Lee-Jackson Day And The South’s Continuing Confederate Fetish

It's Lee-Jackson Day again in Virginia, and, once again, I find myself wondering why the South continues to honor a dishonorable legacy.

Today, the Commonwealth Of Virginia stands alone in celebrating as an official state holiday Lee-Jackson Day, a holiday first established in 1883 to mark Robert E. Lee’s birthday and then expanded in 1904 to include Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, both natives of Virginia who served as Generals for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Other than the birthday of Jefferson Davis, which is marked as a state holiday in Mississippi, it is the only state holiday in the United States for a person associated with the unsuccessful Southern rebellion of 1861-1865.

Lee-Jackson Day became more of a controversy when, for a time, it coincided with the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth and was called, again only in Virginia, Lee-Jackson-King Day. When I first moved to Virginia twenty years ago, the idea of Lee-Jackson Day — not to mention Lee-Jackson-King Day — was a bit of a culture shock. While Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson may well have been honorable men, they fought on the side of a nation founded principally on the idea that one race of man was inferior to another and that human beings could be owned as property. Compared to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., who admittedly had faults of his own as all humans do, it just didn’t seem to add up. More importantly, the idea of celebrating men whose greatest legacy is fighting on the side of a nation founded to enshrine and expand human bondage strikes me as just wrong somehow.

As one of my fellow conservative Virginia bloggers J.R. Hoeft noted a few years ago, the truth about Lee-Jackson Day is far from benign:

[F]olks believe the days came to fruition simply out of reverence for Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Not quite.

The tradition to honor the two generals is more than a century old and began in 1889. Virginians began paying remembrance to Robert E. Lee — nearly nineteen years following his death (and nineteen years following the end of federal military control). The holiday started while Fitzhugh Lee, Robert’s nephew, and fellow confederate officer, served as governor; F. Lee enacted the legislation during his last year in office.

In 1904, Jackson’s name

was added by the General Assembly, but in a less than desirable political climate.

Andrew Jackson Montague (born in 1862) was elected governor in 1902 having made two major promises – education reform and the disfranchisement of black voters. During Montague’s term, poll taxes and literacy tests came into being: the very laws we know now as “Jim Crow” laws.

For nearly twenty years following Lee’s death, Virginia did not honor him. It took his nephew on his way out the door from serving in Virginia’s highest office to give him a day. As for Jackson, his day came during a time of deep racial discrimination and mistrust, where some Virginians were looking back to the confederacy with wistful longing.

Moreover, as Jon Henke noted several years ago, Confederate symbols, and holidays, are inextricably linked to slavery and the climate of racial segregation that persisted in the South for nearly 100 years after the Civil War:

In the South, the Confederate flag symbol is somewhat akin to the Washington Redskins name and logo, which also has offensive racial connotations. Owning/supporting a Confederate flag is generally understood to be no more intrinsically racist than, e.g., supporting, or owning the logo of, the Washington Redskins. The understood symbolism simply isn’t racial.

On the other hand, there is no getting around the history of the Confederate flag, and no excuse for that history. Whatever people may intend by it now, it was, as Matt Yglesias writes, “a banner of violent white supremacist ideology.” Many people, correctly, are deeply disturbed by the thing; they have no obligation to pretend it is anything but a banner of the ugliest, most inexcusable policy in American history.

So, we have one group of people who intend no offense, and another group who perceive great offense. Where do we go from there?

For starters, I’m reminded of a lesson I learned as a child: don’t take offense where none is intended. It would be helpful if we stopped assuming that racism is at the root of every disagreement and misunderstanding. For instance, it’s probably not helpful to reflexively assume that because somebody voted against a federal holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr, the motivation must have been racist. There are many great Americans without federal holidays, and – while racism was undoubtedly the case for some – one need not be bigoted against their ethnicity or race to disagree with creating a federal holiday in their honor. In Martin Luther King, Jr’s case, however, they were wrong. Martin Luther King, Jr. ought to be considered the Last Founding Father for the work he did to finally hold those truths to be self-evident.


But I’m also reminded of another lesson I learned in childhood: don’t do things you know will offend others. Even if you mean no offense, courtesy and a decent respect for your fellow man demands you take their opinions and perceptions into account. Confederate History Month should be ended, and the Confederate flag should be discarded, replaced, as Yglesias suggests, with “some less provocative emblem of Southern folkways”. The Confederacy and the Confederate flag are not worth celebrating. Their revolting history is too inescapable.

After last year’s controversy over Governor Bob  McDonnell’s decision to revive the discarded practice of commemorating Confederate History Month, a decision he later regretted and has since announced he will no longer do again, it seems long past time for the state of Virginia to move beyond celebrating a holiday like this, however informally (no, there are no Lee-Jackson Day parties going on that I’m aware of, and we don’t exchange gifts or anything). More importantly, though, with the United States spending the next four years marking the Sesquicentennial of the bloodiest war in its history, it seems beyond time for the Virginia, and South, to put its Confederate fetishism behind for good.

As for the argument that we should honor Lee and Jackson for their nobility, my co-blogger Steven Taylor, who lives even deeper in the South than I do, put it quite succinctly a few months back:

I am at a loss, to be honest, as to what that is actually supposed to mean save as a means to ignore the ignoble goals of the CSA.  Further, if the ultimate goals of an organization for which one fights are actually dishonorable, can the fighting itself ultimately be honorable?  I’m thinking not.

Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson may have been “honorable” men but they fought for a dishonorable cause. Neither they, nor their cause, should be commemorated.

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. floyd says:

    Anybody think Grant was an honorable man?

  2. sam says:

    “Anybody think Grant was an honorable man?”

    Yes. I’m reading Mark Twain’s autobiography now, and one thing stands out: Twain thought Grant was an honorable man, and provides quite a bit of evidence.

    Moreover, muchmuchmoreover, Grant did not go to war to defend a slave-owning oligarchy.

  3. mantis says:

    It’s Lee-Jackson Day again in Virginia, and, once again, I find myself wondering why the South continues to honor a dishonorable legacy.

    Because they wish they could go back there?

  4. rodney dill says:

    Yes. I’m reading Mark Twain’s autobiography now, and one thing stands out: Twain thought Grant was an honorable man, and provides quite a bit of evidence.

    I would concur. I’m about 400 pages into the autobiography myself. I’ll have get some of Twains other books, and General Grant’s autobiography after that.

  5. floyd says:

    Thanks for the response… Carry on, the choir is waiting.

  6. PD Shaw says:

    “Anybody think Grant was an honorable man?”

    Yes, though he is also a distant, very distant cousin.

  7. PD Shaw says:

    floyd, I’m afraid to ask, was that just an exercise in distraction trolling? Doug said his comment was not about personal honor, it was about what receives public acclaim.

  8. Wayne says:

    General Order No. 11 was the title of an order issued by Major-General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17, 1862, during the American Civil War. It became notorious for its instruction for the expulsion of all Jews in his military district comprising areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.



  9. PD Shaw says:

    I am familiar with the order and it’s background, but I fail to see how it justifies Lee-Jackson Day.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    People can try to make this about U.S. Grant all they like, but that does nothing to take away from the facts that the Confederacy was a treasonous act, those who fought for the Confederacy were traitors, and that the Confederacy came about because of slavery…really, aren’t some of you a little too old to be playing “I Know You Are But What Am I?”

  11. Wayne says:

    This fixation of many in the North thinking that anything doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me. Also the general feeling from many of them that “white” people from South are a bunch of racist just show their own prejudice.

  12. Highlander says:

    Well, it’s quite obvious Doug.

    That murdering, racist, non Ivy league educated,WOMAN, Sarah Pallin is behind it all!

  13. Wayne says:

    Many Northern states attempted the same act after the War of 1812. Just because someone is not successful in their attempt doesn’t change the morality of the act. There is little difference between an attempted bank robbery and a successful bank robbery.

  14. PD Shaw says:

    Wayne, some members of the Federalist party conspired to be disloyal to the United States during the War of 1812; it shocked the nation and pretty much destroyed the party. Can you name me one Federalist traitor who has a state holiday named after him?

  15. mantis says:

    This fixation of many in the North thinking that anything doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me.

    You’re right. The Confederacy had nothing to do with slavery. Our mistake.

    Many Northern states attempted the same act after the War of 1812. Just because someone is not successful in their attempt doesn’t change the morality of the act.

    Secession was discussed at the Hartford Convention, but ultimately they convention ended only in a report proposing constitutional amendments. So, no, there was no attempt at secession over the War of 1812. I know you’re on the right, so facts don’t matter, but still..

    In any case, we don’t celebrate Harrison Gray Otis-Caleb Strong Day do we?

  16. @Wayne:

    This fixation of many in the North thinking that anything doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me.

    It is because, if one bothers to read the various political declarations at the time by Confederate politicians, they all revolve around protecting slavery. The connection really can’t be more clear if one bothers to give the evidence a moment’s glance.

    Several examples are cited and linked here.

    And, as Doug notes in the post, I reside in the Deep South and have lived the vast majority of my life in former CSA states and my entire family is from that region of the country.

  17. wr says:

    Would someone please post a list of the states that celebrate Grant Day? Because without that, the whole attempt to excuse the celebration of slavery by saying that Grant was a bad guy is pretty useless…

  18. sam says:

    “This fixation of many in the North thinking that anything doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me”

    Not this tired crap again. Can you really be that uneducated?

  19. I did a quick Google search and could not find any state that observes an official state holiday for Ulysses Grant, William Sherman, or any other General of the Civil War.

    In fact, Lee and Jackson appear to be the only Generals from any war (excepting Washington, who of course became President) who are honored with an official holiday from any state in the Union

  20. Wayne says:

    According to Mantis and many others the confederacy has to be all about slavery or have nothing to do with slavery. What a flawed absolutist mentality.

    ” If you have any southern pride you are celebrating slavery”. Talk about a bunch of B.S. Next thing you will tell that supporting the Atlanta Falcons will be the same as supporting slavery.

    When these celebrations come up, where does the hateful and intolerable speech come from? It is not from those doing the celebration. It is generally those who opposed the celebrations that are intolerable, hate filled, and prejudice.

  21. mantis says:

    In fact, Lee and Jackson appear to be the only Generals from any war (excepting Washington, who of course became President) who are honored with an official holiday from any state in the Union

    Here in Chicago we celebrate Casimir Pulaski day (on March 4, his birthday). Pulaski was a general in the Continental Army and died in the Revolutionary War. I didn’t realize this until just now, but apparently there is a national holiday for him as well (no day off though, of course). October 11 is General Pulaski Memorial Day.

