In defense of the Confederate flag, let me say several things up front (and please bear with me for a minute here). The flag, born in the Civil War, was designed to represent one thing. It was only after the war was over it came to represent other things. We condemn the other things, and rightly so, but in so doing, most forget the original thing it stood for. This is unfortunate, because in our zeal to cleanse this nation, not only do we risk misunderstanding history, but also, as the cliché tells us, we risk throwing the baby out with the bath water.
After the Civil War, the Confederate flag was taken up by the resistance to the heavy hand of Washington and the blunt federal instrument called reconstruction. For the most part, this was the reason for the secession in the first place, and despite the surrender, there were plenty of people who were not wiling to simply kowtow to the dictates of some distant federal bureaucrats. This was especially true when those dictates extended well beyond the limits of the constitution and overrode what had always been the province of state and local governments, or worse, what had always been left to the conscience of every American as a God given right.
Before the war, New England, the middle Atlantic states, particularly on the coast around New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and the like, and the states bordering on the waterways such as the Great Lakes and the Ohio River, developed the industries that brought great prosperity to the several regions. These states did not want that prosperity to stop. The obvious example being the mills, particularly in New England, who turned cotton into cloth which they then sold to Europe for a great profit.
The south, being more agriculturally based, grew the cotton. The south could sell the cotton directly to Europe for an equally great profit, but as time went on they were more and more prevented from doing so. The federal government found ways to keep the northern mills humming by overriding the states and forcing southerners to sell their cotton to the north for rock bottom prices, thus increasing the profit and prosperity of the north even while slowly impoverishing the south.
Cotton is only the most obvious example, but in many ways, the federal government was beginning to exert serious control over the southern states and the people living there. The south was in danger of becoming a third world country within the borders of what was becoming the richest country in the world. The south was being treated, on the state, local, and individual human level, as badly as any of the so-called banana republics that struggled through the 1870s-1920s. Life became progressively harder as northern business men became progressively greedier between 1820-1860, and the ordinary people in the south, unable to sell their goods on the open market for a fair price, became poorer and poorer until they were barely able to feed their families.
This poverty of the people was a condition, despite so-called reconstruction, that continued right on up through the Great Depression. My father once told me when he was young, in the 1930s, his great uncle Andrew said he did not realize they were in a depression. Uncle Andrew said that was the way our family always lived.
Of course, politicians in Washington tried to work things out before it came to war, but since when have politicians ever been able to work things out? By 1860 it became clear that the prosperous north was not going to allow anything to cut into their profits, and if that meant impoverishing the south, then so be it. The southerners, congressmen and the like in Washington, finally came to believe the south would do better on its own. So the south succeeded, and for some brief moments actually hoped the separation might be amicable.
You realize, if certain southern hotheads had avoided acting stupidly, like firing on Fort Sumter, things like Fort Sumter might have been negotiated. But to be honest, there were too many ordinary southerners, what we might call the 99%, or the original occupy Wall Street crowd, who were too angry and tired of being oppressed and denied their portion of the growing prosperity in the nation. And there were too many Wall Street types that were not about to let the pliant south get away. So it began.
Notice, I haven’t mentioned slavery.
Slavery was the foundation for the southern cotton economy—the cotton that now felt like the north was stealing and using to grow rich. There were some Christians who found ways to gerrymander around passages and twist the words of scripture to justify this horror, even as theologians of the same ilk gerrymander and tap dance around the plain meaning of the text to this day to justify all sorts of things. But many Christians (I would like to think the plain honest ones who knew better), both in the north and in the south, spoke out strongly against slavery at that time. (I can’t say what positions the non-Christians took because there weren’t many to speak of). And then there were the fanatics like John Brown who did not really help their cause by their actions, especially when innocents, like women and children, were killed.
For the most part, though, the north was as reluctant as the south to say or do anything to get rid of the institution of slavery. To see it from a southern perspective, I might say that if the north outlawed slavery, it would kill the cash cow that they were so happily raping. So for two years the war went on. The south wanted freedom: open markets, state and local control, and the individuals left alone to follow the dictates of their own conscience without the federal government sticking its fingers in everywhere. The north wanted to bring the south to its knees without seriously damaging the economy of the south.
Thus, the north blockaded southern ports, like an early form of economic sanctions, and tried to win a battle without seriously hurting the southern economy. Naturally, with that politician designed strategy, like so many politician designed strategies in our day, the north kept losing despite fighting out of their prosperity, and the south kept winning despite fighting out of their poverty. You know, when Lee move the southern army into Pennsylvania and landed at Gettysburg, it was not really an invasion of the north. The plain truth of it was his army needed shoes. After decades of depressing the southern economy, the south did not have enough money to put shoes on its soldiers.
