Last week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) issued a proclamation quietly declaring April 2010 Confederate History Month, saying it was important for Virginians to “understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present.”
Notably absent from McDonnell’s proclamation was any mention of slavery. Yesterday, McDonnell explained that it wasn’t “significant” enough to merit a mention:
McDonnell said Tuesday that the move was designed to promote tourism in the state, which next year will mark the 150th anniversary of the start of the war. McDonnell said he did not include a reference to slavery because “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.”
Neither of Virginia’s previous two governors, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, issued a Confederate History Month proclamation. Republican governor Jim Gilmore, who served from 1998–2002, did issue multiple proclamations honoring the Confederacy, but even they acknowledged the role of slavery in the Civil War. From his 1999 proclamation:
WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the officers and enlisted men of the Army and Navy and those at home who made sacrifices on behalf of their families, homes, communities, Virginia and country; and that it is just and right to do so and […]
WHEREAS, our recognition of Confederate history also recognizes that slavery was one of the causes of the war; and
WHEREAS, slavery was a practice that deprived African-Americans of their God-given inalienable rights, which degraded the human spirit, is abhorred and condemned by Virginians, and was ended by this war<
For his final proclamation in 2001, however, Gilmore, replaced Confederate History Month with “a tribute to both black and white Civil War combatants that expressly denounces slavery as the root cause of the four-year conflict. He called it “the right approach to bring all Virginians together” and won praise from former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected black governor.
Gilmore’s predecessor, Republican George Allen, started the practice of Confederate History Month. He didn’t include slavery in his proclamation, and under significant pressure from civil rights leaders, eventually apologized. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on April 12, 1997, Allen said, “Surely, I don’t want want to upset anyone. For those who are sincerely offended…I apologize.” He added that he wanted to “celebrate our diversity.”
Lawyers, Guns, & Money reminds McDonnell of the role slavery played in the Civil War.
,Adam Serwer writes, “Still, McDonnell’s statement is telling, if only because it reveals which Virginians he feels are ‘significant.’”
,McDonnell isn’t getting much support from the right, according to Instaputz. The Corner’s Ramesh Ponnuru said that he takes “issue” with the proclamation. Power Line has more criticism for McDonnell.
,David Frum doesn’t think that McDonnell’s proclamation is a big deal.
,McDonnell’s spokesman has issued a statement about the governor’s comments:
The Governor issued the proclamation because the Civil War was the defining moment in our nation’s history, and Virginia was at the center of that conflict as the Capitol of the Confederacy. The Governor’s proclamation calls for appropriate thoughtful and serious reflection upon this period, and what it meant for our country and our Commonwealth. The Governor knows that slavery is a significant part of Virginia’s history. Slavery was evil and it is a stain on the soul of our state and nation.
,Greg Sargent notes that the Richmond Times-Dispatch, which supported McDonnell’s bid for governor, is now criticizing him for the proclamation.