Before last week, Southern politicians defended the Confederate battle flag as an almost holy symbol of southern pride and heritage. Now, in the wake of a racist mass shooting -- and with seemingly very little actual urging -- these same politicians quickly are calling for its removal from the grounds of the South Carolina capitol.
It's hard to read that as anything other than a ploy to divert attention from the ease with which homicidal maniacs can get handguns. It's an especially cynical ploy, too, considering that some of these politicians were only recently defending the flag as something their venerated ancestors shed blood for. They're throwing their revered ancestors under the bus for guns.
But still, there's been some pushback to diverting attention onto the flag. A good many are defending the flag, claiming that the flag -- and by extension, the Confederacy and secession -- either have nothing to do with white supremacy, or that this association is only the result of a recent "revisionism."
No. Full stop. The Confederacy was formed to defend slavery. To say that the Confederacy fought for "states' rights" is a sleight of hand; what goes unsaid is that the sole right at stake was the right to hold blacks as slaves.
So here are some questions for the defenders of the flag and the Confederacy. If slavery had nothing to do with the Confederacy, then ...
Why was South Carolina's governor "whipping up excitement [for secession] with talk of the glorious future that awaited an independent South Carolina -- promising laws that would reopen the African slave trade, officially declare white men the ruling race, and punish -- summarily and severely, if not with death -- any person caught espousing abolitionist views" (Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening).
Why did President Buchanan's plan for preventing secession consist of buying Cuba, which would please the South by adding a slave state and please northerners by ending the ongoing Cuban slave trade (Goodheart, 1861: The Civil War Awakening).
Why did the set of six amendments put forth as the so-called "Crittenden Compromise" exclusively pertain to slavery? (The sixth proposed amendment, for instance, would have prevented any future amendment prohibiting or interfering with slavery.)
Why did the proposed Corwin amendment, another measure put forth to bring back the seceded Southern states, solely consist of language that would've barred Congress from ever abolishing slavery?
Why did Jefferson Davis call the Emancipation Proclamation the "most execrable measure in the history of guilty man?"
Why did Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens say that "our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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" (my emphasis).
Why did Abe Lincoln write a letter to Alexander Stephens containing this: "You think slavery is right and ought to be extended; while we think it is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us."
Why did President Buchanan blame "the incessant and violent agitation of the slavery question" for the secession crisis? (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 250).
Why did support for secession correlate directly with slave ownership?
"The voters in 35 Virginia counties with a slave population of only 2.5 percent opposed secession by a margin of three to one, while voters in the remainder of the state, where slaves constituted 36% of the population, supported secession by more than ten to one. The thirty counties of east Tennessee that rejected secession by more than two to one contained a slave population of only 8 percent, while the rest of the state, with a slave population of 30 percent, voted for secession by a margin of seven to one" (McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 283-284).
Why does the Civil War song "The Southern Wagon" contain this: "there are Tennessee and Texas also in the ring; / they wouldn't have a government where cotton wasn't king?"
Why did Karl Marx write, in late 1861 and for a German readership, that "as is clear, the whole movement was and is based on the slave question. Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should be directly emancipated or not, but whether the twenty million free Americans of the North should subordinate themselves any longer to an oligarchy of 300,000 slave-holders; whether the vast territories of the Republic should become the nurseries of free states or of slavery; finally, whether the foreign policy of the Union should take the armed propaganda of slavery as its device throughout Mexico, Central and South America."
Why did famous Confederate Navy captain Raphael Semmes explain "the true issue of the war" to the governor of Martinique as "an abolition crusade against our slave property". And why did he tell a Brazilian politician that "this war was in fact a war as much in behalf of Brazil as ourselves; that we were fighting the first battle in favor of slavery, and that if we were beaten in this contest, Brazil would be the next one to be assailed by Yankee and English propagandists" (McPherson, War on the Waters, page 22).
Why do the declarations of causes of secession for just the five states of Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia mention 'slave' or 'slavery' 83 times?
Why did the Texas Declaration of Causes state "In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color--a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States."
Why did the Georgia Declaration of Causes state "For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. ... Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers. Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation."
Why did the Mississippi Declaration of Causes state "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world."
Why did the South Carolina Declaration of Causes justify secession because "A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery."
Why did the 1860 election song 'Lincoln and Liberty Too' contain these lyrics: "Our David's good sling is unerring, / The Slaveocrats' giant he slew."
Why did [Henry Benning say in his speech to the Virginia Convention] that "What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. This conviction, sir, was the main cause."
And so on, endlessly. So fuck the Confederacy, its veterans, and above all its flag.