The meanings of monuments were perhaps most clearly and directly articulated in the speeches
given at their dedications. The most surprising thing about these speeches is their highly
politicized content. While most speakers make a nod toward peace and reconciliation, the
greater part or effect of their addresses reassert the superiority of the Southern Cause which is
defined as both political and cultural.
Again and again, speakers rehash arguments about the Constitution and the founding fathers in order to vindicate their cause. Veteran, Captain Raleigh T. Daniel, speaking at the unveiling of the monument to the Confederate dead at Alexandria, Virginia stated:
This and other like statements suggested that the ratification of the Constitution was only achieved because of a guarantee of state rights in the Bill of Rights, a guarantee since forgotten. They also suggested that the Constitution was regarded by all, North and South, as an experiment from which all could withdraw and that at the time of its ratification, such withdrawal was thought likely and not unlawful or immoral. Orators spoke of the founding fathers as one-time rebels who, like the Confederates, defended their home against invaders and fought for the rights of independence and freedom. They also spoke of the Constitution as "but a compromise that the essential differences between the two peoples North and South would eventuate inevitably in civil war."2 Such uses of the Constitution and founding fathers not only perpetuated the political cause in the public ceremonies of the post-Civil War South and in the thoughts and hearts of its citizens, but aligned the cause with state rights, Southern lifestyle, and the cause of freedom as opposed to slavery and secession.
Along the same lines, orators also claimed that the war had not settled anything definitively as it was won by force and proved only the greater strength and resources of the North, not the vindication of its cause nor the indictment of the Southern cause. This defined the Southern cause as a cause of ideological and cultural intangibles such as independence and gentility that could not be extinguished by mere force. It also aligned the North, on the one hand, with the powers of mere brute force supported by the mechanization, industrialization, and incorporation responsible for its supplies and transportation so essential to their victory, and on the other hand, aligned the South with principles, ideals, and lifestyles which, according to the Southern myth were the heart and soul of its Cause.
Orators also gave much attention to women, their virtues, and role in Southern civilization. Orators often thanked those women present at the dedications who were responsible for the day's events. They were credited with arranging to have Confederate dead removed from their foreign and anonymous graves and brought back home for burial and commemoration. They were thanked for making preparations and arrangements for the dedication activities. Above all, they were celebrated for having the idea and desire to honor the Cause and its soldiers:
This celebration of women was a celebration of their role in maintaining order, preserving hope, embodying the virtues of self-denial and devotion, and above all, in honoring, supporting, and inspiring the men of the South. Celebration of women was thus a vehicle for affirming and celebrating ordered and chivalric Southern civilization, Southern virtues and ideals, and Southern identity. Furthermore, specifically celebrating the women responsible for the monuments serves as a means of affirming the present reality of Southern order, virtue, and identity.
In celebrating women, orators fulfilled the larger task of reaffirming the value and present reality of the Southern civilization that was also its Cause. This connection between Southern civilization and the Southern Cause was completed by portraying the Cause as a defense of home and, specifically, a defense of mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives.
Despite the dedication of many of these monuments to the common soldier, much attention was also given heroes such as Davis, Jackson, and, especially, Lee. Orators celebrated both Jackson and Lee for their strategic and general military prowess. Orators spoke of Jackson, who gave his life to the Cause, as a "military meteor streaming upward and onward in an unbroken track of light and ascending to the skies in the zenith of his fame,".4 His intense religion and personality were also fetishized. Lee, however, was celebrated as the greatest Confederate hero, because the model of a Southern gentleman. As one speaker stated of both Jackson and Lee, it was not their fame as generals so much as their characters as men that made them heroes. One speaker expressed it this way:
This quotation epitomizes the way in which orators basically equated the Cause with the ideal of the Southern gentleman through these heroes.
Perhaps the most striking thing about these dedication speeches is how very little attention is ever dedicated to the common soldier or Confederate dead whom the monuments portray and to whom they are dedicated. The dedications do not serve to dedicate the monuments to the common soldier or Confederate dead, but to the Southern identity, through celebration of Southern ideals and politics, women and gentlemen, and heroes such as Jackson and Lee.
