smiled, embarrassed. “Don’t tell my grandmother!”” –Mimi Dwyer. “The Brazilian Town Where the American Confederacy Lives On”. Vice. February 5, 2015.
American culture is beautiful, but Brazilians like Stopa need to realize that Confederate culture is NOT American culture (and is certainly not beautiful)! Unrelated to the Confederados, illegal slave labor remains rampant in Brazil today; if Brazilians with American heritage want to celebrate their roots, they should get serious about eradicating slave labor, not celebrating the slave-holding Confederacy!
*Picture not shown.
Reconstruction and the Nadir of Inter-ethnic Relations
The Freedmen’s Bureau was an organization set up by Abraham Lincoln to help integrate newly-freed slaves into American society. Andrew Johnson (from Tennessee) repeatedly vetoed legislation regarding the Freedmen’s Bureau, causing it to be severely underfunded. It was eventually ended by President Grant in 1872. Johnson also vetoed the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (which allowed Americans of all ethnic backgrounds to become citizens); thankfully, Congress was able to overrule the veto. While the Freedmen’s Bureau made significant accomplishments in rebuilding American society in the South, these were quickly undone by “Black Codes”–laws which severely limited the basic rights of “blacks”.
By 1870 all former Confederate states had been readmitted to the Union, but by 1877 political power in all Southern states had fallen into the hands of “Redeemers”–traditionalists who wished to restore Antebellum social norms as quickly as possible. Supporters of the Redeemers used violence to intimidate voters (especially newly-enfranchised former slaves), drive political opponents out of town, and even turned to murder. It was during this time period that the KKK and other White Supremacist paramilitary organizations were formed.
One of the more disturbing political successes of these racist paramilitary organizations occurred in 1876 at the hands of the Red Shirts in South Carolina. Benjamin Tillman (who would later become Governor in 1890) led a mob of Red Shirts in the Hamburg massacre. 100 Red Shirts attacked a group of 30 “black” National Guard troops and ran them out of town. As a result of this and other violent acts which sprung up throughout the state, South Carolina effortlessly elected White Supremacist politicians and was “Redeemed” in the 1876 election. As Governor, Tillman declared he was willing to personally lead a lynch mob. After his term as Governor, he was elected to the Senate, where he openly boasted about his role in helping kill “black” Americans.
“How did we recover our liberty? By fraud and violence. We tried to overcome the thirty thousand majority by honest methods, which was a mathematical impossibility. After we had borne these indignities for eight years life became worthless under such conditions.” -Benjamin Tillman. Barbarians will support democracy when they are the majority, but will return to their trusty clubs when they are outnumbered.
“We of the South have never recognized the right of the Negro to govern white men, and we never will. We have never believed him to be the equal of the white man, and we will not submit to his gratifying his lust on our wives and daughters without lynching him.” -Benjamin Tillman, speaking to the US Senate.
With the Redeemers in power and Federal troops gone from the South, Dixie politicians quickly began to implement Jim Crow laws as an extension of the Black Codes. These laws enforced racial segregation and attempted to further circumvent the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments. This resulted in Reconstruction being a massive failure and left Dixie as a “proto-nation” fractured from the greater American nation, leaving a wound which has yet to fully heal.
The slave went free; stood a brief moment in the sun; then moved back again toward slavery.” -W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America (1935)
Many Southerners quickly became fed up with the increasing hegemony of Dixie tribalists, and decided to challenge the legality of Jim Crow laws. In 1892, Louisiana resident Homer Plessy (who was of 7/8ths “white” heritage and 1/8th “black” heritage) sat in a “whites only” rail car, knowing that he would be arrested for this act and could then bring the issue to court. However, in a shocking 7-to-1 decision the Supreme Court upheld that segregation was legal and established the infamous principle of “separate but equal”. The Plessy v. Ferguson case established a legal precedent which encouraged the passage of even more brazenly racist laws.
Among the Supreme Court Justices at the time, Edward Douglass White was a Confederate veteran. He was also a former member of the White League, a violent organization similar to the KKK which operated during the Reconstruction era. Louisiana’s Attorney General, Milton Joseph Cunningham, was also a Confederate veteran. During Reconstruction, he organized a racist militia in Natchitoches, Louisiana (which was so subversive that he was arrested for pro-Confederate activities). With men like these in power, it’s of little wonder such a perverse law was upheld.
In the following decades, racist mobs would often incite riots in order to destroy the lives and property of self-sufficient “black” communities which were able to operate independently of Dixie hegemony. Perhaps the most notorious example of this was the Wilmington Insurrection of 1898. At the time, Wilmington was the largest city in North Carolina and the majority of its residents were of African heritage; it also had a multi-ethnic city government. The city’s influence helped elect Republican Daniel L. Russell as Governor in 1896.
Wilmington’s influence as a multi-ethnic city enraged white supremacists, and they decided to engage in a coup d’état to replace the city’s government with Redeemers from the Democratic Party. A heavily-armed mob of over 2000 men forced the city’s government to resign and forced thousands of “black” residents to flee–turning Wilmington into a “white” majority city practically overnight. Redeemers quickly regained power throughout the state and spared no time passing laws disenfranchising “blacks”. President McKinley took no action.
“You are Anglo-Saxons. You are armed and prepared and you will do your duty…Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the negro out voting, tell him to leave the polls and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks. We shall win tomorrow if we have to do it with guns.” -Alfred Moore Waddell, former congressman who led the Wilmington Insurrection and was democratically elected as the town’s mayor in 1899.
In 1915 the film The Birth of a Nation, which glorified the acts of the KKK following the Civil War, was released. The film’s popularity sparked the formation of a second Klan which reached its peak in the 1920s with over 5 million members (this was claimed to comprise of 15% of the nation’s “white” males), ensuring that some of the most brutal riots of all would take place in the 1920s. The second Klan faded away by the onset of WWII, but not before solidifying Jim Crow’s grip on the South and precluding any further attempts at striking down segregation for decades to come.
The film also caused nostalgic feelings for the Civil War and Antebellum era to rise to the forefront of Dixie consciousness. Two decades later, novels and films like Gone With the Wind and Jezebel helped make these attitudes palatable to the rest of America by downplaying the themes of racial tension and violence which had made The Birth of a Nation so popular. Gone With the Wind’s premiere followed three days of major festivities, during which the Confederate flag was a common sight. The premiere attracted over 300,000 people and prompted Georgia’s governor to declare the day a holiday. Adjusted for inflation, Gone With the Wind is the highest domestic grossing film of all time.
Resurrection of the Confederate Flag as a Political Symbol
As WWII raged, tolerance for segregation began to erode. “Black” American soldiers, who were generally treated fairly even as POWs in National Socialist Germany, came home only to encounter lynchings and extreme institutional racism. No longer could Americans ignore the government’s hypocrisy of claiming to fight against the supposedly “genocidally racist” Germany, yet itself practicing segregation and tolerating lynch mobs (not to mention putting American citizens of Japanese heritage into concentration camps during the war, as well as confining Native Americans to concentration camps for over a century, but these are separate stories). In 1944, the Supreme Court case Smith v. Allwright ruled that “whites only” Democratic Party primaries (which took place in a few Dixie states) were unconstitutional. This led to a surge in voter registration by Southerners of African heritage, as their votes would now be able to have an impact. A chain reaction which would eventually lead to the overthrow of Dixie hegemony had begun.
President Truman (a Democrat from Missouri) ordered an end to racial segregation in the military in 1948 and led to the party adopting a platform which favored civil rights. (Truman’s decision came after Sgt. Isaac Woodard was brutally beaten by South Carolina police only hours after receiving an honorable discharge from the Army in 1946. His beating was so severe that both his eyes were destroyed. A racist jury acquitted the policeman responsible, despite his admission that he blinded Woodard).
“It is my deep conviction that we have reached a turning point in our country’s efforts to guarantee freedom and equality to all our citizens. Recent events in the United States and abroad have made us realize that it is more important today than ever before to insure that all Americans enjoy these rights. When I say all Americans—I mean all Americans.” -President Harry Truman. (The 14th and 15th Amendments had explicitly granted all Americans equal rights under the law for 80 years before Truman declared this, but the democratic tyranny of the majority prevented its enforcement–not to mention, ignored the spirit of the Declaration of Independence for nearly two centuries).
Truman’s support of civil rights greatly upset racists within the Democratic Party and prompted South Carolina Governor Strom Thurmond to form a third party called the States’ Rights Democratic Party (members of this party were called Dixiecrats). The Dixiecrats did surprisingly well in the 1948 election, getting over one million votes and winning the electoral votes in four states which had previously been Democrat strongholds. Although they failed their goal to get federal acceptance for segregation, the Dixiecrats managed to firmly reignite racial tensions which had temporarily calmed during WWII. They also repopularized the Confederate flag as a symbol of opposition to integration.
“I did not risk my life on the beaches of Normandy to come back to this country and sit idly by while a bunch of hack politicians whittles away your heritage and mine.” -Strom Thurmond. (I guess he considered the Dixiecrats to have a better racial policy than National Socialist Germany!)
In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the Brown v. Board of Education case that segregation was unconstitutional. This ruling overturned the earlier Plessy v. Ferguson decision and is typically considered as the start of the Civil Rights era. In 1956, Virginia Senator Harry Byrd called for a policy of “massive resistance” by Dixie states against integration. Building on this, Byrd and 100 other congressmen signed the “Southern Manifesto” (authored by Thurmond and Richard Russell) which formally stated their opposition towards the Brown v. Board ruling and called for prevention of its implementation (and ultimately for its reversal). Unintimidated, the rest of Congress soon passed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which was the first piece of civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. Thurmond led a desperate 24-hour-long filibuster of this bill, which proved unsuccessful.
In 1957 when Little Rock Central High School began the process of integration, the school’s nine students of African heritage had to be given a military escort to protect them from mobs which formed outside as well as from racist students within the school. When attempts to delay integration failed, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus responded by closing all Little Rock high schools during the 1958-1959 school year.
“They moved closer and closer. … Somebody started yelling. … I tried to see a friendly face somewhere in the crowd—someone who maybe could help. I looked into the face of an old woman and it seemed a kind face, but when I looked at her again, she spat on me.” -Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine.