  22. mantis says:

    According to Mantis and many others the confederacy has to be all about slavery or have nothing to do with slavery

    According to me? When did I say that?

    What a flawed absolutist mentality.

    Actually, it’s called a strawman.

  23. Rick Almeida says:

    “In any case, we don’t celebrate Harrison Gray Otis-Caleb Strong Day do we?”

    I am going to start.

  24. Wayne says:

    General Grant birthday celebration


    Gettysburg does an annual reenactment.


  25. Maggie Mama says:

    It’s a terrible shame that even though the war is over, slavery has ended, the plantation mentality continues ad infinitum.

  26. PD Shaw says:

    Grant does not have “an official state holiday.”

  27. Wayne says:

    Re ”When did I say That”

    Your previous post

    “This fixation of many in the North thinking that “anything” doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me.
    You’re right. The Confederacy had “nothing” to do with slavery. Our mistake.”

    Anything and nothing “” came from me.

  28. mantis says:

    Last I checked, the Galena History Museum is not a state, nor is it the United States of America.

    It is however, “A private, non-profit organization founded in 1938 to collect, preserve and interpret the history of Galena and Jo Daviess County, Illinois.”

    Good work, Wayne!

  29. mantis says:

    Anything and nothing “” came from me.

    Exactly my point.

  30. sam says:

    Uh, Grant was from Galena– and are you asking us to believe that this:

    This event is sponsored by the
    Galena/Jo Daviess County
    History Museum

    A private, non-profit organization founded in 1938 to collect, preserve and interpret the history of Galena and Jo Daviess County, Illinois.

    is equivalent to the Lee-Jackson Day, a state-sponsored observance?

    The Gettysburg reenactment is sponsored by The Gettysburg Anniversary Committee, another private organization. The observance draws reenactors from both southern and northern states. And why wouldn’t we want to commemorate the most important battle of the Civil War? A war the crushed slavery in the United States.

    Is the best you can do?

  31. Ron says:

    I am very liberal, and almost always disagree with Wayne, but not here.

    Although slavery was an abomination, the world is a complex place, and it is very common for people to celebrate their historical predecessors for acts of bravery in war, even if those wars would no longer be considered just.

    England still treasures the memory of Henry V, even though few would argue that his conquest of France was just.

    Why shouldn’t Virginians honor the memory of Robert E Lee, if they so desire? And if they do so without seeking to reimpose slavery or racial inequality?

  32. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Just how many people were slave owners in the Southern States? If the Civil war was about freeing the slaves why did it take Lincoln so long to write the emancipation declaration? I went to school before people like Bill Ayers started to have an influence on what was taught. Some of the things I learned: Black people sold black people into slavery. Slavery was not born in the United States, it was brough here. Most of those who fought for the Confederacy did so because of States rights not slavery as they did not own slaves. This was an issue tied mostly to economics at the time. It is important to remember it was Democrats who were the slave holders and it was Republicans who freed the slaves. Dr. Martin Luther King was a Republican. That is something the left would like for us to forget.
    I have a good question for some of you. How long do you realistically think slavery would have continued had the South won the right to secede from the union?
    Mantis, by Dr. Kings recommendation the quality of your character has been judged and you have been found wanting.

  33. Wayne says:

    Mantis “” coming from me is your point?

    So if a General is celebrated by the federal government or a city, it is OK but a State Cannot?

    Having a National park and Memorial named after the general is not celebrating that General?

    The quantifier some of you put on things is amazing. If I came up with a “State” that celebrated Grant, many of you would say “but it is not Virginia” or some other B.S. quantifier

  34. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Yeah, Maggie the plantation mentality does continue, but it is from the left. They not only want to keep African Americans there, they want the rest of us to join them. That is what wellfare and affirmative action was all about. That and buying votes. It is the left who wishes to enslave not the right.

  35. mantis says:

    Mantis “” coming from me is your point?

    Man, you’re dumb. My point is you put words in my mouth. I didn’t say “the confederacy has to be all about slavery or have nothing to do with slavery.” You did. Get it?

    So if a General is celebrated by the federal government or a city, it is OK but a State Cannot?

    Never said that. Just pointed out how dumb your rebuttal was.

    Having a National park and Memorial named after the general is not celebrating that General?

    Didn’t say that either.

    It must be fun, arguing with imaginary people the way you do.

  36. PD Shaw says:

    Ron, to me slavery isn’t the whole issue. These were U.S. military officers who resigned to lead armed rebellion against the United States; they were guilty of treason. They were pardoned and given amnesty for reason of reconciliation.

    Lee and Jackson had a number of admirable qualities, but their sole fame and notoriety comes from acts of treason. To honor them, is not merely to forgive them, but to endorse the crimes.

    I certainly feel differently (and commented here at OTB to this effect) about honoring Civil War soldiers generally, including Confederate soldiers. The rank and file often don’t have a lot of good choices when war comes.

  37. PD Shaw says:

    So, Virginia doesn’t even have a state holiday for Thomas Jefferson or any of the other Viriginia notables (other than George Washington)?

  38. anjin-san says:

    grants autobiography is excellent reading . I read it carefully and there was nothing that would lead me to conclude he was a dishonorable person . if someone is going to slander his character , I suggest they do it with evidence in hand, lest they simply look like a fool. my impression of grant was that he was intelligent, forthright – a serious man trying to do the best he could under very difficult circumstances.

