Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s controversial proclamation of Confederate History Month should help us remember the South’s rebellion for what it really was.
“I am no minister of hate,” wrote the black abolitionist Frederick Douglass in 1871. But as he watched Northerners in the years after the Civil War turn to teary-eyed embraces of their former Confederate enemies at postwar reunions and veterans’ meetings, he was appalled. “May my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget the difference between ... those who fought to save the Republic and those who fought to destroy it.”
Douglass can be forgiven a certain measure of resentment toward the Confederacy. After all, he was born a slave in Maryland, escaped as a runaway in 1838, turned to a public career as an abolitionist newspaper editor and lecturer, and sent two sons to fight in the Union Army.
Just what is it, exactly, that Governor McDonnell is proposing to honor?
McDonnell’s proclamation is actually a comparatively bland statement, asking Virginians to acknowledge those “who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today.” Absent were any endorsements of states’ rights and the “Lost Cause.” It was simply a declaration that Virginia’s decision to secede from the United States and attach itself to the Confederacy in 1861 “should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians.”
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