Stick To Economics, Professor Williams

There is something deeply disturbing about opinion pieces such as this one by Walter Williams.  You would think that someone with a scholarly bent would take one step back and ask whether he is really making a contribution to this debate.  He criticizes those who have pointed out the mistakes in the 4th grade history textbook, but apparently has no response to the following: Did two battalions of black Confederates serve under “Stonewall” Jackson?  If Williams has evidence then he should provide it.  If not, then he should say nothing.  Even James I. Robertson, who has written extensively denies the claim.  Prof. Williams and others are fond of citing Charles Wesley, whose work is still widely read, but has been revised by subsequent generations of scholars.  In this case, Williams references his 1919 essay, “The Employment of Negroes in the Confederate Army” [Journal of Negro History – read it here].  It’s worth reading, but there are problems with it.  At one point Wesley states that the Native Guards of Louisiana served in the Confederate army, which is not true.  Wesley includes references to free blacks volunteering for service in the military and instances of their impressment, but other than the mistake cited above the author does not draw any conclusions about their service in Confederate ranks as soldiers.  It is true that some Confederate states accepted the service of free blacks into their respective militias, but this is a distinction that is important to maintain and Wesley is consistent here.  Most of the essay traces the debate that ultimately led to the Confederate Congress’s recruitment authorization at the tail end of the war.

I wonder how Prof. Williams would feel if someone were to comment on his field of study with such disregard for real research, a narrow understanding of the relevant secondary sources, and shoddy reading practices.  In the end, Prof. Williams could care less about whether or not African Americans served in the Confederate Army:

Denying the role, and thereby cheapening the memory, of the Confederacy’s slaves and freemen who fought in a failed war of independence is part of the agenda to cover up Abraham Lincoln’s unconstitutional acts to prevent Southern secession. Did states have a right to secede? At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, James Madison rejected a proposal that would allow the federal government to suppress a seceding state. He said, “A Union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”

What does this have to do with whether or not African Americans fought as soldiers in Confederate ranks?  What a disgrace.

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63 comments… add one
  • Tom Jun 14, 2011 @ 15:13

    Dear Ms. Betts:
    Thank you for shedding some light.

  • Fraser Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:25

    Speaking personally, I agree with Roe vs. Wade, none of the others. As for Williams, his “philosophical case” is the same one it always is: Racism isn’t a problem except when someone discriminates against white people. And it wasn’t a problem in the past, and slaves had a pretty good life and look, some blacks loved the Confederacy enough to enlist, so that proves it! And therefore secession is a triumph of freedom and not of the right to keep black people in chains.
    And that’s why it fascinates him: He’s telling his right wing audience what they want to hear.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:32

      I think that is an oversimplification of Williams’s view of the Civil War. He seems to approach it more from a concern about the war as the introduction of big government and the Confederacy as somehow a defender of limited government. Of course, this is an oversimplification as well. The Confederacy was just as intrusive, if not more, than the United States government and rarely do these very same people look at the push back toward a limited role.

      The bottom line is that Williams has never published a serious work of history on the Civil War. Most of what he has written can be found at Lew Rockwell and other conservative websites. You are right that he writes history to make a political or economic point. It’s presentism at its worst.

    • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 15:08

      A fascinating distillation!

      • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 15:27

        Mr. Levin:
        You may be right about Dr. Williams “approach.” However, my interpretation of Dr. Williams’s ‘approach’ is one of the historic understanding of the relationship between the states and the Federal Government – that the states had a right to secede and that liberty, as it was understood by many of the founders, could not exist without this powerful lever to show disapproval. That the Confederacy was flawed, well there is no question about that. But southerners were not the first to discuss secession – he has also written on that point. In fact, the Hartford Convention was called for economic reasons – we’ll never know how far the states that comprised the Hartford Convention would have gone because the War of 1812 ended just in time.
        Please tell me who doesn’t write history to make a political or economic point? I don’t know about you but i can’t imagine politics, or perhaps a better word is polity, removed from any discussion of history.

        • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2011 @ 16:15

          Mr. Heller,

          I don’t have any doubt that Americans vigorously debated the proper relationship between the state and Federal government. As you well know, the Founders had profound disagreements over this very issue and it continued right up to and through the Civil War. Southerners clearly did not have a monopoly on the states rights issue before the war. I tend to think that they weren’t so much focused on states rights as they were on protecting the institution of slavery. States rights became one method of dealing with this once Lincoln came to office. However, if we go back to the Fugitive Slave act of 1850 we find Southerners advocating for a strong federal government and Northerners pushing a states rights argument in opposition (Personal Liberty Laws). I also don’t remember reading complaints from Southerners over the Supreme Court’s decision in the Dred Scott case.

          My problem with Williams is that his economic view of the Civil War has very little history behind it. In fact, I find his writings to be incredibly simplistic and intended simply to buttress his preferred view of federalism.

        • Ed Darrell Mar 28, 2011 @ 16:51

          You’re right that we’ll never know how far the Hartford convention could have gone — but we do know that the states did not have a right to secede, according to the founders.

          I’d love to see your claims to the contrary, Mr. Heller.

          In the meantime, you may want to look at a couple of hoary old secessionist misbeliefs:

          I know a lot of historians who write history not to make any economic or political point, but simply in an effort to get the story right. As David McCullough often notes, you couldn’t write fiction like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s reconciliation after the election of 1800, and their more-than-a-decade’s brilliant correspondence, ending in the death of both of them on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

          Truth is always a stranger and more beautiful story.

          • Kevin Levin Mar 28, 2011 @ 16:53

            Just want to remind all of you that the participants at Hartford did not call for secession.

            • Margaret D. Blough Mar 28, 2011 @ 19:04

              Also, President James Madison (aka the Father of the Constitution) was prepared to use military force to suppress any attempt by New England states to secede.

              As a lifelong Pennsylvanian, I find it ironic that it so often seems to be overlooked that there was precedent for the federal government to use force to suppress attempts to defy federal authority. The federal government, during the Washington administration, used military force to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion,which arose from resistance to a federal excise tax when the government of Pennsylvania was reluctant to act against its own citizens over a very unpopular tax.

              • Thomas L. Heller Mar 29, 2011 @ 4:32

                You have failed to mention the nullification with SC and Andrew Jackson’s actions. As to the Whiskey Rebellion – Washington dealt with the perpetrators. specifically As to the Hartford Convention we don’t know what Madison would have actually done – he did not have the chance to do it. I wonder what would have happened if Lincoln had decided to only deal with SC, no call up of militia, no overall blockade of southern ports? Are you aware that Virginia did not secede with SC? Are you aware that they seceded after the call up of militia was declared? Are you aware that Lee did not accept a commission to lead the Army of Northern Virgina until after the blockade of southern ports was announced?

          • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 17:30

            Mr. Darrell:
            Most law students and hence lawyers know very little of the Constitution. Law schools spend too much time on precedent and not nearly enough on first principles. It is why the audience (law students) at a Christine O’Donnell debate gasped when she said that there is no separation of Church and State in the Constitution. She was right, they were wrong. Again, where is secession explicitly prohibited by the Constitution?
            As to the Jefferson – Adams letters: to remove the specter of polity from the relationship between these two men seems extraordinary. Friendships, even turbulent ones born from politics, and such politics as the world had never known, must certainly have been pivotal as these men contemplated their place in history. ‘I know a lot of historians who write history not to make any economic or political point, but simply in an effort to get the story right.’ Yes, my point was poorly made. I’d like to rephrase – i know of no history that is devoid of politics, polity, or economics.

            • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 17:42

              Mr. Darrell:
              Do you write the blog that you link to? If you do i note your locution on the Tea Parties as being “astro-turf.” Where do you get your political point of view? What do you know about the Tea Party movement? Have you been to a Tea Party event? If you are not the author of the blog please ignore these questions.

            • Margaret D. Blough Mar 29, 2011 @ 2:22

              You clearly have not been to law school. In any event, First Principles is itself a doctrine of constitutional interpretation. In any event, the Framers did not treat the Constitution as if it came down from Mt. Sinai on two stone tablets. It’s a very brief and spartan document that specifically provides a process for amending it in Article V. The only prohibition against amendment currently in effect is the prohibition against denying any state equal representation in the US Senate. Courts interpret the law, including the Constitution. That is part of their function. It is also how a document written in 1787 is still viable.