    I think lee was also a very honorable man. tragically, he was associated with a cause that could not have been more wrong. I don’t know enough about jackson to offer a meaningful estimate of his character.

  39. mantis says:

    So if a General is celebrated by the federal government or a city, it is OK but a State Cannot?

    Oh yeah, by the way, whether it’s “OK” has nothing to do with the location. I was just pointing out that there is at least one general with a holiday.

    The reason why that one is ok, and Lee and Jackson are not, to my mind, is that Pulaski was a hero who fought for our independence despite his being a Polish citizen and not a colonist, because he believed in freedom. From letter to George Washington from Pulaski: “I came here, where freedom is being defended, to serve it, and to live or die for it.”

    Whereas Lee and Jackson were traitors to their country, fighting not to defend freedom, but to defend slavery. That’s the difference. Traitorous defenders of slavery are not to be celebrated, unless you’re one of them.

  40. Steve Plunk says:

    Every time I come across another one of these stories here I can’t help but wonder who has the fetish? Those who glamorize a past that may be fictitious or those who make a big deal of it? Let ’em have their day.

    The other common fetishes continually on display here are the Palin fetish (she is hot so I get it), the Tea Party will die soon fetish, and the Conservatives can’t read, write, or formulate any independent thought fetish.

  41. Stephen says:

    It is the issue of States Rights that brought about the South’s secession, not slavery.

  42. mantis says:

    Those who glamorize a past that may be fictitious or those who make a big deal of it? Let ‘em have their day.

    They can have their day. Doesn’t mean we won’t have an opinion about it. And you can have your opinion about my having an opinion. That’s fine. And it’s not a fetish.

  43. Ron says:

    Hi PD Shaw:

    If I recall my Civil War history correctly, Lee did not resign in order to lead a rebellion. He was offered command of the Union armies by Lincoln, but refused because he did not want to fight against his home state. He did not advocate secession, and my impression was that he regretted it.

    However, Virginia did eventually secede with the rest of the South. At that point Lee felt his loyalty was to his new country.

    Although I disagree with the path he followed, I could not use the word traitor when describing him, no more than I could use it for the common soldiers you have more sympathy for.

    That was another time, and people viewed their States and our nation differently then. Lee tried to make the best of a bad situation.

  44. mantis says:

    It is the issue of States Rights that brought about the South’s secession, not slavery.

    The states’ rights to have legal slavery.

  45. It is the issue of States Rights that brought about the South’s secession, not slavery.

    And the right that was contested? The right to own slaves and to have slavery expand into the west.

  46. Wayne says:

    Mantis you are delusional is not the same as you being imaginary. I said “This fixation of many in the North thinking that “anything” doing with the Confederacy has to do with slavery is beyond me.”

    You and I repeat you replied “You’re right. The Confederacy had “nothing” to do with slavery. Our mistake”

    Are you so stupid that you didn’t understand that you wrote that last phrase? What an idiot.

    I have been replying to others as well as you. Can you not understand that? What was PD Shaw point of “Grant does not have “an official state holiday.” and yours “Last I checked, the Galena History Museum is not a state, nor is it the United States of America.” if not to distinguish that there is a difference between at what level of government does the celebration?

    Re” Oh yeah, by the way, whether it’s “OK” has nothing to do with the location”

    Then why point out the location and at what level of celebrations occurs?

    You were caught in a fallacy but you are not big enough to admit it or bright enough to understand that you were exposed.

  47. tom p says:

    Look guys, PD Shaw is as right wing as they come… But when he is not on your side….

    You don’t have a leg to stand on.

    And Ron… I can not help but notice how you (and others) ignore the fact that Lee owned slaves….

  48. tom p says:

    >>>>”The states’ rights to have legal slavery.”<<<<

    Wayne…. Your turn…..

  49. Davebo says:

    God, I thought I wouldn’t have to relive this argument till the cousins from MS come to visit.

    And frankly it’s hilarious to see those who are so quick to proclaim others as traitors simply for disagreeing with them go on to defend honest to god traitors against their country because…. well I have no clue why they do so.

  50. Wayne says:

    How about the tax imposed on Southern commerce in the 1920’s which the South was slowly doing away with but not with ease. It almost resulted in open conflict in 1832 but was resolved peacefully.


    If taxes were not an issue, why then crisis of 1832?

    The Republicans including Lincoln ran on imposing new taxes on the South. Some have claim that those taxes would not have past but that is very debatable and the Southern Stated did not believe they could block the new taxes.

  51. wr says:

    Ron — England still treasures the memory of Henry V (although I’d suggest a lot of that has more to do with a speech he certainly never uttered in the brilliant words we all know and love), but I don’t see a lot of monuments to Oliver Cromwell there.

  52. matt says:

    Mantis : I used to like Casimir just because in Illinois you’d get the day off from school 😛

  53. michael reynolds says:


    You just don’t have much there, dude. You just don’t. The south always admitted it was about slavery, and in particular the extension of slavery into the territories taken in the Mexican War. The war was not about the tariff. That’s post-war bullshit peddled to sentimental saps so they wouldn’t realize how badly they’d been played.

    Something people like you should really try and get straight in your heads: slavery didn’t just demean and degrade blacks, it did much the same to whites — though with less ferocity.

