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The Third National Confederate flag adopted on March 4, 1865, very shortly before the end of the American Civil War.
A rectangular variant of the flag of the Army of Tennessee. This particular flag is popular among neo-Confederates.

Neo-Confederate is a term used by some to describe the views of various groups and individuals who portray the Confederate States of America and its actions in the American Civil War in a positive light.


History of the term

Historian James M. McPherson used the term "Neo-Confederate historical committees" in his description of the efforts from 1890 to 1930 to have history textbooks present a version of the Civil War in which secession wasn't rebellion, the Confederacy didn't fight for slavery, and the Confederate soldier was defeated by overwhelming numbers and resources.[1] Historian Nancy MacLean used the term "neo-Confederacy" in reference to groups, such as the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission, that formed in the 1950s to oppose Supreme Court rulings demanding racial integration, in particular Brown v. Board of Education (1954).[2] Former Southern Partisan editor and co-owner Richard Quinn used the term when he referred to Richard T. Hines, former Southern Partisan contributor and Reagan administration staffer as being "among the first neo-Confederates to resist efforts by the infidels to take down the Confederate flag."[3] It is possibly the earliest use of the term "neo-Confederate" in Southern Partisan.

This definition is not necessarily accepted by neo-Confederates, though Mel Bradford, who was a key figure in the neo-Confederate movement and frequent writer for Southern Partisan from its founding, was pleased to title one of his books The Reactionary Imperative: Essays Literary and Political.

An early use of the term came in 1954. In a book review, Leonard Levy (later a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1968) wrote, "Similar blindness to the moral issue of slavery, plus a resentment against the rise of the Negro and modern industrialism, resulted in the neo-Confederate interpretation of Phillips, Ramsdell and Owsley.".[4]

Criticism of the term

Some people[who?] labeled as such reject the term "neo-Confederate". They[who?] feel that it is often employed as a pejorative description of people who take a sympathetic view of Southern history (particularly in connection with the American Civil War and slavery) and views on the Civil War that are not in line with mainstream historical perspectives. It is also used sometimes to criticize people who echo the Copperhead attacks against Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation. There are historians that argue the current academic climate makes it impossible to discuss issues that view any part of traditional Southern culture or history as positive without incurring this label. Gary W. Gallagher author of The Confederate War states it this way:

"Any historian who argues that the Confederate people demonstrated robust devotion to their slave-based republic, possessed feelings of national community, and sacrificed more than any other segment of white society in United States history runs the risk of being labeled a neo-Confederate. As a native of Los Angeles who grew up on a farm in southern Colorado, I can claim complete freedom from any pro-Confederate special pleading during my formative years. Moreover, not a single ancestor fought in the war, a fact I lamented as a boy reading books by Bruce Catton and Douglas Southall Freeman and wanting desperately to have some direct connection to the events that fascinated me. In reaching my conclusions, I have gone where the sources led me. My assertions and speculations certainly are open to challenge, but they emerged from an effort to understand the Confederate experience through the actions and words of the people who lived it.[5]


Origins and doctrines of "Lost Cause" Civil War history

The "Lost Cause" is the name commonly given to a literary and intellectual movement that sought to reconcile the traditional society of the Southern United States to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the American Civil War of 1861–1865.[6] Those who contributed to the movement tended to portray the Confederacy's cause as noble and most of the Confederacy's leaders as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry, defeated by the Union armies not through superior military skill, but by overwhelming force. They believe the commonly portrayed Civil War history to be a "false history". They also tended to condemn Reconstruction.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans, on its main website, still speaks of "ensuring that a true history of the 1861-1865 period is preserved" and claiming that "[t]he preservation of liberty and freedom was the motivating factor in the South's decision to fight the Second American Revolution."[7]

James M. McPherson has written on the origins of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and states that “A principal motive of the UDC’s founding was to counter this ‘false history’ which taught Southern children ‘that their fathers were not only rebels but guilty of almost every crime enumerated in the Decalogue.”[8] Much of what the UDC termed as “false history” centered on the role of slavery with secession and the war. The chaplain of the United Confederate Veterans, forerunner of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, wrote in 1898 that history books as written could lead Southern children to “think that we fought for slavery” and would “fasten upon the South the stigma of slavery and that we fought for it ... the Southern soldier will go down in history dishonored.”[9] Referring to a 1932 call by the SCV to restore “the purity of our history”, McPherson notes that the “quest for purity remains vital today, as any historian working in the field can testify.”[10]

