"Year of Lee sounds bugles of history, race"
Dear Mr. Skerritt,
Today I read your article on-line entitled "Year of Lee sounds bugles of history, race", and I wanted to let you know that I enjoyed it, and thought you presented a reasonably objective portrayal, even though your own personal prejudices were obvious.
As a military history buff with particular interest in the period of the War Between The States, I have read innumerable books on the War, its causes, and its results. Although I was born in Pennsylvania and had a great-grandfather who served in the 167th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, my personal studies have lead me to believe that the War itself had very little to do with the institution of slavery, and much more to do with economics, limiting Federal control over the States, and a longstanding mutual distrust between the northern and southern States.
History shows that the North and the South were at odds over numerous different matters from the 1770s on–as a matter of fact, the South still has issues with the North over factors today. The New England States considered secession shortly after our nation’s founding as well as in the early Nineteenth Century, and it was generally accepted back then that the Union was a voluntary one that was entered into voluntarily, and could be left at any time the people of the various States believed it was not in their best interests to remain in the Union. In fact, several of the States such as Virginia and New York specifically had that language added to their documents when they joined the Union.
As far as slavery being the chief cause of the War, that is not historically correct. In 1861 (and for quite a few years prior to that), over 80% of the U.S. economy was derived from the South, but the majority of the U.S. population was in the North (due to mass immigration, especially by the Irish and the Germans), so the North had much higher representation in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, although the South provided roughly 80% of the Union’s funding, the North received roughly 70% of the benefits of it while the South received only about 25% return on their "investment". The South felt as though they were being cheated by the Northern-dominated U.S. Congress, but they didn’t have the representation in Congress to sway the votes more in their favor.
By most accounts, slavery in the South would not have continued beyond about 1880-1900 because slavery is an expensive way to do business, and the further importation of African slaves was specifically prohibited by the Confederate Constitution. The plan was to allow the institution to phase itself out through attrition and gradual emancipation. Many Americans–North and South–believed at that time that it would be inhumane to precipitously free all the slaves without preparing them educationally and otherwise beforehand. In the North, many, including Abraham Lincoln, wanted freed slaves to be deported to the Caribbean islands or to Africa. Many Northern States had the so-called "Black Laws" (Lincoln’s home State of Illinois is an example) which prohibited free blacks from taking up residence in the State.
Your comment in your article that "To us, the stars and bars flag of the Confederacy still represents racism, Jim Crow and oppression" may be true from your standpoint, but in actuality slavery was legal in North America from approximately 1625 until 1866 (about 241 years). All the slaves brought over here from Africa were brought on ships flying the British, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Danish, or U.S. flags–not the Confederate flag. In addition, slavery was legal in the U.S. from the time of its secession from the British Crown in 1776 until 1866 (90 years) when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified, and the Confederacy only existed from 1861-1865 (4 years).
In addition, the Jim Crow Laws were enacted in 1890–25 years after the demise of the Confederacy. The Jim Crow Laws were passed under the flag of the United States and sustained by the U.S. Supreme Court, so how is it that the Confederate flag is linked to that, but not the U.S. flag? Although you are certainly entitled to your perceptions and your own personal prejudices, I do not see the historical connection between the Jim Crow Laws and the battleflag under which Confederate troops fought and died in defense of their homes and families 25-30 beforehand.
At any rate, I wanted to tell you that I appreciate the degree of objectivity that you displayed in your article, and although I personally am a great admirer of Robert E. Lee, as well as other Southern heroes of that period, I do not see a connection between the display of the Confederate flag or the honoring of Confederate heroes and the plight of black Americans today.
David A. Anthony