Being a Mississippian for 60 of my 62 years (and lived the other two in South Carolina….I swear), debates over displaying the Confederate battle flag are as familiar to me as grits and sweet tea, and I’ve heard the “pro-heritage” meme for all of those years. Now, the two states that have refused to relinquish the Confederacy’s symbol in the most visible manner, South Carolina, where the Civil War essentially began, and Mississippi, where the fall of Vicksburg essentially ended the Confederacy’s last chance to prevail in the war, are once again debating the appropriateness of flying those remaining symbols on their state government buildings and/or grounds.
But the outpouring of grief after a racist gunman killed nine African-Americans last week during a Bible study at a historic Charleston church is testing whether the longtime standoff can last.
After imagery emerged over the weekend of confessed killer Dylann Roof embracing the flag, South Carolina and some elected officials are pressing for its removal from the Capitol grounds there. And with national attention focused on the state’s fraught — and often racially-tinged — politics, they think they might finally win.
South Carolina Republican Gov. Nikki Haley on Monday called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the State House.
Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn said Monday night that the Confederate emblem in the state’s official flag has to go.
It’s the first time a Mississippi Republican elected official has publicly called for the removal of the emblem that served as the battle flag flown by the Confederate army during the Civil War. Later, it was adopted by anti-Civil Rights groups.
The Confederacy Has Had Two Bites at the Apple
I think it’s worth remembering that the failure of the Articles of Confederation, whose principles (weak central government, unfettered capitalism, federal inability to collect taxes, the lack of ability to conduct foreign affairs, among others),were constructed while still at war with Britain.
The Founding Fathers were divided between those seeking a powerful, centralized national government, and those seeking a loosely structured one. Jealously guarding their new independence, members of the Continental Congress arrived at a compromise solution dividing sovereignty between the states and the central government, with a unicameral legislature that protected the liberty of the individual states.
However, while calling on Congress to regulate military and monetary affairs, the Articles of Confederation provided no mechanism with which to compel the States to comply with requests for either troops or revenue. At times, this left the military without adequate funding, supplies or even food. The Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended hostilities with Great Britain, languished in Congress for months because several state representatives failed to attend sessions of the national legislature to ratify it.
But the U.S. Congress had no power to enforce attendance. In September 1783, George Washington complained that Congress was paralyzed. Many revolutionaries had gone to their respective home states after the War of Independence, and local government and self-rule seemed quite satisfactory and preferable to them. Ultimately, the Confederation’s lack of cohesive power reduced the likelihood for ground to be gained by political means, thus potential rulers were uninspired to seek power, and the new Constitution was ratified by all thirteen colonies. But the objections of Statists have never subsided.
For the past three decades, the return to State-ism seems to me to be the preferences under which the “conservatives” have been trying desperately to steer the U.S. towards once again. But those Articles of Confederation were rejected in favor of the U.S. Constitution, which is now twisted and contorted by those same Statists in an effort to magically transform the Constitution back into that rejected, first document.
I find it oddly curious that no one has equated the supporters of those State-ist principles set forth in the Articles of Confederation with the name of the group of states that tried to secede from the Union into the Confederate States of America, or simply The Confederacy.
You know, the ones who disseminate that the Civil War was NOT about slavery at all….it was about states’ rights; too much governmental control; and yes, the feeling that 1% have every right to be the beneficiaries of the efforts 99% for a pittance.
But here’s the thing.
The Confederacy, and the backers of its primary principles of weak central government and strong local government, has been given every opportunity to make its case as members of the United States of America.
They lost the debate between the Articles of Confederation in 1783 and the U.S. Constitution, and they lost the Civil War for, essentially the same reasons, in the 1860s. To be blunt, the losers simply do not have the right to dictate the terms of surrender.
And as much as some of the mainly white population in these two states declare “heritage” as their right to display these symbols of defeat, the fact remains that they are also symbols of the 1860’s traitorous actions, by insurgents of the times, against the government of the United States…not to mention that it is a direct insult to millions of bona fide American citizens. The Confederacy and that for which it stands has made its case in the legislative process and lost and has made its case on the battlefield and lost.
Quick to wrap themselves in the United States Constitution when it suits them, these same Americans simply cannot have their cake and eat it too. You can’t choose to use Articles of Confederation for the laws that you like–nor use the U.S. Founding Fathers as your basis for arguing 2nd Amendment rights–then also want to flagrantly display symbols which repudiated the rest of the basic tenets of the document on which you still depend and claim to live by.
Regardless of reasons in the 1860s, for better or worse, the fact is that the confederacy consisted of, in essence, traitors to the United States of America who would be known as insurgents in any other culture. As the losers in that war I think that the offending states have been treated very fairly by the victors. Heritage aside, if you want to be proud Americans you have recognize the fact that these symbols hold a place in your history, but they don’t belong in state capitols, being displayed alongside the flag of the United States. They belong in museums, private residences, private property….
The weekend displays of multiracial unity throughout the saddened city of Charleston were inspiring, but they cannot be taken as a sign that the country has moved beyond its troubled racial past. The gunman who so coldly killed those innocent worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church did not exist in a vacuum. He had absorbed the pervasive stench of the race hatred that constantly bubbles up like methane gas from a landfill.
Like it or not, you’ve had this issue resolved by law and by war. You can’t simply stomp your feet and pick the laws you like and ignore the rules you don’t like of the government which provides your security, your freedoms, and your rights.
To me personally, the flag was offensive long before a hate-spewing man-boy with nothing but racism and hatred as his stated motives gunned down nine perfectly innocent people as they included him in their prayers.
Last week’s brutal slayings nullified the pro-heritage argument. Forevermore, there’s no disputing its power as a symbol of racial hatred and the sickness of racism we all have a duty to fight with the same ferocity soldiers a century-and-a-half ago mustered to end slavery.
Some conservatives have been quick to absolve society of blame by pointing out that the accused Charleston shooter was mentally disturbed. But of course he was mentally disturbed; normal, well-adjusted individuals do not commit mass murder. And the fact is that the Charleston killings were intended to advance a specific cause; a race war. Thankfully it failed. But to look past Roof’s racism would be like ignoring the fact that the Tsarnaev brothers, American citizens who committed the Boston Marathon bombing, strongly believed in a violent, twisted version of Islam.
If that Confederate flag truly means good things to you, by all means fly it at your home, put it in as many museums as you want…but it does not belong as part and parcel of any type of government in this country.
Harvey A. Gold