In an attempt to answer a sincere question posted to Facebook, I’ll attempt to explain a point of view that many who have been born and raised in California will not have been exposed to. I do not necessarily agree or disagree with the point of view that I will explain, but will attempt to put in into modern (Libertarian) terms so that an understanding of these current events can be possible.
Is the “Confederate Flag” a symbol of racism? Was it a symbol of racism 150 years ago? Was it last year? What is “the Confederate Flag” anyway? Can it not mean something else entirely to a large group of people?
There are two flags that people associate with the Confederacy. The first is the rectangular flag that adorns the orange Dodge Charger in the old TV show, the Dukes of Hazzard. Officially, this was known as “The Second Confederate Navy Jack,” and was used from 1863-1865. The other flag that people associate with the Confederacy is simply a square version of the same design. Known as “the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia,” it was used from 1861-1865. Neither of these were the national flag of the Confederacy. In all, there were seven versions of the Confederate National Flag.
But, let’s back up a bit.
The Civil War, or the War Between the States, or the War of Northern/Southern Aggression, was a bloody and vicious war. In order to understand the point of view of the flags of the Confederacy representing Southern heritage, you must understand HOW the war was waged. You must understand HOW the north defeated the south.
The title of this article includes a word with a specific meaning in the context of HOW the north defeated the south. To the modern Californian, bummer means bad vibes, disappointment, or perhaps an unfortunate occurrence. Back then, during the war, a Bummer was a looter (either official or unofficial) who pillaged, plundered, and burned the south in support of (Union) General Sherman’s March to the Sea. This wasn’t soldier on soldier violence. This was an army’s destruction of civilian homes, businesses, and city infrastructure.
North Carolina resident and Civil War diarist Jane Evans Elliot wrote:
This day two weeks since, 12 of March was a day of sorrow and confusion never to be forgotten. Sherman’s army reached Fayetteville the day before, and at 9 o’clock Sunday morning, a party of raiders rushed in upon our peaceful home. They pillaged and plundered the whole day and quartered upon that night and staid until 5 o’clock Monday evening. Some part of the time there were at least three different parties. The house was rifled from garret to cellar. Took all our blankets and all [my husband’s] clothes, all our silver and knives and forks, all our luxuries, leaving nothing but a little meat and corn. They threatened [my husband’s] life repeatedly and one ruffian galloped up to the door and pulled out his matches to fire the house. Oh! it was terrible beyond description. It seems ever present to my mind. One night they strung fire all around us and we took up the children and dressed them and watched all night fearing the fire might consume our dwelling. – Jane Evans Elliot, March 25, 1865.
This style of destruction was a feature of General Sherman’s officially sanctioned campaign to break the South’s ability to wage war. Remember, this was American on American. Americans from the north were waging a “scorched earth,” “total war” campaign. From Sherman’s March to the Sea, to Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign, the South was destroyed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi river – on purpose. And it wasn’t just soldiers on the battlefield. It was farms, mills, stores, homes, bridges, railroads, and etc. mostly owned by regular folks who had no interest in the war and did not own slaves. The war simply tore through their town and destroyed everything in its path. The elites managed to get through the war, with several families profiting quite nicely. Thanks in no small part to the so-called, Twenty Negro Law that made all Southern white males between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five eligible to be drafted into military service, poor and working folk were devastated.
The roots of the Civil War can be seen as a disagreement between elites. Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 presidential election without being on the ballot in ten of the Southern states. His victory triggered declarations of secession by seven slave states of the Deep South, whose economies were all based on cotton cultivated using slave labor. They formed the Confederate States of America before Lincoln took office. It was John C. Breckinridge (Democrat), President Buchanan’s Vice President, who took the Electoral votes from this area. In spite of not being on the ballot in 10 states, Lincoln (Republican) took 180 Electoral Votes to Breckinridge’s (Democrat) 72. The secession leads to the bombing of Ft. Sumter, which begins the war.
It was the elites in the north wishing to exercise federal primacy over the states vs. the elites in the south hiding behind “States Rights” in order to perpetuate an economic system based on slave labor. Rather than work within the individual states to shift attitudes and state laws to eradicate slavery, the Republicans desired to use the power of the Federal government to impose it’s will upon the states. This idea of the primacy of the Federal government had not been a feature of the national government until Lincoln. This was a very big deal at the time. Plus, this Federal imposition on the states was not just limited to the eradication of slavery (as we well know now).
With all of this in mind, imagine that you are Jane Evans Elliot. You’re sitting at home, minding your own business, when the full power and might of the northern armies descend upon your home. In the matter of a few days, your entire life is ruined. The northern army destroyed everything in its path. The Bummers took what the army needed to sustain itself, without thought of the effect the loss would have on the community or compensation to the rightful owners. The theory of slavery as a economic system did not need to be defeated in the arena of ideas, or on the debate floor; the South needed to be crushed and burned to the ground.
Now the war is over and Mrs. Elliot meets all the others who have gone through the same experience. The poor and working classes were all equally devastated. It took families decades and generations to get back to some sense of normalcy. The rebuilding of the South, or the Reconstruction, was a harsh regime imposed by Congress and run from the north. The term “Carpetbagger” comes from this time and refers an outsider perceived as using manipulation or fraud to obtain an objective.
Gradually, the South rebuilds and recovers. Regular Southern folks of all backgrounds and ethnicities are conditioned to be wary of outsiders, northerners, Yankees, and such. Democrat elites and their thug enforcers, and the KKK, try to “return” the South to the way it was in the days before the war. Republican elites, and other well-meaning northerners, venture south to try to help minority communities against this Democrat onslaught. The media paints the South as a place where minorities aren’t safe, which is mostly true. Minorities aren’t safe from Democrat elites and their thugs.
By now, most are just sick and tired of being told what to do. They just want to live their lives and go about their business. In the decades since the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, folks had considered the matter settled. Everything was fine, according to this point of view, until some sick kid walked into a church and killed a bunch of people. Now, every flag, every monument, every dead Confederate general had to go. Once again, northern elite carpetbaggers were telling regular Southern folk what to do.
Southerners responded by buying every flag and trinket that they could find. They responded by lining the route taken by President Obama with Confederate Battle Flags. The media labeled the behaviour as racist. It wasn’t. It isn’t. It’s simply the South giving the middle finger to those northern elites because they’re sick and tired of being told what to do. They’re sick and tired of being blamed for something that they didn’t do. For those whose families arrived in the south after the war, they’re tired of being blamed for something that has absolutely no link to their families whatsoever.
This is where Libertarians can help. Libertarians love to educate, love to talk politics and history to death, and simply love to help further the cause of liberty and freedom. In this land of freedom and liberty, Southerners must be free to pursue their happiness. If flying a particular piece of cloth makes them happy then that activity must be protected. Freedom to speak one’s mind is still sacred in this country, isn’t it?
If Southerners have come to associate the flag with Southern heritage, then so be it. Who are we in California to say otherwise? When Cassius Clay became Muhammad Ali, we all accepted it. When Chris Jackson became, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, I went looking for a new Kings jersey with his new name. When Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, she got an ESPY for courage. Some didn’t like the changes. Some did. Over time, we get over it and move on. Treat it like it’s just a piece of cloth, and that’s all it will be to you. It has no power over your life.
If we allow a small mob of elites to ban the use of this piece of cloth in an exercise of free expression, what’s next? What will you say when the elites come after something that you hold dear? To whom will you turn for help and protection?
Remember, when the elites in the media were getting the country all fired up about this little piece of cloth (distraction / misdirection), they were passing fast-track trade authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations – further consolidating power in the Executive Branch of government. The carpetbaggers were again using manipulation and fraud to obtain an objective. The TPP will have real economic impact on your life. The TPP is good for the elites and bad for the rest of us. But, you weren’t paying attention to that. You were worried about a piece of cloth – which has no real impact on your life. Pity.