What’s In A Name?

What comes to mind when you hear someone refer to a “civil war”? By definition, a civil war is a war between two or more factions of a country over control of that country. Yet the fighting between the Union and the Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 was not over control of the United States government. This is setting us all up to misconstrue the motivations behind the war.

The question was not whether the Confederacy wished to take control of the United States’ federal government – that has clearly never been an issue. The question was whether the individual states had a legal right to secede from the United States. The Union maintained that they did not, for reasons best left to other posts, and the matter was settled in blood.

However, if we are going to accept the outcome of the war as a legitimate answer to whether or not the Confederacy was within their rights to secede, then we must also accept that the American Revolution was a civil war too and that the colonies were in the wrong for declaring their independence. After all, the foundation of the Confederacy’s belief that they held this right was from a number of sources around the time of the Revolution including our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Now, I know there will be some people reading this who wish to point out that slaves did not consent to their slavery. That is absolutely correct, and you may enjoy reading my post On Slavery to get a better idea of where I’m coming from. However, since there were additional issues as far as taxation and federal control that went beyond disagreements regarding slavery, and since at the onset of the war Lincoln had absolutely no intention of abolishing slavery, that doesn’t really play into this. Even if we cannot agree on this point, we should be able to agree to use the most appropriate terms in reference to the war.

So what’s in a name? Let’s look at some of the names commonly used for the war between the Union and Confederacy and what is implied by each:

American Civil War … implies the Union and Confederacy fought over who would control the United States’ federal government.
War Between the States … implies a general sense that states were at war but gives no indication of how many sides there were or what was being fought over.
War of Southern Secession … implies the war was fought over whether the South could secede.
War of Northern Aggression … implies a vague sense of wrongdoing on the part of the Union.
War of the Rebellion … implies the Confederacy was simply rebelling and conveys a sense of wrongdoing.

 

The way in which we refer to previous events matters. Most of the above terms are either inaccurate, vague, or extremely biased. I use the first two at times because that is how the war is best known, but honestly I prefer War of Southern Secession because I feel it is the most factually accurate with the least bias. During the war many of these were used, including the term Civil War, but even acknowledging that I feel that it is not the best for us to use in the modern day nor do I believe they would have expected the war to be interpreted quite as it has been. The words we choose to use mean a great deal.

Do I expect my words here to have a significant impact in what terms are used by the majority of this country? Of course not. I certainly intend to begin embracing my preferred terms on this site though now that I have had a chance to briefly explain why I favor them and I hope this is further food for thought on the debate in general.

In Memoriam: Jeremiah McBride, West Virginian in the Confederate Army.

There is a man I am distantly related to by the name of Jeremiah McBride and a few months ago I was told his story which I now pass on to you. We are told that the “Civil War” was about retaining the right to slaves and nothing else, told that it was a war the rich slaveholders tricked the poor whites into fighting for them. Soldiers like Jeremiah show how much more there is to the story, and how they were rewarded for it.

Charles and Sarah McBride and their children. The little boy in a light shirt standing between his parents is Jeremiah.

Charles and Sarah McBride and their children. The little boy in a light shirt standing between his parents is Jeremiah.

Jeremiah McBride had been born in Bedford County, Virginia, but years before the war they had moved to what is now West Virginia. When war broke out, there were men on both sides who chose instead to enlist in the other army. In the case of Jeremiah and his brother Thomas, they traveled to a place called Narrows, Virginia to enlist and help the Confederacy. Jeremiah enlisted in March 1864, a time when the tide had turned and the Union was winning the war, but he went anyway believing it the right thing to do even though his immediate family no longer lived in what had become the Confederate states.

By September, only six months later, Jeremiah was listed as a prisoner of war and sent to Point Lookout in Maryland. The Union used freed black men as guards, encouraging them to violence by the officers offering them $10-15 for each Confederate prisoner they found an excuse to kill in the course of their duties each day. A letter from Jeremiah’s brother, Thomas, to their family tells that the prisoners were made to dig graves every day, but it was not just those who had already died who was placed in them if there were ditches left to fill. Additional prisoners would be carried out to the graves and buried. Sometimes they were shot first, sometimes buried alive.

Thomas wrote “… they carried Jeremiah out alive and he was buried. Didn’t hear any shots that day.”

