Should You Be Able to Buy a Confederate Flag?

One of the ramifications of the events of the last several weeks is the decision of many retailers and resellers not to stock Confederate flags for sale. This is, of course, their right, and the people who are complaining about this (and thus implicitly think that some outlets should be forced to carry such items … so much for private enterprise and freedom of choice, folks) miss the point (of course, some of these folks are the same folks who think bakers should not be forced to provide wedding cakes for same-sex marriages, but then consistent logic has never been their strong suit). After all, other providers will still market an assortment of Confederate flags, and we know there will be buyers.

Yet, as we seek some clarity and clear thinking about recent discussions, I think it’s a fair question to ask: should one be allowed to purchase such items? There is, of course, a good argument to be made that one should be allowed to do so (and I’m in that camp). However, if we do see these flags as symbols of hate, when why allow them on the market?

As for myself, I had my eye on a replica of the banner of the 28th North Carolina to purchase for my wife, who had an ancestor serve in that regiment, but I can no longer find it (it disappeared from eBay). I’m sure this will astonish some of my (mindless) critics, who will ignore that statement in their rush to characterize me in whatever way suits their agenda. But I do notice that the Virginia Flaggers were making a lot of noise about raising yet another flag just before the Charleston murders took place (and they did raise it, working alongside another Confederate heritage group recently denounced by the Virginia Division of the CSA). Since then, it’s been rather quiet.

15 thoughts on “Should You Be Able to Buy a Confederate Flag?

  1. Spelunker June 30, 2015 / 11:01 am

    Confederate flags are a supply and demand item. As long as there is demand, there will be a supply.

    I’m also in the camp that they should be able to be bought. Outlawing them won’t fix any problems in society.

    Wow, we sound oddly tolerant.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 30, 2015 / 11:22 am

      Well, yes, someone would say it’s “oddly tolerant.” Can’t wait to see that quoted elsewhere. 🙂

  2. Sandi Saunders June 30, 2015 / 11:11 am

    I think that the flags and other items should remain in commerce but I do not think the US or state governments should be the one selling them. Individual taste does not control the market on every issue. And free speech must be protected even when it is ugly.

  3. Andy Hall June 30, 2015 / 12:27 pm

    Of course. Do you realize what a pain in the ass it would be to make one from scratch every time I went out and burned one?

    Seriously — of course you should be able to buy one. But vendors shouldn’t be obligated to sell them, either, any more than people should be obligated to display them.

  4. bob carey June 30, 2015 / 12:34 pm

    No I don’t believe that the sale of Confederate flags should be banned. I fact this dye in the wool Yankee owns three, You know, the cheap ones you can buy in any store in Gettysburg. I also have several US and AOP regimental flags in my man cave, of the same quality. I would never display the Confederate flags publicly, the only time that they will leave the house is when I use them as props in giving talks to local historical groups etc. My point being is that the CBF has its uses in the proper historical setting but being used by people to support White Supremacy or any other current political idealogy is just wrong.

  5. Noma June 30, 2015 / 12:44 pm

    I’m not in the mood to make Confederate flag vendors rich beyond their wildest dreams — which is exactly what banning their sale would do.

  6. Mark Hersh June 30, 2015 / 2:09 pm

    Interesting discussion. The immediate thing that comes to mind is Germany, where the swastika is banned, but apparently can be purchased just about anywhere else in the world. I agree that banning it would help, and that even ugly free speech is in fact that–free speech.

    As an amateur historian, I’m conflicted in my own study of various armies. I appreciate–even admire–the prowess of commanders and the valor and courage of individual soldiers but do not want to give anyone the idea I might appreciate or admire the cause for which they fought. I have an appreciation for the military ability of the German Wehrmacht but that does not mean I remotely agree with the goals of the regime for which it fought. The world would have been better off had the Wehrmacht been less skilful. The same with the CSA and its constituent armies.

    Even if I possessed something that had the markings of either, I’d never display them publicly. If the CBF had not been co-opted by racists (the post-war KKK) and then adopted again by whites in the 20th and 21st century whose views likely range from amazingly insensitive to violently racist (I’m not going to call everyone that displays the CBF a racist, because I don’t know their individual views), it still is very insensitive at the very least to continue to defend its display. I think there must be a way to acknowledge the valor of the southern soldier while pointing out the abhorrent cause for which he fought. And at the same time, acknowledge that the military success that the CSA did achieve was in part based on not just the valor of the soldiers and the skill of the commanders, but from slaves growing food and fiber away from the front lines, and slaves doing manual labor (everything from cooking to digging defensive positions) for the CSA itself. Gettysburg: The Last Invasion by Allen Guelzo does a very good job bringing that to light in that campaign.

  7. Mark Hersh June 30, 2015 / 2:10 pm

    I meant to write “banning it (the CBF) would not help”

  8. The Other Mark June 30, 2015 / 4:19 pm

    Yes, people should be able to buy them if someone is selling them though I don’t intend to buy one myself. Yes, they should not be flown on the State Capitol grounds.

    By the way, I think you are mischaracterizing those who criticize the decisions by Apple (which is already backtracking), Amazon and Walmart). I haven’t heard anyone saying they should be forced to sell them. And criticizing someone for a business decision is not implicitly saying the government should force a private party to reverse its decision.

    • Brooks D. Simpson June 30, 2015 / 5:27 pm

      I have heard a lot of things lately, including the notion that merchants deciding not to sell an item compromises a buyer’s rights. Let’s leave it at that.

  9. John Foskett June 30, 2015 / 4:37 pm

    Sure. After all, people can buy Canadiens gear.

  10. Patrick Young June 30, 2015 / 5:22 pm

    First Amendment and all that. The flag can’t be banned from sale, but a lot of folks will stop selling it.

    I used to be able to buy the newsletter of the Weather Underground over by Columbia University in the 1970s so I am sure that Confederate flags will never be removed from commerce. No reason to sacrifice a cherished right.

  11. Goad Gatsby June 30, 2015 / 7:14 pm

    There needs to be a history lesson with Confederate Battle Flags and beach towels with the naval jack for $6.99 doesn’t tell the buyer about the Election of 1860.

  12. James F. Epperson June 30, 2015 / 7:53 pm

    Brooks hints (perhaps inadvertently) at an important distinction. A replica of an actual regimental flag—with distinctive battle honors and such—would obviously be more in line of honoring the soldiers as opposed to reflecting the modern (racist) usage. I would have no problem with anyone selling those. I frankly have no problem with anyone selling generic Confederate battle flags, but regiment-specific ones might be better.

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