Charleston, the Flag, and History

The Confederate Flag has become, somewhat surprisingly, the focal point of the Charleston, SC shooting tragedy. Though I agree the flag should be removed from public buildings and from any representation on state flags, I am concerned by how it has happened. History is a weapon in the culture war and things will only progress from here.

Russell Moore, executive director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, argues, based on Christian beliefs, that the Confederate Flag should be removed from public spaces because of what it represents for too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

David French, also an evangelical Christian, defends the flag on National Review Online. French, a military veteran and also a southerner, argues that the flag is a complex symbol that clearly denotes the evils of slavery and racism, but, at the same time, it represents both the battlefield valor and the shame of losing for whites native to the region. He doesn’t back away from slavery, but he hopes that as a piece of history, we see the flag and use it to learn the painful lessons of our past.

Given these two points of view, I side with Russell Moore, but the academic in me hates to see our past, even its darkest parts, scrubbed away. Before we even get into that, let’s consider a few ideas:

  •  There is little to no relationship between the murderous rampage that killed nine innocents and the Confederate Battle Flag.
  • Millions of whites live in the South without mass murdering African-Americans. Seeking linkages between the region’s past and this madness is one of convenience and not one of intellectual necessity. A madman’s motives, no matter how we view them, are still wielded by a madman. His associations are not our associations.
  • The Confederate Flag is a complicated symbol that bears many meanings, some of them contradictory. White southerners, like French, see the valor of Lee and Jackson. African-Americans, understandably, see oppression and evil. To some degree, both are right. This does not have to be an either/or proposition.
  • State flags like Georgia and Mississippi, which featured the stars and bars, were put in place by Democrats, yet Republicans are being dragged into this issue, presumably because they are now the dominant party in the region. As they disentangle the states from the symbol, they are doing the right thing. Let us be clear, however, that the Democrats are the party of segregation, the party of Jim Crow, and the party of resistance to Brown v. Board of Education. It was the Democrats, not the Republicans, who filibustered the Civil Rights Act for eight weeks. It was a Democrat, not a Republican, who stood at the door to resist federal troops. It was a Democrat, not a Republican, who called out the National Guard to prevent African-Americans from enrolling at Central High in Little Rock. Therefore, if it is fair to ask Ted Cruz about the Confederate Flag, it is equally fair to ask Hillary Clinton about her party’s past.
  • Most symbols bear multiple meanings based on some degree of subjectivity. Just as the Confederate Flag is a symbol of oppression and valor, so is the Jefferson Memorial, Mount Vernon, and the work of Betsy Ross. In other words, if we are searching history for pure, early American symbols devoid of racism, the search will be a long one. History, since it is largely a study of human beings, is full of triumph and tragedy. While it may sound foolish to argue that the progressive wrecking ball will eventually include such things, just give it time.

I am worried about this movement to sanitize our history, even of its sins. Granted, there is a difference between refusing to glorify our sins, by displaying them on public buildings, and pretending they never existed. But the line between these extremes is more faint than we might imagine. The impulse to expurgate knows few boundaries.

Several years ago, my Berean colleague Tom Mach and I took a group of students to Europe on a World War II themed trip. We went through parts of England, France, Belgium, Germany, and Austria, so we got to walk through history, both inside and outside museums. We visited Nuremberg, where the Nazi party held elaborate rallies, some of which were captured by Leni Riefenstahl in the Triumph of the Will.  Much of the infrastructure for those rallies was destroyed either by Allied bombing or during the American occupation. The Zeppelin Field, which largely consisted of a massive grandstand, mostly survives. Part of the grandstand includes a stage that was once dominated by Nazi elites, including Hitler. Walking over those grounds, touching the stones soaked in bile, and standing where Hitler stood was fearsome.

Berlin was different. Hitler’s bunker was destroyed, and any buildings associated with the Nazis were razed. Instead, just next to the Brandenburg Gate sits the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial is made of hundreds of cement rectangles of varying heights, divided by rows. At first, I was flabbergasted by the display. It seemed an odd, overly abstract monument that robbed the Jews of their suffering.  But once I walked through it, and experienced its separation and the anxiety, I began to understand its power. Berliners have also preserved portions of the wall that divided their city for so long. There is a line of bricks, that snakes across the city, which replicates where the wall stood. There are also segments of the wall fully preserved. The wall’s scars are nowhere near healed and citizens are reminded of it daily.

Experiencing and seeing history is invaluable for developing empathy. Striding through ruins builds mental pathways that books cannot construct.

I cannot fathom what it must be like for an African-American to gaze upon the Confederate flag as it sits atop a public building or even as it dangles from a window. I am sure it is wrenching, a constant reminder of a past that stains us. At the same time, history surrounds us. Removing it or pulling it down does nothing to counter it. Obliterating history means we can no longer learn from it–for good or ill. To learn from the sins of the past, we must experience them, even in a limited way, sometimes freshly.

