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On Virginia Governor Robert F. McDonnell's Confederate History Month Proclamation

Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens:

Stephens: But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other -- though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us.... This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.... The prevailing ideas entertained by [Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but... that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time.... Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.... Those at the North... we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind -- from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just -- but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was... he and his associates... would ultimately fail. The truth... that it was... impossible to war successfully against a principle... I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal...

Republican magazine editor R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.:

Up from Slavery: Let us flee to a favored utopia. For me that would be the late 18th Century but with air conditioning.... With both feet firmly planted on the soil of my American domain, and young American flag fluttering above, tobacco in the field, I would relish the freedom...

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell:

Confederate History Month Proclamation: 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.

Sheila Johnson:

BET Co-Founder (and McDonnell supporter) Sheila Johnson Blasts VA’s Bob McDonnell For Confederacy Praise: I must condemn Governor McDonnell’s Proclamation honoring ‘Confederate History Month,’ and its insensitive disregard of Virginia’s complicated and painful history, the remnants of which many Virginians still wrestle with today. The complete omission of slavery from an official government document, which purports to be a call for Virginians to ‘understand’ and ’study’ their history, is both academically flawed and personally offensive. If Virginians are to celebrate their ’shared history,’ as this proclamation suggests, then the whole truth of this history must be recognized and not evaded.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell:

McDonnell Taking Heat For Confederate History Month Proclamation: McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”

Sons of Confederate Veterans:

Despite previous governors' refusals, McDonnell issues Confederate history month proclamation: This year's proclamation was requested by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A representative of the group said the group has known since it interviewed McDonnell when he was running for attorney general in 2005 that he was likely to respond differently than Warner or Kaine. "We've known for quite some time we had a good opportunity should he ascend the governorship," Brandon Dorsey said. "We basically decided to bide our time and wait until we had more favorable politicians in Richmond." Dorsey said the governor's stamp of approval would help the group publicize the month and aide tourism efforts in the state.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell:

McDonnell apologizes for slavery omission: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, under fire from some for his proclamation on Confederate History Month, issued the following statement Wednesday evening:

"The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.

"When I signed the Proclamation designating February as Black History Month, and as I look out my window at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, I am reminded that, even 150 years later, Virginia’s past is inextricably part of our present. The Confederate History Month proclamation issued was solely intended to promote the study of our history, encourage tourism in our state in advance of the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and recognize Virginia’s unique role in the story of America. The Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved the establishment of a Sesquicentennial American Civil War Commission to prepare for and commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the War, in order to promote history and create recognition programs and activities.

"As Virginians we carry with us both the burdens and the blessings of our history. Virginia history undeniably includes the fact that we were the Capitol of the Confederacy, the site of more battlefields than any other state, and the home of the signing of the peace agreement at Appomattox. Our history is perhaps best encapsulated in a fact I noted in my Inaugural Address in January: The state that served as the Capitol of the Confederacy was also the first in the nation to elect an African-American governor, my friend, L. Douglas Wilder. America’s history has been written in Virginia. We cannot avoid our past; instead we must demand that it be discussed with civility and responsibility. During the commemoration of the Civil War over the next four years, I intend to lead an effort to promote greater understanding and harmony in our state among our citizens."

In addition the Governor announced that the following language will be added to the Proclamation:

"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..."

Brandon Dorsey of the Sons of Confederate Veterans:

Sons Of Confederate Vets Split On McDonnell Apology: Contacted this afternoon by TPMmuckraker, Dorsey said he was unaware of McDonnell's apology. After it was read to him, Dorsey said the apology "comes as a shock," and accused the governor of "pandering to people who never would have voted for him nor supported any of his policies." Making clear that he was speaking only for himself, Dorsey said that the apology "completely undermined the purpose of the resolution." He added: "We would probably have rather not had a proclamation whatsoever, than for him to add a clause that says that everything that we support and everything we hold dear has to do with slavery."


UPDATE: Marc Ambinder says: It's the fault of Virgina Governor McDonnell's staff:

McDonnell's Gaffe: In a Black and White World, Blame the Pinks: Hundreds of proclamation requests come in every year. A functionary in the office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth prepares them (usually verbatim from language sent by the sponsoring organization) and the governor's signature is auto-penned. Then, if there is any heat, a governor always feels obligated to defend the proclamation, because they don't want it to appear that they aren't reading what they are supposedly signing. There's usually some filtering mechanism, though. When your top advisers come from the same place and have the same type of background and credentials, stuff like this happens. The filter fails.

A wise Virginia Republican told me that McDonnell is smart enough to "get" stuff like this, as his eventual response demonstrated. But it is worrisome that his staff would make the collective assumption that they could effectively dog-whistle. "You and I know that is not realistic, given his high national profile and the sensitivity of any civil rights related issue, and but they are just getting used to their status of a national figure and a potential future national candidate," this Republican said.

If McDonnell wants to be a Big Time Republican, he'd better get used to this sort of scrutiny.

The story that it's all the fault of the staff doesn't appear consistent with McDonnell's initial reaction when challenged:

[T]here were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia...

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