Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog

Virginia: Secession in the Defense of the Defense of Slavery

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on September 25, 2013



In April 2010, the conservative commentator Pat Buchanan penned an essay called, “The New Intolerance.” The piece was subsequently re-blogged by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who posted it under the headline, “Buchanan Exposes Yankee Terrorists.” Buchanan’s essay was part of the kerfuffle over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s declaration of Confederate History Month, the text of which was drafted for his office by the SCV, and omitted any mention of slavery at all. McDonnell subsequently reissued a revised proclamation, and in 2011 established a broader statewide commemoration, “Civil War History in Virginia Month.

Buchanan’s essay revolves around the oft-made claim that “Virginia did not secede in defense of slavery.” He continues:


When Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated, March 4, 1861, Virginia was still in the Union. Only South Carolina, Georgia and the five Gulf states had seceded and created the Confederate States of America. . . . But, on April 15, Lincoln issued a call for 75,000 volunteers from the state militias to march south and crush the new Confederacy. Two days later, April 17, Virginia seceded rather than provide soldiers or militia to participate in a war on their brethren. North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas followed Virginia out over the same issue. They would not be a party to a war on their kinfolk.​


Buchanan doesn’t bother to explain why Mississippi or Texas should be considered to be Virginians’ “kinfolk,” in a way that much closer states — say, Pennsylvania or Ohio, with which Virginia shared a common border in 1861 — were not. Fortunately, those who wrote Virginia’s ordinance of secession said explicitly what they had in common, citing “oppression of the Southern slaveholding States” as part of the justification for its actions:


The people of Virginia, in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in Convention, on the 25th day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eight-eight, having declared that the powers granted them under the said Constitution were derived from the people of the United States, and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.


Virginia was not a fire-eating state that led the way on secession. But when the chips were down, the Commonwealth recognized slaveholding as the common bond that (1) defined the seceded states, (2) held Virginia to South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and those other states that seceded earlier, and (3) was deemed stronger and more vital to Virginia’s interest than its bond to the Union.

Does that count as ” seceding in defense of slavery?” Maybe. But it certainly counts as seceding in the defense of the defense of slavery.


Image: Virginia regimental flag, via Encyclopedia Virginia.


Quit Digging

Posted in Leadership, Memory by Andy Hall on January 17, 2011

Last spring, the then-new governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell (left), issued a Confederate History Month proclamation that had been prepared and urged on him by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The proclamation, unlike others that had preceded it, omitted any reference to the institution of slavery as a factor in the coming of the war. Criticism of the proclamation was swift and loud, and Governor McDonnell quickly withdrew the first one and replaced it with another, one that recognized the role slavery played in the war and referred to the practice as an “abomination.” Perhaps more important, McDonnell later announced that, in 2011, Confederate History Month will be replaced with a wider-reaching, more inclusive effort, dubbed Civil War in Virginia Month.

Now Brag Bowling, spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, has announced that the SCV will hold a press conference Tuesday “to outline the ‘ongoing failures’ ” of the governor “to deal with a variety of history and heritage issues in Virginia.” B. Frank Earnest, the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, went further:

The Civil War was a defining moment in our history and, as we enter its sesquicentennial year, it is fitting we honor the memories of the men and women on both sides whose sacrifices are part of our heritage. However, to put it candidly, under Governor Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s history has become political football.

We call on Governor McDonnell to remember that he is the governor of all Virginians, that he honor the memory of those who died in defense of our commonwealth, and that he rethink … his position and honor the forthcoming petition which will begin today.

The SCV will also use the press conference to call out former Governor George Allen (of “macaca” infamy), a likely 2012 Senate candidate, for distancing himself from them while serving in the Senate. Allen’s actions have been a sore point for Bowling and Earnest for years, as noted in this 2006 Washington Post story:

“What I was slow to appreciate and wish I had understood much sooner,” Allen told a black audience last month, “is that [the Confederate Battle Flag] . . . is, for black Americans, an emblem of hate and terror, an emblem of intolerance and intimidation.”

“He’s apologizing to others, certainly he should apologize to us as well,” said B. Frank Earnest Sr., the Virginia commander of the confederate group at a news conference. “We’re all aware, ourselves included, of the statements that got him into this. The infamous macaca statement. He’s using our flag to wipe the muck from his shoes that he’s now stepped in.”

Over the years, Allen has been a darling of the confederate group. As governor, he designated April as Confederate History Month. He has displayed the battle flag in his home as part of what he said is a flag collection. And his high school yearbook picture shows him wearing a Confederate flag pin.

