The Confederate flag: For what does it stand?
As a child, I thought the Confederate battle flag was “cool.” When I grew up and learned what it represents, my opinion changed.
The people who founded the Confederacy in 1861 tried to break up the United States of America, to destroy our nation, and to scuttle our Constitution.
Why? So they could continue to own African-American human beings as slaves in a new government. Make no mistake, slavery was the root cause of our destructive Civil War.
Listen to Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s first vice president, who described the “cornerstone” of his new government as resting “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.”
The Mississippi Secession Convention proclaimed that “a blow at slavery is a blow at civilization.” Mississippi Senator Albert Gallatin Brown had dreams of annexing Cuba and parts of Mexico “for the planting and spread of slavery.”
President Lincoln understood what was at stake, whether government “of the people, by the people, and for the people would perish from the earth.”
And what banner did the Confederacy adopt to symbolize its principles? The Confederate battle flag.
Years after the war, the Klu Klux Klan and other militant racist groups appropriated the Confederate flag as their own. Under this symbol, the Klan terrorized African-Americans and others. They killed hundreds of innocent citizens in a gruesome ritual known as lynching.
Raising a flag signifies allegiance to the principles for which it stands. Given the Confederate flag’s origins, meaning, and uses, can it possibly merit a place of honor flying freely in the public skies above our nation? Or, does it belong only in a sterile glass case in a historical setting?
We must never forget our past, but we need not honor the aspects of it we have worked diligently to overcome.
Stephen S. Trott, who lives in Boise, is a judge with the United States Court of Appeals, for the Ninth Circuit.