Michael Stewart’s response to a letter by Spencer Lewis concerning moving the Confederate statue on the Square accused Mr. Lewis of “mixing truths with speculation, opinion and falsehoods in an apparent attempt to create controversy.”
Looking at his arguments, it appears that it is Mr. Stewart who has problems with facts and the truth. He states that Mr. Lewis’ assertion that the Civil War was mainly about slavery “sounds like something by a student in the third grade” and contends that the causes of the War are more complex.
Yet, in the words of Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy in reference to the Confederate Constitution, “The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution of African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”
Stephens goes on to say about the negro, “slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” While true that Stephens mentioned other arguments in his “Corner Stone Speech” of 1861, he lists slavery as the “immediate cause” of the war and the basis for the new government.
Mr. Stewart also claimed that Confederate Gen. Patrick Cleburne believed in the emancipation of slaves and was an early advocate for the mobilization of Black men into Confederate military units. However, the truth is that Gen. Cleburne, an Irish immigrant, chose to fight for the South not because of slavery, which he claimed to not care about, but out of affection for the Southern people.
He was not an “early advocate” of enlisting Black men and only proposed doing so in 1863 when it became obvious that the Confederacy was losing the war because of the loss of manpower and resources. He argued that emancipation did not have to include Black equality, saying that “necessity and wise legislation” would ensure that relations between Black and white people would not change.
The other Confederate generals were so appalled at his suggestion that Cleburne was deemed politically unreliable and was passed over for promotions for the duration of the war. Mr. Stewart also conveniently left out a portion of Cleburne’s quote. That portion left out was, “It is said that slavery is what we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all.”
He then compares removing Confederate monuments as akin to the Taliban destroying historic monuments in the Middle East. The monuments in the Middle East, many of them over a thousand years old, are protected by the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict. According to these international agreements, targeting cultural sites is a war crime.
To compare the destruction of these sites to removing Confederate monuments, the majority of which were mass produced and cheaply made during the Jim Crow era and the Civil Rights movement (and I know Newnan’s monument does not fall into this category) is ludicrous.
Finally, Mr. Stewart references General Cleburne’s statement that “surrender means that the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy.” In the South, nothing could be further from the truth. The Daughters of the Confederacy spent decades shaping textbooks to put a strong emphasis on Lost Cause views of the Civil War, glorifying the white supremacist foundations of the Confederacy to justify segregation and Jim Crow laws.
Our young people need and deserve to know the true history and heritage of the Confederacy.