              As for the separation of church and state, the original Constitution’s only mention of religion was Article Vi’s prohibition against religious tests for public office (Article VI also includes the Supremacy Clause and requires that state office holders in all three branches take an oath or affirm that they will support the Constitution of the United States). The separation of church and state is based on the First Amendment’s Free Exercise and Establishment clauses. It was certainly the understanding of James Madison, not only one of the primary drafters of the original Constitution, a leader of the fight to ratify it, but also the primary author of the First Amendment itself.

              As for secession, there is a long-established principle of legal interpretation that the specific ordinarily controls conflicting general interpretation. The Constitution specifically provides procedures for the creation and admission of new states in Article IV. It provides no procedure for a state leaving, unilaterally or otherwise.

              • Thomas L. Heller Mar 29, 2011 @ 4:24

                Ms. Blough:
                I have not been to law school but have known lawyers who have little understanding of first principles – i have also read lawyers’ writings and have heard many speak. Have you been to law school?
                You could not be more wrong about separation of church and state. Please allow me to define my terms – how does ‘congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free exercise thereof’ exclude prayer from schools, exclude reciting the pledge of allegiance, or putting the 10 commandments on court house walls or in lobbies (Alabama case – Roy Moore)? Limiting creche scenes and other Christmas related displays? Do you know where the locution separation of church and state was first used? Do you know when it was invoked in the 20th century and by whom?
                I believe the founders were divinely inspired – they did something truly revolutionary, unprecedented in human history. Creating a mechanism to allow for the most prosperous free nation on earth.
                “The Constitution specifically provides procedures for the creation and admission of new states in Article IV. It provides no procedure for a state leaving, unilaterally or otherwise.” May i direct you to the 10th amendment?

              • lukeNC Jun 13, 2011 @ 11:11

                I’ve noticed that those writing here have ignored the biggest secession of them all: The 13 Colonies’ secession from the British Empire..

                There is a right of secession.

                • Kevin Levin Jun 13, 2011 @ 11:15

                  The 13 colonies did not secede. They declared their independence. There is a difference.

                  • Bob Huddleston Jun 14, 2011 @ 6:00

                    To add to Margaret’s answer, Confederates did not want to talk about revolution — they much preferred to claim rights of secession. After all, if the whites in the slave states had a right of revolution, it might give the wrong idea to the 40% of their population that were slaves.

                    • Vicki Betts Jun 14, 2011 @ 6:15

                      Actually, Southerners often compared 1860/1861 with 1776 using the word revolution. Here’s just one example:

                      CHARLESTON MERCURY, November 23, 1860, p. 1, c. 3
                      Hints to South Carolina Women
                      To the Editor of the Charleston Mercury:
                      A very few weeks must see South Carolina out of this Union. We are fairly entered for the glorious struggle, and the stunning disgrace of backing out is now, thank God, an impossibility. Our Legislature, which assembles in a few days, will doubtless make immediate arrangements for a thorough arming of the State, already too long delayed. This, our Revolution of 1860, destined to be (except that of 1776) the grandest in its results which modern history has chronicled, may take place peaceably, and we may possibly pass without bloodshed, from our now almost abject condition of colonial dependency, to the full possession of those rights which, in our desire for peace and conciliation, we have so long allowed to lie dormant. But it may be otherwise, and it is folly to shut our eyes to contingencies, and conclude that what may be must be, because we wish it.

                      Vicki Betts

                • Margaret D. Blough Jun 13, 2011 @ 16:37

                  Luke, there is a natural right of revolution, just as natural rights philosophy also recognizes the natural rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is the total antithesis of the idea that each state had a legally cognizable right to unilaterally secede, under the US Constitution, which the US government and all other states were legally bound to recognize and respect. The rebels/founding fathers of the American Revolution built their case on the laws of nature and of Nature’s God, especially the right of revolution They didn’t argue that they had a right to leave under British law which right Crown and Parliament were legally compelled to recognize. As the conclusion of the Declaration of Independence stated, by signing it, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” This wasn’t an empty gesture. They knew the fate of those leaders of the two Jacobite rebellions who fell into the Crown’s hands.

