Thursday, February 06, 2003

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy there was a blog by Jacob Levy concerning a government displaying symbols that some find inappropriate. The conclusion is that it is not censorship to restrain a government from displaying symbols that are improper in some peoples' views.
Now I can agree that to a point a state can be constrained from displaying certain symbols or honoring certain people. But the most obvious recent example that comes to mind is the Confederate flag being flown at the capitol of South Carolina. I think we all know the story - the flag had been flow for a number of years & the NAACP organized a boycott of SC because they felt it to be a symbol of racism.
Well, here's the other perspective:
The flag of the confederacy was not about racism. or slavery, or anything but a flag that represented a new nation that was trying to break off & form properly from an older one. Without going into much detail the War between the States was fought not because the South was trying to keep the black man down, but because the Southern states did not think that the constitution was being honored by the union generally & specifically by the boys in Washington. A few states seceded, the Union army refused to vacate, shots were fired, The North then decided to use force to compel the Southern states that had declared independence & a few more states joined the Confederacy. Now slavery was a part of it, but not the main factor, & certainly not the main reason for the war on either side. If the Union fought to free the slaves, then why did it not do so untill 1863? If the South fought to preserve slavery, then why did it suceed at all as slavery was not in danger of being voted away at the time? A prime example: Gen. Robert E. Lee freed his slaves in 1858. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant freed his in 1866. The war between the States was more complex than the single issue of slavery. Likewise the flag of the Confederacy was not meant to be a symbol of racism. It was a symbol of a new country that never had the chance to prove or disprove itself. It was also the last war that was truly fought for independence on american soil. Every war since then has had some measure of our national interest involved, & by no means am I saying that all were unjustified. But the War between the States was the last war where a people challenged the power & authority of the Federal government en masse & under arms. Yes, slavery would have existed for a while longer if the South had won it's independence, but there is nothing conclusive that shows it would have ended any sooner if the South wouldn't have seceded. In my opinion, due to a number of socio-economic factors, slavery would have ended by the 1880's or 1890's if the War between the States didn't happen for one reason or another. Now I agree that would have been 20 years too long for the slaves. It is with shame that I think of that practice being endorsed in my home state, but it was also endorsed by the constitution itself through various concessions given to slave holding states, so i cannot place the entire blame on the Southern states. But the war in question was not about slavery, not untill the Union started composing the text books that is.
As you see there are some, myself for example, that see no legitimate reason why a state should remove a symbol of it's history because of later negative connotations ascribed to it by a group of people, especially those belonging to another state. As a matter of fact, Lincolns' practices during the war were more of an affront to civil liberties than anything done personally by Pres. Jeff Davis or Gen. Lee respectively. If memory serves he not only suspended Habeus Corpus, as was constitutionally allowed, but interfered with a state legislature (Maryland if i remember), escalated a tense political situation into a war by refusing to remove federal troops from a state at that states' request, freed slaves in the southern states (who at the time were a seperate country), suppressed crtics unlawfully, suppressed newspapers who didn't support him, was an overall tyrant, & finally, though this was common during that time, he was a racist. Look here for more info on Lincoln, as well as here. In fact, a rather interesting comparison between Pres. Lincoln & Supreme Chancellor Palpatine (later to become Emperor Palpatine of Star Wars fame) has been made by David Dieteman.
So for it to be fair to prevent a state from flying the Confederate flag because some think it is a symbol of racism, then I would submit it would also be fair to remove any statue of Lincoln that sits upon public grounds. I would not have either happen. Instead I would prefer an honest debate about the the Confederacy & about Lincoln. To remove a symbol because some think it is inappropriate can be justifiable only if it can be convincing that the object in question does come from a source of real & provable objection, not merely the opinion of a few people, or even a lot of people. I would submit that fact rather than emotion should have the last say on matters such as this, but emotions are powerful & I do not expect to seem them controlled by a mere thing such as truth. Nor do I expect to see perceptions replaced by logic.
There are certain instances where a government can & should be compelled to remove a symbol, but these cases are very very rare & as I reflect I cannot think of one instance where the removal of a statue or a flag would be preferable to honest & well reasoned debate over the true nature of the requests for removal of an object.

As an aside, Mr. Levy says in a paper he authored that he linked to in the aforementioned blog from The Volokh Conspiracy,

"There is a difference between celebrating figures for the war they fought to defend slavery (Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis) and celebrating figures who owned slaves but
who are being celebrated for other reasons (George Washington)."

I would respectfully submit to Mr. Levy that Gen. Lee & Pres. Davis did not fight a war to preserve slavery. They fought a war because they sought freedom from a federal government that they viewed as rapidly becoming oppresive. I again point out that Gen. Lee freed his slaves before the start of the war in question, while Gen. Grant did not free his untill after. There were many reasons for the war, but neither side fought solely over the question of slavery. Yes, slavery was a part of it but only a part, & not the largest part. The two Confederates you alluded to being in favor of the institution of slavery were in fact two of the most upstanding men this nation has ever seen. Lee had his faults, but a love or attachment to slavery did not seem to be one of them. Davis did defend slavery as an institution prior to the war, but it seems his view was formed from the point of it being a states' place to decide what occurs in ones' own state & not a matter for other states to meddle in. I am sure they had the prejudices that most white people had at the time, but I have never read anything from either of them that would cause me to believe that they fought a war solely to preserve slavery.

I refer you to this letter written by Robert E. Lee in 1856.
& this letter to Franklin Pierce written by Jeff Davis in 1861.

If you have any sources to back up your assertions that either one did in deed fight for the sake of continuing slavery due to a personal approval of said practice, then I would appreciate it if you documented it for me. Otherwise I would insist that you make a correction to your paper that includes your statement that I quoted above.

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