06 April 2010

Another Proclamation

**Update #2: Though I am trying to not get into back and forth debates with other CW blogs, it is sometimes necessary to respond and point out inconsistencies and misinformation; which seems to happen with frustrating frequency these days. Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory provides us with the latest example. Levin recently took me to task for ostensibly ignoring Robert Moore's post on the Governor's proclamation, though I linked to CWM's post, as well as Professor Simpson's at Civil Warriors (see below). You will notice, however, that Mr. Levin leveled no such criticism at my fellow Virginian, Robert, for ignoring my post, though he also linked to Mr. Levin's and Professor Simpson's post. Why didn't I link to Robert's post? Because he was not a target of my criticism. Nothing sinister Mr. Levin, as you insinuate. I've linked to Robert's site a number of times in the past and will likely do so in the future. Though Robert and I often disagree on issues, I didn't find his post lacking credibility as I did the ones to which I did link. Levin opines that my "failure to provide a link speaks volumes." Perhaps, but not in the way he thinks.

**Update: You can follow this debate on 2 other blogs here and here, if you're interested. Nothing really new, but instructive to read their rather convoluted objections to the Governor's proclamation. It is interesting to watch the authors of the posts apparently try to back pedal and defend their original posts simultaneously. Fancy footwork indeed. At least one other official associated with the Commonwealth's work on the Sesquicentennial seems to see the proclamation in the same light as I do:

As current chairman of Loudoun County’s CW Sesquicentennial Committee, I see nothing in Governor McDonnell’s proclamation that should be objectionable to anyone or that implies a lack of inclusiveness. It may be a tad boilerplate but aren’t all such proclamations?
If you want the sesquicentennial commemoration to be inclusive, then it seems to me it should include Confederate History Month. ~ *Jim Morgan

True, Mr. Chairman, but when you're on a mission, all that matters little.

*Mr. Morgan is past president of the Loudoun County Civil War Roundtable and a member of the Loudoun County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee. He is a volunteer battlefield guide at Ball’s Bluff and recently has joined the advisory board of the Mosby Heritage Area Association.

Many of the PC crowd are taking Governor McDonnell to task for ostensibly "excluding" other Virginians in his proclaiming April Confederate History Month. This showcases their intellectual dishonesty and the fact that they are driven by their agenda to marginalize anyone who wishes to honor their Confederate ancestors and heritage. In February, Governor McDonnell properly issued another proclamation in honor of Black History Month. Here are a few excerpts:

"WHEREAS,  Virginians of all backgrounds and experiences contribute to our Commonwealth’s rich cultural diversity, storied history and promising future, and it is important for Virginians to recognize the positive contributions to our society made by people of all heritages and races; and . . . 

"WHEREAS,  many other African Americans have made important contributions to our society, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., our nation’s greatest civil rights activist who, along with his wife Coretta Scott King, became a trailblazer in the struggle for equality and justice for all our citizens . . .

". . . Booker T. Washington, who would go on to attend Hampton University,  founded in 1868 and today one of the nation’s leading historically black universities, on that campus visitors can still see the ‘Emancipation Oak’ under which the first Southern reading of the Emancipation Proclamation took place in 1863 . . ."

(You can read this proclamation here.)

To suggest that Governor McDonnell, in issuing the Confederate History proclamation, is ignoring other parts of our history - or is ignorant of it - simply proves these academics are themselves actually ignorant of his other proclamations or, more likely, simply used the occasion of the Confederate proclamation to push their perspective and agenda.

As I noted in a previous comment, I have 3 great-great Grandfathers who fought for the Confederacy. 2 of them spent time in yankee prisons. At least 2 of them were wounded. 2 of them fought over land that I would one day come to own. I was born and grew up on that battlefield. None of my Confederate ancestors owned slaves. They fought because they believed their homes were being invaded. They were defending hearth and home and served the Commonwealth of Virgina honorably. For that they deserve honor and remembrance. That's all the Confederate history proclamation is about.
In falsely accusing Governor McDonnell of excluding other Virginians (and ignoring his history of issuing past proclamations), these PC academics reveal to the world that it is is actually they who wish to exclude a certain segment of Virginians from historical remembrance. It is they who are, in fact, guilty of the very thing which they are charging Governor McDonnell.


MSimons said...

I agree Richard several other Blogs I visit have taken the Gov to task when it was no need too.
The PC crowd is always super sensitive over Confederate History Month.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Mike. The charges are disingenuous.

Lawrence Underwood said...

Good on your governor!

13thBama said...

