In the course of researching for my historical fiction novel, ON GROUNDS OF HONOR, to be released very shortly, I was compelled to do extensive research on the Civil War. For the last year or more, I’ve spent thousands of hours seeking to understand the reasons for and the events of the war which split our nation apart. While the war officially was fought between 1861 and 1865, there were decades of division which led up to it, and its effects are still felt today like the aftershocks of a tremendous earthquake.
Before I begin to list the reasons why the Confederate Flag should be left alone, I would like to state clearly that I am a firm believer in racial equality and civil rights. God created people male and female, and to express His creativity, He gave some blond hair, some brown, and some black; to some people He gave blue eyes, some green, and some brown; He also varied the shades of skin tone. But all human beings were created in the image of God, and as such are of equal value in His sight.
The Confederate Flag is part of America’s southern culture. In order to understand it better, one must look back at history to discover its original meaning within the context of the Civil War.
1. The conflict was over States’ Rights versus Federal Tyranny. The Civil War began when South Carolina seceded from the Union and fought for control of Fort Sumter. Their reasons for seceding, as well as the other Southern states which joined them, is very relevant to the world today. “The debate over which powers rightly belonged to the states and which to the Federal Government became heated again in the 1820s and 1830s fueled by the divisive issue of whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories forming as the nation expanded westward…
As the North and the South became more and more different, their goals and desires also separated. Arguments over national policy grew even fiercer. The North’s economic progress as the Southern economy began to stall fueled the fires of resentment. By the 1840s and 1850s, North and South had each evolved extreme positions that had as much to do with serving their own political interests as with the morality of slavery…
As long as there were an equal number of slave-holding states in the South as non-slave-holding states in the North, the two regions had even representation in the Senate and neither could dictate to the other. However, each new territory that applied for statehood threatened to upset this balance of power. Southerners consistently argued for states’ rights and a weak federal government but it was not until the 1850s that they raised the issue of secession. Southerners argued that, having ratified the Constitution and having agreed to join the new nation in the late 1780s, they retained the power to cancel the agreement and they threatened to do just that unless, as South Carolinian John C. Calhoun put it, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment to give back to the South ‘the power she possessed of protecting herself before the equilibrium of the two sections was destroyed.’ …
Controversial—but peaceful—attempts at a solution [were made] include[ing] legal compromises, arguments, and debates… Having exhausted their legal and political options, they felt that the only way to protect themselves from this Northern assault was to no longer be a part of the United States of America. Although the Southern states seceded separately, without intending to form a new nation, they soon banded together in a loose coalition.” (Quoted from the Civil War Trust; http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/civil-war-overview/statesrights.html )
2. The retaliation of the Federal Government was rooted in the belief that secession was unconstitutional. The States of the Confederacy were of the belief that they had the freedom to withdraw from the Union in the same way they had joined it. The Federal Government however, believed that by joining the Union, the states had voluntarily given up their sovereignty once and for all and become an inseparable part of the Union “Northerners, led by Abraham Lincoln, viewed secession as an illegal act. The Confederate States of America was not a new country, they felt, but a group of treasonous rebels.” (Civil War Trust.)
In fact, it was clearly stated at the onset of the war that it had nothing to do with slavery. In July of 1861 the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution was passed by both houses of Congress to define the goals of the Union: “This war is not waged on their part in any spirit of oppression, or for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, or purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions [meaning slavery] of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution, and to preserve the Union…” This resolution was later repealed, and the purpose of the war was redefined by the Emancipation Proclamation, but only after a dramatic decline in voluntary enlistment. The Union believed they could subdue the rebellion easily, within six months or less. When this failed to happen, a moral purpose was introduced to the war, and as the death toll climbed and enlistment continued to decline, the Federal Government finally resorted to Mandatory Conscription (also known as the Draft).
3. Abraham Lincoln’s position is clearly stated in his own words in a letter he wrote to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, to be printed in the newspaper. The Emancipation Proclamation, which Lincoln initiated one month after publishing these words, needs to be understood in light of this statement of purpose:
“I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union… Yours, A. Lincoln”
4. The Confederate Flag is part of our Cultural Heritage as Americans. Like it or not, the Civil War happened. It was an attempt to form a separate nation within America, called “the Confederate States of America.” Although the Southern States lost in their attempt to break free and become an entity of their own, pride in their valiant effort is part of their identity. To most Southerners, the Stars and Bars is a tribute to this spirit of freedom and independence. While there are some who use it to represent racial prejudice, it is not what the flag, in and of itself, stands for.
Side note to fellow Marylanders: the only reason we were not part of the Confederacy was because 27 state legislators were unlawfully imprisoned at Fort McHenry to prevent the vote for secession.
5. America: A Constitutional Republic—Not a Democracy. Originally, our nation was designed to be a Constitutional Republic, a form of government which was intended to prevent any one person or group from possessing too much power.
“Thomas Jefferson referred to [Democracy] as elected despotism in Notes on the State of Virginia (also cited in Federalist 48 by Madison):
‘An ELECTIVE DESPOTISM was not the government we fought for; but one which should not only be founded on free principles, but in which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among several bodies of magistracy, as that no one could transcend their legal limits, without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.’
Thus, a constitution that limited and divided the power of government was necessary to preclude elected officials from imposing tyranny on the people. This is why they adopted a constitution with limited enumerated power, divided and checked across several branches and levels.” (Quoted from The Madison Project; http://madisonproject.com/2013/09/we-the-people-a-constitutional-republic-not-a-democracy/)
6. The Civil War was the beginning of Big Government. The reason that the Income Tax was instituted in 1861 was to fund the war. The percentage withheld was increased in 1862 because the amount previously withheld proved to be insufficient. It was also the beginning of the Mandatory Conscription or Draft.
The Southern States were for Small Government (and quite frankly, so am I) and the fundamental question was about the right of the Federal Government to determine the laws of the individual states. Admittedly, one of the institutions the states wanted control over was that of slavery, which is both morally and ethically wrong.
Since the Civil War, the Federal Government has continued to expand into all areas of public life and to legislate on issues of increasingly more personal nature. A little bit at a time, Americans are losing their freedom. And that is precisely what the Civil War was about.
It was about States’ Rights, Slavery, and Politics—but ultimately, it was about Freedom. To the people of the Confederacy, their flag stood for freedom from tyranny (the same reason America had fought against the British in 1775 and again in 1812). The American Flag represents the very same thing: “Give me Liberty or give me death!” (Patrick Henry, 1775.)
Now there is talk of taking down the Jefferson Memorial, renaming Washington D.C., and redesigning the Stars and Stripes. History cannot be rewritten and it cannot be undone. All we can do is seek to reconcile, make peace, and look for ways to put out the fires of division instead of throwing kerosene on them.
Our country has ample issues which need to be addressed and resolved in the present, and spending time stirring up the past to aggravate and intensify division is self-destructive. Instead of looking for things to be offended by, like the names of football teams or historical flags and memorials, we should remember that we are all citizens of the same country and may one day soon need to unite against a common enemy.