‘Confederate Heritage Month’ Tries to Ignore Historical Injustice

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[Andrew Wagner is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in Madison, Wis.]

Should anyone cherish a society in which 40 percent of the population was once enslaved? A society in which the proportion of slaves to freedmen was one to 25? That, after all, was the reality of life in the Confederate States of America.

Of course, the answer to this question is a personal one. However, when governments start getting involved in answering this question, the situation rapidly gets out of hand....

So far this year, two states — Mississippi and Georgia — have signed and sealed proclamations declaring April to be a month for Confederate remembrance.

Mississippi’s proclamation approaches the issue in a relatively neutral manner. Their document proclaims a Confederate Memorial Day when “we recognize all those who served in the Confederacy” that gives Americans the opportunity “to reflect upon our nation’s past” and “gain insight from our mistakes and successes.”

All in all, the document isn’t very controversial. While my personal insight from looking at the history of the Confederacy is that it should be cursed rather than remembered, everyone’s entitled to a different personal opinion.

Whereas Mississippi takes an appropriately subdued approach to the topic, Georgia’s proclamation makes a mockery of history and the reality of life in the Confederacy. Georgia’s Confederate History Month proclamation asserts “Georgia has long cherished her Confederate history.” This alone isn’t too alarming, although I question why anyone would want to publicly announce how much they cherish a slave society.

But the most disturbing part comes immediately thereafter. Here, the proclamation claims to recognize the “many African Americans both free and slave who saw action in the Confederate Armed Forces” as well as those who “participated in the manufacture of products for the war effort.”

The net effect of this language immensely confuses the issues surrounding the Confederacy. In this rendition of history, it almost sounds as if blacks and whites all banded together to fight for states’ rights and liberty. Considering that only 1.5 percent of the Confederacy’s population was free blacks, I somehow doubt this was the case.

I bet the slaves who were forced to work in the war industries had a much different perspective on what was going on there. Furthermore, I suspect the many slaves who worked in the cotton plantations that helped fund the Southern war effort didn’t have a particularly positive view of their situation either. In fact, I suspect they were much more likely to curse what they were doing than to cherish it.

The idea that white and black southerners willingly joined together to fight northerners simply isn’t supported by the available evidence. What little joint fighting and effort that occurred is insignificant, especially given that the South did not create a program to offer slaves freedom in return for fighting until the last few months of the war. It’s clear to me that on this subject the state of Georgia is fundamentally wrong. Under the guise of remembering the tragedy of the Civil War, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has affixed his signature to a document that obscures and molds history into a parody of itself.

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Vince Treacy - 4/9/2008

The student has hit the nail on the head. Many black people were used to support the Confederate war effort, as slave laborers to transport goods, build entrenchments, and serve military masters. So also did the Germans and Japanese use massive amounts of slave labor in the death camps and on labor projects against us in World War II.

It should be remembered that the military necessity that supported Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation was the need to deny the vital support of slave labor to the Confederate forces. By freeing those slaves in areas of Confederate control, Lincoln removed one of the essential pillars of the enemy's war effort.

Lincoln's exercise of his presidential war powers turned on its head the bizarre Cofederate notion that enslaved human beings were mere "property," like horses and mules. It is elementary that the enemy's horses, wagons, guns and ammunition can be siezed in wartime. So it followed, as day follows night, that the enemy's enslaved human property could also be seized and turned against him. The Proclamation authorized freedmen to enlist in the Union Army. More than 180,000 brave free men fought to save the Union and free all men and women.

The Confederate sympathizers today should now finally realize why Lincoln freed the slaves in Confederate areas of control but not in Union areas. Slaves in the border states were by defintion unavailable to the Confederates in their war effort, so the war power could not sustain their freedom. But the war power did support freedom in the Confederacy were slaves were an essential support for rebels.

Lincoln did not ignore the slaves in the Union. He signed the bill freeing the slaves in D.C. in 1862. He worked assiduously for congressional passage of a constitutional amendment, and later signed the ceremonial copy of the Thirteenth Amendment that was sent to the States for ratification (although is signature was not required by the Constitution).

His signature is thus on all three of the legal instruments that freed all of the slaves in America. That is a distinction unique in human history.