I’m curious, and I want to know things. Can Southerners exercise their God-given freedoms (some few of which are enumerated in the Constitution of the United States of America and Bill of Rights) by publicly speaking up and standing for their heritage? Is such speech inherently racist? If it’s not racist, is it still offensive and wrong? Does having one’s opinion contradicted and does feeling offended cause actual harm to a person or group of people?
Here’re two declarations from the monument’s base and visible in the photograph above at right: To commemorate with grateful love the patriotism, valor, and devotion to duty of the brave soldiers of Alamance County, this monument is erected through the efforts of the Graham chapter, United Daughters of the Confederacy and Faithful unto death, they are crowned with immortal glory. Neither statement do I find offensive, racist, white-supremacist. Theologically, as a Christian, I find fault with the latter of the two statements I’ve quoted because it strikes me as unlikely that all of the Confederate war dead of Alamance County were numbered among the elect. The sentiment likely falls into the category of a civil religious statement declaring gratitude and remembrance but makes no salvific claim. A study of civil religion and its expression in the United States as related to the American Civil War might be an interesting and instructive undertaking.
Local police and state troopers had roped-off the four street approaches to the square. People attending the rally left their cars wherever they found parking places. Most of the people attending wore ordinary, casual jeans-type street clothes, ball-caps, sneakers – about what you’d expect most people to wear on a day they’re not at work. I did, however, see a lot of people wearing t-shirts emblazoned with patriotic and other statements generally in favor of First and Second Amendment rights. Some wore camouflage and kepis. A few members of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans wore reproductions of uniforms worn by Confederate soldiers during the War for Southern Independence. Many, many of those in attendance carried, waved, and walked back and forth through the crowd around the base of the monument and courthouse steps carrying versions of the “Stars and Bars (actually, the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia),” as the flag is colloquially known by some. I saw two or three men in the crowd wearing flags like capes or, literally, wrapped in them. That struck me as odd. Some of the flags bore in their centers the image of a bearded, cowboy-hat wearing person whose identity I didn’t recognize, but who must have been pretty well known to some – maybe a country music personality?
I showed up on a mutant Jamis Supernova cyclocross bike wearing slightly loud but almost-matching road-cyclist lycra jersey and shorts, helmet, and gloves. Unlike most of those around me, I was appropriately attired and outfitted for the prevailing climactic conditions – hot, humid, thunderstorm threatening. I walked into the crowd pushing my bike up near the monument. I openly photographed the event. No one seemed to react with rudeness to my presence, and, for myself, I calmly observed the goings on and listened to a really well-thought out and interesting speech given by one of the SVC members present on the courthouse steps.
Because I found what the man was saying interesting, I searched online and found a copy of his speech included in the newsletter linked here: http://scvcamp813.org/images/newsletters/201508scv813newsletter.pdf The blurry picture above is of the man giving the speech. I’ve cut and pasted below the newsletter’s text identifying the speaker and reproducing his statement in its entirety, and have taken the great liberty of setting one paragraph in bold print. Read the speech and let me know whether you think it racist or white-supremacist. I thought it pretty reasonable, and as I was leaving the event, getting ready to ride through the rain back to my friend’s house, I saw the man walking to his car and thanked him for his effort.
I am honored and humbled to be able to speak before you at our rally for our Alamance County Con federate monument. I feel that in order to do this properly I need to go back into our history, and to share with you some information that you may not have heard in school. Today I would like to share with you my remarks entitled Duty, Honor, and Country.
These are terms that don’t mean much today. But in generations past, the men that answered the call to arms knew a thing or two about duty to country and about personal reputation and honor. They knew that freedom wasn’t free. It had to be purchased with the price of blood.
