Neo-Confederates and the Rebel Flag: ‘Sic Semper Tyrannis’

The guy with the skinhead haircut was wearing a biker-style blue jean vest emblazoned on the back with a big Rebel flag patch and another patch that said “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” Latin for “Thus Always to Tyrants.”

“Sic Semper Tyrannis” is the motto of Virginia, where Richmond doubled as the capital of the Old Dominion and the new Confederacy during the Civil War. “Sic Semper Tyrannis” is also what a fleeing John Wilkes Booth defiantly yelled to the Ford’s Theater crowd after he fatally wounded President Abraham Lincoln, whom he hated for putting slavery on the road to extinction.

I didn’t ask the guy what he meant by “Sic Semper Tyrannis” and the Rebel flag. But I’ve got a pretty good idea.

So does John Hennen, a history professor at Morehead State University in Kentucky, the state where I’ve lived all of my life.

john hennen

John Hennen

Says Hennen, a transplanted West Virginian: “The survival of white supremacist thought is exactly what the neo-Confederates are all about.”

Doubtless, some neo-Confederates don’t care what the likes of liberal college profs think of them. But other neo-Confederates insist the Rebel flag doesn’t reflect racism. They promise it stands for “heritage, not hate,” as one of those Rebel flag bumper stickers proclaims.

Of course, neo-Confederates also vow slavery had little or nothing to do with the Civil War. Besides, they say, President Abraham Lincoln was a racist, too.

Lincoln was a bigot, but only by 21st century standards. He and his party – real Confederates cursed them as “Black Republicans” – employed the full political and military might of the federal government to destroy slavery (with help from pro-Union Northern Democrats, some of whom became Republicans). Lincoln wasn’t called “the Great Emancipator” for nothing.

Adds Hennen: “If someone has to make a case by drawing on a bunch of bogus parallels, that’s an admission of a poor argument.”

White Southerners who resisted desegregation in the 1960s made the same lame argument. They said the North wasn’t a prejudice-free zone either. To be sure, racism wasn’t regional and still isn’t.

Even so, Yankee Democrats and Yankee Republicans in Congress – led by a Texan Democratic president – passed sweeping civil rights laws that ended long years of Jim Crow race discrimination and segregation in Dixie.

bill schell

Bill Schell

Again, Hennen: “I just don’t see how the fact that Chicago could be as racist as Birmingham makes racism something to be proud of, or legitimates the sanitizing of buying and selling of human beings, and their treatment as chattel before the law. It’s really funny how these worshipers of Old Dixie categorically deny the reality of its central institutions — denial of black humanity, slavery, white supremacy, forced segregation, paranoia and willful ignorance.”

(Hennen, by the way, says he is descended from a Confederate soldier. “I guess that makes me a traitor,” he muses.)

Anyway, at my alma mater, Kentucky’s Murray State University, history professor Bill Schell also makes no bones about what the Civil War was about: slavery, period.

Adds Schell, a North Carolina native: “Apologists for the Confederacy claim the issue at stake was states’ rights. This ignores the fact that the only right at stake was the ‘right’ to own, buy and sell human beings as if they were cattle.”

Schell also says that “secessionist writings of the day discuss no other issue; the issue of the right of states to leave the union was peripheral to slave ownership and the ‘right’ to spread that ‘peculiar institution.’”

Some of the most telling “secessionist writings” are contained in Apostles of Disunion, by Charles B. Dew, a Florida-born history professor at Williams College in Massachusetts. I never miss a chance to plug this little book that is a giant read for anybody who really wants to know what led to the Civil War. So here I go again.

charles drew

Charles Dew

Dew uses the Confederates’ own words to demolish the Civil-War-was-fought-over-states’-rights argument. The professor quotes a slew of Rebels from Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens to emissaries from Confederate states who traveled to other slave states, including Kentucky, to tout secession.

Davis praised slavery as an institution that “a superior race” used to convert “brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers.”

Stephens said he was thankful the Confederacy was based “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 moral condition.”

Dew also quotes from secession ordinances Southern states adopted as they exited the Union. When Texas disunionists pulled out, they denounced the Republican party’s “debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race and color – a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

Mississippi secessionists said “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.” Magnolia State Confederates claimed “we must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union.”

Yet Dew pegs his book to those state-appointed commissioners who made the rounds of the slave states in late 1860 and early 1861. They preached the same racist line: the only way to keep Lincoln and the Republicans from destroying slavery and white supremacy was to start a new Southern nation.

