As has been reported extensively in the local press, on July 5, 2012 the Las Cruces Tea Party was awarded first place for its entry in the July 3, 2012 Las Cruces Electric Light Parade held in downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico. The awarded float displayed prominently the flag of the so-called Confederate States of America, a group of states that were in rebellion against the United States and its Constitution between December 20, 1860 and April 9, 1865. The award and the honor has been called into question, here and elsewhere. Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima has issued a statement condemning the display of the flag.
In its’ own defense the Las Cruces Tea Party claims some sort of historical authority for the display of the flag of secession. They write on their Facebook Page, “The theme of the parade was the history of the State of New Mexico. We were to celebrate the last 100 years of our history as a state. This is not where we started, however. There was a lot of history that defined our state prior to 1912. We showed how we fought for our statehood and the sacrifices we made along the way, along with our triumphs.
“We started with the beginning and showed ALL the flags that flew over our state, even when it was a territory, and before. That included the Spanish and Mexican flags as well as the confederate flag which flew over our state. Unfortunately, the Spanish flag did not arrive in time to put it on the float and the Mexican flag got shredded in the windstorm prior to the parade and it would have been disrespectful to display that flag. ‘On March 10, a scouting party of southern troops entered the evacuated capital, and for more than two weeks, the Confederate flag flew over the ancient Palace of the Governors'” the Tea Party says.
I might point out that the Territory of New Mexico, and its government, remained loyal to the Unites States throughout the period of armed conflict in the rebellion against the United States and the United States Constitution, the conflict commonly called the Civil War, and that a raid of persons in rebellion against the United States from the State of Texas entering our territory during that conflict carrying the banner of treason does not constitute a Confederate heritage for the State of New Mexico.
As for the present, in response to the display of July 3, 2012, we should demand of our elected leaders a swift and formal repudiation of that flag and everything it stands for.
At least 360,222 soldiers and sailors of the United States were killed defending the nation against armed rebellion against its Constitution between 1861 and 1865. These include soldiers of the Territory of New Mexico. All of these soldiers fought for the preservation of the Union under whose Constitution equality of the law is a sacred right and trust. The Confederacy was founded entirely on other grounds, and its’ leaders said so.
In its Declaration of Secession of January 9, 1861, the State of Mississippi proclaimed, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”
In its Declaration of Secession of February 1, 1861, Texas declared, “In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color—a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”
On the question of “state’s rights,” South Carolina declared in its Declaration of Secession of December 20, 1860, that it opposed them. South Carolina proclaimed, “But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia.”
Of the civil rights of African Americans, South Carolina said, “This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.”
Of the First Amendment’s right of free speech South Carolina proclaimed its sworn opposition, “Those States,” South Carolina declared, “have assumed the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.”
Of the original intentions of the framers of the Constitution, Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, said on March 21, 1861, “They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the ‘storm came and the wind blew.’ Our new government 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.”
These then are the actual causes of the Civil War and the formation of the Confederacy, and its philosophical principles, according to the founding speeches and documents of that Confederacy; the preservation and extension of slavery, opposition to state’s rights, civil rights, and the Bill of Rights, and a repudiation of the framers of the United States Constitution.
It would be comforting to believe that the so-called conservatives of the Tea Party and the Republican right were simply ignorant of the actual history of the Confederacy, and only giving voice to some quaint regional quirk. Unfortunately this isn’t the case. The Tea Party and the Republican right is thoroughly cognizant of this history and heritage of racial oppression and terror that followed after the Civil War.
The festering corpse of Jim Crow is, regrettably, still very much amongst us.
Accordingly, the dog-whistle veneration of the Confederacy seems to appear and re-appear, on cue, whenever the old racial order is threatened or Republicans slip out of power, as it did last Tuesday night. The Confederate flag has reappeared earlier during the Civil Rights movement, and now it reappears frequently again today in response to the first African-American President, and the growing political empowerment of African Americans, Hispanics and other minority communities. And the resurrected “southern strategy” of the Tea Party and the Republican Party doesn’t end in the southern states, as we saw on the streets of Las Cruces last week. The old Confederate flag has been raised all over the place, as a rallying banner, notably on the Tea Party float at last week’s Electric Light Parade.
It’s sad, really, that the Tea Party and its Republican allies are so completely bankrupt of ideas that their grand strategy to win office is to resurrect the phantoms of Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, Robert E. Lee, and the rest of them. We might have thought we, as Americans, were better than that.
I think we are. Our values are simply more honorable and just than all that.
Our job is to point out the truth, point out the lies of the radical right, and to move beyond a painful past and work to build a strong and secure future for all Americans, not just a frightened few.
We can, and we will.