Sunday, May 5, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Who Are You Loyal To?

It's May 5, 2013.  As someone interested in the Civil War, I should have been at the 150th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Chancellorsville, attending various historical talks and reenactments, and hearing all about Confederate general Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson and his soon-to-be-fatal-wounding by his own men.

I'll let others more qualified blog all about it.  Tonight, I'm not someone interested in the Civil War but someone visiting friends and family in New York City, the city where I was born and grew up. I'm mulling over a statement a fellow blogger, one who lives in a former Confederate state, posted on my blog several days ago:

  "I would pledge my allegiance to my state before my Federal government any day"

It was such an interesting question, to this native New Yorker, that I spent time in the early morning when I could not sleep thinking about it. Who am I loyal to?  Who owns my heart, my identity?

If you had asked Stonewall Jackson who he had pledged his allegiance to, he probably would have answered Virginia (his birthplace is in Clarksburg, West Virginia, but it was Virginia when he was born.  Or maybe he was born in Parkersburg.  We really don't know.).  Robert E. Lee would no doubt had said Virginia, too. 

At reenactments, we have asked the question of reenactors playing the role of generals from the Union side, and they answered - to their state.  Not to the Federal government.

This was a common belief before the Civil War - your allegiance was to your state.

After the Civil War?  I think, for people in the North, we think less about our state identity than people living in former Confederate States do.  But, I think we all, as a people, think of ourselves as American in a way that we did not before the Civil War.  But, not always.

It's another way that we Americans, in many ways, are still fighting that war in our minds, even if we aren't taking up physical arms against ourselves.  Even what we call the Civil War differs, depending on if we identify ourselves as being from North or South.

So, technically, I should be pledging my allegiance to New York State.  But, not so fast.  Things are never that easy.

There is a big mental divide between people living in New York City and people living in the rest of New York State.  The two geographic areas actually have very little in common except for the fact that they both have the same Governor.  I've actually lived longer in upstate New York longer than I lived in New York City, and I think like an upstate person. 

But, if I open my mouth, I sound like someone from New York City.  I have "that accent".

And, while I am New York City, the sounds and smells bring me back to a core part of me that still belongs to New York City, and always will - although I fled New York City the second I could once I was grown, and never turned back.  Not only that, I was born in Queens, grew up in the Bronx and now, my remaining friends all live in Brooklyn.  I spend my time in Brooklyn.  I have not set foot in the Bronx in over 15 years.

So, I honestly don't know who I am loyal to, other than identifying myself as a citizen of the United States, the country I have lived in all my life. 

Is your loyalty to state/province?  Or your "federal" government?


  1. Intriguing post. I am loyal to my country, although I certainly enjoy my state. My parents were from the Midwest so I absorbed their values, which in the years of my early childhood were quite different from those of still-segregated Virginia. Also, Northern Virginia where I lived was quite different from more old-fashioned parts of the state in the 1950's. And many people move from state to state so why would they feel more allegiance to any particular state?

    Lee and Jackson both had mixed feelings at the outset of the war. Lee paced the floor for hours trying to decide what to do. Jackson's sister kept her loyalties with the union. If both these talented generals had cast their lot with the USA, it would have benefitted Virginia in the long run because the war would have ended sooner, saving many lives and much property.

  2. Very interesting! Once I'd moved away from where I grew up, I travelled a lot to do performing work, and lived all over the place. So I never really called anywhere 'home.'

    Even though I have lived in my current area for over 10 years, I still wouldn't call it home. Sometimes I feel jealous of people who live in the same place they were born and brought up, but other times I feel that I'm the one with the broader horizons, and to identify yourself by where you live takes away from your identification as simply 'you'.
    Great post!

  3. Here are some random thoughts...

    I grew up in NJ so I am not a southerner by birth. In fact without a single American born grandparent and only one American born parent I am barely an American. MAYBE that is a factor in my feelings too. But (and I'm the one that made the comment about loyalty to my state over Feds) I feel far more loyalty to my adopted state of South Carolina then I do to the Federal Government. Some of it comes loving SC's history of standing up to not being told what to do (Revolutionary AND Civil War issues) and a belief in less government (which opens a whole political issues Pandora's Box). I would fly the "Confederate" flag (which is really Lee's flag from the Army of Northern Virginia) if I didn't worry that it could be seen as offensive so instead I fly the SC flag, and that flag only. There are many Southerners who fly the "Confederate" flag without prejudice but there are some that do not. I am not the least bit prejudice and would not want to be seen as such.

    Another comment was regarding you distinguishing between upstate NY and NYC. I worked in Manhattan at one time and also my first husband was from upstate NY. Yes, they are a world apart! And simply saying that one is from NY doesn't really tell the whole story :)

    Sorry for the long ramble....


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