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January 18, 2007

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Jim Suydam

Honoring Texas history is nothing to be ashamed of

By Jerry Patterson

Any attempt to judge our history by today’s standards — out of the context from which it occurred — is at best problematic and at worst dishonest.

For example, consider the following quotes:

“So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that slavery is abolished.”

“ … 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.”

By today’s standards, the person who made the first statement, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, would be considered enlightened. The person who made the second, President Abraham Lincoln, would be considered a white supremacist.

Many believe the War Between the States was solely about slavery and the Confederacy is synonymous with racism. That conclusion is faulty, because the premise is inaccurate.

If slavery were the sole or even the predominant issue in sparking the Civil War, the following statement by Lincoln is puzzling: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slaves I would do it.”

If preserving slavery was the South’s sole motive for waging war, why did Lee free his slaves before the war began? In 1856, he said slavery was “ … a moral and political evil in any country ... ”

Why was Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation effective in 1863, rather than when the war started in 1861? And why did it free only the slaves in the Confederacy and not in Northern or border states?

If slavery was the only reason for the Civil War, how do you explain Texas Gov. Sam Houston’s support for the Union and support for the institution of slavery? In light of the fact that 90 percent of Confederate soldiers owned no slaves, is it logical to assume they would have put their own lives at risk so that slave-owning Southern aristocrats could continue their privileged status?

There are few simple and concise answers to these questions. One answer, however, is that most Southerners’ allegiance was to their sovereign states first and the Union second. They believed states freely joined the Union without coercion and were free to leave the Union at will. You could say they really believed in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the “powers not delegated” clause. They believed the federal government should be responsible for the common defense, a postal service and little else. They viewed the Union Army as an invader, not an emancipator.

I am not attempting to trivialize slavery. It is a dark chapter in our history, North and South alike.

However, I am a proud Southerner and a proud descendent of Confederate soldiers. I honor their service because, to me, it represents the sacrifice of life and livelihood that Southerners made for a cause more important to them than their personal security and self-interest.

While I’m aware of the genocidal war conducted by my country against the American Indian, I’m still a proud American. And while I’m also aware of the atrocities that occurred at My Lai, I am proud of my service as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam.

If the Confederate flag represented slavery, then the U.S. flag must represent slavery even more so. Slavery existed for four years under the Stars and Bars and for almost 100 years under the Stars and Stripes. If the few hundred members of racist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan want to adopt the Confederate flag as their symbol, over the objections of millions of Southerners, should we believe it has been corrupted for all time? Since the KKK has adopted the cross for its burnings, should churches across the country remove this symbol of Christian faith from all places of worship? Should we diminish the service of the Buffalo Soldiers (Black U.S. cavalry troopers of the late 1800s), since those soldiers were an integral part of a war that subjugated and enslaved a whole race of people, the American Plains Indians?

No. We should not surrender the Confederate flag or the cross to the racists, and we should not tear down the monuments. Retroactive cleansing of history is doomed to failure because it is, at heart, a lie. We should memorialize and commemorate all of our soldiers who served honorably — those who wore blue or gray or served as Buffalo Soldiers — whether or not we completely support their actions in today’s enlightened world.

JERRY PATTERSON is the 27th Texas Land Commissioner and a member of Sons of Confederate Veterans. As a state senator, he sponsored legislation establishing the Juneteenth Commission for the purpose of funding a Juneteenth monument on the Capitol Grounds.


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The San Antonian

My point is not to make the Confederacy disappear from Texas history. My point is that it needs to disappear from Texas present. There is not a day that goes by that I don't see a Confederate flag someplace. I don't see Nazi or Soviet Union flags. Those are defeated nations. As was the Confederacy. What people today use that flag to represent IS shameful. What the Confederacy stood for IS shameful.

I'll repeat: We SHOULD be ashamed of our Confederate past. And we should be working to make sure that the Confederacy stays where it belongs: in history books. Not on cars and t-shirts.

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