In fact, with few exceptions, the common soldier is only celebrated in so far as such celebration may work as to celebrate of Southern identity and culture. Thus, we have the common soldier glorified in these speeches as in the sculptures, as a solitary soldier, "self-appointed and self- reliant."6 Hon. John T. Morgan, speaking at Winchester, Virginia at the unveiling of a monument to the unknown Confederate dead, stated that they should be honored all the more for a lack of personal identity because it strips them of individuality and unites them more closely and completely with the Cause.7 Yet another orator, Rt. Rev. Charles Clifton Peak, D.D., at the decoration of Confederate graves at Louisville Kentucky honored the soldiers as models of manhood and duty through the conquering of self. Others equated the common soldier with patriotism, duty, loyalty to home, bravery, and dedication. It was rare, though not impossible, that individual soldiers would be named and commemorated. Perhaps most importantly, the common soldier stood for the importance of individuality in a way that specific heroes or women who were restricted to domestic and supportive roles could not.
While the speeches advocated the Lost Cause and celebrated the ideals of the Old South quite directly, they also did so less overtly through their oratory style. In his book, Democratic Eloquence, Kenneth Cmiel traces the change in language styles from the eighteenth to the early twentieth century. He shows how different styles of language express and stand for different ideas about self and society. Cmiel identifies the nineteenth-century as a time of crisis when ideas about self and society were being challenged and reconfigured in America. This crisis took form in a battle over language. He writes:
Telling people to speak one way instead of another is a way of telling them to be a certain kind of person, of saying that certain skills and practices are valued while others are not. The nineteenth-century debate over language was a fight over what kind of personality was needed to sustain a healthy democracy.8The battle over language was caused by questions about self and society and also perpetuated and exacerbated these questions.
The language style of the eighteenth-century was Ciceronian. The Ciceronian style was about much more than the mere use of words, it was about a social structure foundational to the use of words as well:
Rhetorical theories traditionally held that the eloquent address a wide public, be liberally educated and morally committed, and come from the refined elite of the culture. In other words, rhetoriticians connected eloquence to a specific kind of audience, self, and social order....The eloquent gentleman or lady was supposed to have the cultivated sensibilities, the humanitas, needed to check their own self-interest and encourage a humane but unsentimental concern for the common good.9The eloquence of the orator was strictly tied to his character. Eloquence was seen as one expression of a refined, self-sacrificing, cultured, and educated whole. Thus, the Ciceronian style was not only a style of language, but a definition of self and society as well. The Ciceronian society was divided by class. The refined elite class was the highest, and to them was reserved the role of orator and thus the authority of the public sphere. That, of course, necessarily meant the authority over the public itself. The elite class was awarded this position because its members epitomized the Ciceronian self. The Ciceronian self is a seamless creation of virtue, self-sacrifice, and refinement wrought by the power to conquer self.