But the senator has been distancing himself from those symbols as he pursues reelection and considers a bid for the presidency in 2008.

In the past several years, he has co-sponsored legislation condemning the lynching of blacks and has promised to work on similar legislation apologizing for slavery. He recently said of the Confederate flag that “the symbols you use matter because of how others may take them.”

Allen’s recent statements didn’t sit well with the SCV. They accused him yesterday of trying to appeal to liberal voters with his new position.

“The denunciation of the flag to score political points is anathema to our organization,” said Brag Bowling, a former past commander of the group.

I have no idea how Bowling and Earnest can argue that Bob McDonnell “is the governor of all Virginians,” while at the same time being opposed to his decision to expand his state’s commemoration of the war to encompass all Virginians — descendants of Confederate veterans, Virginians loyal to the Union, enslaved African Americans, free blacks, and the millions of modern-day Virginians who have no Civil War connection to that state at all. Nor do I see why they want to go after George Allen, unless their long-simmering disdain for the man outweighs their presumed desire to oust the incumbent, Jim Webb (D). Tuesday’s press conference sounds less like a well-considered statement of policy than the latest tantrum of an increasingly insular group, one focused so closely on its own resentments and perceived insults that it’s lost touch with the wider, general public it seeks to reach out to.

Quit digging, folks.

Old Dominion Shows the Way

Posted in Leadership, Media, Memory by Andy Hall on September 24, 2010

Bloggers Ta-Nehisi Coates and Kevin Levin both call attention to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s announcement Friday that next spring, Confederate History Month will be replaced by Civil War in Virginia Month. This is not only good news, but the governor also chose to make his announcement at the highest-profile venue possible, the 2010 Signature Conference of the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

The legacies of the Civil War still have the potential to divide us. But there is a central lesson of that conflict that must bond us together today. Until the Civil War, the founding principle that all people are created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights was dishonored by slavery. Slavery was an evil and inhumane practice which degraded people to property, defied the eternal truth that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, and left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. For this to be truly one nation under God required the abolition of slavery from our soil. Until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and the Civil War ended, our needed national reconciliation could not begin. It is still a work in progress.

150 years is long enough for Virginia to fight the Civil War.

“Now, on the eve of this anniversary, is a time for us to approach this period with a renewed spirit of goodwill, reverently recalling its losses, eagerly embracing its lessons, and celebrating the measure of unity we have achieved as a diverse nation united by the powerful idea of human freedom.

A modern Virginia has emerged from her past strong, vibrant and diverse. Now, a modern Virginia will remember that past with candor, courage and conciliation. . . .

It’s time to discuss openly how we as Americans, black, white and brown can promote greater reconciliation and trust and greater access to the American Dream for all, so that there is more peace in our hearts and homes, schools and neighborhoods.

This speech is direct, comprehensive, and eloquent. In this address, Bob McDonnell acknowledges and embraces the fundamental truth that so many are unwilling to — that one cannot separate Confederate history from the Civil War, nor the Civil War from this nation’s long, dark legacy of slavery. They are all aspects of the same heritage we share, inextricably intertwined and knotted together.

I have been critical of McDonnell’s original Confederate History Month proclamation — “tone deaf” is about the most charitable thing one can say about it — but today’s remarks really do clean the slate. And while the governor certainly caught a lot of (well-deserved) hell for that earlier document, I’m not going to take a cynical view of his motivations in reversing course here. As Coates said, “You can not ask politicians to do the right thing, and then attack them for doing it.” Amen.

Good for Bob McDonnell. Good for Virginia. Good for the South, and good for our nation. I hope that in this area, has it has so often throughout American history, Virginia sets an example for others to follow.

Added Monday, September 27: Via TPMMuckraker, the SCV responds to McDonnell’s move:

“Our organization is terribly disappointed by this action,” [Virginia SCV Division Commander Brag] Bowling told TPMmuckraker. “[McDonnell] succumbed to his critics, people who don’t support him anyway. And the vast majority of citizens of Virginia support Confederate History Month.”

He said he had spoken with the governor’s office and told them the same thing. He said “Civil War In Virginia Month” is a poor substitute.

“Nobody’s ever been able to reason with me and tell me why we’re honoring Yankees in Virginia,” Bowling said. “The only northerners in Virginia were the ones that came to Virginia and killed thousands of Virginia citizens when they invaded.”

I suppose it’s too much to ask for the SCV to actually respond to the detailed and specific content of McDonnell’s address; instead Bowling drags out the same tired dog-whistles about Yankees and “invasion.” Seriously, folks: get yourselves some new talking points.

Full text of the governor’s address after the jump.