Has anybody out there actually read the Bob McDonnell Confederate history month proclamation that is causing such a fuss?
Here it is, in full:
Confederate History Month
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.
Now, I yield to very few in my dislike of the Confederate cause. Grant’s verdict that the Confederacy was the worst cause for which men ever fought has been rendered obsolete by the terrible events of the 20th century. It must still count among the top 10.
It’s hard to imagine a more anodyne remembrance of the Confederacy than this issued by McDonnell. It does contain the eyebrow-raising language that the Confederates “fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth.” None of those things were in danger in 1861. Beyond that, however, it’s a bland invocation of the importance of studying history. There are no adjectives of praise for any Confederate leader, and the proclamation fully endorses the outcome of the war: the return to allegiance to the United States.
Compare this language to the florid language of Gov. Jim Gilmore’s final Confederate history proclamation:
A PROCLAMATION IN REMEMBRANCE OF THE SACRIFICES AND HONOR OF ALL VIRGINIANS WHO SERVED IN THE CIVIL WAR
WHEREAS, the Civil War was a defining event in American history and our Republic’s greatest internal crisis, the outcome of which transformed our country from a confederation of states to a unified Nation based upon the principle of e pluribus unum; and
WHEREAS, Virginia soil served as the dominant theater for military campaigns throughout the War, from the establishment of Richmond as the Capital of the Confederacy in April of 1861, to the battles at Manassass, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Fort Monroe, the Siege of Petersburg, the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse, and finally the fall of the Last Capital of the Confederacy in Danville in April of 1865; and
WHEREAS, the Civil War was a fratricidal conflict that divided families, relatives and friends, where brother fought against brother, and where over 3,500,000 Americans, including over 400,000 African-Americans, both free men and slaves, fought or participated in a war which saw over 600,000 of their fellow countrymen, including over 40,000 African-American soldiers, killed; and
WHEREAS, Virginians, both Confederate and Union, distinguished themselves in their service, fought with bravery against overwhelming odds, and sacrificed their lives in defense of their deeply held beliefs; and
WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize the historical contributions of great Virginians who served the Confederacy with honor, such as General Robert E. Lee of Westmoreland County, who sacrificed all of his family’s material belongings to stand with his native Virginia in secession and who led the proud and mighty Army of Northern Virginia through many arduous battles from Richmond to Gettysburg, and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of Clarksburg, who died with the respect of his soldiers and his State in defense of his convictions, as well as thousands of other Virginians, military and civilian, who fought and sacrificed for the Confederacy; and
WHEREAS, it is fitting to recognize the historical contributions of great Virginians who served the Union with honor, such as Sergeant William H. Carney of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers, a son of Norfolk who fled slavery to become the first African-American soldier to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at the siege of Fort Wagner where he was struck by three bullets, and General William R. Terrill of Covington, who commanded his troops through one of the War’s bloodiest battles at Shiloh, brother of Confederate General James Terrill, both of whom died in battle, as well as thousands of other Virginians, military and civilian, who fought and sacrificed for the Union; and
WHEREAS, our generation’s recognition of this historical era necessarily acknowledges that the practice of slavery was an affront to man’s natural dignity, deprived African-Americans of their God-given inalienable rights, degraded the human spirit and is abhorred and condemned by Virginians, and likewise that had there been no slavery there would have been no war; and
WHEREAS, the four years of Civil War was suffered by both North and South to protect what each side believed to be threatened rights and imperiled liberty as bequeathed to them by our founding fathers – the one for liberty in the union of the States, the other for liberty in the independence of the States; and
WHEREAS, the meeting between Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant on that Spring day April 9, 1865 in Appomattox, Virginia, set the Nation on its course toward reconciliation and rededicated Americans to the proposition that all men are created equal and that only a nation so dedicated can long endure; and
WHEREAS, the numerous battlefields, monuments, museums and other historical sites to be found in Virginia allow our citizens, and indeed people from all over the world, to remember, study and appreciate the men and women of that unique time in the history of our Commonwealth and Nation; and
WHEREAS, we honor our past and from it draw the courage, strength and wisdom to reconcile ourselves, and go forward into the future together as Virginians and Americans; and
WHEREAS, remembrance of the profound sacrifices and honorable service of the men and women of Virginia who served both Confederacy and Union shall unite Virginians of all regions, races, and creeds forever more;
NOW, THEREFORE, I, James S. Gilmore, III, Governor of Virginia, do hereby recognize April 2001 as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Month for Remembrance of the Sacrifices and Honor of All Virginians Who Served in the Civil War, and I call upon our citizens to appreciate the sacrifices of all Virginians, regardless of what side they served, in the great conflict that changed our country forever and laid the foundation for the great Nation we are today.
Yes, Gilmore has more to say denouncing slavery. He also offers more praise for those who waged war on behalf of the Confederacy – and more acknowledgement of their cause as they perceived it. It’s certainly a more interesting document than McDonnell’s. And yes, there was always the alternative of saying nothing, the alternative adopted by Virginia’s two most recent Democratic governors. But isn’t that objectionable too? McDonnell’s proclamation looks like the work of an administration eager to cut short this ritual of recrimination and say nothing that would offend anyone.
Maybe that decision was not a good answer. Maybe there is no way to avoid offending someone on this subject. But a declaration of culture war and Confederate nostalgia, this proclamation isn’t.