Half a century ago, the Confederate flag was considered to be simply one of the patriotic symbols of America. This was especially true in the South — remember the “General Lee” car from the Dukes of Hazzard?
Unquestionably this flag was (one of several) used for the Confederate States during the Civil War (a topic I’ve written about before, especially here in connection with the Second Amendment). But it was also, in a sense, the symbol of the Democratic Party.
The Flag of the Democratic Party
The Confederate flag is associated with slavery, still, but is no longer associated with the Democrat Party. The “War Between the States” was essentially the War Between the Republicans and Democrats. By the late 1850s, it was nearly impossible for a Democrat to be elected in a non-slaveholding state. In 1856, for example, there were only 13 Democrat Representatives in all the Northern states combined, with 4 of these from Illinois. The official platform of the National Democratic Party in 1856 was that Congress had no power to legislate on the topic of slavery, and the platform document delicately defends the Dred Scott Decision which enforced the rights of slaveholders and ruled that people “of African descent” or their descendants could never be citizens, whether or not they were slaves. The same platform notes Democrats’ unified opposition to efforts to end slavery in the new territories: When “the Black Republicans” proposed a bill to make slavery illegal in the territory of New Mexico, “all the Democratic Representatives in Congress, South and North, as well as all the Southern Opposition members, agreed in resisting it.”
It’s worth noting that the Democrats never referred simply to the “Republican party”: Every single reference in the Democrat platform called them “Black Republicans” or “the Black Republican party” in an apparent attempt to taint them by association with slaves. This history of the parties regarding slavery is surprising to many young people today, brought up on the “Republicans are Racist!” line pushed by the progressive media every day.
The Year of Jubilo
Even a century after the war, it was not considered appalling to show this flag: Decades before the Dukes of Hazzard, the “substitute teacher” in this 1956 cartoon asks the school children to create something “patriotic American” — and approves of the Confederate flag they paint:
The teacher has a Southern accent — but throughout the entire cartoon, he’s often whistling a catchy pro-Union tune called “The Year of Jubilo” (or “Kingdom Coming”) whose lyrics talk about Southern slaveholders cutting and running because they see evidence of Union forces approaching. That tune was very popular, ever since it was written back in 1862 (before the Emancipation Proclamation was issued). You will probably recognize the tune, but I’ll bet you’ve never heard the lyrics, which are very much in a “Song of the South” dialect:
Say, darkies, hab you seen de massa, wid de muffstash on his face,
Go long de road some time dis mornin’, like he gwine to leab de place?
He seen a smoke way up de ribber, whar de Linkum gunboats lay;
He took his hat, and lef’ berry sudden, and I spec’ he’s run away!
De massa run, ha, ha! De darkey stay, ho, ho!
It mus’ be now de kingdom coming, an’ de year ob Jubilo!
He six foot one way, two foot tudder, and he weigh tree hundred pound,
His coat so big, he couldn’t pay the tailor, an’ it won’t go halfway round.
He drill so much dey call him Cap’n, an’ he got so drefful tanned,
I spec’ he try an’ fool dem Yankees for to tink he’s contraband.
De darkeys feel so lonesome libbing in de loghouse on de lawn,
Dey move dar tings into massa’s parlor for to keep it while he’s gone.
Dar’s wine an’ cider in de kitchen, an’ de darkeys dey’ll have some;
I s’pose dey’ll all be cornfiscated when de Linkum sojers come.
De obserseer he make us trouble, an’ he dribe us round a spell;
We lock him up in de smokehouse cellar, wid de key trown in de well.
De whip is lost, de han’cuff broken, but de massa’ll hab his pay;
He’s ole enough, big enough, ought to known better dan to went an’ run away.
Yes, these lyrics (by Henry Clay Work) seem so strange to us now — or at least, those of us unfamiliar with the literature of the time and the decades following it. But Work was familiar with this dialect of slaves, because he was a very active abolitionist and helped escaped slaves on the “underground railroad” get across the border into Canada. He was not meaning to belittle or mock them, but to join in their celebration of freedom, using the language as he heard them use it.
Consider: It may be that a century from now, the dialect frequently used on rap music pieces will be considered embarrassing and offensive. (For now, at least, perhaps only the lyrics are. And in my mind, both are associated with slavery, the new style and the old.)
It’s interesting to me that the reactions to the Confederate battle flag are much stronger now (as in this comic strip) than in the century following the war. We’ve made it “trendy” to be offended. And this is the battle flag we’re talking about, representing the soldiers. The actual Confederate national flag, which most people would not recognize, looked like this:
It seems odd to me that the same sort of people so offended by the display of the Confederate battle flag have no problem defending the hoisting of the Mexican Flag over an inverted US flag:
It may seem incongruous that the same people likely to display the “rebel flag” are also associated with fervent US patriotism and the willingness to enlist, serve, and die to defend the United States. That attitude is also one that troubles media critics, but that’s a topic for another day.
===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle