Some Answers on the “Rebel Flag” and Reality

The third in a series of posts to answer questions I’m tired of explaining over and over again. See Flattened Taxpayers for the first and I Won’t Pay for Your Star Trek V Collector’s Plate for the second.

Having lived in the deep south for well over a decade back in the late 1960s and 1970s when racism was slightly less hidden, I had to deal with racists who flew the Confederate Battle Flag or who wanted their state flag to contain some confederate emblem as a part of that flag’s design.

When something comes up over and over again and I’ve gotten tired of typing the same answers over and over again through the years, I put together some quick answers to the most common questions so that when it comes up yet again I can just point them back here.

No, flying a confederate battle flag isn’t about your love of  "Southern Heritage".

Southern regional history (at least European Southern regional history) goes back over 400 years. The “Confederacy” was 4 of those years. If you pick less than 1% of your history that’s defined by treason and murder justified by wanting to expand racism-based slavery (as the secession declarations clearly stated) then you’ve clearly picked the only 1% of Southern "heritage" that you actually care about and made what you treasure as “heritage” abundantly obvious.

No, the Southern Treason was NOT about "states’ rights".

The major states rights issue at the time was whether non-slave states could pass laws that overrode the Federal Fugitive Slave Act which required all states to arrest escaped slaves and return them to their "owners". Guess which side of the coming conflict said federal law supersedes the “rights” of states? Hint: It wasn’t the ones wanting state law to free slaves.

No, the Southern Treason was NOT about unfair tariffs impressed on the South by Northern Congressmen.

There are two tariffs that are occasionally brought up in this canard by people who think that once you move to a subject as exciting as trade tax policy their opponent will fall asleep without finishing the discussion. One of these tariffs was written by some of the slave states’ own Congressmen. The other was passed after the war had already started. Neither one was even mentioned in the various secession documents.

No, it wasn’t about anything that President Lincoln did.

Abraham Lincoln hadn’t even been inaugurated when the first six southern states declared themselves above the laws of the United States and started murdering US soldiers. The President at the time that the talk of treason turned to war against their own nation was James Buchanan. I’ve yet to hear anyone say that the war was a response to Buchanan, though.

No, it wasn’t a reaction to there being no mechanism for states to secede in the US Constitution.

There is a perfectly good mechanism for anything anyone wants in the US Constitution. It’s called Article V. It deals with the process for creating amendments. Want to do something the Constitution doesn’t describe? Fine. Amend the Constitution to give yourself that power.  It’s not “impossible”, it’s been done quite a few times now.

The usual response to this is “well, a Constitutional Amendment wouldn’t have passed”. Too bad. Laws apply to you when you lose and the other guy wins just as much as they do when you win and the other guy loses. Just because you don’t think you’ll win a vote doesn’t give you the right to start murdering people. That this isn’t blatantly obvious is a bit frightening.

No, there wasn’t a war between the Union and the Confederacy or a war between the Yankees and the Rebels or a war between the United States of America and the "Confederate States of America".

There was a war between the United States of America and a bunch of criminals who had decided that violating US law by stealing US property and killing American soldiers and sailors was a better course of action than trusting in democracy or rule of law. That’s about as noble a cause to be honoring as memorializing Timothy McVeigh or Charles Manson.

Deal with it.

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4 Responses to “Some Answers on the “Rebel Flag” and Reality”

  1. Ken Belcher Says:

    By and large, the above comments are valid.

    Which is why, considering the treasonous rebellion against the lawful government created an invalid nation which we call the United States of America, which still today maintains a legal recognition of English Common Law ( while conveniently disregarding the areas of treason ) The criminals who murdered the officers and soldiers of the lawful government can lay no claim to a right to govern other than victory. God Save the Queen.
    That having been said, when a faction of that criminal government chose to leave the conspiracy and go it alone, a political position was taken by the more powerful faction that once a state was a part of the United States it was forever impossible to leave the criminal organization. This excuse for invasion and conquest was proven invalid by the fact that those states were not forced to remain in the United States, but each had to individually petition once ( or twice, see Georgia ) again for statehood.
    Regarding the common variant of confederate flag seen today: As there was no noticeable action to prevent this symbol from being claimed by racists, fascists, bigots and anyone with a hate agenda, it became public domain and now does, in fact, represent racism by default. Those who claim it as a symbol for fallen heroes should have spoken up sooner. I had an ancestor lose an arm at Gettysburg trying to take Little Round Top from the larger criminal government faction and I would prefer that his memory be honored now by one of the many other flags for which he fought.

  2. mikegalos Says:

    There are two differences between the southern treason and the US war of independence that I’d say are worth mentioning.

    1) The Southerners were full citizens of the government they attacked where the colonies were not full members of the British citizenry. Note that they did NOT have representation in Parliament so a legislative solution to their grievances was NOT an option where it was for the southerners who chose murder. In fact they had both normal legislative options and the option of constitutional amendment available to them, neither of which were options for the North American British colonies. As I said above, “Just because you don’t think you’ll win a vote doesn’t give you the right to start murdering people.” (or, as is happening now with the “shut down”, just because you lose a few dozen votes in a row doesn’t mean you can shut down the economy as an alternative to actually coming up with a plan that is acceptable to the majority of the democracy you claim to be a part of.)

    2) The US was eventually recognized by the government they’d seceded from after two wars. While this is a “if you win the war you retroactively were right to have the war” excuse, it IS the rule of law.

    And speaking of Gettysburg, I’m brought to mind the reply of Lincoln after the battle when told that the US forces had chased the rebels back over the border which was essentially, “Idiot, there IS no border. They went from one state in the United States to another state in the United States.”

    There was no more a “Confederate States of America” than there would be a “United States of Mike” if I chose to pretend my house was a separate nation. Declaring yourself above the law doesn’t make it so.

  3. Ken Belcher Says:

    Surely you noticed that I was in virtually complete agreement with you. I only provided additional facts.
    As I understand it, the original continental congress was not a representative elected body while later the legislatures of the various states were. Most historians agree that only a minority of the population of the colonies were sympathetic to the unlawful rebellion, and many estimate that more colonists fought for the crown than for the rebels. Thus the Revolutionary War might be better characterized as a coup by a few people who were disadvantaged by a tax. A tax so small that it would pass unnoticed in the 21st century. There was indeed a Continental Congress, largely self appointed or “elected” from among a handful of landowners to represent them, as in a conference rather than a governmental body. The elected representatives of the 19th century rebellious states were elected and, in contrast to their earlier counterparts had the majority of their voting citizens in support. In these United States as was the case in England and her colonies, all persons residing within them were indeed subject to the laws of the lawful government.
    If membership in the later Congress was a voluntary association
    ( Congress still may choose not to seat a member ) then a member may freely choose not to participate as well. This is especially easy when that member has the support of the public encouraging this. If participation in Congress is involuntary and mandatory by each state, then no state can be denied participation after a failed “coup”.
    I also submit that had the colonial rebellion failed utterly then a positive outcome for all of the colonies regarding slavery would have been accomplished earlier under English rule, and without hundreds of thousands of lives lost. You acknowledged that the United States were indeed recognized after military success in the first war against England and that that recognition continued even after the punitive invasion against the US for it’s aggression against Canada was a victory for England by any measurement of victory.
    I am confused by your references to modern day political brinksmanship as it has no historical bearing on the matter of the Illegality or legality of both or either participant in a war resolved long ago. I am always willing to concede that the secession was illegal as was the unilateral declaration of independence and insist that the hypocritical treatment of the southern states following their defeat and legal status of conquered and occupied territory invalidates any claim to the permanence of statehood. There was no amendment proposed or ratified removing any states from the union. And I can find no amendment stipulating the terms for restoring statehood. I propose for the sake of consistency that had the confederacy ( as they called themselves ) been successful militarily that they would have eventually been recognized by all parties as a nation.
    The principle that borders are indeed drawn by bayonets was recognized obliquely by Lincoln, he merely chose to put his bayonets in a different place, a place well beyond hundreds of thousands of involuntary citizens.
    That being said, a confederate victory would have made the horrors to come in the 20th century many times worse as a result of altered spheres of interest with a South allied with England and a North possibly allied with Prussia/Germany as a counter measure.
    In summary, Had the Revolutionary War ended in a British victory the outcome for this continent might have been better. In the absence of that colonial rule, a victory by the confederacy would have resulted in an even poorer outcome.

    • mikegalos Says:

      We absolutely are agreeing on most points, however…

      The idea that the British would have ended slavery in the Colonial American South sooner than was done by the US is something I find unlikely. The UK didn’t outlaw slavery until 1833 in the UK itself but left it quite legal for quite a while longer in places where it profited the landed houses’ overseas holdings which I’d propose would have included the southern colonies where the massive profits required slavery to continue funding the wealthy, be they Southern “Gentlemen” or British gentry.

      As to the reference to “modern day political brinksmanship” I hold that in both cases, the Southern Treason and the Republican economic hostage taking, there is one common thread that does NOT apply to the American Revolution. In the two former cases there was (or is) a legislative framework for redress of the grievances being argued. In the latter there was none. The Koch Brothers/Walton Family funded wing of the Republican Party is following the same rule as the Southern Treason – If they can’t win by democratic means they’re willing to subvert the democratic process to get what they want. A childish “I believe in the system only when it works in my favor” view which shows a lack of actual belief in the system and rather a self-centered mindset that only values personal gain no matter the cost to others. In the case of the American Revolution there was no democratic means available as there were no colonial representatives in Parliament. There is a profound difference between “I have no way to participate” and “I don’t have enough support to win”.

      Lastly, I’d argue that borders are NOT drawn by bayonets, they’re drawn by international recognition. Bayonets may establish a line but international recognition is what makes that line a border.

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