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‘Confederate Catechism’ key to monument backer beliefs

Jay Reeves
Associated Press

Birmingham, Ala. — 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.

Here is a look at Confederate catechisms — what they teach, how they developed and how they are used today:

What was 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.

That’s 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.

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.

Who wrote 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.

Tyler 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.

Does anyone still recite it?

Yes. 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.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans sells a reproduction of Tyler’s booklet for $5 on its website.