The Washington Post Does It Again

It gave a forum to none other than Brag Bowling … again.

Absentee ballots
Memorandum Aug. 23, 1864, from Abraham Lincoln to his Cabinet in a sealed envelope to be opened only after the November election:

“This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be re-elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President-elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration; so he will have secured his election on such grounds that he cannot save it afterwards.”

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Lincoln was simply reading the tea leaves. Four years of horrific fighting with massive casualties, high living costs, opposition to the Emancipation Proclamation, continuation of the draft and opposition to his political and unconstitutional policies (such as the denial of the writ of habeas corpus, mass arrests and closure of opposition newspapers) had left his popularity at low ebb. Tactical losses from the Wilderness to Petersburg produced 65,000 casualties. The unpopular war seemed no closer to ending than in 1861.

George McClellan was considered a formidable challenger whose party’s platform included ending the war and Confederate independence, although McClellan rejected that part in his letter accepting the nomination.

The mid-term 1862 elections proved disastrous to the Republican Party with congressional losses in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Indiana and Lincoln’s home state of Illinois.

Lincoln had significant opposition in the Republican Party. The Radical Republicans doubted Lincoln’s fervor to end slavery and thought his Reconstruction plan was not punitive enough to the South.

Prospects brightened greatly with victories in Mobile Bay, the Shenandoah Valley and Atlanta on Sept. 6, 1864. Still, a November victory was uncertain. What could he do to guarantee a victory?

The answer lay in the novel use of absentee ballots. Letting American troops vote absentee while in the field had not been done before. Lincoln banked on the hope that the soldiers would support him and continue with the war to validate their sacrifices. Many thought this could lead to corruption. Blank absentee ballots showed up throughout the army. Whole regiments were given furloughs to return home and vote. Lincoln took it a step further. In many polling precincts, armed Union troops intimidated voters. His electoral victory in New York has been credited to the menacing presence of soldiers. Accusations of voter fraud were made in nearly every state. Lincoln was reelected on Nov. 8, 1864. As he hoped, the army ballots proved decisive. The horrific war and subsequent Reconstruction would proceed as Lincoln planned.

Congratulatory letters poured in. Two of note came from European supporter Karl Marx writing on behalf of the International Working Men’s Association.

By the way, Mr. Bowling is the director of the Stephen D. Lee Institute, an educational group established by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Really.

Speaking of Threats of Violence (continued) …

Here’s a picture of Michael Hill, President of the League of the South, with Pat Hines, who is vice-chairman for the league’s South Carolina chapter.
Hill and Hines
Yes, that Pat Hines … the one who apparently advocated the murder of schoolchildren.

Of course, Connie Chastain didn’t take that threat seriously, either. She never doesunless it will help her sell books.

Are you angry enough yet?

At least Ben Jones and the SCV can no longer say they haven’t heard or read about this. Will they say that Hill, Hines, and company are simply using their First Amendment rights?

Fall Semester Opens at Washington and Lee

As the fall semester opened at Washington and Lee University, President Kenneth Ruscio took the time at the university’s opening convocation to sound themes that would inform the coming academic year. You can read the full text here.

As to this summer’s controversy … which is fast dwindling into a kerfuffle … Ruscio had this to say:

I’m referring, of course, to our decisions to remove the decorative, replica Confederate battle flags from the statue chamber in Lee Chapel’s public space and thereby return that area to the way it was envisioned originally by Lee’s family and Lee’s friends and the way it stood for its first 60 years; to restore some original flags and display them in the Lee Chapel Museum, which is the appropriate way for an educational institution to treat genuine historic artifacts; to examine our history straightforwardly and accurately, with all the respect history deserves, including the contributions of enslaved African-Americans from 1826 to 1850; to honor our traditions reverently, but not blindly; to behave, in short, as an academic institution ought to behave, especially one mindful of its future as well as its past.

And I’m referring to protests against those steps by groups and individuals who have no connection to the University, who are not part of our community, and whose purposes diverge sharply from ours. They have every right to voice their disagreement. We have an equal right to say that these matters are for Washington and Lee to decide, and that we do not exist as a platform for them to assert their views.

This is not a response to them. We do not wish them ill. They are who they are; we are who we are. And we can’t be distracted by those who object to one piece of what we have done, while we are consumed, as we should be, with the nobler purpose of defining the kind of community we wish to be.

You would think that people who talk all the time about self-determination would have no problem with this statement.

