What started as a local issue about what to do with Confederate Monuments has exploded into a national issue. It lead to Civil War reenactments canceled. Manassas City officials canceled their Civil War Weekend for August 25 -27. A small event only drawing only up to 150 people, any reenactments canceled is a concern for future events. Also, a reenactment was canceled in Fairfax, VA. Before we can do something about reenactments being canceled, we have to understand how we got here.
King Cotton and Slavery
To drum support for secession among their voting population, four states, Georgia; Mississippi; South Carolina; and Texas provided detailed Declaration of Causes for secession. The overwhelming reason for secession, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.” The entire southern economy was based on one product, cotton. Southern United States cotton production was only economically possible because of slavery. “These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”
The Constitution of the United States and Slavery
Slavery as an institution was not directly protected in the Constitution of the United States. It was indirectly recognized in Article I, Section 2, ” Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons.” The other persons were of course slaves.
Article IV, Section 3 stated, “No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due.” If there was any doubt about what was meant by “held to Service or Labour”, it was dispelled in the passing of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. The act fined local and state officials who failed to uphold the Constitution of the United States.
Abolitionist and the Black Republicans
Starting with an 1855 Wisconsin Supreme Court decision, northern states fought back against the Fugitive Slave Act. Even with the United States Supreme Court decision in 1859 Adleman v Booth many norther states openly ignored the law. The Republican Party became the party of the abolitionist movement. Southerns started calling them “Black Republicans”. Radical abolitionist took things further funding slave revolts. John Brown’s raid was one of them. With the overwhelming Black Republican victory in 1860, they had control of the federal government. Southern n states feared a direct attack on slavery and their entire way of life.
As the State of Texas stated, “The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution.”
White Supremacy and Slavery
Secession was driven by the economic reality and the violation of the Constitutional projections of slavery. But there was also a dark side to the justification of slavery. “We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.”
“It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.” Virginia was a bit more subtle, “Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.” The belief? That all people were equal. Blacks were not equal to whites. They were property used to work cotton fields no different than a horse or any other farm animal.
The Rise of White Supremacy
During reconstruction, White Supremacy groups like the KKK were formed to “protect” white southerns. By the 1870’s, the Ku Klux Klan, with efforts by the federal government, died away. In the early 1900’s there was a immigration of Roman Catholics and Jews. Along with the Supreme Court decision in Plessy v Ferguson and the rise of Jim Crow, a new Klan was established in 1915. They quickly became a powerful political force across the country but particularly in the old south. It was during the rise of the Klan power that there was a boom in the establishment of monuments to the Confederacy. There is no doubt many of these monuments were erected as a political statement against those targeted by the Klan: Roman Catholics; Jews; and Blacks.
Civil War Memorials
The vast number of memorials and monuments remembering the Civil War were established by veterans of both armies and honor the regiments they served with during the war. They remember the battles and those who died during the war. The most common place to find these memorials are in the towns where the regiments were organized or on the battlefields where they fought. There re individual monuments or to all regiments from a state such as the Pennsylvania or Virginia Memorials at Gettysburg. These memorials honor those who fought on both sides unrelated to the political elements or the causes of the war. They provide detailed history so we will never forget what they did there.
Confederate Monument Controversy
After the racist shootings in Charleston, a movement developed in some communities to look at their memorials to the Confederacy. Groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans came to the defense of all monuments. They protested and took legal action to keep cities and towns from removing them. Their motives were to protect the memory of their ancestors. Unfortunately, their struggle caught the attention of the modern White Supremacist movement, which came to a head in Chancellorsville. Once again, White Supremacist used monuments to the confederacy, just as they did in the 1920’s, making a hateful political statement unrelated to the history of the Civil War. The backlash has lead to Civil War reenactments canceled.
Time to change the conversation
The sad truth is that not all Civil War monuments are the same. Some were erected as racist political statements, while the vast majority were erected to remember the history of America’s most horrible war. Deciding what monuments represent is best left to local communities. All monuments, no matter the reason they were erected are historical art and should be protected if the community decides to move them. I think it is time for groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans to research the history behind each memorial and be more careful about which ones they want to defend from being moved. They should make sure the monument has direct link to a regiment or an army that fought in the war. They need to talk about the history of the war.
Keeping the conversation on the history of the war will make the issue less attractive issue for groups like the Alt-right and other hate groups. It will also become boring issue for the left wing extremist too.
Civil War reenactments can help change the conversation back to the history of the war. There is no doubt about their purpose. They are to remember the struggles of the men on both sides during the war without regard to the politics of the time of the war or now. Reenactments canceled? It is like canceling a part of our history. It is time for all groups related to remembering the history of the war to focus the conversation back to history of the war. If we don’t, I am afraid we are going to see many more reenactments canceled.