After eight year lapse when the Democrats controlled the statehouse, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) quietly declared April 2010 to be Confederate History Month.  This was a practice started by former governor George Allen (he of macaca fame).  For some reason the California bred Allen had a predilection for confederate imagery.  While from my perspective the confederates were traitors who tried to tear apart this nation for a disgraceful motive couched in noble sounding words, I have no deep objection to such an acknowledgement as long as confederate symbols are not glorified and the context of the war is understood.  It is after all a part of the history of the South.  What does bother me is the revisionist movement of the past two decades that tries to minimize the extent to which slavery led to the civil war and the pandering of politicians to the racist fringe.

Revisionists would have you believe that the South fought solely for the cause of states rights.  This is bullshit.  Just like politicians ignore states rights when it suits them, the South had no reservations in infringing of the right of the free states to ban slavery.  The antebellum years were full of attempts like the Fugitive Slave Act that overrode states rights in the North.  But heaven forbid the Union attempting to ban slavery.  That was intolerable.  At the time of secession the Southern states made no bones about the fact that the “states right” at issue was slavery.  This is evident from their declaration of causes for secession where slavery dominates the reason of their departure.  See link.  Mississippi went on to declare “[o]ur position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

Even the Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens in his infamous Cornerstone Speech, parts of which are quoted below, had no doubt of the part slavery played in the civil war:

But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

And before much credence is laid to the whining about the economic harm intended by a north, a President from Virginia (Jefferson) had previously almost ruined the economy of New England by banning international trade.

As in the case of slavery, states rights was also the banner by which the South opposed the repeal of segregation.   It is hard for a society to come to grips with such a disgraceful past.  It is much easier to pretend that the cause for which so many Americans died was much nobler.  It is not surprising that this revisionism has taken such hold in the south to justify what some still term “The War of Northern Aggression” – conveniently ignoring who fired the first shots or the fact that no free states joined the noble states rights crusade.

Which brings me back to Governor McDonnell.  Since his election McDonnell has been peeling off the moderate mask that got him elected.  He started his tenure by issuing an executive order barring discrimination that excluded sexual orientation, a departure from his two Democratic predecessors.  See link.  But after his attorney general added fuel to the firestorm by warning state universities that they could not adopt employment policies prohibiting discrimination (essentially an invitation to discriminate) based on sexual orientation he backtracked.  See here and  here.

His Confederate History Month drew similar howls of outrage because it made no mention of slavery, the exclusion he justified because it essentially was not significant enough.  See here and here.  This conveniently ignores the fact that slaves were anywhere between 30-60% of the population of Virginia.  Since then the Governor has furiously backtracked, issuing an apology and modifying the resolution to mention slavery.

McDonnell was obviously nimble enough to backtrack from a boneheaded blunder but the issue raises questions on what he actually believes and why the Party of Lincoln has become so tone deaf on race.  See link.  As it turns out this is not the first time McDonnell’s pandering to the apologists for the Confederacy has raised a firestorm.  See link.  With the Republicans reduced to their Southern rump some pandering to the base is inevitable.  But the handling of this sorry episode is the latest display of why so many minorities distrust the party and why token measures like putting the buffoonish Michael Steele (who does not help matters by saying white Republicans are scared of him) as the African American face of the party will not reverse the decline of minority support over the past 50 years.

Very few national Republicans had the gumption to challenge people like Tom Tancredo when they channeled legitimate concerns on illegal immigration into Hispanic bashing.  Prominent Republicans regularly embrace people like Ann Coulter who insult Muslims with a broad brush and took offense with George W. Bush distinguishing Al Qaeda fanatics from the vast majority of Muslims.  The party’s homophobia does not play well with young voters.

If this continues the Republican party will continue becoming the bastion of aging white people uncomfortable with the racial transformation around them.  This does nobody any good, including minorities who are not helped by becoming the guaranteed vote bank of the Democratic Party.  McDonnell had the sense to admit a mistake, but far more will be needed to repair his already poor relations with Virginia’s minority population.

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Rashtrakut » Blog Archive » The ghosts of Dixie on 20 December, 2010 at 8:12 pm #

[…] by trying to whitewash segregationist Citizens Councils of the Civil Rights era.  Barbour is the latest southern Republican tripped up by a nostalgia for the old South.  The Barbour Flap comes right […]

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