The Confederate flag

I’m hoping some of my American readers can enlighten me — and other Canadians.

Why has the Confederate flag been flying all these years on State House grounds in South Carolina?

Is is not a symbol of people who fought in the Civil War to suppress black people and keep them enslaved?

Why isn’t this flag to the American people what the swastika is to Germans — and the rest of the world?

— Jillian

30 thoughts on “The Confederate flag

  1. Your understanding of American history is almost as poor as my understanding of Canadian history. And to compare the Confederacy to Nazi Germany highlights that misunderstanding.

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  2. I’m a Canadian, but somewhat of a U.S. Civil War enthusiast, so I’ll say something.
    In point of fact, the familiar flag, the “stars and bars,” is merely the battle standard of the Army of Northern Virginia, and was never used for the Southern states as a whole. In the 150 years since the war ended (in point of fact, the war ended exactly 150 years ago this year, but that’s beside the point), this flag has entered the public conscience and is not assumed to have been the flag for the entire South, when in reality it never was. See this article: http://www.trainweb.org/seaboard/FLAG/confederateflag.htm
    The flag was never intended to be a symbol of racism. The vast majority of the soldiers fighting for the South were not fighting to preserve slavery–in actuality, only the very wealthy owned slaves, and most of the soldiers were from middle class families or poorer, and therefore could not have afforded slaves even if they wanted any. They were fighting solely because the Northern states had invaded their homeland. They were merely protecting their own, as most of us would. South Carolina was, I believe, flying the flag merely as a symbol of their history, and nothing more, as it was a very important chapter in that history.
    Today’s difficulty stems from the fact that many people who ARE racists have adopted the flag for their own cause, thereby perverting the original meaning of the flag. This use of the flag has superseded in many peoples’ minds the original intended use of the flag, and thus many non-racists now see it as racist. You mention the swastika. It too has been perverted from its original meaning. It was once considered a holy symbol–in fact it STILL is a holy symbol in such religions as Buddhism and the Hindu faith. But to most of us in the Western world, we look upon it as the symbol that Hitler adopted for the Nazi party, and to some of us, that is all they see when they look at one. And for the same reason, many people will only think racism when they see the Confederate flag.
    To those who continue to think of the starts and bars as a symbol of racism and slavery despite its true history, I say this. Up until late 1860, when the first state seceded from the union before the Civil War, the U.S. flag was a symbol that stood for ALL states. Therefore, the U.S. flag (albeit with much fewer stars than today) defended slavery far longer than the four years that the Confederacy existed. But I don’t see anyone claiming IT as racist.

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  3. Brad, you are correct except for this:
    “They were fighting solely because the Northern states had invaded their homeland.”

    This is revisionist history, and flat out wrong.

    The Civil War began when the Confederates bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina on April 12, 1861. Ironically, no one died in the 34-hour cannon exchange. But when Major Anderson, the commander of Ft. Sumter surrendered, two union soldiers were killed when a cannon exploded during the surrender ceremony.

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    1. That is true and I left it out merely for simplification. Yes, the South did in fact fire the first shot, and it was because a Union army was holding a fort at the mouth of Charleston’s Harbor. The only way in which my information differs from yours is that I only knew of one soldier who died during the ceremony, Private Daniel Hough.
      It should be noted, that while the South fired the first shot, they were maneuvered into doing so. After all, with South Carolina gone from the Union, the fort was technically Southern territory. They defiantly held the fort, however, forcing the South’s hand. And it wasn’t the only fort in this situation. For one, there was a U.S. held fort at Pensecola, Florida where the war could just as easily have started as well, but as it happened, Fort Sumter is where the first shot was fired by General Beauregard.
      It was following Fort Sumter that the invasion of the Southern States began. After all the majority of the battles were in Southern territory. Lee, of course, made a few attempts to invade the North, most notably at Gettysburg.

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      1. Okie Dokie…
        I am guessing that you are from the south.

        Let’s look at this: “… because a Union army was holding a fort at the mouth of Charleston’s Harbor.”

        Fort Sumter was built in 1829 after the War of 1812. (The Indian War to Canadians). It was built with US Army funds and occupied by the US Army. So how does the US Army holding a US Fort that was built with US funds make it a defiant occupation?

