Opinion: The Confederacy Disrespected the Founding Fathers

Walter Rhein

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In the United States, we’re conditioned to speak of the Founding Fathers with reverence. Unfortunately, many schoolchildren are also taught to respect and revere the leaders of the traitorous Confederacy.

This leads to confusion when students read the speeches of Confederate leaders only to find instances of those leaders speaking poorly of the Founding Fathers. Smart students might ask, “If we’re supposed to show respect for the Founding Fathers, how can we tolerate these unfounded criticisms?”

Unfortunately, the response in modern America is often to attempt to censor history. Rather than admit the sanitized narrative surrounding the Confederacy is wrong, there’s an effort to prevent students from examining the contradictory historical documents.

It’s a problem when our society becomes so enamored with a false interpretation of history that it feels emboldened to block, disregard, and ignore factual evidence. At that point, the nation is teaching propaganda, not truth.

One of the most famous historical documents that indicate the beliefs of the Confederacy is The Cornerstone Speech by Confederate Vice-President Alexander H. Stephens. In that speech, Stephens makes some pointed criticisms of Thomas Jefferson’s famous opposition to the institution of slavery.

Stephens was born in 1812. Thomas Jefferson died in 1826. I mention this because it’s interesting to establish that Jefferson was still alive when Stephens was a child. That means the historical perspective on Jefferson was still evolving.

Thomas Jefferson is a complex historical figure. Jefferson often spoke on the evils of slavery. However, he benefited from slavery his whole life.

As president, Thomas Jefferson abolished the slave trade, however, he failed to make the appropriate step of ending slavery altogether. Banning the slave trade was probably part of Jefferson’s penance for a lifetime of benefiting from an institution he fundamentally knew to be wrong. However, the only slaves of his own that he freed were likely his own children.

Ultimately, it could be argued that Thomas Jefferson’s half-measure of banning the slave trade only made American slavery worse. The result was the creation of horrific breeding farms and the development of the unsustainable plantation era based on slave labor that resulted in the Civil War.

In The Cornerstone Speech, Stephens claims that Jefferson was wrong to believe that all men are created equal. It’s interesting to note that the titular cornerstone in the Cornerstone Speech, which amounts to the mission statement of the Confederacy, is a deplorable defense of white superiority.

Stephens is critical of Jefferson not for failing to do enough to end slavery, but for aspiring to work for equality for all. Stephens criticized Jefferson exactly for the reason Jefferson is revered today.

What was still a matter of debate in 1861, should today be considered established history. Alexander H. Stephens, Vice-President of the Confederacy, was on the wrong side of that history. However, there's a modern push to bury that truth by disregarding that the institution of slavery was the main conflict that led to the Civil War.

This represents the fundamental problem when people teach lies about history. There are entities in the United States that want to persist in promoting the false mythology of the “Lost Cause” narrative. The idea that the Confederate south was “honorable” even though they were traitors to the Union and defended the institution of slavery is complete propaganda. Yet, a large portion of American citizens believe this nonsense.

The bigger problem is that one lie leads to another. If you actually study history, you see that the “Lost Cause” narrative is full of holes. Therefore, the people who defend this narrative have no other choice but to try and censor history to protect their lies.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what you’re seeing in our society today. Certain subjects are “banned” for dubious reasons. Sometimes classes are banned with no clear indication of what the deciding bodies find objectionable. Do you see? They can’t say what they don’t like because that would promote the very truths about history that they want to cover up.

So, they say, “It was too woke” or “It had no educational value” or “They were teaching critical race theory.” They don’t offer specifics. Those statements are, by themselves, meaningless. Every responsible citizen needs to ask essential questions. What is critical race theory? How is teaching the contents of a historical document inappropriate?

If you aren’t asking questions, you’re being played.

But Americans don’t ask those questions. They’re content to scroll through social media. They’re content to listen to outraged pundits on the radio. They’re content to listen to outraged pundits on television. They don’t think for themselves. They have their thinking prepackaged and they pick it up at the store.

As we move through history, we should feel inclined to criticize the missteps of historical figures. However, those criticisms must be for the right reasons. If we are going to treat our children that all people are created equal, we can’t turn around and revere other individuals who deny the inherent truth in that sentiment.

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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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