Thanks Dixie Outfitters

Today in the Civil War Memory course we discussed the introduction of Brown’s The Public Art of Civil War Commemoration.  To start the class I shared a very recent news story out of Huntsville, Arkansas.  The proprietors of the Faubus Hotel decided to raise a Confederate flag in response to Barack Obama’s recent victory.  I could conceivably teach the entire course by having my students follow news items related to the Civil War and modern politics/culture.  Luckily, only a few students had to be reminded of Orval Faubus’s importance to the story, which added another layer to our interpretation. 

Brown’s introduction covers the various stages of memory and commemoration, including a brief outline of the Lost Cause.  We looked at a number of images that reflect the emphasis on states rights as opposed to slavery/race when addressing the cause of the war and the Confederacy generally.  I also showed the class postwar images of important Confederate leaders to point out the importance of understanding Confederate defeat as simply the result of overwhelming numbers and resources.  In emphasizing the popularity and pervasiveness of the Lost Cause I used the “Mission Statement” found on the Dixie Outfitters website.  A few students noticed immediately the badge in the upper left stating, “Preserving Southern Heritage Since 1861″ and wondered why they chose such a late date given that the history of the South goes back well into the 17th century.  That made me feel pretty good.  There is a “short history lesson”, which reads as follows:

Just as the War for American Independence of 1776, the War for Southern Independence of 1861 was fought over “taxation without representation.” The North was constantly trying to raise taxes on Southerners through high tariffs on imported goods in order to protect the inefficient big businesses in the North. These big businesses could not compete with manufactured goods from England and France with whom the South traded cotton. The South did not have factories and had to import most finished products. 

The Industrial Revolution allowed England and France to produce and ship across the Atlantic products that were cheaper than the products of Northern manufacturers.  When Lincoln was elected President, he and the U.S. Congress immediately passed the Morrill Tariff (the highest import tax in U.S. history), more than doubling the import tax rate from 20% to 47%. This tax served to bankrupt many Southerners. Though the Southern states represented only about 30% of the U.S. population, they paid 80% of the tariffs collected. Oppressive taxes, denial of the states’ rights to govern their states, and an unrepresentative federal government pushed the Southern states to legally withdraw from the Union.   Since the Southerners had escaped the tax by withdrawing from the Union, the only way the North could collect this oppressive tax was to invade the Confederate States and force them at gunpoint back into the Union.   It was to collect this import tax to satisfy his Northern industrialist supporters that Abraham Lincoln invaded our South. Slavery was not the issue. Lincoln’s war cost the lives of 600,000 Americans.


The truth about the Confederate Flag is that it has nothing to do with racism or hate. The Civil War was not fought over slavery or racism. 
We at Dixie Outfitters are trying to tell the real truth via our art and products in regards to the Confederate Flag. We hope to educate people about the Confederate Flag and stop the divisiveness caused by ignorance and emotion.

 

A number of my students who have taken U.S. History and/or my course on the Civil War were dumfounded by this interpretation of the war.  They asked where the discussion of slavery was to be found, while another student made the connection betwen history and contemporary politics and the concern with big government.  One student asked if they sold anything with the image of a black individual, so we looked but couldn’t find anything apart from some wonderful images of H.K. Edgerton.  We will come back to H.K. at a later date for a more thorough analysis of how he fits into our broader narrative of the war.  I don’t mind saying that a few jaws dropped when they saw him in full gray uniform along with his Confederate flag.  From there we briefly explored the “Legends of the Confederacy” products and discussed the importance of Lee, Jackson, Forrest and other notable Confederate heroes.  Obviously, we have much more to do in understanding the formation and evolution of memory as it relates to a whole host of issues, but it’s encouraging as a teacher to be able to take advantage of so many different types of sources. 

By the way, at the end of the class one of my students asked, “So, if Dixie Outfitters believes the “Confederate flag has nothing to do with racism”, than how do they explain the incident at the Faubus hotel?”  My response: “Welcome to the world of Civil War Memory.  See you tomorrow.