                  • Andy Hall Jun 14, 2011 @ 7:57

                    This wasn’t an empty gesture. They knew the fate of those leaders of the two Jacobite rebellions who fell into the Crown’s hands.

                    Indeed. This is something that has both amused and appalled me, watching the political protesters in tricorn hats, with signs proclaiming their willingness to “water the Tree of Liberty,” and so on. They really do have no idea what they’re actually arguing for. When Franklin said that “we must hang together or surely we will all hang separately,” it was not a metaphor.

                    • Tom Jun 14, 2011 @ 15:14

                      Mr. Hall:
                      “watching the political protesters in tricorn hats”
                      Q – to whom are you referring?

                    • Andy Hall Jun 14, 2011 @ 15:44


                      I was referring to those “in tricorn hats, with signs proclaiming their willingness to “water the Tree of Liberty, and so on.” I really thought I was clear about that.

                      Nice try at ginning up some righteous indignation, though. Sorry I’m not interested in playing along.

                    • Tom Jun 14, 2011 @ 16:29

                      Mr. Hall:
                      It’s a simply question, sir.

  • Andy Hall Mar 25, 2011 @ 11:39

    “Dr. Williams is making a broad philosophical case about the War Between the States.”

    That was, in large part, my issue with the piece — Williams was only using the Virginia textbook case to make the point he frequently does, justifying secession. His piece brings absolutely nothing new in the way of source material or analysis to the historical question is ostensibly about.

    • Thomas L. Heller Mar 25, 2011 @ 12:38

      Where in the Constitution is secession explicitly forbidden? Now more than ever reminders of what true liberty means are important and cannot be overstated.

      • Ed Darrell Mar 25, 2011 @ 14:33

        Okay, I’ll bite: Where is the process for secession spelled out? Tell how such a process proceeds, under the Constitution.

        • Thomas L. Heller Mar 25, 2011 @ 18:14

          you need to carefully read my post – that is the point about secession.

      • Andy Hall Mar 26, 2011 @ 5:36

        “Where in the Constitution is secession explicitly forbidden?”

        Fire-eater much? 😉 I never addressed the propriety or legality of secession here at all, or challenged Williams’ position on it. I just find it annoying that he feels the need to hide behind the subject of black Confederate soldiers to make his point, again.

        Williams can write about secession all he wants. What I specifically object to is that in his essay, linked above, he uses the Virginia textbook story as a topical excuse to segue into what he almost always comes back around to — secession, nullification, and related political/philosophical constructs that really have nothing to do with the historical evidence for black Confederate soldiers. I personally don’t think he’s much interested in the evidence for BCS — he doesn’t seem to offer his readers anything that’s not already posted to a hundred different websites — and instead he’s using them, and the Virginia textbook controversy, as convenient props.

        If he wants to write about BCS, then as an academic and a scholar he should be bringing fresh evidence or insight to the piece — not tossing out worn, oft-cited “evidence” to fill space before (inevitably) getting around to the subject that really turns his crank. It’s a lazy and a cheap way of writing that really is beneath his reputation.

        • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:07

          Mr. Hall:
          I think that a careful reading of Dr. Williams’s essay shows that he is commenting on the WAPO article about ‘the book’ and specifically a quote from historian, Carol Sheriff. He even uses her locution, ‘accepted scholarship” to make his point and does not use the author of ‘the book’ as a source. Perhaps this is not your point but i think it worth noting.
          As to ‘hide behind the subject of black Confederate soldiers to make his point, again’ – speaking as a Yankee who was taught about the “Civil War” in a northern public school the very idea of black CSA soldiers was impossible by definition. So in the context of the war and all of the factors in play i don’t see a problem with combining the two – secession and black CSA soldiers. That Dr. Williams is black may suggest an especial interest in how he puts the War of 1861 into a context that fascinates him. Repetition is key to education. And my point is that in our current situation politically the idea of secession cannot be flogged enough.

  • Thomas Heller Mar 25, 2011 @ 10:58

    Mr. Levin:
    I suppose you also discount Thomas DiLorenzo – that’s fine if you do, it’s your prerogative. I’m always uncomfortable when i hear that so and so is not qualified or not a true academic. As if this automatically disqualifies them from conducting proper research. Frankly, i have little regard for most public school teachers and i think the standard text book fare accepted by most school administrators to be next to worthless. It is often agenda filled and more ideologically slanted than it is comprised of truth.
    Your analysis of Dr. Williams’s essay is a case in point. Dr. Williams is making a broad philosophical case about the War Between the States – using the “4th grade history text’ to make the point. Did Dr. Williams claim that “two battalions of black Confederates served under “Stonewall” Jackson?” Where in the essay does he say this? Perhaps i’m missing something?
    Your analysis of Dr. Williams’s propriety on commenting on history begs a question about history – who taught the Wright Brothers to fly? Who taught Socrates? Who taught the person who figured out that honey was edible? But perhaps you think my examples pedestrian?
    “In the end, Prof. Williams could care less about whether or not African Americans served in the Confederate Army.” Don’t you mean could not care less? If he could care less it means he cares. But i digress.

    • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 11:05

      Mr. Heller,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s impossible for me to respond to much of what you say here because you fail make an actual argument. Whether DiLorenzo is an academic or not is irrelevant to me. His books about Lincoln are poorly written and the research that goes into them is shoddy at best. There are plenty of talented Lincoln scholars out there, but DiLorenzo simply isn’t one of them. I guess we just disagree.

      Mr. Williams’s position on this issue is crystal clear. I have no idea what “broad philosophical case about the WBTS” he is supposedly making nor do I care. His claims about the role of freed and enslaved blacks in the Confederate army is poorly reasoned and apparently based on no serious research. Thanks again for the comment.

      • Thomas L. Heller Mar 25, 2011 @ 12:35

        Mr. Levin:
        Would you consider M.E. Bradford a ‘talented Lincoln scholar?’

        • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 12:40

          Who is M.E. Bradford? I am making my way through Michael Burlingame’s 2-volume study of Lincoln(Johns Hopkins University Press).

          • Thomas L. Heller Mar 25, 2011 @ 15:04

            Mr. Levin:
            With respect – and i mean that sincerely: That you do not know who M.E. Bradford is does not surprise me given the flavor of your blog. My knowledge of Bradford is based primarily on his response to an essay by Stanley Jaffe. You can google it “The Heresy of Equality: Bradford replies to Jaffa” I also know that Bradford was nominated by Reagan to be the chair of the NEH. His nomination was defeated and the position was ultimately filled by William Bennett.

            • Kevin Levin Mar 25, 2011 @ 17:59

              Sorry to disappoint you.

              • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:09

                Mr. Levin:
                You do not disappoint me at all

  • Jennifer A. Simpson Nov 17, 2010 @ 14:38

    Look at this article by Williams from 1998 …
    Looks like Mr. Williams’ political agenda has been active for some time.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 17, 2010 @ 14:58

      Williams is not a historian so his views on most topics are of little value.

      • Ed Darrell Mar 25, 2011 @ 14:36

        Williams is a crabby old man, and has been so ever since he was a youth. He gets some traction among conservative Republicans because so few of them know any other African Americans with any hint of conservative thought.

        I always found him offensive, even when I had to work with him. Not careful about facts that contradict his pre-judged ideas about how the world ought to work.

        • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:10

          So we know you don’t like him. When did you work with him?

  • Ed Darrell Nov 10, 2010 @ 7:01

    I wonder if George Mason ever regrets giving this guy a position?

    Positively twirling in his grave.

