The Confederate Flag is reasonably construed as a symbol of racism.
The Confederate Flag is reasonably construed as a symbol of racism.
reasonably: “fair and sensible” (1)
construed: “to understand in a particular way”(2)
symbol: “an action, object, event, etc., that expresses or represents a particular idea or quality” (3)
Full resolution: The Confederate flag is an object that can in a fair and sensible way be understood as expressing and/or representing the concept of racism.
Format: 3 rounds/6000 characters/72 hrs.
Round 1: defining terms and acceptance
Round 2: arguments
Round 3: rebuttals and closing statements (no new arguments)
I accept this challenge.
I have no issue with the given definitions, however would like to point out that as was mentioned in the comments, the (assumed) flag in question (the "Confederate Flag") is actually one design element added to later incarnations of a flag for the CSA. For purposes of this debate, I will be working under the assumpt that this:
is what is being construed as a symbol of racism as opposed to the slightly more esoteric:
With that, I return it to my opposition for opening arguments.
Thank you for accepting this debate and Good luck!
A:Historical Backround and the Civil War
“The secession of the Southern states (in chronological order, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina) in 1860–61 and the ensuing outbreak of armed hostilities were the culmination of decades of growing sectional friction over slavery.”(1)
The south seceded from the North for a number of reasons. Slavery was perhaps the biggest reason. The South became “Confederate States of America.” Jefferson Davis was elected as the President of the Confederacy. His Vice President was Alexander Stephens.
“in 1861, Stephens explained to a cheering audience that the Confederacy was founded to expressly reject the proposition that men of all races were equal. Instead, Stephens stated, "The foundations of our new government 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 moral condition."(2)
B: Which Flag
Con is correct I am referring to this flag.
This is the Battle Flag of Northern Virginia. “It was used in battle beginning in December 1861 until the fall of the Confederacy…. The flag's stars represented the number of states in the Confederacy.” (3) Thus it is indisputable that this flag was intended to identify the CSA. “The flag… eventually became the battle flag and, ultimately, the most popular flag of the Confederacy.”(3)
C: The purpose of a flag
“Flags are an extremely easy way to identify a country or area immediately, language is not a barrier. The colors and emblems chosen by each country for its flag are deeply symbolic.” (4)
The Confederate Flag (Virginia Battle Flag) was used as a way to identify the confederacy and therefore the principles of the confederacy.
The Confederacy choose their flag to represent their identity and principles. The Confederacy was founded upon the principle that “the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.” This is obviously and indisputably a racist principle. The Confederate Flag is a symbol of Racism.
Through the lens of the victor, it’s easy to understand why blame need be found: should the defeated have a moral leg to stand on, what was the point of the war? Who is 'right'? When it comes to the Civil War, that was the unanswered question with a hidden answer. In this debate, I hope to try and divorce the stigma of racism from the CSA, and instead better identify the source of derision that persists even today.
Slavery. A reprehensible institution. The Founding Fathers all had their condemnation for it (strangely even while keeping their own slaves), but in appreciation that at the time the economy of their fledgling nation depended on it, it was tolerated and compromised on, and it was even written into the Constitution. As it stood, it was going to die naturally but slowly. This would afford former slave owners the ability to industrialize and emancipate at their own ability with no threat to potentially bankrupting their lively-hood. The importing of slaves was also to be outlawed as of 1808, a further attempt to starve the beast of Slavery. A reminder: Slavery doesn’t recognize inherent rights. Slavery, at its core, is to put one man beneath another, to turn Man into property. It is a means to the commoditization of people in its most literal form. Slavery doesn't see race and there were no rules regarding who could and couldn’t be a slave if the proper paperwork were followed.
The colonies, in their Declaration stated “…That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles...to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”. With non-slave states joining the Union, it was a matter of time until enough public sentiment would kill off slavery rather than allowing its natural death… and that’s when the problems began.
States that left the Union did so on the renegging of compromises made during the creation of the Constitution. The economic ability of those in the South were directly threatened by growing abolition sentiment (not specifically a civil rights sentiment) and took steps to remove themselves from the equation of having their livelyhood ruined. Non-slave states entering the Union could simply ratify measures to gut the profitability of the South, and by the time 1860 rolled around that tipping point was clearly at hand.
That bit of history concluded: symbolism can be better found in what is ratified than what is construed. Slavery was ratified. Slavery was the issue. Slavery does not see race. To reasonably construe the CSA flag to be a symbol of racism, I would expect to see ratification and statute that denotes “Negro” as inferior or “White” as superior, rather than specific commodity as any other slave could be. Without pointing to the endemic racism that was prevalent in the North American continent (the Union, the CSA, the MidwesternTerritories, etc), this resolution is nothing but a cherry picked boogeyman, a desire for moral superiority in a bloody war that pit us against ourselves. Why are we not content to call the reason for the Civil War “slavery”, and end it there? The sad truth was that on the whole, we were a racist country at the time, not just the South. To portray the symbols of the CSA as racist ignores what and why slavery needed to linger on before finally dying out. The epithet of “racist” gives a means to casually disregard the destruction that was done; to rationalize why the way of life of so many people were immediately destroyed. If anything, calling the flag of the CSA symbolic of racism misconstrues what the views of the general populace were at the time in order to find blame in the defeated.
