Many of you are familiar with the Abbeville Institute. Among other things they offer an annual conference that brings together a short list of people, who push a decidedly Lost Cause interpretation of the Civil War and slavery under the guise of serious scholarship. Last year’s annual conference included a talk by Donald Livingston on the debate within the Confederacy to arm slaves, which was just uploaded to YouTube today.
The part of the talk that focuses specifically on the debate begins at around the 30 minute mark. I am not going to go through the many problems with this presentation. A thorough reading or re-reading of Bruce Levine’s, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War, would be a great place for Livingston to start.
The fundamental flaw in Livington’s understanding of the debate is his failure to address the stiff resistance and the reasons behind the resistance to this plan that was expressed by people in the army, on the home front and in every level of government. Rather, Livingston simply cherry picks evidence in support of the plan. For example, he cites Gen. Patrick Cleburne’s plan to arm slaves, but conveniently ignores President Davis’s order to cease discussion within the army.
Given the Lost Cause theme that courses throughout, what I found interesting is that at no point does Livingston suggest that blacks were already fighting in the army as soldiers. At the very end he makes a vague claim about what state and local governments may have been up to during the war, but that’s about it.
As far as I can tell, Livingston does not believe that black men fought as soldiers before March 1865. That might be the only redeeming aspect of this presentation.