“Eighty-two percent of the people of Little Rock itself concurred, in the belief that disorder and violence would have occurred had I not taken the action which I did. … Well, malice, envy, hate is deplorable, in any place or in any circumstances, but as President Eisenhower has said himself, you can’t change the hearts of people by law. Now, in view of the progress that we have made, all I ask for in this situation, and all I’ve ever asked for, is some time for the situation to change for it to become acceptable, so that there would not be disorder and violence. And if so be that this right, which was ruled as proper by the Supreme Court for 80 or 90 years, and then was upset all at once in 1954. If it is right, it will come about. So, why should we be so impatient as to want to force it, because force begets force, hate begets hate, malice begets malice. But, if time was given for an adjustment of the attitudes and the feelings of people, then it can be peacefully accomplished, which would be better for all concerned.” -Orval Faubus
He is defending his actions by appealing to democratic reasoning, but democratic lawmaking had denied American citizens rights granted by the 14th and 15th Amendments for 80 or 90 years. As history has shown, it was the racist Dixielanders who initiated disorder and violence in the South. If Americans had waited to enforce the Court’s ruling and done nothing to combat racism, segregation could very well have lasted another 80 or 90 years after Faubus made these statements!!!
“White Citizens’ Councils” were set up throughout the South, in large part as a local-scale response to Byrd’s call for massive resistance to integration. (The present-day successor of Citizens’ Councils is the Council of Conservative Citizens, which Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof cited as an influence on his thinking.)
“The Confederate flag is coming to mean something to everybody now. It means the Southern cause. It means the heart throbs of the people of the South. It is becoming the symbol of the white race and the cause of white people. The Confederate flag means segregation.” -Roy V. Harris, Georgia politician and leader of the Citizens’ Councils of America from 1958 to 1966.
Arguably the most famous opposition to school integration came in June 1963 when Alabama Governor George Wallace took his “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” at the University of Alabama. Although his act was largely symbolic, his popularity–as well as that of the Confederate flag–soared. Wallace went on to win 10 million votes in the 1968 presidential election as an Independent.
“In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” -George Wallace. Wallace was sworn in as governor on the same spot where Jefferson Davis was sworn in as President of the Confederacy, and later uttered the above words during his inauguration.
Some political historians believe Wallace’s fervent support of segregation stemmed from desire to win over “white” voters more-so than his own personal beliefs. Because of this he is often called a “populist”, but a true populist (the opposite of an elitist) would have cared about the concerns of non-elite Southerners as a whole, not just “whites”. Wallace’s campaign, par excellence, demonstrates the inferiority and outright danger of democracy when the majority is morally bankrupt.
“You know, I tried to talk about good roads and good schools and all these things that have been part of my career, and nobody listened. And then I began talking about niggers, and they stomped the floor.” -George Wallace. (Contemporary politicians who negatively stereotype Muslims are using the same strategy to rouse support from Islamophobic voters.)
From the Dixiecrats to George Wallace to George Zimmerman, we have conclusively shown that the modern revival of the Confederate flag has been firmly linked with racism. Supporters of the flag who say otherwise are either liars or useful idiots.
2. A Lost Cause
The Cause of the Civil War, in the Confederacy’s Own Words
If the culture of Dixie is shown to be thoroughly racist, supporters of the Confederate flag will fall back and say something like, “My ancestors fought and died defending their homeland–not defending slavery. The flag is merely a symbol of their sacrifices during the war, nothing more. Those who have used it to promote racism are misappropriating the flag.” While it’s probably fair to say that in most wars the average soldier is not driven by any strong ideological motives, the organizations responsible for the wars do have ideologies and motives. In the Confederate leaders’ own words, what the Confederacy was fighting for is quite clear:
“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 [Jefferson] 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. … 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.” -Alexander H. Stephens, Confederate Vice President.
“We recognize the fact of the inferiority stamped upon that race of men by the Creator, and from the cradle to the grave, our Government, as a civil institution, marks that inferiority.” -Jefferson Davis, Confederate President.
“We have dissolved the late Union chiefly because of the negro quarrel. … I congratulate the country that the strife has been put to rest forever, and that American slavery is to stand before the world as it is, and on its own merits. We have now placed our domestic institution, and secured its rights unmistakably, in the Constitution. We have sought by no euphony to hide its name. We have called our negroes ‘slaves’, and we have recognized and protected them as persons and our rights to them as property.” -Robert H. Smith, member of the committee which drafted the Confederate Constitution.
“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.” -Mississippi Declaration of Secession
“Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union… She was received into the confederacy…as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.” -Texas Declaration of Secession
These attitudes are the “heritage” that Confederate soldiers risked their lives to defend.
The Lost Cause Ideology
Historians broadly refer to the romanticization and apologetic stance towards the Civil War as the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy”. This set of beliefs emerged in the decades following Reconstruction, and they remain the ideological foundation for contemporary Dixielanders who support the Confederate flag and downplay the roles of slavery and racism in the Civil War. Lost Cause supporters claim the Confederate’s motivation for war was completely ethical and portray its soldiers as great heroes. For example, they devote much attention to the Eastern Theater of the war (where the Confederates had many victories), while downplaying the Western Theater (where the Confederates were much less successful). Much attention is placed on skilled and “gentlemanly” Confederate commanders such as Lee and Jackson, while focus on Union commanders revolves around the “bloodthirsty” William T. Sherman and the alcoholic Ulysses S. Grant.
Some of the common “Lost Cause” beliefs are:
• “The North provoked the war and Dixie was only acting in self-defense!” (Some Dixielanders to this day refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression.”)
(Despite the fact that the Confederacy fired the first shots on Fort Sumter, not to mention seceded from the Union!)
• “Secession was only done as a last resort–Northern politicians had refused to offer fair compromises on slavery and taxes!”
(Despite attempts such as the Crittenden Compromise which desperately tried to appease the concerns of slave states)
• “The primary issue of the war was states’ rights against encroaching Federal power (especially regarding taxes, etc.), not slavery!”
(Despite the fact that plenty of Confederate politicians and veterans openly stated that slavery was indeed the main cause of the war: see above quotes for a few examples)
• “Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson’s non-enthusiastic stance towards slavery prove that slavery wasn’t the motivation for the war!” (Indeed, it is sometimes portrayed as if the Confederacy would have eventually abandoned slavery on its own due to the influence of “nice” people like Lee.)
(Despite the fact that Lee was against secession and, again, other Confederate leaders were outspoken in their support of slavery.)
• “Lincoln was a White Supremacist who supported slavery!” (This is demonstrated by quotes that are either out of context, false, or taken from debates where Lincoln had to mask his true opinions to appeal to voters.)
(Despite the Emancipation Proclamation and Lincoln’s role in the passage of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery)
• “Secession was Constitutional (i.e. legal), thus Lincoln’s use of military force to put down the revolt was illegal and unjustifiable!”
(Despite the fact that the Constitution does not suggest secession is legal; moreover, George Washington used military force to put down a revolt called the Whiskey Rebellion as far back as 1794)
• “Lee graciously allowed the war to end, rather than continue the bloodshed–the Confederacy could have prolonged the war and perhaps won if they truly wanted!”
(Despite the fact that the Union had regained control over most of the South and the Confederacy simply did not have enough manpower to continue the war even if they wanted to)
• “Most people in the South did not own slaves!”
(While this is true, it implies slavery couldn’t have been as big of an issue as it is made out to be, as well as suggesting it is somehow less morally abhorrent because only “a few” people practiced slavery, nevermind that plenty of historic Dixie pop culture revolved around upper class descendants of plantation owners; even if slaveowners were numerically few, their political and cultural impact was huge.)
• “Slavery was a benign institution! It benefited blacks by giving them a home, stable life, and civilizing them! Slaves loved their “white families” and were treated kindly by them! Outlawing slavery and/or segregation only served to damage inter-ethnic relations and made life worse for blacks!” (It is sometimes even claimed that non-Dixielanders intentionally aimed to cause inter-ethnic strife by outlawing slavery/segregation and disrupting the traditional social order.)
(This absurd argument is less common in the post-Civil Rights era, but is still in use among White Supremacist circles.)
• “Blacks owned slaves too!”
(Honest critics of slavery never suggest that “black” slaveowners couldn’t be just as evil as “white” slaveowners.)
• A modern addition is that attacks on Dixie culture are thinly-veiled attacks on traditional Judeo-Christianity, “American” traditions, or on conservatism by political opponents, etc.
(Likely popularized by “Neo-Confederate” groups such as League of the South.)
Historians believe the Lost Cause ideology allowed post-Reconstruction Dixielanders to put hostility towards the Union behind them by openly establishing a narrative in which the Confederacy’s actions were justified. Dixielanders were able to accept the loss of slavery by obstructing the 14th and 15th Amendments with minimal opposition from Northerners. By the 20th century, a reconciliatory attitude is frequently found in major pop culture works such as The Birth of a Nation.
3. Some Background on the Confederate Flag and Current Events
Historic Use of the Confederate Flag
What is commonly called the “Confederate Flag” can more precisely be referred to as the “Confederate Battle Flag”. Its origin can be traced back to the Army of Northern Virginia (the primary military force of the Confederacy), which created the Battle Flag because the actual Confederate flag caused confusion on the battlefield by looking too similar to the American flag.
The Battle Flag quickly gained immense popularity within the Confederacy and it was incorporated into their national flag in May 1863.
“As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. … Such a flag…would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag. … As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity, and barbarism. Another merit in the new flag is, that it bears no resemblance to the now infamous banner of the Yankee vandals [the American flag].” -William T. Thompson, designer of second national flag of the Confederacy.
A modified version was adopted in March 1865 over concerns that the pure white flag may be taken as a sign of surrender. It saw little use as the Confederacy surrendered only two months later.
For the sake of simplicity, the term “Confederate flag” is often used elsewhere in this article when referring to the Battle Flag and its variants, as the Battle Flag has been synonymous with “Confederate flag” in popular culture for over a century.
Modern Use of the Confederate Flag in State Flags
Today, Mississippi is the only state which prominently includes a Confederate Battle Flag in its state flag. This design was adopted in 1894.
Georgia’s state flag prominently displayed the Confederate Battle Flag from 1956-2001. Similar to the Confederate flag on the South Carolina State House, it was originally adopted as a protest against the Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Significant pressure to change the Georgia flag was first raised in the early 1990s, but it was not changed until 2001. The 2001 flag was very unpopular, and in an act of protest the city of Trenton adopted the 1956 flag as its city flag! (Not surprisingly, Trenton is located in Dade County–which symbolically voted to secede from America in 1860, because it was too eager to wait for the rest of Georgia!) The new flag was so unpopular that Sonny Perdue became Georgia’s Governor in 2003 in large part because he campaigned to hold a referendum on the flag design. In 2003, the flag was changed to resemble the original, non-battle version of the Confederate flag. To put the controversy over the state’s flag to rest, a referendum was held in 2004 and showed that 73.1% of voters were in favor of the new flag.
