Opinion: The Confederate Flag Reminds Me Of Lincoln's Assassin

Walter Rhein

Image by Walter Rhein

Unfortunately, there is an ongoing effort in the United States to erase history. One historical fact that’s often brushed over is the reaction from the former Confederate states to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

The Civil War was the most contentious period in our nation's history. Although Abraham Lincoln is highly regarded today, that was not always the case.

Consider this headline from the Alabama Beacon on April 21st, 1865:

Glorious News. Lincoln and Seward Assassinated! Lee Defeats Grant. Andy Johnson Inaugurated President — Alabama Department of Archives & History

It is disgusting to consider that an American newspaper would call the assassination of any president "glorious," and that word shows the contemptible attitude which was commonplace at the time.

There are a lot of things that are noteworthy about this headline.

The name “Seward” refers to William Henry Seward who was the Secretary of State. The headline was incorrect, Seward was not assassinated. However, assassinating Seward was part of Booth’s plan.

Booth’s full plot included killing Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward—The forgotten man who almost became President after Lincoln

The question then becomes whether this is just a case of incompetent reporting, or if the newspaper had some other sources that knew the full extent of the assassination objectives.

The other part that’s noteworthy about the headline is the reference to Lee defeating Grant. Of course, that line refers to the humiliating defeat of the Confederacy by the brave and patriotic Union army.

It’s strange that a newspaper would print the name of a losing general with the insistence that he had won. It appears as if it’s a trend of the losers of history to spend the rest of their lives denying that they lost.

Another example can be seen in the resounding defeat of Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s defeat was particularly humiliating because he had the advantage of being an incumbent politician.

Congress and the Supreme Court may go in and out of session, but the President is the Energizer Bunny of American politics -- always on and ever present. It's no coincidence that in the last 11 elections with incumbent candidates, incumbents prevailed eight times, leaving just three -- Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush -- as lonely one- or partial-termers—The Power of Incumbency: Four Two-term Presidents in a Row?

An incumbent president has such enormous visibility advantages that a candidate must be truly incompetent to fail to win a second term. This is a hard pill to swallow for a man who then has to come to terms with his legacy as a loser.

The same appears to be true for those who sought to protect the legacy of General Lee. It's odd that his name would appear in this newspaper headline with the false assertion that he had emerged victorious.

It’s troubling to consider how disrespected Abraham Lincoln was among the members of the Confederate states. Today, Lincoln is almost universally revered as America’s greatest president.

It is the general opinion of pollsters, moreover, that the average American would probably put Lincoln at the top as well. In other words, the judgment of historians and the public tells us that Abraham Lincoln was the nation's greatest President by every measure applied—ABRAHAM LINCOLN: IMPACT AND LEGACY

In the United States of America, it’s considered important to respect the nation, the flag, and the history of our country. However, to this day, there are still people in our country who celebrate the death of our greatest president by honoring his assassin.

“The Maryland-Virginia League of the South commemorates the actions of Mr. John Wilkes Booth of Maryland who, motivated by the tyranny his Southern people faced, answered his calling with courage and fortitude,” states the Facebook page for the event — Keegan Hankes

In addition to organizing events to celebrate the cowardly actions of John Wilkes Booth, some people insist they have a right to respect and fly the Confederate flag.

They claim that the Confederate flag represents "history," or it represents their "heritage." Why don’t they ever mention that the Confederate flag is the rallying banner of the people who assassinated America’s greatest president?

As a patriotic American, this is what I think every time I see a Confederate flag. I regard the person who carries it as an individual who disrespects Lincoln and the United States by celebrating an act of brazen cowardice and treason.

Oddly, the realities surrounding Lincoln’s assassination aren’t discussed enough in public schools. Every child at school should be instructed that Lincoln was our greatest president and he was assassinated by an individual who sympathized with the Confederacy.

John Wilkes Booth will forever be known as the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. Booth, a native of Maryland, was a fierce Confederate sympathizer during the Civil War. Before the fateful night at Ford’s Theatre, he had conspired to kidnap Lincoln and hide him until all Confederate prisoners were released—John Wilkes Booth

I consider Booth to be the historical equivalent of the individuals who participated in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th.

American history is filled with entitled people who were soundly defeated. These people cannot admit they have lost and they go on to commit acts of treason. Many of the people who participated in the insurrection did so while carrying the traitor’s flag.

When a mob of armed insurgents flooded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, they brought an accessory: the Confederate battle flag. As the crowd of President Trump’s supporters rioted, many hoisted the symbol of a short-lived splinter nation that tore the Union apart—ERIN BLAKEMORE

It does not show respect to the United States of America to celebrate a flag that was the banner of the people who assassinated our greatest president. Anyone who carries a Confederate flag cannot be said to respect the legacy, genius, and humanity of Abraham Lincoln. It’s an act of overt disrespect.

It’s shameful that the United States remains so divided that individuals still celebrate an act of cowardly assassination.

All Americans should be taught to respect the American flag and the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president. Whenever patriotic Americans are confronted with the Confederate flag, they should point out that flying the traitor flag shows unwarranted respect to those that succeeded in assassinating our nation's greatest leader.

Anyone who flies the Confederate flag should be embarrassed to call himself an American.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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