    What do you think a free white man in Alabama could charge for his labor? He was forced to compete against slaves for work. Do you not see how that impoverished poor whites? A poor white farmer, blacksmith, tanner, etc… had to compete for work and wages against a slave owned by the local potentates. Which doomed white working men to poverty.

    Those poor white workers were then enlisted in a fight to defend the “rights” of the rich white landowners whose system absolutely destroyed their own ability to prosper. Confederate soldiers were used by the wealthy slave-owning class to defend a system that not only kept blacks down but whites as well.

    They were, in short, suckers.

    Did they fight magnificently? Yes.

    Were they fighting for a worthy cause? No. They were slaughtered like sheep in a disgusting cause, in defense of an evil system that also ensured their own poverty.

    That’s what you’re defending.

    It’s easy to imagine how uneducated white farmers and workers were played for fools in 1860. It’s much harder to understand how 150 years later guys like you can still not get it.

    Wayne: you’re a tenth generation sucker.

  54. @Wayne:

    I am guessing you didn’t follow the provided link I noted above nor have you done a simple Google search. You don’t have to take my word for it as the political leaders of the day were quite clear that slavery was their primary motivation for secession.

    You might as well be debating whether or not rain is wet.

  55. Ron says:

    Hi Tom:

    I don’t ignore the fact that Lee owned slaves, but I’m not sure what relevance that has to this discussion. Washington owned slaves, yet we named our nation’s capitol after him. Jefferson owned slaves, and his head is on the face of our five-cent pieces. In neither case would anyone I have ever met think we were honoring the fact that they owned slaves. Instead, we realize that the world is complex, and that they did many good and noble things, despite also participating in the evil of owning other human beings.

    Lee himself appears to have thought slavery evil, but temporarily necessary. (A view common among more liberal Southerners at the time). He lived at the home in Arlington that came from his wife’s family, and they liberated their slaves in 1862. His family ran an illegal school to educate slaves on their property.

    Lee was no saint (as in some Southern portrayals), but seems to have been a decent and honorable man for the time and position he was born into. I oppose vilifying someone like him.

  56. Ron says:

    Hi wr:

    I remember visiting Cromwell’s house in Ely, and seeing a statue of Cromwell near Big Ben in London. There are other statues to him in England as well.

    Cromwell might not be as loved as Henry V (lacking Shakespeare’s help), but he is remembered, and the English seem better able to accept historical figures who were complex human beings, rather than saints or devils.

    Our own forbears were complex as well, and I like to remember them that way.

  57. anjin-san says:

    As Ron pointed out, several of our most beloved national figures were slave owners. I know of nothing about Lee that suggests he was not a man of very high character and integrity.

  58. Herb says:

    “I am familiar with the order and it’s background, but I fail to see how it justifies Lee-Jackson Day.”

    PD…..that was brilliant. Good show!

    It continues to baffle me why some Southerners continue to think the Confederacy, which lasted a whole four years, defines their heritage.

  59. An Interested Party says:

    “I oppose vilifying someone like him.”

    Ahh, but to call him a traitor isn’t about vilifying him, but rather, to simply state the truth…

    And to echo what someone else wrote, it is terribly ironic that some of the same people around here who might charge other citizens as being “Un-American” would dare to defend real Un-American traitors…

  60. steve says:

    You should Confederate Vice President Stephens’ Cornerstone Speech. He lays it out quite nicely.


  61. mannning says:

    I will stand up and say that I honor the members of my family that died in the Civil War on both sides, just as I honor those that died or were wounded in WWI,WWII, Korea, and Vietnam.
    If anyone would have me do otherwise, they can go to hell.

  62. Scott says:

    First of all – Grant had slaves and servants – so did the war monger called Honest Abe. It was not all about slavery like the northern text books keep pointing out – its was about states rights over the strong central government. The south needed slavery to help them out in the House of Representatives – the north with a larger population would enact laws and taxes that punished the south – using the funds for northern roads and railroads. Lee-Jackson day – a day to celebrate the sacrifice and honor of not just Lee and Jackson but all vets were bleed for their country.

    If some yuppie – liberal who moves to Virginia and refuses to understand history can move out – move to California or New York where liberalism really works great! Not all of us Virginians are ignorant – I hold two B.S. degrees, two Master degrees, and I am a U.S. Navy vet – decorated.

  63. michael reynolds says:


    Read back through the comments. You’re trying to make a point that has been ably refuted.

    Or to put it another way: you don’t know what you’re talking about.

  64. anjin-san says:

    I am not aware of any evident Lincoln owned slaves. I believe Grant’s wife inherited some from her father. There is a story that Grant freed them, but I am not sure about it’s veracity.

    A semi-literate post full of dubious facts does not lend credibility to the possession of four college degrees.

  65. michael reynolds says:

    Grant did in fact manumit at least one slave. I believe it’s accurate to say he opposed slavery.

    It was Sherman who did not oppose slavery — although he definitely opposed secession.

    Lincoln did not own slaves — his wife’s family did IIRC. She was a Southerner.

    We’re not arguing the moral superiority of the North. (At least I’m not.) Most of the North was virulently racist — take your breath away, jaw-droppingly racist. In fact one of the popular reasons for opposing slavery was that it ended in a sort of integration, would turn lilly white Iowa, let’s say, into a bi-racial society.

    And it’s true that the North did not set out to end slavery. It did however set out to end the extension of slavery into the territories captured from Mexico in our war of conquest — CA, NM, AZ, NV, parts of CO.