While Georgia was busy removing the controversial Confederate Battle Flag, Mississippi decided to reaffirm it. In the early 1990s it was discovered that a loophole in a nearly-century-old legal code meant that Mississippi technically did not have an official flag. Instead of changing the flag to a less controversial, but ideologically identical, form (as Georgia did) or simply ignoring the loophole, Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove decided to officially reaffirm the flag’s legal status in 2000. After much controversy over this action, the flag was turned over to a state referendum in 2001 where 64% of voters were in favor of keeping the flag.
In addition to these two states which unabashedly continue to fly the flags of a hostile nation which waged war on America, four others have adopted flags with varying degrees of visual similarity to the Confederate flag.
The Arkansas and Tennessee flags have some slight visual similarities to Confederate flags, although according to the official history they were not explicitly modelled after them. The Arkansas flag, however, bears an undeniable similarity.
The Alabama and Florida flags are officially based on the Spanish Cross of Burgundy, but some claim the cross pattern was chosen as a subtle nod to the Confederate flag. In my opinion, the designers of these flags may have had Confederate sympathies, but today this pattern alone is not enough to evoke Confederate imagery. The diagonal cross, or saltire, is found on flags around the world.
South Carolina Flag Controversy
The recent controversy over the flag stems from its display at a Civil War monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers in front of the State House in Columbia, South Carolina. The day after White Supremacist Dylann Roof murdered 9 Americans of African heritage in a Charleston, South Carolina church, flags at the State House were lowered to half-staff. The Confederate flag was not, however, as law required a 2/3s vote of the state legislature to alter it and the flagpole did not have a pulley system (so it could not be lowered, only removed entirely). This seemingly callous display of the flag was the last straw for its opponents, as Roof had previously posted numerous photos of himself posing with Confederate, Rhodesian, and apartheid South African flags online.
Reactionary supporters of the flag claim that protesters are overreacting because the Confederate flag at the State House has nothing to do with Roof’s murders (which is probably true) or racism in general (which is demonstrably false). Indeed, the Confederate flag was placed on top of the State House in 1961 to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Civil War (as well as a not-so-subtle pro-segregationist symbol). By the way, pay close attention that the date they chose to commemorate was 100 years after the war started–not ended as one would typically expect from a war memorial. South Carolina was the first state to secede (on December 20, 1860), and in 1861 South Carolina troops fired the first shots of the Civil War by attacking Fort Sumter (which is located in Charleston harbor). It seems quite likely that the flag also served as a smug way of suggesting South Carolina was still proud of starting the Civil War…
If anything, these protests against the Confederate flag should seem like an under-reaction when viewed in context. As expected, the media has done an excellent job turning this issue into a red herring where all attention is focused on the flag itself, rather than the real problem: Dixie culture still plagues America. At the same time, the media is doing all it can to flare up racial tensions to prevent inter-ethnic unity from gaining momentum in one of the places where it is most needed: the South. Tearing down this flag will mean nothing if we as a people allow ourselves to become even more divided in the following decades.
Bree Newsome, with assistance from James Tyson, heroically climbed the flagpole and removed the flag on June 27 (10 days after the Charleston shooting). They were arrested and officials had the flag flying again within 45 minutes. The South Carolina legislature voted to remove it on July 9, resulting in the flag being taken down for good one week later. Governor Nikki Haley had been calling for its removal since June 22.
“In the name of Jesus, this flag has to come down. You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” -Bree Newsome
We discussed it and decided to remove the flag immediately, both as an act of civil disobedience and as a demonstration of the power people have when we work together. Achieving this would require many roles, including someone who must volunteer to scale the pole and remove the flag. It was decided that this role should go to a black woman and that a white man should be the one to help her over the fence as a sign that our alliance transcended both racial and gender divides. We made this decision because for us, this is not simply about a flag, but rather it is about abolishing the spirit of hatred and oppression in all its forms.
…I did it in solidarity with the South African students who toppled a statue of the white supremacist, colonialist Cecil Rhodes. I did it for all the fierce black women on the front lines of the movement and for all the little black girls who are watching us. I did it because I am free.” -Bree Newsome
Upgrading Anti-flag Rhetoric to Anti-racist Rhetoric
The flag is now down, but in the meantime racists have only become more organized and influential while leftist attempts to counter them fall flat on their face every time because they reject leadership and allow their movements to wander directionless before eventually falling apart. It is imperative to realize the removal of the flag is not a “victory” in a battle–it is a signal that the battle has only just begun. Symbolically the flag’s removal is significant, but symbols on their own do not have the power to change things. It is only through the tireless application of effort and willpower that we can change our nation. The will to unite American society and heal from the ills of the past genuinely appear to be present among us today, but it will ultimately amount to nothing if we are content to call it a day and pat ourselves on the back simply because a piece of cloth was removed from sight. It was a necessary first step, but it cannot be our only step.
Until casual opponents and casual supporters of the Confederate flag realize just how repulsive and deep-seated the racism of Dixie culture truly is, nothing will change. Die-hard racist supporters of the flag don’t need to know the history behind Dixie culture–for they are living embodiments of the archetype which manifested every historic atrocity in the South. If they do have a deep understanding of Dixie’s history, they will more than likely be sympathetic towards it! Opponents who at present only have a “casual” understanding of what the the Confederate flag represents need to realize just how fucking many inexcusable cruelties Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries allowed Dixie to inflict. These same opponents arrogantly take pride in the fact that America values “freedom” because of our strong “democracy”. This same democracy ensured that the United States was one of the last countries in the Americas to outlaw slavery. While Latin American dictators were busy outlawing slavery, Americans (such as William Walker) were invading foreign countries in order to spread slavery while others propelled our nation into a civil war to defend slavery until the death. Our same democracy upheld the legality of Jim Crow laws and does absolutely nothing to combat present-day slavery of undocumented migrant workers or root out the massive corruption and racism in police departments which refuse to punish officers who unequivocally value the lives of “non-whites” to be less than those of “whites”. Do not believe for a second that our democracy–which has tolerated racism and allowed it to fester for the past 250 years–is naturally on the side of freedom and can not err on the side of evil.
Another important reason why casual opponents need to upgrade their understanding of Dixie’s history is so they can make the casual supporters who parrot pro-Confederate slogans shut the fuck up. Not all casual supporters of the Confederate flag are evil–many simply desperately want Americans from outside the South to stop the demoralizing narrative that everyone in the present-day South is a malevolent, inbred loser. Many realize that the South has a unique regional culture and just want the rest of America to accept that’s okay–after all, no one maliciously ridicules West Coast culture or New England accents simply for being conspicuous. However, supporters of the Confederate flag do display inexcusable ignorance. Every time someone displays pro-Confederate sympathies, Americans need to be able to say not only why Dixie culture is wrong, but why Southern culture is morally superior. Americans must be able to untangle Southern culture from Dixie culture, not just to “educate” Dixie-sympathizers in the folly of their ways, but to absolutely destroy the legitimacy of pro-Dixie arguments. The only way to get ignorant, but ultimately well-meaning, useful idiots to stop extolling Dixie culture as the only culture of the South is to show them there is something else from the South that is better.
Until modern-day protesters of the ethnic issues which plague not only the South, but all of America, start advocating UNITY instead of dividing America further, we will get no where. Have we learned nothing from history? Have we not learned that a house divided amongst itself cannot stand? That promoting ethnic identitarianism and encouraging a wedge to be driven deeper between Americans will not achieve anything remotely positive?
Today it almost seems like a taboo to suggest that people can be united by higher principles than the color of their skin, while at the same time not having to “forget” their heritage or be ashamed of their ethnic background. We were once proud that, despite consisting of a more diverse populace than anywhere else on the planet, Americans were able to put aside Old World strife caused by ethnic and religious differences and come together as a new people–as Americans. Despite all odds this is what we must do once again. We must realize that everything humans are capable of doing–committing crime, suffering from crime, suffering from injustice, yearning for justice, displaying selfless feelings like love and impartial kindness, displaying selfish feelings like greed and tribalism–transcend ethnic lines. Just as Lincoln prophesized that America could not exist half free and half slave, modern America cannot continue to exist half “black” and half “white” (or half “white” and half “non-white people of color”, or one-third “white”, one-third “black”, and one-third “Hispanic”, etc.). We offer a solution: a nation where every citizen is viewed as being 100% American regardless of ethnic background.
Yes, America’s history is filled with revolting acts of racism and oppression which often seem to overshadow any noble acts, but we have the power to ensure that the future does not follow this trend.
Unlike some other US regions, the glory days of the South do not lie behind it, but ahead of it. We have the opportunity for the South to emerge as the leader of a true culture of E Pluribus Unum, a new culture exemplified by UNITY THROUGH NOBILITY. Not a “melting pot” which embraces the traditional culture; not a Politically Correct multicultural nightmare of “hyphenated Americans” who will inevitably be made to feel second-class to whomever is considered a “normal” (unhyphenated) American; but a friendly society made up of Americans of all ethnic backgrounds which have historically lived in the South—African, Native American, Hispanic, and European, as well as all who decide to join it in the future—coming together as one: as Southerners; a society which acknowledges the evils of the past, but is determined to triumphantly overcome them by working together to achieve what Southerners always yearned to be but never could because of Dixie tyranny. Isn’t this much more exciting than either resurrecting the Confederacy or pessimistically insisting unity can never happen because Southerners are “inbred morons”?
Non-racist use of “Dixie” and Confederate Flag
It also must be acknowledged that in pop culture the Confederate flag and word Dixie are often used as general symbols of “The South” absent of racist connotations (e.g. Winn-Dixie supermarkets, the musical genre called Dixieland, the Dixie Chicks).
Perhaps the most well-known example of this is the 1979-1985 TV show Dukes of Hazzard. The Duke boys’ car, The General Lee, is essentially a character of its own and appears in nearly every episode. It has a large Confederate flag painted on its roof.
While older works like Gone With the Wind tend to revolve around upper class society of times passed, Dukes of Hazzard follows the lives of modern “rednecks”. Far from exhibiting “proper” upper class behavior, the Dukes found themselves at odds with the law for illegally making moonshine. They’re not bad at heart though–their zany antics often inadvertently end up foiling their local county commissioner and sheriff’s corrupt plots.
The trend of rural Americans outside of the South calling themselves “rednecks” and using the Confederate flag as a symbol of “rural pride” and non-conformity to a society which is becoming increasingly urbanized can in large part be traced back to Dukes of Hazzard’s nation-wide popularity. Southern comedians like Jeff Foxworthy and the Blue Collar Comedy Tour built upon America’s new-found interest in “rednecks” in the decades following the show.
Another interesting example of the flag in pop culture can be found on the album cover of “Sweet Home Alabama”. The song was written as a rebuttal to Neil Young’s songs “Southern Man” and “Alabama” (which are very strong criticisms of Dixie culture) to make it clear that not all Southerners are Dixielanders.
