Soon after the formation of the Confederate States of America, the new government chose a national seal and motto: Deo Vindice: “God Will Vindicate”
The seal features George Washington on horseback, pictured in his uniform of the Revolution securing American independence. Washington is surrounded with a wreath, made of some of the main agricultural products of the Confederacy: wheat, corn, tobacco, cotton, rice and sugarcane. In the top margin of the seal are the words “The Confederate States of America: 22 February 1862”. This date on the seal commemorates the establishment of the new Confederate government in Richmond, Virginia with the inauguration of President Jefferson Davis – and it is also Washington’s birthday.
But why George Washington?
It’s easy to see. Washington was chosen as the model for the Confederacy because of his importance in founding a new nation. He was man of great personal character, a military leader who secured independence, and a new nation’s political leader.
Both North and South would claim Washington as their patron of democracy. No public figure stood higher in the public esteem. He was beloved by Northerners and Southerners alike. By 1861 he had come to symbolize everything virtuous and heroic about the American Revolution.
Historian Joseph J. Ellis wrote,
‘If there was a Mount Olympus in the new American republic, all the lesser gods were gathered farther down the slope from Washington.”
Since the Southerners claimed Washington as their guiding spirit, a member of the Georgia delegation to the 1861 Confederate constitutional convention in Montgomery, Alabama, proposed to name the new Southern nation ‘‘Republic of Washington.”
Jefferson Davis. In his inaugural address said,
“On this the birthday of the man most identified with the establishment of American independence, and beneath the monument erected to commemorate his heroic virtues and those of his compatriots, we have assembled to usher into existence the permanent government of the Confederate States.”
The Confederacy, he continued, would
“perpetuate the principles of our Revolutionary fathers. The day, the memory, and the purpose seem fitly associated….We are in arms to renew such sacrifices as our fathers made to the holy cause of constitutional liberty.”
Although neither Jefferson Davis nor Confederate General Robert E. Lee ever claimed the title for themselves, they were often called “Second Washingtons.”
Had he lived to see it, many say that George Washington would not have supported the Confederacy because of his stated commitment to one nation, indivisible.
But that didn’t prevent Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, and other leading Southerners from declaring that Washington was a citizen of his state first, and of the United States second.
Maybe he would have been a Confederate, too, or maybe not. Who knows? It’s fun to think about it. In any case, George Washington was definitely a hero and model of the Confederacy.