In the 1910s Mildred Rutherford, the historian general of the UDC, spearheaded the attack on schoolbooks that did not present the Lost Cause version of history. Rutherford assembled a “massive collection” which included “essay contests on the glory of the Ku Klux Klan and personal tributes to faithful slaves.”[11] Historian David Blight concluded, “All UDC members and leaders were not as virulently racist as Rutherford, but all, in the name of a reconciled nation, participated in an enterprise that deeply influenced the white supremacist vision of Civil war memory.”[12]

Historian Alan T. Nolan refers to the Lost Cause as “a rationalization, a cover-up”. After describing the devastation that was the consequence of the war for the South, Nolan states:

Nolan further states his opinion of the racial basis of Lost Cause mythology:

Historian David Goldfield observes:

When asked about purported "Neo-Confederate revisionism" and the people behind it, Arizona State University professor and Civil War historian Brooks D. Simpson said that:

This is an active attempt to reshape historical memory, an effort by white Southerners to find historical justifications for present-day actions. The neo-Confederate movement's ideologues have grasped that if they control how people remember the past, they'll control how people approach the present and the future. Ultimately, this is a very conscious war for memory and heritage. It's a quest for legitimacy, the eternal quest for justification.[15]

Tenets of neo-Confederate beliefs

  • Honor of the Confederacy and its veterans — Much of the neo-Confederate movement is concerned with giving honor to the Confederacy itself, to the veterans of the Confederacy and Confederate veterans' cemeteries, to the various flags of the Confederacy, and to Southern cultural identity.[16]
  • Economic theory — neo-Confederates usually advocate a free market economy which engages in significantly less taxation than currently found in the United States, and which does not revolve around fiat currencies such as the United States Dollar.[17]
  • Historical negationism — many neo-Confederates are openly critical of the presidency of Abraham Lincoln to varied degrees, and of the history of Reconstruction. Various authors have written critiques of Lincoln and the Union. Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman's March to the Sea is singled out for purported atrocities against Southern civilians, in contrast to the mainstream historical perspective that Sherman targeted Southern infrastructure and curtailed killing rather than expanded it. Slavery is rarely mentioned, but if it is, it is usually not defended and is denied as a primary cause for the Confederacy's starting of the American Civil War. Critics often accuse neo-Confederates of "revisionism" and of acting as "apologists".[18]
  • The Civil Rights Movement — Historian Nancy MacLean states that neo-Confederates used the history of the Confederacy to justify their opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.[19] Historian David Blight writes that current neo-Confederates are "driven largely by the desire of current white supremacists to re-legitimize the Confederacy, while they tacitly reject the victories of the modern civil rights movement".[20]
  • Black Confederates and denial of slavery — The book The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader says that toward the end of the twentieth century, in order to support the idea that the Civil War was not about slavery, neo-Confederates began to claim that “thousands of African Americans had served in the Confederate army.” A Neo-Confederate publication, Confederate Veteran, said in 1992 that “the overwhelming majority of blacks during the War Between the States supported and defended, with armed resistance, the Cause of Southern Independence.”[21] Historian Bruce Levine says that "their ["neo-Confederates"] insistent celebration these days of 'Black Confederates' ... seeks to legitimate that claim" that the war "had never [italics in original] been fought on behalf of slavery; loyalty to the South, southern self-government, southern culture, or states rights -- rather than to slavery and white supremacy -- fueled the southern war effort."[22]
  • Secession — many neo-Confederates believe that the secession is legal and thus, openly advocate the resecession of the Southern states and territories which comprised the old Confederate States of America. The League of the South, for example, promotes the "independence of the Southern people" from the "American empire".[17] Most neo-Confederate groups do not seek violent revolution, but rather an orderly separation, such as was done in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.[27] Many neo-Confederate groups have prepared for what they view as a possible collapse of the federal United States into its 50 separate states, much like the Soviet Union collapsed, and believe the Confederacy can be resurrected at that time.

The term "neo-Confederate" is considered by many people a pejorative political epithet and its application to specific groups and individuals has caused controversy. Not everyone, however, avoids the term. Al Benson, Jr., head of the former Southern Independence Party declares, "I am part of what Morris Dees calls the 'Neo-Confederate Movement'".[28]

Neo-Confederates and libertarianism

Historian Daniel Feller asserts that libertarian authors Thomas DiLorenzo, Charles Adams, and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel have produced a "marriage of neo-Confederates and libertarianism." Despite an apparent disconnect ("How can a lover of liberty defend slavery?"), Feller writes:

