Dr. Boyd D. Cathey’s
SPEECH for CONFEDERATE FLAG DAY, LOUISBURG, March 19, 2017
Thank you. I appreciate that kind introduction. I always like being over in Franklin County. You see, my mother’s was a “Perry,” and although my branch remained up in Perquimans County for about eighty years after the first Perrys came to this part of North Carolina, I have been assured by family genealogists and by my own research that I’m kin to most of the folks with that last name in this area. So, in a way, I’m a Franklin County boy, and I also count many good folks out this way as dear friends.
Today is a special day, and it is special not just for the citizens of Franklin County. It is special because here—right here in Louisburg—156 years ago, the first Confederate flag was designed and flown. Here, on this spot, began the epic of Americans attempting not only to keep and preserve the republic handed down to them as a legacy by their grandfathers, but also the effort by force of arms to repel the broader attempt by what Europeans have called “the Revolution,” or, what I call global progressivism, to overcome and defeat one of the last remnants of true Western Christian tradition. That remnant was the Confederate South.
Let me explain with some historical context.
I begin with the French Revolution. The intellectual currents that produced that upheaval were already percolating during the early 18th century. In its eventual aims that revolution was not just a violent effort to destroy the French monarchy. No, its intellectual leadership and its practical executors were intent on dethroning the power of religious tradition and, in effect, rejecting the belief in a God Who was Lord of all Creation. In His place they would enthrone what they called “the goddess of Reason” in the heart of Paris, in Notre Dame Cathedral.
Of course, these were the extremists; not all the revolutionaries would go quite so far or advocate such radical measures. But all of those who soon denominated themselves as “liberals” would accept the primacy of reason and place man at the center of the universe, in effect, displacing God. I think we should keep that fundamental point in mind as we look at subsequent history on into the 19th century.
It is true the Founders of our American republic were familiar with the French radicals, and, although a few read them and expressed a mild enthusiasm for a few of their ideas, most of the Founders of our old republic rejected the radical democracy and the extremely destructive ideas of that revolution. In a real sense, the formerly loyal colonists left Great Britain and declared their independence to vindicate their traditional rights and duties as patriotic Englishmen. That is, to use the words of the great historian, Bernard Bailyn, ours was a “revolution averted, not made.”
Our Constitution was configured as a very conservative document. The paramount rights of the various states were fully recognized. And what we might call “liberal democracy” and across-the-board equality were avoided.
What do I mean by that?
First, the Founders set up a system that was balanced, based deeply in English law. Three branches of government were established as check-and-balance safeguards against tyranny. Only those citizens who really had an interest in the new commonwealth would have a real voice in its governance. It was up to each state to decide the qualifications for voting and for holding public office. And most states had a religious qualification for elected office holders. For instance, in North Carolina up until 1868 you had to be a Christian to hold elective office. As for voting, most states required voters to hold some kind of property—that is, they had to have some actual and real interest in the country. Our forefathers figured that only if you had an interest—an involvement—could you be truly trusted to cast a vote.
Let me point out, parenthetically, that the Supreme Court never declared such conditions and qualifications illegal or unconstitutional in the 19th century. Only in our benighted modern era have such decisions been made. But it is equally evident and clear that the Founders had no intention whatsoever to in any way impede religion or the states’ establishing Christianity in their respective territories. To make that assertion is to reveal an abysmal ignorance of history.
Let us jump forward to 1860. Up until that time the general consensus had been that the old republican system established by the Constitution of 1787 was and should be the basis for American life. But beginning early in the life of our republic there were a few voices—not many, but a few—that advocated greater centralization and more radical changes. Even in the Northern states, those voices were a minority for most of our ante-bellum period. Yet, those voices who thought that way were loud and boisterous.
Certainly, the issue of slavery entered this discussion, beginning in 1820 with the debates over the Missouri Compromise. But even then, the issue for most members of Congress was not slavery itself, but the power, both economic and political, of the states. It was the great Nathaniel Macon, North Carolina’s only Speaker of the House of Representatives, who saw clearly what was brewing. For him the issue boiled down to the power of the Federal government to dictate to the states the disposition of their property. If the Federal government could do that, he said, then a war between the states—that is, between those who believed in states’ rights and those who did not—would be the eventual result.
In 1861 North Carolina very reluctantly left the Federal union, but only after the Lincoln administration had demanded troops to invade South Carolina. As members of the North Carolina Secession Convention declared, if a free state, a former colony, had freely entered the Federal union, then it could, with justice, freely leave that union if there were serious and grave reasons. Indeed, many of the original thirteen colonies actually said so in the acts of joining the union.
When North Carolina seceded on May 20, 1861, it did so on the anniversary date of its 1775 Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. Our state declared that the bond of union was dissolved and that as a free people we were re-vindicating our rights as citizens under the original American Constitution and not the one abused and scorned by the Lincoln administration.
Now let us return to my earlier discussion of what I termed “the Revolution.” And let’s examine how the actions taken in 1861 and our Southern crusade were viewed worldwide. The efforts of the Southern Confederacy on the battlefield, 1861-1865, were seen by many traditionalists in Europe as part of a global counter-revolution—the resistance—against the revolutionary poison unleashed by the French Revolution.
When I studied in Spain for my doctorate and later in Switzerland, I began to read and examine documents in various archives detailing the enthusiastic support that many persons, writers, even sovereigns, in Europe gave to the Confederacy. Thousands—yes, thousands—of volunteers came to the South to fight for the Confederacy.
Let me give some fascinating and incredible examples.
First, probably very few Americans know anything about the old Kingdom of Naples. It ceased to exist in early 1861, after the forces of the liberal Kingdom of Piedmont-Savoy defeated it, thereby establishing the modern Kingdom of Italy. The Kingdom of Naples was hated with a passion by European liberals. For them it was backward, too bound to tradition and custom, too undemocratic, too hierarchical. After an heroic fight the last Neapolitan army was defeated in February of 1861.
And then, guess what happened? As many as perhaps 2,000 of those soldiers of the old, traditionalist Kingdom of Naples got on boats and sailed for New Orleans to volunteer to fight for the new Confederacy. Many of them formed the Italian Brigade that fought valiantly in Louisiana, along the Mississippi, and most notably at the Battle of Mansfield. Many lie buried in Southern soil, honored by our SCV compatriots down in Louisiana and Mississippi. Some returned to Italy.
Back in 1977 I visited a museum and revered historic site outside the city of Naples. There, over the hallowed memorial to Neapolitan Confederates, flew side by side a Third National Confederate Flag and the Royal Standard of the old Kingdom of Naples—gone maybe, but not forgotten.
That story is not well known, but it is not unique. In Spain I discovered that as many as 1,000 Spanish Traditionalists, or Carlists, who rose up against Liberalism in their own country under the motto, “God, Country, our Regional Rights, and our King,” came to Texas to volunteer for the Confederacy. They came by way of Mexico and fought in Confederate ranks at Sabine Pass and at other battles. According to Spanish military historian, David Odalric de Caixal, some enlisted in the Louisiana Tigers. Others found their way as far afield as the 34th and 41st Tennessee regiments. A few even ended up in the Army of Northern Virginia, where General A. P. Hill called them “his rough, tattered lions sent by Providence.”
In Spain one of my dearest friends, the Baron of Montevilla, had an ancestor who traveled to Texas to fight for the Confederacy. When his ancestor returned to Spain, an acquaintance asked him: “How can you justify fighting for two lost causes?” To which my friend’s ancestor replied: “A lost cause is never really lost if the fight is for what is true and what is right.”
Additional volunteers for the Confederate cause came from France and other European countries. We all should remember the great Prussian officer, Johann Heros von Borcke, who rode gallantly with General Jeb Stuart and distinguished himself throughout the war. Returning to Prussia after the war, he continued to fly our flag at his estate until his death. And who can forget Major General the Prince Camille de Polignac, from an old and noble traditionalist French family, who came and on the death of General Alfred Mouton, assumed command of Mouton’s division at the Battle of Mansfield? Among his troops were Texas frontiersmen, and apparently many of them could not pronounce his last name. So they called him “Gen’ral Polecat.” But they loved him just the same, and would have followed him to the gates of Hell. Interestingly, the Prince de Polignac was the last surviving Confederate Major General, passing away in 1913.
In recent years it has been our Battle Flag that has flown as the people of East Germany tore down the Berlin Wall. And today in the centuries-old Russian-speaking area of Ukraine—the Donbas—as those valiant people attempt to secede from an oppressive, centralized and imposed Ukrainian state, they fly a replica of our Battle Flag as a sign of the defense of their liberties and their belief in their Christian and Russian heritage.
What I am saying, my friends, is that our cause, the cause of the Confederacy, the cause symbolized by that flag that flies here today, was and is a cause that has universal meaning.
In the eyes of European traditionalists the Southern Confederacy represented the finest of Western Christian heritage. They could identify with leaders like Lee, Beauregard, Jefferson Davis, Stuart, and others. Of course, most of those European supporters were Catholic, not Protestant, but they shared a fundamental world view of an order under God, a belief in Divine and Natural Law, an understanding that society is composed of families in communities, and an allegiance to the idea of states’ rights, which they called subsidiarity. That is, what can be done on a lower level of government, very simply should be done on that level closer to the people, and not on a higher level.
But those Europeans also saw the heroic virtue of the South, and it was an heroic virtue based in the chivalry and honor of Christian tradition. It was opposed to the growing Liberalism in the North. That Liberalism advanced a progressivist view that history was an unfolding evolution of human perfectibility, throwing off older beliefs and what they called the “myths” and chains of tradition. Whether those boys in butternut and gray who sank deep in the cold mud trenches at Petersburg completely realized it or not, they were defending Western Christian tradition against Liberal Modernism. And thus they stood with their traditionalist brothers in Europe and elsewhere who also rejected the progressivist vision of history.
My friends, for 152 years we have watched as the results of Southern military defeat have metastasized like a voracious cancer. Sixty years ago many Southerners felt that we had reached a real understanding with the Progressivists. We were mostly left alone; we had a thriving literature with America’s greatest writers in our midst. Hollywood made films that treated us at least with some sympathy. Our colleges taught real history. Although still suffering the deep economic consequences of military defeat, our people had made giant strides of recovery.
All that changed beginning in the 1960s. Since then, not only here in our beloved Southland, but in America generally, the Progressivist revolution has taken aim, and the targets are many: our politics—-our entertainment industry—-our educational system—-and our churches. It is as if a giant infection and subversion have taken place. Indeed, I would assert that they have taken place, and, sadly, most of our fellow citizens have been lulled by the false victories by politicians who promise us one thing, but once in office, go along to get along with a powerful progressivist establishment. And that establishment will accept no dissent.
We are at ground zero in this cultural and political war. And although our particular conflict concerns basically our Southern heritage, our legacy, and our symbols, it also involves, as I said earlier, a broader battle for Western Christian civilization, itself.
When I was in Spain pursuing graduate studies, my good friend called the Southern soldiers who gave their lives at Gettysburg, Bentonville, and other battle sites—he called them “Paladins of Christian Civilization.” I think that is very true.
Remember fifty years ago when Raleigh’s Channel 5, WRAL-TV, would sign off by playing “Dixie”? The times have changed radically. The Revolution has made a lot of progress since then. Now our flags and precious relics are hidden away in dusty museums, our songs are banned, our symbols are labeled as “hateful.”
So it is for us, under that flag, to redouble our commitment to those principles that our ancestors held dear and for which they bled and died. That may mean that we lose friends or even lose positions. It may even mean that we must spend years, perhaps decades, in a kind of dark catacomb. But if we are faithful to those principles and to that memory—if we are faithful to the precious inheritance that we have received—-if we are faithful to that flag and what it stands for—-then we shall have done our duty.
For our principles are timeless and they only fall if we relinquish the field of battle. We cannot and must not.
As I grow older, the words of my Spanish friend’s ancestor resound constantly in my ears: “A lost cause is never truly lost if the fight is for what is true and what is right.”
That is our obligation before the long shadow of our ancestors and before the judgment of Almighty God. We can and should do no less.
Thank you, and God bless the South!
David Odalric de Caixal, in the Spanish journal, La Santa Causa. Accessed online at: http://www.geocities.ws/boinasrojas/impresa.html.
M. Estella, “Un historiador investiga la presencia de carlistas en la Guerra de Secession,” Diario de Navarra [Pamplona], December 9, 2011. Accessed online at: http://www.diariodenavarra.es/noticias/navarra/tierra_estella_valdizarbe/un_historiador
~ DR. BOYD D. CATHEY is an Unz Review columnist, as well as a Barely a Blog contributor, whose work is easily located on this site under the “BAB’s A List” search category. Dr. Cathey earned an MA in history at the University of Virginia (as a Thomas Jefferson Fellow), and as a Richard M Weaver Fellow earned his doctorate in history and political philosophy at the University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain. After additional studies in theology and philosophy in Switzerland, he taught in Argentina and Connecticut before returning to North Carolina. He was State Registrar of the North Carolina State Archives before retiring in 2011. He writes for The Unz Review, The Abbeville Institute, Confederate Veteran magazine, The Remnant, and other publications in the United States and Europe on a variety of topics, including politics, social and religious questions, film, and music.