Jon Stewart’s Civil War Sesquicentennial

“No one is saying that you invented slavery, but you held onto it like a..”

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The South’s Secession Commemoration
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Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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29 comments… add one
  • Forester Oct 3, 2012 @ 14:13

    Davis is a zombie president? I thought he was a vampire. :-/

  • Richard Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:27

    Did a wordle on the Georgia Document of Secession.
    Seems that references to slavery are quite frequent.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:24


      Funny, I was going to suggest doing the very same thing. I have students do this all the time followed by analysis of the results.

  • JS Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:39

    Mr. Stones,

    You are the vice-president of an organization (with the title, chaplain), whose FB page allows its members to routinely insult and even issue threats against me. Please don’t think for a moment that I am going to allow you to waste my time and this site’s bandwidth.


    • JS Dec 11, 2010 @ 13:16

      And I have a hard copy of the thread in question from your site, which was deleted as well. Good day.


  • Connie Chastain Dec 10, 2010 @ 19:31

    A few weeks ago, a “preeminent journalist” for the NYT, Katharine Q. Seelye, wrote that Georgia’s “Secession Ordinance” said that “the state seceded in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was ‘anti-slavery.'”

    Well, that’s… baloney. The state’s Secession Ordinance is a two-paragraph legal document dissolving Georgia’s ties to the United States. It don’t mention Aby-Baby at all.

    What Seelye MEANT, obviously, was Georgia’s “Declaration of Causes of Secession,” which is a much longer document, and details Georgia’s grievances with the US — and it had to do with much more than slavery and Lincoln.

    Did Jon Stewart or Civil War Memory Blog or any other blog (besides mine) have a sidesplitting laugh over this yankee journalist’s ignorance?


    We all understand why, don’t we?

    You can read my comments about the NYT article here:

    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 2:07

      Thanks for the comment. As you well know, newspapers are notoriously bad at getting history right. At the same time, the state of Georgia made its reasons for seceding perfectly clear:

      “For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.”

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment.

      • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:33

        The document you referenced, Georgia’s causes of secession document, contains 3345 words. You posted 87 of them. Four states issued causes of secession documents and I find them routinely cherry-picked by it-was-all-about, it-was-only-about slavery folks on the internet.

        Be that as it may, there’s a double standard when people like Jon Stewart are willing to let a prestigious newspaper like the NYT off the hook for its errors, but deride the SCV for mis-identifying a historic photograph. As I said, we all understand why.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:38


          Like I said, I tend to agree with you when it comes to the research skills of our mainstream media. Than again, I don’t get my history from such sources. The Deep Southern states could not have been clearer as to why they chose to secede in the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election. They argued for the primacy of slavery in their newspaper editorials, letters, diaries, and official documents. If that’s cherry picking than so be it.

          The problems with the videos go way beyond misidentifying a photograph. It’s simply bad history and I suspect that is why the videos were rejected by the History Channel.

          • Connie Chastain Dec 11, 2010 @ 6:15

            They argued other things, too, in the very secession documents people like to claim are “all about slavery.” That’s why some quotes, and not others, are pulled out of these documents by some people. The “all-slavery, only-slavery” folks don’t want to see the whole picture, so they refuse to look. I’m not sure exactly what they get out of it. It might be interesting to discover the motive behind the tunnel vision.

            • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 6:25

              So, why don’t you provide some examples that reflect these “other things” in the secession documents that can be understood apart from their attention to the slavery issue. Is there any other issue that comes close to the amount of attention and seriousness with which they addressed the widely held belief that the election of a Republican president reflected an immediate danger to the slaveholding states in the Deep South? As Charles Dew has argued in his book, _Apostles of Disunion_ the belief that slavery was directly threatened by Lincoln was used by representatives of the Deep South when they traveled to convince their southern neighbors in the Upper South to secede.

              Most professional historians are in agreement that slavery was the central factor that drove the states in the Deep South out of the Union.

              • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 9:51

                Like Kevin, I would like to see what you think some of these “other things” are. The term “slave” or “slavery” appears 35 times throughout the document, in nearly every paragraph. “Slaveholding” and “non-Slaveholding” or “anti-Slavery” states are the terms used to differentiate the two sections.

                Here’s a breakdown:
                First ~500 words – Denouncing the Republican party as the anti-slavery party
                Next ~1000 words – Establishing historical financial activities in the North and concluding “All these classes saw this [recent changes in “protection”] and felt it and cast about for new allies. The anti-slavery sentiment of the North offered the best chance for success. An anti-slavery party must necessarily look to the North alone for support, but a united North was now strong enough to control the Government in all of its departments, and a sectional party was therefore determined upon.”
                Next ~1200 words – The issue of spreading slavery into the territories, with a rundown of past legislation.
                Next ~ 600 words – Northern reluctance to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws.
                Next ~200 words – Activities of abolitionists in the South.

