SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory View Alerts
CLOSINGS: View Closings

VA secretary praised Confederate president as a "martyr to 'The Lost Cause'" in 1995 speech

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie praised Confederate States President Jefferson Davis effusively ...

Posted: Dec 8, 2018 2:59 PM
Updated: Dec 8, 2018 2:59 PM

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie praised Confederate States President Jefferson Davis effusively in a 1995 speech, calling him a "martyr to 'The Lost Cause'" and an "exceptional man in an exceptional age."

Wilkie, who delivered the speech in front of a statue of Davis at the US Capitol during an event sponsored by the United Daughters of Confederacy, also said that while he was "no apologist for the South," viewing Confederate "history and the ferocity of the Confederate soldier solely through the lens of slavery and by the slovenly standards of the present is dishonest and a disservice to our ancestors."

Government and public administration

Government organizations - US

Heroes and heroism

Human rights

Human rights violations

International relations and national security

Jefferson Davis

Misc people

Political Figures - US

Politics

Robert Wilkie

Slavery

Society

US Congress

US Department of Veterans Affairs

US federal departments and agencies

US Senate

Wilkie's speech, a transcript of which ran in the United Daughters of the Confederacy Magazine, reveals his belief in the "Lost Cause" theory of the Civil War, which portrays the Southern states who seceded as heroic and denies the central role slavery played as a cause for the conflict.

A KFile review also found Wilkie attended a pro-Confederate event as recently as 2009, giving a speech on Robert E. Lee to a Maryland division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

CNN's KFile found references to Wilkie while researching the neo-Confederate movement, which seeks to promote a more sympathetic view of the Confederate states during the Civil War, and obtained copies of the speeches from Edward Sebesta, a scholar on the neo-Confederate movement.

Veterans Affairs press secretary Curt Cashour did not address the content of Wilkie's remarks when asked by CNN but said in a statement that the events Wilkie attended "were strictly historical in nature, and as Secretary Wilkie said at his confirmation hearing in June, he stopped participating in them once the issue became divisive."

"Today marks the 187th anniversary of the birth of Jefferson Davis; planter, soldier, statesman, President of the Confederate States of America, martyr to 'The Lost Cause,' and finally the gray-clad phoenix ---- an exceptional man in an exceptional age," Wilkie, who at the time was a staffer for Republican then-Rep. David Funderburk, said in the 1995 speech, according to the transcript.

Wilkie later said, "I must add, as the distinguished scholar and historian James I. Robertson of Virginia Tech did here last year, I am no apologist for the South, and I have never bought into what Penn Warren and his colleagues called the 'moonlight and magnolia school,' where the decorative past replaces the useable past."

"The South has many warts," he continued. "Chattel slavery and its aftermath is a stain on our story as it is a stain on every civilization in history. But slavery was a collective American tragedy. (President Abraham) Lincoln understood that there was enough guilt to be spread from Maine to Key West. To view our history and the ferocity of the Confederate soldier solely through the lens of slavery and by the slovenly standards of the present is dishonest and a disservice to our ancestors. We can't surrender American history to an enforced political orthodoxy dictated to our children by attention-starved politicians, street corner demagogues, and tenured campus radicals."

Professor David Blight, a Civil War historian at Yale, told CNN in an interview that Wilkie's comments were "right from the neo-Confederate playbook."

"That is standard Lost Cause ideology circa 1890 to 1910," he said. "This man, that language right there, is the standard defense of the Lost Cause built over the period of decades as an ideology explaining confederate defeat, but also as a racial ideology."

Wilkie was confirmed by the Senate as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in July. Prior to his confirmation hearing, the Washington Post reported that Wilkie was a formerly a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and attended memorial ceremonies for Confederate veterans. Wilkie told the Post that in a statement that the events had become "part of the politics that divide us" and that he no longer attended them.

'Their cause was honorable'

In his 1995 speech, Wilkie said Davis' life was the reflection of "a proud people" and that not all of "man's noble experiments succeed."

"In the case of Jefferson Davis, we must tell America the truth about the complicated man who carried with him the dreams of Southern independence," he said. "His life was the reflection of the simplicity and perseverance of a proud people; men and women who endured the horror of defeat and its equally hellish aftermath; men and women who through their Christian prism understood the fall of man and the imperfection of human institutions -- that not all of man's noble experiments succeed."

He also said Davis' "contempt for the radical abolitionists of the Republican Party" was not about slavery, but rather about out of fear "they would violate any law and abridge any freedom to impose their idea of the just society on others." Wilkie said the radical abolitionists in Congress were "as mendacious as the Jacobins of Revolutionary France" and called those who funded the abolitionist John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry "enemies of liberty."

Wilkie added Davis' "unbroken spirit" after the war served as a reminder to the southern people "that their cause was honorable and that all would be right in the end."

Wilkie concluded his speech by linking Davis' fight to the fights in the Congress at the time, shortly after Republicans won the majority in the House of Representatives in the 1994 midterm elections.

"Once again the halls of Congress reverberate with odes to rugged individualism, state sovereignty, and contempt for the centralized super-state," Wilkie said in closing. "These are bloodless battles Davis could never fight but, they are no less vital for the future of American civilization. As our cities decay and our standards and spiritual traditions deteriorate, America is searching for a better way. Walker Percy urged us to look South to recover community, stability, and sense of place in God's order which we have regrettably lost. That is a tall proposition but it is certainly one Jefferson Davis would understand and certainly one for which he would fight."

More recent pro-Confederate ties

In 2009, Wilkie spoke to a Maryland division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans -- Jefferson Davis Camp 305 -- which meets in the DC-area.

The group's webpage at the time featured a Confederate proclamation from 1862 calling Union occupation of Maryland "oppression" and "tyranny" and "terrible despotism." The head of that camp at the time, according to reports and archived web pages, was Richard T. Hines, a prominent member of the neo-Confederate movement.

Wilkie began his career as an aide to Sen. Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican known for criticizing Martin Luther King Jr. and opposing a holiday in his honor. Wilkie later worked for Sen. Trent Lott from Mississippi, who resigned as Republican Leader in 2002 after praising Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign. Wilkie later served in the Bush administration, working for Condoleezza Rice at the White House National Security Council and under Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

Wilkie's past work with Helms and Lott came under scrutiny at his confirmation hearing in June. Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono asked Wilkie, citing his past bosses and a Washington Post article, whether he would "welcome the scrutiny that you will probably face based on your past positions to make sure that you are treating women and minorities fairly and with respect as the head of the V.A., should you be confirmed?"

Wilkie responded, "Well, Senator, I will say -- and I say it respectfully -- I welcome a scrutiny of my entire record. The Washington Post seemed to stop at my record about 25 years ago. If I had been what the Washington Post implied, I don't believe I would have been able to work for Condoleezza Rice or Bob Gates or Jim Mattis."

Terre Haute
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 22°
Robinson
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 21°
Indianapolis/Eagle Creek
Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: °
Paris
Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 20°
Mattoon/Charleston
Cloudy
29° wxIcon
Hi: 29° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 15°
Terre Haute
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 31° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 22°
Terre Haute
Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 30° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 22°
Afternoon Snowfall
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

Latest Video

Image

AT&T upgrades service in Greene County

Image

January is National Mentor Month

Image

This week is school choice week

Image

Brazil Mayor Wyndham gives state of the city address

Image

Graduation rates on the rise in Vigo County

Image

Isolated wetlands at risk with new Senate Bill

Image

Wednesday: Partly sunny early, snow showers. High: 31

Image

MBB SIU vs ISU

Image

West Vigo vs Terre Haute North Boys Bball

Image

Lease agreement approved to turn former Sears into vaccination site

WTHI Events

 

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Cases: 1108430

Reported Deaths: 20853
CountyCasesDeaths
Cook4472959280
DuPage713231179
Will60159896
Lake55096932
Kane47475713
Winnebago26895421
Madison25542487
St. Clair23211457
McHenry22372260
Champaign16003107
Peoria15571256
Sangamon14996247
McLean13653174
Tazewell12393254
Rock Island12252310
Kankakee11760188
Kendall1008783
LaSalle9834250
Macon9023183
Vermilion7842118
DeKalb770696
Adams7597131
Williamson6396119
Boone566480
Whiteside5458176
Clinton520887
Coles481286
Ogle474574
Knox4718148
Grundy457354
Effingham437273
Jackson432270
Henry413578
Marion4115113
Macoupin405698
Franklin396072
Livingston382871
Randolph380478
Monroe372071
Stephenson365477
Jefferson3579106
Woodford336570
Morgan333093
Logan319060
Montgomery317458
Lee315676
Bureau306885
Christian306779
Fayette297653
Perry280063
Iroquois264658
Fulton264550
Jersey231762
Lawrence220731
McDonough220051
Saline210155
Douglas206434
Union204732
Shelby202835
Crawford184937
Cass180131
Bond178926
Pike161448
Warren160545
Richland157846
Hancock156336
Wayne155643
Clark154634
Jo Daviess153425
Washington150426
Edgar149553
Carroll148333
White142433
Moultrie142028
Ford141251
Clay134941
Greene128943
Johnson126515
Wabash123215
Mason120241
Piatt119818
De Witt119629
Mercer119431
Cumberland112027
Massac107433
Jasper106815
Menard92410
Hamilton73317
Marshall71315
Schuyler65417
Brown62612
Pulaski6253
Stark50120
Edwards4859
Henderson47016
Calhoun4515
Scott4131
Alexander4078
Gallatin4024
Putnam3633
Hardin3139
Pope2583
Unassigned1130
Out of IL340

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Cases: 614946

Reported Deaths: 9807
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion849231342
Lake45784693
Allen33103560
Hamilton29752316
St. Joseph27572383
Elkhart24496346
Vanderburgh19679255
Tippecanoe18150144
Johnson15234296
Porter14970172
Hendricks14550253
Madison11071223
Clark10852145
Vigo10819185
Monroe9496115
Delaware9193136
LaPorte9173164
Howard8325148
Kosciusko811485
Warrick683399
Hancock6783106
Bartholomew6659100
Floyd6522113
Wayne6194164
Grant6050118
Dubois559081
Boone557968
Morgan551996
Henry512365
Marshall507884
Dearborn488745
Cass487864
Noble476159
Jackson428747
Shelby423381
Lawrence395180
Clinton375845
Gibson375560
Harrison354046
DeKalb351365
Montgomery349754
Knox337839
Miami325244
Steuben315846
Whitley313126
Wabash306951
Adams303636
Ripley301646
Putnam299152
Huntington295760
Jasper293035
White275943
Daviess271776
Jefferson267738
Decatur249983
Fayette249949
Greene242763
Posey241828
Wells237551
LaGrange230363
Scott227939
Clay225032
Randolph215848
Jennings200937
Spencer193622
Sullivan193633
Washington189023
Fountain185227
Starke177044
Jay168723
Owen168338
Fulton165430
Orange161035
Carroll160616
Rush156418
Perry156129
Vermillion150034
Franklin149933
Tipton134433
Parke13098
Pike118826
Blackford112023
Pulaski97937
Newton92621
Brown88835
Benton87110
Crawford8099
Martin75013
Warren6867
Switzerland6695
Union6297
Ohio4967
Unassigned0375