July 03, 2015

Reconstruction at 150

In April I wrote a small post mentioning the 150th anniversary of the surrender of General Lee to General Grant marking the beginning of the end of the Confederacy.

It was a small post, a simple post. The anniversary passed without much notice across America. Not a lot attention was given in the press either. And at the time it seemed appropriate, after all the issues of the Civil War seemed at the time distant even irrelevant . America was whole and the President was a mixed race Black Man. We all seemed at the time all too eager to forget the War Between the States and move on to the more pressing issues of the modern day.

There were of course related issues of race and politics in America as there has always been. But those debates were devoid of the Civil War and the aftermath of a Nation ripped apart by those issues a century and half earlier. Surely the issues of today were unrelated to such a bygone era.

But then a psychopathic murderer who used the Confederate flag murdered nine innocent black men and women in of all places a church in an attempt to rekindle a race war.

Since then the debate about Confederate heritage and White supremacy has been the subject of a lot of discussion. Vox has suggested that even the American Revolution was a mistake. Who knew that there were still such Loyalist sentiments in America 239 years after we parted with King George?

The accusations against Southern White Males and the heritage of the Confederate flag echo resoundingly around the country and people of all political stripes seem all too content to relegate the Stars and Bars to the dustbin of history.

NPR:

Rejection Of Flag Exposes Larger Truths About The Confederacy

You don't learn anything from driving the Jefferson Davis Highway about Jefferson Davis except that he was a great man and should be honored. And it's precisely that last little bit - should be honored - that we need to take away from him.

LOEWEN: Yes. He did commit treason on behalf of slavery and white supremacy. Do we really want to name things for somebody who did those two things?

If not Jefferson Davis specifically then should we honor the Confederate legacy?

Yes!

The charges of being pro-slavery and for white supremacy could be a charge just as easily leveled at the State of Illinois and any number of Northern states. Yes our textbooks and many of the articles being written are wrong in that they portray that the North was fighting against White Supremacy and for the equal rights of blacks. Blacks in Illinois didn't get the vote until five years after the end of the civil war and segregation didn't end there until 1874. Prior to the civil war Slaves worked the fields of free state of Illinois and even Abraham Lincoln represented Slave Owners in attempts to recover fugitive slaves.

Many in the industrial North liked the idea of free blacks, they were still paid slave wages without all the pesky responsibilities of ownership such as providing housing and looking after their welfare. Once they penance of pay was distributed the lives of those black people in their segregated ghettos were of no concern. Were they less racist than Southern whites. Maybe in their opposition to the peculiar institution but overall, no.

The second thing that seems to be getting mixed up is that somehow Republicans were carrying the banner of the Confederacy. While the fact is that Republicans, the radical ones, gave blacks more rights in reconstructed South than they had in many of the so called northern free states.

Outrage in the North over these codes eroded support for the approach known as Presidential Reconstruction and led to the triumph of the more radical wing of the Republican Party. During Radical Reconstruction, which began in 1867, newly enfranchised blacks gained a voice in government for the first time in American history, winning election to southern state legislatures and even to the U.S. Congress. In less than a decade, however, reactionary forces–including the Ku Klux Klan–would reverse the changes wrought by Radical Reconstruction in a violent backlash that restored white supremacy in the South.

By 1876, only Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina were still in Republican hands. In the contested presidential election that year, Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes reached a compromise with Democrats in Congress: In exchange for certification of his election, he acknowledged Democratic control of the entire South. The Compromise of 1876 marked the end of Reconstruction as a distinct period,

So if every single person of that era was tainted in some way by slavery or racism why honor them or their flags?

Why don't we just state that everyone is equal and forget that whole nastiness?

Because our failure to do so, our failure to remember that the work of reconstruction is never finished results in what we had in Charleston over the summer. (maked note of the irony of Lincoln practicing in Charleston Ill and the events in Charleston SC)

Reconstruction of our nation has been hard work. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act we are still wrestling with the task of keeping our Union. Of settling the differences between all the disparate groups in our nation. The melting pot requires a burner. A continuous effort to create and maintain a more perfect union between all our peoples, White, Black, Native, North and South, East and West.