What unites the two, aside from their hostility to the liberal academic establishment, is their mutual loathing of big government. Adams, DiLorenzo, and Hummel view the Civil War through the prism of market economics. In their view its main consequence, and even its purpose, was to create a leviathan state that used its powers to suppress the most basic personal freedom, the right to choose. The Civil War thus marks a historic retreat for liberty, not an advance. Adams and DiLorenzo dismiss the slavery issue as a mere pretext for aggrandizing central power. All three authors see federal tyranny as the war's greatest legacy. And they all hate Abraham Lincoln.[29]

Hummel in turn, in a review of libertarian Thomas E. Woods, Jr.'s "The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History", refers to the works by DiLorenzo and Adams as "amateurish neo-Confederate books". Of Woods, Hummel states that the two main neo-Confederate aspects of Woods' work are his emphasis on a legal right of secession while ignoring the moral right to secession and his failure to acknowledge the importance of slavery in the Civil War. Hummel writes:

Woods writes 'that the slavery debate masked the real issue: the struggle over power and domination' (p. 48). Talk about a distinction without a difference. It is akin to stating that the demands of sugar lobbyists for protective quotas mask their real worry: political influence. Yes, slaveholders constituted a special interest that sought political power. Why? To protect slavery.[30]

Hummel also criticizes Woods' "neo-Confederate sympathies" in his chapter on Reconstruction. Most egregious was his "apologia for the Black Codes adopted by the southern states immediately after the Civil War." Part of the problem was Woods' reliance on an earlier neo-Confederate work, Robert Selph Henry's 1938 book The Story of Reconstruction.[30]

Neo-Confederate views and the Republican Party

Historian Nancy MacLean writes that "since the 1960s the party of Lincoln has become the haven of neo-Confederacy. Having long prided itself on saving the Union, the Republican Party has become home to those who lionize the slaveholding South and romanticize the Jim Crow South." This embrace of neo-Confederate views is not exclusively about race, but is related to a pragmatic political realization that the "retrospective romanticization of the Old South" and secession presented many possible themes that could be used as conservatives attempted to reverse the national changes initiated by the New Deal.[31]

After the defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election and the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, national conservative leaders distanced themselves from racial issues, but continued to support a "color blind" version of neo-Confederatism. MacLean writes that "even into the twenty-first century mainstream conservative Republican politicians continued to associate themselves with issues, symbols, and organizations inspired by the neo-Confederate Right."[32]

The current situation is in contrast to the view that many neo-Confederates held concerning the pre-1960s Republican Party. Conservative columnist Alan Stang, in a Southern Mercury article, "Republican Party: Red From the Start", claims that there was a communist conspiracy in the Republican Party of the mid-19th century. He alleges that the 1848 revolutionaries in Europe were communists and that some of these revolutionaries came to America after the failed 1848 revolution to perpetrate some type of communist agenda in the United States. Stang states:

... Lee and Jackson did not fully comprehend what they were fighting. Had this really been a "Civil" War, rather than a secession, they would and could have easily seized Washington after Manassas and hanged our first Communist President and the other war criminals."

Another quote is:

So, again, the Republican Party did not "go wrong." It was rotten from the start. It has never been anything but red. The characterization of Republican states as "red states" is quite appropriate.[33]

Recently two prominent neo-Confederates Walter Donald Kennedy and Al Benson published the book "Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War" in which they argue that Lincoln and the Republican Party were influenced by Marxism.

Criticism of neo-Confederacy

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a private organization headed by Morris Dees, reports on the "Neo-Confederate movement", almost always in a critical fashion. A special report by the SPLC's Mark Potok in their magazine, Intelligence Report, critically described a number of groups as "neo-Confederate" in 2000. "Lincoln Reconstructed," published in 2003 in the Intelligence Report, focuses on the resurgent demonization of Abraham Lincoln in the South. The article quotes the chaplain of the Sons of Confederate Veterans as giving an invocation which recalled "the last real Christian civilization on Earth." The article further mentions that the website hosts a collection of anti-Lincoln articles, which led Marcus Epstein, founder of the Robert Taft Club, to compare the SPLC's tactics to McCarthyism.[34] "Whitewashing the Confederacy" was a review that alleged that the movie Gods and Generals presented a false, pro-Confederate view of history.[35] Myles Kantor of the conservative FrontPage Magazine described the review as a "web of falsehood."[36] Critics have accused neo-Confederacy of being essentially a movement with racist undertones. Most prominently, the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Council of Conservative Citizens have had this charge leveled against them.[37][full citation needed]

Neo-Confederate groups

  • League of the South
  • Dixie Republic
  • League of the South/Southern Culture Center
  • Southern National Congress
  • Southern Nationalist Network
  • Southern Patriot Shoppe

