What Texas can Teach Us about Tearing Down False Idols
History is prettier when wrapped in compassion and nostalgia and devoid of ugly truths
In January of 2019, a unanimous vote removed a plaque from the walls of the Texas State Capitol Building in Austin. Put up in 1959 by the Children of the Confederacy, the sign was an attractive series of lies.
CHILDREN OF THE CONFEDERACY CREED, it starts:
Because we desire to perpetuate, in love and honor, the heroic deeds of those who enlisted in the Confederate Army and upheld its flag through four years of war, we, the children of the South, have united together in an organization called “Children of the Confederacy,” in which our strength, enthusiasm, and love of justice can exert its influence.
We therefore pledge ourselves to preserve pure ideals; to honor our veterans; to study and teach the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the war between the states was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery), and to always act in a manner that will reflect honor upon our noble and patriotic ancestors.
This plaque, an affront to truth and equality erected at the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, hung in Texas’s highest law center for 60 years.
What is the truth, then? one might ask.
Could Texas have actually fought a war over state’s rights? Could it have been, as Karl Marx posited, a fight between agriculture and industry?
For the truth in a debate that should have rested in peace long ago, always seek out primary sources.
Primary sources are documents that existed at the time of controversy. Interviewing eyewitnesses much later could be suspect, but their diary from those dates would count. Newspaper articles, letters, photographs — those are what you should seek.
Luckily, Texas made finding the truth very easy for future historians. On February 2, 1861, Texas issued its “Declaration of Causes: A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union.”
The Texas State Library has published the document on its Internet Archives, and you should read the full text, but for now here are few relevant excerpts:
First, on describing how Texas and all Southern, slave-owning states are being disrespected by Northern states:
“ …based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law.”
Texas also complains twice about not receiving funding to fight “savages.”
They [Northern states] have refused to vote appropriations for protecting Texas against ruthless savages, for the sole reason that she is a slave-holding State.
The Federal Government, while but partially under the control of these our unnatural and sectional enemies, has for years almost entirely failed to protect the lives and property of the people of Texas against the Indian savages on our border, and more recently against the murderous forays of banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico; and when our State government has expended large amounts for such purpose, the Federal Government has refused reimbursement therefor…
And while I’d known that the Civil War was fought over slavery, even I was shocked by the blatant white supremacy in these paragraphs:
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States.
In 1861, Texas believed that the United States had been founded by white men for white men and that God had given them Black people in a “mutually beneficial” system of complete subjugation.
In 1959, Texas let a group of people deny that they’d ever believed that.
In 2019, Texas tore the lies out of their wall.
Why? Isn’t that plaque also a part of history?
Yes, but until no one believes that lie anymore, having it attractively displayed in a place of honor regularly passed by every important Texan politician is dangerous.
As we lose faith in our politicians and authority figures, people are becoming more open to conspiracies and believing the lunatic fringe. Even if Texas had hung a sign explaining that it was fictitious propaganda directly above the plaque, people would disregard the modern politicos in favor of the wholesome, friendly words of that very white group of Texans circa 1959.
In 2019, Texas did what was right. You might argue that it was too little, too late.
But if they did more than you’re doing now, you need to step away from the keyboard, stop criticizing people who are doing things, and go make this world a better place yourself.