Why We Revere Our Confederate Ancestors
It is so natural and obvious for Southerners to be proud of their ancestors who wore the gray that we seldom stop even to think about it. And yet it is sometimes worthwhile to reflect on what it was about what those men did that continues to stir our hearts 130 years after they laid down their arms.
Every man or woman has his own thoughts about this, but surely what most inspires us about our Confederate ancestors was their devotion to their cause — a devotion that found its highest expression in the willingness to face death in the name of something sweeter than life itself. Of course, they were not the first to die by the thousands for their country, their people, and their way of life. Nearly 3,000 years ago Homer wrote of Greeks who believed that “for our country ‘tis a bliss to die.”
Other Americans in other wars have also faced death. In the 50th anniversary year of the Normandy invasion, we heard a great deal about what that campaign meant to the men who fought it. They were brave soldiers, who fought with all their hearts, but Ernie Pyle, who was there at D-Day thought something was missing:
“Then darkness enveloped the whole American armada. Not a pinpoint of light showed from those hundreds of ships as they surged on through the night toward their destiny, carrying across the ageless and indifferent sea tens of thousand of young men, fighting for … for … well, at least for each other.”
Of course, the Confederate soldier fought for his messmates as all soldiers do, but he also knew the larger meaning of the war. He fought for independence, for the rights of sovereign states, for the same freedom from tyranny that had inspired the revolution in 1776. That is why George Washington — no unionist, he — sits his horse at the center of the Great Seal of the Confederacy. Secession was an act of faithfulness to the original aims of the Founders.
Even a few Yankees understood this. Herman Melville was a union man but enough of a patriot to admire men who fought for freedom. As he wrote:
“Who looks at Lee must think of Washington;
In pain must think and hide the thought,
So deep with grievous meaning it is fraught.”
Confederates found inspiration in the words of Thomas Jefferson. “What country before ever existed a century and a half without a rebellion?” he wrote in 1787; “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” It was entirely fitting that George Randolph, a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, should serve in Jefferson Davis’s cabinet as Secretary of War.
Those of us who honor the Confederacy today are therefore moved, not just by the extraordinary bravery and sacrifice of our ancestors, but by the cause for which they fought: Freedom. Americans continue to prate about freedom, but they scarcely seem to know what it means.
The government against which our ancestors took up arms was a mild and distant irritant compared to the federal scourge that rules us today. Constitutional restraints on tyranny are, to our masters, only a hazy memory, as they exercise powers beyond the dreams of history’s most famous dictators.
Louis XIV never required an annual accounting of every centime every Frenchman earned. He would never have dared to then demand a third of it in yearly tribute. Ivan the Terrible never told Russian merchants whom they could or could not hire nor, Heaven help us, where they could have a smoke.
Our government takes our money and gives it away as welfare to illegal aliens. It may yet herd us into groups and tell us which doctors we must consult. It runs an immigration policy that will reduce European-Americans to a minority. It is fully capably of illegally repudiating the Second Amendment — just as it has the Tenth — and seizing our weapons.
This is not a government that Washington or Jefferson would have tolerated for an instant. Ulysses S. Grant himself would have led a rebellion against it. But we, unlike our ancestors, may curse the government and fiddle our taxes, but who is willing to fight?
Our Confederate forebears, whose grievances were lighter than ours, were braver and nobler men than we. They took freedom seriously enough to die for it — and for that we cannot help but remember and revere them.
Mr. Taylor is the editor of the monthly newsletter, American Renaissance, and the author of Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America.