Perhaps this means, as Rand Paul has suggested, that the Confederate Battle Flag is best suited for a museum and not public display. There, it can be experienced by choice. But the flag, like the war that produced it, is American. It is part of a past with which we must grapple every day.

34 thoughts on “Charleston, the Flag, and History”

  1. I agree, a museum or memorial is a great place for the Confederate flag, I think there will always be people proudly displaying it, not all are racist, but I’d say most if not all racists are proud of that flag.

    I do want to counter something you said, you strongly implied multiple times that a distaste for the flag is an African American thing, while I know you recognize that white Americans can find the flag distasteful especially in official ways, I should note that not all African Americans dislike the flag. I know several that see it just as a symbol of southern pride. Actually I think all of the southern African Americans I know see it that way.

  2. Mark this kind of thinking is destroying America as every town honors King with a main road named in his honor but where are the roads honoring a great General like Lee or Jackson. There are black panther flags and there are Nazi flags that offend many of Americans both black and white. I hate to see politicians and historians not use common sense and blame a flag for being offensive. It is our history as you say. All states have flags and if history of the Confederate flag is taken away take some of the other offensive history things down. Personally I value Martin Luther King and the only complaint I have with our black brothers and sisters is that they get better treatment by our government then white Americans. Tare down history and you have no future. To our black Americans do not let a flag divide us as God’s creation. Love one another and live in peace together. Let’s work to make America great for all peoples.

  3. Ron, the roads are here in the South. We have Lee Jackson Memorial Hwy. Lee Hwy. Jeb Stuart High School. John Mosby Hwy. And many other examples of our Confederate heritage. I am still undecided if all or most of these are appropriate since we did re-join the USA and these men are considered traitors to it.

    1. I know about Lee Hwy and some of the others but not in every city of America are these great men of history noted like the African Americans of whom I admire like King. My point is do we lose history over fact and they were not traitors they were protecting their rights just as the Union North was wanting to defeat the South not so much to free slavery (my opinion) as to gain the riches of the South. As one commented the Democrats have demeaned the African Americans more than anyone and that is still the friction being touted by liberals.

      Sorry I stand up for America and both it’s good and and it’s bad heritage as any society that denies their historical facts will become a country without a past to teach principals to their children that our society might come together. Only Christ will change lives and attitudes and only loving one another can we build a better future while using a symbolic emblem as a reminder of our sinful past.

      1. Thank you for the reply. I did misunderstand. I still am undecided about even keeping Lee Jackson Mem. Hwy. in Virgina, their home state, though I am inclined toward keeping the name.

        As you said, only a heart change will ever improve our lives and lessen our racism, but part of that change may be parting with some beloved symbols either personally or as a nation. I do not thing the Confederate flag should be banned, but I think museums and historical battlefields are the most appropriate places for it.

      2. If this was a flag from any other war would we demand such drastic changes as the down “Don’t Tread on Me” and rename some other street that is named after some historical person? I seriously doubt it. However, after the radical Supreme Court decisions removing states rights and destroying one of two of God’s inistitutions established by the Creator it will be hard to say what will be stripped away next.

        I would lean towards praying for God’s mercy for the justices as they destroyed the biblical basis for martiage.

    2. These men are not traitors to the United States. Even Salmon Chase, appointed to be Chief Justice by Lincoln and who was a staunch unionist, told President Andrew Johnson that Jefferson Davis, who was in prison at the time, could not go to trial for treason because under the Constitution secession was not treason and he would be found innocent. This from the unionist Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

  4. Mark–
    Nice succinct framing of many of the issues. I share many of your concerns but I likewise agree that removing it as an official flag is the right thing to do, and also I would encourage Christians to do the same on private property. Why? Because we are called to love our neighbors, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. The essence of loving others is often giving up our “rights”. In our sinful flesh we demand rights–something we deserve, but God gives grace, something we don’t deserve–a gift. So in recognition that some Americans, black and white, feel legitimate pain from the stain of slavery and see in the flag the past institutionalization of that wrong, out of grace I would encourage all Americans to give up their rights on this issue–out of love for their neighbor.

    Of course there is a huge danger here–emboldens the left (in general) even further in their attempts to portray the South (convenient since it is more or less Republican) and anything that represents past traditions as racist and/or oppressive. It will also lead to more people on more issues claiming their victim status and how something “offends” them that needs to be purged from society. But lets fight those battles. On this one, let’s release our rights out of grace.

    1. If you have African-American neighbors and they truly know who you are as a person and they are Christians themselves, might they not also be called to give up their right to be offended if you choose, for reasons other than racism, to have a Confederate flag. If a person has a Confederate flag and honestly and genuinely wants to honor their heritage, should not African-Americans respect that.

