Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am Jersey-born, great-great-great-great-grandson of anti-slavery political machinist Thurlow Weed, and the co-founder of Southern Unionist History Month (it’s May, for those who want to know). So it should surprise no one that I take great issue with Shaun Kenney’s tortured defense of the “stars and bars”.
Shaun is correct when he notes that the “Confederate flag” that upsets most folks these days is in fact the Confederate battle flag, “the flag flown by the Army of Northern Virginia from 1861 thru 1865”. Unfortunately, he runs right off the rails in the next sentence: “That flag you should be proud to stand behind as a historical artifact; a unifying symbol that thousands of Virginians fought, bled, and died to protect in a common struggle against a perceived invader.” No Virginian, native or naturalized, with even the most elemental knowledge of the War of the Rebellion should be able to call that flag “unifying” with a straight face. I would remind Shaun (and those who stand with him) that this state remains the only one actually divided by that war, as the Unionists in the northwestern part of the state were so alienated by the Tidewater-led rebellion that they carved out West Virginia in 1863. I would humbly submit that half the reason Robert E. Lee chose not to make a break for the Blue Ridge in April of 1865 was due to the well-known pockets of Unionism even on the Virginia side of the 1863-drawn state line that would have wreaked havoc with any efforts of his to hide and recover his army.
Still, even that pales in comparison to this whopper from Shaun: “One should remember that there is nothing that the Southern Cross stood for in 1861 that Old Glory didn’t stand for in 1776.”
Actually, there were some important difference between Colonial America and the 1860 South. To wit…
Elected Representation: In 1860, Virginia sent thirteen delegates to the House of Representatives in Washington, DC, to join two sent to the United States Senate and 15 presidential electors. These thirty representatives were exactly thirty more than all of of colonial America were privileged to send to London’s House of Commons in 1776. Indeed, even after Virginia and other southern states seceded in 1861, Washington would still allow southerners duly elected by their constituents to take seats – and cast votes – in Congress (Virginia herself had a full Senate representation and at least four of thirteen Representatives from the summer of 1861 until the 37th Congress adjourned in March 1863).
Indeed, the closest thing the South had to the state of affairs in 1776 was its claim to “virtual representation” of the slaves within its territory: slaves who, like the American colonists, had no way to elect federal officeholders, but had the added indignity of representatives based upon 3/5 of each of them. Not even the Americans of 1776 faced that.
The freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights: The number of federal acts of repression against “the South” stood at absolute zero until secession. Indeed, if anyone was deprived of rights of speech, individual action, or otherwise, it was Northerners suffering under the effects of the Fugitive Slave Law and the judiciary’s attempts to invalidate bans on slavery in federal territories and (in cases working their way through the courts by 1860) even in northern states. Whatever encroachments fell upon freedom of speech or freedom of the press came from southern legislatures themselves, desperate to stop potential slave revolts by any means necessary – included repression of speech.
Redress in the courts: Southerners in 1860-61 had the Taney-led Supreme Court. Colonial Americans had, at best, the British House of Lords.
This doesn’t even take into account the obvious farce of holding a secession “referendum” in Virginia while Confederate troops were already stationed in the Commonwealth (in a time before secret ballots).
All of this was well known before Corey Stewart stood next to a stars-and-bars flag in Roanoke. If Shaun Kenney feels compelled to defend Stewart, I humbly submit the only one forcing him to do so is the fellow he sees in the mirror each morning.