LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Confederate flag has no place on display in US

While it is generally true that the winning side in war gets to write the history, David Pleasanton demonstrates that the loser’s version can deserve to go to the trash bin. [“The flag and history,” Letters, Oct. 3, in response to “Confederate flag should be confined to history,” Letters, Sept. 28]

First, his demonization of Abraham Lincoln is both inaccurate and — even if valid — would not rewrite the overriding fact that the American Civil War put an end to the vile history of slavery and gave (on paper, at least) black men the right to vote. Is there any question that slavery should have been maintained as a legal institution? Slavery was — and its legacy remains — a most serious stain on the history of the United States.

As for Abraham Lincoln, he was a successful lawyer and politician and he did not believe in the racial equality of black people. However, Lincoln did have a core moral foundation for fairness and integrity. He demonstrated throughout his early life that he opposed the notion that the strong should prey on the disadvantaged. Lincoln was opposed to slavery as a moral wrong, and he declined to run for a second term in Congress during the Mexican War by branding it one of the most egregious acts of theft in the history of mankind (by which we stole Mexican land as a future home of slavery).

Lincoln’s anti-slavery views were well-known when he ran for president. The slaveholding elite of the South — who had dominated political control of the nation through most of its first century — chose to sever ties with the Union to preserve their “peculiar institution.”

Certainly, Northern merchants were complicit by profiting from the economy of slavery; however, the fact is — whether due to climate, topography, settlement history, or tradition — slavery had been legally abolished throughout the Northern states and territories by the middle of the 19th Century. The enactment of the Fugitive Slave Law, the Dred Scott decision (that slaves could be legally brought in bondage into the states in which it had been abolished), and the establishment of “Popular Sovereignty” as a means of extending slavery into new territories galvanized opposition to slavery throughout the North and convinced Lincoln to re-enter politics.

The Southern states seceded following Lincoln’s election to the presidency and fired the initial shots of the war when the Union attempted to re-provision a federal garrison on federal land in Charleston Harbor.

During the course of the struggle, Lincoln’s attitude towards the rights of blacks metamorphosed. After a militarily difficult year, he moved to free slaves (despite widespread opposition throughout the Union). The Emancipation Proclamation expanded the nature of the struggle from a civil war to preserve the Union (based on argument that states did not have a constitutional right to secede – a civil war, rather than a “War Between the States”) into a war for Union and Liberty. Lincoln claimed wartime powers to imprison or expel treasonous individuals who attempted to thwart his stated goals.

Mr. Pleasanton charged that “Abraham Lincoln was little more than a criminal who made war on defenseless women and children” (by sanctioning Sherman’s campaigns in Georgia and the Carolinas). Unfortunately, the South had already operated military campaigns as kidnapping of free blacks into slavery, burning Chambersburg, Pa., for failure to pay ransom for itself and murdering or enslaving black soldiers who surrendered in battle.

Gen. Sherman, who had lived for years in the South (and reportedly liked Southerners), recognized that the Confederate leadership was waging a war to preserve its property wealth (a significant portion of which consisted of slaves). Sherman believed that by demonstrating his army’s ability to traverse the South, inflicting property damage on the way, he could save lives, maintain the Union by re-electing Lincoln, and hasten the end of the war. He proved correct on all counts.

The revisionist Southern “Lost Cause” has held special resentment for Sherman (and Lincoln) for destroying the old “Southern way of life” ever since. In his last year, Lincoln insisted on enactments to the U.S. Constitution that both the abolished slavery and gave the right to vote to black men (at a time when only men could vote).

Returning to the matter of further display of the Confederate battle flag, it has been the symbol of, first, slavery, and then, white supremacy, racial hatred and disempowerment of black citizens for a century and a half. As we attempt to bury these vile episodes of our national history, we should also ban public display of this symbol.

Ulysses Grant expressed both admiration and dismay for Confederate soldiers after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse when he said that rarely in human history have people fought so hard for such a bad cause. Let us all celebrate America’s commitment to justice and equality; and please, let us finally retire the symbolic nemesis of those lofty goals as we move ahead in pursuit them. Private display of the Confederate battle flag is still allowed as an individual freedom, but doing so at other than a historical relic demonstrates an insensitivity to our present and future as a united people.

Mike Apgar

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