      What happens if a person is flying the Christian flag and a Muslim neighbor becomes offended. Should that Christian abandon their right to fly that flag. Being willing to abandon rights is one thing, but once you start, it an lead to a slippery slope that leads to the Christian being unwilling to stand for what they believe in.

      1. Nathan, would you apply the same argument to someone who flew the swastika from his porch with Jewish neighbors next door? Would it really matter if they had a good friendship, and they knew each other well?

        Obviously, it’s not a perfect analogy, and the our culture far more aggressively looks down on that symbol, but isn’t the point still valid?

      2. I previously responded to a similar comment farther down. I would refer you to those postings.

  5. You hit the center of the issue but not all are Christians as the example of the deranged killer did in the church but the flag was not the cause. People kill people not guns and flags are symbols of our heritage and freedom to display a flag in public be a Confederate or some radical flag is limiting once again freedoms that both men and women of America have fought to preserve. We live in the fallen world and again the liberals are stirring up much of the trouble in our nation.

  6. As someone who believes that the Confederacy was right on the Constitutional issues (and yes, we can agree to disagree on the right of secession, etc), and yet someone who deplores slavery and racism, I was greatly saddened by the actions of this murderer as soon as I heard about it. Then came the great example of Christ-love displayed through the victims of the slain in their forgiveness and their plea for this young man to repent. As a student of the War Between the States and one who has studied extensively those who were involved, I can say without reservation that Confederate leaders like Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and yes, even the much misunderstood and maligned Nathan Bedford Forrest, would have been some of the first in line to condemn this killer’s actions.

    Part of me seriously wonders whether the whole Confederate flag issue was blown way out of proportion by those who want to shift the narrative away from the humbling display of true Christian response to something over which they can score political points. One journalist even chided the victims families saying that African-Americans need to stop forgiving white racists. On the contrary, the spirit of forgiveness will do more to combat racism than anything else in this world.

    But most distressing is the sheer level of hypocrisy by the numerous retailers who have decided to yank Confederate-themed merchandise from their stock while (in the case of eBay and Amazon especially) still offering Soviet, North Korean, and Nazi-themed merchandise. You can buy an Iranian flag or the “Hammer and Sickle” flag but not a Confederate one. And I am far from the only one to see the irony in this and hopefully these retailers will see it too and to be consistent either return to stock their Confederate merchandise or pull all these other categories of merchandise which represent regimes that were magnitudes worse in the scope of their brutality than anything that occurred in the South.

    But now to my feelings specifically on the Confederate flag…

    1. The Confederate flag in Columbia since 2000 has actually flown at a war memorial. Perhaps the official statehouse grounds are not the best place for it and, let me be frank, the arrangement that resulted in it being fixed at full staff thus resulting in it flying at full staff while every other flag was at half-staff resulted in a rather insensitive blunder.

    2. Despite my feelings about the War Between the States, flying the Confederate flag on government grounds, aside from government-owned battlefields and national parks with history associated with the war, should not occur.

    3. This nation sorely needs a vast improvement in historical education. Some estimates are that perhaps as many as 80,000 African Americans, many willingly, served in various capacities in the Confederate armies, and though a larger number served in the Union armies, the ratio of African-American to white Americans were roughly the same in both armies since the Union armies were consistently larger than the Confederate ones. Many African-Americans in the South, at least initially, before Lincoln made slavery an issue in 1863, were just as loyal to their States as their masters or white neighbors. Some African-Americans, and Native Americans, owned slaves themselves. The institution of slavery was not solely owned by whites. In fact, in 1860, the largest plantation in Charleston, where incidentally this shooting took place, was owned by a free African-American who had around 200 slaves. Today, there is a small minority of African Americans who are actually members of organizations like the Sons of Confederate Veterans and whose ancestors fought in gray and who honor their ancestors’ sacrifices just as much as any white descendant of a Confederate veteran. Whether you side with the Union or the Confederacy, in modern education, education on the War Between the States and the history of slavery has become very generalized and in many ways entirely misunderstood. Those who say the war was only about slavery and slavery alone are badly mistaken and those who say the war was not about slavery are also equally mistaken. In the end, if this whole controversy shows us anything, it is that the state of education, particularly historical education is woefully lacking.

    1. And just to clarify, none of what I wrote above should in any way be construed to mean that I in any way sympathize with slavery.

      As Robert E. Lee himself said… “There are few, I believe, in this enlightened age, who will not acknowledge that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil. It is idle to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it is a greater evil to the white than to the colored race.”

      1. Nathan,
        I also am sadden and have deep sympathy for the loved ones that loss their lives in this deranged killer. I like Mark’s view that we are to love one another and this will reduce hatred. To all my brothers and sisters of any race Christ loved us and we are too love one another. I think this would preclude causing more distance among the races of our nation.

        How do you know them by their love one for another. If the politicians were more concerned with harmony verses dividing our nation we could have peace with our African Americans.