While these light-hearted references to the flag may have left a lasting impression on American pop culture by temporarily overshadowing its racist connotations, this does not mean we can simply ignore the fact that the flag originated from the Civil War (which was motivated by slavery) and was used as a potent political symbol of racism during the same time “Sweet Home Alabama” and Dukes of Hazzard were produced.
The controversy over the display of the Confederate flag is not a new issue. Modern debate over it can be traced back to the 1960s-80s, which arose as a direct result of the Civil Rights movement. When one looks into this issue, they will find that some of the strongest voices against the Confederate flag are from people living in the South. The heritage they care about is very different from the heritage symbolized by Dixie’s Confederate flag. Who are these people, and shouldn’t it be they who come to mind when we speak proudly of “Southern heritage”?
4. The South
Stereotypes of Southerners
While it is undeniable that many of the most heinous acts of tribalism in American history have taken place on Southern soil, it is essential to realize that the victims of Dixie oppression, as well as those Americans who actively fought against it, have also significantly shaped the culture of the region.
Americans living in the South have been bombarded with anti-Southern sentiments cooked up by media conglomerates centered in Hollywood and New York for decades. Perhaps the most common anti-Southern cliché in cartoons and film is an exceptionally stupid character who talks in an exaggerated accent. This has led many to become ashamed of their accent and worried that no one will be able to take them seriously on a national level. Some, such as South Carolina native Stephen Colbert, have consciously taken steps to mask their accent. (In reality, the Southern accent is usually rated as one of the most pleasant English accents by English-speakers worldwide!)
In an ironic twist, the “whites” in the South, who once jovially watched blackface acts, are now one of the primary victims of media stereotyping. Probably driven in part by America’s desire to punish Dixie for centuries of racism and in part because most people find it more pleasurable to selfishly put others down than to selflessly raise them up, PC has found it convenient to ignore stereotypes against Southerners.
Stereotypes such as these have encouraged outsiders who do not understand the difference between Southern culture and Dixie culture to think negatively of everything they perceive as “Southern”. This is extremely demoralizing and ultimately turns many people into reactionaries who respond by showing “Southern pride” through turning to traditionalism and embracing Dixie culture… The South has always had a culture to be proud of, but it has never been Dixie culture. It is time to restore honor to a region which has been with America since its founding, and will remain part of it until the end: the South.
Academic Pessimism vs Heroic Idealism
A common tactic by Politically Correct academics is to promote historical revisionism which is purely pessimistic in nature. They focus on destroying the beauty and inspiration in America’s founding myths of the First Thanksgiving and Revolution and attempt to belittle and disgrace our national heroes by incessantly reminding us that they were imperfect, going to great lengths to dig up historic gossip of questionable accuracy (which is more suitable for a tabloid rag than a history book). Many Americans find this pessimism shocking–and rightly so. How can we improve ourselves and America if all we do is promote a negative outlook on life? No country, region, or individual’s history is perfect, but this does not mean that we should ignore positive elements which can inspire us to make the future better than the past ever was. We must acknowledge unpleasant realities–such as the fact that Virginia residents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slaveowners–but there is no reason to purposely demoralize ourselves by recasting these men as scum-of-the-Earth villains. They gave America hope in 1776 and gave us strong leadership when our fledgling country needed it most–and they can still inspire us today. Not by overlooking their flaws, but by diligently working to ensure Americans in the future never allow our leaders and citizens to display similar double standards and hypocrisies.
These pessimist academics (the majority of who live outside the South), especially love grasping for the low-hanging fruit that the South’s history presents. Yet if American culture should not be rejected wholesale, but instead carefully combed over in order to acknowledge both the good and bad, why should we not do the same for the South?
History of the Antebellum Era
In the early 19th century, there were a number of slave rebellions. The most famous was led by Nat Turner in Virginia. Turner’s forces numbered around 70, and they heroically killed an equal number of slaveowners. Although it is sometimes portrayed as an indiscriminate slaughter of “whites,” Turner was reported to have spared a number of non-slaveowning “whites”. His rebellion was put down within a few days, and he was executed a few months later on November 11, 1831. In revenge, nearly 200 slaves uninvolved with the rebellion were murdered by mobs and angry slaveowners. Virginia and other Dixie states soon passed laws forbidding “blacks” to learn how to read or hold religious gatherings without a “white” priest present, due to the fact that Turner was literate and an influential preacher.
We don’t often enough say it, but slave rebellions like this were done in the same spirit as the American Revolution: to overthrow unjust and tyrannical rulers. As Virginia politician Patrick Henry famously said 56 years before Turner’s rebellion, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” (Disappointingly, Henry saw no problem when “blacks” were in chains and enslaved–he owned over 70 slaves.)
Although few abolitionists dared operate in the South, many who would later become prominent abolitionists grew up in Dixie. One of the most notable is Harriet Tubman. Born in Maryland, Tubman escaped from slavery in 1849. During the next decade she returned to Maryland over one dozen times, personally guiding over 70 slaves to freedom and aiding at least 60 more. This came at great personal risk to her, as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 mandated that people in non-slave states increase their efforts to catch fugitive slaves. As a result, Tubman and the Underground Railroad led many people to Canada–nowhere in America was safe for them. In 1858, Tubman met John Brown and helped rally fugitive slaves to his cause. Due to illness, she was unable to personally attend the raid. She later served in the Union Army, but was not paid for her service until many years later.
Frederick Douglass was a slave from Maryland who escaped in 1838 and quickly rose to the forefront of the abolitionist movement. A stunning orator and writer, he quickly put to shame pro-slavery arguments that claimed “blacks” were mentally or morally inferior to “whites”. Fearing Douglass’s fame would make his slavemaster (who still legally owned him) attempt to reclaim his “property,” his friends suggested he travel to Ireland and Britain. Supporters in the British Isles raised money to buy his liberty from his owner. He soon returned to America and started publishing a newspaper called The North Star.
Reflecting on his experiences in the British Isles, Douglass said:
“Instead of a democratic government, I am under a monarchical government. Instead of the bright, blue sky of America, I am covered with the soft, grey fog of the Emerald Isle. I breathe, and lo! the chattel becomes a man. I gaze around in vain for one who will question my equal humanity, claim me as his slave, or offer me an insult. I employ a cab—I am seated beside white people—I reach the hotel—I enter the same door—I am shown into the same parlour—I dine at the same table—and no one is offended… I find myself regarded and treated at every turn with the kindness and deference paid to white people. When I go to church, I am met by no upturned nose and scornful lip to tell me, ’We don’t allow niggers in here!'”
Brown also asked Douglass to join his raid, but Douglass declined, believing it would be disastrous. Years later, Douglass would reminisce positively about Brown:
“His zeal in the cause of my race was far greater than mine—it was as the burning sun to my taper light—mine was bounded by time, his stretched away to the boundless shores of eternity. I could live for the slave, but he could die for him.” -Frederick Douglass
The most notable Southern idea with positive potential is the philosophy of Agrarianism. Originally promoted by Thomas Jefferson, it quickly gained popularity throughout the South.
“Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue. It is the focus in which he keeps alive that sacred fire, which otherwise might escape from the face of the earth. Corruption of morals in the mass of cultivators is a phenomenon of which no age nor nation has furnished an example. It is the mark set on those, who not looking up to heaven, to their own soil and industry, as does the husbandman, for their subsistence, depend for it on the casualties and caprice of customers. Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.” -Thomas Jefferson. Regrettably, Jefferson and many others became dependent on slave labor for agriculture, corrupting the South in the process.
A consequence of the Agrarian philosophy was an autarkic spirit which placed high emphasis on the local community and pride in one’s local region. Unfortunately, Dixielanders established White Supremacist “communities”, preventing a truly folkish community spirit from gaining widespread success in the South, and were highly antagonistic towards other American regions, thereby preventing national-scale unity. Moreover, Dixielanders’ prime agricultural land was used for cash crops such as cotton and tobacco, rather than food crops (contrast this to the Midwest which is well-known for its corn, soybeans, and wheat). Even so, most people living in the South did not own slaves, but were small-scale subsistence farmers (this does not excuse their inaction against the morally-abhorrent institution of slavery, however).
In the 1920s-30s a group of poets and writers re-envisioned Agrarianism as the bulwark of Dixie conservatism, but there is no reason why present-day Americans cannot employ it as an anti-traditional Southern ideology. Indeed, Southerners in the 19th century treated it as such.
After the Civil War, a number of groups formed to improve the lives of farmers. The war had left the South’s economically devastated, and the vacuum left by the abandonment of slave plantations shook up the structure of rural agricultural life. The largest of these farmers’ groups was the Southern Farmers’ Alliance, which was a multi-ethnic organization.
“(1) To labor for the education of the agricultural classes in the science of economical government in a strictly non-partisan way, and to bring about a more perfect union of such classes. (2) To demand equal rights to all, and special privileges to none. (3) To endorse the motto: In things essential, unity; in all things, charity. (4) To develop a better state, mentally, morally, socially and financially… (6) To suppress personal, local, sectional and national prejudices.” -Southern Farmers’ Alliance platform.
Despite infiltration by Redeemers such as Benjamin Tillman, in 1890 the Farmers’ Alliance adopted a radical left-leaning platform called the Ocala Demands, which demanded the abolition of central banks, curtailing economic speculation on agricultural goods, and fair taxation. The next year, the Farmers’ Alliance and Ocala Demands were absorbed into the People’s Party (commonly called the Populist Party; they were genuine populists, unlike tribalists George Wallace and Orval Faubus). The Populist Party supported William Jennings Bryan in the Presidential election of 1896, but he lost by a slim margin. By 1904 the party had fallen into the hands of Thomas E. Watson, who backtracked on his former (non-racist) populist ideas and instead embraced a White Supremacist platform. Many non-racist Populist Party members shifted their support to Eugene V. Debs’ Socialist Party of America.
The Populist Party first popularized the word “redneck”. Originally used to insult people who worked outside all day and got sunburned, the Populists reclaimed it as badge of honor, proudly boasting that “rednecks” and “hayseeds” would be showing up to vote for populist candidates. (Perhaps not coincidentally, present-day Midwestern farmers also take great pride in being called “rednecks” as an acknowledgement of their laborious profession and self-sufficient lifestyle, but the media has convinced many that they must adopt Dixie bigotry in order to be a “real” redneck!!!)
The Black Belt
Next to the Midwest, the South is the most well-suited region for agriculture in America. The most fertile land forms a band stretching from Texas to Maryland called the Black Belt, named after its dark soil. As a result, slavery was most prevalent within the Black Belt, but as a consequence of this, many communities within the Black Belt today have a majority or plurality of the population made up of African heritage. Politically, this region tends to be more left-leaning than the rest of the South, appearing as an island of blue in a sea of red.
