Battle Flag of the Confederacy

Hear the Northern thunders mutter!
Northern flags in South winds flutter!
To arms ! To arms! To arms, in Dixie!
Send them back your fierce defiance!
Stamp upon the accursed alliance!
To arms ! To arms! To arms, in Dixie!

Advance the flag of Dixie
Hurrah! Hurrah!
For Dixie’s land we take our stand,
And live or die for Dixie!
To Arms! To Arms!
And conquer peace for Dixie
To Arms! To Arms
And conquer peace for Dixie

The Battle Flag of the Confederacy, quite possibly one of the most controversial symbols of our times. Often maligned, often praised, often misnamed (it is not, in fact, the flag of the Confederate States of America, that honor lies with the Stars and Bars), it has once again reached the national foreground thanks to the recent debates in South Carolina. During the debates Senator Obama was asked where was an appropriate place for the flag (which currently graces the front lawn of the Capitol in Columbia). He replied, “In a museum.”

I have to applaud Obama’s stance on the issue, especially since he was very clear about where he stood, but I am left wondering why my presidential favorite wants to retire the Battle Flag. His statements have generated a lot of support and controversy, and already many bloggers are using this as a chance to reexamine the old issue of what exactly the Battle Flag stands for. Unfortunately some are repeating the same baseless accusations of racism.

I’ve known many people who have flown the Battle Flag, and none of them are racist. The entire State of Mississippi has been flying it over all of their government buildings since 1894. Texas flies the Stars and Bars at every governmental building as well (along with the other five flags to have flown over Texas). The reason behind the desire to honor symbols of the Confederacy is not racism. It instead stems from a regional identity and the noble notions of state sovereignty. These feelings of regional unity are only strengthened by the poor economic situation in many Southern states, and the sense they have that they suffer in poverty while the Northern states enjoy prosperity. It is understandable as well, only one Southern state makes the top ten ranks for average personal income, and then only comes in at 9th. Meanwhile, half of the states in the lowest ten ranks of personal income are in the South. Add to this economic stagnation and decay and you have a recipe for regional resentment.

The false notion that the Battle Flag must be a racist symbol is born of the mistaken belief that the Civil War was about slavery. This bit of propaganda has been repeated ever since President Lincoln and his political allies decided to “free the slaves” (in actuality Lincoln only freed those slaves in the Confederacy, slaves in Union states such as Maryland and West Virginia remained slaves). The truth, however, is plain to anyone who wishes to delve into the history, and the proof lies in the proposed Corwin Amendment of 1861. This amendment was proposed by Congressman Thomas Corwin (R) from Ohio and stated,

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

Prior to his election, Lincoln had voiced his support of the amendment. Like many politicians of his time, Lincoln believed in the preservation of the Union beyond all else. When the Bill was brought before the House seven states had already formally left the Union (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina) never the less the bill passed 133-65 and was forwarded to the Senate. In March of 1861 the Senate approved the bill 24-12. Both of these votes were from a Northern majority, seeing as most of the South had already left. Both the outgoing President, James Buchanan, and the newly elected Abraham Lincoln publicly endorsed the amendment. In fact, during Lincoln’s inaugural address he had this to say of the Corwin Amendment,

I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution–which amendment, however, I have not seen–has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied Constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.1

The amendment went on to be ratified by Ohio, Maryland, and then Illinois before the outbreak of the Civil War halted the process of adopting the new amendment. Now ask yourself, if the Civil War was really about slavery why didn’t the Corwin Amendment, already passed by the Federal Legislature and well on its way to ratification (given the three free states which had ratified it, and the 15 slave states which would as well, only four more states would have needed to ratify it), end the conflict? The Northern states had already compromised on slavery. The truth is that the Civil War was not about slavery, it just became popular to create propaganda to make it seem so because it gave the Union an image of moral superiority.

Despite these facts, I still oppose the use of the Confederate Flag and applaud Obama’s statement. Not because the flag is racist, but because flying it, especially on government property, is treason. The Confederate flag represents a nation which declared open war on the United States and attempted to do her harm. No matter what the basis of the original grievances, flying that flag now suggests a willingness to rebel against the United States of America, and suggests a certain disloyalty towards our nation. As such it is a treasonous act and one to be held in contempt. The symbols of the defeated CSA should be relegated to museums for future generations to learn about, and they should be retired from active use. Private use is a matter of free speech and should be protected, but public use by a government should be considered a high crime against our Union.

-Angry Midwesterner

1Full text of Lincoln’s Inaugural Address, from the University of Virginia.