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political or social equality,” a Mississippi commissioner said.  He asserted that the Lincoln administration aimed “to overturn and strike down this great feature of our Union…and to substitute in its stead their new theory of the universal equality of the black and white races.”

Likewise, a Kentucky-born Alabama emissary to his home state claimed that the election of Lincoln “was nothing less than an open declaration of war, for the triumph of this new theory of government destroys the property of the South, lays waste her fields, and inaugurates all the horrors of a Santo Domingo servile insurrection, consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans.”

berry craigIn addition, he pleaded that secession was the only way the South could sustain “the heaven-ordained superiority of the white over the black race.”

An Alabama ambassador to Maryland said ideas that slavery was immoral and that God created all people the same were based on “an infidel theory [that] has corrupted the Northern heart.”  Secession, he said, equaled “deliverance from Abolition domination.”

Berry CraigAfter they lost the war, many Confederate leaders changed their tunes, arguing disingenuously, as Dew points out, “that slavery had absolutely nothing to do with the South’s drive for independence, a claim picked up and advocated by neo-Confederate writers and partisans of the present day.”

Dew, who also has Confederate ancestors, concluded, “By illuminating so clearly the racial content of the secession persuasion, the commissioners would seem to have laid to rest, once and for all, any notion that slavery had nothing to do with the coming of the Civil War.  To put it quite simply, slavery and race were absolutely critical elements in the coming of the war.”

Berry Craig

Published by the LA Progressive on February 29, 2012
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About Berry Craig

Berry Craig is an emeritus professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah and a freelance writer. He is a member of American Federation of Teachers Local 1360, the recording secretary for the Western Kentucky Area Council, AFL-CIO, and the author of True Tales of Old-Time Kentucky Politics: Bombast, Bourbon and Burgoo, Hidden History of Kentucky in the Civil War, Hidden History of Kentucky Soldiers and Hidden History of Western Kentucky. He is a native of Mayfield, Ky., where he lives with his wife of 33 years and their 20-year-old son.

Comments

  1. Hernandez says:

    Lumping Confederates with hate mongers, skinhead, kkk is like Lumping Obama with crackhead and street gangs. Is that blunt enough for you? Say what you will but nothing will take away the pride I have in my ancestors, like Gustavus Hernandez Pvt 16th Louisiana Infantry that owned no slaves but fought the yankee aggression from Shiloh in 1862 to the Battle of Spanish Fort in 1865. And if you would like to debate the finer point of the War of Northern Aggression, I would be more then happy to.

  2. Ah, the sound of wisdom, have you ever looked at the kkk carrying the flag of the USA back in the 1920,30s,  No, have you ever thought about womens rights under the USA flag, NO, have you ever wondered why the USA is the most war mongerring counrty in existance? NO, but you are so quick to disgrace something you appparently regard in your opinion, hateful. Well, well, well, are you all so sweet. I am a Jew, I dare you to talk to me about rascism of a Flag. You have been bought and sold by the Yankee indoctrination as well as myself, then I decided to open my mind and sought the truth, I am a PROUD CONFEDERATE JEW, so you can critize me all you want, but I will never bend to your lies.

  3. We can certainly see around us the utter failure of the Yankee values forced upon the South. After killing hundreds of thousands of Southerners and burning many of our cities (such as Atlanta, Charleston, Columbia and Selma) to the ground, their bizarre social experiments which were forced upon the South (which arise from Neo-Puritan thought combined with Enlightment ideas such as the utopian motto of the French Revolution – itself a murderous affair – ‘liberty, fraternity, equality’) have resulted in a much poorer South with a destructive, alien educational system which re-enforces the US order. The antipathy towards classical Western Civilisation that we see from these professors as we see from the ‘Progressive’ Left in general is par for the course these days. In healthier times such destructive thought would have been banished to the margins of society. The hate against ‘hate’ and ‘White supremacy’ is nothing more than a Christian-replacement theology for these folks who make the ‘White devil’ and especially the Southern variety (because he stubbornly resists the Yankee/Progressive march towards complete rejection of tradition and the remnant of the West in the South today) their ultimate evil. In the end, this line of thought is shallow and offers nothing but more destruction (as seen in South Africa and here in the South) and the finally the collapse of civilisation. Of course, the ‘Progressives’ don’t see it that way but that is where their cause is taking us – right down the tubes of history. This is why these professors and their alien views are rejected by most Southerners – because we do no embrace our own destruction.

  4. Pat Hines says:

    The traitors during the War Against Southern Freedom were Abraham Lincoln and his junta.

