Despite being official communiques from the President of the United States, most of Donald Trump’s tweets are a cascade of self-serving ramblings that can safely be ignored.
But a three-tweet spree from the president is different. Whether he was intending to or not, President Trump perfectly nailed everything wrong with the lunacy of an invaded nation paying permanent tribute to the enemy that invaded it.
This morning, Trump wrote:
These “beautiful statues and monuments” don’t pay tribute to American history. They pay tribute to a time when the Confederate States of America was a self-proclaimed nation, a sovereign entity that sought recognition from other nations.
While no nation recognized the Confederacy as a foreign country, the Confederacy absolutely believed it was one and conducted itself accordingly.
They had their own currency, the Confederate States dollar, nicknamed the “greyback” to distinguish itself from the new U.S. paper money, the “greenback.”
They had their own national flag, not the Army of Northern Virginia battle flag seen on a million bumper stickers around the South, but the Stars and Bars.
They had a national motto, a national seal, and a fully functional government with a president, cabinet, and Congress. They had district courts. They printed their own stamps and set up their own mail delivery system. And the Confederacy was ruthless in arresting its own citizens with suspected loyalty to the United States.
It sought diplomatic recognition, and only didn’t get it because the great powers of Europe didn’t believe it would defeat the Union.
What the Confederacy did get, however, was belligerent status from France and England, essentially saying they might not be a nation, but they were at war regardless. If the Confederacy had won, scholars believe recognition would have been a foregone conclusion. Because the Confederacy would be a separate nation.
In many real ways, the American Civil War wasn’t a civil war at all, but simply a war, like any other conflict between two nations in opposition over territory.
Most Americans at the time believed the Confederacy’s secession was illegal and unconstitutional. Indeed, Abraham Lincoln declared in his first inaugural that the threatened secession of the Confederate states was “legally void,” and that any any “acts of violence, within any State or States, against the authority of the United States, are insurrectionary or revolutionary.”
But a powerful faction of so-called “Radical Republicans” saw them not as a brethren in revolt, but as an enemy whose way of life needed to be crushed. The defeated South wasn’t to be reabsorbed, they believed, but conquered as a defeated invader.
In advocating for the confiscation of property in captured Confederate territory, Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens thundered in a January 1864 House speech:
“The very fact that we have admitted the rebel States to be in a state of war, to be belligerents, shows that they are no longer in the Union. and that they are waging war in such corporate capacity under the corporate name of the “Confederate States,” and that such major corporation is composed of minor corporations called States, acting in their associated character. “
The New York Times harshly criticized him and his fellow Radical’s stance, insinuating that if the South was truly a foreign nation, the North had no right to make war against it in an effort to keep it from leaving the Union.
“The concession of Mr. STEVENS that the “rebel States” have seceded,” the Times said in an op-ed shortly after Stevens’ speech,”virtually concedes their constitutional right to secede. If they had that right, what are we fighting for?”
But fight the two sides did. With 600,000 dead on both sides to show for it.
The figures Trump extols in his tweets, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, were the leaders of an enemy army that invaded the United States and sought to make it submit to a favorable peace treaty.
Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia invaded the U.S. twice, pushing into Maryland in 1862, and Pennsylvania a year later. It was only at the Battle of Gettysburg that Lee’s drive to seize a major northern city and use it as leverage for peace negotiations was finally blunted.
The wave of Confederate memorials that sprouted in the early part of the 20th century paid tribute to an entity that acted as if it were a nation making war to gain territory. Most are in the South, but many are in the North.
There are no statues of German generals in Moscow, no obelisks devoted to Japanese soldiers in Beijing, and no concrete tributes to the North Korean army in Seoul. These were leaders of enemy forces bent on sewing destruction. Nobody thinks differently.
Removing the Confederate statues placed in the U.S. Capitol Building, in New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and every other Union territory is not “erasing history,” as many conservatives are claiming. It’s correcting a bizarre and undeniably racist error.
One imagines a president of the United States knowing this, rather than comparing his predecessors to generals who saw themselves as foreign invaders.