“If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, ... What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save the Union.”
“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, ... I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position” -A. Lincoln
The above quotes in mind, it could be reasonably construed that the Civil War wasn't a war of emancipation, or equality amongst races. That's the ultimate reason why the CSA and her symbols are called racist; so as to excuse the fact the war was about acquisition and power. Not of people, but of land and resources for economic ends. Humans are loathe to fight for greed and known detriment to other’s well-being, which is why there is so much more to those times than simply claiming racism a century later. We, in conflicts, want to be ‘right’ for a good reason: an ideal. It’s all too easy to dismiss opposition based on their measuring up to your “side’s” ideal than admitting one’s own personal designs. There is so much more at stake than smug superiority granted by the passage of time to allow for more enlightened views.
In this impassioned plea, I hope you can find it in yourself to put down the judgmental lens that has been cut from time and instead be the historian needed to regard all the facts of the era; what each motive and statute and personal stake came into the forming of and fighting with the CSA. In that task, there's no reason to exclude any faction, North or South, Western Territory, abolitionist or slave dependent farmer. In keeping of those facts in their totality, its highly unreasonable to construe the flag of the CSA as a symbol of racism.
My opponent says “I hope to try and divorce the stigma of racism from the CSA”
Overview of Debate:
Thanks for reading,
"The foundations of our new government 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 moral condition."
This is one man's opinion of a Constitution he was not a signatory of, nor a responsible party in its drafting. This is evidently his opinion, as its not specifically codified as law in the the new CSA's Constitution that 'the Negro is not equal to the white man', and the only references to race was immediately used as the identifier for a particular purpose of keeping or travelling with slaves.
Were we to take one man's opinion as the de facto arbiter of racism, President Lincoln would have already summed this up for us, he was elected, with his views, and served as the acting head of the Union. Does that inherently mean the Union was a symbol of his views? Of course not, one man's opinion is nothing compared to the weight of their duty, which in the role of both Alexander Stephens and Abraham Lincoln was to execute the law of the land. In this instance, its a law of the land that had no overt rules about one race being inferior to another, only that Slavery needed to stay to enable the South's continued prosperity.
Not to belabour the point, but if one part of a speech is representative of the whole, then overall the "Cornerstone" Speech from which Stephens is being quoted should even better qualify what the CSA was about:
"The cost of the grading, the superstructure, and the equipment of our roads was borne by those who had entered into the enterprise. Nay, more not only the cost of the iron — no small item in the aggregate cost — was borne in the same way, but we were compelled to pay into the common treasury several millions of dollars for the privilege of importing the iron, after the price was paid for it abroad. What justice was there in taking this money, which our people paid into the common treasury on the importation of our iron, and applying it to the improvement of rivers and harbors elsewhere?
If Charleston harbor needs improvement, let the commerce of Charleston bear the burden. If the mouth of the Savannah river has to be cleared out, let the sea-going navigation which is benefited by it, bear the burden". -Alexander Stephens
"Con provides a quote from Abraham Lincoln that shows President Lincolns racist beliefs. I don’t contend this. Racist beliefs were very common at the time. "
Then pointing to one specific symbol as racist without affording other symbology the same cherry-picked scrutiny is dishonest to the resolution. This is doing nothing more than attempting to take further dignity from the loser of the conflict by denying moral high ground, of which "slavery" apparently wasn't enough. That is not "reasonably construing", that is "reasonably disregarding" other data of the time to castigate from a position of moral superiority. Worse still, it diverts the problem of racism to the loser of the War, rather appreciating that such a thing is endemic to the society of the time, and sadly, to this day. This is why I say there is so much more at stake. Should we as society 'reasonably construe racism' to that symbol, the 'defeated' symbol, we have don ourselves a great disservice. We have rationalized it to ourselves that it was not slavery that was defeated, it was racism that was defeated, and give ourselves moral blinders to what racism exists today because it no longer carries the implements of bondage to go along with it.
In the course of this discussion, we have seen how easy is to take one point, and conflate it into a caricature of what we want it to represent. Of course, we have also seen how easy it is to dispel that particular variety of caricature in favor of a larger picture. Is one man's opinion about a document in which he was responsible to and not for a reasonable construction? That is really the only evidence availed by Pro.
The cause for the Civil War was multi-faceted ranging from slavery, to states rights, to taxation. No where in any of that is race specifically a factor, nor is a direct link of racism to the flag of the CSA evident. In a resolution so plain as what is it desires to connect, it seems the ability to demonstrate such a link would be wide indeed, however all Pro has admitted into evidence is the scant opinion of one man weighted against other sentiments of the time, as well as the dearth of evidence in the Confederation Constitution itself, the true corner stone of the Confederacy.
In light of the information presented, and in light of how we should judge history as well as ourselves through the lens of a historian rather than seekers (demanders!) of a righteous victory, I encourage you all to Vote Con: the flag of the Confederacy cannot reasonably be construed as a symbol of racism.
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