Cmiel contends that during the nineteenth-century there was a unilateral movement across society encompassing religion, education, politics, and popular literary forms, to replace this Ciceronian style with what he calls a "middling style". A middling style is a style that makes use of different linguistic styles and blends them together in order to communicate to a growing and increasingly empowered public, to "the people". According to Cmiel, Henry Ward Beecher was a champion of the middling style, appealing to his congregation through emotion rather than reason, and using coloquial words and phrases. Abraham Lincoln, too, was a master of the middling style. Debating politics and addressing the nation, he used reason more than emotion. But his dialect was laced with the expressions of the "provincial dialect of the rural Midwest," such as "howdy," "hornswoggled," "staying a spell" and "out yonder."10
Cmiel attributes this increased domination of middling styles to a change in the identity of the public:
The rising popularity of middling rhetoric was directly related to the changing demands of the public. Increased education, combined with democratic sentiment, smashed neoclassical concerns of speaker and audience. No longer could refined arbiters presume deference; no longer would the elite set the tone. In a democratic culture, all would contribute.11This challenge to the elite rhetorical tradition was repeated throughout society in newspapers and political and religious rhetoric. Dictionaries, as authorities on language, democratized and popularized culture by including more and more coloquialisms and common speech. Critics also complained of peoples' tendencies toward mindless innovation, resulting in a morass of new words and meanings exceeding the bounds of decorum and necessity. This tendency was attributed to the increased commercialization of society. Commercial values embraced the virtues of abundance, while businessmen saw and used language as a tool instead of, in the Ciceronian tradition, an expression of the self. Interestingly, critics also credited women with saving language because preserved from the public world of men and of the disparagement of language.12
These changes in rhetoric meant a social and cultural upheaval. In the eighteenth-century, the use of language styles corresponded to social classes. The upper class elite were the ones using Ciceronian language. They were the ones to give speeches, they were the public figures. The advent of the middling style meant not only that people were using different words, and the common people using the words of the elite, but that in doing so, they were blurring the boundaries of social class. Exemplifying this, the meaning of the word gentleman expanded to mean any man instead of only the cultured, educated, and moneyed elite. Thus, the change in language coincided with and perpetuated the democratization, education, and empowerment of the public; it destroyed cultural and societal boundaries and the notion of a language of authority, and it democratized and popularized the public sphere.
Furthermore, as lower and middle class people took on the language and airs of the upper class, it challenged the Ciceronian notion that a person's use of language and appearance reflected their character, education, and upbringing. This resulted in a change in the notion of self. Historian, Warren I. Susman, charts the change in the notion of self as a change from the use of the word "character" to the use of "personality." He gives us an understanding of the meaning of"character" in the nineteenth-century helpful to our analysis of Confederate monument dedication speeches:
By 1800 the concept of character had come to define that particular modal type felt to be essential for the maintenance of the social order. The term itself came to mean a group of traits believed to have social significance and moral quality....In the age of self-consciousness, a popular vision of the self defined by the word "character" became fundamental in sustaining and even in shaping the significant forms of the culture. Such a concept filled two important functions. It proposed a method for both mastery and development of the self. In fact, it argued that its kind of self-control was the way to fullest development of the moral significance of self. But it also provided a method of presenting the self to society, offering a standard of conduct that assured interrelationship between the "social" and the "moral."13This notion of character embodied fundamental beliefs which contrast with those embodied in the 1893 World's Fair. "Character" embodied the belief that it was the individual's self control, as opposed to the grand social schemes of an elite group, or the environment at large, which forged the self. People were self-created not socially engineered. Also, it presented this self-creation, this cultivation of character, as the means by which to ensure a moral social order.
"Personality," on the other hand, embodies the principles of the World's Fair in some ways. It connotes a sense of self as that which is not created, so much as manipulated according to and by the situation. "Personality" is a self that is constantly changing and influenced by environment. At the same time, it runs counter to the principles of the World's Fair. For, the social engineering of the World's Fair sought to affect a significant and lasting social and moral change. "Personality", however, was not something fixed, but always changing. Rather than creating one solid character, people thought of themselves as putting on masks to appeal to a changing audience. It was the self of commodification and competition, fragmented and false. This was the self of middling language which contended with Ciceronian language and the self of "character."
All of these changes culminated in what Cmiel terms a "cultural vertigo" in which it was increasingly difficult to know who truly belonged to what class, who should be allowed to speak in public any more, and even just what the public and self were.
The monument dedication speeches took place against this backdrop of linguistic, social, and cultural upheaval. These speeches thus sought to deal with not only the defeat in Civil War, but the turmoil and power struggles of a present linguistic war as well.
Both Cmiel and Susman make clear that language is itself a public sphere. For, through it, people make statements to and about the public. Through it, the public and the public sphere are defined; they are defined by who uses it and for what purposes; they are defined by which uses are popular and which uses are marginalized. And, like a physical and spatial environment, its boundaries define a particular social and cultural world. The revolution of mechanization and incorporation created metropolitan masses and increased the dissemination of the printed word, thereby expanding the linguistic public sphere. Thus, the changes that took place in the Gilded Age created a new public sphere in language as well as space.
