BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Sometimes it seems as if the passionate people who want to preserve Confederate monuments in the South are reading a different history book than the rest of the nation.
In fact, they are.
A decades-old book entitled the “Confederate Catechism” explains the core beliefs of Southern heritage groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sells the book and defended rebel monuments in New Orleans and elsewhere. Some of these monuments were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, that programs to educate children on the version of Southern history.
Here is a look at the Southern catechisms — what they learn, how they arise and how they are used today:
WHAT WAS THE CIVIL WAR?
Certainly not slavery, according to the most popular version of “Southern Catechism,” which is promoted by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans on its website.
“Both from the point of view of the Constitution and sound statesmanship it was not slavery but the vindictive, intemperate anti-slavery movement which is at the bottom of the problems,” says the 12-page text, written in question-and-answer form.
Such claims do not square with much of the contemporary science. Critics, they seem to be at odds with the separation of documents issued by the Southern states, some of which specifically mentioned slavery as a reason for the dispute that has led to the formation of the Confederate States of America in 1861. Mississippi’s declaration said the state’s position was “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.”
The “anything but slavery” story is popular among the Southern sympathizers, that the operation of the war was about anything other than maintaining the ability of white southerners to own black people.
SO WHAT IS THE CAUSE OF THE WAR?
The catechism lays the blame on Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president of the United States brought four years of bloodshed by rejecting the legal right of the 11 states of the Confederacy from the Union and sending troops in the South, it claims.
For emphasis, the state in capital letters that the South: “… BATTLE FOR the INVASION to REPEL, AND FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT, JUST AS THE FATHERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION HAD DONE.”
The guide even denies that the war began when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, on April 12, 1861. Lincoln started the whole thing earlier by secretly attempting to land troops at Fort Pickens near Pensacola Beach, Florida, it says. Official histories published by the National Park Service disagree.
Carl Jones, head of the heritage and of the activities for the children of the Confederate Veterans, said the catechism is important, but it is almost too simplistic in explaining the causes of the war, which he said included constitutional questions, religion and many other factors.
WHO CAME UP WITH THE CATECHISM?
The son of an AMERICAN president, oddly enough.
Lyon Gardiner Tyler, whose father was President John Tyler, is credited with the writing of 1929 catechism promoted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Lyon Tyler, that the greatest part of his life in Virginia, was a leading defender of the Southern cause at a time when the southerners were pushing back against the North-history of the conflict. While Tyler’s claims seem to be outside the accepted norm of the modern historical scholarship too much, he served as chairman of the College of William and Mary before his death in 1935.
IS ANYONE STILL PAYING ATTENTION TO THESE IDEAS?
The United Daughters of the Confederacy has an arm called The Children of the Confederacy, with young members, who are “encouraged by the recitation of fundamental beliefs and the elements of Southern history,” according to the group’s website, which also touts Southern catechisms. The organization even has officers whose duties the spread of Southern gospel.
Many of the people who gathered to wave Confederate battle flags in New Orleans, if monuments were removed probably haven’t heard of the catechisms. But the Sons of Confederate Veterans, they sell a reproduction of Tyler’s version for $5: It is available on the website of the group.
“(Tyler) wrote this booklet to help in correcting the propaganda about the South, and his father, through the Northern part of writers and publishers. It is short, concise, and should be read by every student, not only in the South, but also in the United States,” the sales site states.