Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

RSS feed of this blog

Gov. McDonnell atones

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, opening the 2010 Signature Conference of the Virginia Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission, has just made news.

In gracious remarks to the  estimated 2,000-plus people assembled in Norfolk State University’s L. Douglas Wilder Center today, McDonnell encouraged attendees to tackle the “tough stuff of Civil War history”–slavery, the focus of the daylong conference.

“This is not going to be easy. I know that from firsthand experience,” he said with a smile, alluding to the ill-fated proclamation he issued honoring Confederate History Month this spring, four months into his administration. That initial proclamation made no mention of slavery as a cause of the conflict that divided the nation and turned Virginia’s soil into the most fought-over place in America.

His wry admission drew gentle laughter.

“I disappointed a lot of people, myself included,” McDonnell said of the proclamation.

“Young people, and young administrations, make mistakes. But this was an error of haste and not heart–and it will be remedied.”

Next year, his proclamation will more carefully examine the full scope of the Civil War, he promised.

“It will be written for all–for slaves, for Union soldiers, for Confederate soldiers, for all Virginians,” McDonnell said.

” … A hundred and fifty years is long eough for Virginia to fight the Civil War,” he added, to great applause.

“Now, on the eve of this anniversary, we approach the occasion with good will. We will mark its lessons, and celebrate the unity we have.”

Earlier in his 10-minute address, he said:

“The voices of the Civil War still the potential to divide us today, and that’s why this conference is so important.”

“Until the Civil War, the principle that all people were created equal was dishonored,” the governor said.

Slavery “degraded people for profit .. and left a stain on the soul of this state and this nation.”

To my ears, Gov. McDonnell gave a meaty, thought-provoking speech, offering his most extended remarks to date on the Confederate History Month proclamation that caused a national uproar–and on Virginia’s lively and multi-faceted observance of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.