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

Virginia

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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:

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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.​

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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:

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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.
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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.

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Image: Virginia regimental flag, via Encyclopedia Virginia.
 

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Why the SCV will Lose in Lexington, and Win in Texas

Posted in Memory by Andy Hall on March 12, 2012

Several weeks ago the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed a lawsuit in federal court in Roanoke against elected officials in the City of Lexington, in response to that community’s adoption of a new ordinance barring anything other than official U.S., Virginia and city flags being flown at public facilities downtown and on the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

Concurrently, the Texas Division of the SCV is pursuing legal action against the state here, challenging the state’s rejection of a special license plate promoting the SCV. Both lawsuits lean heavily on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. While both these cases are only beginning their journey through the courts, and there are plenty of arguments yet to be made on both sides, I believe the SCV will lose in Lexington, but prevail in Texas. And the Equal Protection Clause lies at the core of both outcomes.

Lexington first. The lawsuit names the City of Lexington and eight individuals, in their “official capacity,” as defendants. These include Mayor Mimi Elrod, City Manager Jon Ellestad, and all six members of the current City Council. Mary P. Harvey-Halseth, a council member who voted against the ordinance, and David Cox, another member who was absent from the meeting, are also included as defendants. You can read the SCV’s federal complaint here (which includes the text of the new ordinance on p. 6), and the minutes of the September 1, 2011 Lexington City Council meeting here.

Public display of Confederate flags — as Brooks Simpson points out, there’s not just one — has long been a contentious issue in Lexington. Twenty years ago, the city tried to ban displays of the Confederate flag on public property, and lost their case in 1993 (Sons of Confederate Veterans, Virginia Division v. City of Lexington, Virginia, et al.,). At that time, the court ruled that the city could not prevent others

to wear, carry, display or show, at any government-sponsored or government-controlled place or event which is to any extent given over to private expressive activity, the Confederate Flag or other banners, emblems, icons, or visual depictions. . . .

The emphasis here is mine, and it’s central to the court’s decision. The ruling in 1993 is based not only on the First Amendment right of Free Speech, but also on the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, that requires governmental entities to enact laws and policies in an equitable way, without making exceptions, good or bad, for any particular group. That’s clearly what the court had in mind when ruled that the Confederate flag could be displayed in any forum that “is to any extent given over to private expressive activity.” If you do it for one, you have to do it for another.

The Equal Protection Clause is important here because the First Amendment, on its own, is insufficient when it comes to government-sponsored or government-hosted expression. The First Amendment, by itself, is not enough. Freedom of Speech has never been absolute; it does not extend to libelous speech, or direct incitement to violence. And there’s nothing about the First Amendment that obligates Lexington to host on its property any private organization’s emblem or banner — not mine, not yours, and not the Virginia SCV’s. First Amendment concerns only become relevant here if the City of Lexington extends that privilege to some, but not others.

The City of Lexington understood this when crafting the ordinance to exclude all flags except those of select government entities — federal, state and local. The ordinance bars Confederate flags, but only because it bars all others, including those of the two universities in town, the Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee. There’s no question that, embarrassed by the conjunction on the calendar of Lee-Jefferson Day and the MLK federal holiday, they were seeking to find a legal way to resolve future conflicts, and so adopted an ordinance that would bar all other flags. That’s a calculation the city council in Lexington chose to make, and they’re on solid legal ground. Even one of the leaders of the “Virginia Flaggers,” a group that protests perceived slights to Confederate symbols and who’s an outspoken critic of the Lexington ordinance, acknowledged at the time of its passage that the “ordinance is air tight. I agree.

The Texas case, by contrast, presents an entirely different set of facts – namely, that the state already offers dozens of different plate designs for private organizations and causes. Like dolphins? There’s a plate for that. Proud of your alma mater? There’s a plate for that. Are you a Master Gardener? A Dallas Mavericks fan? Do you love red grapefruit? There are plates for all those things. Why, we have plates for schools that aren’t even in Texas. And that’s why, in my view, Texas will be unable to defend its decision last November to deny the SCV plates. If you do it for one, you have to do it for another. And when it comes to specialty license plates, Texas already does it for damn nearly everybody.

As it happens, my own county’s Tax Assessor-Collector, Cheryl Johnson, sits on the TxDot board that considers plates, and voted in favor of the plate the first time it came up for a vote. She later explained her vote by saying that the SCV “have sued before to get the license plate [in other states] and have won. I voted in favor because I didn’t think the state would win any lawsuit.” She’s right about that last part, in my view. (That first vote, in which Johnson voted in favor of the proposal, was a tie; she was not present for the November meeting where it was voted down, 8-0.)

The Lexington and Texas cases bear some similarities; both challenge governmental entities’ decisions to bar the Confederate Battle Flag from display on a public venue. Both lawsuits also base their core arguments on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. But the specific facts of the two cases are miles apart. So long as Lexington continues to bar all outside banners, their ordinance almost certainly falls in line with the Equal Protection Clause, and so passes constitutional muster. Texas, on the other hand, has a years-long history of granting specialty plates to just about any organization that seeks one.

They haven’t got a legal leg to stand on.

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Image: Virginia Flaggers rally in January 2012 at Hopkins Green in Lexington to call for the defeat of Mayor Mimi Elrod. Image via thenews-gazette.com.

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.

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Virginia Progress

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on September 8, 2010

Upper works blocked out and a preliminary texture on the casemate.

Guns added, as well. For now, they’re eight 9-inch Dahlgren smoothbores on the broadside, with a 7-inch Brooke rifle at each end. Two of the Dahlgrens need to be replaced with 6.4-inch Brooke rifles, but I need to be sure of their placement first.

Update: The data cards from the old Yaquinto game Ironclads show the two 6.4-inch Brookes as being the foremost broadside guns. Makes sense.

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Pontoon Bridge, Petersburg

Posted in Uncategorized by Andy Hall on August 6, 2010

A. R. Waud, “Ponton [sic.] Bridge on the Appomattox below Petersburg–Point of Rocks–Butler’s headquarters.” Library of Congress. Original here.