In some ways it is not difficult to determine which side of the language struggle the dedication speeches were on. They fall clearly within the tradition of Ciceronian rhetoric. The speeches were orations as opposed to political speeches or debates, or newspaper columns. I shall include an excerpt from one of these speeches to illustrate the use of Ciceronian language as well. This excerpt is from an address given by Confederate veteran, Robert Stiles, at the dedication of the monument to the Confederate Dead at the University of Virginia in 1893. In it, Stiles is, fittingly enough, making reference to a speech given by Rev. Thomas K. Beecher at the dedication of a Northern monument. He declares:
This use of words such as "empyrean" and "quell," the quotation from the bible, and especially the use of repetition in this excerpt mark it as belonging to the Ciceronian style. Such use of vocabulary, repetition, and quotation are characteristic of many of the dedication speeches I looked at. The language of these speeches, as well as their characterization as orations, show the monument dedications to be part of the Ciceronian tradition. As such, they also reaffirmed the social hierarchy fundamental to the Ciceronian tradition. The orators stood as examples of cultured, refined, and virtuous gentlemen, expressed simply through their role as orators as well as the language they used. Thus, the orations marked the dedication sites as socially stratified public spaces in which the upper class, epitomized by the gentleman of character, reigned. This affirmation of the notions of the gentleman and character vindicated the Southern Cause for which they stood, just as the celebrations of Lee and Jackson as men of impeccable gentile character did.
As proscribed by Ciceronian rhetoric, the orators belonged to an elite class. They were ministers, Governors, judges, lawyers, doctors, and military officers. This selection of orators defined authority, culture, refinement, and the public sphere itself as belonging to professionals, to religion, the state government, the state justice system, and the military. It defined the elite class as a class of religion, state government, and the military. That so many orators were Confederate veterans created a special place for them and the lost Confederacy itself within the public sphere. In fact, the common Confederate soldier was made the center of this elite public sphere through the monument statue.
Also, the public sphere was decidedly the province of men. Women were almost never orators. They were responsible for tending the public sphere, as they did at the dedications by making preparations and arrangements. In fact, women were often responsible for the creation of the monuments and thus the creation of these public spaces for the celebration and use of men. But women never played a major speaking role at the dedications. Nevertheless, their presence was essential. As shown above, orators constantly drew attention to the virtues and presence of women at the dedications by thanking those responsible for the day's events. The silent presence of women at the dedications marked the public sphere as belonging to men, just as the absence of black people as orators or subjects of celebration in either sculpture or speech, marked the public sphere as entirely white. Thus, the Ciceronian style of the dedication orations reaffirmed and recreated, in a special time and space, the structure and order of the Old South.
To conclude, the Gilded Age marked not only the creation of the public sphere in physical space through the ideas of social engineering, but the creation of the public sphere in language through the advent of middling styles as well. Both social engineering and middling styles were created by the incorporation and industrialization of America in the Gilded Age which created the metropolis and the mass, and by the correlative homogenization, democratization, and empowerment of the public through cultural, social, and political change, and the improved technologies of communication and imitation.
Confederate monument dedication speeches were a means by which Southerners shaped the public sphere as socially stratified and dominated by an elite class of white male professionals, state government, and the church. Through both style and content, the speeches reaffirmed the continuing presence and value of the social structure of the Old South. They did so by reaffirming the continuing presence and value of the role of women as supporters of Southern men and civilization, the role of men as self-sufficient, refined gentlemen of character, and the veritable absence of any discussion or presence of blacks. The delivery of these speeches at monument dedications inaugurated these spaces as socially stratified and as belonging to the public authority of the Southern gentleman. They reaffirmed and recreated the Old South in local spaces and on a regional level as well through the proliferation of the monuments and their dedications throughout the South. Thus, through their speeches, the dedications sought to recreate the South in the image of its past and its Cause.