Despite the fact that the American Confederacy was only in existence for a very short period of time – just four years in-fact, from 1861 to 1865, the formation of the rebel government has continued to polarize options not just within the United States of America, but throughout the world.
There are very few people in the world who are not familiar with the American Civil War, slavery in America, or have at least a vague understanding the significance of the symbols such as the flags of the confederacy.
Why Is There So Much Controversy?
Although you will often have flippant comments declaring the only reason why anyone would want the rebel flag is because they are racist, there is more to it than this. Although the original confederacy only latest for a few short years, the identity of the states involved had been linked long before the union and remain joint by many similarity’s long after the American Civil War.
While they were states that believed it was appropriate to use the labor of African-American slaves, they also saw it as the only way for the economy which was primarily based on cotton, to continue. Meanwhile, in the northern states, the cotton-picking industry was being turned on its head by industrialization.
Although it is generally thought that the entire American Civil War was fought for the honorable cause of wanting to see all people free and equal, this is unfortunately not even vaguely close. While Lincoln did want to see slavery ended, he did not go so far as to believe that all should have the same rights or equality (remembering that women were not universally able to vote in American until 1920).
So, while slavery is the primary reason offered, the driving force behind the civil war was more economic than ethics. Particularly when Abraham Lincoln was voted in as the American president, without any votes from the southern states https://www.pbs.org/opb/historydetectives/feature/causes-of-the-civil-war/
The Flag Is My Tradition!
This is where it becomes such a passionate topic for debate. The theory goes that history is written by the winners, and in the case of the civil war, the north was definitely the winners. However, ultimately you have a country united legally, but separated by a diverseness of culture, heritage, economy and climate.
Just as someone who comes from a Scottish background might proudly display their clans crest or wear their tartans, for those that have a strong southern state background, that brief period where the states were united as one in solidarity has become a strong part of the cultural identity and heritage. Which, of course, means that many people who stand proudly in support of the southern way of life. Although one of the first areas to be settled by English colonizers, people in the south are proud of having separated (violently) from English rule, and whole heartily adopt America as their homeland, embracing the new land and lifestyle it provided. It is also significantly warmer and dryer than most parts of England.
What Do You Do When Your Traditional Symbols Cause Upset & Offence?
This is, unsurprisingly, a really complicated issue, that is raging around American colleges and schools at the moment (see here). Southerners who identify as being traditionalist from the south passionately love their heritage and take pride in the symbols that represent that heritage. While the vast majority do not have any dislike for non-white groups, do not want to see slavery return, and support equality between races (there are always a few exceptions), they struggle with being told that they are wrong for embracing their heritage.
Likewise, on the other side, those who see the rebel or confederacy flag as being a representation of slavery cannot understand why anyone would want to identify with this symbol. In America segregation between black and white people is still very much recent history. Although slavery itself was abolished, the effects of generations of people who were forcibly uplifted from their homelands and sold into slavery with the expectation that they give up their history, traditions and language will take more generations to unravel.
With different groups of people desperately trying to develop their culture and understand their roots in a dramatically changing world where everything they have ever known is being turned on their heads, it is unsurprising that people are clinging to whatever they can.