Jeremiah is listed in the official record as dying November 22, 1864 at Point Lookout of “pneumonia.” He was about 19 years old.

To think he could have just stayed home in West Virginia safe and sound.

A book “Civil War” enthusiasts should all read from 1866

I saw a post awhile back discussing Jefferson Davis, President of the CSA, and it mentioned a book written by Albert Taylor Bledsoe and published in 1866. Bledsoe was a priest and a professor who attended West Point and fought in the War of Southern Succession for the Confederacy. He wrote in defense of the South following the war, and since he was supporting the losing side he is criticized for attempting to justify the South where supposedly there is no justification and rewrite the causes of the war. However, I would question why people are so quick to dismiss something written in 1866, only one year following the end of the war, as being without merit while they apparently find merit in more recent books attempting to justify condemning the South. Whatever side of the argument you fall on, is it not worth reading to see what his arguments were?

Luckily, there is a scanned copy of the book available online for free! It’s in the Making of America digital library from the University of Michigan (go Blue) and can be found here:

http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/aew5150.0001.001?view=toc

Not sure if it’s worth your time? I’ll include Bledsoe’s preface here for you to decide for yourself if you find it interesting:

“It is not the design of this book to open the subject of secession. The subjugation of the Southern States, and their acceptance of the terms dictated by the North, may, if the reader please, be considered as having shifted the Federal Government from the basis of compact to that of conquest; and thereby extinguished every claim to the right of secession for the future. Not one word in the following pages will at least be found to clash with that supposition or opinion. The sole object of this work is to discuss the right of secession with reference to the past; in order to vindicate the character of the South for loyalty, and to wipe off the charges of treason and rebellion from the names and memories of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, Albert Sydney Johnston, Robert E. Lee, and of all who have fought or suffered in the great war of coercion. Admitting, then, that the right of secession no longer exists; the present work aims to show, that, however those illustrious heroes may have been aspersed by the ignorance, the prejudices, and the passions of the hour, they were, nevertheless, perfectly loyal to truth, justice, and the Constitution of 1787 as it came from the hands of the fathers.

The radicals themselves may, if they will only read the following pages, find sufficient reason to doubt their own infallibility, and to relent in their bitter persecutions of the South.

The calm and impartial reader will, it is believed, discover therein the grounds on which the South may be vindicated, and the final verdict of History determined in favor of a gallant, but down-trodden and oppressed, PEOPLE.”

William T. Thompson did NOT design the Confederate Flag.

There is a rumor, to put it nicely, going around right now that the designer of the second flag of the Confederacy was a man named William T. Thompson. Thompson was clearly a racist and wrote of fighting to “maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” Yuck.

This seems to have originated on the Twitter account of Jonathan Wilson, who apparently holds a PhD in US History from Syracuse University. I would have expected someone with a PhD in history to actually pay attention to the context surrounding one smaller excerpt, but apparently reading comprehension isn’t as fun. Now all of these different websites, mainly news sources, have copied the information and treated it like gospel. Then of course there are all the memes floating around featuring the same information. Which would be all well and good if it were completely accurate, but as usual it is a grain of truth with more omitted.

Mr. Wilson lists this as his source, a book entitled History of the Flag of the United States of America which was published in 1880 and available as a free ebook on Google Books. In it is excerpts from editorials written in the Savannah News by Thompson, including the above terrible quote. [1] However, if you read it you also find that Thompson was not a part of the committee which designed the flags and seal, the House, or the Senate. He was not even in the same city as those making these decisions, and had to receive news of the approved flags via dispatch. While we are told by this book that they approved a flag like what Thompson wrote of and had been submitted a design by him, it is clear they were considering a great number of design options and trying different options with modifying them.

The flag approved by the Senate was not in actuality what he had suggested, but rather a field of white with a blue stripe which makes sense since the Confederacy drew inspiration for their flag from the Scottish flag, the St. Andrew’s Cross, which is blue and white, and they were trying to move away from the appearance of the United States flag. The House decided they didn’t like the appearance of the blue stripe so removed it, and the flag as it was made was of different dimensions than what Thompson had talked about due to inconsistencies with the revisions between the Senate and House. Revisions that were done without Thompson being anywhere around.

