Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Editorial: Nathan Bedford Forrest Day: A Failure of Morality, History, and Politics

Today is Nathan Bedford Forrest Day in Tennessee.

Like many Southern commanders, he enjoys a prominent place in Civil War memory. And however regrettable, the celebration and veneration of Confederate commanders isn’t particularly unusual even today, circa 2019. After all, Tennessee also recognizes Robert E. Lee Day and Confederate Decoration Day.

Yet we cannot divorce military commanders or their abilities from the causes for which they fought, at least not when it comes to deciding who gets a pedestal and who gets a proclamation. Confederate generals chose to renounce their allegiance to the United States to join in a rebellion whose raison d’etre was slavery. They fought for an immoral, terrible cause, the world is a better place because they lost, and they are not worthy of veneration. Why are we still celebrating them?

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Secession Documents: Kentucky and Missouri

Secession Documents: Kentucky and Missouri

Kentucky and Missouri were divided border states. Pro-Confederate governments within both states declared secession and issued formal documents, but neither state officially left the Union and remained with the United States during the war. The divided nature of the border states caused conflict within their borders and men from Kentucky and Missouri fought for both sides of the Civil War.

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Secession Documents: Texas

Secession Documents: Texas

Texas was the seventh state to secede on February 1, 1861, the last of the first phase of secession and the final of the seven states to formally declare the Confederacy on February 8, 1861.

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Secession Documents: Georgia

Secession Documents: Georgia

Georgia was the fifth state to secede on January 19, 1861. It was one of the original seven states to declare the Confederate States of America on February 8, 1861. Georgia gives one of the longest explanations for its secession from the Union. 

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Secession Documents: Mississippi

Secession Documents: Mississippi

Mississippi was the second state to secede from the United States on January 9, 1861 and one of the states to declare the formation of the Confederacy on February 8, 1861. The state's declaration of secession provides one of the clearest connections between secession and slavery.

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Secession Documents: South Carolina

Secession Documents: South Carolina

South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union on December 20, 1860. Because they were the first to leave they needed to explain to the rest of the states and the world why they were dissolving the Union and defend the legality of secession. South Carolina's declaration of secession includes a defense of states’ rights as the foundation of the legality of secession as well as the grievances with the North that sparked that action.

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Secession Documents: Introduction

Secession Documents: Introduction

While secession and the lead up to the Civil War were very complex, conflict over slavery was certainly central to the South’s decision to leave the Union. This is evident from the Southern states’ own words as they issued the ordinances of secession and documents of explanation as they each left the United States to form the Confederacy.

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When Did Slavery Really End in the North?

When Did Slavery Really End in the North?

The perception about the United States in the period before the Civil War is that the North was “free” and the South was “slave.” Now, in some senses this division is accurate; certainly the two regions would end up going to war against each other for issues very related to this debate over slavery. However, the demise of slavery in the North was far more complicated that usually presented. It is certainly not the oversimplified story of slavery ending in the North after the Revolution, leading to a “free” region, as we sometimes see presented in classrooms.

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"Wrap the World in Fire," Part II: Union Foreign Policy with Great Britain

"Wrap the World in Fire," Part II:  Union Foreign Policy with Great Britain

Abraham Lincoln and Union leaders realized from the war's outset the grave threat British intervention posed.  Intervention likely meant successful Confederate independence.  No matter what form, be it mediation, recognition, or literal intervention, any attempt by the British to interfere was based upon separation of North and South.  The causes of the Union and Confederacy were mutually exclusive; either the Union remained whole or the Confederacy earned independence.  British intervention effectively destroyed the cause of preserving the Union.

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Editorial: Charleston, America, and the Confederacy's Legacy

Editorial:  Charleston, America, and the Confederacy's Legacy

Last week, twenty-one year old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in Charleston, South Carolina’s historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.  An act of violence and racial hatred, the tragedy has sparked a nationwide debate over racism and, in particular, the symbolism of the Confederate flag.  The flag of a now-dead nation dedicated to the defense of slavery, the flag that appears in photographs with Dylann Roof, and the flag that today floats free over the South Carolina Capitol grounds.

I suspect, owing to public outcry and political pressure, the flag in Columbia will come down.  The governor of South Carolina has called for its removal, and yesterday Alabama removed its Confederate flag from the Capitol grounds.  Yet while the flag faces greater scrutiny, the current debate cannot merely rest on the Confederate flag. The discussion instead needs to encompass the Confederacy’s legacy in the United States—what the Confederacy stood for, what it means today, and the place (if any) it should occupy in 21st-century America.

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