I haven’t written about this one yet, because I didn’t really trust myself to do so without blowing a gasket, LOL – but Dennis G over at Balloon Juice just said about everything that needs to be said on the subject. I’ll quote a bit of it in a moment, but essentially, he sums up exactly what I’ve been thinking on the subject.
Newly-minted governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell seemed genuinely taken aback when his proposal to institute a month-long celebration of “Confederate History Month” was met with such instant, sustained outrage from such a wide chunk of not just his state, but the entire country. Much of that outrage had to do with the fact that in the initial proclamation, McDonnell (or his speech-writers, more likely) omitted any mention whatsoever of slavery. That’s such a glaring omission that it almost beggars belief to try to assume that it was merely an oversight: it would be like trying to talk about World War II without mentioning the Holocaust.
Even without engaging in speculation around whether McDonnell and his staff intentionally avoided mention of slavery in their initial proclamation, it’s a regrettable, if not actually outright despicable, document. Why? I can already hear (have already heard, in fact) defenders of the idea start to object to the push-back, asking whether there was truly NOTHING worth celebrating about the confederacy? These objections always seem to me to carry an air of “…you Yankee snob” with them, intentionally. But, when pushed to describe reasons why we should celebrate confederate history month, supporters wind up sounding like Margaret Mitchell, rhapsodizing about the gallantry of the old south, etc. And my response to that is: fine. I have no problem with commemorating the history of the old south…but that’s not what’s being done here. This explicitly isn’t “Old South history month,” it’s “Confederate History Month.” The confederacy was a political movement which violently separated some of the United States, through secession, from the rest of the union over the issue of slavery (primarily), and then led the bloodiest war to that date in US history to retain and preserve that “right” (slavery).
There is nothing worth celebrating about that. Nothing.
I would not object to a “Civil War History Month” – one which included a detailed and balanced accounting of the suffering of both sides in that war, and one which did not intentionally or absent-mindedly omit any reference to slavery, the primary cause of the conflict. But that is not what McDonnell tried to do. He tried to celebrate the confederacy, the political movement which was so pro-slavery that it ripped apart the United States of America and killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens over the right to own other human beings, a “right” that was losing favor in elections and the public imagination. Support for slavery remained strong in the south, but the winds of change were – as they should have been – blowing against the continuation of slavery as an institution…and so those who benefitted most from unpaid slave labor resorted to violence to try to hold onto what they feared they would not be able to hold onto at the ballot box. As Dennis G points out in the blog post I mentioned above:
In 1856, Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner gave a “Crime against Kansas” speech on the Senate floor attacking the violence and calling for a repeal of laws like the Fugitive Slave Act. He named names in ways that would make David Broder faint if a elected official was so bold today in calling out political cowards and charlatans, but I digress.
It was an effective speech and so a pair of South Carolinian Congressmen reacted with violence as a first resort. Two days after the speech, Cong. Preston Brooks entered the Senate chamber with another Wingnut South Carolinian Member and beat the shit out Senator Sumner with a cane. Of course Brooks became a Confederate hero as did Laurence Keitt, his back-up in that attack. While Brooks beat Sumner, Keitt pulled out a pistol and threaten anybody who tried to stop it. The beating continued until Brooks broke his cane. Just a couple years later in 1858, Keitt was losing a discussion on the floor of the House and of course he resorted to violence. Lacking the votes, he started a brawl on the House floor that involved two dozen members.
In 1860 Keitt made clear what the coming Civil War was all about:
“The anti-slavery party contends that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.”
There it is in a nutshell, folks: what you are celebrating if/when you celebrate “Confederate History Month” – not the soft-focus, Margaret Mitchell visions of the gallantry of “the old South,” but the southern rump of disgruntled thugs who were willing to cast aside their allegiance to our nation when things don’t go their way at the ballot box, and the devastating war they started to preserve their right to own African-Americans.
Hmmm…threatening to resort to violence when things don’t go their way at the ballot box – sound like anyone we’ve been seeing lately?