Definitions

confederate

Confederate States of America

or Confederacy

Government of the 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860–61 until its defeat in the American Civil War in 1865. In the months following Abraham Lincoln's election as president in 1860, seven states of the Deep South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) seceded. After the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia joined them. The government was directed by Jefferson Davis as president, with Alexander H. Stephens as vice president. Its principal goals were the preservation of states' rights and the institution of slavery. The government's main concern was raising and maintaining an army. It counted on the influence of King Cotton to exert financial and diplomatic pressure on the Union from sympathetic European governments. Battlefield victories for the South in 1861–62 gave the Confederacy the moral strength to continue fighting, but from 1863 dwindling finances and battlefield reverses increasingly led to demoralization. The surrender at Appomattox Court House by Gen. Robert E. Lee precipitated its dissolution.

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The term neo-Confederate describes a political and/or cultural movement based mainly in the U.S. Southern states that is characterized by a celebration of the history of the Confederate States of America (CSA) and support for the CSA's aims. Neo-Confederate issues may include states rights, such as nullification (in which state laws override federal laws), and a pro-Confederate view of history, particularly regarding the American Civil War and the role of slavery in that war. Some groups in the movement support full future secession, while others focus on preserving their image of southern heritage. The term "neo-Confederate" is considered by many people a pejorative political epithet and its application to specific groups and individuals has caused controversy.

A group that is frequently labeled as being "neo-Confederate" is the League of the South (LS), which does advocate future secession. It declares that it seeks the "well-being and independence of the Southern people." A number of small political parties also call for secession, including the Southern Party and its offshoot, the Southern Independence Party.

Use of "neo-Confederate" as political epithet

The term neo-Confederate was used in a scholarly fashion as far back as 1954. In a book review, Leonard Levy, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1968, wrote, "Similar blindness to the moral issue of slavery, plus a resentment against the rise of the Negro and modern industrialism, resulted in the neo-Confederate interpretation of Phillips, Ramsdell and Owsley. The term "neo-Confederate" is often employed as a pejorative description of people who take a sympathetic view of Southern history (particularly in connection with the American Civil War and slavery) and views on the Civil War that are not in line with mainstream historical perspectives. It is also used sometimes to criticize people who echo the Copperhead attacks against Abraham Lincoln and the emancipation proclamation.

In 1999, during a radio interview, the Civil War historian James M. McPherson offended many Southern heritage organizations when he associated the UDC (United Daughters of the Confederacy) with the neo-Confederate movement and described board members of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, Virginia as "undoubtedly neo-Confederate." He further said that the UDC and the SCV (The Sons of Confederate Veterans) have "white supremacy" as their "thinly veiled agendas." The incident outraged members of the UDC and the SCV, who accused McPherson of unfairly attacking them. Some SCV and UDC chapters subsequently urged their members to boycott his books and engaged in letter-writing campaigns. In response to this boycott, McPherson stated that that he did not mean to imply that all SCV or UDC chapters or anyone who belongs to them promote white supremacist agenda. He further stated that [only] some of these people have a hidden agenda.

Origins and doctrines of neo-Confederate Civil War history

When asked about purported "neo-confederate revisionism" and the people behind it, Arizona State University professor and Civil War historian Brooks D. Simpson said that:
This is an active attempt to reshape historical memory, an effort by white Southerners to find historical justifications for present-day actions. The neo-Confederate movement's ideologues have grasped that if they control how people remember the past, they'll control how people approach the present and the future. Ultimately, this is a very conscious war for memory and heritage. It's a quest for legitimacy, the eternal quest for justification.

McPherson has written on the origins of the UDC and states that “A principal motive of the UDC’s founding was to counter this ‘false history’ which taught Southern children ‘that their fathers were not only rebels but guilty of almost every crime enumerated in the Decalogue.” Much of what the UDC termed as “false history” centered on the role of slavery with secession and the war. The chaplain of the United Confederate Veterans, forerunner of the SCV, wrote in 1898 that history books as written could lead Southern children to “think that we fought for slavery” and would “fasten upon the South the stigma of slavery and that we fought for it … the Southern soldier will go down in history dishonored.” Referring to a 1932 call by the SCV to restore “the purity of our history”, McPherson notes that the “quest for purity remains vital today, as any historian working in the field can testify.”

In the 1910s Mildred Rutherford, the historian general of the UDC, spearheaded the attack on schoolbooks that did not present the Lost Cause version of history. Rutherford assembled a “massive collection of the racist underworld of the Lost Cause” which included “essay contests on the glory of the Ku Klux Klan and personal tributes to faithful slaves.” Historian David Blight concluded, “All UDC members and leaders were not as virulently racist as Rutherford, but all, in the name of a reconciled nation, participated in an enterprise that deeply influenced the white supremacist vision of Civil war memory.”

The core beliefs associated with neo-Confederates are wrapped up in the mythology of the Lost Cause. Historian Alan Nolan refers to the Lost Cause as “a rationalization, a cover-up”. After describing the devastation that were the consequences of the war for the South, Nolan states:

Leaders of such a catastrophe must account for themselves. Justification is necessary. Those who followed their leaders into the catastrophe required similar rationalization. Clement A. Evans, a Georgia veteran who at one time commanded the United Confederate Veterans organization, said this: ‘If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union of our Country.

