Pride and/or Prejudice
The big news lately is the raging debate over the Confederate (Battle) Flag. It is almost strange how it became an issue. Some presumably mentally unstable person, Dylann Roof, walked into a “historically black” church and shot nine people dead. His own reported reasons for the shooting were deeply connected to racism and white supremacy. Some might say that the debate that is happening is not the one that should be happening–perhaps something about gun control or access to mental health help? Be that as it may, this is the debate that is being had, and this is The Question–Should the Confederate (Battle) Flag fly above the South Carolina (or any other) statehouse?
On one side of the debate is “the Confederate Flag is a symbol of Prejudice and Slavery”, while the other side says “it is a symbol of Pride and States’ Rights”. CNN reported one supporter of the flag as saying
“It’s a symbol of family and my ancestors who defended the state from invasion. It was about standing up to a central government,” said Chris Sullivan, who is a member of the Sons of the Confederacy. “The things that our ancestors fought for were not novel and they really are the same issues we have today.”
The debate over States’ Rights v. Federal Power is as old as the Articles of Confederation from just after the Revolutionary War (if not older). The American Colonies were each independent entities, or as independent as a colony could be. They were not “the United States” but “these united States” and reference was made to “the Untied States are” instead of “is”. This independence and the fact that they had all banded together to fight off an Oppressive Central Power (London) went to the heart of why the Articles of Confederation made such a failingly weak central government. It was the fatal weakness of the National Government in Philadelphia that lead the delegates of the Continental Congress to devise a replacement for the Articles of Confederation. As it stood, the Continental Army nearly revolted because it was not being paid, and it was not being paid because the Congress did not have the authority to collect tax, nor the means to enforce the payment of the money the States were supposed to pay in order to fund the national government. This same issue also lead to international problems when Congress was unable to pay debt to foreign nations.
So a new Constitution was devised. This new Constitution was very divisive, even though it enjoyed the support of such Revolutionary Giants as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. To cut a long story short, as we know, the Federalists won the day. That was not, however, the end of the debate.
The Civil War
Fast-forward about 80 years and the issue of the day was Slavery. Slavery had been declared illegal in all New States since the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which proscribed the administration of new territory outside the actual thirteen states, and how such territories could become new states. As time went on, most northern states voluntarily abolished slavery. There were moral arguments, obviously, but also the more industrial economy of the north, coupled with a strong influx of European immigrants, made the economics of abolition much easier than in the agrarian south. But politics and divisive moral issues being what they are (usually a bad combination), this simple dynamic started to become a problem. So the debate was over “what can the Federal Government do, and what should remain within the power of the several states to do” with the topic at hand being new western territories and whether they should be Slave or Free. Should each territory, upon qualification for Statehood, be allowed to choose for themselves whether they want slavery? Or should the precedent of the Northwest Ordinances be followed (in combination with Moralistic Arguments about the evils of slavery), and thus all new states are forbidden, by the Federal Government, from being slave states?
Thus people started flocking out west, not just for the normal reasons people would go west, but also to stack the deck in the several territories so that when the territory became a State it would be on the “correct” side. This mattered because each new state would contribute two Senators and a collection of Representatives…which would sway the voting blocs in Congress. And as it was feared by the southern states (I do not know whether with justification or not) that any prohibition of slavery within new states would lead inevitably to the end of slavery in the original southern states, how Congress voted on certain things was very important. (It was also important to anti-slavery folks, but I think “the south” had more of a vested interest considering what they feared they could lose.) The final straw was the election of Abraham Lincoln as President, since the newly created Republican party was staunchly anti-slavery. The southern states were convinced that no good could come of this and so succeeded from the Union and attacked (and took) Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina. As for Mr. Sullivan’s quote earlier, I wonder why his ancestors would have to defend SC against invasion? Who attacked first? Who invaded first?
So Yes, but No
So yes, the Civil War was about States’ Rights, but no, that should not be celebrated. Not in this case. Really, if the major issues were about anything other than the “States’ Rights” to own other humanoid animals as property (they weren’t really people, after-all…), then I could sympathize and have a strong debate within myself as to whether the defeat of the Confederate States of America might not be considered the defeat of the Second American Revolution against a tyrannical Federal Government that has done nothing but grow in power and scope. As it stands, the arguments for States’ Rights (to own slaves) strike me as just the same as the arguments for Religious Freedom to deny Marriage Equality. “The damn government is coming in here telling me what I can and can’t do! It’s oppression!” The fact that it was “Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve”, combined with a few other scriptures, proves that the Federal Government is forcing ungodly rules on us! Of course, by that logic, then God also intended Incest (Adam & Eve, Noah’s family, and Abraham, Father of the Faithful) and Polygamy (King David was “a man after God’s own heart” who had 7 wives and several hundred sex slaves…er…concubines). And it was a similar defense of “what God intended” (as much as any “Spirit of American Independence” States’ Rights argument) that motivated people like William T. Thompson, the designer of one of the flags of the Confederacy: As a people we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race. The fact that slavery was institutionalized within the Constitution of the Confederacy (Article IV, Section 3–the institution of negro slavery, as it now exists in the Confederate States, shall be recognized and protected be Congress), which overall was a very close copy of the United States Constitution, rather puts to bed a common objection that is being raised against taking the Flag of the Insurrection down, namely “look at all of the terrible things the US has done–why not take that flag down too?!”.
Yes, we have done a lot of bad things, including the ownership of slaves by Washington and Jefferson, who fought for “freedom” and penned things like, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. But unlike the Confederacy, we did not enshrine slavery in our constitution, and have ever so slowly opened our eyes to the Enlightened Vision those words communicate. “The flag was first flown over the state’s Capitol dome in 1961, celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the Civil War. But it was kept there as a protest against the Civil Rights movement”, NPR reported on July, 10, 2015, the day the flag was removed. The flag was first created to serve a nation formed for the preservation of slavery (the CS Constitution is so similar to the US Constitution that I don’t see any great increase in overall States’ Rights…other than slavery), and has been flying in our time as a protest against the Civil Rights Movement. Wait…why was this a question?