In 1776 our forefathers faced off against the most powerful nation on earth, Great Britain, in what must have seemed like a futile quest to earn their freedom. After seven long years of misery and sacrifice, they prevailed, and the Southern colonies contributed greatly to this victory. The war had basically been won by the British, but patriot victories at Cowpens, Kings Mountain, Guilford Courthouse, and Yorktown turned the tide. In the Treaty of Paris which officially ended our war for independence, the British crown recognized each former colony as a free and independent nation. This was the beginning of our basis of republican government and the formation of the United States of America.
The fledgling states were small and weak by international standards. They were rich in land and raw materials, but short on men, capital, and manufacturing capacity. The only real protection they had from any number of powerful European nations was the vast Atlantic Ocean. Our forefathers knew that the former colonies had to band together much as they had during the war in order to insure the permanence of their hard-won freedoms. In order to insure that they could work together for common goals such as protection from foreign enemies and the promotion of international trade, a general or federal government was formed under the charter of a constitution. This constitution ceded some powers to the general government and gave it the power to act as an agent on the behalf of the states. The powers, obligations, and duties ceded to the general government were specific and limited, and there was no misunderstanding that true power and sovereignty remained vested with the states. Southerners understood this for Southern statesmen had contributed a great deal to the writing of the new constitution. North Carolina in particular was one of the last states to ratify the constitution, and she would only do so once the Bill of Rights had been added. Of particular note is the Tenth Amendment which spells out that all powers not explicitly delegated to the federal government are retained by the states or by the people.
I could say much on the question of secession. It is my belief that if my ancestors were wrong in 1861 then my ancestors were wrong in 1776. The founders recognized that if secession was specifically not al-lowed under the constitution then the states would not ratify it. In fact, several states specifically stated that their right to secede was retained in their ratification documents. Secession had been threatened by different states many times before and it was thought of as the last defense of a state against federal overreach. It was recognized by most statesmen and constitutional scholars as a given right, up until 1861. As Walter Williams stated in his recent article, upon noting that constitutional amendments were offered in early 1861 prohibiting secession, why should these have been necessary if secession was unconstitutional?
Also consider what Chief Justice Salmon Chase said on the question of bringing Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders to trial for treason:
“If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion. Lincoln wanted Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one.” Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, July 1867
By 1860 it became clear to many states of the deep South that they were no longer represented by the general government. Since 1789 the general government had grown such in size and scope that it had over-stepped its constitutional mandate and usurped many powers not specifically granted it by the constitution.
Weary of serious philosophical differences on the issues of tariffs, the transcontinental railroad, the homestead acts, fishing bounties, coastwise shipping, the issue of slavery, and the rise of power of the Republican party, many in the South began to see that existence on an equal footing together with the powerful industrial interests of the North was becoming almost impossible. After the elections of 1860, which saw Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln win the presidency even though he lost every single Southern state, the Deep South states felt that they must leave the union in order to have any control of their political destiny.
It was the desire of the Southern states to leave the union peaceably. The new Confederate government sent a peace envoy to Washington in order to discuss such things as the assumption of their share of the federal debt and the fair consideration for former federal property, such as defensive forts. But president Lincoln refused to meet with the peace commission to discuss these items. Unknown to them at the time, the federal government was making a plan to provoke the south into war.
It is here that I do want to speak on the institution of slavery. I do not think there is anyone alive that thinks this was not a brutal institution. There is certainly no one that would ever praise it or wish for it to return. But what I want people to realize is that this institution had been commonly accepted in the world. We did not start it. It had been practiced here under the British flag since 1619. It had been practiced under the federal flag since 1776. If slavery was THE issue of the war, then why did the north propose the Corwin amendment, which would have forever guaranteed slavery in the states that practiced it, in order to entice the seceded states back into the union? If slavery was THE issue of the war then why weren’t all slaves in the north freed before the war was over? If slavery was THE issue of the war, then why was the Crittendon Resolution passed by both houses of congress which stated that the war was being waged to reunite the un-ion, and when that end was accomplished hostilities would cease? Lincoln had repeatedly said that he had no right or desire to interfere in the institution of slavery. He also said that he would do what he had to regarding it in order to save the union. Slavery was only introduced as an issue of the war in order to keep France and England from recognizing the Confederate States as a nation. It was political expediency, and nothing more.