“The term was first used to designate a part of the country which was distinguished by the color of the soil. The part of the country possessing this thick, dark, and naturally rich soil was, of course, the part of the South where the slaves were most profitable, and consequently they were taken there in the largest numbers. Later and especially since the [Civil] war, the term seems to be used wholly in a political sense—that is, to designate the counties where the black people outnumber the white.” -Booker T. Washington, Up from Slavery (1901).
One particularly dangerous notion which arises from stereotyping Southerners as White Supremacists is that this obscures the fact that Americans of African heritage are an integral part of Southern (and by extension, American) culture. It is certainly unfortunate that dark-skinned Americans were slaves or under the tyranny of racial segregation for most of the South’s history; the point, however, is that these “blacks” are Southerners just as much as other Southerners (and left just as large an impact on Southern culture–perhaps even larger).
“They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed–
I, too, am America.” -Langston Hughes
Southern Civil Rights protesters like Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, etc. are well known. Protests such as bus boycotts, sit ins, and school integrations remain well known. We must remember that these people were not foreigners in an alien land, they were Southerners fighting to make their local region a better place. Rosa Parks wasn’t just some random “black” person out of place in a White Supremacist stronghold–she was a Southerner fighting against tyranny and injustice in her very own neighborhood. Civil Rights protesters weren’t merely protesting that “black only” schools and facilities were inferior in quality to “white only” schools and facilities—they were protesting that Southern schools and businesses were being tyrannically occupied by Dixie tribalists who refused to allow all Southerners fair access to them.
To the Civil Rights protesters (and further back, the abolitionists), it was the White Supremacists and other racists who had no place in Southern (and, by extension, American) society! The Civil Rights protesters and the abolitionists were the ones overthrowing the Dixie usurpation and restoring the fundamental American principle of E Pluribus Unum to the South.
Those who cling to the culture of Dixie have not yet fully accepted the principles established by the American Revolution (and going further back, the principles of the First Thanksgiving). Ever since the end of the Civil War, Dixielanders have claimed “the South will rise again”. We answer that we too believe the South will rise again–not as a racist Confederacy separate from the rest of the US–but as an anti-racist and integral part of the United States of America.
5. The South that Could Have Been
The Legacy of Colonial Georgia
Dixielanders like to disingenuously “romanticize” the Antebellum era by outwardly downplaying the role of slavery while essentially keeping everything else the same. We ask instead: what would an authentically Southern romanticization–one in which the South truly was free of slavery–look like?
For example, the founder of the colony of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, banned slavery. This ban was lifted after he left office in 1743. Georgia was the southernmost of the 13 colonies and greatly influenced the westward settlement of Alabama and Mississippi. If Georgia had remained a non-slave state and caused Alabama and Mississippi to follow suit, the most fertile area of the Deep South and Black Belt would have been free from slavery!
What if Reconstruction had not failed? Not only would this mean that Jim Crow segregation and the KKK never would have existed, but the Confederate flag wouldn’t remain an issue today, over 150 years after the Civil War!
This was closer to being a reality than many Americans imagine. There was an informal group of politicians called “Radical Republicans” who were extremely vocal about making significant changes during Reconstruction. They dominated congress from 1866-1874, at a critical point where many Southern states were still quarantined from the war and unable to vote on issues. Unfortunately, many of their ideas were vetoed by President Andrew Johnson. The “Radical Republicans” lost most of their influence when Redeemers from the Democratic Party made a resurgence in the 1874 elections.
During the war, Lincoln did not support the Radical Republicans, because he feared their strong demands would make reactionaries dig their heels in and try to resist attempts at mending the nation. However, after the war America was presented with an incredible opportunity to radically rebuild—one which we let slip out of our grasp. During Reconstruction, thousands of Americans of African heritage were elected to all levels of political office (including Governors and Senators!), but Jim Crow laws put a stop to this by the beginning of the 20th century.
Every humane and patriotic heart must grieve to see a bloody and causeless rebellion, costing thousands of human lives and millions of treasure. But as it was predetermined and inevitable, it was long enough delayed. Now is the appropriate time to solve the greatest problem ever submitted to civilized man.” -Thaddeus Stevens, the most prominent of the Radical Republicans.
“The whole fabric of southern society must be changed, and never can it be done if this opportunity is lost.” -Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens was right, it took 100 years for Dixie society to change. But we need not wait another 100 to start working towards a better future for the South.
“It is said the South will never submit — that we cannot conquer the rebels — that they will suffer themselves to be slaughtered, and their whole country to be laid waste. Sir, war is a grievous thing at best, and civil war more than any other; but if they hold this language, and the means which they have suggested must be resorted to; if their whole country must be laid waste and made a desert, in order to save this Union from destruction, so let it be. I would rather, Sir, reduce them to a condition where their whole country is to be re-peopled by a band of freemen [i.e. freed slaves], than to see them perpetrate the destruction of this people through our agency. I do not say it is time to resort to such means, and I do not say that the time will come, but I never fear to express my sentiments. It is not a question with me of policy, but a question of principle.” -Thaddeus Stevens
Andrew Johnson was chosen as Lincoln’s Vice President in 1864 to show Lincoln’s intent at restoring American unity. Johnson was a politician from Tennessee (one of the first Confederate states to be recaptured by American forces) and the only senator from a seceding state who did not resign from Congress. Although fiercely against secession, Johnson was quite conservative and favored a quick end to Reconstruction. This put him at odds with the Radical Republican-controlled Congress.
After feuding with Congress, Johnson was impeached, but fell one vote short of being removed from office. Had his impeachment trial been successful, the Radical Republican Benjamin Wade would have become the President. In addition to his ideas for Reconstruction, Wade is notable for supporting women’s suffrage, which would not be granted nation-wide until the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
Robert E. Lee opposed secession and encouraged ex-Confederates to accept the Union after the war. What if Lee had not been so conservative and instead took a stand against Dixie? If Lee had stood against secession, Virginia might not have seceded (Virginia was the most populous Southern state and Richmond, Virginia was the Confederacy’s capital). At the very least, Lee could have used his influence to make Virginia a Southern leader during Reconstruction. If Reconstruction was not viewed as a punishment that the North was inflicting upon the South, but as a sincere attempt to rebuild and move on, it may have gone very differently.
While Lincoln’s untimely end during such a pivotal time in American history is an absolute tragedy, the mourning of his passing unexpectedly brought the former enemies of North and South closer together, much to the dismay of his killer, John Wilkes Booth.
Booth, an alleged member of the Knights of the Golden Circle, was from Maryland (a slave state which did not secede) and was fiercely supportive of the Confederacy. His pro-Confederate tirades caused his relationship with his anti-secessionist brother to deteriorate. After Lincoln’s victory in the election of 1864, Booth collaborated with Confederate agents and began formulating a plan to kidnap Abraham Lincoln and deliver him to the Confederacy as a prisoner. Booth believed that this would force the Union to swap Confederate POWs for Lincoln’s return, as well as give official diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy in the process.
On April 11, 1865, two days after the Confederacy surrendered, Lincoln gave an impromptu speech stating he was in favor of giving former slaves the ability to vote. Outraged, Booth is reported to have exclaimed “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever give.” (The 14th and 15th Amendments, granting former slaves citizenship and guaranteeing that a citizen’s right to vote could not be denied due to race, respectively, were passed in 1868 and 1870).
On April 12, Booth learned of the Confederacy’s surrender. The kidnap plot was no longer feasible, and Booth instead turned to murder. On the morning of April 14, Booth learned that Lincoln would be attending a play at Ford’s Theatre, and he hastily began throwing together a plan. That evening, Booth tasked his co-conspirators to kill the Secretary of State and Vice President, while he himself went after Lincoln. Booth was a famous actor and personal friends with the theatre’s owner, and consequentially aroused no suspicion while creeping around the theatre. After shooting Lincoln, Booth leaped from the balcony onto the stage, where he is reported to have said “I have done it, the South is avenged!” Booth went on the run and was killed on April 26 after he refused to surrender to a group of soldiers who had encircled his hiding spot. (His co-conspirators failed; one lost his nerve and the other only managed to wound his target. They were arrested and executed a few months later).
Booth believed his actions would be universally hailed as heroic by people in the South, but quite to the contrary, everyone from small town newspaper editors to former Confederate generals such as Johnston and Lee were disgusted by his act.
“The perspiration came out in large drops on his forehead, and he did not attempt to conceal his distress. He [Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston] denounced the act as a disgrace to the age, and hoped I did not charge it to the Confederate Government. I told him I could not believe that he or General Lee, or the officers of the Confederate army, could possibly be privy to acts of assassination; but I would not say as much for Jeff Davis.” -Union General William T. Sherman
“The assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It was a new crime, a pure act of malice. No purpose of the rebellion was to be served by it. It was the simple gratification of a hell-black spirit of revenge. But it has done good after all. It has filled the country with a deeper abhorrence of slavery and a deeper love for the great liberator.” -Frederick Douglass
“Those of Southern born sympathies know now they have lost a friend willing and more powerful to protect and serve them than they can now ever hope to find again.” -Kentucky-born Elizabeth Blair, sister of Montgomery Blair, a member of Lincoln’s Cabinet.
Disappointed, Booth wrote in his diary:
“With every man’s hand against me, I am here in despair. And why; For doing what Brutus was honored for … And yet I for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew am looked upon as a common cutthroat.”
The Great Emancipator
“Many, I know—the vulgar herd—will blame me for what I am about to do, but posterity, I am sure, will justify me” -John Wilkes Booth, on the morning of the assassination.
Supporters of the Lost Cause have done all they can to further Booth’s belief that Lincoln was a “tyrant”–rather than the American hero he actually is. Despite often being racist themselves, modern-day Confederate sympathizers will sometimes claim that Lincoln was a racist who supported slavery and even wanted to deport all “blacks” from American soil! These claims are outrageous and can be debunked by putting an ounce of effort into understanding Lincoln’s speeches.
After the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln felt compelled to re-enter politics and gave a series of speeches to counter those of Stephen Douglas (the author of the Act). The most notable of these was the Peoria Speech. In the speech, Lincoln chooses to break slavery and it currently existed and the expansion of slavery due to the Act into two separate issues. Lincoln knew that taking a hardline abolitionist stance would only serve to alienate fence-sitters and drive reactionaries to support Douglas and the Act. By taking a calculated effort to separate his arguments from the status quo existence of slavery, Lincoln was able to make a very targeted attack on the Kansas-Nebraska Act and, in doing so, implicitly attacked slavery as a whole. A number of times Lincoln makes clear his deep personal distaste for slavery. Furthermore, we must remember Lincoln’s position as a politician; he had to carefully choose his words in order to prevent the North and South from splitting further, while not compromising on his underlying moral beliefs. He also had to defend against Douglas’s constant appeals to the “white” majority’s self-interest, which was aroused by using racist rhetoric.