Keep at em Mr. Williams! I am sure it shocks the "elite" to realize that there are not as many sheep in the fold as they believed. How dare we question their wisdom! :)

I too had relatives who fought and sat in a Yankee prison.

Hint: The screen name is a hat tip to their unit.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you 13B. Yes, as I often say, arrogance is a blinding vice. I suppose they believe the proclamation should have been either a thesis on the WBTS or a treatise on slavery. Kinda out of touch, wouldn't you say?

Chaps said...

The Washington Post reports this evening (Wednesday) that Governor McDonnel has amended his proclamation of Confederate History Month and apologized for omitting a mention of slavery.
He caved in to political correctness and those who hate our history. So much for common sense and courage.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Chaps - I'm not surprised. He's a politician. I doubt, however, that this will not appease his critics. I still believe the Governor is a good man but, again, he's also a politician.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR: I did receive your comments and agree with your sentiment. However, I chose not to post your criticism simply for the fact I do not want to dignify the comments to which you refer. Comments on that blog often descend into bottom feeding and I simply refuse to participate in a discussion, or even recognition, of such despicable tactics. I think most folks recognize the comment and the blog for what it is.

Ben JB said...

Chaps wrote "He caved in to political correctness and those who hate our history."

But doesn't our history include slavery? I mean, there's no way I can parse "our" that excludes slavery--white, black, Northern, Southern, American: whatever you consider yourself, slavery is a big part of our history.

I realize that this comment might be tendentious, so if you, Mr. Williams, don't want it posted, I'll understand. But I really don't understand what's wrong with mentioning "slavery" and "Confederacy" in the same breath.

Chaps said...

Mr. Williams-

You are correct. The apology did not mollify the critics. Now the Governor still is taking heat and looks weak to boot. Better if he had weathered the original storm. However, as you say, he is a politician and taking heat for principles is a very rare trait among them.

Ben JB- Requiring that "slavery" be mentioned everytime the Confederacy is talked about continues the Northern narrative that the WBTS was only about slavery and that the Confederacy and those who fought for it, including my ancestors, were irredeemably evil. It dishonors those who served in defense of their homes.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Of course our history includes slavery. Slavery was a sin for which I believe God judged the whole Nation. But since you acknowledge "our" includes "Northern", should McDonnell have pointed that out in his proclamation to be "historically accurate?" Should he have mentioned that the slave trade built New York and other industrial areas in the North - for "historical accuracy?" Should he have mentioned the fact Virginia was the first government in the modern world to criminalize slave traders? Should he have mentioned that Virginia was close to passing gradual emancipation legislation prior to the WBTS? Just how much detail should he have gone into to satisfy all factions and provide balance and accuracy? Or was the criticism a morality play to show everyone how evil Confederates were and that anyone who wishes to honor their Confederate ancestors should be shamed, mocked, and marginalized?

When a government official issues a proclamation honoring President Lincoln, should he also include Lincoln's complete views on slavery? Where is the consistency and concern over what another blogger has referred to as the “Won Cause Myth?”

Some critics have suggested McDonnell was intentionally ignoring the slavery issue, or that he was ignorant of it being a central issue of the WBTS. Frankly, that is some of the most blatant intellectual dishonesty that I've witnessed in a very long time. They know this proclamation was simply about Confederate heritage. These "critics" have a long history of poking fun at and impugning anyone who honors their Confederate ancestry.

McDonnell went into some detail about slavery and the civil rights movement in his February proclamation. I applaud him for that. I support Black History Month and the February proclamation. But should he have mentioned Nat Turner's murderous rampage to be "historically accurate?" No, of course not. It was a proclamation to highlight noble aims and consequences. It was meant to honor those in the past and give those in the present something of which they could be proud. It was not meant to be a treatise on the civil rights movement. That is not the purpose of a Governor's proclamation.

But, according to the critics, the same logic and purpose should not apply to the Confederate History proclamation. And that is because there is a not so subtle seething disgust for those who honor the likes of Lee and Jackson or their own Confederate ancestors. One would have to be blind to not see it.

Last month, the Governor issued a proclamation for "Christian Heritage Week." To be consistent in their logic, the critics would have to agree that this proclamation should have included acknowledgment of the Salem Witch Trials and the Inquisition.

These proclamations have a limited purpose and scope and are often meant to accommodate a particular constituency. That is simply the nature of the beast. There is nothing wrong with that. The critics know this, but nonetheless, used the opportunity to push their agenda.

