Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: By Donald Lee Pardue (Flickr: Still Waving).
In his 1953 novel ‘Bring the Jubilee’, Ward Moore imagines a revised history in which the Confederacy wins the Battle of Gettysburg and thus the Civil War. A key theme of the book, is the imperialist ambitions of the Confederate States between the end of the war, and the 1950s. President Robert Lee, whom takes over at the end of Jefferson Davis’ term in Office fights and fights to stop an imperialistic Congress invading Central and South America. The novel is of course imagined alternate history, but it is shockingly close to reality when we note the future aims of the Confederacy during the Civil War period, and the complete ignorance of this by those who still fly the Confederate Flag (appropriated from the original Army of Tennessee flag) under the misapprehension that it represents “State’s Rights”.
I have travelled from the UK to Michigan three times this year. The three seasons I have encountered have all had their merits, and the wonderful landscape adapts each time to reveal a hidden beauty that I hadn’t seen previously. The red leaves of autumn are calming whilst the summer evenings provide beautiful sunsets over the lake. I love Michigan.
However, as an outsider, I have been shocked to see that people still fly the Confederate flag.
I am ensured that it is a symbol of the South in general – and in particular, States rights. This is of course, nonsense. It pre-supposes that the Confederate flag and the Confederacy in general, along with secession was ever about State’s Rights. I believe this mythical idea of the old South used to be referred to as the ‘Lost Cause’; a devious yet charming little term of propaganda romanticising the South to a degree that it absolutely doesn’t deserve.
The ‘State’s Rights’ claim as to the cause of the Civil War suggests that the Southern States were ardent defenders of the individual States as a loose collection of autonomous States that could vote on and set their own laws and regulations, and trade with each other, without Federal interference. This is simply not true. The Southern States were far more anti-freedom, and anti-States Rights than the North.
For example, on the eve of secession, South Carolina issued a declaration entitled:
“Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.”
– Their grievences listed, are almost entirely based on slavery. In the most telling attack on State’s Rights, it is clear that South Carolina did not like that Northern States had at times refused to send fugitive slaves back to their ‘Masters’ in the South:
“an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery. … In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed …”
– Tellingly, the South Carolina Declaration demands that the Northern non-slave holding States conform to the views of slave holding States by allowing Southerners when visiting the North, to bring their slaves with them, as slaves:
“In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals.”
– The South didn’t care for States Rights. The South employed the most imperialistic, totalitarian, anti-liberty social and economic system, dreaming of empire, in the entire nation.
Now Southern propagandists will argue that tariffs, and Federal planning grants were just as to blame for secession, but those points are not mentioned in most Southern literature from the time. The Southern States seceded, because of the issue of slavery. It isn’t State’s Rights, it is White Male Rights.
Similar to South Carolina, Mississippi’s Declaration of Secession states:
“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world … a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”
Perhaps most tellingly of all, is the Confederate Constitution. Section 9 of which states:
(4) No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.
– This shows how little the Confederacy cared about State’s Rights. The State’s have no right to abolish Slavery. No individual State can pass a law impairing the right of property in slaves. The Confederate Federal Government did not care for State’s Rights. They cared only about maintaining and spreading slavery as a system.
So, the South essentially means that it is an ardent defender of States Rights, as long as the Southern States have the Right to demand the Northern States do as the South demands. But not only did the South wish to ensure the North did as it was told, they wished to expand their slave holding empire into different continents.
The American lawyer and journalist William Walker, in 1854, after a failed attempt to set up a Republic of Sonora in Mexico, with the intention of it becoming a State of the Union; invaded Nicaragua for control of a vital trade route between New York and San Francisco. He succeeded in his efforts, and took control of Nicaragua, renaming it “Walkeragua” (seriously, i’m not making this up). In 1856, President Franklin Pierce, officially recognised Walker’s regime in Walkeragua as legitimate. His regime began to Americanise Walkeragua, by instating slavery, using American currency, and making English the official language. He advertised his new Country to American Southern businessmen by advertising the fact that his new quasi-State was pro-slavery and would remain so.
By the time Walker revoked Nicaragua’s 1824 Emancipation Act, the rest of Latin America took note, and invaded. He fled and was bought back to the U.S where he was welcomed as a hero of the South.
He died before the Civil War kicked off, but the South referred to him throughout the Civil War as “General Walker“ and “The grey-eyed man of destiny”. The South did not just fight to preserve the institution of slavery, they wanted to expand it, on a grand scale, to the point where Senator John Crittenden of Kentucky proposed that the 36°30′ parallel north be a line that separates the northern free states, and the southern slave states, all the way down to the tip of South America.