    If slavery were extended into those states the balance of power would tilt heavily in favor of the South, erasing the North’s growing advantage. Even then the South was relatively poor, undeveloped and backward — in large part because it was ruled by a slave-owning aristocracy that used racial division to screw poor whites almost as badly as it screwed blacks. The South was a relic, 100 years behind Europe and the North in terms of its social progress, and falling further and further behind.

    None of this in any way alters the fact that the war was about slavery. The North does not have to be held up as some sort of moral paragon in order to argue that the system of slavery in the South was brutal, vicious and profoundly evil.

    Indeed there were contemporaries — had been for better than a century — who understood that slavery was inherently evil. This wasn’t breaking news. Most people knew slavery was evil, but the Southern aristocracy’s wealth was in slaves. In fact one of the reasons the South was so determined to do things like censor the mail was that they were very sensitive on the morality of slavery.

    So when push came to shove the Southern aristocrats sent the southern whites — who had themselves been kept in a state of poverty by slavery — off to die for the property and prerogatives of said aristocracy.

    It was in every way a dirty business. A filthy system, opposed in part by damned hypocrites, fought for in the South by poor dumb bastards who didn’t have the sense to realize they were being sacrificed for the wealth of aristocratic creeps, and in the North by poor dumb bastards who in many cases just got off the boat from Ireland. It was about greed, stupidity and evil. To pretend that it is somehow redeemed by courage is nonsense: soldiers are almost always brave. The Red Army was brave, the Wehrmacht was brave, the Huns and the Vikings were brave. So what?

    War is usually a sh*t sandwich and the Civil War was no exception. But we love us some myths. Gotta have us some myths.

  66. Nightrider says:

    The people who voluntarily chose to fight for the South presumably generally did so because they thought it would make the South a better place for their grandchildren. Had they been more worried about romanticizing the actions of their grandfathers, they wouldn’t have been able to secede. The best thing today’s Southerners like me can do to honor their memory is to do the same thing they did — look forward, not back, and fight for what we think is best for the future of the South. Which is why for years I’ve supported taking down the flags and eliminating the Lee holiday. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Robert E. Lee, if alive today and given time to acclimate to the new world, agreed.

  67. sam says:

    Some folks have referred to Alexander Stephens’s Cornerstone Speech as providing the most succinct statement of the seceding states’ justification for the break. The speech is interesting for a number of reasons. It does lend some, limited, credence to Wayne’s assertions that the seceding states left the Union over matters of taxation. Stephens complains that Georgia pays taxes into the federal treasury that are then used for improvements in other states. He, and he’s voicing a widespread southern opinion, thinks this is unjust. A state, he asserts, should be responsible for the its own improvements:

    [T]he subject of internal improvements, under the power of Congress to regulate commerce, is put at rest under our system. The power, claimed by construction under the old constitution, was at least a doubtful one; it rested solely upon construction. We of the South, generally apart from considerations of constitutional principles, opposed its exercise upon grounds of its inexpediency and injustice. Notwithstanding this opposition, millions of money, from the common treasury had been drawn for such purposes. Our opposition sprang from no hostility to commerce, or to all necessary aids for facilitating it. With us it was simply a question upon whom the burden should fall. … What justice was there in taking [our] money, which our people paid into the common treasury on the importation of our iron, and applying it to the improvement of rivers and harbors elsewhere? The true principle is to subject the commerce of every locality, to whatever burdens may be necessary to facilitate it. If Charleston harbor needs improvement, let the commerce of Charleston bear the burden. If the mouth of the Savannah river has to be cleared out, let the sea-going navigation which is benefited by it, bear the burden. So with the mouths of the Alabama and Mississippi river. Just as the products of the interior, our cotton, wheat, corn, and other articles, have to bear the necessary rates of freight over our railroads to reach the seas. This is again the broad principle of perfect equality and justice, and it is especially set forth and established in our new constitution.

    That this attitude reveals a sense of insularity is, I think, pretty clear. In it we see reflected the belief that the United States consisted of distinct polities with few, if any, necessary connections between them. Moreover, springing from this view of the United States, the southern states, taking Stephens’s statements as reflective of the common attitude, did not believe that a dollar taken from them and used to, say, extend a railroad in Ohio, was ultimately of benefit to them. (The argument continues, in one form or another, today.) However, it’s really hard to see, pace Wayne, how these kinds of disagreements could have, in themselves, led to secession. These are the kinds of disagreements that are preeminently susceptible to political resolution, to political compromise, even in the teeth of the belief that the south and the north were profoundly different. These are the kinds of things that can be argued about. But the one issue that was in the end not susceptible to political compromise was slavery. On this issue, though they had tried, finally, they had come to end of the compromise road. Finally, it came down to the fundamentals of two conflicting ideas of civilization. On that, there was no possibility of compromise any more. Stephens puts it this way:

    But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. [my emphasis] Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal.

    Note that Stephens refers to “our form of civilization”. For the seceding states, slavery was the primordial foundation of their form of civilization. They believed that foundation was threatened, that the foundation of their way of life was threatened, so they seceded. And the Civil War came about.

  68. Maggie Mama says:

    Zelsdorf Ragshaft III – My point exactly BUT no one else picked up on it! IMPRESSIVE.