While including an acknowledgment of slavery in his original proclamation would have been fine with me, and may have avoided the controversy, I don't believe it was absolutely necessary to do so, given the context and reason for these proclamations in the first place - and due to the Governor's explicit acknowledgment of the issue in his inauguration speech and February proclamation. He certainly was not dodging the issue - which anyone who bothered to do a little research would know.

My problem is not with the proclamation and whether or not it mentions slavery - I'm ok with it either way. My problem is with the disingenuous and/or misinformed criticism.

Thanks for the input. Please feel welcome to comment at any time.

Ben JB said...

Thank you for your long and thoughtful comment, Mr. Williams. I agree with you that Governor's proclamations are not history lessons and don't have to hit every footnote related to the topic.

But the issue here is that some people consider slavery a foundational aspect of the CSA history (me) and some people don't (I'm guessing you and definitely Chaps).

You write that this "was simply about Confederate heritage," but a) people tend to use the word "heritage" without specifying what that means, and one thing I think we can all agree that it means is that "peculiar institution"--what sort of South can we imagine without slavery as one of its cornerstones? (That slavery was foundational to the South's culture was an argument that many people made in the 19th century, cf. the anti-Tom novels, like _The Planter's Northern Bride_); and b) McDonnell's proclamation was about Virginia's Confederate heritage (not just Confederate heritage), which is also part of the issue people have--because not every Virginian (white and black) was a Confederate. Some Virginians' heritage from that time is of resistance to the CSA.

As for your comments about NY and other Northern states that skate over their abominable slave and race history, I agree with you--and if a NY governor ever said something about how great NY's Civil War history was, I'd be on the frontlines screaming "draft riot lynch mobs." (Earlier, in revolutionary times I think, there is a less famous riot against blacks in NY, but I can't remember it. I do 19th c. history more than earlier history.)

I'm (obviously) just not seeing the criticism here as disingenuous--I might agree with the possibility that the criticism is misinformed, but when you say that the criticism is disingenuous, it sounds like you can read people's minds.

It seems like we can have a legitimate debate about what's central to any particular issue (should we talk about Nat Turner and black-on-white violence as part of Black History Month? should we talk about the role of slavery in the secession when celebrating Confederate Heritage Month?)--but it seems to me like we could have that debate without accusing the other side of arguing in bad faith.

(That, by the way, is part of what I think Melville's _Pierre, or The Ambiguities_ is about: that we have to be humble towards things that are unknowable.)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Ben JB:

Your views are, I believe, honest ones based on your perspective of history. Mine too are honest based on my perspective. I've not accused you of arguing in bad faith. That accusation is directed at others who are known to have an agenda - the goal of impugning and marginalizing Confederate heritage and those who wish to honor their ancestors.

"should we talk about Nat Turner and black-on-white violence as part of Black History Month? should we talk about the role of slavery in the secession when celebrating Confederate Heritage Month?"

Yes, we should - in the classroom, in academic journals, in magazine articles, in conferences and seminars, on blogs, but not in Gubernatorial proclamations. That is not the purpose of a proclamation. I've already explained what their basic function and intent is.

Thanks again for your comments.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

slavery was foundational to the Ben:

A PS if you don't mind.

"slavery was foundational to the South's culture"

"slavery was foundational to the *Nation's* culture" would be a more accurate statement. Singling out the South, for the reasons already stated, is not historically accurate, despite the 4 year struggle between South and North. Our history involving slavery is much longer than 4 years. The North's industrial might and economy was built on the slave trade just as the South's was built on slave labor.

Again, proclamations are not the vehicle for that discussion. As I've stated, I believe many, but not all, of the critics simply used this opportunity to advance their agenda.

Ben JB said...

Hi Mr. Williams,
And, just to be clear, I wasn't accusing you of accusing me--I feel our discussion here has been unmarred by a lot of the typical snark and invective one finds on the internet. (Although, I'll confess, when I try to argue online, my first response is always to get a little angry, and I have to take a moment to calm down--to take my ego out of the equation as much as possible. Let's hope I've been successful.)

I don't disagree with you on the idea that the South has been singled out as racially backward unfairly. (This is one of the reasons I like _Uncle Tom's Cabin_--the do-gooder Northerner needs to learn to love blacks as fellow Christians up-close and not just try to rescue them from a distance.) Any honest appraisal of our American racial history would have to include some pretty terrible things up north (Chicago's red summer of 1919 springs to mind).

So I agree when you say that "Singling out the South, for the reasons already stated, is not historically accurate, despite the 4 year struggle between South and North. Our history involving slavery is much longer than 4 years."