After leaving the union, one of the first orders of business for the fledgling Confederate government was to drastically lower the tariff rate for international trade in Southern ports (the rate was about ten percent versus the U.S. average rate of forty-one percent). Faced with the massive loss of revenue and trade to Southern ports, the Northern industrial interests demanded that Lincoln take action. Lincoln even admitted that he could not let the South go because the North could not do without the government revenue. Thus one can see that the issue of greed, and not slavery, was the real cause of the conflict of 1861-1865.
Unwilling to back down in the face of a determined federal effort to reinforce Fort Sumter, the Confederate forces did fire the first shot of the war. The truth is that both sides knew that a confrontation over the possession of this fort would likely result in war. But it is not always true that he who uses force first is to blame, but he that makes the use of force necessary. In fact Fort Sumter was South Carolina property, and the North had no claim to it. It had never been completed or garrisoned and the federal troops had taken it under cover of night when there was an armistice in place between SC and the federals. This was actually an act of war. Another fact is that Lincoln knew the act of resupplying the fort (with a force large enough to invade Charleston by the way) would draw the Southerners into blocking the action and give him his moral high ground to go to war.
Finally given the excuse to retaliate, Lincoln called for the remaining states in the union to supply 75,000 troops to crush the “rebellion.” Four Southern border states, Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee, that had previously chosen to remain in the union, promptly joined the Confederacy rather than provide troops to make war on their brethren. When asked to provide 2,000 troops to march into South Carolina, NC Governor John W. Ellis replied “Your dis-patch is received, and if genuine which its extraordinary character leads one to doubt, I have to say in reply, that I regard the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purposes of subjugating the States of the South, as in violation of the Constitution, and as a gross usurpation of power. I can be no part to this wicked violation of the laws of the Country and to this war upon the liberties of a free people. You can get no troops from North Carolina.” North Carolina was faced with the possibility that she would be attacked by the very government that she had been a part of forming, so after twice declining to call a secession convention, Lincoln’s call for troops pushed North Carolina away.
Our state supplied more men and materials to the war effort than any other state. Having 1/9 the population of the entire confederacy, she supplied 1/6 of her troop strength, and bore ¼ of her losses. Over 125,000 of her sons marched to war and over 40,000 never returned. But our TarHeel Boys were unmatched in the field. “First at Bethel, Farthest to the Front at Gettysburg and at Chickamauga, and Last at Appomattox” was touted and emblazoned on the Confederate Me-morial at the Capitol in Raleigh.
Facing overwhelming odds against an enemy possessing every advantage in manpower, manufacturing capacity, and monetary wealth, the men of the South fought bravely for four long devastating years. Finally the South was crushed by the invading army that was willing to win at any cost, including the making of total war against a civilian population. The court historians will tell you much about the noble aims of the federal soldiers, but they will tell you little of the murder, rape, arson, theft, plunder, and destruction of civilian property. The fact is, the only way they could win their war was by making total war on civilians. That sounds very noble.
We remember the sacrifice of the men of Alamance County, the State of North Carolina, and the entire southland that answered the call of their country to arms in the struggle for Southern independence in the great war of 1861 to 1865, and gave their lives in that conflict.
We come here today to pay homage to these men; to recognize the strength of their character; to offer the thanks of a grateful nation for their service. We remember a time when the words “duty, honor, and country” really meant something and were not just words. We remember that these valiant men did not die in vain, even though their cause was eventually lost, succumbing to an overwhelming enemy that would have victory at any cost. We praise these men, who fought and died honorably, on fields purchased with their patriot blood, all over the South and in northern prison camps like Elmira, New York, Point Lookout, Maryland, Camp Douglas, Illinois, and many others.