  7. Let’s get a few facts straight regarding parties and racism:

    1. BOTH major parties–Republican and Democratic–supported Jim Crow and did their part to oppose civil rights and to promote white supremacy. Blacks en masse started voting Democratic in the 1930’s, in part because of the Lily-White movement in the Republican party and in part because FDR was far more supportive of civil rights and of the political participation of backs that Republicans were at that point. In some states Republicans had rejected the black-and-tan approach since the early 1900’s.

    2. Southern Democrats started turning away from the Democratic party in 1948 after Harry Truman desegregated the military. That act prompted Strom Thurmond to start the Dixiecrats–the States Rights Democratic Party.

    By failing to point out that States Rights Democrats were obviously not national Democrats, you are telling only a half-truth.

    This was the same Thurmond who fillibustered civil rights legislation, and the same one who revived the Confederate flag from a symbol of heritage to one of racial hate and of opposition to civil rights. The same who served the last decades in the US Senate as a Republican.

    3. Regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964, here is how the major parties voted:

    The original House version:

    Southern Democrats: 7–87 (7%–93%)
    Southern Republicans: 0–10 (0%–100%)
    Northern Democrats: 145-9 (94%–6%)
    Northern Republicans: 138-24 (85%–15%)

    The Senate version:

    Southern Democrats: 1–20 (5%–95%)
    Southern Republicans: 0–1 (0%–100%)
    Northern Democrats: 45-1 (98%–2%)
    Northern Republicans: 27-5 (84%–16%)

    Obviously, party did not make as much of the difference as region. But it is clear from this data that Democrats were more supportive of the CRA than were Republicans from the same region.

    4. The party with the greater commitment to civil rights since the 1930’s has been the Democratic party. The parties have basically flipped since then.

    1. Jeff,

      I am happy you brought up some of these issues. I do appreciate your readership and your criticisms. Unsurprisingly, I disagree with you, but hopefully in the right spirit.

      How many Republican governors and state legislatures in the South instituted Jim Crow policies from the 1890s through the 1950s? I think the number is Zero. Why? Because the Democrat party dominated the South by any reasonable measurement for nearly 100 years. To say with anything resembling a straight face that Republican supported Jim Crow is just fanciful. It was Democrats, not Republicans, who instituted the White Primary, the Literacy Test, the Poll Tax, the Grandfather Clause, and sheer terror as tools against African-American political involvement. To blame this, in any capacity, on Republicans is unfair at best. You could argue the GOP could have done more at the national level to blunt the Democrats’ assault on African-Americans, but remember that due to their superior seniority, southern Democrats exercised significant control over key posts in Congress.

      I am not going to pretend that Republicans were innocents in all of this, but to attribute it to them is just unfair.

      Consider the major figures of suppression during the key period of the 30s through the 60s. Which party did they belong to? George Wallace, Eugene Talmadge, Orval Faubus, Ross Barnette, John C. Stennis, James Eastland, John Sparkman, Richard Russell, Wilbur Mills, Bull Connor, etc… They are all Democrats. I can honestly understand why this might shame Democrats because these men were odious. It is also true that many courageous Democrats, like Johnson or Nicholas Katzenbach, faced down these bullies later and that is unquestionably true and to their credit.

      It is convenient for you to say that starting in 1948 they really were not “national” Democrats, but that doesn’t wash. They caucused with Democrats in Washington. They voted in steady streams of Democrat leadership in Congress during these decades. Remember, Republicans only controlled Congress early in Eisenhower’s presidency. They did not control the House again for 40 years. Back in the South, voters still voted Democrat at extremely high levels. There are some exceptions, wherein the GOP did well in the South, but that was almost exclusively limited to the presidency.

      It is true the GOP began to make inroads in the region, but those start with the peripheral southern states, or “rim South” as those who study this issue call it, places like VA, FL, NC, TN. We don’t see meaningful deep South penetration until later. It is not until the 1990s that you start to see Republican congressional delegations in the South and state legislatures began to follow slowly.

      You also have to keep in mind that this transformation, from a Democrat to a Republican region, had many causes. Migration reversed, with African Americans leaving the region in large numbers and Northerners moving into the South. You do begin to see some individuals shift in party i.d., like Thurmond, the racist bigot who started as a Democrat, but most change happens through replacement and generational transformation.

      Of course, I made no claims about voting for the CRA, I referenced the filibuster of it. You did bring up the numbers, which still bear my point. You want to break them down by region, which is fine, but that does not work in any meaningful way with Republicans in the South. The number of Southern Republicans is almost inconsequential. The fact remains, in spite of what you have shown, that as a party, the GOP supported the CRA at rates higher than the Democrats. In the Senate, GOP supported the CRA at about an 83% rate vs. a Democrat support of about 67% in the Senate. Republicans support about 80% in the House vs. Democrat support of about 61%. Again, you are free to pretend those Southerners were not “Democrats,” but they would have fought anyone who called them anything but Democrats. They were the sons of the storied “Yellow Dog Democrats” who would vote for a Yellow Dog before voting for a Republican. Granted, they did begin to support Republican presidential candidates later.