So the north followed the strategy of trying to crush southern resistance (rebellion, as the early media painted it}. The thing is, it wasn’t a rebellion, at least not in the sense of a revolution or a mutiny. It was a civil war between what had become two very distinct and different cultures forced to live in the same community, where one became rich and the other became poor.
The north, as I have mentioned, was a city and industrial culture. Sure, there were plenty of northern farmers who were able to keep the north fed during the war years, but the focus of the culture was all on the growing urban structure, and in essence, Wall Street. There were cities on the lakes, like Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee. There were cities growing up on the rivers, like Pittsburg, Columbus, Cincinnati, and even that mixed bag called St Louis. There were the cities on the east coast, including Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, not to mention Washington itself. In all this, the north was becoming very urban and industry focused, and they imagined it would not be hard to defeat those hicks, hayseeds, and ignorant southerners, a prejudice against southerners that continues to this day.
The south, as I have mentioned, was an agriculturally focused society, what we now might call “Country”. The rich plantation owners, more or less the southern version of the 1%, who also owned the vast majority of the slaves, set the tone for the culture with their gentrified lifestyle. Back in those days, far from wanting to strip the 1% of their wealth, the 99% wanted to emulate the 1%. It might be said that the whole of southern culture became gentrified, after a fashion. You can see it and hear it to this day in the words and actions of a true “southern belle”. Understand, the 99% owned very few slaves, and likely would not know what to do with one if they had one. I am sure some people bought maybe one slave, but that was because, I don’t know, they wanted to one-up their neighbors.
You see, southern culture was not a slave culture. The slavery part of it only seriously mattered to the 1%, whose plantations were dependant on heavy manual labor. Today, the corporate farms have Mexican migrants to fill the same role—and they are honestly paid about the same price as the cost of keeping a slave. The two big differences between then and now are first, lazy migrants can be fired, though it is getting harder and harder these days to fire anybody. Lazy or indigent slaves could be sold but not be fired. They were dealt with by crueler means, like the whip. Second, migrants can quit and take a job in construction or some other field, and thus try to better themselves. Slaves, obviously could not quit, though many did thanks to the underground railroad.
But the point is, while the plantation slaves certainly made the gentrified lifestyle of the 1% possible, it had nothing to do with how the 99% chose to live and express themselves. The 99%, the vast majority (and I mean vast majority) of southern soldiers in the civil war, never imagined they were fighting to defend the institution of slavery. I would go so far as to say, if any number of Christians on the southern side really thought that was what this war was about, they would have quit. Let me say again, believe it or not, there were many Christians in the north, and south, who were strongly against slavery—and I don’t just mean those white southerners who made the underground railroad possible. I mean there were many ordinary, sitting in the pew, southerners who thought slavery should be ended.
So why did so many southerners fight for the south if it was not about slavery? Well, the more honest history books, and they are becoming rare, have reduced that to the term “states rights”. It was really more than that. It was a fight for human rights, for a person, a community, and a state to set their own course as liberty demands. It was a fight for freedom of conscience, and the bill of rights, and a return to the kind of limited federal government the founders created.
It was a fight against the northern industrialists and the banks who kept prices for raw materials depressed while charging high interest and raising the cost of manufactured goods, which kept southern people down and oppressed, and kept them from making a better life for themselves and their families. The Confederacy was like the first occupy Wall Street
It was also a fight against an intrusive federal government that controlled the agricultural and commodities markets, fixed prices, and ran roughshod
over peoples lives with excessive taxes, fees, and regulations. The Confederacy was like the first tea party after the original.
The Confederacy and the Confederate flag represented the anti-big corporations ideals expressed by occupy Wall Street and the anti-big government ideals expressed by the current Tea Party. The flag represented a fight for freedom, which may sound odd in an economy which depended on slaves, but for the 99%, that was what it was. It was a fight for liberty, and liberty lost that fight.
Now, let me say, I am glad the north won. On my mothers side of the family, I have many family members who fought bravely in blue uniforms and died in defense of the Union. Unfortunately, on Halloween, if I wanted to go out as a civil war soldier, I had a hard time choosing between blue and gray uniforms, because on my fathers side of the family, the family name is listed among the honored dead from North Carolina to Vicksburg.
