Sunday, April 12, 2015

Can we be honest? Please.

One-hundred and fifty years ago the United States was not so "United".  Eleven states decided that the didn't want the Federal Government to impose laws upon them that would change the way of life they had grown accustomed to and so they made the decision to secede from the Union between 1860-61.  The movement quickly gained momentum after the November 1860 election of  Pres. Abraham Lincoln and within three months seven states had voted to secede.

South Carolina was so quick to move that both Senators resigned before the close of 1860 (before the newly elected Pres. Lincoln had taken office) and on 20 December 1860 the South Carolina State Legislature voted 169-0 to leave the Union, almost 90 days before Pres. Lincoln would assumed office on 4 March 1961.  Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas would all vote to leave the Union before 1 February 1961 or 31 days before Pres. Lincoln was sworn in.  On February 4, 1861 these states met in Montgomery (AL) and created a government they named "Confederate States of America" (CSA) and elected Jefferson Davis as President of the CSA.

Sen. John J. Crittenden (KY), before Pres. Lincoln took office, proposed the 36 - 30 degree line all the way to the Pacific and making all territories north of that line "free states" and all south would receive Federal Protection and slavery would be allowed.  Ever single Republican in office refused to support this measure.  Pres. James Buchanan, who was still in office, felt the succession was illegal but did nothing and chose to allow the situation to marinate until Pres. Lincoln would be sworn in.

While many have made the argument that the desire to leave the Union was based on "states rights", an "overreach" by the Federal Government or even "taxation / tariffs" the reality is that nearly every state that voted to leave the Union included language in their Declaration of Causes similar to South Carolina which stated; "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."   It was Jefferson Davis who said on the floor of the Mississippi Legislature in 1858 that, "It seems now to be probable that the Abolitionist and their allies will have control of the next House of Representatives, and it may well be inferred from their past course that they will attempt legislature both injuries and offensive to the south".  It's difficult for us to understand today but the reality is that slavery was an enormous engine of prosperity in an agricultural economy and any disruption would come at great cost to the slave holders.  If one looks at the 1860 US Census the fact is that there were 3,950,528 slaves in the United States and they accounted for 13% of the entire population.  To imagine simply allowing nearly four million workers "freedom" must have been a terrifying prospect for a community build on slavery.

Those are the facts.  It was understood that Pres. Lincoln and the Republican Party in office wanted to end slavery.  The congregation of folks that met in Jackson (MI) 1854 were specific with their intentions to end the humanitarian crisis that was slavery in America.  The southern politicians understood this and knew when Pres. Lincoln was elected that this ideal would be forwarded so too did the voters who elected Pres. Lincoln.  Pres. Lincoln took a firm position after the 1860 election that expanding slavery into new territory would not be permitted.

I am the forty-seven year old son of parents who were both born and raised in Kentucky.  Much of my family has a connection to the "south".  I have no clue if any of my family supported the Union or the Confederacy as my family history has not been well kept.  I know in doing my own research over the years that part of my family was considered by the US Government (1850 US Census Records) to be "non-white European", whatever the hell that means.  I know that I spent a good deal of my young adult life while in the Military and College in the South (N.C., S.C., GA and KY).

I love history and am proud of the fact that while America willingly engaged in slavery we also threw every bit of our dirty laundry into the streets and fought to end slavery.  We did so at the cost of more than 625,000 lives a figure that is higher than the American death toll in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War and the War's in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Slavery was and is wrong.  The southern states that made the decision to illegally succeed did so for one reason and only one reason - economics.  They did not want the Federal Government to change the use of slavery as it was the underpinning of the southern economy.

Today, 150 years after the end of the Civil War, when I see the Confederate Flag in a museum it reminds me of the most abhorrent time in American history and I am fine with that reminder in that context.  When I see folks using the Confederate Flag outside that context and then claiming it is somehow because they are "Southern by the Grace of God" or that "it's my heritage" all I can do is shake my head.  No person alive with any common sense can deny that the formation of the CSA was an effort to keep slavery not just alive but assured so that the agricultural economy of the south could be maintained.  As such the Confederate Flag represents the goal of allowing one class of human to own and control another.  There is nothing about that consistent with "God's Grace".

Some people do wear, wave or invoke the flag because they think it's about being a "rebel".  I can't and won't fault them for such ignorance.  It's the folks that are willfully oblivious to the very bigoted foundation of the flag and wish to evoke some grand "it's about heritage" argument that I find most confusing.  The last Civil War Veteran (Albert Woolson a drummer for the Grand Army of the Republic) died in 1954 some 61 years ago.  I doubt highly that most folks ever met Mr. Woolson or any other Civil War Veteran, The last American allegedly held as a slave (I say allegedly only because some have disputed), Sylvester Magee who died in 1971 (see note below).  There exist no argument that folks utilizing the Confederate Flag today are doing so only out of "history or heritage".  It wasn't until 1956 that Georgia changed their state flag and incorporated the Confederate Flag.  Mississippi adopted the Confederate Flag as part of their state flag in 1894.  Without question adopting this "symbol" wasn't about remembering or protecting history but about standing against civil rights.

Truth is the Confederate Flag is a symbol of bigotry.  It is a symbol of eleven states that chose to leave the Union because they did not want slavery to be changed as it would impact their economy.  As such those states willfully determined that it was more beneficial to keep other humans in slavery instead of granting them freedom.  That is the legacy of the Confederate Flag - period.  If someone is willing to embrace that honestly, OK, they have that right. However don't hide behind some grand ruse that it's only about "heritage" or about some grand "states rights".  It wasn't then and it isn't today.

Note:  Having read a ton about Mr. Magee, personally, I doubt that he was born in 1841.  It's difficult to believe that he lived to be 130 for me.  But there are many that accept the history as he shared it and I see no point in trying to argue against it without concrete proof.

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