The ghost of the Confederacy hangs closely over the Tennessee Legislature.
Justin Jones, one in all two Black members expelled from the state’s Home of Representatives in April 2023, had run afoul of Home management earlier than. In 2019, as a non-public citizen, he was arrested following his actions in protesting a bust within the state capitol honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Accomplice basic and later Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Whereas the expulsion of Jones and his colleague, Justin J. Pearson, riveted the nation’s consideration, a curious and associated occasion within the Legislature’s different department, the Tennessee Senate, handed practically unnoticed.
On Feb. 3, 2023, two state senators issued a proper proclamation commemorating April 2023 as and inspiring “all Tennesseans to extend their information of this momentous period within the historical past of this State.”
One of many signers is Senate Speaker Randy McNally, who can also be the state’s lieutenant governor; the opposite is Sen. Mark Pody from Lebanon. Although not thought-about in legislative session and never listed on the Legislature’s web site, the proclamation holds an official stature: It was issued on Senate stationery and stamped with the Tennessee state seal.
The proclamation’s wording intently follows that of a proclamation issued by Virginia’s Gov. Robert McDonnell in April 2010, with one hanging exception. McDonnell’s proclamation in last type included a paragraph, inserted after protests to an earlier model, stating “that it is crucial for all Virginians to grasp that the establishment of slavery led to this warfare.”
The Tennessee proclamation, which incorporates eight introductory clauses celebrating “the reason for Southern liberty,” says nothing of slavery in any respect. Quite, it declares that Confederates carried out “a four-year heroic battle for states’ rights, particular person freedom, native authorities management, and a decided battle for deeply held beliefs.”
As we historians of the Civil Warfare have tirelessly identified, the documentary document speaks clearly of the motive behind that “heroic battle.”
Each official proceedings and personal utterances show abundantly that there was just one motive to secede from the US and create a brand new Confederacy. That was to safeguard racial slavery from the menace posed by the election of an antislavery Northerner, Abraham Lincoln, as president of the US.
Tennessee seceded later than different states, after the Accomplice firing on Fort Sumter. Lincoln’s responding name for troops made plain that there can be a warfare and that Tennessee, like different fence-sitting Higher South states, must select sides.
The document of the state’s causes is straightforward to search out and would have been out there to the authors of the current proclamation. In 2021, the College of Tennessee Press revealed “Tennessee Secedes: A Documentary Historical past.” It exhibits that in Tennessee, as elsewhere, the safety of slavery was the only real motive for secession.
In 1861, Gov. Isham Harris convened the state’s Legislature with a message denouncing the North’s “systematic, wanton, and lengthy continued agitation of the slavery query,” topped by the insulting election of a president who “asserted the equality of the black with the white race.”
Harris went on:
“To evade the problem thus compelled upon us right now, with out the fullest safety for our rights, is, in my view, deadly to the establishment of slavery ceaselessly. The time has arrived when the individuals of the South should put together both to desert or to fortify and preserve it. Abandon it, we can’t, interwoven as it’s with our wealth, prosperity and home happiness.”
In all of the deliberations that adopted, no trigger or grievance however slavery was talked about.
But these fundamental info go unacknowledged in a proclamation that boldly declares that information of Accomplice historical past is “very important to understanding who we’re and what we’re.”
Different omissions within the proclamation are equally curious.
Tennessee’s position within the Confederacy was uniquely conflicted. Hundreds of residents, particularly in mountainous East Tennessee, opposed secession. Ignoring “native authorities management,” the state suppressed their dissent by drive.
Some 50,000 Tennesseans, white and Black, spurned the Confederacy and fought for the US – greater than from another Accomplice state. The proclamation silently erases not solely their battle and sacrifice however their very existence.
‘Be not deceived by names’
Whether or not the Confederacy needs to be celebrated or condemned relies upon inescapably on viewpoint.
The proclamation casts the Confederacy within the mode of the American Revolution. The image it paints is of a noble, if unsuccessful, try to erect a brand new self-governing unbiased nation – ignoring the truth that the establishment of human slavery was at its heart, because the Accomplice structure made clear.
But from one other perspective, the Confederacy was nothing greater than an armed mass rise up in opposition to a legitimately elected authorities.
It was, sarcastically, a well-known Tennessean, President Andrew Jackson, who had warned would-be seceders in an official proclamation in 1832: “Be not deceived by names. Disunion by armed drive is treason. Are you actually able to incur its guilt?”
Lincoln labeled the Confederacy an “rebellion” inside the US itself, which the federal government and constant residents had not solely a proper however an obligation to place down.
In phrases that echo at this time, Lincoln additionally noticed that if the US gained its battle in opposition to forcible dismemberment, “it would then have been proved that, amongst free males, there will be no profitable attraction from the poll to the bullet; and that they who take such attraction are positive to lose their case, and pay the price.”
The outdated adage that the victors write historical past is true no less than to this extent. Usually, the American Revolutionaries are deemed patriot heroes reasonably than rebels and traitors as a result of they gained their warfare, and since the course of subsequent historical past seems to have vindicated their trigger.
But many Accomplice acolytes, the proclamation’s sponsors amongst them, appear to have issue confronting what the Confederacy really stood for. Therefore, residents serving in authorities – who upon getting into their places of work take a solemn oath to uphold and defend the US Structure and start their day by day classes by pledging allegiance to “one Nation indivisible” – selected to formally exalt a failed try to overthrow that Structure and dismember the nation that it sure collectively.
Underneath a statute enacted in 2021, Tennessee public college academics are barred from utilizing tutorial supplies “selling or advocating the violent overthrow of the US authorities.”
No such prohibition applies to state legislators.
Daniel Feller, Emeritus Professor of Historical past, College of Tennessee
This text is republished from The Dialog underneath a Artistic Commons license. Learn the unique article.
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