Mike Griffith

It’s time for some fairness and tolerance for the Confederate flag. Using the logic employed by those who claim the Confederate flag is a negative, offensive symbol, we would have to say the same thing about the U.S. flag. No flag can help how it’s used (or misused). The Confederate flag was intended to represent honor, courage, constitutional government, the rule of law, independence, and faith in God. Most Americans who still honor the Confederate flag see it as symbol of those noble principles, not as an emblem of hate or racism or slavery.

It’s also time for some rationality and accuracy in relation to the Confederate flag. In his article "Understand power, pain of symbols" (January 14, 2005), David Tokarz compares the Confederate flag to the Nazi swastika and says the Confederate flag is now irrevocably a negative, offensive symbol. He notes that the design of the swastika was originally an American Indian symbol for peace, but that now it’s impossible to view it as anything other than a symbol of hate. He then argues that the same is true of the Confederate flag; he claims the Confederate flag must now be viewed as a bad symbol because of how some people used it in the ’60s and because some hate groups have adopted it as one of their symbols.

I certainly agree that the Nazi swastika is a disgusting, offensive symbol. However, there’s no comparison between the swastika and the Confederate flag. For one thing, almost no one knows that the swastika started off as an innocent American Indian symbol. But nearly everyone knows that the Confederate flag was the flag of the Confederate States of America. Also, whereas the swastika existed in obscurity before the Nazis came along, the Confederate flag was created by the Confederacy. Previous flags bore some resemblance to the Confederate flag, but none was identical to it.

I wonder if those who now demonize the Confederate flag are aware that by late 1864 the Confederacy was moving toward abolishing slavery, and that key Confederate leaders, including President Jefferson Davis and Secretary of State Judah Benjamin, supported ending slavery. I also wonder if they’re aware that the Confederate Constitution permitted the admission of free states to the Confederacy, that it banned the overseas slave trade, and that it even allowed Confederate states to abolish slavery within their borders. In addition, the Confederate Constitution guaranteed every right that the U.S. Constitution guarantees, including freedom of worship, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly. The Confederacy held elections and enjoyed a vibrant free press even during the war.

The South’s desire to peacefully separate from the Union was not treason and posed no threat to the continuation of the federal government. And let’s keep in mind that Thomas Jefferson said that if any state wanted to leave the Union, he would not hesitate to say "Let us separate." Let’s also keep in mind that Presidents John Quincy Adams and John Tyler said that if states wanted to leave the Union, they should be allowed to do so in peace. Additionally, two of the greatest early American legal scholars, William Rawle and George Tucker, both said a state had the right to secede.

The Confederacy had no desire to overthrow the federal government or to invade the North. One of the first things the Confederacy did after it was formed was to send a peace delegation to Washington, D.C., in an effort to establish peaceful ties with the North. Lincoln wouldn’t even meet with the delegation. Even after the incident at Fort Sumter, which Lincoln later admitted he provoked, the Confederacy continued to express its desire for peace. When the Confederacy was winning on the battlefield, it still sought peace. It should be kept in mind that it was the North that invaded the South; that’s why nearly all the battles of the Civil War were fought in the South.

Let’s apply Tokarz’s logic to the U.S. flag. Shall we declare the Stars and Stripes a symbol of evil because under its banner the federal government cheated, segregated, and literally slaughtered the American Indians for decades, especially from 1865-1890? Shall we replace the U.S. flag because angry white mobs in Northern cities, including Boston, waved it proudly while they bitterly and often violently protested the racial integration of their public schools? Shall we replace the U.S. flag because many KKK and right-wing militia groups use it? Again, no flag can help how it’s used.

If anyone would like more information on this issue, I cordially invite you to read the following articles:

"The Southern Side of the Civil War: Facts Your History Teacher May Not Have Mentioned About the War Between the States"

"A Response to Attacks on Confederate Symbols and History"

"The Confederacy, the Union, and the Civil War: A Look at Four Claims About the War Between the States"

Mike Griffith
Civil War website

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