      Want more facts? Of the 101 signatories to the Southern Manifesto, the document that called for massive resistance to change in the region, 99 were Democrats. Yes, 2 were Republicans, both House members from Virginia, I believe. If this is what you mean by “both parties” supporting these policies, I suppose you are correct.

      Also, let’s think of the prominent southern Democrats who were KKK members and were elected to Congress. Sen. Hugo Black was nominated to the Supreme Court by FDR in spite of his status as a klansman. Not only was he a member, he administered the oath of membership to new members in Alabama. Or, what of Robert Byrd, who was so high in the organization he earned one of their funny titles–“Cyclops” or something like that. He was the “conscience of the US Senate” at one point. Far from distancing themselves from such men, Democrats, regional and national, embraced and elevated them in a way that undermines your contention that the Democrats were opposed to such things starting in the 1930s.

      Trust me, I understand the complexity of this. Byrd denounced his racist past later in his career and I am glad he did. At the same time, we cannot pretend the past did not exist. He voted against Thurgood Marshall to be on the Supreme Court. He filibustered the Civil Rights Act. Yet, he was a valued member of the Democrat leadership in the chamber for a generation. The same is true of J. William Fulbright, another signee of the Southern Manifesto. He eventually also renounced his views and I am glad he did, but he is nearly always venerated in the Democrat party. He was Bill Clinton’s mentor, which is always mentioned well before any notion of his racist policies.

      In some ways, you are correct that the Democrats started to fracture around race in 1948. Thurmond was a major part of that. Some of it was a response against Truman’s integration of the armed forces, which was a truly courageous action that could have cost him re-election. This fracturing, however, was not immediate and it was not persistent. Yes, Eisenhower did well in the region during 1952 and 1956, but in 1960, Democrats sweep most of the South in spite of an independent campaign. Republicans did win Florida, TN, and VA, but lost in most of the deep South to both Dems and the independent candidacy. Again, you can still argue this shows cracks, but the cracks are not yet breaking Republican. In 1964, Goldwater’s candidacy is probably the beginning of the end for Democrats in the South at the presidential level, with the GOP winning the deep South. Keep in mind, though, that the region was still dominated by Democrats at every other level of government. Also, Carter won nearly all of the South in 1976 (except for VA, I think). Clinton won GA, LA, TN, and Arkansas in 1992.

      In general, I agree with elements of your contention that the Democrats grew into the party of civil rights. African-Americans did begin to vote Democrat as part of the New Deal coalition. Of course, the ones that had the freedom to vote for FDR did so in states outside the South, where Democrats still limited their voting rights sharply. However, FDR’s record on civil rights is mixed. In spite of his party’s often dominant control of Congress throughout his presidency, it is not until 1957 we see a Civil Rights bill–also filibustered at great length by Strom Thurmond–still a Democrat at that point. FDR has few meaningful civil rights accomplishments, especially as compared to Truman and Johnson.

      Regardless, I think it is fair to say the Democrats were the party of racial suppression in the South. Does that include all Democrats? No, of course not, but that was not the claim. I claimed the Democrats were responsible for the region’s sins during the Jim Crow era. Yes, the issue is complex, but I think the central contention still stands.

      I hope your summer is going well.

      1. I am not sure you really addressed my points…


        Of course the Democratic party was largely responsible, in one party states in the South, for the white primaries, poll taxes (which in many states were not all that instrumental in disenfranchising African-Americans), literacy tests (which were), etc. I think I have read every doctoral dissertation on the 1890’s white supremacy campaigns in the South, starting with Mississippi.

        But white supremacy was something most every single Southern white, Democratic or Republican, accepted in the late 1800’s through at least WW2. And in some states, blacks were kicked out (banned!) from Republican party politics in the early 1900’s.

        On race, BOTH parties were on the same page; when it came to economic issues/big business, the parties differed. That said, Theodore Roosevelt was much better than Wilson, but Coolidge, Harding, and Hoover cared little to nothing about African-Americans.

        I assume you agree with me that 1948 was a pivotal year in the Democratic party, since Thurmond ran against the national Democratic party as a Dixiecrat, taking 39 electoral votes from Truman, who was predicted by some to lose the race to Thomas Dewey.

        1964 was also a pivotal year, since the electoral landslide of LBJ and the Democratic party made possible the passage of the Civil Rights Act and other democratic legislation. Thurmond was one of the first segregationists to leave the Democratic party for good, and in the future the Republican party would be the party of fellow segregationists/bigots such as Jesse Helms.

        Reagan’s 1980 election cemented that status for good, and the party of civil rights in 2015 is the Democratic party. For now. Until the parties flip again.

