No democratic government should endorse such a symbol

Shortly after the sesquicentennial anniversary of the end of the Civil War, a growing national consensus holds that the meaning of the Confederate flag is inconsistent with ideals that democratic governments should endorse. However, many believe that the South fought the war to protect states’ rights.

To give credence to a states’ rights version of the Civil War is to romanticize an inaccurate understanding of history. The South did not fight for the rights of each individual state, but rather for its economic prosperity under the institution of slavery.

It is appropriate the Confederate flag debate grew in South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, issuing its declaration of secession in December 1860.

The declaration cites personal liberty laws passed by 13 states in response to the Fugitive Slave Acts of 1793 and 1850. These laws gave basic rights to fugitive slaves, and some even forbade state officials from assisting in capturing fugitives.

After the Confederate government had formed, Vice President Alexander Stephens laid out the South’s causes for creating a new government.

Stephens, of the Confederacy, said “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.”

He did not claim that the government existed to maintain states’ rights, other than the right to allow slavery.

South Carolina’s legislature did not erect the flag in 1962 to make a political statement about states’ rights. The all-white assembly voted to fly the Confederate flag during the Civil Rights Movement knowing, to many, the flag represents hundreds of years of slavery and oppression, of Jim Crow laws and lynchings, of legalized apartheid and systematic brutality.

It is finally time to recognize that the Confederates, while envisioning themselves as true Americans, fought a revolution to preserve chattel slavery. After that rebellion ended, the belief that the South fought the war against federal intrusion in self-governance perpetuated another one hundred years of legal and systematic oppression after the end of human bondage.

While each state should be able to decide whether or not to fly the Confederate flag, no democratic government should endorse such a symbol. To endorse the flag is to perpetuate the ideologies held by the Confederacy and those who believed, and who continue to believe, in the ideals of the Confederate government: the inferiority and continued enslavement of black Americans.