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14 thoughts on “Thanks Dixie Outfitters

  1. Jarret Ruminski

    Excellent post Kevin. Perhaps we shouldn’t expect the SCV or any other like-minded groups to comment on why, coincidentily of course, the Confederate flag seems to emerge on porches and businesses whenever issues of race once again become prominent in national circles (or should we?). Oh well, If it looks like a spade…

    Reply
  2. Greg Rowe

    In my World Events class, we have been discussing racism and discrimination. This unit came about quite by accident as we were discussing Obama’s election to the Presidency. Some in the class disagree with Obama’s politics, but others labeled them as “racist” simply for disagreeing. So, I felt the need to digress from my usual fare of world politics and economics into a jaunt down the slavery/racism/discrimination/Civil War road.

    We have been reading Clinton Cox’s “Undying Glory: The Story of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment.” As we began our discussion over the causes of the war, which directly influenced our study of the topic, a student brought up the states’ rights arguement. As I began to question these 7th and 8th graders, they were more astute than many who claim to be learned in this topic. States’ rights to decide what? He answered “slavery.” Not bad for a middle schooler.

    While we are not specifically looking at Civil War memory, but rather the outcomes in society as a result of the war and how they affect our perception of race, specifically, and civil rights, in general. The main thing is that students not fall into the trap of thinking that those who do not agree with the President do so because of racial prejudice and that they understand what it is so they can tell the difference. I’m sure as we go through this discussion, Faubus will come up, as will other aspects of Civil War memory, but I’m mostly trying to make the students aware that we are still dealing with issues over 145 years later because we have collectively put our heads in the sand and ignored them rather than seeking to understand how they affect our perceptions of each other.

    Reply
  3. Woodrowfan

    Funny how when the Southern states tried to secede they complained much more about the North interfering with slavery than they did about tariffs. An oversight on their part I am sure…

    Reply
  4. Toby

    “John Brown’s body lies a mould’ring in the grave,
    but his taxes go marching on …. ”

    Naw, doesn’t even rhyme …

    Reply
  5. Jamie

    War is rarely about good vs. evil. Power is usually the driving political force, while loyalty to God or country is the motivation for the average soldier (not ideology). The irony to me is that during the war, Lincoln was fearful that whites in the North would not fight for the freedom of blacks in the South, and so he distanced himself from the cause of abolition for the first half of the war. Meanwhile, in the South, the threats posed to the institution of slavery were grounds for secession. The issue of states rights was never a concern when southern leaders pushed through the Gag Rule and Fugitive Slave Law. How confused they would be by the arguments we make today over why they went to war. In my opinion, Dixie Outfitters attacks one fictional view of the war with another, and whatever the goal, the result is only a reinforcement of negative stereotypes about southerners and rascism.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Levin

      Thanks for the comment. Civil War soldiers went off to war for any number of reasons. It is a mistake, however, to write off politics/ideology so quickly. Historians such as Earl Hess, Chandra Manning, and James McPherson have showed that soldiers did indeed join and remain in the ranks because of issues of nationalism and politics. I certainly agree that Dixie Outfitters is pushing a fantasy-style narrative of the war.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        In short comments such as these, it's difficult to avoid generalizations. Politics and ideology indeed have their role, and I would be a fool to deny that. But I think it a fair hypothesis to put forth the notion that the psychological pressure of bonds to friends and kinsmen is greater on average than the individual's actual feelings about the justness of the cause. How committed was Robert E. Lee to the institution of slavery? My understanding is that his rejection of an offer to serve for the Union army was based first and foremost on his unwillingness to raise arms against his native home of Virginia. The influence of society on the actions of the individual is a powerful force that should not be underestimated. If it were not so, then one might argue that such an event as the Holocaust came about because Germans are inherently evil. Being of German descent, I certainly hope this isn't the case. Of course, after the deed is done and the truth is laid out for all to see, it's sometimes difficult to reconcile that truth with how we see ourselves. Dixie Outfitters is thus practicing capitalism at its finest…they saw a need, and they filled it. In this case, it's the need of white Southerners to feel good about themselves and their history. Personally, I feel there are far better ways to accomplish this goal than to live a lie. I guess I'm an idealist! Thanks for responding to my comment. I hope I've done a better job expressing my thoughts this time. Of course, I must admit, I'm most likely wading into subject matter that is over my head.

        Reply
    2. dewey barber

      “I tried all in my power to avert this war. I saw it coming, for twelve years I worked night and day to prevent it, but I could not. The North was mad and blind; it would not let us govern ourselves, and so the war came, and now it must go on till the last man of this generation falls in his tracks, and his children seize the musket and fight our battle, unless you acknowledge our right to self government. We are not fighting for slavery. We are fighting for Independence, and that, or extermination.”