    The US Constitution clearly defines treason as making war against any state.  Since the first act of war was committed by the United States Army in the middle of the night on 26 December, 1860, again in January of 1861, and finally again in April of 1861, the treason committed by Lincoln, and Buchanan before him, is quite clear.

    The War Against Southern Freedom was caused, entirely, by the illegal invasion of South Carolina initially, and the further invasions of the various states of the Confederacy and nothing more.

    All of the seceded southern states did so lawfully, we know this because the Tenth Amendment reserves all powers not forbidden to the states, or granted to the US government, to the states or the citizens within those states.  Secession remains lawful today, it would take a Constitutional Amendment to declare secession unlawful because it is protected by the Tenth Amendment.

    • Raymond O'Hara says:

      Pat. Lincoln wasn’t inaugurated until March 1861. 
      And you can’t claim to reject and no longer be bound by the Constitution and then claim the protection of it.
      If as you  claom the South was no longer part of the USA how can you then claom that Lincoln was committing treason by making war on US States.
      These contradictory points you throw out show you are completely clueless and are just making accusations you’ve heard from others who are as equally stupid as you.

      • Pat Hines says:

         “and Buchanan before him” covers the president prior to Lincoln.  Reread my initial post.

        The definition of treason is not limited solely to states who were members of the United States, further, Lincoln claimed there was no secession, therefore he was committing treason as defined by the document that created the United States.

        I made NO contradictory statements of any kind.  It is you, Mr. O’Hara who are deficient in your knowledge of history and the law.

        The military action of invasion and conquest of the seceded states perpetrated by the traitorous monster, Lincoln, was illegal and treason under the United States Constitution.

      • Ddeluxerider says:

        Well Raymond MAYBE you have finally found a site you wont get kicked off of.

  5. If anyone doubts that the traitors of  the Confederacy were only motivated by white supremacy and the maintenance of slavery, go read the Confederate Constitution, which made the advocacy of abolition a crime.  Google “Andrew Stevens Cornerstone Speech” and read the speech given in April 1861 by the traitor Andrew Stevens of Georgia, Confederacy Vice President, and his ringing defense of white supremacy and slavery.  And once you get past that bullshit, read his description of “southernomics” – which reads like today’s Republican party economic platform (my great-great-great grandfather, Quaker abolitionist and one of the founders of the Pennsylvania Republican Party has been spinning in his grave for 40 years to watch The Enemy take over his party of freedom.)

    “Southernism” – white supremacy, racism, genocide – has been a cancer on the country since it was introduced by the Barbadian pirates after they were driven  out of Barbados and ended up in Charleston in 1715.  The genocidal impulse of “Manifest Destiny” is entirely Southern.  There is nothing (including their kill-you-with-a-heart-attack cuisine) the White South has contributed to the country in the past 300 years that is positive.

    It’s too damn bad my Union Army ancestors didn’t do to the South what Rome did to Carthage – particularly to that seedbed of treason since it has existed, South Carolina, still the worst place in America and the fount of evil.  

    •  All the above said, it’s also too bad the history of the real patriots in the South, the ones who fought a civil war to fight in the Civil War, isn’t told. Patriots like the people of northern Mississippi and Alabama and Eastern Tennessee, who wanted to found the Free State of Nickajack, whose representatives in the state legislatures voted repeatedly against the treason and sedition of secession, to the point where the traitors had to exclude them from voting to get their “majorities.”

      Go Google “1st Alabama Cavalry, US Volunteers” – the southerners who defeated the traitors at the Battle of Monroe’s Crossing, the people who hated the slave-owners, the ones who were called “hillbillies” as a term of contempt no different from “nigger” in the minds of their enemies.  Go find out how many Southern soldiers were press-ganged into serving by the “freedom-lovers” of the Confederacy.  This country has been so full of of Southern propaganda ever since “Birth of a Nation” and “Gone With The Wind” (good riddance!) that people actually think the traitors were good people.  Too bad they weren’t all hanged, starting with the greatest traitor in American history, Robert E. Lee, who could have saved his country were he not a worthless slaveowning scum.

      • Ddeluxerider says:

        My My, so much to say without really saying anything. Maybe you should take a nice walk dear.

    • Diane Carr says:

      Why just Bless your heart dear. By the way if you keep raveing and ranting like a mad dog you just may have a heart attack without the benefit of our wonderful food.

  6. well done! Hatred and bigotry can be disguised by rhetoric, but the good journalists and historians will find the truth.

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