One of the many enjoyable things about writing historically-themed posts is finding out new things or re-finding out things I’d dimly known or learned at some point but had almost entirely forgotten. That happened today as I was writing about the history of the Confederate flag and the fact that what we know as the Confederate flag was actually never the national flag of the pretended Confederate States of America. What I didn’t remember, though, was this issue of the “White Man’s Flag” which was the official national flag of the CSA for most of its history. As I noted in this post, the second flag of the Confederacy was what we recognize as the ‘confederate flag’ in the top left corner on a field of pure white. And unless you think this is just ironic given what the Confederacy stood for … nope not ironic.
This is the national flag of the Confederacy as it existed from the Spring of 1863 until just weeks before the end of the war in 1865. Note that this flag was adopted not long after the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Why was it called the “White Man’s Flag”?
Well, because that’s the name given to it by the guy who designed it, William T. Thompson, the editor of the Savannah Morning News (then known as the Daily Morning News).
Actually born in Ohio, Thompson designed the flag and editorialized on its behalf repeatedly in the paper he edited: “As a people, we are fighting to maintain the heaven ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause.” And then in a later editorial, he cheered the design as one that will “be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’s FLAG.” And then finally “As a national emblem it is significant of our higher cause [,] the cause of a superior race, and a higher civilization contending against ignorance, infidelity and barbarism.”
This actually echoed, albeit less eloquently the infamous words of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens who argued that white supremacy was the foundation upon which the Confederacy was built. “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea [to that of the United States Constitution]; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
Confederate apologists note the the Confederate congress never explicitly endorsed this interpretation of the flag’s symbolism. But this hardly seems relevant since the meaning of the design seems to have been widely understood as such at the time.