Nolan further states the racial basis of Lost Cause mythology:

The Lost Cause version of the war is a caricature, possible, among other reasons, because of the false treatment of slavery and the black people. This false treatment struck at the core of the truth of the war, unhinging cause and effect, depriving the United States of any high purpose, and removing African Americans from their true role as the issue of the war and participants in the war, and characterizing them as historically irrelevant.

The SCV on its main website, still speaks of “ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved” and claiming that “[t]he preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution.”

Historian David Goldfield observes:

If history has defined the South, it has also trapped white southerners into sometimes defending the indefensible, holding onto views generally discredited in the rest of the civilized world and holding on the fiercer because of that. The extreme sensitivity of some southerners toward criticism of their past (or present) reflects not only their deep attachment to their perception of history but also their misgivings, a feeling that maybe they've fouled up somewhere and maybe the critics have something.

Controversy in identifying neo-Confederate groups

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a private organization headed by Morris Dees, is the principal group reporting on the "neo-Confederate movement." A special report by the SPLC's Mark Potok in their magazine, Intelligence Report, described a number of groups as "neo-Confederate" in 2000. (see #Neo-Confederate groups). The SPLC has carried subsequent articles on the neo-confederate movement. "Lincoln Reconstructed," published in 2003 in the Intelligence Report, focuses on the resurgent demonization of Abraham Lincoln in the South. The article quotes the chaplain of the SCV as giving an invocation which recalled "the last real Christian civilization on Earth." The article further mentions that the LewRockwell.com website hosts a collection of anti-Lincoln articles, which led Marcus Epstein of the von Mises Institute to compare the SPLC's tactics to McCarthyism."Whitewashing the Confederacy" was a review that alleged that the movie Gods and Generals presented a false, pro-Confederate view of history. Myles Kantor of the conservative FrontPage Magazine described the review as a "web of falsehood.

An article in the liberal Institute for Southern Studies' magazine Southern Exposure uses the "neo-Confederate" label for the League of the South, the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC), the UDC, the SCV, and the Museum of the Confederacy.

The evangelical Christian organization Liberty Advocate has applied the "neo-Confederate" label to various pro-southern groups, basing this characterization on various biblical interpretations and prophecies. The group claims that "neo-Confederates" are "rooted in the occult" and identifies them as the Anti-Christ. Karen Pansler, a member of the organization, asserts that adduced "neo-Confederate" veneration for civil war generals is a continuation of Celtic worship of pagan "warrior-gods" transposed into modern times. Liberty Advocate also states that historical Civil War reenactor groups are used to promote "neo-Confederate" goals. Comparing them to the Hitler Youth, Pansler describes historical reenactors as part of a "covert conspiracy to recruit our children to their evil cause."

Not everyone avoids the term. Al Benson Jr., head of the former Southern Independence Party declares, "I am part of what Morris Dees calls the 'Neo-Confederate Movement'".

List of alleged neo-Confederates

The following groups have been labelled "neo-Confederate" or "pro-Confederate" by one or more organizations or persons as designated in parenthesis. Abbreviations Key: SPLC = Southern Poverty Law Center "Hate Group" watchlist ; IR = 2001 Intelligence Report feature by the SPLC's Mark Potok ; S = Ed Sebesta; M = James McPherson; LA = Liberty Advocate

  • League of the South (SPLC, IR, S, LA) – The Intelligence Report notes that “the overarching mission of the League of the South (LOS) is to accomplish what the Civil War did not — Southern secession” and identifies It is also clearly racist in its attitude toward black people, a group that Hill [LOS President Michael Hill] once termed "a deadly and compliant underclass."
  • Southern Party (IR, S) – The Intelligence Report notes that it “is a political party that began, essentially, as a project of the League of the South” and the party defines the South, in their own words, as being "historically European ... ethnic, linguistic and cultural core," and claims whites are "cultural majority represents the true fusion of blood kinship and an historic homeland that defines what the Southern nation is."
  • United Daughters of the Confederacy (IR, S, M) – The Intelligence Report notes that they are the least politically active of the identified groups, but they produce a neo-Confederate version of history. The UDC has attempted to minimize the horrors of the Middle Passage, praised the works of other neo-Confederate ideologues, and shared the stage with LOS’s Michael Hill and “white supremacist Kirk Lyons”.
  • Museum of the Confederacy (S, M)
  • Ludwig von Mises Institute (IR, S)
  • American Renaissance (IR)
  • Council of Conservative Citizens (IR)
  • Confederate Society of America (IR)
  • The Edgefield Journal (IR)
  • Heritage Preservation Association (IR)
  • Rockford Institute (IR)
  • Southern Legal Resource Center (IR)
  • Southern Military Institute (IR)
  • Confederate States of America (organization) (IR)
  • FreeSouth (SPLC)
  • FreeMississippi (SPLC)
  • The New Confederacy
  • Ku Klux Klan

Various SPLC publications and Sebesta have also accused several well known American scholars, political commentators, and political figures of having connections to or supporting "neo-Confederate" causes or groups. The following are among those accused. Abbreviations Key: IR = SPLC Intelligence Report magazine; S = Ed Sebesta

Notes

References

  • Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. (2001) ISBN 0-674-00332-2
  • Gallagher, Gary W and Nolan, Alan T. editors. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. (2000) ISBN 0-253-33822-0
  • Goldfield, David. Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History. (2002) ISBN 0-8071-2758-2
  • Levy, Leonard W. Review of Americans Interpret Their Civil War by Thomas J. Pressly. The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3. (Sep., 1954), pp. 523-524
  • McPherson, James M. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. (2007) ISBN 13:978-0-19-531366-6

External links

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