The Heritage of the Rebel Flag

This is a response to some of the reasons people are supporting the confederate flag on Facebook.  In their posts, they cite Tariffs, State’s Rights, the “Lost Cause” meaning of the flag, and that thousands of African Americans proudly and willingly served in the Confederate Army.  Some start their posts with something like “I’m preaching and teaching.”  Others end their posts with a quote, for those that disagree with them, like “You need to read a history book.”  They also don’t provide references for the misinformation they are spreading.  Read on for some actual history (with references).

1. Tariffs

The Tariff of 1828 was enacted to protect industry by imposing a tax on imported goods.  The Compromise Tariff of 1833 was enacted to reduce the tariff imposed by the 1828 tariff over time until it reached 20%.  The Tariff of 1842 raised the average tariff rates to almost 40%.  In 1846, the Tariff of 1842 was repealed ( The Walker Tariff, enacted in 1845, reduced the Tariff to 25%.  This was one of the lowest tariffs in American history.  The Tariff of 1857 further lowered the tariff rates, a boon for the southern states ( Walker_tariff).  It was written and approved by the South (Hofstadter).  In fact, the issue of tariffs was so unimportant that the groups looking for some sort of compromise did not even consider it (Potter).  The Tariff of 1861 greatly increased the tariff rates, but seven southern states had already seceded before it was enacted. Ironically, when the Confederacy was formed, it set a very high 15% tariff on all imports, including imports from the United States (

2. State’s Rights

If you research state’s rights issues, particularly the states’ secession documents, concerning the civil war, you will find that the only real issue is the right to own slaves.  While a state’s right of revolution mentioned in the Declaration of Independence was based on the inalienable equal rights of man, secessionists believed in a modified version of states’ rights that was safe for slavery (Freehling).  In his Cornerstone Speech, Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said, “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition” (Schott).  He also said that slavery was the cornerstone of the confederacy at the beginning of the war and said the war was about state’s rights after the war (Stampp).  This was an attempt to distance himself from the slavery issue after the war like so many others have done.  In his book, “A New Birth of Freedom”, Harry V. Jaffa concluded that “this remarkable address conveys, more than any other contemporary document, the soul of the Confederacy.”  Another issue concerning State’s Rights was the Southern idea that their citizens had the right to take their property (slaves) anywhere in the US.  To the North, this violated the rights of free states to outlaw slavery in their own state. (

The government of South Carolina issued the “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union” on 24 Dec 1860.  It states the reason for South Carolina seceding from the union as “increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the Institution of Slavery.” It also talks about the right of property in slaves, non-slaveholding states assisting thousands of slaves to leave their homes and inciting slaves. (Yale).  Congressman Laurence M. Keitt of South Carolina, in his speech to the House on 25 Jan 1860, said, “The anti-slavery party contend that slavery is wrong in itself, and the Government is a consolidated national democracy. We of the South contend that slavery is right, and that this is a confederate Republic of sovereign States.” (

The government of Texas issued “A Declaration of the Causes Which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.” ( 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. That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states.

The “States’ rights” debate cut across the issues. Southerners argued that the federal government was strictly limited and could not abridge the rights of states as reserved in the Tenth Amendment, and so had no power to prevent slaves from being carried into new territories. States’ rights advocates also cited the fugitive slave clause to demand federal jurisdiction over slaves who escaped into the North. (McPherson). The key issue raised during the Peace Conference of 1861 was slavery.  The main issues were prohibiting Congress from interfering with slavery where it currently existed, prohibiting states from interfering with the apprehension of fugitive slaves, and compensation to a slave owner whose fugitive slave was freed by illegal action (ttp://

This next section is from PBS (ttp://  What led to the outbreak of the bloodiest conflict in the history of North America?  A common explanation is that the Civil War was fought over the moral issue of slavery.  In fact, it was the economics of slavery and political control of that system that was central to the conflict. A key issue was states’ rights.  The Southern states wanted to assert their authority over the federal government so they could abolish federal laws they didn’t support, especially laws interfering with the South’s right to keep slaves and take them wherever they wished. Professor James W. Loewen says it best, “When each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights.”

3. Meaning of the Confederate Flag

William Porcher Miles, designer of the popular Confederate flag flown today, rejected any compromises on slavery and responded to any attempts to restrict slavery with a call for secession.  Famous quote: “Men are born neither free nor equal.” (ttps://  This flag never officially represented the Confederacy but is commonly referred to as the Confederate Flag.  It is also known as the rebel flag, Dixie flag, and the Southern Cross and is often incorrectly referred to as the “Stars and Bars.” The actual Stars and Bars is the first national flag, which used an entirely different design. (

William Tappan Thompson, a co-founder of the Savannah Morning News, designed the second national flag of the Confederacy.  He wrote several editorials about his flag including the following quotes: “We are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race (23 Apr 1863)”, “… be hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag (28 Apr 1863)”, and “As a national emblem, it is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race (4 May 1863).”

Political scientists James Martinez, William Richardson, and Ron McNinch-Su write:
“The battle flag was never adopted by the Confederate Congress, never flew over any state capitols during the Confederacy, and was never officially used by Confederate veterans’ groups. The flag probably would have been relegated to Civil War museums if it had not been resurrected by the resurgent KKK and used by Southern Dixiecrats during the 1948 presidential election.”