                The document then concludes with: “Why [are we seceding]? Because by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property [read: slaves] in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries [read: abolitionists] who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society [read: “Slaveholding”] and subject us not only to the loss of our property [read: slaves] but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquillity.”

                There, no cherry-picking. Just a little section by section analysis. I’d be interested to hear your interpretation.

                • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 9:57

                  I wouldn’t hold your breadth, Will. 🙂 There is no evidence that this individual has even bothered to read the document or any documents for that matter.

                  • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:03

                    True, but I can try! I was born and raised in the South, in a very Southern family, with my 3xgreat-grandfather Stoutamire being a Confederate cavalryman. I’ve heard every argument. The whole sanitization of this part of Southern history has long been a pet peeve of mine and is now, in graduate school, practically my raison d’être.

                    • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 10:12

                      Hey Will, have you thought about blogging?

                    • Will Stoutamire Dec 11, 2010 @ 11:40

                      Yea, I have in the past. About a year and a half ago, when I became interested in studying Civil War memory, I thought about starting a blog… But somebody beat me to the punch. 🙂

                      Since then, I’ve toyed with the idea but have never gotten around to setting up a website. With the sesquicentennial starting up, perhaps I should try to put something together. Are you thinking I should?

                • Denise Dec 11, 2010 @ 12:13

                  Will, it is unfortunate that the nakedness of their arguments will not go away based upon your unemotional analysis. As is now said, stupid is forever, but ignorance can be corrected. I appreciate your post and give support to Kevin’s question – ever thought about blogging?

    • Brooks D. Simpson Dec 11, 2010 @ 17:22

      Connie Chastain said:

      A few weeks ago, a “preeminent journalist” for the NYT, Katharine Q. Seelye, wrote that Georgia’s “Secession Ordinance” said that “the state seceded in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was ‘anti-slavery.’”

      Actually, this is the relevant sentence in the article:

      On Jan. 19, the date in 1861 when the state seceded, the Georgia Historical Society and others plan to dedicate a historical marker at the old statehouse in Milledgeville. The marker, citing Georgia’s secession ordinance, will say that the state seceded in response to the election of Abraham Lincoln, who was “anti-slavery.”

      Very sloppy, Ms. Chastain. But I’ll refrain from talking about sidesplitting laughter or ignorance. I just have a better idea on how you handle evidence.

      My question is why you feel compelled to call people names. For example, your blog refers to “a National Park Service lackey identified as Bob Sutton.” Yet, if you had actually read the article you assail, you would know that Mr. Sutton is chief historian for the National Park Service.

      Again, I’ll refrain from sidesplitting laughter over what could be seen at best as your ignorance.

  • Harry Dec 10, 2010 @ 6:36

    Leave to the SCV and their attention to historically accurate detail. The West Point cadet whose photo appears as the narrator speaks of “men and women of the south” who fought for liberty against overwhelming odds is non other than Henry Walter Kingsbury, who was an aide at First Bull Run and was mortally wounded at the head of his regiment at Antietam. At the head of his Connecticut regiment, that is.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2010 @ 7:24

      You can find the videos on YouTube and I linked to a few of them not too long ago. Even if you ignore the broader interpretive issues, there are basic factual problems with just about all of the videos. I suspect that this is why the History Channel refused to air them.

    • Shek Dec 10, 2010 @ 11:05

      I like how they use the picture of Burnside’s Bridge in Maryland when talking about Northern invasion . . .

  • Bob Dec 10, 2010 @ 6:29

    Great for a laugh…but I hope no one uses Stewart as a point of dicussion for historic accuracy 😉

    • Kevin Levin Dec 10, 2010 @ 6:31

      It’s “great for a laugh” because it effectively highlight the historical problem with the videos and the focus of the upcoming secession ball.

      • Margaret D. Blough Dec 10, 2010 @ 15:47

        I think Jon and Larry actually did an excellent job with the historical aspects, including quoting from original secession documents. BTW, in the video, what’s all this about “northern congressmen” doing all these awful things to the South? The Democrats controlled Congress through much of the antebellum period and northern Democrats voted along with their slave state compatriots for much of that period. The rift only began to occur during the late 1850s when slave state demands for protection for slavery began going farther than even the northern Democrats were willing to go. Until Lincoln was elected, there were exactly two presidents who were neither slave holders nor had any significant support from Southern Democrats. They were both named Adams and they were both one-term presidents.

        • Kevin Levin Dec 11, 2010 @ 2:53

          That’s right. White southerners did not complain about the intrusiveness of the federal government over its enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act and they surely did not object to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dred Scott v. Sanford.

          • Margaret D. Blough Dec 11, 2010 @ 4:37

            Look at the slave state Democrats’ demands that shattered the party’s 1860 national convention: that the party platform include (1) that the party rejected Douglas’s Freeport Doctrine, and (2) a call for a passage of a FEDERAL slave code.

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