Governor Deal’s Whitewashed Confederacy
7/1/2014, 1:14 p.m.
Back in April, most Georgians and the news media probably missed Gov. Nathan Deal issuing a proclamation recognizing the month as “Confederate History Month.” In it, Deal called on us to honor the “brave men and women who served the Confederate States of America.” His proclamation recognizes sacrifices made by Georgia’s “great leaders” of the Confederacy. And, it refers to the Civil War as the “War Between the States,” a name designed to validate the Confederate States of America. It also invokes Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s infamous “march to the sea” as a justification for recognition of Confederate history.
But it does not mention slavery, the subjugation and purported ownership of hundreds of thousands of human beings in Georgia. As University of Georgia scholar Anthony Kreis tweeted in reaction: “Whitewashed fiction isn’t history.” The health of a society can be measured by the honesty with which it recounts its history, and Deal’s proclamation sadly fails that test.
Slavery, secession, and the Confederacy are three corners of the same unvirtuous triangle. Georgia’s 1861 Secession Proclamation cites slavery as its animating principle. Consider its second sentence: “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.” It also refers to slaves as “that property” rather than human beings. It bemoans jeopardy to an asserted $3 billion in assets, that is, slaves, posed by abolitionist policies.
It also observes, with approval, that “the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all” during the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. That is an unfortunate truth about many Founders. But the ideas they unleashed about human dignity and equality outstripped their own contemporary vision.
The 1861 Secession Proclamation concludes that President Lincoln’s Republican Party was “admitted to be an anti-slavery party” with a true purpose “to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides.”
Honesty requires us to acknowledge that to the so-called “great leaders” of the Confederacy, slavery was a way of life and the prospect of racial equality would destroy hearth and home. To them, the Confederacy was required to preserve subjugation of black Georgians. Thank you, but I and I suspect many other Georgia citizens will decline the Governor’s invitation to “honor…the devotion of her Confederate leaders….”
The legitimacy of Georgia self-governance also fails to excuse the Confederacy, or the Governor. By this logic, secession was a matter of choice by the people of Georgia and is therefore shrouded in democratic virtue. Deal notes that Georgia only joined after “a convention ratified the ordinance of secession.” Likewise, the 1861 Secession Proclamation declares that the decision was made by the “people of Georgia, after an equally full and fair and deliberate hearing of the case.” After all, approximately 90,000 Georgia voters selected their representatives to the state convention that approved secession in a special election on January 2, 1861.