        I assume you also acknowledge that blacks started voting Democratic long before 1964. It was during the 1930’s that the shift was strongly evident. As one newspaper editor (Robert Vann, I think) put it, it was time to turn the picture of Lincoln around, since that debt had been paid.

        Many blacks turned to the communist party, since that was the only party to take civil rights seriously back before WW2. That explains in part why many African-Americans are socially conservative and economically liberal.

        Have a nice summer yourself!

  8. The southern states succeeded from the Union because slave owners in the South were not willing to free their slaves. The confederate flag only came into existence for this reason. Therefore, I think it is safe to assume that those who fly the stars and bars do so with a great amount of hostility toward blacks and the North. I lived for a while in NC in the 80s and at the time, behind our backs, we were known to southerners as dam yanks.

    From my prospective, politics over the years in the south had more to do with white vs. black than Democrat vs. Republican. The parties flipped when Democrats in the north became more aligned with black issues. Southern whites flocked from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party as Republicans began to see they could pick up the white vote by being more pro white on the issues. It seems to me that Jim Crow Laws were put in place by Democrats more due to the fact that that was the white party of the south at that time. They were white laws imposed on blacks. They were democrat laws due to timing not political philosophy.

    1. In his inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln specifically and clearly said he had no intention, or constitutional authority, to interfere with slavery. Unwillingness to free slaves was a non-issue because that was not being threatened and in fact Lincoln, in an attempt to coax the seceded States back, pushed for passage of what was called the Corwin Amendment which would have prohibited the Federal government from any interference in slavery. Had this amendment been ratified by the States (it passed Congress and is actually still technically before the States) the 13th Amendment to the Constitution would have been an explicit protection of slavery rather than its abolition. Yet the South still seceded so there was far more to secession that a simple refusal to free slaves. Prior to the war, many prominent Southerners believed slavery’s days were numbered but were very concerned, particularly in the aftermath of John Brown’s terrorist attack on Harper’s Ferry and his elevation to martyr status by the small but powerful abolitionist lobby, and thus feared that they would not be protected, as was the constitutional duty of the executive, in the event of servile insurrections. This was why the Deep South seceded. Yes, it was over slavery, and yes, some supported it simply to support slavery, but for many it was because of the fear of more John Brown’s. And while protection of “State institutions” was certainly a listed cause in many secession ordinances, also cited by many were the tariff issues as well as debates over internal improvement spending by the Federal government.

      And secession was in no ways monolithic among the seceded States. The seven deep south States seceded for the above reasons but the Upper South (Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee) initially was pro-Union, especially Virginia which had an invested interest and affinity for the union of States many of Virginia’s prominent citizens (Washington, Madison, Jefferson, etc) had worked to create, and only seceded after Fort Sumter and after and in opposition to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to forcibly bring the seceded States back. A look at electoral votes show that the seven Deep South States totaled 47 electoral votes in 1860-61. The four Upper South States was another 41, nearly half. When those who sided with the Confederacy from Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri are included, roughly half of the Confederate States’ population joined it after and in response to the call for troops. It was Lincoln’s belief that secession was illegal (for reasons I will not get into now) that led to the war. It is a common fallacy that secession automatically = war.

      If the Union had won the war in 1861 or early 1852, or had the Southern States repudiated secession anytime prior to Jan. 1, 1863,, slavery would not have been abolished. For the North slavery was a non-issue until after the Emancipation Proclamation, and even then many in the north railed against abolition being made a war goal, including riots in which free blacks living the the North were lynched.

      And if the protection of slavery was truly the goal of secession, then why, in 1864 and 1865, was the Confederacy moving toward a willingness to part with slavery? Many in the Confederacy valued winning its independence far more than keeping slavery.

      So, no, the Confederate flag did come into existence solely for that reason, and, no, it is not safe to assume that those who fly the Confederate flag are hostile to blacks. Some are, no question. An no question there are those in the South who exhibit hostility toward the North. But many others, I would argue a majority, are not and to make such a generalized stereotype is actually rather demeaning itself. There are many Northerners would would have a reciprocally stereotypical and hostile view of Southerners.

      1. Why Did the South Secede?
        Granted, secession was preemptive and hotheaded given the facts. The South Carolina Secession Convention produced a document entitled, “Declaration of the Immediate Causes”, which induce and justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union”. Other states followed.
        The Declaration asserted that the Northern states had combined in league to subvert the original scope of the Constitution — namely that:
        • the Northern states were failing to return fugitive slaves, in violation of their obligations under Article Four of the Constitution.
        • the Northern states tolerated abolitionists and insurrectionists (such as John Brown) who incited slaves in the South to rebel.
        • misguided political and religious beliefs in the North made future sectional unity impossible.
        • some states were elevating persons “incapable of becoming citizens” (i.e. free blacks) and using their votes to support anti-slavery policies.
        • the Republican Party was planning to wage a war against slavery upon taking office in March 1861.
        Were these valid fears for the people of South Carolina? Maybe not but still these were the reasons given. Yes, in addition there was the fear that the federal government was getting too powerful and trumping state’s rights. However, the state’s rights most concerning had to do with slavery. So why display a flag that evokes thoughts in most, of slavery and a divided nation other than to make a statement that “we still believe in The Declaration of the Immediate Causes”.
        Now, I am not arguing that they don’t have the right to still be fighting the war in their minds and hearts. They do have that right and the right to display their flag just as some may wish to display the swastika. However, I argue that most of us know why someone displays the swastika and it’s not because they just think it’s a cool shape. Likewise, I think most of know the reason why the vast majority of the confederate flags are flown. Seems obvious to me.