  69. PD Shaw says:

    Treason is the act of levying war against the United States by someone owing allegiance. Allegiance is usually implied in citizenship, it is express for political leaders and military officers.

    The Virginia legislature passed the secession ordinance on April 17, 1861, to be ratified by popular referendum. The ordinance decried federal oppression of the Southern slave-holding states. On April 18-19, 1861, the Virginia militia attacked Harper’s Ferry, forcing it’s evacuation.

    On April 20th, Lee resigned his commission as Colonel, and on April 23rd he accepted command of the Virginia militia. In doing so, he took over Virginia’s military operations directed at the Harper’s Ferry arsenal, and gave comfort and support to the popular ratification process by providing assurance that rebellion would be waged by someone of his stature and experience. Secession was ratified on May 23rd.

    Lee’s historical importance solely stems from making the Virginia secession ordinance a reality that plunged the nation into five years of war.

  70. Neil Hudelson says:

    “I went to school…”


    In a thread just chock full of bullsh*t, this claim of yours takes the cake.

  71. Wayne says:

    People keep wanting to say it was “all” about slavery. They try to prove it by pointing out instances were slavery is “part” of the conversation. Slavery was focal point of many other issues of what was going on. It was not the only issue though.

    Claiming that a few comments by politician that include mentions of slavery proved it was “all” about slavery is faulty. Even the links Steve provided states that it was not all about slavery. Even their choice cut phrase mention more than just slavery.

    “the Federal Government having perverted said powers, not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slaveholding States.”

    The statement said the Federal Government was misusing it power against a group of states.
    Yes it mentions slavery indirectly but as in those state that have slaves. Remember out the time the country was separated in free and slave states. It would be similar to mentioning any sub group like Northern, Southern, New England, Red and Blue, etc States. If Texas seceded stating abuse of power toward the Red States, would it be proof that is was “all” about Red?

    But to those blinded by ideology, it mentions in a indirect way slavery so it was “all” and they mean “all” about slavery.

    Bring up the fact that a fight over taxes in 1832 came real close to arm conflict, they ignore it because it doesn’t fit their agenda. Any fact that they can come up with that support their agenda even if they have to warp it is fine. Anything that doesn’t fit their agenda doesn’t exist in their minds.

  72. @Wayne,

    This is an exceedingly weak refutation that you have offered. There is little doubt that any particular action has multiple causes, especially when multiple persons are involved. However, the fact that an action lacks a solitary cause does not mean that a primary cause cannot be identified.

    Further, the objections of southern states over issues of taxation and westward expansion were inextricably linked to the southern economy which was based on the ability of landowners to own slaves.

    As such, yes, it was fundamentally about slavery. Even the political frustration ov the regional election of Lincoln was about slavey.

    What one specific issue can you name that was part of secession that wasn’t about slavery or linked to slavery? And if you cn produce it, do you think that it alone would have resulted in the Civil War? Vague references to states’ rights and the constitutional order do’t count without specifics

    In short what is your point and what are you defedning?

    It is stunning, btw that the one thing you quote explicitly has Virginia self-identifying as slaveholding (along with their brother in arms) and yet you use this as prove that it wasn’t all about slavery. The quoted passage has a vague complaint and a specific identification with slave-holding and this is an example to bolster your position how exactly?

    Even if one acquiesced to the notion that it was “all” about slavery, one is still left with the glaring fact that it was about slavery (even if the formulation is “slavery+other stuff”). So again I ask: what exactly are you arguing for/defending here? Do you have an argument to make that would indicate, for example, that slavery was only the third most important motivator in the conflict? If so, does that somehow absolve confederates from defending slavery?

  73. An Interested Party says:

    I can’t help but wonder if this fetishism (and all that goes with that) over the Civil War is about the fact that some people just can’t get over the fact that the South lost the war…

  74. @AIP: There is little doubt that a lot of it is driven by regional pride. The problem is that there really isn’t anything about the period in question that is needed to have pride in the region (indeed, quite the opposite, from slavery to the general treatment of the poor as noted by Michael Reynolds).

    I have no problem with the basic proposition that people should be allowed to be proud about where they are from (heck, I come from Texas where it is practically the state religion to be proud of the state). But it is useful to have a good reason for said pride, even if it is a vague one. To pick one of the most regrettable aspects of American history as a source of pride is, in my opinion, rather problematic.

  75. mantis says:

    People keep wanting to say it was “all” about slavery.

    No, we’re saying you can’t take slavery out of it. Without the slavery/abolitionist conflict, there would have been no Civil War. There is no separating the two. You can’t celebrate the Confederacy without endorsing the basis for it’s existence. You can’t celebrate the Confederacy without celebrating treason in defense of slavery.

    No one says there weren’t other facets to the war. We’re saying without slavery, there would have been no war.

  76. Rock says:

    The North won.
    The South lost.
    Get over it.
    Move on.

    Who are the slaveholders now?
    Have the lives of the descendants of slavery improved?

    Maggie, I noticed and a raging flame war didn’t result.

  77. An Interested Party says:

    “Have the lives of the descendants of slavery improved?”

    Compared to the lives of slaves? Or the lives of blacks in the pre-Civil Rights South? One would think so…

    “Maggie, I noticed and a raging flame war didn’t result.”