That tells me two things about the gray side of my family. One, the family was not very good with a musket, and two, since as far as I know the family never had enough money to buy a slave even if they knew what to do with one, my family not being big on all that reading and writing education stuff since before 1740, at least they were not fighting to protect the institution of slavery. The so-called “rebels” in my family were probably not smart enough, or at least not educated enough to understand the fight for liberty and all the nuances, either. They were probably fighting to protect their homes from what some have called “northern aggression”. They probably just wanted to be left alone to live out the dictates of the conscience according to their faith, to farm their land, and make a reasonable living they could pass on to their children. But that was the essence of the fight for liberty.
So, the north tried to bring the south to submission without seriously damaging the southern economy (the fatted cow), and for two years, they failed, miserably. By then it became clear that the south was not going to surrender as long as they could afford to put guns on the field. The strategy needed to be changed. It became: okay, sanctions aren’t working. We need to kill the southern economy if we ever hope to end this. We need to make it so they cannot afford to continue.
I am sure by that time, Lincoln, no doubt most of his cabinet, most of the congress and courts all believed slavery needed to go away. I take nothing away from those men, even if I doubt they all felt that way for idealistic (what we might call the right) reasons. I also imagine some in the minority who remained against setting the slaves free might have thought it was a good thing, idealistically, but on a practical (or personal) level, “Uncle Dick’s mill is going to go belly up if he doesn’t get his hands on some cotton”. In any case, however the government at the time felt, Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves, only let’s be clear why he did that.
Given the change in strategy, it was decided that the best way to destroy the southern economy would be to destroy the plantations—the 1%. With that in mind, it would not be unfair to say the Emancipation Proclamation was not signed out of the goodness of anyone’s heart. It was signed with the hope that the slave population on the plantations would rise up and revolt, throw off their slave masters and refuse to keep the economic engine running. The remarkable thing to me is that did not happen. I can imagine two reasons. You may come up with more.
One would be simply because most of the slaves were uneducated and had limited skill sets. (Sounds like my family). They had nowhere to go. The other was even a moron could look around at his poor, struggling, free white neighbors and conclude, “Why do I want to get into that? All things considered, life on this plantation is not so bad.” Truth is, when the reconstruction men came down, puffing out their chests like they were someone special going to fix everything, they had to force more than a few former slaves off the plantation at gunpoint.
During the final years of the war, after the slaves were free, while the north fought to destroy the south, or at least the southern economy, as far as I knew, the Confederate flag still stood for the same things: states rights, local autonomy, human rights and individual liberty. That did not change until after the war.
When the south formally surrendered at Appomattox, the flag was taken up by those individuals who refused to surrender. Reconstruction overlords then exacerbated the problems and determination of the few resisters. The resistance soon enough focused on the blatantly obvious symbol of race, and no one in their right mind will deny that the next hundred years were full of atrocities.
Those atrocious actions came to be associated with the Confederate flag. I understand. A couple of amendments to the constitution were quickly passed by the Republicans in charge, but otherwise, the slave community still had nowhere to go, no education and limited skills. Being free and equal did not mean a whole lot except hardship and poverty.
When the southern Democrats founded the KKK, they soon spread it even into northern states. When the southern Democrats founded and enforced segregation, they carried the confederate flag with them all the way. The Republicans began with the Emancipation Proclamation and forced through the constitutional amendments to make the former slaves free and equal, but it did not mean much for a long time. It took the federal government 100 (well 99) years to pass the civil rights act of 1964 (over the protests of the southern Democrats).
I would like to think things have improved since then. But in any case, let me repeat, I am glad the north won. Slavery needed to go. At the same time, though, I am sad the “federalists” won. Now, 150 years later, I say without hesitation that states rights, local autonomy, human rights, and individual liberty are gone. Self-determination and the right to follow your conscience is no more. America as founded is dead. The corporate interests in businesses that are “too big to fail”, and a bloated federal government that is trying to micro-manage everyone’s lives from “cradle to grave”, as some call it, have killed this nation. That is my opinion.
As for the Confederate flag, I understand many people can only see it as a symbol of the old southern Democrats and their KKK and their segregation. It has become a symbol of hate and unspeakable atrocities perpetrated against my fellow human beings, and for that reason, it ought to be removed from public. It should be confined only to history books, museums, Civil War reenactments, and maybe Google images. Again, though, that is just my opinion.
At the same time, I think we need a new flag to symbolize liberty. One that will stand for state and community rights, local autonomy, and human rights that allow people to live out their faith in the dictates of their conscience. We need a new flag to stand for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness against the oppressive federalists and their crony businesses that are controlling and crushing everything of value in this nation. I only hope we don’t have to end up in a new civil war.
Welcome to the new dark ages.
There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (NIV, 2 Timothy 3: 1-5).
These are the characteristics of true darkness.
“War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” … “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” —George Orwell.