Why honor these men? These men fought for their families, community, state, and country, willing to protect hearth and home with their blood and treasure. They were willing to give their all for honor and principle. They were patriots, certainly not traitors. After the war the question of state’s rights was put to rest, decided by the sword. But might does not always make right. We honor these men who rest in the earth because no one is left to speak for them. As sons of Confederate soldiers we take up the charge left with us by General Steven Dill Lee in 1896 to protect the Confederate soldier’s good name and to champion the cause for which he fought. Those of us from Southern heritage know the truth and strive to see that it is told. Consider what one man saw in the future “Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late… It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be im-pressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision… It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.” — Maj. General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, January 1864, writing on what would happen if the Confederacy were to be defeated.” The victor of a war not only gets the spoils, he also gets to write the history. Our purpose is to see that our history is told correctly, without shame, so that our children can be proud of their heritage and can know that our ancestors did not shed their blood in vain.
Although we can never thank them enough for their sacrifice, we can make sure that they are not forgotten. That’s what a memorial is; something that insures remembrance. We remember the valiant Southern soldier, the patriot that marched off to war to defend his home and family against an invading army. There are many that would try to bring politics into the reasons they fought. Today we seek no political controversy. Today we only wish to say to our fallen brethren “Sleep on Brothers and take your well-earned rest. Know that we will not forget the price you paid. Know that we know all too well how high was that cost. Know that you are honored among men. Know that we will never forget.
Based on the law of the United States, Confederate Veterans are to be treated as veterans of the United States. By Public Law 85-425, May 23, 1958 (H.R. 358) 72 Statute 133 states – “(3) (e) for the purpose of this section, and section 433, the term ‘veteran’ includes a person who served in the military or naval forces of the Confederate States of America during the Civil War, and the term ‘active, military or naval service’ includes active service in such forces.” As a result of this law the last surviving Confederate Veteran received a U.S. Military pension until his death in 1959, and from that day until present, descendants of Confederate veterans have been able to receive military monuments to place on graves from the Veteran’s Administration for their ancestors. A Confederate Veteran should therefore be treated with the same honor and dignity of any other American veteran. If you tear down this monument you are destroying a piece of history and a place that honors those “American” Veterans that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
I’d like to offer you a quote from the Bible. Proverbs 21:28 Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set. People need to remember why memorials were placed in the first place. Why were the events they commemorate important?
This monument was not erected as a symbol of hate, or for the glory of the confederacy. It was erected as a symbol of love. Love for the fathers, the sons, the husbands, and the brothers that never came home. It was not done by the government, but the money for it was raised by private donations. It is often said to us as Southerners “that war was over 150 years ago, you lost, get over it.” I would like to say to those that oppose us in honoring our ancestors that I have never owned a slave, and no one alive today has ever been one. You cannot judge nineteenth century people by twenty-first century standards. No one today wishes to see a return of that institution and no one believes it was a good thing. I would say that it has been over 150 years since anyone has been a slave in the U.S. and while we can’t change that ugly past, we can only hope to be a better society in the future and maybe it is high time that we all should get past that. Who gets to decide what history needs to be erased? What is divisive, derogatory, bigoted, or racist? What happens when something you love gets taken away? Where do we draw the line?
I would worry more about what is in the hearts of the people I see around me every day. People can do harm, but that statue of marble and granite cannot. Do you feel threatened by people, or by symbols? If I felt threatened by people in this community, then I would not want to live here. Symbols cannot harm you, and if people did not erect them for the purpose of intimidation, then what is the reason for removal other than a general purge of past culture? Before last month, there had been no controversy over this statue. Strife is being sewn where there was none, and there is no need for this. It really is like the novel 1984 where items from our history are being thrown down the memory hole to erase who we are as a people.
I will leave you with this quote from Robert Lewis Dabney, a chief of staff to Stonewall Jackson. “Sirs, you have no reason to be ashamed of your Confederate ancestors, make sure they have no reason to be ashamed of you.”
That’s a good word.
So, in answer to the questions I asked at the top of this post: 1) Yes; 2) No; 3) No; 4) No. I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post discussing culture.