Former Virginia Senator Jim Webb speaks at the Urbandale Democrats Flag Day Celebration on June 14, 2015 in Urbandale, Iowa.
Scott Olson—2015 Getty Images
June 24, 2015 2:20 PM EDT

Former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb said on Wednesday that the Confederate flag has been wrongly used as a racist symbol, but stopped short of condemning the flag outright. He also added that Americans should remember “honorable” Civil War veterans, “including slave holders in the Union Army.”

“The Confederate Battle Flag has wrongly been used for racist and other purposes in recent decades. It should not be used in any way as a political symbol that divides us,” said Webb in a statement responding to questions about whether the Confederate flag should be removed from Virginia license plates in the wake of the Charleston shooting.

“But we should also remember that honorable Americans fought on both sides in the Civil War, including slave holders in the Union Army from states such as Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware, and that many non-slave holders fought for the South,” said Webb.

Webb is also the only 2016 candidate not to condemn the Confederate flag outright or support a push to remove it from the South Carolina capitol grounds. Republicans Scott Walker, Rand Paul and Jeb Bush as well as all the other Democratic candidates have spoken out against the flag.

A likely candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination who counts two relatives among Confederate Army veterans, Webb has a long history of defending Dixie soldiers and the flag. He is the last 2016 presidential hopeful to speak publicly about the flag.

In striking an ambivalent tone, Webb is seeking to criticize the racist appropriation of the flag, but hold on to his Scots-Irish southern roots, which he often references. (His 2005 book “Born Fighting” is subtitled “How the Scots-Irish shaped America.”)

At the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in 1990, Webb said that Confederate soldiers are “misunderstood by most Americans” and recognized them for “enormous suffering and collective gallantry.”

“It was in recognition of the character of soldiers on both sides that the federal government authorized the construction of the Confederate Memorial 100 years ago, on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery,” Webb said in his statement.

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