Conservatives, Republicans, and Virginia
The governor of Virginia — "a white conservative Republican," notes the Washington Post — has abolished Confederate History Month and replaced it with "Civil War History Month." (Click here for the official press release).
Never mind that Virginia was home to the capitol of the Confederate States of America — Richmond. Never mind that Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, two of the greatest generals of the South, were Virginians.
The state which Lee and Jackson defended — despite their initial opposition to secession and to the war — has turned its back on them.
One wonders why a conservative Republican like Gilmore would do such a thing. Surely, if Gilmore is a "conservative," he must be interested in conserving the history of his state. Surely, if Gilmore is a Republican, he must stand on the opposite side of the political aisle from those in the Thought Police who would erase unpleasant episodes in history.
Wrong and wrong.
Gilmore aspires to bigger things than "running" dear old Virginia.
As the Washington Post observes,
Toni-Michelle Travis, an African American who teaches government at George Mason University, said any aspirations for federal office that Gilmore may have could be bolstered by what she called "his effort to reach out."
"It's an olive branch," she said, "but he's thinking of higher office."
The Post also reports that Gilmore's "courageous" knuckling under to the Thought Police of political correctness was praised by Douglas Wilder, the former Democratic governor of Virginia.
Wilder, in a quotation empty of genuine thought which only a politician could utter, stated that
"The governor is trying to show the Civil War was an American tragedy," Wilder said. "I hope this stops it from being a cause celebre for one group or another. It was his intention to clear the air, and I think it does clear the air."
As if it needed to be said that a war which killed 620,000 and impoverished the South (recall that many of the major cities of the South were ransacked by the Union army) for over 100 years was "an American tragedy." How astute.
Wilder (pictured below), while governor, is notable for having passed Virginia's "one gun a month" restriction.
It should also be noted that Wilder was not, as is often reported, "the nation's first black governor." Wilder was the first black governor since Reconstruction, and the first elected black governor. During Reconstruction, Pinckney B. S. Pinchback was elected lieutenant governor of Louisiana, and later served as acting governor.
What is a conservative Republican like Gilmore doing courting Wilder, the last Democratic governor of Virginia?
The answer is that Gilmore is a politician.
Despite cutting property taxes on cars, Gilmore appears as empty-headed as every other stuffed suit ever to run for office. His web site, for example, contains the following empty-headed quotation to rival Wilder's quote about the Civil War:
We live today in a constantly changing commonwealth. Our economy and our society no longer embody the traditional notions of a sleepy southern state. Virginia is emerging as the progressive and inclusive leader of a dynamic, new age.
There is absolutely nothing "conservative" about that quotation from the allegedly "conservative" Gilmore.
First, Gilmore caricatures the past by implying that unlike today's "constantly changing commonwealth," Virginia was pretty much the same old place from the 1600s until the year 2000. If there was no change in the past, how is it that Virginia got to be the way it is today, Gilmore? If there was change in the past, does Gilmore simply contend that it was not "constantly" changing?
Second, the "conservative" Gilmore does not appear at all disturbed by the fact that Virginia is no longer "traditional." Some "conservative," so willing to let go of the past.
Third, Gilmore crows that "Virginia is emerging as the progressive and inclusive leader of a dynamic, new age."
How many self-described "conservatives" and traditionalists voted for Gilmore? Did you think you were buying into a "progressive and inclusive...dynamic, new age?" Somehow, I don't think so.
Southern heritage groups have pointed out to Gilmore — correctly — that the war was caused not by slavery, but by a crisis between Federalists and Anti-Federalists which had been brewing since the colonies abandoned the Articles of Confederation in favor of the Constitution of 1789.
Abraham Lincoln and the Republican party were the inheritors of Alexander Hamilton's Federalist tradition, which believed in a strong centralized government of an interventionist, pork-barrel nature (on this point, see Charles Adams' When in the Course of Human Events and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel's Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men).
In contrast, the Southern states favored free trade and maintained the interpretation of the Constitution which was taught at West Point right up until the war began, namely, that the states were sovereign and could withdraw from the union at any time.
If Gilmore is serious about erasing history in the name of "unity," he had better do something about the state flag and the great seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia which is featured on the flag.
There is a strange lack of thought with respect to the Virginia flag. EnchantedLearning.com notes that
Virginia's official state flag was adopted in 1861. The flag has a deep blue background with a white circle in the center. In the center are the words "VIRGINIA," and "SIC SEMPER TYRANNIS" (Latin for "thus always to tyrants"). Depicting the state's motto on the flag is the goddess Virtue (who is holding a sword and a spear), who has defeated a tyrant, who is lying on the ground, and is holding a chain and a scourge (a whip). Nearby is the tyrant's fallen crown. Virtue symbolizes Virginia and the tyrant symbolizes Britain.
The official web site of the Virginia Legislature tells much the same story:
The obverse side of the great seal depicts the Roman goddess Virtus representing the spirit of the Commonwealth. She is dressed as an Amazon, a sheathed sword in one hand, and a spear in the other, and one foot on the form of Tyranny, who is pictured with a broken chain in his left hand, a scourge in his right, and his fallen crown nearby, implying struggle that has ended in complete victory. Virginia's motto, Sic Semper Tyrannis (Latin for "Thus Always to Tyrants"), appears at the bottom.
Note that unlike EnchantedLearning.com, the official version from the Virginia Legislature makes no claim that the fallen tyrant "symbolized Britain."
That being said, take a look at the state seal for yourself (pictured above), and consider the fact that the flag featuring the seal was adopted in 1861.
In 1861, which tyrant was on the minds of the legislators of Virginia? King George III? If they were thinking of George III, and the Declaration of Independence, it was only because a contemporary tyrant had caused them to think about 1776.
The contemporary tyrant — or, as he is known to this day in the state song of Maryland, "the despot" — was Abraham Lincoln.
Remember what John Wilkes Booth shouted at Ford's Theater when he assassinated Lincoln?
"Sic semper tyrannis."
After abolishing Confederate History Month, Governor Gilmore had better get rid of that state flag. Even the slight appearance of condoning regicide, tyrannicide, or plain old homicide, might be politically damaging. Perhaps Gilmore and Governor Glendening of Maryland can abolish their state flags in unison, since Maryland's flag also contains Confederate symbols.
Goodbye, history. Hello, 1984.
March 22, 2001
Mr. Dieteman is an attorney in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a PhD candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America.
© 2001 David Dieteman