        The Union said that secession was illegal, so there was no “Southern Territory” to surrender the fort to. So why should the US Army hand over a US Army Fort to the Governor of South Carolina simply because he says “I Divorce You” three times.

        To Major Anderson and his superiors point of view, it was Governor Pickens who was violating the law. They were under no obligation to just hand him the keys and walk away.

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      2. No, not from the South. Actually, I’m Canadian, (Halifax, Nova Soctia) and we actually call it the War of 1812 here too! 🙂
        I’m actually agreeing with these points, but I also point out that from the South’s perspective, they were no longer part of the Union, so to their mind, it was a Southern fort, and they wanted Anderson’s party OUT. I agree that from the North’s perspective, it was their own fort and they had every right to stay there.

        Basically, it was a situation rife for trouble. Beauregard’s army started the bombardment, and four years of blood and turmoil were set in motion. The war, as I said earlier, was mostly, from the South’s point of view, an invasion of their homeland.

        Anyway, we’re straying from Gillian’s original question

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  4. All of this goes to prove how fallible and fraught with misunderstanding and misinterpretation History is. And why mankind has learned very little from the lessons of the past. It would appear that ‘Nationalism’ as resident in the powerful symbol of a Flags + Banners. And how groups can hi-jack them to suit their own weltanschauung. But “we” know this, don’t we? The only symbol lately that makes sense to me is a Red Cross. And we are seeing a lot of it. Frightening times %@

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  5. The Civil War is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in American history. It shaped our culture at that dawn of the industrial revolution in the North and shifted the centre of wealth and power in that direction. Previously it rested in the states to the South who were becoming marginalized by the conquest of western lands and the defacto negation of slavery’s expansion by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The stage was set.
    The scope of the Civil War isn’t really understood by most Americans. There were nearly a million Americans, primarily males, killed in the war. That’s more than all other American wars combined or 5% of the male population.
    It took a century for the South recover. Humiliated by their defeat, Southerners resurrected their pride by clinging to the symbols of their “noble cause” which they morphed from slavery to “states rights”. While currently it only receives prominent display in South Carolina in the past it was a fixture in many Southern states and was even part of their states flags. The Civil War still echoes across the land south of the 49th parallel.

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  6. The US Civil War was not over slavery, exactly. It was the issue of State’s Rights regarding slavery that offered the spark that ignited the Civil War. But the central issue was not slavery itself. In fact President Lincoln didn’t issue the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves until the third year of the war.

    Southerners claimed that the federal government wasn’t allowed to to stop them for having slavery because of the 10th Amendment. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The south was an agricultural industry, meaning they are basically farmers. To be a farmer you want cheap labor to tend to the land, and the slaves fit that requirement. If slavery was banned then the south’s economy would drop, they claimed, because no one would work in the fields. (A bit of irony, a 20th-century economist analyzed the cost of buying and maintaining slaves before the Civil War and determined that paying a wage for laborers would have been cheaper).

    The confederate states wanted to secede from the union so that they could form their own central government. The Governor of South Carolina ordered the Federal Government out of all the military forts in South Carolina. Both of them. (Fort Moultrie was abandoned and Major Anderson moved all the forces under his command to Fort Sumter). Then when Anderson refused to surrender Sumter to the South Carolina militia, he ordered a bombardment.

    As Joana said, more lives were lost in the Civil War than all other American Wars combined. But most of the deaths were not from combat. More than half of the deaths occurred in the prison camps and ships from exposure, starvation and unsanitary conditions. The rest were mostly from diseases.

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  7. Many southerners (e.g. some redneck hippies) are not racist. They like the Confederate flag because it’s a symbol of rebellion. They aren’t experts on the war nor apologists for slavery or forced segregation. But as far as I know even after the war the southern representatives were not allowed to vote on the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Modern forced integration is based on a very questionable interpretation of the 14th amendment which wasn’t a valid law in the first place. The legacy of government by superior force remains with us today and is now considered business as usual.

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    1. More revisionist history.
      The southern representatives were not PRESENT to vote on the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments because the southern states had not yet elected their Congressional representatives. And they were in no hurry to elect representatives. So it is incorrect to say that they “weren’t allowed” to vote.

