11

I saw a meme on social media that claimed that a William T. Thompson designed a flag with explicit white supremacist symbols, that was, for a time, an official flag of the Confederacy.

enter image description here

The text of the image:

So the Confederate Flag is not racist, huh?

"As a people, we are fighting to maintain the Heaven-ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race"

"As a national emblem, it (the Confederate flag) is significant of our higher cause, the cause of a superior race"

William T. Thompson, designer of the Confederate flag.

At the bottom of the image, there is what looks like a more square version of the Confederate Battle Flag, or what is now commonly, mistaken for the confederate flag.

It appears the creators of this meme mistook the white part of this Confederate flag as non-flag parts of the image.

Wikipedia more or less backs up the claims about William T. Tappan, except noting that he was a promoter of this flag, but not its designer. But I don't want to rely on wikipedia as a source, especially for a topic as recently contentious as this. I want a source that would be strong enough to cite in a college paper.

Is it true? Was this an official flag of the US Confederacy, with explicitly white supremacist symbols?

17

The newspaper Savannah Daily Morning News, which William Tappan Thompson edited, published an article Confederate Flag and Seal on 23 April 1863.

The article advocated for a particular flag design and contains the first OP quote. A fuller version of the first OP quote makes clear what the supremacist symbol is:

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

Also, the article uses the first person plural, taking at least partial credit for the design:

Our idea is simply to combine the present battle flag with a pure white sheet

However, at the end of the article the following note is added:

Since the above was in type ... the senate has adopted a new flag... with the exception of a blue stripe in the centre of the white field, the new flag is the same as we have suggested above

The book Our Flag (1872) further explains that in the House, Julian Hartridge introduced an amendment which was passed changing the flag (relative to the Senate bill) to have an all white background, without the blue stripe.

(Julian Hartridge practiced law in Savannah and represented Georgia in the House)

With foreknowledge of Julian Hartridge's plan, but before the amendment was introduced by Hartridge and with expectation of the House and Senate having approved different flags, Savanna Daily Morning News published another editorial The New Confederate Flag 28 April 1863. This article further expressed the supremacist symbolism of the all-white background flag saying (with all caps in the original text as below):

hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN'S FLAG

In the meanwhile (April 24) P. G. T. Beauregard also advocated the same design in a letter, but without expressing any supremacist reasons, and in fact writing "all white or all blue".

The Journal of the Confederate Congress, vol. 6, page 476 confirms that on 1 May Julian Hartridge did move to amend the flag bill to have the all-white background, fulfilling Thompson's prediction published four days earlier. Other amendments by others were defeated and the all-white background flag was approved that day.

The 1872 Our Flag book specifically credits Thompson, saying:

His remonstrance against the addition of the blue bar appear to have been heeded.

The second OP quote is from a 4 May 1863 article reporting the approval of the flag.

A couple weeks later, a 20 May 1863 Savanna Daily Morning News article The Flag stated:

As a symbol of the white man's cause, long may it float in triumph

In conclusion, Thompson had no role in the design of the Battle Flag which is shown in the OP graphic, but he wanted to make the CSA national flag be the Battle Flag on a white field, for white supremacist reasons, and the CSA congress did make this the official national flag.

For very extensive information with numerous color drawings of proposed flags and hundreds of newspaper excerpts see ILLUSTRATED DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE FLAG AND SEAL OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA. 1861 - 65 (1880). Numerous flag designs were considered before the flag as introduced by Hartridge was adopted. Some people gave extremely racist reasoning for their designs, with white representing the supremacy of the white race, while to others white represented, purity, innocence or peace.


