Mississippi’s Meaningless Confederate Heritage Proclamation

Over the past two days I have received three requests from media outlets to comment on Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s designation of April as Confederate Heritage Month. Given the amount of coverage received, you would have thought that this was the first time such a proclamation had been issued. This year’s proclamation is receiving more attention in light of the shooting in Charleston this past summer as well as the steps universities and localities in Mississippi have taken to remove the state flag, which still includes the Confederate battle flag in its design.

This is certainly not the first proclamation ever issued, but it fits neatly into the recent trend on the part of more and more Mississippians who no longer believe the Confederacy is worth celebrating. We see this most clearly in the push to change the design of the state flag.

Consider the wording of the proclamation, which I have been unable to find on the state’s website.

April is the month in which Confederate States began and ended a four-year struggle; and on Confederate Memorial Day, we recognize those who served in the Confederacy; and April 25, 2016, is set aside as Confederate Memorial Day to honor those who served in the Confederacy; and it is important for all Americans to reflect Upon our nation’s past, to insight from our mistakes and successes, and to come to a full understanding that the lessons learned yesterday and today will carry us through tomorrow if we carefully and earnestly strive to understand and appreciate our heritage and our opportunities which lie before us: Now, Therefor, I, Phil Bryant, Governor of the State of Mississippi, hereby proclaim the month of April 2016 as Confederate Heritage Month in the State of Mississippi.

Notice that no one specific such as Lee, Jackson or Davis is referenced. The language of honor is absent. Instead, the state ‘recognizes those who served’ as opposed to those who fought or sacrificed for the Confederacy. The proclamation says as little as possible and offers nothing in terms of assessing the outcome of the war or the lessons that ought to be acknowledged.

This is a proclamation that wants nothing more than to avoid history.

17 comments… add one
  • Richard Feb 26, 2016

    Is there any meaning to calling it Confederste “Heritage” Month instead of Confederate “History” Month?

  • Erick Hare Feb 26, 2016

    It is also interesting how Governor Bryant frames the Civil War in terms of the Confederacy:

    “April is the month in which Confederate States began and ended a four-year struggle…”

    Is it too optimistic or naive to hope that people are beginning to take ownership of the fact that the Civil War was not a war of “Northern aggression”?

  • Boyd Harris Feb 26, 2016

    You are not the first to mention the inability of locating this proclamation. I myself have only seen it on pro-flag facebook pages that I troll. Could this be a huge fake? Could the media have picked this up and ran with it because, well it is Mississippi after all? I’m not saying that it is fake, but why go through the trouble of proclaiming something and not provide a paper trail. Is this a Phil Bryant wink to the SCV, but a nod to everybody else that Mississippi is not backwards.

  • Andy Hall Feb 26, 2016

    The story at the Jackson Free Press has a couple of updates, including a link to Mississippi’s “Declaration of Immediate Causes,” that explains that state’s reason for secession. You know, the one that says, “our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world.”

    Phil Bryant and the SCV may be afraid of mentioning slavery, but the Mississippians of 155 years ago certainly weren’t.

  • johncraighammond Feb 26, 2016

    “This is a proclamation that wants nothing more …” than a sound proof-reading.

  • Ted McKnight Feb 27, 2016

    Would there have been a war without the “Northern aggression”?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 27, 2016

      Lincoln certainly had to be willing to prosecute a war for the sake of preserving the Union. Of course, that effort also benefited from thousands of loyal southerners.

  • London John Feb 27, 2016

    Indeed. I assume MS doesn’t have a month, or even a day, for recognizing the black and white Mississippians who served the United States in the Civil War. Not to mention those who refused to “serve” the Confederacy. Maybe the release of “The Free State of Jones” will get some discussion going.

  • Elissa Mays Feb 27, 2016

    Ted McKnight asks: “Would there have been a war without the ‘Northern aggression’?

    The answer is an emphatic and resounding no. The Mississippi Declaration of Causes was not a declaration of war, and it evinced absolutely no purpose of aggression on the part of Mississippians. To the contrary, it simply explains why Mississippi had effected a peaceful and political separation from the United States (in the same way, for example, that the colonies effected a peaceful and political separation from the British Empire). It was the uncivilized and violent response from Abraham Lincoln (like King George III before him) that caused the war. Mississippians are perfectly entitled to honor those who so valiantly struggled to maintain their political independence during the course of The War for Southern Independence. Governor Bryant has done the right thing here, and should be commended for his political courage.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 27, 2016

      This is a rather narrow view of how Americans interpreted acts of secession. Many did understand the act itself as an aggressive/violent response to what was a perfectly legal national election. Many loyal Americans north and south interpreted it as nothing less than rebellion, which demanded a military response if necessary.

      For more on how the vast majority of the loyal citizenry of the nation interpreted secession, I recommend Russell McClintock’s book, Lincoln and the Decision for War: The Northern Response to Secession.

      Mississippians are free to honor the state’s attempt to preserve the institution of slavery. There is no army without a ‘Declaration of Causes.’

  • Elissa Mays Feb 27, 2016

    “There is no army without a ‘Declaration of Causes.” This is patently false.

    The Mississippi “Declaration of Causes” was issued merely as a courtesy, and it had absolutely nothing to do with Lincoln’s decision to initiate war. Mississippi’s “Ordinance to dissolve the union” was the legal instrument which officially separated Mississippi from the Union, and it was that Ordinance, and those promulgated by the other separating states, which induced Lincoln to wage war. To that end, the separating states of 1861 closely followed the model established by the separating colonies of 1776. The colonies officially and legally dissolved their political connection to the British Empire on July 2nd, then issued the DoI, which explained and justified their decision, on July 4th.

    • Kevin Levin Feb 27, 2016

      It has everything to do with Lincoln’s election, which came before this declaration. It was issued in response to that event and constitutes a crucial step toward war. To ignore this in favor of a vague reference to the Revolution ignores the fears harbored by many white Mississippians and other white Southerners.

      Lincoln’s election was followed by the secession of the Deep Southern states, including Mississippi, which preceded the raising of an army that eventually functioned as the military extension of a government whose purpose was the protection and extension of slavery.

  • Mike Musick Feb 27, 2016

    “Lincoln’s decision to initiate war”? Egad! So the telegram in the National Archives – which I held in my hands – from Confederate Secretary of War L.P. Walker, in Montgomery, to Gen. G.T. Beauregard, in Charleston, ordering Beauregard to open fire on Ft. Sumter, is a fake! Who knew?

    • Kevin Levin Feb 27, 2016

      An interesting interpretation indeed, though I suspect there is very little understanding of relevant primary sources.

      Nice to hear from you. Hope all is well.

  • Jimmy Dick Feb 27, 2016

    I have always been impressed by the ability of some people to ignore how the attack on Fort Sumter came about. Not only that, but pretty much any fact that conflicts with the lost cause mythology.

    The order to attack Fort Sumter just screws up their fantasy.

  • Patrick Jennings Feb 29, 2016

    Having drafted the text for a few local government proclamations I can tell you that they are almost always void of history, meaning, and accuracy. It is simply a feel good action meant to be neither fish nor fowl.

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