There’s been a bit in the news of late of the removal of Confederate monuments from places of honor.
I am the great great great grandson and great great great great grandson of Confederate Cavalrymen (George Washington Rainer, Private, Texas 20th Cavalry Regiment and his father Alfred Rainer, Private, 6th Battalion Texas Cav, Company E). I also have other ancestors who served in the Confederacy. That said, I have no problems with the removal of Confederate imagery and honors from our parks, town halls, and other public places. I consider the acts of the Confederacy treasonous. Not only that, I consider any defense of the institution of slavery in any form to be immoral, even inhuman. There is no justification for enslaving another human being. None. Period. Full stop. Anyone attempting to argue with me about that will find themselves on the wrong end of a diatribe they will not enjoy. It is an argument you cannot win.
The Confederacy based its economy, its social structure, and its very soul on the singular assumption that somehow, white people were better than black people were. That racist assumption, as well as similar assumptions that are extent even today, is and should be considered toxic to good people everywhere.
There are those who argue that the American Civil War, the War Between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression – pick your label – was not about slavery, but was instead about “State’s Rights” or some other tertiary issue. These people are being disingenuous. After all, what right did the states want to retain? That was the right to maintain a slave economy. Every single tertiary issue that the apologists argue for, comes back to this proximate cause.
Let’s look, in part, at a few of the Confederate States’ Declarations of Secession;
Georgia – “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.”
Mississippi – “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery— the greatest material interest of the world.”
South Carolina – “Those States have assume [.sic] the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
Texas – “(Texas) was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
Virginia – “the Federal Government, having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern Slaveholding States.
This is just five of the thirteen, the other eight states make it equally clear that the issue at hand is slavery; they all argue that the defense of the institution is the clear objective of secession from the Union. This is easily perceived by anyone not trying to excuse the behavior of our ancestors. Slavery. Not states’ rights (except in the sense that they felt the states had the right to keep slaves), not the mistreatment of the South by the North (except in that the North refused to honor certain laws requiring them to repatriate runaway slaves to the South), not any reason that doesn’t in some way link to slavery, or is simply non-sensical (i.e. the Texas complaint that there are federal troops in Texas).
I do not believe we should honor men and women, yes, including my ancestors, who supported the continuation of what is arguably the most heinous institution in the history of man. Nor do I believe we should, as a nation that supposedly believes that “all men are created equal” continue to think that these men’s actions were somehow distillable from the cause of their actions, and therefore honorable. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not believe that the common soldier is guilty of the crimes of the State. My ancestors, both privates, were doing what they were expected to do. What they should have done was NOT. In spite of that, the Confederate politicians, generals, and other social leaders should be held accountable, and these are the men most often honored. While men like General Lee were complex, and in many ways similar to other complex slave owning men like Thomas Jefferson, others, the bulk of others, were much less complex:
Men like –
Henry L. Benning, a Georgia politician and Confederate general argued that; “..the slavery question rides insolently over every other everywhere…”
Gen. Stephan Ramseur – “…Slavery, the very source of our existence, the greatest blessing both for Master & Slave that could have been bestowed upon us.”
Senator Robert M. T. Hunter of Virginia – “There is not a respectable system of civilization known to history whose foundations were not laid in the institution of domestic slavery.”
And sadly, even religious leaders – so-called “christians” (lower-case “c” intentional);
Methodist Rev. John T. Wightman – “The triumphs of Christianity rest this very hour upon slavery; and slavery depends on the triumphs of the South . . . This war is the servant of slavery.” [The Glory of God, the Defence of the South (1861).
This is just a very, very minuscule sampling of the evil pouring forth in the American South during the period.
Even so, do we separate out the bravery and courage of the men who fought to ensure the purity of their race in Germany in the mid-twentieth century? No, we think of them as monsters. In addition, truly, is there much difference between murdering 4,000,000 and enslaving 4,000,000, and possibly murdering more. There were 3,953,761 slaves in the South in 1860 – Historian Manisha Sinha from the University of Massachusetts argues that between 2-5 million died in the Atlantic slave trade – that includes the U.S., the Caribbean, and S. America. It is impossible to know for sure, as after 1808 bringing slaves from Africa to the United States carried a death penalty with it and take it from me, studying smuggling is a damned near insurmountable task – to quote Ser Davos, “If you‘re a famous smuggler, you‘re not doin’ it right.” That law, however, “The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807,” was poorly – even ludicrously poorly enforced. It is believed that between 50,000 to 500,000 more African slaves were smuggled into the United States between 1808 and 1864. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, see Ser Davos’ quote above. No matter, how one genocide is better than another, is beyond me as a military and political historian and as a humanist. Why we honor Confederate leaders and deride Nazi leaders is a head-shaking situation.
Does that mean we forget about them, these Confederates? Relegate them to the dustbin of history? No. Absolutely not. Those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. Nevertheless, does that mean Robert E. Lee’s statue should be outside city hall? Only if it is there as a warning. Does that mean that we should give honors to men like Stonewall Jackson, (a man who I, as a historian believe was probably the greatest military mind this country ever produced). But Jackson took up the mantle of Christianity to justify his owning slaves and established a black church in which he himself preached teaching that the Bible, the very word of the Christian God, ordained and sanctioned slavery of the African by the white man. Thus convincing many slaves, his own included, that their indentured state was somehow divine. That is a level of evil that is difficult for most people to comprehend, it is what kidnappers do to their victims, it is was cult leaders do to their acolytes. It is what slaveholders in the American south did to their negros.
So no, we should not forget about these men. These men are warning that should bring shudders of trepidation to all good people. It should create a feeling of shame in American Southerners no less than the names Goebbels, Himmler, or Hitler brings to Germans. But ask one of these Confederate Flag wavers for details about the Civil War and I can just about guarantee you that the vast majority of them can’t hold an intelligent conversation about the topic and speak only in emotional generalities – they have a History Channel Education (in truth, our history is a most abused topic). So it seems to me that our true history, and the men who fought the Civil War, are already forgotten by most. They have been replaced by romanticized and deified simulacrums. So maybe we need to take control of the situation, remove the monuments, force the Rebel Flag Wavers into museums so that maybe, just maybe they’ll be required to actually read about what their heroes did, about the evil institution that their actions supported. Spend more time teaching on the Civil War and the actual terrors that brought it about, and the horrors that it caused, and less time on the glorious battles. Because right now, these people don’t seem to understand what they’re supporting. Those few who do understand, well, they’re just evil, and we should never, NEVER kowtow to evil.