    There’s no need to start a flame war over ridiculous contentions…

  78. anjin-san says:

    Wayne, do you ever get tired of publicly embarrassing yourself over this issue? Just wondering…

  79. sam says:

    I trust we’re all aware that folks like Wayne are exporting contemporary political arguments into the causal nexus of the Civil War. I think the subtext of his “claim” is: “See, the southern states seceded because of what they perceived as an overweening federal government, just like we’re saying today. And because we’re right today, those states were right back then.”

  80. hearmeroar says:

    For us non racist southerners our flag has a different meanning. Its not for a supirior race but against government controle. You normally wont hear of the black slave owners or the black supporters who fought for the confederacy or the war crimes commited by the northern army. Insted of relying soly on what you read and hear look at human reactions in all coultures. Sothern hospitality, do you think thats new? If you fall on the street where do you think you would get someone standing around to help you up faster NYC or Smithfield VA ? If the government decided to change a way of life such as free and cheap labor that the economy and buisness relied on without asking the people would you be angry? How about entering a war thats not ours to fight destroying our economy even though the people dont want to? How about forcing health care? Yea, slavery was wrong we all agree but so is an out of controle government. Maybe soon honor could be restored to the stars and bars and the government buddy system corruption can be ended without the shadow of slavery behind it.

  81. sam says:

    “If the government decided to change a way of life such as free and cheap labor that the economy and buisness relied on without asking the people would you be angry?”

    Is that a defense of secession in defense of slavery?

  82. Shmiv says:

    Each state is sovereign, and each state participates in the union on a voluntary basis. Therefore, each state has a right to secede from the union. Given this, each of the Confederate States were well within their rights when they chose to band together. Lee, Jackson, Davis, et al. could not possibly be considered as traitors by anyone who is educated in United States history. Lincoln, however, proved himself a tyrant when he chose to attack the newly formed nation of the Confederate States, unprovoked. The war was not fought over slavery. The Confederates were simply defending themselves from an unprovoked attack.

  83. Barlow says:

    The statements that catch my eye are the ones that we need to stop celebrating our generals. Why not then stop celebrating black history month? History is history! I keep hearing that racism needs to stop but the very one’s saying this are the ones keeping it alive. Why do our schools still show the movie Roots? Is getting our children at each other’s throats helping to end racism? Things like this are just keeping it going and adding fuel to the fire. Why not go about living a productive life and stop dwelling on the past and using it as an excuse for not accomplishing anything for the future. What ever happened so long ago is done and now everyone has the opportunity to live a wonderful life our United States so, do it and stop whining! It wasn’t any of us that were involved in these tragic situations. With so many succussful black people in our country today, there’s proof that there’s just no excuse not to excel! Get over it and get out and go for it!!! Live the Amercian Dream!

  84. Walter Ring says:

    Why is it that only White people are called racists and losers when they celebrate their heritage? Mexico, a country whose ass we whipped seven ways from Sunday, celebrates its ethnic heritage in THIS country. Keep in mind the South did not turn its back on the United States but quite the opposite. Since 1865 the Federal government has illegally intruded on our lives in every conceivable aspect and continue to do so at an exponentially tyrannical rate. Keep the insults coming,anti-Confederates, I may yet get to read an original one before I die. In the meantime, all those who tell us to “get over it,” YOU get over it, we will continue to celebrate Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson whether anyone likes it or not. If you want to celebrate the communist negro King, no one is stopping you from doing so, so shut the hell up.

  85. Walter Ring says:

    Oh, btw, several other states-Texas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Mississippi also celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday. Only Virginia celebrates general Jackson as well. Do us all a favor-do a little research before making a fool of yourself when discussing Confederate issues, will you? Oh, you list the wrong date of the establishment of the Lee holiday in Virginia-it is 1889, not 1883.

    Lee and Jackson were honorable men and they fought for their country (Virginia) as they saw it. They refused to fight against their own blood, their own families. If they had, THEN they would have been traitors as General Thomas was and did.

    Tell me, though, what exactly is honorable about a degenerate communist agitator that routinely hired hookers to pleasure him and caused riots wherever he went? Oh, that’s right, we are talking about a negro. If a White man had done those things he would have been put under the jail. Since a negro did them, we gave him a national holiday.

  86. I am guessing, based on the last several comments, that this post got linked at a neo-confederate/white supremacist web site or discussion forum, yes?


  87. Doc Holiday... says:

    the fact that someone claims to live in the south, and cannot see how we would want to honor two of the greatest and best generals that the United States has ever offered up is beyond me…..It also amazes me how liberal, revisionist history is ruining the legacy of the south…..the civil war or war between the states had less to do with slaves and a whole lot more with the fact that the south, then and NOW, does NOT like to be told what to do…it has to do with Bankers controlling Lincoln and inforcing a TAX on the south to get their way…it has to do with the fact that the NORTH could not stand the SOUTH was buying goods from England….does no one want to talk about the tax of Abolition? Does anyone not realize the North did NOT have to pay this tax…..Lee himself was against sucession…But he said I love Virginia and will do what they ask…the south was about State rights, just as now we still are against the hypocrisy that todays federal govt is imposing on us with Obama, Pelosi and et……so please spare me that these men do not need to be honored….if you dont like it…leave VA…..and while they are at it they need to ad Nathan Bedford Forrest who won his battles and was the father of guerilla warfare….and while your at it, since your arguments are weak..why dont you google and look up all the facts that show how Lincoln himself was a racist, hated blacks, and felt they were inferior species…..