The Confederate flag is likely one of the most controversial symbols in the United States today. While some in the South still fly the flag, others look at it with disgust. The Confederate flag is a fascinating historical object, and its significance remains important over 150 years after its introduction. Discover the history behind the Confederate flag and its controversy in modern America.
What were the Confederate States of America?
The Confederacy was born when 11 southern states seceded from the United States in 1860. After American citizens elected Abraham Lincoln, these states determined to leave the Union because they believed Lincoln would abolish slavery. They also thought that white women would be forced to marry black men, which was a cardinal sin in the racist South.
The practice of slavery was the main source of conflict between the North and the South. The southern states had enslaved black people in the United States for decades, but the North disagreed with this practice. The end of slavery meant a massive decline in the South’s economy. Agriculture was the source of economic growth in these states, and slavery allowed plantation owners access to free labor. Thus, the loss of slavery would mean the loss of cotton, tobacco, and other crop production, which would equate to the loss of money. When the end of slavery seemed near, the southern states seceded. Secession began with South Carolina and Mississippi, and other states followed suit.
Eventually, the 11 southern states formed the Confederacy, and legislators of the new nation altered the United States Constitution to align with Confederate beliefs. Jefferson Davis was the leader of the Confederacy. While the seceded states believed themselves to be their own country, the remaining American states fought to preserve the Union. The action of creating a new nation led to the beginning of the Civil War. Tens of thousands joined the Confederate army at the start of the war, and the first conflict, called the First Battle of Bull Run, took place in July of 1861.
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the North had defeated the Confederacy. Thus, the seceded states rejoined the Union. Abraham Lincoln, who had abolished slavery during the Civil War, was assassinated shortly after Union victory. Following his death, southern states fell into chaos during Reconstruction, which was the period following the Civil War.
History of the Confederate Flag
The Confederacy began using the Confederate flag in 1861 near the beginning of the Civil War. The flag was nicknamed the “Stars and Bars,” and it looked like the 1861 American flag that was used by the Union. The Stars and Bars had a blue canton with seven white stars arranged in a circle within the canton. Three alternating horizontal red and white bars made up the remainder of the flag.
However, the original Stars and Bars flag of the Confederacy appeared so similar to the Union flag that it became difficult to determine who was a Union soldier versus a Confederate soldier during battle. Thus, the Confederacy decided to develop a new battle flag, which became the Confederate flag that many recognize today. The Confederate flag has a red background with a centered X made up of two diagonal blue lines. A white line borders the blue bars, which contain white stars.
The new flag was called the “Southern Cross” and was square-shaped, rather than rectangular. The 13 white stars within the blue cross represented the 11 seceded states, along with Missouri and Kentucky. While these two states had not seceded from the Union, they seemed to partially support the Confederacy, regardless of their stance in the Civil War.
The redesign of the Confederate flag was not the only rendition. The official national flag of the Confederacy, called the Stainless Banner, featured the Southern Cross as a canton with a plain white background. However, this flag sparked controversy and confusion, as the white background looked like a flag of surrender. The Confederate states redesigned the Stainless Banner to include a red stripe.
Despite the multiple Confederate flag designs proposed and introduced during the Civil War, the Battle Flag featuring the Southern Cross was the most prominent illustration of the Confederacy. The flag became so influential and symbolic that states such as Mississippi and Georgia incorporated it into their own flag designs for a time. Eventually, though, the Confederate flag fell out of prominence and usage.
Confederate Flag Controversy
Americans know the Confederate flag to be a controversial symbol. Some believe it represents southern heritage, but most see it as a symbol of slavery and racist ideology. Many have fought to remove the Confederate flag from public settings, while others have petitioned for its use. Nevertheless, flying the Confederate flag on private property in the United States is legal.
Do People Still Fly the Confederate Flag?
If you take a road trip through the deep South, chances are you’ll see a Confederate flag flying. However, some displays of the flag are more private than others. While most Confederate flags fly in rural areas of the southern states, others can be found in major cities. For instance, along interstate I-65 in Nashville, Tennessee, several Confederate flags fly near a now torn-down monument of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a well-known Confederate general.
Although the Confederacy dissolved over a century ago, the Confederate flag is still visible along major roadways, on houses, and even on merchandise such as clothing, bags, or hats. The Confederate flag remains a prominent symbol within the United States, but whether it signifies hate or heritage is still up for debate.
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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
What was the Confederacy?
The Confederacy was a group of 11 states that seceded from the United States and declared themselves a new nation.
Why did southern states secede before the Civil War?
The South feared that the election of Abraham Lincoln would bring about the abolition of slavery, which would fracture the agricultural economy of the South.
Is the Confederate flag a racist symbol?
Most Americans view the Confederate flag as a racist symbol because the Confederacy seceded in an effort to preserve the enslavement of black people. However, some in the South see the Confederate flag as a symbol of southern heritage.
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- History, Available here: https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/confederate-states-of-america#:~:text=The%20Confederate%20States%20of%20America,recognized%20as%20a%20sovereign%20nation
- Britannica, Available here: https://www.britannica.com/topic/flag-of-the-Confederate-States-of-America