    2. “From my prospective, politics over the years in the south had more to do with white vs. black than Democrat vs. Republican. The parties flipped when Democrats in the north became more aligned with black issues. Southern whites flocked from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party as Republicans began to see they could pick up the white vote by being more pro white on the issues.”


      In the 1960’s , esp 1968, Republicans smartly took advantage of Southern anger with civil rights legislation. Democrats started losing the South, gradually. Now Republicans basically have the whole thing in some states.

      Nixon’s “Law and Order” campaign was not just hilariously ironic (as his presidency thumbed its nose at the law) but had racial overtones.

  9. It seems obvious to you but apparently its not so obvious to the ones who actually fly it. Maybe that is why many Southerns take a dim view of the Northerners because of such generalizations.

  10. Sure it’s obvious to the ones who fly it. They flue it proudly during anti desegregation demonstrations.

    1. What a declaration of causes says or does not say cannot be taken without the context it occurred in. The fact is, from a purely legal standpoint, northern States were refusing to return fugitive slaves, they did tolerate abolitionists and insurrectionists who incited slaves, and in part, all of the points except for the last one, preparing to wage a war on slavery, were to differing extents true. Were these valid fears? Well, to the extent that they were true, yes, they were in fact valid, and subsequent events substantiated those fears. Whether those fears are morally justified is an entirely different topic, but legally, they were valid.

      And the truth is, unlike the United States, the Confederacy was never given the chance to become more that it was. The North was just as racist if not more so that the South and most whites did not want blacks in the North. Many northern states had laws, including one in Illinois supported by Abraham Lincoln, that prohibited blacks from moving in to live there. But yet, we hear nothing about this today and “Old Glory” does not represent slavery in the minds of many today because unlike the Confederate flag it had a chance to grow. Abraham Lincoln and the radical Republicans ensured that the Confederacy did not have that chance by overseeing a war that killed 650,000 Americans and laid waste to great swathes of the South.

      When I see a Confederate flag, I see what could have been, not was was, and that could of been is certainly absent slavery because even in an independent Confederacy, the institution of slavery’s day’s were numbered.

      1. So what’s the point of flying a flag that represents what could have been? What’s the point? Isn’t it healthy to leave that in the past and to move on? There is no productive reason to fly the stars and bars.

  11. Um? The Confederate battle flag is not the “Stars and Bars”. The “Stars and Bars” is the 1st National Flag of the Confederacy. The battle flag, or the Confederate flag as most know it today, was created in late 1861 because the “Stars and Bars” in the smoke and confusion of battle, particularly at First Manassas, was so similar to the “Stars and Stripes” that it created battlefield confusion over which units were where and which side they were on. The battle flag we know today was created specifically for this reason (the rectangular version was used by the Army of Northern Virginia and the rectangular by the western armies, specifically the Army of Tennessee).

    The battle flag design became so popular with the troops that it was later incorporated as a canton in the 2nd National flag (the canton in the upper corner with the rest of the flag white) and also in the little used 3rd National flag which was an altered version of the 2nd but with an added red vertical strip.

    All told, when you include the Bonnie Blue flag, there are, including the battle flags and the national flags, at least half a dozen different flags that could be called a “Confederate flag”. Like it or not, all these are part of our nation’s history and many people are interested in these flags for the historical value, so yes, having these flags, and displaying them, does have a productive reason. And how can you know the minds of people better than they themselves. When many people across the South, and yes, even the whole nation, for some northerners also want the flags for the historical value, today say their display of the flag is not motivated by racism, why not believe them? Must they be ridiculed because others choose to use it for more sinister purposes? Many of those who fought for the Confederacy also gave numerous statements that to them the war was not about slavery and they could have cared less. Many of them after the war vocally said the loss of the slaves meant nothing to them and openly lamented the fact that some of their colleagues had made comments (such as Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech”) that held up slavery as a chief cause of secession. Some, including Robert E. Lee, openly welcomed slavery’s end. Your comments seem to say that because of those that did mention slavery, or because a declaration of causes listed it, then the rest are liars and that you know better than they themselves what was/is in peoples minds. That, my friend, is a very bold road to take.

