Defending the indefensible on Tuesday, President Donald Trump traveled back in time to deploy the “both sides do it” talking point to explain the Civil War. Providing air cover for white supremacists, Trump declared “you had some very fine people on both sides,” apparently including “many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.”
But as I first documented after Dylann Roof slaughtered 9 innocent at Mother Emanuel AME Church in that cradle of secession Charleston, South Carolina, the leaders of the Confederacy were not “fine people.” And we know this, because they told us so.
There's no mystery as to why we're not discussing whether a banner of slavery, secession, treason and racial supremacy should ever be displayed over public buildings, parks, cemeteries and other sites. The Southern whitewashing of American history—aided by dubious text books and an army of Confederate monuments built at an accelerating pace during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s—has been sadly successful in transforming their fight to own humans into a noble “heritage.” To remove the Confederate flag, its supporters still argue, would be a “Stalinist purge” and an act of “cultural genocide” because, after all, that banner simply represents “a heritage thing, and we're all proud of our heritage.”
If so, what better way to understand the Confederate heritage than consulting with some of the people who created it?
South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun, defending the “positive good” of slavery, 1837:
“If we do not defend ourselves none will defend us; if we yield we will be more and more pressed as we recede; and if we submit we will be trampled under foot. Be assured that emancipation itself would not satisfy these fanatics: -that gained, the next step would be to raise the negroes to a social and political equality with the whites; and that being effected, we would soon find the present condition of the two races reversed.”
Resolution of separation by North Carolina delegates to the 1844 General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church:
“We believe an immediate division of the Methodist Episcopal Church is indispensable to the peace, prosperity, and honor of the Southern portion thereof, if not essential to her continued existence we regard the officious, and unwarranted interference of the Northern portion of the Church with the subject of slavery alone, a sufficient cause for a division of our Church.”
Southern Baptist Convention, explaining its separation from the American Baptist church, May 1845:
An evil hour has arrived…In December last, the acting Board of Convention, at Boston, adopted a new qualification for missionaries, a new rule viz, that: “If anyone who shall offer himself for a missionary, having slaves, should insist on retaining them as his property, they could not appoint him.” “One thing is certain,” they continue, “we could never be a party to any arrangement which applies approbation of slavery.”
Mississippi Declaration of Causes for Secession, 1861: