The Confederate Flag: A Cornerstone of White Supremacy

Update: You know you’ve made a good argument…and hit a nerve…when somebody responds by repeatedly calling your post “trash,” but never tries to refute the argument.

A couple more interesting essays have come to light concerning the Confederate Flag debate: Bruce Levine’s The Confederate Flag Was Always Racist and Kevin Levin’s The ‘Cornerstone’ of the Confederate Flag.  Reading these two essays got my mental wheels turning about the portrayal of both the Confederate Flag and the Confederacy. Outside of the academic realm, deep in the bosom of the “Southern Heritage” crowd, the Confederacy represents a noble stance against tyranny and invasion. Those same groups defend the flag for those aforementioned reasons. To them, the flag is the symbol of the Confederate soldier who fought in freedom’s name. Unfortunately, that outlook is a falsehood padded by willful neglect and lies of omission.

Since the tragedy in Charleston, much has been said about the ‘Cornerstone’ of the Confederate Flag. This is a reference to a speech known as “The Corner-stone Speech,” delivered by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America. In the speech delivered in Savannah, GA on March 21, 1861, Stephens told the audience this about the new Confederacy.

Our new government (Confederate States of America) 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. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

This is the past, the history, that the Confederate Flag represents. It is undeniable. This presents a problem for the tens of thousands of people who dedicate themselves to the memory of their Confederate ancestors. To recognize, to accept his truth about the Confederacy’s cause, is to accept that their ancestor was linked to it. I do not mean to suggest that each Confederate soldier went into battle to preserve the institution of slavery and white supremacy. A northern and southern soldier’s reasons for going into battle are maddeningly complex and range from conscription to a desire for adventure. However, a soldier’s personal reasons for going to war are not mutually exclusive to the cause for which he fights. A cause dictated by the country he fights for.

Many in the “Southern Heritage” community who have been confronted by Stephens’s speech do whatever they can to ignore or discredit it. Many of them choose to point the finger and make statements such as “Lincoln was a racist too!” Some go so far as to say that we know the speech today only as it was dictated in the newspapers, so it cannot be trusted. These types of counter arguments are simply modes of deflection in order to embrace a more romantic view of the Confederacy. For this, they look to the soldiers and their statements.

Gods and Generals (2003) - Robert E. Lee is appointed as commander of the Army of Virginia.
Gods and Generals (2003) – Robert E. Lee is appointed as commander of the Army of Virginia. – (c) Warner Bros. Pictures

On Tuesday, April 23, 1861, Robert E. Lee was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the military and naval forces of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Upon his appointment, Lee gave this solemn and humble acceptance speech, depicted in the movie Gods and Generals. Lee’s speech to the Virginia Secession Convention was short, yet poetic, and an excellent example of Lee’s character.

Mr. President and Gentlemen of the Convention: Profoundly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, for which I must say I was not prepared, I accept the position assigned me by your partiality. I would have much preferred had your choice fallen on an abler man. Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.

Statements such as these are what “Southern Heritage” advocates cling to argue the righteousness of the Southern cause. It is a romantic view of honorable men who were called upon to protect their homes and humbly accepted the task. However, what is typical and very much the reality of the Confederacy, was the speech given immediately after Lee’s  address. Sent as an ambassador from the newly dubbed Confederate States of America, Vice President Alexander Stephens took the podium as Lee sat down. In his speech to the Convention, Stephens laid out the platform of the new Confederate government eloquently. He attempted to calm the nerves of many Virginians apprehensive about joining the Confederacy. Among the issues brought up, Stephens addressed the issue which brought about the most hostility between the North and South.