Ruscio returned to this theme of community and purpose at the end of his remarks:

I want to return to where I began, which is why the events of this summer were at least one reason for me to consider these deeper questions. In the midst of some of the criticisms we have received from those outside the community, and a few from within, it has been tempting to respond directly. But we have refrained for a variety of reasons, sometimes because we have a university to run, and sometimes because we would have to engage on terms that have little to do with how a university operates. We have a different position because of the values and ideals we hold, and we have a different way of expressing that position, also because of the ideals and values we hold.

In the end, though, we are interested in how we build a community of respect and trust for all who belong to it, where cooperation prevails over confrontation, and thoughtful consideration of diverse views is seen not as a weakness, but as a strength.

With that in mind, from all the letters I have received this summer, let me share with you portions of some that capture that spirit — and captured my attention.

Such as the one from the father of an incoming student who found the University’s position so “thoughtful, rational, even-keeled, as to make me realize once again just how fortunate we are that our son will be matriculating next month.”

The mother of a current student whose ancestry traces back to graduates of what was then Washington College, and whose relatives fought in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy, who applauded the University’s ability to look deeply at its own history and the nation’s.

The black alumnus who viewed our steps as advancing the dialogue over history-as he said, not “their” history only, but also “my history.”

And then there is this letter, from an alumnus of the Class of 1949:

Dear President Ruscio:
I have been following the issues…. I write to offer my unqualified endorsement of your response to those issues — especially your forceful support of my great-grandfather’s presidency of Washington College and your plans for the Confederate battle flags…

I believe that the five years he spent as Washington College’s president were as important to him as they were to the college. His passion for using his position there to help heal the wounds of war was apparent through both his words and deeds.

Based on everything I have heard or read, it is clear to me that President Lee would wholeheartedly support your goals of making Washington and Lee a welcoming environment for all students who choose to come there today. As a proud alumnus, I, too, support those goals.

In my view, removing the flags from the statuary chamber is overdue…. At the same time, we should not simply ignore the flags and their undeniable historical significance. Your plan of returning the actual battle flags to the Lee Chapel Museum is the ideal way to study and care for these important artifacts.

I am proud of my alma mater. I am certain that my great-grandfather would be proud of the institution he once led. And I know he would appreciate the civil manner in which you have approached what must be emotional discussions. But most important of all, I trust that today’s students will be reminded of just how important the University’s core values are. In my opinion, the qualities of honor, responsibility, civility, service and leadership that Washington and Lee instills in each generation of students are just as important as the exceptional education it provides.

Please know that you have my full support and my best wishes.

Signed: Robert E. Lee IV

These discussions are significant for us. They are about what Washington and Lee has been in the past, what it is today, and what it will be in the future. No matter the differences across time and across generations and across the many individuals who live here today, a common unifying thread binds us all. This is a community based on trust and respect, one that seeks common ground and celebrates our differences, one that seeks, in Giamatti’s wonderful phrase, to become a “free and ordered space,” one where freedom is coupled with responsibility, where individuality is coupled with a commitment to a common good. A place, in other words, that prepares our students for lives as responsible citizens in a democracy.

This is what any university should do, but especially this one. In the months ahead, in the years ahead, we should not shy away from these matters, mindful of our past, mindful of our future, and mindful of our responsibilities today to preserve and enhance this community of trust and respect.

Back to School at Washington & Lee

Some of you may remember that over a month ago there was something of a controversy over a decision taken by the administration at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, to remove replica Confederate flags from Lee Chapel. The university instead decided to return to public display actual Confederate flags on a rotating basis in the museum downstairs at the chapel, near where Robert E. Lee and family members have been laid to rest.

Seems to me there was quite a fuss at first over the university’s decision, but that fuss seems to have died down, as only a handful of Confederate heritage advocates have engaged in “flagging” the university recently.

For all the talk of protests, demonstrations, letter-writing campaigns and the like, the policy put in place this July remains. I’ve seen no signs of that policy changing. Nor have I seen that the wave of protests, now reduced to a few ripples on a pond, have achieved anything, the overheated claims on some Facebook pages and blogs notwithstanding. Instead, we are now approaching the final stages of the drama. Between the return of students to their school (I foresee an uptick in discussion about the new policy from students and faculty), Young Alumni Weekend (September 19-21, 2014), Parents Weekend (October 11-12, 2014), and the Five-Star Festival (October 31-November 2, 2014), there are only a few opportunities left for certain folks to make a big splash.

Otherwise, we can anticipate seeing the occasional snapshots of a few people holding flags while making increasingly hollow claims about changing hearts and minds at Lexington. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish those images from those taken along the largely empty sidewalks by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond … and when’s the last time you saw a “Virginia Flagger” at the Museum of the Confederacy’s Appomattox branch?