    Williams is a poster child for those who, while perhaps not drinking any poisons, have at least pledged to do so if anyone like Congressman Ryan shows up to call his bluff (alas, there are many in that group). Pick any issue you choose: If there is a “conservative” position, especially one pitted against science, or history, or any other fact-based branch of study, Williams will espouse it. DDT? Great for the birds. Environmentalism? More deadly than communism. Clean air? An economic disgrace. Safe food? For pansies, damages our economy. Immigration? Good if they vote Republican, bad if not. Free enterprise? Good where Williams says so, never bad, even if the evidence says so. Education? ‘I got mine, take a long walk off a short pier.’ Criticism of any conservative position? Only done by crooks, criminals, liars and cheats (even you, Mother Teresa).

    He’s inured against any kind of constructive criticism. I’ve found it most useful to assume that Williams is 180 degrees wrong, and understand that no corrections of his stand will ever be made, by him.

    So I don’t read him anymore. My blood pressure stays down, I risk fewer brain cells.

    • Andy Hall Nov 10, 2010 @ 7:45

      Williams holds a professorial chair endowed by the John M. Olin Foundation, which drops money on conservative think tanks and funds professorships at several universities. To put it bluntly, it’s Williams’ job to editorialize on conservative issues, which (at this particular moment in American politics) includes a resurgence of at least notional interest in the question of secession and states’ rights. (Note that’s how he ends up his essay.) That, combined with an interest in pushing back against librul, politically-correct, “Northern” interpretation of history is all that’s behind this essay; the Virginia textbook controversy is simply a convenient, currently-in-the-news story with which to frame his political views. I feel pretty confident that Professor Williams isn’t much interested in Black Confederates one way or another, and has likely moved on to something else to complain about, but that going forward his essay will be cited by advocates of Black Confederates as another example of a distinguished scholar, taking a bold stand against political correctness and librul academic bullying to expose the true history of Southron heritage, etc. etc.

  • Margaret D. Blough Nov 4, 2010 @ 11:29

    From what I’ve read in his columns, Wiliams makes Milton Friedman sound like a Marxist economist.

  • Woodrowfan Nov 3, 2010 @ 4:50

    I wonder if George Mason ever regrets giving this guy a position?

    • John Maass Nov 3, 2010 @ 8:39

      He’s a good economist, so why would they?

      • gVOR08 Nov 4, 2010 @ 9:19

        John Maas, I think a claim that he’s a good economist requires evidence. My local paper, the Cincinnati Enquirer, carries Williams regularly and his columns espouse a view of economics far from mainstream and ideologically driven. Woodrowfan, I am unfamiliar with George Mason U, but Williams occupies the John M. Olin chair. If you look up John M. Olin foundation in Wikipedia, you may gain some insight.

  • Fraser Nov 3, 2010 @ 1:47

    Brooks, in most of these writings I’ve seen, the point isn’t that anyone should secede, it’s that the right of secession clearly proves state’s rights are supreme and the federal government should stop doing whatever it’s doing that they happen to object to. One right-wing columnist argued that if secession had gone through, America would be in much better shape today because we wouldn’t have overarching government control any more (I’m looking forward to reading that book Kevin referred to that argues otherwise). Apparently slavery isn’t anywhere near as objectionable as big government.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 3, 2010 @ 2:30

      What’s even more surprising is that for all of Williams’s railing against Lincoln and the federal government he seems to have no understanding of the steps that the Confederate government took to centralize power during the war. It shows how little of the history he actually understands.

      • Andy Hall Nov 3, 2010 @ 4:38

        Williams is writing for; tying whatever he writes back to reasserting the right of secession and the gratuitous vilification of Lincoln is required; it’s part of his contract.

        • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:19

          Mr. Hall:
          Suppose Lincoln had decided to only deal with South Carolina as a starting point? No call up of militia, no overall blockade, etc. Do you think Virginia would have succeeded when it did?

  • CBrinton Nov 2, 2010 @ 21:56

    ” . . . our War of 1861, erroneously called a civil war. Civil wars, by the way, are when two or more parties attempt to take over the central government.”

    Does anybody know where this (inaccurate) argument by etymology got started? It’s a standard neo-confederate talking point that it’s wrong to call a war of secession a “civil war”, but the 1858 Webster’s dictionary defined civil war as “a war between the people of the same state or city, opposed to a _foreign war_”.

    So this is definitely a modern idea, nothing to do with the civil war era. I wonder how far back it goes.

