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July 05, 2012

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AGR

Interesting points, Al. I am sure you know David Blight's Race and Reunion, and his discussion of what got lost in the impulse between the white North and South to reunite after the war: the history of black Americans and the project of bringing them into citizenship.

As for the inscription on the first monument, do you mean that using the word "Believed" suggests they no longer believed, instead of just saying, "principles fundamental to..."? Could be. Since the principles were propounded to uphold southern "freedom" on the slavery question, with that freedom taken away, there was still the need to carry on sans slavery. There had to be new "fundamental" principles or, at least, there had to be a shift. Racially based slavery did the work of white supremacy and the subjugation of blacks. With slavery "gone", structures designed to maintain supremacy and subjugation had to be (and were) reconstituted. So, the people putting up the monument could do so comfortably letting go of one critical component of the belief system of their ancestors.

Alfred Brophy

Blight's Race and Reunion is absolutely fantastic, of course -- many years ago now as I was going through a semi-crisis in thinking about my scholarship and my interest in writing history I read it. And it restored my faith in the prospects and virtue of history. The only thing that I think was missing was a sense of how these ideas about reconciliation appeared in the judiciary.

As to your question, I wondered about the "believed" part -- does the past tense suggest that they were saying that "at the time, people thought the principles of slavery and states' rights were correct but we now know them not to be"? That's how I was reading this -- in part because of works like Blight, which show that was how many people interpreted the war in the 1920s. Or maybe that's reading too much in here -- and what they were saying was "the soldiers believed in those principles (and we still do)." Also a plausible interpretation, obviously. But if that were the case, why not leave off "belived." This suggests again how much one can make out of even a short statement on a monument. And how much there may be constitutional significance in monuments....

AGR

Well, what the ideas of reconciliation meant to the judiciary would be an important thing to study. The breakdown of law and of comity had to have been a deeply unsettling thing to jurists before the war. They were all "brothers", and then it fell apart. How they went about putting things back together under the regime of forgive and forget was crucial to shaping life in the south for blacks and whites-- in different ways, of course.

Alfred Brophy

AGR,

One really interesting appearance of this narrative of reconciliation appeared in the Tennessee Court of Appeals back in 2005 in the United Daughters of the Confederacy v. Vanderbilt case. The court enjoined Vanderbilt from renaming a building on its campus from "Confederate Memorial Hall" to "Memorial Hall." I think it's a really interesting opinion in all sorts of ways, including for what it says about contract damages.

But right now I want to highlight that a concurring judge quoted extensively from the memoirs of Joshua Chamberlain, a United States General during the War, published in 1910. Chamberlain was at Appomattox and the concurrence quoted this from his memoirs about the surrender:

Before us in proud humiliation stood the embodiment of manhood:  men whom neither toils and sufferings, nor the fact of death, nor disaster, nor hopelessness could bend from their resolve;  standing before us now, thin, worn, and famished, but erect, and with eyes looking level into ours, waking memories that bound us together as no other bond;-was not such manhood to be welcomed back into a Union so tested and assured?

I've blogged some about this here:
http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2009/12/confederate-memorial-hall.html

And also written some about this in an essay on the law and morality of building renaming:

http://blurblawg.typepad.com/files/lmbr.pdf

AGR

Fascinating... the idea of heroism trumps what we know of the system and ideals they were fighting to maintain. No thought of what the original name meant to the blacks who attend the school, or who are residents of Tennessee, and would not have been able to attend Vanderbilt if the Confederacy had won. What a sleight of hand!

One of the most valuable things that Jack Balkin did on his site a couple of years back was to print Alexander Stephens's Cornerstone speech in which the ideals of the Confederacy were laid out-- the principle of the inferiority of blacks, the right to hold them as slaves. As you know, he explicitly rejects Jefferson's Declaration. You can no more separate the Confederacy from the documents its leaders created to explain what it was about than you can separate the Declaration and the American Constitution from what American soldiers have fought for over the years. And yet, people have been allowed to do that.

Alfred Brophy

That UDC v. Vanderbilt case is really interesting -- I teach it in property. There's a lot to it -- the damages section's really interesting (there's no division of damages, for instance). So much there to deal with -- like whether there were conditions on the "gift" in the first place. Now that I think about it I could also teach it in trusts and estates; probably ought to.

The cornerstone speech is fabulously helpful in pointing out what was on the table. That shouldn't have been necessary. Stephens is pretty interesting because his constitutional history (or whatever it's called) is part of the re-writing of the understanding of the war.

Thanks for commenting, AGR.

AGR

You are welcome. Interesting stuff.

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