It’s getting boring again.

Oh, I guess one can put up a flagpole here and there near an interstate and claim that’s progress, but those shallow triumphs increasingly resemble a rearguard action. And so another episode in the continuing heritage wars ends, not with a bang, but with a whimper. Pass the Kleenex.

Controversy at the University of Mississippi: More Threats

You’ll recall that the Mid-South Flaggers made much of their march on Oxford, Mississippi, a few weeks ago … and then they made much of the fact that they didn’t like the company they kept. Fair enough.

But this exchange on their Facebook page should remind us that the Mid-South Flaggers are no angels, either.

Old Miss Violence

Apparently the Mid-South Flaggers want to voice their own opinion but shut down those who disagree (which is fairly typical for the Confederate heritage movement, by the way). And as for threats of violence? Read the last comment.

We can now expect the usual calls to university officials demanding that a faculty member be silenced.

Confederate Heritage Under Fire in Ferguson, Missouri?

We hear a great deal about the proper use of Confederate symbols, including the Confederate flag, and passionate defenses of the proper display of the Confederate battle flag.

Now comes word of the Ku Klux Klan’s interest in injecting itself in the situation at Ferguson, Missouri. Yup, just when you thought things could not get uglier.

Are we going to see something like this in Ferguson, Missouri?

Even some Klansmen seem confused about this. Others are not so confused.

I await the passionate protests by Confederate heritage groups against a white supremacist group using what its defenders deem a scared banner for such a purpose. After all, they have no problem attacking other people who don’t like the display of the flag in certain contexts.

If the Confederate Battle Flag does not represent white supremacy, folks, then let’s hear you denounce the KKK for using it … and let’s hear it with the same intensity and frequency that you use when you assail other groups.

Restore the honor.

I’m waiting.

The League of the South and the Sons of Confederate Veterans: A Poll

Just curious as to your impressions.

The League of the South and Confederate History

Recently Michael Hill offered a rather straightforward statement of his understanding of the history of the Confederacy that pulled no punches.

Basically, Hill links the creation of the Confederacy with the defense of slavery and white supremacy. He does so in what has become a rather traditional attack on so-called “Rainbow Confederates,” who in his eyes are “politically correct.” However, Hill clearly disagrees with some of the historical interpretations offered here recently about the Confederacy by such people as the rainbow-sounding “Melissa Blue” and Ben Jones, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

One must admit that the League of the South has been straightforward and candid about its understanding of history. I’d question whether some of the people Hill labels as “Rainbow Confederates” are in fact as tolerant as he may make them out to be. Indeed, I think the racial views of several so-called “Rainbow Confederates” are much more in line with the Southern Nationalist Network, Occidental Dissent, and the League of the South than certain folks would want to admit. Nevertheless, I think in other cases there is much distance indeed. When someone from the SCV tells me that a sign of his racial views is his membership in the NAACP, I’m tempted to remind him that many of the people he claims to represent characterize the NAACP as a “hate group.”

To me the issue is not what the League of the South believes. That message has been fairly consistent, and it has been made public a number of times. Indeed, there is a great deal of merit in their view of the Confederacy’s foundations, in large part because that interpretation is based on what secessionists and Confederates actually said. It’s not whether you have 1,200 books in your library: it’s which books you have, whether you’ve read them, and how your understanding of history is shaped by what you’ve read.

Simply put, one can reject their message to today’s America while accepting that their interpretation of the past has merit. Or one can pose in pictures with white supremacists and march with white supremacists and call them good guys and good friends, which renders whining about “guilt by association” ludicrous. Certain people simply don’t have the courage of their convictions.

As I’ve already said, the Mid-South Flaggers deserve a lot of credit for not ducking this issue. They understand what the League of the South is all about, and they have started to move to disassociate themselves from the group. Not so the Virginia Flaggers or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Yet in such inaction is the suspicion that one does not denounce what one privately embraces, or that one accepts the support of groups one claims to oppose.

We know that the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Virginia Flaggers can be very vocal in their opposition to groups with whom they do not agree … so what are we to make of their silence in this instance?

Seems Like I Struck a Nerve

Well, it appears that the League of the South now knows what the Mid-South Flaggers think of their participation in a recent event at Oxford, Mississippi.
BGriffin 01
B Griifin 02
B Griffin 03
B Griffin 04
Again, I appreciate the candor Brad Griffin and his associates display in this exchange of views … especially when it comes to H. K. Edgerton. Guess you know where you stand now, H. K.

UPDATE: I guess exposing this exchange embarrassed the League of the South, which immediately removed it from their Facebook page … just a little too late, I think.