    • Margaret D. Blough Mar 26, 2011 @ 4:54

      The United States Supreme Court explicitly identified it as a civil war in the Prize Cases (The Brig Amy Warwick, the Schooner Crenshaw, the Barque Hiawatha, and the Schooner Brilliante) 67 U.S. 635, decided in 1862.

      • Thomas L. Heller Mar 28, 2011 @ 5:15

        The Supreme Court also decided Dred Scott, Plessy v Ferguson, Roe v Wade, Wickard v Filburn, Kelo – do you agree with those decisions? Of course the court has made good decisions too.

        • Margaret D. Blough Mar 29, 2011 @ 2:02

          Dred Scott was rendered moot by the ratification of the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution. The US Supreme Court explicitly overturned Plessy in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. As for my opinions of any other decisions, that’s irrelevant. If one disagrees with a US Supreme Court decision, one works to either have appropriate legislation passed to deal with any issues the Court has on a given case, if that is the necessary response; take the route of Brown and bring a case of cases that either causes the Court to reverse or modify the earlier decision; or take the route of the 13-15th Amendments and complete the Constitutional process for amending it. None of that has happened in the case of the Prize Cases.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Nov 2, 2010 @ 15:39

    Ever notice that these people who go on and on about their unhappiness with politics and who go on and on with asserting the constitutionality of secession never act on their beliefs? It’s really an odd process of fabricating a past to justify present beliefs … but never really having the guts to take that last logical step.

  • Fraser Nov 2, 2010 @ 15:05

    Williams is one of those columnists who brushes off any suggestion that racism or discrimination is bad unless it affects white males. He’s written in the past about how slavery really wasn’t bad for blacks at all and what Nazis and Communists did was so much worse, so there you are, that proves it. There was never a chance that he’d tackle the topic seriously rather than spinning it to support right-wing themes (state’s rights! south good! Secession justified!)

    • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2010 @ 15:10

      There was never a chance because Williams clearly doesn’t understand the subject and he definitely has not read the relevant secondary sources.

  • Bruce Miller Nov 2, 2010 @ 6:51

    Well stated, Kevin. Not to go all ad hominum here, but Walter Williams pretty much openly identifies himself as a conservative hack. runs his syndicated column regularly, as does the John Birch Society’s online magazine, “The New American.” As well as the neo-Confederate site from which you linked this article.

    This trash still needs to be debunked, of course. Because this viewpoint is widely acceptable to many white Americans today who should know better.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2010 @ 7:22

      I don’t mind if he identifies as a conservative. To be honest, I could care less about his political persuasion. What I do care about is his blatant disregard for the historical process.

      • Margaret D. Blough Nov 3, 2010 @ 4:49

        Kevin-Also, he clearly doesn’t understand for the Confederate government that self-determination, includingthe right of people to choose their own government apparently ended once a state chose to rebel. The CSA unsuccessfully used military force in an attempt to regain control of the northwest counties of Virginia (now known as the State of West Virginia) whose people refused to join the rebellion and remained loyal to the Union. The CSA brutally suppressed the attempt by East Tennessee to follow in the footsteps of the NW VA counties. East Tennessee had been trying to get recognized as a separate state from Tennessee since the original Articles of Confederation in the 1780s (they even had a name for their state, Franklin).

        He also ignores, if he is even aware of, the fact that Madison was prepared to use military force to suppress any insurrection if one or more New England states had attempted to secede in connection with the Hartford Convention (none did). Madison also supported Jackson in the Nullification Crisis and wrote extensively rejecting the argument that a right to secede and/nullify existed under the US Constitution.

        He is one the the purveyors of the demonstrably false claim that the real cause of secession was the Morrill Tariff.

  • Andy Hall Nov 2, 2010 @ 5:47

    Even Ervin Jordan called BS on the Stonewall Jackson business, saying it was “totally false.” Sheesh.

    • Kevin Levin Nov 2, 2010 @ 5:53

      I’ve not seen one heard one person who buys into this black Confederate nonsense, who at least has the intelligence to admit that this particular claim is mistaken. So much for any claim to credibility.

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