…One good and wise feature in our new or revised Constitution is, that we have put to rest the vexed question of slavery forever, so far as the Confederate halls are concerned. On this subject, from which sprung the immediate cause of our late troubles and threatened dangers, you will indulge me in a few remarks as not irrelevant to the occasion. The condition of the negro race amongst us, presents a peculiar phase of republican civilization and constitutional liberty. To some, the problem seems hard to understand. The difficulty is in theory, not in practical demonstration; that works well enough-theories in government, as in all things else, must yield to facts. No truth is clearer than that the best form or system of government for any people or society is that which secures the greatest amount of happiness, not to the greatest number, but to all the constituent elements of that society, community or State. If our system does not accomplish this; if it is not the best for the negro as well as for the white man; for the inferior as well as the superior race, it is wrong in principle. But if it does, or is capable of doing this, then it is right, and can never be successfully assailed by reason or logic. That the negroes with us, under masters who care for, provide for and protect them, are better off and enjoy more of the blessings of good government than their race does in any other part of the world, statistics abundantly prove. As a race, the African is inferior to the white man. Subordination to the white man, is his normal condition. He is not his equal by nature, and cannot be made so by human laws or human institutions. Our system, therefore, so far as regards this inferior race, rests upon this great immutable law of nature. It is founded not upon wrong or injustice, but upon the eternal fitness of things. Hence, its harmonious working for the benefit and advantage of both. Why one race was made inferior to another, is not for us to inquire. The statesman and the Christian, as well as the philosopher, must take things as they find them, and do the best he can with them as he finds them.

The great truth, I repeat, upon which our system rests, is the inferiority of the African. The enemies of our institutions ignore this truth. They set out with the assumption that the races are equal; that the negro is equal to the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be legitimate. But their premises being false, their conclusions are false also. Most of that fanatical spirit at the North on this subject, which in its zeal without knowledge, would upturn our society and lay waste our fair country, springs from this false reasoning…

Unfortunately, Stephens’s speech did not make it into the final cut of Gods and Generals. Imagine for a second how interesting that scene would be. It would depict Robert E. Lee giving a heroic and noble acceptance speech. Then, Lee sits down and listens to Alexander Stephens outline the cause for which the former will fight. It would have definitely been more accurate. In remembering the flag. accuracy is exactly the point.

It is often said by many that the Confederate Flag is the flag of the Confederate soldier who sought only to defend his home. That it is an honorable flag worthy of praise and recognition. Those same arguments usually come with the caveat that the flag’s past as a symbol of racial oppression is a distortion. That racist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan, tainted the flag and wrongly used it in their crusade for white-supremacy. To “Southern Heritage” advocates, banning the flag from public view for those reasons is to wrongly subject Confederate veterans to public shame and to forget their noble acts. In truth, white-supremacist groups are not distorting the flag…they are embracing it.

The cornerstone of the Confederate flag is white-supremacy. It is a battle-flag that represents men who fought for a country who’s political objective was to preserve and expand slavery. The flag flew at the head of an army which defended that cause. Without that cause, the army need not assemble and the flag unfurl. So the question is, why is that flag unfurled today? Does it fly in a museum, classroom, or historical exhibit for educational purposes or does it fly in remembrance of the Confederate soldier and their “cause?” If it is the former, then it has immense value to society for it provides a learning opportunity. If is the latter, then it serves no function in civilized society for it represents oppression, racism, and inequality. In either case, the cornerstone rests firmly. To argue otherwise is intellectually dishonest.


  1. “Intellectually Dishonest” is that crowd’s middle name. The problem here is that they do not care to be intellectually dishonest. The most they know is that they understand that in polite company it is no longer acceptable to say “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.” They don’t agree with that understanding, but they can find creative ways around it; calling people criminals, thugs, moochers, anchor babies etc and all of the bullshit about the “Freedom” that is only available to a few. I don’t know what society does with people who have the right to be infuriatingly ignorant, but who do so to a degree that is dangerous to society itself (see, 9 murders in SC). It’s never going to be enough to just be intellectually honest or understand their mutual history with people they’ve been indoctrinated to disdain. They don’t take responsibility for that history because they don’t have to really. We all have a hard time doing so to some degree… I’m glad that at the very least, that flag is on its way to retirement. Here’s hoping the fangirling over it will also cease to be acceptable in polite company.