“…I think, and shall try to show, that it is wrong; wrong in its direct effect, letting slavery into Kansas and Nebraska—and wrong in its prospective principle, allowing it to spread to every other part of the wide world, where men can be found inclined to take it.
This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world—enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites—causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty—criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” -Abraham Lincoln, Peoria Speech, October 16, 1854
“Little by little, but steadily as man’s march to the grave, we have been giving up the old for the new faith. Nearly eighty years ago we began by declaring that all men are created equal; but now from that beginning we have run down to the other declaration, that for some men to enslave others is a ‘sacred right of self-government.’ These principles cannot stand together. They are as opposite as God and Mammon; and whoever holds to the one must despise the other.” Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854
The idea that Lincoln wanted to deport “blacks” comes largely from this speech:
“When southern people tell us they are no more responsible for the origin of slavery, than we; I acknowledge the fact. When it is said that the institution exists; and that it is very difficult to get rid of it, in any satisfactory way, I can understand and appreciate the saying. I surely will not blame them for not doing what I should not know how to do myself. If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia,—to their own native land. But a moment’s reflection would convince me, that whatever of high hope, (as I think there is) there may be in this, in the long run, its sudden execution is impossible. If they were all landed there in a day, they would all perish in the next ten days; and there are not surplus shipping and surplus money enough in the world to carry them there in many times ten days. What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain that this betters their condition? I think I would not hold one in slavery, at any rate; yet the point is not clear enough for me to denounce people upon. What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not. Whether this feeling accords with justice and sound judgment, is not the sole question, if indeed, it is any part of it. A universal feeling, whether well or ill-founded, can not be safely disregarded. We can not, then, make them equals. It does seem to me that systems of gradual emancipation might be adopted; but for their tardiness in this, I will not undertake to judge our brethren of the south.” -Abraham Lincoln, October 16, 1854
In particular, let us examine this quote:
“If all earthly power were given me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.”
When Lincoln became president under war-time conditions, he had an extreme amount of power available to him. What did he do in regards to slavery? He enacted the Emancipation Proclamation (an executive order that had no input from Congress), spearheaded the adoption of the 13th Amendment outlawing slavery, and set up the Freedmen’s Bureau after the war to integrate freed slaves into American society–as equals. Within a few years of his death, his party passed the 14th and 15th Amendments, guaranteeing “blacks” full rights as citizens (Lincoln’s support of such amendments motivated John Wilkes Booth to kill him!). If Lincoln really wanted to deport all “blacks,” surely he could have used the Navy (which was fully mobilized due to the war) or used the excuse that extreme social disruption caused by the rapid end of slavery justified funding extra-ordinary measures to deport them. Slaves were brought to the US on ships over a period of decades, surely their descendants could have been removed in the same manner?
Instead, he did none of those things and preserved the Union while at the same time as utterly destroying slavery. Many of the quotes showing Lincoln’s supposed racism are taken from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858, where Lincoln was put on the defensive by Douglas in an extremely intense race for the Illinois Senate seat. (See some of Douglas’s quotes in the Bleeding Kansas section of this essay to see what Lincoln had to contend with). If we examine some of Lincoln’s later quotes, made during his time as president, it becomes crystal clear that Lincoln hated slavery above all else, and had absolutely no intention of deporting American citizens.
Publicly, Lincoln said he was willing to compromise on slavery–and permanently allow its continuation–in order to preserve the Union. Placing ourselves in Lincoln’s shoes, it is surely understandable for him to have urged a desperate compromise on slavery in order to prevent a civil war and buy a little more time for Americans to sort things out without bloodshed. We must remember that the majority of Dixie states had already seceded before he was even sworn in as President, but there was still a minute chance to avoid war at the eleventh hour. The only way to convince the states to rejoin the union was–just as the Founding Fathers had to do–legally protect slavery and pray the next generation would sort it out in a calmer and morally-superior fashion. Morally, however, hatred of slavery was not something that Lincoln could ever compromise on. Once war had broken out and the chance to destroy slavery presented itself, Lincoln seized it.
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.
I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.” -Abraham Lincoln, August 22, 1862. One month later he issued the Emancipation Proclamation–once it was clear the Union could not be preserved except by destroying slavery, Lincoln acted on his personal moral views.
“I am naturally anti-slavery. If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong. I can not remember when I did not so think, and feel. And yet I have never understood that the Presidency conferred upon me an unrestricted right to act officially upon this judgment and feeling.
Was it possible to lose the nation, and yet preserve the constitution? By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life; but a life is never wisely given to save a limb. I felt that measures, otherwise unconstitutional, might become lawful, by becoming indispensable to the preservation of the constitution, through the preservation of the nation. Right or wrong, I assumed this ground, and now avow it. I could not feel that, to the best of my ability, I had even tried to preserve the constitution, if, to save slavery, or any minor matter, I should permit the wreck of government, country, and Constitution all together.” -Abraham Lincoln, 1864
“In reference to you, colored people, let me say God has made you free. Although you have been deprived of your God-given rights by your so-called masters, you are now as free as I am, and if those that claim to be your superiors do not know that you are free, take the sword and bayonet and teach them that you are; for God created all men free, giving to each the same rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” -Abraham Lincoln, 1865
In the above quote Lincoln is stating that “blacks” should feel free to take up an armed rebellion against those who deny them their equality as citizens. Surely this would also apply to forced deportation and segregation. He no longer had to compromise with Dixie states, and at last unequivocally revealed that he would uphold the Declaration of Independence’s legendary words.
Not surprisingly, an additional source for much of Lincoln’s supposed racism comes from none other than Thomas Dixon, author of The Clansman (which was turned into the film The Birth of a Nation).
“There is no room for two distinct races of white men in America, much less for two distinct races of whites and blacks. I can conceive of no greater calamity than the assimilation of the Negro into our social and political life as an equal… Within twenty years we can peacefully colonize the Negro in the tropics and give him our language, literature, religion, and system of government under conditions in which he can rise to the full measure of manhood. This he can never do here. We can never attain the ideal Union our fathers dreamed, with millions of an alien, inferior race among us, whose assimilation is neither possible nor desirable.” -Thomas Dixon, Jr, The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), fictional speech given by Lincoln. Staying true to Booth’s wishes, Dixielanders like Dixon have tried to pervert Lincoln’s true beliefs.
Another likely source is the statement below, which is misattributed to Lincoln by some Dixie sources. They claim it comes from a speech in Peoria on October 16, 1858. It actually comes from a Douglas speech against Lincoln in Jonesboro on September 15, 1858 (the third of the Lincoln-Douglas debates). Lincoln’s actual Peoria Speech (which took place in 1854 and is quoted previously) contains a polar-opposite sentiment!
“Mr. Lincoln objects to [the Dred Scott] decision, first and mainly because it deprives the negro of the rights of citizenship. I am as much opposed to his reason for that objection as I am to the objection itself. I hold that a negro is not and never ought to be a citizen of the United States….
Now, I say to you, my fellow-citizens, that in my opinion the signers of the Declaration had no reference to the negro whatever when they declared all men to be created equal. They desired to express by that phrase, white men, men of European birth and European descent, and had no reference either to the negro, the savage Indians, the Fejee, the Malay, or any other inferior and degraded race, when they spoke of the equality of men. One great evidence that such was their understanding, is to be found in the fact that at that time every one of the thirteen colonies was a slaveholding colony, every signer of the Declaration represented a slave-holding constituency, and we know that no one of them emancipated his slaves, much less offered citizenship to them when they signed the Declaration, and yet, if they had intended to declare that the negro was the equal of the white man, and entitled by divine right to an equality with him, they were bound, as honest men, that day and hour to have put their negroes on an equality with themselves.” -Stephen Douglas, September 15, 1858.
While Lincoln had to make compromises due to the practical necessities of operating under a democratic voting system and keeping the nation intact during a war, it was only after the war came to an end that the most radically idealistic policies envisioned by Lincoln could flourish. Under Lincoln’s presidency, the 13th Amendment banning slavery was passed, and as was previously mentioned, Lincoln was supportive of granting “blacks” citizenship (thereby overruling the Dred Scott case which Lincoln abhorred) and the ability to vote. Had Lincoln lived, what else would he have accomplished?
“Few great public men have ever been the victims of fiercer denunciation than Abraham Lincoln was during his administration. He was often wounded in the house of his friends. Reproaches came thick and fast upon him from within and from without, and from opposite quarters. He was assailed by Abolitionists; he was assailed by slave-holders; he was assailed by the men who were for peace at any price; he was assailed by those who were for a more vigorous prosecution of the war; he was assailed for not making the war an abolition war; and he was bitterly assailed for making the war an abolition war.
…No man who knew Abraham Lincoln could hate him, but because of his fidelity to union and liberty, he is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever.” -Frederick Douglass
“Those who deny others freedom do not deserve it for themselves.” -Abraham Lincoln
In the same way that we have acknowledged Americans such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were imperfect but can still serve as inspirations, Southerners today need not view Robert E. Lee any more negatively than necessary. Lee was one of the America’s most skilled military commanders and signed the Confederacy’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, despite many Confederates who wished for the war to continue at all costs.
Although his support for the Confederacy is inexcusable, we must remember that Lee was a human being who was forced to make some very stressful and monumental decisions. Like Lincoln, Lee spent many long nights agonizing over the best course of action for America. We must never forget that, from a moral standpoint, Lee’s choice to support the Confederacy was the wrong one. However, it is likely that many people (sadly) lack the idealism necessary to have made the correct choice if they were placed in Lee’s position.
“With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relative, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army…” -Robert E. Lee to his sister, Anne Marshall April 20, 1861.
“I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than the dissolution of the Union. It would be an accumulation of all the evils we complain of, and I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor for its preservation.” -Robert E. Lee, in a letter to his son Custis, January 23, 1861. By fighting to uphold the un-American institution of slavery, Lee brought dishonor upon himself and his state of Virginia.
“I look upon secession as anarchy. If I owned the four millions of slaves in the South I would sacrifice them all to the Union; but how can I draw my sword upon Virginia, my native state?” -Robert E. Lee
“Still, a Union that can only be maintained by swords and bayonets, and in which strife and civil war are to take the place of brotherly love and kindness, has no charm for me. I shall mourn for my country and for the welfare and progress of mankind. If the Union is dissolved and the Government disrupted, I shall return to my native State and share the miseries of my people, and, save in defense will draw my sword on none.” -Robert E Lee. Were Confederates–who were loyal to Dixie and waged war on America–Lee’s people, or were Virginians like Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the American rebels in West Virginia?