But Confederate Heritage Month is founded in those 4 years. And any discussion of those 4 years that doesn't take slavery into account seems like whitewashing.

And maybe this is just me, but the idea of "honor[ing] their [our] ancestors" always strikes me as odd because it's such a blanket statement. To take a much closer-to-home analogy, my grandfather was a clever entrepreneur, but had a heart condition. I might celebrate his entrepreneurship, and hope that I inherited that, but I have to keep in mind that I may have inherited his heart condition as well.

So, when people say they're honoring their ancestors for their courage and willingness to sacrifice, to fight until the bitter end, I get that; but that's no reason to forget what they were fighting for, which was the right to secede in order to maintain the right to own slaves.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Yes, it is easy to get "snarky" when you don't have to look a fellow human being in the face, isn't it? I fight the same temptation.

"but that's no reason to forget what they were fighting for, which was the right to secede in order to maintain the right to own slaves."

Of course slavery was a central issue, as I've already agreed. The right to secede was nothing original with the South though; some New England states had threatened secession decades earlier than the South. So, again, that issue is not exclusively Southern. And, of course, the colonies seceded from Britain.

And I would have to take issue with the blanket statement that Southerners were fighting for slavery. Certainly, some were. But my ancestors didn't own slaves. They were simply defending their homes. According to my family's oral history, when one of my ancestors' was asked why he went to war, he would reply: "I was fightin' them damn invaders." He owned no slaves.

Ben JB said...

Mr. Williams,

1) "New England states had threatened secession decades"

--Yeah, but they didn't actually go through with it, right? I mean, I can threaten to steal from a store, but that doesn't make me a thief. There's only a small class of crimes where "threatening" is equivalent to "acting." So, threatening to secede isn't illegal; actually seceding... well, we could argue that point, but you see that your argument doesn't hold up there because there isn't any equivalence between threatening and acting.

2) "They were simply defending their homes."

--yeah, and my grandfather (on the other side) joined the Canadian/British army during WW2 (before the US got involved) in order to go save the Jews. But that doesn't mean that WW2 was fought to save the Jews. We can't really scale up between individual's reasons and the state's reasons so simply. I believe your ancestor's fight is worth commemorating, but part of respecting history (I think) is respecting its flaws and moral failings. Condoning slavery was a national moral failing; but secession in defense of slavery was (by definition) a Confederate moral failing.

Now, just to be clear, remember in an earlier comment I maintained that not all Virginians were diehard supporters of slavery and the Confederacy, and that many people's heritage would be a legacy of resistance (cf. West Virginia, Gen. Thomas). (I mean, if we lay the secession at the hands of the mostly-slave-owning political elites, we should probably keep in mind the idea that many people didn't get to vote.) So I think it's important that we keep separate the categories of "Southerner" and "Confederate," while also realizing that individual motivations don't necessarily explain historical actions on the level of the state.

(Also, I never understand the "they were just protecting their home" line of reasoning. Yes, I accept that many people fight for their homes, but in this case, that's not where the fight began--the Northern armies only invaded because the Southern states seceded. And let's be historically accurate here: who fired the first shot? The CSA, on Fort Sumter.)

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Point 1 - rather weak my friend. My point was they considered it as a legal option. And the colonies most certainly acted.

Point 2 - as I said, my ancestors were "fightin them damn invaders." I'm sorry, but that's all the excuse they needed. They were all poor dirt farmers and I take them at their word. Kin folk still get a certain amount of trust and preference in my neck of the woods - just the way it is and I could not care less if the elites (not you) think that's silly. That makes it all the more attractive to me. It makes me smile.


Chaps said...

My g-g-grandfather and his brother left Maryland to join a Virginia regiment. I doubt either one ever even saw a slave and certainly weren't fighting for slavery. They believed that States were sovereign and the Union was a voluntary compact. Then there is the great answer given by Sam Watkins, writer of the classic "Company Aytch." When captured, Yankee soldiers asked him why he was fighting. He said, "Because you are down here."

Who fired the first shot at Fort Sumter is irrelevant. Who made the aggressive moves that brought war is a better question.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Watkins' retort was basically the same sentiment expressed by my ancestor. Of course, this is dismissed by academics as "simplistic." I mean, why respond with 5 words when 30 will do?


Thanks for the comment Chaps.

markerhunter said...

Just a point of clarification. Jim Morgan is currently a member of the Loudoun CWRT, and he is a member of the board. He is a past president, however he is not the sitting president.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks Craig.