    • Well said.

      They don’t take responsibility for that history because they don’t have to really. We all have a hard time doing so to some degree…

      Well, we can’t really choose where we are born. Much the same way those in 1860 did not.

  2. Bruce Levine?

    The one who embraces an ideology that slaughtered 100 million people in the previous century and enslaved as many more?

    Yes, that Bruce Levine. And I don’t take his moral judgments on anything very seriously.

  3. It’s is funny to see stunning intellectual dishonesty of the anti-confederate crowd. They curse and despie Confederate “white-supremacy”, but happily tolerate the white-supremacy of the Union. I, for one, am especially enamored of the white-supremacist tone of the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates. The language and sentiments expressed there are identical to the ideas expressed by Stephens, but the Lincolnite crowd, quite hilariously, ignore it altogether. First Douglas:

    “I am free to say to you that in my opinion this government of ours is founded on the white basis. It was made by the white man, for the benefit of the white man, to be administered by white men, in such manner as they should determine. It is also true that a negro, an Indian, or any other man of inferior race to a white man, should be permitted to enjoy, and humanity requires that he should have all the rights, privileges and immunities which he is capable of exercising consistent with the safety of society. I would give him every right and every privilege which his capacity would enable him to enjoy, consistent with the good of the society in which he lived. But you may ask me, what are these rights and these privileges? My answer is, that each State must decide for itself the nature and extent of these rights. Illinois has decided for herself. We have decided that the negro shall not be a slave, and we have at the same time decided that he shall not vote, or serve on juries, or enjoy political privileges. I am content with that system of policy which we have adopted for ourselves. I deny the right of any other State to complain of our policy in that respect, or to interfere with it, or to attempt to change it.”

    Lincoln was not to be outdone in asserting the white-supremacist nature of Northern civil society. It was white-supremacist to its core, and he knew it. He was indeed, one of them.

    ” I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races,—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    In the end, the white-supremacy of Douglas, probably because it was slightly more virulent than the white-supremacy of Lincoln, won out and Douglas was elected to the Senate. Lincoln, however, would end up in the White House, where he would continue to advocate colonizing blacks so America could be a completely white society.

    • Mr. Palazzi, I don’t think you know the definition of “intellectual dishonesty.” If you did, you couldn’t possibly say that of the people you’re criticizing. However, you should say that about yourself because you’re literally turning the argument around – you know, self-serving, and not critically looking at your own argument? Here’s the definition:

      Also, I believe anti-confederate literally means U.S. Citizen. I could be wrong about that, but seeing as the Confederacy doesn’t exist – if you’re still here and you’re a citizen of this country, you’re basically ONLY an anti-Confederate. You’re free to start your own new revolution though, and best of luck to you and all of the angry white people that may obtusely join that cause. I must say though, it’s very unlikely that you’ll win anything with the Confederacy’s argument that we should re-enslave a part of the population as a means to be more productive –but you may have some supporters on the far Right of the political spectrum ::cough Trump:: cough::.

      Lastly, condemning the symbol white supremacy from the Confederacy and false patriotism of illogically flying that flag along with the U.S. flag, by no means suggests that these same people do not denounce the white supremacy of today’s United States – or the white supremacy that you’ve sorta shown with your out-of-context quotes.

      The mere fact that you and others have gotten so up in arms about the epic take-down of this symbol, and that you twist yourselves into a pretzel to sorta kinda, wishy washy, say that it’s “pride not prejudice” or “heritage not hate” shows me and everyone else that you don’t have to worry – with or without the Confederacy, white supremacy is alive and well.

      Rest easy. We will go after a new symbol of the patriarchy, privilege, or supremacy of a lot of stuff. Save your energy, you’ll have a lot to fight about. ¡Hasta luego!

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