Brig. Gen. Joshua L. Chamberlain
The momentous meaning of this occasion impressed me deeply. I resolved to mark it by some token of recognition, which could be no other than a salute of arms. Well aware of the responsibility assumed, and of the criticisms that would follow, as the sequel proved, nothing of that kind could move me in the least. The act could be defended, if needful, by the suggestion that such a salute was not to the cause for which the flag of the Confederacy stood, but to its going down before the flag of the Union. My main reason, however, was one for which I sought no authority nor asked forgiveness. Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood: men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve; standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;—was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured? Instructions had been given; and when the head of each division column comes opposite our group, our bugle sounds the signal and instantly our whole line from right to left, regiment by regiment in succession, gives the soldier's salutation, from the "order arms" to the old "carry"—the marching salute. Gordon at the head of the column, riding with heavy spirit and downcast face, catches the sound of shifting arms, looks up, and, taking the meaning, wheels superbly, making with himself and his horse one uplifted figure, with profound salutation as he drops the point of his sword to the boot toe; then facing to his own command, gives word for his successive brigades to pass us with the same position of the manual,—honor answering honor. On our part not a sound of trumpet more, nor roll of drum; not a cheer, nor word nor whisper of vain-glorying, nor motion of man standing again at the order, but an awed stillness rather, and breath-holding, as if it were the passing of the dead!
So I'm a damned Yankee so I never display the Confederate Flag. I always felt it tacky for a Northerner to fly it as we have not claim to that heritage save the Copperheads and I'm not a Democrat so I can't claim that one either.

But the reason we honor, if not the cause of the Confederacy, the men fought and died it that losing effort is for the sake of the nation as whole.

Like it or not they are part of us now as Mr. Chamberlain noted. The reason we carry on with the work of reconstruction is the terrible and abhorrent cost of the alternative. Men for both North and South died on the battlefield to settle issues that we failed to solved in the democratic process.

Our failure to solve these issues peacefully not only cost hundreds of thousands their lives on both sides. It nearly cost us our nation.

Those men died to settle the issue on the battlefield. They fought with honor and surrendered with honor. Even if we feel their cause was less than honorable the ultimate guilt rests with our failure to solve the issues outside the theater of war.

So maybe this Foutth of July we should take just a moment to remember this flag.

800px-Surrender_flag_of_the_Civil_War_by_Matthew_Bisanz.JPG
"Surrender flag of the Civil War by Matthew Bisanz" by 'Matthew G. Bisanz. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Surrender_flag_of_the_Civil_War_by_Matthew_Bisanz.JPG#/media/File:Surrender_flag_of_the_Civil_War_by_Matthew_Bisanz.JPG

General Lee surrendered with Honor to General Grant. Since that time how many Southern Boys have died not in service to the Stars and Bars but to the Stars and Stripes? In Normandy, The Philippines, Vietnam. In the service of a new nation. Not the same as the one before but one more mature. One who knows the terrible cost of failures of democracy.

Shortly after the Civil War a man named John Wilkes Booth brought dishonor to the South and Surrender of the Confederacy by murdering President Lincoln.

Lee surrendered to stop the war, to stop the death. Likewise Grant dispensed mercy and wisdom as the first act of welcoming out brothers back into the fold.

This year in Charleston South Carolina another man dishonored the South, the
Confederate flag, dishonored every Confederate and Union soldier who died to settle the issues that we could get past on the battlefield.

If we forget this, if we stop the work of reconstruction and reconciliation, If we stop showing mercy and brotherhood to our fellow citizens, if we fail to work out our problems in a peaceful manner, then we are doomed to send another generation to die on the battlefield for our failure.

Recent events concern me, that rather than forgetting more of our heritage the problem is we're not remembering enough. Forgetting the Confederacy may also result in us forgetting the terrible terrible cost at which this nation was redeemed.

By Howie at 09:24 AM | Comments |