Walker wasn’t the only Southerner with Imperialist ambitions. The Confederate Secretary of State John C. Breckinridge decided that Southern States had the right to invade whomever they wished:
“The Southern states cannot afford to be shut off from all possibility of expansion towards the tropics by the hostile action of the federal government.”
As autonomous “States rights” go, invading another sovereign nation and revoking its anti-slavery laws, in hope of creating a slave owning empire, is about as big and as bad as a Federal Government can get.
So far, that’s State’s Rights to own people as property, and the State’s Rights to invade sovereign countries and force slavery upon them. Let’s also not forget State’s Rights to wander into other countries, and capture locals to be shipped back to Southern lands as slaves, as President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davies suggested when he mentioned reviving the slave trade because there was an abundance of:
“….new acquisitions to be made south of the Rio Grande.”
– The imperialist fantasies that prominent Southern politicians were expressing quickly evaporates the intensely faulty premise that for the South, the Civil War was about State’s Freedoms and Rights. It is therefore absurd to claim the Confederate flag stands for those qualities. It stood in defiance of those qualities.
By flying the Confederate flag, what social system are you showing your support for, or your nostalgic sense of loss for? What economic system? Certainly the civil war pitted the more industrialised and Capitalist Northern economic system, against the more agrarian and slave-holding Southern economic structure. So what are you advocating? Surely not Capitalism, as Capitalism was most certainly considered a great evil in the old South, so much so that George Fitzhugh – a leading Social Theorist of the time, insisted that slavery protected African Americans from the pains of Capitalism, and attacks the idea of “free competition” no less than 42 times in his book ‘Slavery Justified’. On a Social level, Fitzhugh (who went on to work in the Treasury of the Confederacy, as well as counting numerous Confederate politicians among his friends and admirers) says of African Americans:
Half of mankind are but grown up children, and liberty is fatal to them as it is to children.
– The line of reasoning is reasonable when framed in the cold ignorance of the mid-19th century, but is widely unacceptable, and entirely incorrect by 21st century logic. We must remember that Fitzhugh was writing prior to Darwin’s understanding that racial differences were not biological. Fitzhugh would have been influenced by social theorists on racial and cultural differences, culminating in the studies of anthropologists such as Lewis Henry Morgan, who argued in his work ‘Ancient Societies’ that societies and thus peoples could be classed as primitive or civilised, and that the white European civilisation was far more advanced than ‘primitive’ African cultures. Morgan’s work was less based on evolutionary biology, and more on a Euro-centric cultural study, and very little else. His works later influenced Marx in his theory of Historical Materials, thus proving that his writings were widely available and respected.
State’s Right’s. What they mean is, the rich white male’s right to own people as property based on skin tone, without anyone telling them that it’s wrong. The African American had no right to complain, had no right to vote, no right to not be beaten, no right to anything. As the great Senator of the time Charles Sumner stated:
By the licence of slavery, an entire race is delivered over to the prostitution and concubinage without the protection of any law.
– Here Sumner is noting that the South revokes its claims on “Rights” when it imprisons the vast majority of its population in a state of bondage; breaking the ties of family, and brotherhood, of marriage and replacing parent/child relationships (natural relationships) with master/slave. When you appropriate the fruit of labour freely, when you take away their right to active political participation, when you deny education, and when you break natural bonds like that of family; you can no longer claim the defence of ‘State’s rights’, and any future generation flying the flag that represented that putrid system should be ashamed.
Often, I read insistences that the Confederate Flag today means Southern pride, or Southern heritage, or other equally manipulative benign terms. That narrative is misjudged. The Confederate flag was a very specific flag, for a very specific system, at a very specific time. It is a reason. So, if you must insist on ensuring the World knows just how proud you are to be from Southern States, why not have a new flag, predicated on State’s Rights, or Southern Pride? Designed for that purpose. Why use the EXACT same flag that was designed purely for the sake of representing the slave system. It is disingenuous to attempt to suggest the Confederate Flag is anything but a provocative flag of hate.
The Confederacy Flag represents, not States Rights, not Southern heritage or pride, but the following: An Economic and Social system built on slavery. Anti-Capitalism. Anti-liberty. Imperialism. Scientific ignorance. White Supremacy. The Confederate flag represents that system. Nothing else. Certainly not “State’s Rights”. It is very specific as a symbol.
The attempts to pose the Civil War as a State’s Rights issue, is simply to ignore and revise history in an attempt to create a sort of “David V Goliath” narrative in which the South is the victim of the big bad Federal Government. It is ignorant, lazy, and wrong.
To fly the flag of Confederacy today is shameful.