(A comment says there is confusion about what flag is being discussed, so I'm adding an example of the flag:)

enter image description here

(historical flag located at the George Washington Masonic Memorial, Alexandria, Virginia, as of 2011, image source )

  • This is a bit confusing in that most people think of a rectangular version of the battle flag as the "Confederate Flag" where you are talking about the second and third national flags. The second national flag added a white sheet to the square battle flag. But no one modernly flies that flag. They fly the rectangular battle flag (which was used as the second confederate navy jack flag). – Brythan Jun 14 '17 at 4:29
  • 3
    ... I'm not sure how they thought "Exactly like this, just not racist" was going to work, or who they thought they were going to fool. But hey... – Shadur Jun 14 '17 at 9:35
  • 1
    @Brythan Thompson is discussing the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia ("our present battle flag") and proposing the Second National Flag. My answer does not discuss the Third National Flag. I've never seen anyone fly the exact Second National Flag, but there is a recent photo of it being flown at the Alabama Confederate Memorial on state capitol grounds washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/06/23/… and the state of Mississippi flag is similar en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Mississippi – DavePhD Jun 14 '17 at 11:13
  • Why is there a military need for an asymmetric flag? – Christian Jun 14 '17 at 11:18
  • 6
    @Christian So it looks different when reversed, for signaling purposes – DavePhD Jun 14 '17 at 11:19
3

No
For the simple fact that William T. Thompson never designed a Confederate national flag.

The Confederate National flag (1863-1865) "The Stainless Banner":

In 1863 the entire nation was talking about the need for a new flag, and possible designs therefore. William T. Thompson (a news editor) wrote an editorial in his paper that is now quite famous which describes a flag similar to the one that would eventually be picked. But the entire country was rife with suggestions some of which similarly predicted The Stainless Banner. General P. G. T. Beauregard in a letter to a congressman stated "a good design for the national flag would be the present battle-flag as Union Jack, and the rest all white or all blue" [1].

In reality, the flag was designed by the Confederate Congress and House. It passed through well documented versions to eventually land on the one design they could all agree on. (The Confederate Battle Flag, John M. COSKI, pages 15-17). It is entirely possible that Thompson and his article had some part to play in a similar design eventually being picked, but their is no evidence to back up this theory.

  • 2
    Beauregard's letter (April 24) was one day after Thompson's 23 April editorial. First Thompson designed the flag, then Thompson recruited Captain William Ross Postell to draw the flag, then Thompson published the 23 April editorial, then Beauregard wrote his 24 April letter. – DavePhD Jun 14 '17 at 13:46
  • @DavePhD I am not sure what you are trying to say. He did not live or work in Savanna, so it seem incredibly unlikely that he was in that town the day the newspaper was published or that he would steal the design even if he had somehow had read of it. I am reading different historical accounts, and and historians simply do not agree with any of the assumptions you are making. – Jonathon Jun 14 '17 at 16:39
  • Is it technically possible that Thompson designed a flag, Beauregard stole the idea, and then a bunch of lawmakers pretended to design a flag to disguise that source of the idea? sure.... But no serious historian seems to have ever suggested that theory. – Jonathon Jun 14 '17 at 16:40
  • I said "Beauregard independently suggested" in my answer. No one is saying "steal the design". And Beauregard helped design the Battle Flag itself at Main & Oak streets in Fairfax, VA, like it says here historicfairfax.org/markers – DavePhD Jun 14 '17 at 16:51
  • 1
    The 1872 book says the Richmond papers, with permission, reproduced Thompson's editorial. The chances the zero Richmond lawmakers read the Richmond papers is very low. The book also cites to "Letter Wm. T. Thompson to G. H. P.". The book also discusses many proposed designs without the Battle Flag on pages 413-414. – DavePhD Jun 14 '17 at 17:37
0

Did Wm. T. Thompson design the second national flag of the Confederacy (the "Stainless Banner")?

NO

The Confederate Congress gave no one credit for the design of this flag. Alexander Boteler, Chairman of the Flag Committee, stated that the white field represented "purity and truth" and not "white man's flag" (see Richmond Whig, May 5, 1863, p.4, c.3). No contemporary of the war period -of their own knowledge- credits or even mentions Thompson in connection with the design. If anyone was to receive even an unofficial credit it would be General P. G. T. Beauregard-

“Gen. Beauregard suggested the flag just adopted, or else a field of blue in place of the white.” -"Letter from Richmond" by the Richmond correspondent of the Charleston Mercury, May 5, 1863, p.1, c.1.