George Preble, author of the above book, also wrote one entitled Our Flag: Origin and Progress of the Flag of the United States of America which had been published earlier. This book gives similar information, but more regarding the timeline of the flag’s approval. Thompson’s editorial with the very racist comments was published after the Senate had already approved the flag with the blue stripe, so Thompson’s design had to have been either nearly identical to designs that were already being looked at or it was his design but he revealed his own thoughts on the symbolism after the fact. There were two propositions for changes, either removing the blue stripe entirely or instead of a blue stripe making it a “broad blue border.”

On May 20th, 1863, a correspondent wrote to Thompson at the Savannah News, saying “Mr. Editor, you are one of the admirers of the new flag” and proceeding to inform him of the difference in dimensions which had been “established by law.” This being information also listed in the same books, only a couple pages past the excerpts Wilson chose to quote. I don’t know about you, but typically I don’t refer to the “designer” of something as an “admirer” of it. This quote tells me that there were people in the Confederacy, if not the majority of the Confederacy, that never would have considered Thompson the “designer” of the second national flag despite his having submitted a design and commented on the process.

Additionally, all of this regarding the second national flag occurred after the Confederate battle flag, the flag currently being debated in the media, was already designed and in use. THAT FLAG most certainly had nothing to do with Thompson whatsoever.

So then, what? Are we supposed to be shocked there were racists in 1863? This should surprise no one. There were racists everywhere! Thompson himself wasn’t even from the south originally, but was born and raised in Ravenna, Ohio.[2] However, to take a newspaper editor’s opinions and say they represent what the Confederate House and Senate had in mind for the symbolism in their approval is quite a leap, and for this to continue spreading is an example of horrible journalism.

It’s similar to how the South Carolina’s declaration of causes for secession cited hostility regarding slavery being of importance, Virginia chose to merely point out they had a right to secede and planned to do so, Texas cited the Federal government’s failure to offer any protection of Texan lives against Native American tribes or Mexican bandits, and Georgia mentioned slavery but also went in depth regarding how the Federal government was deliberately subsidizing industry of only the middle and northern states while allowing the south to pay taxes for it:

“The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade.

Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day. Not content with these great and unjust advantages, they have sought to throw the legitimate burden of their business as much as possible upon the public; they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually for the support of these objects. Theses interests, in connection with the commercial and manufacturing classes, have also succeeded, by means of subventions to mail steamers and the reduction in postage, in relieving their business from the payment of about $7,000,000 annually, throwing it upon the public Treasury under the name of postal deficiency.

The manufacturing interests entered into the same struggle early, and has clamored steadily for Government bounties and special favors. This interest was confined mainly to the Eastern and Middle non-slave-holding States. Wielding these great States it held great power and influence, and its demands were in full proportion to its power. The manufacturers and miners wisely based their demands upon special facts and reasons rather than upon general principles, and thereby mollified much of the opposition of the opposing interest. They pleaded in their favor the infancy of their business in this country, the scarcity of labor and capital, the hostile legislation of other countries toward them, the great necessity of their fabrics in the time of war, and the necessity of high duties to pay the debt incurred in our war for independence. These reasons prevailed, and they received for many years enormous bounties by the general acquiescence of the whole country.

But when these reasons ceased they were no less clamorous for Government protection, but their clamors were less heeded– the country had put the principle of protection upon trial and condemned it. After having enjoyed protection to the extent of from 15 to 200 per cent. upon their entire business for above thirty years, the act of 1846 was passed. It avoided sudden change, but the principle was settled, and free trade, low duties, and economy in public expenditures was the verdict of the American people. The South and the Northwestern States sustained this policy. There was but small hope of its reversal; upon the direct issue, none at all.” [3]

The opponents of the Confederacy and of the Confederate flag seek to make this a far simpler and clearer cut period of history than it actually was. They depend on the Union having a moral superiority so that they can point fingers and condemn those who wish to remember their Southern heritage. It is not that simple though, and never has been.


[1] In the referenced books the newspaper was referred to as the “Savannah News,” but other sources refer to Thompson’s paper as the “Daily Morning News” or the “Savannah Morning News.” These all refer to the same publication.

[2] http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/william-tappan-thompson-1812-1882

[3] http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/primarysources/declarationofcauses.html

The Pledge of Allegiance is not Patriotic.

The Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy (1855), a Baptist minister. Not only was he a socialist, but he also felt that Christ himself was a socialist to the point that he did a series of sermons entitled “The Socialism of the Primitive Church,” specially a sermon named “Jesus the Socialist,” and was subsequently pressured to resign.[1] In “The Pledge of Allegiance, a Centennial History,” John Baer explains this in more detail:

“Francis Bellamy’s cousin, Edward Bellamy, was then famous as the author of the best-sellers ‘Looking Backward’ and ‘Equality’ and was leader of a socialist movement called ‘Nationalism.’ Both books advocated a socialist utopian state with political, social and economic equality for all, operated by the federal government. Francis Bellamy was a vice-president of the Christian Society of Socialists, an auxiliary of his cousin’s ‘Nationalism’ movement. In 1891, Bellamy was forced to resign from his Boston Pastorate because the conservative businessmen of the ‘Committee on Christian Work of the Baptist Social Union’ withheld additional funds for his work. The Committee complained of Bellamy’s increased socialist sermons and activities.”[2]

Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” was a book that “describes the future United States as a regimented worker’s paradise where everyone has equal incomes, and men are drafted into the country’s ‘industrial army’ at the age of 21, serving in the jobs assigned them by the state.”[3]

Meanwhile, the former minister Francis Bellamy was hired by “Youth’s Companion”, a family magazine owned by fellow socialist Daniel Ford. He wrote the Pledge to accompany the magazine’s campaign to sell magazine subscriptions by rewarding schoolchildren with an American flag for every one hundred sales. Incidentally, schools rarely displayed the flag prior to this campaign. This was all done in partnership with the World’s Columbian Exposition (Chicago World’s Fair) to be done on the 400th anniversary of Columbus Day. As it happens, “[t]he entire Columbus Day celebration was calculated, as Theodore Roosevelt approvingly observed, to inculcate a ‘fervent loyalty to the flag,’ and Bellamy himself viewed his Pledge as an ‘inoculation’ that would protect immigrants and native-born but insufficiently patriotic Americans from the ‘virus’ of radicalism and subversion.”[4]

The original Pledge of Allegiance was published September 8, 1892 and read:

“I pledge allegiance to my flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

It wasn’t until decades later that changes like “to the flag of the United States of America” (1923-24) and the addition of “Under God” (1954) took place. Fear of change has been at the heart of much of this history, though the Pledge was a change in and of itself. Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Students_pledging_allegiance_to_the_American_flag_with_the_Bellamy_saluteAllegiance when there were concerns about mass immigration, the word “Indivisible” was a reference to secession and the word “Allegiance” was inspired by the Oath of Allegiance that Lincoln required of the Confederacy, and the later addition of “Under God” was done in response to fears regarding communism. Also, originally the Pledge was performed with a military salute similar to that used by the Nazis, so in 1942 it was changed to the right hand over the heart in an attempt to break from that image. This was after the Parent and Teachers Association, the Boy and Girl Scots, the Red Cross, and the Federation of Women’s Clubs had all objected because of that similarity.

However, all of this aside, there is the question of whether the Founding Fathers would actually have supported such a pledge to begin with.  We are teaching the Pledge of Allegiance, which in essence is a loyalty oath, to children too young to comprehend the words they are saying. What use is an oath that is not understood by those speaking it but indoctrination? Early loyalty oaths in the United States said nothing of the flag or of nationalism, merely requiring that those taking the oath support the *principles* of the Constitution and protect this country against all enemies. This country is not the federal government, but rather the people, and to promise to protect against all enemies *includes* against the United States government when it is overstepping its Constitutional role. Even oaths of that nature were debated by the Founding Fathers who had varying opinions on taking a loyalty oath at all. Among some of the objections from that time was that of Constitutional Convention Delegate James Wilson who said that “a good government did not need them and a bad one could not or ought not to be supported” and Noah Webster who called them “instruments of slavery.”[5]

Maybe keep all this in mind the next time you see someone rant about the principles of the Founding Fathers and the Constitution while also citing the patriotism of things like the Pledge of Allegiance.


 

[1] Toulouse, Mark G. God in Public: Four Ways American Christianity and Public Life Relate. P. 69

[2] http://truthinhistory.org/to-pledge-or-not-to-pledge.html

[3] http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/whats-conservative-about-pledge-allegiance

[4] http://reason.com/archives/2010/12/16/face-the-flag

[5] http://history.house.gov/Institution/Origins-Development/Oath-of-Office/

On Slavery

Note: This post was written following the Charleston shooting.


 

When I was young, I loved reading history books about the early United States from the time of the colonies to what we call the American Civil War. It was not that my family was interested in it, or that friends were, but rather that I just picked up different books and that’s what I happened to get hooked on. As I’ve gotten older my interest hasn’t waned so much as expanded, and now what time and energy I have is typically invested in other things.

However, with the recent terrorist attack in Charleston, South Carolina – and make no mistake, I do consider it an act of domestic terrorism – there are a number of thoughts that have been weighing on me heavily. There seem to be so many “sides,” and frankly the talking points of all of them are enough to make me nearly lose my temper. Some want to remember history, some want to forget it and move on. I think there are a number of things that needs to be acknowledged by people of all sides, and until that occurs all attempts to move forward as a society will be handicapped.

First of all, there is no justification for slavery. We can all go back and forth about whether or not the slaves were treated well, that some slaves voiced the wish to not leave their masters, or about how the majority of the slaves were in the South. We could even go on about whites who were indentured slaves in the colonies or about Europeans that were each other’s slaves for centuries. We should treat each other well no matter what, but treating a slave well did not make them any less a slave. Likewise, the lack of many slaves in the North does not change the fact that they continued to profit from the slave trade in very real ways. In Rhode Island, there were no slaves by the mid 1800s. However, they were responsible for half of all U.S. slave voyages.[1]  Abolitionists were not the majority in the North, and frequently those who supported the abolition of slavery in their state were less worried about the freedom of blacks and more concerned about not wanting any blacks around them whatsoever. It has been documented many times, including in the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville, that while more in the South owned slaves, racist attitudes were more widespread in the North. There is even the discussion of free blacks and Cherokee owning slaves. Tell me, does the color of your master’s skin, or the color of your own, make you any more or less a slave?

As an additional example, there were cases of slave owners raping slaves. Nobody in their right mind will deny that happened. Problem is, during Sherman’s campaign known as Sherman’s March to the Sea, he knew his Union soldiers were raping and murdering slaves that refused to join the Union army and he made no attempt to stop it. Even before the war, black women were raped on either side of the Mason-Dixon line:

“That’s the other thing: both the North and the South rarely thought it was rape when it was a black woman. It wasn’t until the Civil War when black women were actually able to come forward and call it rape. Before that time, even in the North, they would make it a lesser charge [for black women], if at all. I do have at least one record where a black woman was able to testify about a sexual assault in New York or someplace like that, but that was very rare. For the most part, black women’s voices went unheard.”[2]

Even later on in the war, once the North as a whole actually developed an interest in abolition, it was a tool of war rather than a sudden development of conscience. There were even early discussions of ways to keep northern whites from having to live near the newly freed blacks, to the point of considering deporting all freed blacks to Haiti.

There is no moral high ground here. None. Not on either side. There were people who were good, and people who were bad, and people who were good part of the time and bad at other times.

I would like, at some point, to get further into the causes of the war once getting this much out of the way, but I find I don’t have the mental energy for it right now.

To say that the Confederate battle flag (it was not, in fact, the national flag of the Confederacy) originally stood for racism is absurd because racism was prevalent on both sides. It was later appropriated for that meaning by people who wished to further their racist ideologies and made assumptions about the war so that it would fit in with those ideologies. If the flag bothers someone because it reminds them of this nation’s history of slavery, I understand where the thought comes from. If the flag is important to someone (including me) because of certain other aspects of our past, I understand that too.

To the assholes like Dylann Roof who latched onto the Confederate battle flag like it somehow justifies committing murder on people who never wronged you, there isn’t a level of hell good enough to punish you for your remorseless actions and you can stop hiding behind symbols you think you know the meaning of.

 

[1] Northern involvement in the slave trade. (n.d.). Traces of the Trade. Retrieved from http://www.tracesofthetrade.org/…/northern-involvement-in-…/

[2] Beck, J. (2014, February 20). Gender, race, and rape during the Civil War. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/…/gender-race-and-rape-d…/283754/