Lost Cause believers elevate Lee as the greatest hero of the Confederacy, even above Jefferson Davis. However, it should be clear to anyone with a moderate understanding of the Civil War that Lee was one of the least enthusiastic of the Confederate leaders. While we can’t go back in time and urge Lee to make the morally-commendable decision to refuse the Confederacy’s temptation or to increase efforts at post-war reconciliation, we can choose to view one of the most famous Southerners of the 19th century as a source of inspiration rather than source of demoralization. Lee lacked the same level of idealism as Lincoln, but he was not completely evil at heart. The attitudes expressed in his post-war quotes reveal that he wanted Americans to move on from the Civil War and move away from the evils caused by slavery. While Lee couldn’t avoid the disunity caused by the Confederacy and Dixie ideas, Southerners today can–and it’s what Lee would have wanted. He would have wanted the South to rise again, but not Dixie. Southern individuals today have the opportunity to become the American hero that Lee never was.
“So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interests of the south. So fully am I satisfied of this, as regards Virginia especially, that I would cheerfully have lost all I have lost by the war, and have suffered all I have suffered, to have this object attained.” -Robert E. Lee, statement to John Leyburn, May 1, 1870.
“Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.” -Robert E. Lee to a widow of a Confederate soldier.
As we have previously seen, Native Americans at one time had a significant presence in the South. What would have happened if, instead of being removed, they were allowed to join American society? Americans have pondered this question as early as 1789.
“How different would be the sensation of a philosophic mind to reflect that instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population, that we had persevered through all difficulties and at last had imparted our Knowledge of cultivating and the arts, to the Aboriginals of the Country by which, the source of future life and happiness had been preserved and extended. But it has been conceived to be impracticable to civilize the Indians of North America. This opinion is probably more convenient than just.
Such a plan although it might not fully effect the civilization of the Indians would most probably be attended with the salutary effect of attaching them to the Interest of the United States. …It is particularly important that something of this nature should be attempted with the southern nations of Indians” -Henry Knox to George Washington, 7 July 1789
While it is sometimes said Thomas Jefferson wished to exterminate the Native Americans and was the architect behind Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal plans, this is not true at all. Jefferson entertained the idea of removing specific tribes which supported the British during the War of 1812 (i.e. those which had waged war on America). He believed that it was only their alliance with the British which had damaged attempts at integration beyond all repair, and that the British attempts to sow disunity in North America would go down in history alongside such atrocities as their colonization of India and Ireland.
“You know, my friend, the benevolent plan we were pursuing here for the happiness of the aboriginal inhabitants in our vicinities. We spared nothing to keep them at peace with one another. To teach them agriculture and the rudiments of the most necessary arts, and to encourage industry by establishing among them separate property. In this way they would have been enabled to subsist and multiply on a moderate scale of landed possession. They would have mixed their blood with ours, and been amalgamated and identified with us within no distant period of time. On the commencement of our present war, we pressed on them the observance of peace and neutrality, but the interested and unprincipled policy of England has defeated all our labors for the salvation of these unfortunate people. They have seduced the greater part of the tribes within our neighborhood, to take up the hatchet against us, and the cruel massacres they have committed on the women and children of our frontiers taken by surprise, will oblige us now to pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach. Already we have driven their patrons and seducers into Montreal, and the opening season will force them to their last refuge, the walls of Quebec. We have cut off all possibility of intercourse and of mutual aid, and may pursue at our leisure whatever plan we find necessary to secure ourselves against the future effects of their savage and ruthless warfare. The confirmed brutalization, if not the extermination of this race in our America, is therefore to form an additional chapter in the English history of the same colored man in Asia, and of the brethren of their own color in Ireland, and wherever else Anglo-mercantile cupidity can find a two-penny interest in deluging the earth with human blood. But let us turn from the loathsome contemplation of the degrading effects of commercial avarice.” -Thomas Jefferson in a private letter to Alexander von Humboldt, December 6, 1813 . If Jefferson hadn’t allowed his idealism to be so easily crushed, America would have turned out much better.
He had previously expressed the sentiment that all Native Americans should be given a fair chance to integrate into American society.
“Let me intreat you therefore on the lands now given you, to begin to give every man a farm, let him inclose it, cultivate it, build a warm House on it, and when he dies let it belong to his wife and children after him. Nothing is so easy as to learn to cultivate the earth. All your women understand it, and to make it easier we are always ready to teach you how to make ploughs, hoes and other necessary utensils. …[Y]our children will never be tempted to sell the spot on which they have been born, raised, have laboured and called their own. …You will unite yourselves with us, join in our great Councils & form one people with us and we shall all be Americans, you will mix with us by marriage, your blood will run in our veins, & will spread with us over this great Island.
I will give you a paper declaring your right to hold, against all persons, the lands given you by the Miamis & Poutewatamies, and that you never can sell them without their consent. But I must tell you that if ever they & you agree to sell, no paper which I can give you can prevent your doing what you please with your own. The only way to prevent this is to give to every one of your People a farm, which shall belong to him and his family and which the nation shall have no right to take from them & sell. In this way alone can you ensure the lands to your descendants through all generations, and that it shall never be sold from under their feet.” -Thomas Jefferson to Hendrick Aupaumut, 21 December 1808.
Jefferson makes it clear that once Native Americans adopt a settled lifestyle, their lands will not be taken away, as they will become integrated into American society and therefore protected by American law. No longer dependent on dwindling supplies of game to hunt, they would become securely self-sufficient and have enough resources to rebuff predatory treaties.
One can debate on how much Jefferson wanted Native Americans to adopt Anglo customs at the expense of Native American customs, but we should imagine how much different–how much better–American culture would have been if all noble aspects of Native American cultures were integrated into American society. Can you imagine a country where “Native Americans” are finally considered to be just as American as someone of English, German, or Irish heritage? Jefferson was able to.
Tennessee politician Davy Crockett, once a strong supporter of Jackson, became disgusted with him after the passing of the Indian Removal Act. Seeing little hope in Jackson’s rival, Martin Van Buren, Crockett threatened to leave for Texas rather than continue to live under their hegemony. He stayed true to his word and died in the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.
“I gave my decisions on the principles of common justice and honesty between man and man, and relied on natural born sense, and not on law, learning to guide me; for I had never read a page in a law book in all my life.” -Davy Crockett. Democracy could not protect the Cherokees and other Native Americans from destruction. Imagine what America would be like today if Crockett and others had not left for Texas, but instead started a revolution in the South alongside Native Americans and slaves.
Another Texan leader from Tennessee, Sam Houston, also became disillusioned with Jackson after the Indian Removal Act. In 1830 and 1832, he travelled to Congress to expose frauds committed against the Cherokee people. William Stanberry accused Houston of being among those who profited from their removal; this accusation enraged Houston and he beat Stanberry with a cane. Houston was fined for his actions, but he left for Texas without paying them.
Houston was the main military commander in the Texas Revolution, served as President and, later, Governor of Texas. Shockingly, the man who had contributed so much to the state was deposed as Governor because he opposed secession.
“Fellow-Citizens, in the name of your rights and liberties, which I believe have been trampled upon, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the nationality of Texas, which has been betrayed by the Convention, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of the Constitution of Texas, I refuse to take this oath. In the name of my own conscience and manhood, which this Convention would degrade by dragging me before it, to pander to the malice of my enemies, I refuse to take this oath. I deny the power of this Convention to speak for Texas….I protest….against all the acts and doings of this convention and I declare them null and void.” -Sam Houston.
The army of Santa Anna could not defeat him, yet he was effortlessly bested by the democratic pen strokes of immoral legislators. To them, he was not a hero but merely a tool which could be used to further their selfish interests and cast aside when his usefulness ran out.
While these are only a few examples of a truly American romanticization of Southern society, I hope it is now clear beyond any shadow of a doubt that two irreconcilable cultures exist within the southern region of the United States: the racist culture of Dixie and the American culture of the South.
6. 2015 reaction against the Confederate flag–Modern Republicans and Southerners against the flag
Shaping Public Opinion or Merely Following It?
Earlier we saw how politicians like George Wallace embraced the Confederate flag and Dixie cause because he thought it would win him the most votes. Are contemporary politicians now distancing themselves from the flag because of the same reason? Are they sincerely opposed to the Dixie culture which the flag symbolizes, or are they merely opposed to the controversy the flag will cast over their term in political office?
In many cases, it seems like the latter. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said there was no need to take down the flag back in 2014. Mitt Romney, a financial supporter of Haley, called for the flag to come down 3 days after the shooting. John McCain and George Bush tip-toed around the Confederate flag in the 2000 presidential election, giving vague answers to please whomever was listening to their speeches at the time.
Back in 2008, pro-Confederate flag groups gave their support to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. He continued to be one of the most pro-Confederate flag Republican candidates for the 2016 election.
“I don’t personally display it anywhere. So it’s not an issue for me. That’s an issue for the people of South Carolina.” -Mike Huckabee
Translation: I’m not personally affected by racism. So it’s not an issue for me. If racists decide to murder South Carolina citizens, I’m not going to do anything about it.
“But for those of us running for president everyone’s being baited with this question, as if somehow that has anything to do whatsoever with running for president. And my position is, it most certainly does not.” -Mike Huckabee
Translation: As a president, I’d have to take a stand on moral issues such as racism. I’m not comfortable doing that, so I’ll turn a blind eye to it like Americans did during the rise of Jim Crow.
He made these comments after Romney called the flag a “symbol of racial hatred.” (Bold comments like this might be easy for Romney to make, as he is not running for election in 2016). Other Republican candidates have taken an intentionally vague stance on it.
“I take the position that the federal government really has no role in determining what the states are going to do.” -Rick Santorum
Translation: The federal government really had no business telling South Carolina not to practice slavery or segregation.
“I think it’s clearly a symbol that is very offensive to many, but my personal opinion is not what’s relevant here. What’s relevant here is what the people of South Carolina choose to do next.” -Carly Fiorina
Translation: I’m not really a leader. Don’t ask me what I think; it’s not relevant.
“The people of South Carolina will make the right decision for South Carolina and I believe in their capacity to make that decision. The next president of the United States will not make that decision. That’s up for the people of South Carolina to make, and I think they’ll make the right one like they’ve made them in the past.” -Marco Rubio
Translation: Vote for me, I’ll support whatever you want; everyone is right!