"In the month of April [1863], there was some question in the Confederate Congress about changing the form and arrangement of their flag, and in reference to it, Beauregard, on the 24th of April, wrote to a friend: 'Why change our battle-flag, consecrated by the best blood of our country on so many battlefields? A good design for the national flag would be the present battle-flag as Union Jack, and the rest all white or all blue.' This idea was adopted by Congress, on the 1st of May, and thenceforth the Confederate flag was a white field,—-the length double the width, with the union to be a square of two-thirds the width of the flag" -William Parker Snow, Southern Generals (1865), p.246. https://books.google.com/books?id=6GReYbXeJT8C&pg=PA246&dq=%22battle+flag+as+union+jack%22+246&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjRoYnN1afLAhXEOiYKHb2pC6gQ6AEINTAA#v=onepage&q=%22battle%20flag%20as%20union%20jack%22%20246&f=false

Letter of Gen. Beauregard to Confederate Congressman C. J. Villere, April 24, 1863- http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/nebrowser?query=Perseus:text:2006.05.0747:article=18&sort=authorityName&order=asc

"General Beauregard, whose earlier penchant for practicality had established the precedent for visual distinctiveness on the battlefield, proposed that 'a good design for the national flag would be the present battle-flag as Union Jack, and the rest all white or all blue.' This measure--placing the star-cross design in the upper corner of an otherwise monochromatic flag--would allow the civilian ensign to signal distress while incorporating that image that had been, in Beauregard's words, 'consecrated by the best blood of our country on so many battle-fields.' The final version of the second national flag, adopted May 1, 1863, did just this: it set the St. Andrew's Cross of stars in the Union Jack with the rest of the civilian banner entirely white." -Bonner, Robert E., "Flag Culture and the Consolidation of Confederate Nationalism." Journal of Southern History, Vol. 68, No. 2 (May 2002), 318-319.

  • 2
    Thompson published his first article about the pure white-background flag 4/23 in the Savannah paper. Then 4/28 Thompson published that he had foreknowledge that representative Julian Hartridge, who was from Savannah, would introduce an amendment changing the design to be such in the House. Then Julian Hartridge introduced the amendment 5/1. Other amendments the same day adding a red border and making the Battle Flag itself the national flag both fail and Hartridge succeeded. – DavePhD Jun 19 '17 at 23:31
  • Hartridge did propose a white field, but the final version that passed (also a white field) was proposed by Peter Gray of the Flag Committee. See pages 475 thru 478- memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/ampage?collId=llcc&fileName=006/… – StainlessBanner Jun 20 '17 at 18:12
  • Yes, I agree. But Gary was only further specifying what Hartridge proposed earlier in the day by adding more legal language. The original senate version wasn't specific about "double the length" and didn't define the battle flag in terms of stars and colors. – DavePhD Jun 20 '17 at 18:48
  • "Mr. Gray, of Texas, hoped the House would adopt the flag adopted by the Senate, with the blue bar stricken out. Then we would have the battle flag, of glorious memories, and a white field, signifying purity, truth, and freedom." -"House of Representatives" (debates), Richmond Whig, May 5, 1863 ....................................Mr. Gray must not have been reading those Savannah papers. – StainlessBanner Jun 20 '17 at 18:49
  • 2
    One 1861 proposal in the above books says "The Anglo-Saxon, or white man, came into the country with superior intellectual and social characteristics, and has by the power of mind secured a supremacy throughout the land. ... propose the colors of white, red, and black, as appropriate to our Flag... and the white above, to denote superiority .. overrunning the red and black, illustrating the control of the white man over the other races, and his increasing ascendency." – DavePhD Jun 28 '17 at 12:10

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .