The 1876 United States Centennial observance brought forth embarrassing realities to Americans, both North and South. Southerners could hardly celebrate independence after being bludgeoned by war into second-class citizens under Reconstruction governments.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Death’s Head at the Banquet
“The . . . celebration of the birth of the American nation — was held in Philadelphia in 1876. An occasion so completely engaging the attention of the country and participated in so widely drew forth much discussion in the South.
Some Southern leaders opposed their section taking part; they still felt that the country was not theirs and that it might be less than dignified in themselves, and lacking in respect for their heroic Revolutionary ancestors, to go to Philadelphia and be treated as less than equals in a union which those ancestors had done a major part to found.
Former [South Carolina] Governor Benjamin F. Perry saw in the Centennial an effective way to drive home to the country the similarity of principles of the rebellion that became the Revolution, and the rebellion that became the “Lost Cause.”
[He wrote:] “This Centennial celebration of the rebels of ’76 cannot fail to teach the Northern mind to look with more leniency on Confederate rebels who only attempted to do in the late civil war what the ancestors of the Northern people did do in the American revolution . . . It shows a want of sense as well as a want of principle, and a want of truth, to call the rebels of 1776 patriots and heroes, and the rebels of 1861, “traitors.”
Only one contingency would induce a Virginian not to take part. The Grand Army must not be represented: “It would be the death’s head on the board; the skeleton in the banquet hall.”
(The History of the South, Volume VIII, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1947)