      The 14th Amendment requires the states to provide equal protection under the law to all persons, not just to citizens, within their jurisdictions and was used to dismantle segregation, as in Brown v. Board of Education.

      While there may not have been many southern representatives when the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments were argued in Congress, Every southern state had the opportunity to vote on the ratification, which most did. So, just how is the 14th Amendment not “a valid law in the first place”?

      You may not like the US Constitution or just not the 13th, 14th and 15th Reconstruction amendments, but the south lost the war. Get over it.

      I can’t believe that 150 years after the war we’re still saying “The south lost the war. Get over it.”

      On jillian’s question.
      Flying or displaying the Confederate flag was originally a form of legitimate protest after the war. The US Constitution’s First Amendment provided for that form of protest. But more recently since Nazi flags are getting harder to find, the racist hate groups, beginning with the KKK, needed a new symbol to express their sickness, so they hijacked the Confederate flag. The Southern states didn’t object, so by inaction they too are identified with the racist hate groups when they fly the confederate flag.

      Its not illegal to exhibit the Nazi symbols of hate in the US, but life could be made miserable for you if you do. The Confederate flag has become the new symbol of hate and will be treated by society the same as Nazi symbols.

      The creator of the Confederate Battle Flag, which is the flag we’re talking about here, originally called it “White Man’s Flag”. The “White Man’s Flag” was given that name by the guy who designed it, William T. Thompson, the editor of the Savannah Daily Morning News.

      Thompson designed the flag and editorialized repeatedly in the paper he edited: “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” And then in a later editorial, he cheered the design as one that will “be hailed by the civilized world as The White Man’s Flag.” And then finally “As a national emblem it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity and barbarism.”

      The Confederate Vice President, Alexander Stephens, argued that white supremacy was the foundation upon which the Confederacy was built. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea to that of the United States Constitution; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”

      People who argue that the Confederate Battle Flag is simply a symbol of Southern history and pride and not associated with racism conveniently think that history ended in 1960. The Confederate Battle Flag was adopted as the primary symbol of opposition to the Civil Rights movement. To claim otherwise is ignoring history.

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      1. Sounds like you’re pushing a politically correct agenda. You assert that all southern states had the opportunity to vote, but do you mean theoretical opportunity or practical opportunity? Read the Congressional Record after the war.

        Your assertion about the 14th amendment doesn’t make any sense. Nobody in government claimed segregation was illegal until 90 years after the 14th amendment was passed. Brown vs. Board of Education (90 years later) was a revision of history.

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      2. ALL states ratified the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments. Ratification is at the state level, all Congress did was to propose the amendments which did not become part of the constitution until they were ratified by the states.

        I never said that the 14th Amendment said anything about segregation. I said that the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment has been applied to a number of civil rights (and gay rights) cases.

        ALL states ratified the fourteenth Amendment, though some waited until the 20th Century to do it. But in 1868 enough states had ratified it that it became part of the constitution.

        The southern states included West Virginia – January 16, 1867, Arkansas – April 6, 1868, North Carolina – July 4, 1868, Louisiana – July 9, 1868, South Carolina – July 9, 1868, Alabama – July 13, 1868, Georgia – July 21, 1868, Virginia – October 8, 1869, Mississippi – January 17, 1870, Texas – February 18, 1870, Kentucky – March 30, 1976.

        To say that “…the southern representatives were not allowed to vote on the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments” is flat out wrong. Had the southern states sent a representative to Congress, they would have been included in the debates and the vote to PROPOSE the amendments, but the states did not send a representative to Congress. They DID, however, ratify the amendments.

        How is applying constitutional law a “revision of history”?? Go ahead. go out on the limb. I have a saw ready.

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      3. The only southern state that waited until the 20th Century was Kentucky. The rest were Delaware – February 12, 1901, Maryland – April 4, 1959 and California – May 6, 1959. Delaware was technically a slave state, but rejected cessation and stayed in the Union.

        A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution when approved by three-fourths of the states. Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Louisiana and South Carolina – all Southern States – were the last five to ratify the amendments, putting the count past the 3/4 threshold.

        In 1868 enough states, including all but one of the southern states, ratified the Reconstruction Amendments, so your argument that the southern states weren’t allowed any input to the amendments are totally false.

        That’s not revisionist. That’s not an agenda.

