And so, Nikki Haley (R), the Governor of S.C. who once said that during the Civil War “you had one side of the Civil War that was fighting for tradition, and I think you had another side of the Civil War that was fighting for change,” has, according the The New York Times, “signed a law removing the Confederate battle flag from the grounds of the State House.” Good for Governor Haley and all those who have so vigorously fought against this symbol ever since the flag went up in the early 1960s in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement.
Somehow, though, I doubt this is the end of this fight over the symbols of the Confederacy. In 1930, the African American poet Sterling Brown said this about those who glorify the antebellum South (page 199, Loathing Lincoln):
“Since ‘Lee’s surrender,’ defenses of the lost cause, strident and pathetic, have been frequent. It was natural. It is the human way out of dilemmas to rationalize. The self-pity of the defeated, graduates into self-justification. Having nursed his wounds, he nurses his woes; and having recovered his strength, tells the world of the wrongs he has suffered.
Today the tradition of glorifying the South gains momentum. Certain evils of modern life furnish the impulse to an easy romantic escape in dreams of a pleasanter past. Young men of the South, keen of mind, having set themselves up as ‘liberals,’ after having learned the most advanced technique, now use that technique for the buttressing of ancient prejudices.”
Still, today, we can hope that Brown is finally wrong and that “the tradition of glorifying the South” is losing rather than gaining “momentum.” In the meantime, “let us strive on to finish the work we are in” and work assiduously to live up to the ideals of the Declaration of Independence “in all coming days” so that “it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyrany [sic] and oppression.”
I wonder, for all of you who lament that it is “politically correct” to take down the Confederate flag, or remove monuments to the Confederacy across the American South, do you believe it was “politically correct” for the American Revolutionaries to topple statues of King George? If not, then why do you disapprove of doing something similar with Confederate flag or a Confederate monument? Or, did you approve when people in the former Soviet Union toppled statues of Lenin or Stalin? Or, was that the “knee-jerk reaction” of a mob? Finally, what was your response when remnants of Saddam Hussein’s murderous regime were eradicated? Did you object? If not, why not?
Here is a nice piece by Lincoln biographer (and friend) Michael Burlingame on what Lincoln might say about taking down the Confederate flag. It is, I think, more or less in agreement with what I said here. Here is Michael:
The war had been fought to preserve the nation’s unity, and that rebel battle flag symbolized a violent attempt to destroy it. Lincoln called the United States “the last, best hope of earth” and “a nation worth fighting for” because it represented a hopeful experiment in democracy. As he told a White House secretary shortly after the outbreak of hostilities, “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.”
Lincoln might well today declare: “Let us discard all this quibbling about oppressors and victims, let us not ruin ourselves by wallowing in a sense of victimhood, let us improve ourselves every way we can, and unite with our fellow citizens in declaring our allegiance to that form and substance of government, whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men — to lift artificial weights from all shoulders; to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all; to afford all, an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life.”