      – President Jefferson Davis, CSA

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        What is the source and date of this Jefferson Davis quote? And why should it override the countless quotes that suggest slavery was indeed the main issue, including the documents by which several of the Southern states declared their independence? General Lee was against secession. He considered slavery evil. Yet he owned slaves and fought for the Confederacy. Why? Dedication to his home state, and a misguided belief that slavery would simply fade away in its own time. I can see questioning the motivation of the North to fight, as the abolitionist cause was seen as a fringe group that was not embraced by the majority of people anywhere in the nation. But the cause by which elite southern leaders rallied the populace to fight for was grounded in slavery. States rights was only used a justification for the legality of secession, not the cause.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Levin

          I assume it is from Davis's 2-volume history of the Confederacy, but I can't confirm it. Of course, it shouldn't override anything that Davis and the rest of the Confederacy's stated in clear language during the secession crisis and 4 years of war.

          Reply
          1. Leonard Lanier

            It does sound suspiciously like something from The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, but the information actually comes from a more dubious source.

            On July 17, 1864, James Jaquess and J. R. Gilmore met with Jefferson Davis and Judah P. Benjamin. Gilmore, a northern journalist, and Jaquess, a Methodist clergymen and college president from Illinois, traveled to Richmond with hopes of finding possible ground for a negotiated end to the war. Both Gilmore and Jaquess possessed connections with the Copperheads.

            Although not officially sanctioned by Lincoln, the president did know about Gilmore and Jaquess's mission. Just like the more noted Hampton Roads Peace Conference later in 1864, nothing came of the effort since Davis and the Confederate government still insisted on Southern independence as a basic condition for talks.

            After his return to the North, Gilmore published an account of his mission in the Atlantic Monthly entitled “Our Visit to Richmond.” The quote listed above comes from that article. While based partly on his notes, evidence suggests that Gilmore made up a large part of the narrative. For instance, Judah Benjamin's account of the meeting disagrees heavily with Gilmore's version.

            I doubt that the earlier poster actually got the quote from the original article. Due to that one phrase about slavery, it seems that neo-confederate websites, like federationofstates.org, picked up Gilmore's account as evidence that the Confederacy did not fight to protect slavery. No matter that Davis probably never said the words that Gilmore attributed to him.

            For further information, McPherson details the whole Gilmore-Jaquess Peace Mission in better detail on page 768 of The Battle Cry of Freedom.

            Reply
  6. Jamie

    War is rarely about good vs. evil. Power is usually the driving political force, while loyalty to God or country is the motivation for the average soldier (not ideology). The irony to me is that during the war, Lincoln was fearful that whites in the North would not fight for the freedom of blacks in the South, and so he distanced himself from the cause of abolition for the first half of the war. Meanwhile, in the South, the threats posed to the institution of slavery were grounds for secession. The issue of states rights was never a concern when southern leaders pushed through the Gag Rule and Fugitive Slave Law. How confused they would be by the arguments we make today over why they went to war. In my opinion, Dixie Outfitters attacks one fictional view of the war with another, and whatever the goal, the result is only a reinforcement of negative stereotypes about southerners and rascism.

    Reply
  7. Jamie

    In short comments such as these, it's difficult to avoid generalizations. Politics and ideology indeed have their role, and I would be a fool to deny that. But I think it a fair hypothesis to put forth the notion that the psychological pressure of bonds to friends and kinsmen is greater on average than the individual's actual feelings about the justness of the cause. How committed was Robert E. Lee to the institution of slavery? My understanding is that his rejection of an offer to serve for the Union army was based first and foremost on his unwillingness to raise arms against his native home of Virginia. The influence of society on the actions of the individual is a powerful force that should not be underestimated. If it were not so, then one might argue that such an event as the Holocaust came about because Germans are inherently evil. Being of German descent, I certainly hope this isn't the case. Of course, after the deed is done and the truth is laid out for all to see, it's sometimes difficult to reconcile that truth with how we see ourselves. Dixie Outfitters is thus practicing capitalism at its finest…they saw a need, and they filled it. In this case, it's the need of white Southerners to feel good about themselves and their history. Personally, I feel there are far better ways to accomplish this goal than to live a lie. I guess I'm an idealist! Thanks for responding to my comment. I hope I've done a better job expressing my thoughts this time. Of course, I must admit, I'm most likely wading into subject matter that is over my head.

    Reply

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