        I am still waiting. How is applying constitutional law a “revision of history”??

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      4. Read the daily Congressional Record after the war, not Wikipedia. If southern states approved the amendments long after the war was over, that’s evidence that they weren’t excluded from voting when the amendments were first passed and became “law”?

        Stop talking nonsense. Are you or are you not an apologist for forced integration? Why did it take the federal government 90 years to “realize” that the 14th Amendment legitimizes forced integration?

        I agree that slavery is a nasty business, and if superior aliens come to Earth someday I hope they agree too. But constitutional democracy is a system of means and methods, not an excuse to achieve equality (equal income) by any means necessary. That’s what forced integration is: anti-democratic, and that’s why rebellion and its symbols are justified.

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      5. Wow, you really don’t like the Constitution or US form of government, do you? Our tri-lateral form of government and our constitution guarantee that we aren’t governed by a tyranny of the majority as you just endorsed. The same-sex marriage decision is precisely a demonstration of that fact.

        Forced integration is anti-democratic? WOW, I am glad that we don’t put basic human rights to a democratic vote or blacks would still be slaves, women wouldn’t be able to vote and legally chattle, we would have one state religion like the Middle East, creationism and not science would be taught in our segregated schools, and it would still be illegal to be gay.

        Thank GOD that the cretins that are the Tea Party will never get a president elected since they don’t believe in the Constitution either.

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      6. Who is changing the subject? Yes, we started with a question about the controversy around the Confederate Battle Flag. It’s Jillian’s blog and she can stop us anytime.

        In your defense of the CSA Battle Flag:
        You said that the 14th Amendment was illegal. You said that integration was forced, You made statements that are contrary to the function of the US Constitution. You made statements about the ratification of the Reconstruction Amendments that are simply not supported in fact.

        If you think that a few government employees in Washington are dictating anything you REALLY don’t understand how our government works. And it works quite well despite the imaginations of the low-intelligence sheep in the Republican Party.

        You need to go back to fifth-grade government class and stop getting your information from Faux News.

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      7. Who said government employees are dictating? I said they are corrupt, i.e. assistants of the arms industry, Big Pharma, etc. The little people are better judges of their own best interests. Why don’t you stick to the subject and answer the hard questions: It took the federal government 90 years to “realize” that the 14th Amendment legitimizes forced integration. Why?

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      8. Again, you demonstrate your lack of understanding. Yes, we get the best government money can buy. Yes, almost every politician appears to be corrupt, but that’s because the business community pays their baggage to run for office. I believe that much we agree on.

        Why do elections have to be so money intensive? While “Citizens United” is a good scapegoat, but the CU decision by SCOTUS just made legal what has been happening under the table for decades. Our politicians are for sale. They always were, but now it’s legal.

        People like you and me have very little influence on “our” representatives. Not because they are for sale, but because the US citizens have the world’s worst voter participation rates. We should be embarrassed when a 35% participation of eligible voters is considered good. That needs to be fixed, but the current party in control is trying to further reduce the voter participation because it favors them in elections.

        Your second statement is further evidence that you don’t know how the government works. The government can’t pursue violations of the amendments because the government can’t be both prosecutor and prosecuted. Here’s how it works. A citizen feels that his rights are being infringed by a government office. The citizen sues the government entity that may be violating the citizen’s rights and names the right that is being infringed as the basis for the lawsuit.

        In other words, the law, even bad laws stand until a citizen presents his complaint in court, and proves his complaint.

        Brown v Board of Education was actually six separate cases where parents in the southern states whose children were refused admission to their local school purely on the basis of race sued their respective School Boards. Their suits said that segregated schools were unconstitutional because they violated the equal protection clause of the fourteenth amendment. Their taxes paid for the schools so they should have the same access to them as their white neighbors. They all lost at the local and appellate levels, and were finally heard at the Supreme Court as one case. The wording of the Warren court’s May 17, 1954 opinion concluded that:
        “To separate them [children in grade and high schools] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to ever be undone.”

        It didn’t take “the government” 90 years to use the 14th Amendment to “force integration”. Taking a case all the way to the Supreme Court takes a long time and a lot of money, or lawyers generous with their time.

        Why do you keep saying “forced integration”? Why do you have to be forced to do the right thing in the first place? What part of equal do you not like?

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