Friday, April 01, 2016

Confederate "Heritage" Month 2016, April 1: Mississippi and the Lost Cause

Ever since my first year of blogging (2003-4), I've been doing a counter-observance of Confederate "Heritage" Month every February. Selecting Andrew Jackson as the "mascot" image for this blog, because he sucessfully suppressed the effort by ur-secessionist John Calhoun in the Nullification Controversy.

This year, Mississippi's Republican Gov. Phil Bryant's official proclamation of Confederate Heritage Month in Mississippi inspired Dave Neiwert to do his own version of Confederate "Heritage" Month counter-celebration at his excellent Orcinus blog. His first contribution, It's Confederate Heritage Month! Day 1 deals with lynching, a topic he has researched and written about for years. You should go read it now.

The William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation in Mississippi is also doing the same thing on their Facebook page. William Winter (born 1923) was the Democratic Governor of Mississippi 1980–1984. Mississippi's most distinguished and best Governor since Adelbert Ames (1835–1933), who was a Reconstruction Senator (1870-1874) and Governor (1874–1876) in Mississippi. And, FWIW, one of my main personal heroes.

Adelbert Ames (1835–1933)

I blogged about Ames in three of my 2007 Confederate "Heritage" Month posts: Differentiating the slaveowners and the slave states 04/18/2007 ("Ames was a democrat in the best Jacksonian sense and one of the most serious white leaders of that time about equal rights for black citizens"); The Mississippi Plan 04/22/2007 ("Ames tried to raise a biracial militia to defend the elected government against the [anti-Reconstruction] Redeemers"); and, John Brown's body stays restless 04/26/2007 (Ames "And he did find a 'righteous path'. The Redeemers prevented him from travelling down it.").

It's going to be awfully tempting to just piggyback on these two excellent sources this year!

Donna Ladd reported on the Governor's proclamation for the Jackson Free Press, Mississippi Governor Declares April 'Confederate Heritage Month,' No Slavery Mention 02/24/2016 (Dave also links this article). It currently begins with this update apparently from a couple of days later: "Bryant spokesman Clay Chandler tweeted an updated Proclamations page, which now includes Confederate Heritage Day, as well as Vernon Dahmer Day, Irish Heritage Month and Ronald Reagan Day — but no Black History Month."

Go figure.

Ladd reports:

On Bryant's gubernatorial letterhead, the proclamation starts out by explaining that April is the appropriate month to honor Confederate heritage because it "is the month in which the Confederate States began and ended a four-year struggle." It adds that the state celebrates Confederate Memorial Day on April 25 to "recognize those who served in the Confederacy."

It then explains that it is "important for all Americans to reflect upon our nation's past" and "to gain insight from our mistakes and successes," adding that we must "earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us."

Bryant refuses to take a position on changing the Mississippi flag, saying it should be up to the voters, who decided in 2001 to leave the old flag in place, in a vote that fell largely along racial lines.

Mississippi, along with Arkansas and Alabama, also celebrate Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's birthday on the same day as the federal Martin Luther King Jr. birthday in January.
The Winter Institute's April 1 post links to the Proceedings of the Mississippi Secession Convention of 1861 at the lUniversity of North Carolina's Documenting the American South resource. Page 47 of the linked document includes the full official secession declaration of the State of Mississippi. Which, of course, stress the centrality of slavery in their decision:

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery, is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has long been aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the North-western territory.

The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.[The reference here is to the Missouri Compromise.]

The same hostility dismembered Texas, and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.

It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the territories, and whenever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.

It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.

It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.

It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

It has enlisted the press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better.

It has invaded a State, and invested with the honors of martyrdom, the wretch whose purpose was to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives.

It has broken every compact into which it has entered for our security.

It has given indubitable evidence of its design to ruin our agriculture, to prostrate our industrial pursuits, and to destoy [sic] our social system.

It knows no relenting or hesitation in its purposes; it stops in its march of aggression, and leaves us no room to hope for cessation or for pause.

It has recently obtained control of the Government, by the prosecution of its unhallowed schemes, and destroyed the last expectation of living together in friendship and brotherhood.

Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss or property worth four billions of money [i.e., property in human beings], or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.
The resolution vastly overstated the antislavery zeal of the citizens of free states. But exaggerating the intensity of immediate threats was part of the social environment the slaveowners had created in the South.

It's also notable in the next-to-last paragraph, they project the intentions of enslaving them, white Southerners, onto white Northerners: "Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. .... We must either submit to degradation ..." This was also a longer-lasting feature in the vocabulary of white victimization.

Related articles:

The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States Civil War Trust

Dahleen Glanton, Southerners share confederate history Chicago Tribune 03/22/2009

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