    You are, of course, free to your opinions and deny that the War Between the States was about more than just slave owners refusing to give up their slaves. I would just point out about myself that when I was much younger, I used to believe that, before I even understood the concept of secession or any of the myriad complexities of the era. I used to believe it was solely about one side trying to preserve slavery and one trying to end it. Then when I became interested in the war and studied it for myself, over time, my views of the war changed. Some people who study it come to different conclusions than I have but they also recognize the other issues besides slavery that played their roles.

    I currently own two Confederate flags (the Bonnie Blue and the 1st National). I hope to be able to get a couple other variants, something that before now was not as “urgent” as before. My interest in having them is purely historical because I am, as the terminology goes, a “Civil War buff”. And if I choose to display them, I do so for reasons having nothing to do with slavery and racism and if I ever fly one outside (one of them currently hangs inside) and am questioned about it, I will tell why I have them. If someone chooses to believe otherwise and not take my word for it, they are free to do so, but it is their problem not mine.

    1. All the above being said, I would also add a couple further comments…

      Because I am a Christian and therefore sensitive to the feelings of Christian brothers, if I ever do fly a CSA flag outside, it will likely be the Bonnie Blue or the 1st National, flags that were not used during the opposition to civil rights in the 20th century and have significantly less controversy attached to them as far as race is concerned. I would also not fly it alone but only with an American flag also visible, and if on the same pole, the American flag of course on top.

      Perhaps others who want to honor Confederate ancestors could take this approach as well and hang any battle flag or flag including that design inside. It is their right under the 1st Amendment to do otherwise, but this would be my own personal approach.

  12. If I were to fly a flag with a swastika along with an American flag do you think that may offend my next door Jewish neighbor?

    The war is over get over it.

    1. Comparison of the Confederate flag to the swastika is one of the most fallacious arguments out there. No one denies the racial issues of the Confederacy or of slavery, but remember that the Stars and Stripes flew over a slave nation as well. There is absolutely no comparison between the two. Southerners were some of the most ardent opponents of fascism and Nazism and the ideology of States rights was the direct opposite of centralized fascism and National Socialism.

      The verdict on the swastika is universal, even by the descendants of those who fought under it. The verdict on the Confederate flag is not, no matter how much you or anyone else might like it to be so.

      But that aside, you apparently decided to entirely ignore that I said for public/outside display I would not use the battle flag design because, though I feel differently, it has those undesirable undertones. But don’t you dare tell me what I should or should not do privately. I know the war is over, but that doesn’t mean I have to forget it, not talk about it, not debate it, not discuss it, or not commemorate those who fought in it, on both sides (and I have numerous ancestors from both sides). You seem to want everyone to accept your view that all Southerners are racists and any one who has a Confederate flag is racist and that the politically correct version of history, that preservation of slavery was the sole and only cause of secession and the war and that everyone should just accept it. It seems to me I am not the one that has something to get over here.

  13. Nathan:

    I never said anything against anyone from the south. I wasn’t comparing the swastika to the confederate flag. I was merely stating that both are offensive to some. Perception becomes reality and no matter how fond you are of the confederate flag many find it offensive for reasons already stated.

    If you want to fly it in your own personal space, I agree. No harm done.

    1. I misunderstood. For that I apologize.

      The point I was attempting to make was not the Confederate flag is not offensive, because, yes, I understand that to many African Americans it is. But if you will indulge me a moment. As recently as 2011 (in a poll done for the 150th anniversary of the war’s start) less than half (41%) of blacks had a negative reaction when they saw the flag while around 10% actually had a positive view of it. Another 45% were indifferent. This is far from a consensus, unlike the universally agreed upon view of the offensiveness of the swastika (aside from a very few fanatics). Now I am sure Dylann Roof’s actions have noticeably changed these polls numbers for 2015, but we must remember he is one man whose view of the Confederate flag I seriously doubt is shared by the majority of those who, in the present day, fly it.

      Perhaps a different response to the whole incident might be a campaign by those who fly the flag for reasons entirely apart from racism to convince African-Americans that they have nothing to fear. This would admittedly be hard because, especially on the left, there are those who have an invested interest in making sure the philosophy of limited government and States rights is always associated with slavery, but it is not impossible.

      In the end, I think this is the true motive behind those politicians and social agitators who rail against the flag because their true goal is not to eradicate what they claim is a symbol of racism but to forever stain the doctrine of limited government with that of racism and slavery in order to advance the power of the central government.

      We can agree to disagree on the causes of secession and the war, and what the flag does, or should, represent. Many people across this nation do so all the time. Ultimately, the concept of being able to “agree to disagree” is one of the great things about this nation. Unfortunately there are those who seek to undermine that with the concept of “disagree to allow you to disagree”. Most of these people you will find on the political left, the so-called “liberals” who claim to value “toleration” above all else.

  14. Amen brother. Thanks for the lively conversation. I agree, when one attacks a symbol there is usually a deeper agenda.

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