I’ve been pleased of late to see that a lot of liberal writers are focusing on the Confederacy as I long have been: as an act of treason. Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money wrote two good articles about this recently. The first was, The Confederacy Won the Peace. Now, that is to some extent a distortion. The big problem with the sudden end of Reconstruction and the establishment of slavery by another name, was that the country as a whole reminded racist. As discussed in Ian Millhiser’s Injustices, it was many Lincoln appointed Supreme Court justices who allowed the south to establish a terrorist regime. The south did indeed win the peace, but only because the nation as a whole didn’t care.
A good example of this comes from an article that Lemieux quotes, from sociologist James Loewen, Why Do People Believe Myths About the Confederacy? Because Our Textbooks and Monuments Are Wrong. He noted that Kentucky officially stayed with the Union. The people were split, but not that much: 72% fought on the side of the Union. Yet “the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.” That’s staggering. But it probably doesn’t have much to do with the failure of Reconstruction.
I think that Confederate monuments and indeed, the Confederate flag itself, are the results of later efforts. For example, the Jefferson Davis Highway didn’t exist until 1913. The final part of this, Washington State Route 99, wasn’t so named until 1939. Similarly, the Colfax Massacre — more or less the beginning of terrorist rule in the south — saw the despicable “Colfax Riot” sign put up in 1950. I’m not saying that any of these things were necessarily celebrated elsewhere in the nation. But by and large the country got on with its business. There was really only one group in the nation with a real incentive to rewrite history — and that was the traitors in the south and their ideological followers.
In a second article, Scott Lemieux wrote, Why Honoring Jefferson Davis Is Unacceptable. In that article, he pointed out something that is profound and part of this whole tendency for us to ignore both the south’s treason and its continued disinformation campaign. One of the “liberal” arguments in favor of accepting the Jefferson Davis High School, for example, goes like this, “Davis was a slaveholder, but we have slaveholders on the $1 and $2, a white supremacist on the $5, a slaveholder and ethnic cleanser on the $20, and so on. Why is Davis different?”
I’ll admit, the argument has a certain resonance for me. I’m not too keen on the founders of the country. The only one who I hold in high standing is Thomas Paine. Washington and Jefferson were major slave holders. Adams was a royalist. And later, Jackson was truly horrific. There are things I like about them all, but they are soiled. Lemieux noted that there is a clear distinction: there’s only one reason that Jefferson Davis has roads named after him. And that reason is because he committed high treason against his country — in the name of one of the vilest of human behaviors. And we reward him with roads and public schools? It’s shocking.
It is all part of a larger effort to exonerate the south for the Civil War. And it is hard to believe that there aren’t people who think that the south will indeed rise again. They effectively reversed slavery; they’ve reversed history; they now have a small majority on the Supreme Court and complete control of one of the two political parties. What can they not achieve? I’ve long been on record for getting rid of Confederate generals’ names from our military bases. But as Lemieux implies, we need to go much further than that.
I know that going around closing public monuments to the Confederacy might seem like a vicious thing to do. But I discussed this last week, Confederate Flags and Nazi Tattoos. After the Civil War, the nation took a “look forward” approach to the south. The south returned this favor by doing nothing but looking back. Under normal circumstances, Jefferson Davis would have been hanged after the fall of the Confederacy and that would have been that. But he really wasn’t punished at all and he was allowed to go back to his old life, eventually dying rich and widely admired — for his treason.
After the fall of Iraq, we toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein. After the fall of the Soviet Union, statues of Stalin came tumbling down. It just makes sense that we should destroy laudatory monuments to the Confederacy. They are a pox not only on the south but on the whole nation. The only thing we might want to think seriously about is how we allowed such things to be built up over the last 150 years.