Virginia “Confederate History Month” Proclamation

[UPDATE: Gov. McDonnell has just apologized, and said that he would add an anti-slavery paragraph to the resolution: “WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history.” There is more, including the text of the apology, on Politico.]

From Gov. Bob McDonnell:

WHEREAS, April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and

WHEREAS, Confederate historical sites such as the White House of the Confederacy are open for people to visit in Richmond today; and

WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”; and

WHEREAS, this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.

The proclamation omits the anti-slavery language from Gov. James Gilmore’s 1999 proclamation. (Gilmore was the last Republican Virginia governor before McDonnell — the two governors after that were Democrats.) Here’s Gilmore’s anti-slavery language; the 2010 Alabama Confederate History Month declaration has a weaker version:

WHEREAS, our recognition of Confederate history also recognizes that slavery was one of the causes of the war; and

WHEREAS, slavery was a practice that deprived African-Americans of their God-given inalienable rights, which degraded the human spirit, is abhorred and condemned by Virginians, and was ended by this war ….

My views here are similar to those of Paul Mirengoff on Power Line: “This attempt to give Virginia a pass on the issue of slavery is historically untenable and, I must add, rather offfensive.

“It also seems like bad politics…. Republicans may be on the verge of gaining a share of national power, but the electorate still has justifiable reservations about whether the Party deserves power. McDonnell’s decision won’t inspire confidence.”

Whatever the merits of Confederate soldiers as soldiers — and I’m sure there were many — the fact is that they fought on the side of the slave states, in a war that was in large part about preserving slavery. Jefferson Davis, who presided over the Confederacy from Richmond, Virginia, made this part of his motive quite clear, in the passage that begins:

[Mississippi] has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races.

It seems to me that an acknowledgment of the slavery in which the ancestors of nearly 20% of all Virginians were held — the slavery that was ended by the defeat of the Confederacy — is the least that needs to be included in any Confederate History Month proclamation.

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