What Does this Flag Mean? by Thomas Martin Saturday


First, we must stipulate that this flag is the battle ensign of the Confederate Navy. It was picked up and much favored by the Confederacy’s land forces. It was used as a symbol of intimidation by the Ku Klux Klan from Reconstruction, and especially by white citizen’s councils– white Southerners generally, during the segregation years, and Civil Rights Years of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Today, it is employed by legitimate white racists of the worst kind. Yet, millions of white Southerners themselves, see no offense, and it represents to them they say, just their heritage; not hate, not any of the things that would be so vile as the former here.


This second flag is the official flag of the Confederate States of America, popularly known as “The Stars and Bars.”

Both of these two flags represent the Confederacy of history. They represent what that unrecognized rebellious nation stood for most of all. Whatever we may think of these two flags today, they stood most for the maintenance and spread of human slavery, and the white supremacy necessary to maintain that institution and most cater to white Southerner’s desires. They did indeed stand for the white Southerner’s conception of human liberty and the supremacy of the States over the national or Federal government. Note, state’s rights were itself a defense of the foregoing.

Here is what Americans claimed to share in 1860-61 as the most fundamental principle of the nation created in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776:

“All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

-Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence

Here is perhaps the most important Southern thinker on this point:

“And the greatest error and great promoter of the dissolution of that Union was to suppose all men are born free and equal. I told the Senate most earnestly that there is not a word of truth in the whole proposition as expressed and generally understood. Jefferson’s poisonous fruit began to germinate and multiply. He took an utterly false view of the document he authored stating this principle when he asserted that the black race, being subordinate to the white race and utterly unqualified to possess liberty, were as fully entitled to both liberty and equality as the latter.”

-John C. Calhoun, Senator, South Carolina Speech to Senate 1850

-Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, writing for the Majority in Dred Scott v. Sanford 1856, commonly agreed by legal scholars to be the worst decision the U.S, Supreme Court has ever made to date. These words are reflective of the white Southern majority then sitting on the court:

“In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.”

Abraham Lincoln addressed this point about the Declaration of Independence as early as 1858 when he said of those great words:

“They meant to set up a standard maxim for free society which should be familiar to all: constantly looked to, constantly labored for and even though never perfectly attained, constantly approximated and thereby constantly spreading and deepening its influence and augmenting the happiness and value of life to all people, of all colors, everywhere. (Italics mine)

Lincoln-Douglas Debate at Galesburg, Illinois, 1858.

What did the Vice- President of the Confederacy say to his insurgent nation, and the world about what that flag and the Confederacy it stood for was all about:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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. [Applause] This, our new government is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy at Savannah 21 March 1861.

And of course missed too often today is the fact that this is, and always will be the flag of treason and rebellion outside the Constitution of the United States; that the United States of America prevailed against it and that its continued presence on state buildings throughout the old Confederacy, but most decidedly in a long re-unified United States of America, ought to remain a deep injury to those who support the United States of America. Those who fought against this flag would be deeply offended to see it yet wave over places they retook for the U.S. Government with such cost. I am most reminded about advice General William Tecumseh Sherman gave to real American patriots when he said:

“The line of Union and Rebel, of loyalty and treason, should be kept always distinct.”

American flag flying in the wind

American flag flying in the wind

Which flag will you honor this Independence Day?

I have here kept these things always distinct. Americans who support the United States of America: May you have a meaningful and not just a firecracker and cook out Fourth of July. My Southern brethren, those who support the Confederate Flag, please remember our common heritage and the great part played by those North and South in the American Revolution. Perhaps in that way we all will find our way to a truly United Sates of America where the “all men are created equal” principle will live fully in fact, as well as in our hearts.

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