BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Sometimes it seems like the impassioned people who want to preserve Confederate monuments across the South are reading a different history book than the rest of the nation.
In fact, they are.
A decades-old booklet called the “Confederate Catechism” lays out core beliefs of Southern heritage groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sells the book and has defended rebel monuments in New Orleans and elsewhere. Some of those monuments were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which has programs to educate children on its version of Southern history.
Here is a look at Confederate catechisms — what they teach, how they developed and how they are used today:
WHAT WAS THE CIVIL WAR ABOUT?
Certainly not slavery, according to the most popular version of “A Confederate Catechism,” which is promoted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans on its website.
“Both from the standpoint of the Constitution and sound statesmanship, it was not slavery, but the vindictive, intemperate anti-slavery movement that was at the bottom of all the troubles,” states the 12-page text, written in question-and-answer form.
Such claims don’t square with much of today’s scholarship. To critics, they seem at odds with the secession documents issued by Southern states, some of which specifically mentioned slavery as a reason for the dispute that led to 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” narrative is popular among Confederate sympathizers who maintain the war was about something other than maintaining the ability of white Southerners to own black people.
SO WHAT CAUSED THE WAR?
The catechism lays the blame on Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president of the United States brought on four years of bloodshed by rejecting the legal right of the 11 states of the Confederacy to leave the Union and sending troops into the South, it claims.
For emphasis, it states in all capital letters that the South: “… FOUGHT TO REPEL INVASION 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 at 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, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the catechism is important but it’s almost too simplistic in explaining causes of the war, which he said included constitutional questions, religion and multiple other factors.
WHO CAME UP WITH THE CATECHISM?
The son of a U.S. president, oddly enough.
Lyon Gardiner Tyler, whose father was President John Tyler, is credited with writing the 1929 catechism promoted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Lyon Tyler, who spent much of his life in Virginia, was a prominent defender of the Confederate cause at a time when Southerners were pushing back against Northern histories of the conflict. While Tyler’s claims seem outside the accepted norm of modern historical scholarship to many, he served as president 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 to recite basic beliefs and elements of Confederate history,” according to the group’s website, which also touts Confederate catechisms. The organization even has officers whose duties include spreading the Southern gospel.
Many of the people who gathered to wave Confederate battle flags in New Orleans as monuments were being removed likely haven’t heard of the catechisms. But the Sons of Confederate Veterans will sell them a reproduction of Tyler’s version for $5: It’s available on the group’s website.
“(Tyler) wrote this pamphlet to help correct the propaganda about the South, and his father, by Northern writers and publishers. It is short, concise and should be read by every student, not only in the South, but in the United States,” the sales site states.