(This is really long, so I apologize in advance. But I wouldn't have written it if I didn't think it was worth reading. Grab a cup of coffee, and read to the end before you judge.)
I am a sixth generation Texan - my grandfather's grandfather arrived in this state (then a province of Mexico) in 1834. I am at least a tenth generation Southerner - admittedly, as a Smith, tracing one's lineage can be difficult, but to the best of my knowledge, my family were Scots-Irish who came here in the mid-18th century or earlier. My Dad's family were slaveowners; all my ancestors, on Mom and Dad's side, were from the South. All fought for the South in the Civil War; my grandmother's grandfather, Jim Youngblood. actually fought in the Texas Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. If anyone should understand Southern pride, it's me.
And the South has a great deal to be proud of. We have good and decent people (and some delightfully amusing rednecks who make good evening news fodder), a great climate, we create huge amounts of jobs, and most of our people are decent, God-fearing Christians who try, to the best of their ability, to practice the Biblical commands to love their neighbors and their God. There is no place in America that I would rather live and work than here in the South, especially in the sun-drenched and heaven-blest state of Texas!
But after weeks of following the drama surrounding the Confederate flag on FB and other social media. I am fed up to the gills with the amount of sheer ignorance, a hundred and fifty years after the guns fell silent, over what the Civil War was actually about. Why are so many people going hysterical over a battle flag that was furled in defeat in 1865? The answer is simple: the vast majority of the people in the South have been lied to their whole lives over what the Civil War was really about. In short, they have bought into the myth of "the Lost Cause" - that the Southern states seceded from the Union to preserve "states' rights" rather than to defend the institution of slavery. This sacred Southern doctrine was actually created after the Civil War by none other than Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who barely mentioned slavery in his three volume "Rise and Fall of the Confederate States", written long after the war was over. For him, it was a war of Southern liberation, based on the principles of our Founders - except for that rascally Thomas Jefferson, whose idea that "all men are created equal" was a pernicious bit of mischief that Southerners were all too eager to throw under the bus. So what began as a desperate rationalization by a defeated traitor (I wonder why the North never hung him from that "sour apple tree" they were always singing about?) that became an article of faith, taught in Southern public schools to this day. (I am ashamed to say that the official TEAKS for the State of Texas list "states' rights" as the primary cause of the Civil War.)
But what was the REAL reason the South seceded? The best way to find out is to consult the primary source documents, something most of the people shouting in favor of the Confederate flag have never bothered to do. Here are some quotes from the Texas Ordinance of Secession, passed by the State Legislature in 1860:
She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received 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. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy.
And, further down:
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color--a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
A lie, BTW, the Republican Party intended only to restrict slavery to its current borders, not to abolish it altogether. But, all told, the Texas Ordinance of secession mentions slavery twenty-one times, while mentioning "rights" only five times in a context that doesn't refer to the right to buy and own slaves. What about the other states in the South? Well, South Carolina was the birthplace of the Confederacy and the one state that had been pushing for secession for decades. Here is a selection from South Carolina's Declaration of Secession:
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be "to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.
We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.
For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.
This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.
On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
When you cut through the legalese, the bottom line was South Carolina was prepared to pack up its beards and leave the Union because of the election of a President who was morally opposed to slavery. Incidentally, the idea of a Republican "war against slavery" was a Southern hallucination - Lincoln's First Inaugural clearly outlines his goal, that his purpose was not to wipe out slavery but to "restrict the territorial expansion of it."
And, of course, there is the infamous "cornerstone speech" made by Alexander Stephens - it was made only a few months after the Confederacy was created, before the first battles of the Civil War had been fought, when Southern independence seemed like a real possibility. Remember, a President has to speak to the world, while the VP's job is to throw red meat to the party faithful. So what did Stephens say to the cheering crowds of the newly seceded Confederate States?
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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. [Applause.] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind -- from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just -- but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.
OK, maybe Stephens was having a bad day. Maybe he was having a Joe Biden moment. But wait - here is what he said one month later:
No truth is clearer than that the best form or system of government for any people or society is that which secures the greatest amount of happiness, not to the greatest number, but to all the constituent elements of that society, community or State. If our system does not accomplish this; if it is not the best for the negro as well as for the white man; for the inferior as well as the superior race, it is wrong in principle. But if it does, or is capable of doing this, then it is right, and can never be successfully assailed by reason or logic. That the negroes with us, under masters who care for, provide for and protect them, are better off, and enjoy more of the blessings of good government than their race does in any other part of the world, statistics abundantly prove. As a race, the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature, and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions. Our system, therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. It is founded not upon wrong or injustice, but upon the eternal fitness of things. Hence, its harmonious working for the benefit and advantage of both. Why one r ace was made inferior to another, is not for us to inquire. The statesman and the Christian, as well as the philosopher, must take things as they find them, and do the best he can with them as he finds them.
The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth. They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also. Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning. Hence so much misapplied sympathy for fancied wrongs and sufferings. These wrongs and sufferings exist only in their heated imaginations. There can be no wrong where there is no violation of nature’s laws.
And on and on and on it goes. In every Southern state, there was almost universal agreement that the South left the Union in order to protect and preserve slavery. In fact, shortly after his election, before most of the South seceded, Lincoln summed it up aptly in a letter to one of his old Southern friends: "You think slavery is right and ought to be extended, I think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That is the sum total of our difference." No one at the time contradicted that. So why can't we see it today?
The Confederate battle flag is part of our history in the South. It deserves to fly at Civil War battlefields and monuments, and over the graves of the men who died beneath its folds. They were men of courage and honor, even if they were on the wrong side of history. (Let me add: the desecration of Confederate graves being carried out by angry blacks in some parts of the South is ghoulish, barbaric, and deserves to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!) But this massive dose of denial that pervades social media isn't about Southern pride - it's about historical ignorance.
Let's have a moment of truth here and realize that the war really was about slavery - that the South left the Union to maintain and protect their "peculiar institution." That is why, to most American blacks, the Confederate battle flag is about as offensive as the swastika is to European Jews, None of us would plant a Nazi flag in front of a synagogue, so why fly the Confederate flag where all our black neighbors can see it. Instead, how about if we try to follow the Biblical injunction:
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men."
Can we try that for awhile?