Those seeking to erase Confederate flags and other symbols of the Confederacy from the public sphere most often refer to the association with slavery and racism.
I strongly condemn this movement to purge and censor. Tossing inconvenient or uncomfortable history down the proverbial memory hole smacks of Orwellian tyranny. Totalitarian regimes cleanse history. This rising impulse in our society alarms me. 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual.
While I disagree with the actions of the anti-Confederates zealots, I can at least sympathize with the moral outrage Confederate symbols they feel. The era of human bondage was an ugly chapter in American history, and the South’s insistence on maintaining and perpetuating the institution of slavery will forever stain the Confederacy. (One might consider that a similar stain smears across the United States as well. It sustained slavery far longer than the Confederacy.)
But others seeking to remove all vestiges of the Confederacy from the face of the earth base their actions on a more dubious assertion. They claim we must heap scorn upon the Confederates because they were “traitors.”
Let’s consider this position for a moment.
The Declaration of Independence forms the very foundation of American political thought.
That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The entire foundation of the American political system rests on the idea of consent.
Ask yourself this question: were the colonists traitors when they declared independence from England?
If you think the Americans committed treason, it logically follows you reject the premise of the Declaration of Independence. You must believe every person remains eternally obligated to submit to a government no matter what form it takes.
Talk about un-American!
In fact, this notion stands diametrically opposed to our foundational principles.
In 1860, southern states exercised the exact same right and pursued the identical political principle that drove the colonists to separate from Britain, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence. Voters in the southern states elected delegates to conventions. After extensive debate, those duly elected representatives of the people voted to leave the Union and form a new government. Secession expressed the will of the southern people. They placed representative authority in those convention delegates, and through them, they consented to sever ties with one government and form another.
Now, one can certainly argue that their reasons were less than noble, that they primarily wanted to preserve slavery. I would agree with you on this point. Nevertheless, regardless of the reasons – good, bad or indifferent – they had every right to “alter or abolish” their form of government and create a new one.
This was in no way, shape, or form constituted an act of treason.
Along comes Abraham Lincoln. He refused to recognize the will of the Southern people. The South wanted only to leave peacefully and go its own way. The newly formed Confederacy tried to exit peacefully. Lincoln forced the war, invaded the South and determined to force it to remain in a Union against the expressed will of its people.
Lysander Spooner summed it up in his series of essays No Treason. I highly encourage you to read all three of his essays.
In proportion to her wealth and population, the North has probably expended more money and blood to maintain her power over an unwilling people, than any other government ever did. And in her estimation, it is apparently the chief glory of her success, and an adequate compensation for all her own losses, and an ample justification for all her devastation and carnage of the South, that all pretence of any necessity for consent to the perpetuity or power of government, is (as she thinks) forever expunged from the minds of the people. In short, the North exults beyond measure in the proof she has given, that a government, professedly resting on consent, will expend more life and treasure in crushing dissent, than any government, openly founded on force, has ever done.”