See also


  1. McPherson, James M. "Long-Legged Yankee Lies: The Southern Textbook Crusade," from The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture, editors, Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004)64-78. Reference to neo-Confederate on page 76. McPherson's discussion on page 68.
  2. MacLean, Nancy, "Neo-Confederacy against the New Deal: The Regional Romance of the Modern American Right," paper presented at conference entitled "The End of Southern History? Reintegrating the Modern South and the Nation." (Atlanta: Emory University, 2006).
  3. Quinn, Richard, "Partisan View," Southern Partisan, 8.1 (1988);5.
  4. Levy, Leonard W. Review of Americans Interpret Their Civil War by Thomas J. Pressly. The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3. (Sep. 1954), pp. 523–524
  5. Introduction The Confederate War Gary W. Gallagher (Harvard University Press 1997)
  6. Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan, Alan T. editors. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. (2000) p. 1. Gallagher wrote:
    "The architects of the Lost Cause acted from various motives. They collectively sought to justify their own actions and allow themselves and other former Confederates to find something positive in all-encompassing failure. They also wanted to provide their children and future generations of white Southerners with a 'correct' narrative of the war."
  7. Sons of Confederate Veterans
  8. McPherson pg. 98
  9. McPherson pg. 97
  10. McPherson pg. 106
  11. Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. (2001) pg 289
  12. Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. (2001) pg. 190
  13. 13.0 13.1 Gallagher and Nolan pg. 13-14
  14. Goldfield, David. Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History. (2002) pg. 318
  15. Southern Poverty Law Center (2000). "Arizona State Professor Brooks D. Simpson Discusses Neo-Confederate Movement". White Lies. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved October 7, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Confederate Monumental Landscape: Literate Sources
  17. 17.0 17.1 League of the South Core Beliefs Statement
  18. Lincoln Reconstructed
  19. MacLean (2010) p. 309
  20. Blight, David. Retrieved June 27, 2012
  21. Loewen, James W. and Sebesta, Edward H., The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader, pp.17-19.
  22. Levine (2006) p.13
  23. The Ten Commandments
  24. Washington Post: Another Civil War?
  25. "The US Civil War As A Theological War: Confederate Christian Nationalism and the League of the South," in Canadian Review of American Studies, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 253-284.
  26. Frequently Asked Questions about the League of the South
  27. Mrak, Mojmir (1999). Succession of States. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 90-411-1145-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  29. Feller (2004) p. 186. Feller differentiates between Hummel and the other two. He writes (p.190), "After this soapbox tirade [referring to DiLorenzo's " The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War" and Adams' "When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession"], Jeffrey Hummel's "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men" is a breath of fresh air. Hummel is a real historian."
  30. 30.0 30.1 Hummel "Thomas Woods and His Critics: A Review Essay" Part II
  31. MacLean (2010) pp. 308-309
  32. MacLean (2010) pp. 320-321
  33. 'Southern Mercury Vol. 6 No. 2 -- (March/April 2008). This is an official publication of the educational foundation of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV).
  34. Blog: Southern Poverty Law Center Attacks
  35. Whitewashing the Confederacy
  36. FrontPage Magazine
  37. Southern Mercury, 2003-2008, 23 issues


  • Blight, David W. Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. (2001) ISBN 0-674-00332-2
  • Feller, Daniel. "Libertarians in the Attic, or a Tale of Two Narratives". Reviews in American History 32.2 (2004) 184-195.
  • Gallagher, Gary W. and Nolan, Alan T. editors. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. (2000) ISBN 0-253-33822-0
  • Goldfield, David. Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and Southern History. (2002) ISBN 0-8071-2758-2
  • Hague, Euan, Sebesta, Edward H. and Beirich, Heidi, Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction. (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 2008). ISBN 978-0-292-71837-1
  • Kennedy, Walter Donald, and Benson, Jr., Al, Red Republicans and Lincoln's Marxists: Marxism in the Civil War (2009) ISBN 0-595-89021-0
  • Levine, Bruce. Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War. (2006) ISBN 978-0-19-514762-9
  • Levy, Leonard W. Review of Americans Interpret Their Civil War by Thomas J. Pressly. The Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 3. (Sep. 1954), pp. 523–524
  • MacLean, Nancy. "Neo-Confederacy versus the New Deal: The Regional Utopia of the Modern American Right" in The Myth of Southern Exceptionalism. (2010) edited by Lassiter, Matthew W. and Crespino, Joseph.
  • McPherson, James M. This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War. (2007) ISBN 978-0-19-531366-6

Further reading

External links

Neo-Confederate groups