His “right one like they’ve made them in the past” comment is a reference to removing the flag from the capitol dome in 2000. Since “them” is plural, a cynical interpretation leaves open the possibility that he believes decisions like slavery, secession, and segregation were the “right” ones…
“I understand the passions that this debate evokes on both sides. Both those who see a history of racial oppression and a history of slavery, which is the original sin of our nation, and we fought a bloody civil war to expunge that sin. But I also understand those who want to remember the sacrifices of their ancestors and the traditions of their states, not the racial oppression, but the historical traditions, and I think often this issue is used as a wedge to try to divide people.” -Ted Cruz. (Racial oppression is Dixie tradition!)
“It’s wrong for a bunch of people who aren’t from the given state to parachute into South Carolina and dictate what they should do.” -Ted Cruz. (If Lincoln had access to paratroopers, you better believe he would have used them against South Carolina and other Confederate states.)
“In Florida we acted, moving the flag from the state grounds to a museum where it belonged … Following a period of mourning there will rightly be a discussion among leaders in the state about how South Carolina should move forward, and I’m confident they will do the right thing.” -Jeb Bush. (For a while, Bush denied that both Roof and the flag were racist. After Haley took a stand against the flag, he finally had enough courage to admit both were racist.)
“This flag has become too divisive and too hurtful for too many of our fellow Americans. While some say it represents different things to different people, there is no denying that it also represents serious divisions that must be mended in our society.” -Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus. (No shit–the flag was created by people who divided our nation in half and started a civil war!)
As of February 2016, Huckabee, Santorum, Fiorina, and Bush have dropped out of the race. Rick Perry was one of the few 2016 candidates to take a firm stance on the flag. He dropped out of the race in September, 2015.
“I think a governor’s job should be one to bring people together, not to divide them, and I think the Confederate battle flag is clearly one of those that divides people” -Rick Perry
“Removing the flag is an act of healing and unity, that allows us to find a shared purpose based on the values that unify us. May God continue to be with the families of the victims in Charleston, and the great people of South Carolina.” -Rick Perry
A Southern Wind of Change
Most of their responses are careful to not offer any strong ideological resistance against the flag and Dixie culture (lest they alienate part of their voting base), but they also show us that many Republicans believe it is now beneficial to formally distance themselves from the flag and the connotations it holds. They could have easily decided the flag was a non-issue and just ignored it once the controversy died down (as they have done nearly every other time the flag has sparked controversy), but the fact that a number of prominent Republicans have taken a firm stand against it should be a signal that Republicans value the votes of non-racists more than those of racists who still haven’t come to accept the changes arising from the Civil Rights era.
Although it is certainly disheartening to hear Donald Trump and Ben Carson brazenly spout Islamophobic drivel and stir up ethnic-based hatred towards immigrants, we should at least find it encouraging that decades of tireless work by anti-racists has (for the most part) made it unpopular to continue traditional facets of Dixie racism such as support of the KKK and hatred towards “blacks”. Perhaps there is still time to save those who are enticed by the likes of Trump and Carson from falling further into the racist attitudes made popular in the wake of 9/11, but time is running dangerously short.
Politicians adopting an anti-Dixie stance simply because it’s popular isn’t good enough. However, this is better than those who, instead of taking leadership on the issue and voicing an opinion, shy from taking sides and reduce their stance to “this is an issue for the people to decide”. Segregation–and even slavery–were issues which were democratically embraced by voters. The will of an electorate is not a moral authority. Politicians who are opposed to Dixie culture but do not voice their opinions are cowards who are unqualified to be leaders. Southern politicians who are personally undecided or apathetic on Dixie culture have a sense of morality woefully inadequate for a leadership position. Politicians who stand idly by and enable racists to “decide” what is moral based on the principle of democracy are the most abhorrent of all.
America needs heroic leaders to lead us away from the horrors of the past and towards a brighter and kinder future. We cannot allow the immoral cowards who are currently running things to let society democratically drift back into another era where Dixie culture is allowed to reign supreme.
South Carolinans Speak Out
While some politicians may be speaking out merely to keep in tune with changing public opinion, others seem to be motivated by sincere interest in healing the scars left by segregation and centuries of hatred. Among the most notable is Strom Thurmond’s son, South Carolina state Senator Paul Thurmond!
“I have often wondered what is my purpose here, in the Senate. I’ve asked God to guide me and strengthen me. I have prayed that I will be able to make a difference for this state. I have prayed that I will leave this place better for the future generations. I am proud to take a stand and no longer be silent. I am proud to be on the right side of history regarding the removal of this symbol of racism and bigotry from the statehouse. But let it not satisfy us to stop there. Justice by halves is not justice. We must take down the confederate flag, and we must take it down now. But if we stop there, we have cheated ourselves out of an opportunity to start a different conversation about healing in our state. I am ready. Let us start the conversation.” -Paul Thurmond
Thurmond was among the first South Carolina politicians to call for the flag’s removal. Why is he willing to speak out against it, while so many others are afraid? Thankfully, some other South Carolina politicians have been willing to join him and give candid responses on the issue.
“I blame myself for not listening closely enough to people who see the flag differently than I do. It is a poor reflection on me that it took the violent death of my former desk mate in the SC Senate, and eight others of the best the Charleston community had to offer, to open my eyes to that.” -South Carolina Representative Mick Mulvaney. (Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you allow the majority to decide moral issues for you.)
“What lit the fire under this was the tragic death of my friend and his eight parishioners. It took my buddy’s death to get me to do this. I should feel ashamed of myself.” -South Carolina state Representative Norman Brannon. (Brannon introduced the bill which removed the flag from the State House grounds. He also insisted that presidential candidates should take a position on the flag.)
“I had a friend die Wednesday night for no reason other than he was a black man. Sen. Pinckney was an incredible human being. I don’t want to talk politics but I’m going to introduce the bill for that reason.” -Norman Brannon
“[T]he events of this past week call upon us to look at this in a different way. It’s time to move the flag from the capitol grounds. …July Fourth is just around the corner. Soon, we will once again celebrate the birth of our nation and of our freedoms. It will be fitting that our state capitol will soon fly the flag of our country and our state, and no others.” -Nikki Haley
“The fact that it causes pain to so many is enough to move it from the Capitol grounds.” -Nikki Haley. (Until we can admit the pain is caused by racism, and eliminate Dixie culture from the South, the pain will not go away.)
“The Confederate battle flag years and years ago was appropriated as a symbol of hate … and in defiance against civil and equal rights. It has been used as a symbol of hate and used by the Ku Klux Klan. It sends the wrong message. The grounds of the state Capitol belong to every citizen of South Carolina” -Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley. (Appropriated? Um, the flag was a symbol of White Supremacy and division from its inception!)
“After the tragic, hate-filled shooting in Charleston, it is only appropriate that we deal once and for all with the issue of the flag.” -Senator Lindsey Graham
“The [Confederate] flag represents to some people, a Civil War, and that was the symbol of one side. To others it is a racist symbol, and it has been used in a racist way. But the problems we have today in South Carolina and across the world are not because of a movie or because of symbols, it is because of what is in peoples’ hearts.” -Lindsey Graham. (Hopefully Graham is courageous enough to follow through on his sentiment and call for Republicans and other Americans to take a stand against Dixie culture. If not, the evil in people’s hearts will not go away on its own.)
Considering many businesses (such as Walmart, Amazon, and eBay) have stopped selling Confederate flags (including the ironically-named Dixie Flag Company), I think this change in public opinion may stick. Some may have gone a bit overboard though, such as golfer Bubba Watson painting over the flag on his Dukes of Hazzard car and companies temporarily banning Civil War video games. Such actions may do more to promote pro-Dixie reactionaries than help Southerners.
7. Rebels with a Cause
People in the South have historically taken pride in the idea of standing up to the establishment by being “rebels”. Dixielanders have popularized the idea that the Confederates were the rebels, but in reality the Confederates were desperately fighting to preserve the status quo of the states’ “right” to practice slavery. The true act of rebellion during the Civil War was undertaken by the American government led by Abraham Lincoln–who declared war on the Dixie tribalists and undemocratically ended slavery in the states which had democratically decided to shun the principles America was founded on and, worst of all, reject the concept of freedom. (An honorable mention goes out to the Southern rebels in West Virginia for refusing to accept Virginia’s secession and instead breaking away and joining America as a non-slave state, as well as the 100,000+ Southerners who courageously fought for the United States instead of the Confederacy.)
This true rebel spirit manifested itself again 100 years later during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement when Southerners refused to tolerate the hegemony of Dixie culture any longer. (Had Lincoln not been assassinated and replaced by incompetent politicians who were ambivalent about fighting racism, Reconstruction may have actually succeeded in integrating “black” Americans into mainstream society and prevented Dixielanders from establishing Jim Crow segregation in the first place!) Although the Civil Rights Movement brought the United States closer to true unity than any other point in history, it still failed to eliminate racism in its entirety. It has come time to once again rebel against the racism which is strongly rooted in established Dixie culture, but this time we intend to finish the job and end eliminate racism once and for all. It’s time to take a stand against Dixieland.
“Broken by it, I, too, may be; bow to it I never will. The probability that we may fall in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just; it shall not deter me.” -Abraham Lincoln
“I will only say that to the salvation of this Union there needs but one single thing—the hearts of a people like yours.” -Abraham Lincoln
America is a large country with many different regional cultures: New England, West Coast, Midwestern, and Southern, to name a few. However, simply because one lives in the South or possesses strong interest in Southern culture does not mean they have to be hostile to the idea of being part of a larger entity called America.
We must look at America’s motto: E Pluribus Unum–From many, one. Our regional variety does not–and should not–serve as a barrier that divides us; instead, the common fabric that unites these unique regions is America. The ideals which were able to unite the 13 colonies during the American Revolution, the dreams that inspired the Pilgrims and later compelled immigrants from every country on Earth to integrate into American society, and our love of freedom (even if not everyone understands its true definition) are the common threads which all American regional cultures are built upon.
If someone is most proud of the dates 1861-1865, then they are Dixielanders, regardless of what region they live in. If someone is most proud of the dates July 4, 1776-1783, then they are Americans, regardless of what region they live in. One can be an American while at the same time being a Southerner, but one absolutely cannot be American if they hold any loyalty to the racist culture of Dixie which was willing to leave the United States rather than give up slavery (not to mention enforcing Jim Crow laws of segregation for 100 years after the abolishment of slavery).
America holds many different cultures and customs, but racism, Islamophobia, Zionism and all other forms of tribalism are incompatible with E Pluribus Unum. It’s time for the True Left to take back the phrase “proud to be an American” from rightists who have empathy neither for people of other countries (especially those they perceive as being “Third World”) nor even for Americans of “non-white” ethnic backgrounds.
The only way to truly achieve E Pluribus Unum is to get rid of the racists who actively try to prevent it. UNITY THROUGH NOBILITY can stop them–are you ready to join us?