Southern historian Gordon Rhea further wrote in 2011 that (Wikipedia):
“It is no accident that Confederate symbols have been the mainstay of white supremacist organizations, from the Ku Klux Klan to the skinheads. They did not appropriate the Confederate battle flag simply because it was pretty. They picked it because it was the flag of a nation dedicated to their ideals: ‘that the negro is not equal to the white man’. The Confederate flag, we are told, represents heritage, not hate. But why should we celebrate a heritage grounded in hate, a heritage whose self-avowed reason for existence was the exploitation and debasement of a sizeable segment of its population?”

For further reading, check out the last page of this article from Discovery News:
Stars and Bars boosters typically claim the the flag is a symbol of Southern pride, history and heritage. Nothing contained within the flag itself necessarily discounts that argument. However, flags don’t just appear out of nowhere (except for maybe the Danish flag). These banners have designers. According to William T. Thompson of Savannah, the creator of the second Confederate flag seen here, the emblem he devised would be “hailed by the civilized world as the white man’s flag.” As rediscovered by Jonathan Wilson, history professor at Syracuse University, Thompson declared in explaining his design, “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race.” (

4. Lost Cause

The “Lost Cause” is a movement to portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and most of its leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by a force that overwhelmed the South’s superior military skill and courage. It is also an attempt to distance itself from slavery.  Some tenets of the Lost Cause are: Confederate generals represented the virtues of Southern nobility and fought bravely and fairly while most Northern generals were characterized as possessing low moral standards, defense of state’s rights rather than the preservation of slavery was the primary cause of secession, and that slavery was a benign institution in which the slaves were loyal and faithful to their benevolent masters.  Today, the Lost Cause tenets are frequently voiced during controversies surrounding public display of the Confederate flags.

Some say that slavery couldn’t have been the main cause of the Civil War because most of the Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves.  The truth was that most white people in the South knew that the great bulwark of the white-supremacy system they cherished was slavery, whether or not they personally owned slaves.  “Freedom is not possible without slavery,” was a typical endorsement of this underlying truth about the slave South. Without slavery, white non-slaveholders would be no better than black men.  The slave South rested upon a master-race ideology, as many generations of white Southerners stated it and lived it, from the 1600s until 1865. (T R Clark)

James Loewen, Professor of Sociology, writes, “History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley allegedly said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done, and why. Their resulting mythology went national a generation later and persists – which is why a presidential candidate can suggest that slavery was somehow pro-family, and the public believes that the war was mainly fought over states’ rights.” The notion that the flag is a symbol of Southern heritage and nothing more is an ahistorical one. From the moment it was designed it was intended to convey the South’s reliance on the institution of slavery. When it has been revived by later generations, they, too, have imbued it with meaning. But it has always been a symbol of white power and racial oppression. This symbolic association did not end with the South’s loss in the Civil War. Those who want to argue for the flag’s “heritage” need to understand the full, complicated, and ugly history behind the symbol. There is no way that it can be cleansed of its historical meanings (McInnis).

5. The Myth of the Black Confederates

“The claims among modern romanticizers of the Confederacy are intended to bolster more fundamental claims-that African Americans identified with the Confederacy, that slaves were content with being slaves, and that the war had nothing to do with slavery.” ( confederates/).  Please read the entire article.

Some slaves were taken from the plantations to work on military projects or perform personal services for their masters in the army.  Prisoner exchanges between North and South were halted because the South would not return African American POWs.  They were made slaves or simply murdered. (T R Clark)

During Lee’s invasion of York, Pennsylvania, 40 northern African Americans, mostly freemen, were captured and sent south into slavery.  (Lee’s orders from Chambersburg, June 27, 1863) After the Fort Pillow massacre, Confederate and Union witnesses claimed that African American Union soldiers were gunned down trying to surrender (

Military historian David J. Eicher concluded, “Fort Pillow marked one of the bleakest, saddest events of American military history.”(

6. Interesting Links

7. Miscellaneous

Lincoln quote: Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the Nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came (From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, 4 Mar 1865).

The army that put an end to American slavery fought under the banner of Old Glory.

Lincoln never said, “Who would pay for the government?” when asked why not let the secessionist states go.

Treason:  Betrayal of one’s own country by waging war against it. (Webster’s II New Riverside University Dictionary, 1994).

Civil War 12 Apr 1861 – 9 Apr 1865

8. Conclusion

I am a supporter of state’s rights and support the individual displaying the Confederate flag as a matter of free speech.  I don’t support those that fly the flag without owning the history behind it.  I also don’t believe it should be flown on federal or state property unless it is a cemetery with confederate soldiers buried there.  I also believe that we need to keep this symbol as reminder of our dark past.

9. References:

Potter, David, “The Impending Crisis”, pages 42-50.

Schott, Thomas E., “Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia: A Biography”, 1996, p. 334.

Stampp, “The Causes of the Civil War”, pages 63-65.

McPherson, Battle Cry, page 57

Richard Hofstadter, “The Tariff Issue on the Eve of the Civil War”, American Historical Review Vol. 44, No. 1 (October 1938), pp. 50-55

William W. Freehling, The Road to Disunion, Secessionists Triumphant: 1854-1861, pages 345-516

Clark, T.R., ttps://

Loewen, James, Washington Post

McInnis, Maurie,


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