Can the Republican Party Reclaim Lincoln?

National Review LincolnNext month National Review editor, Rich Lowry, is publishing a book about Abraham Lincoln. Part of the project is an attempt to reclaim Lincoln from the extreme Libertarian Right of Thomas DiLorenzo and Walter Williams, among others. In the most recent issue of NR Lowry offers a taste of his forthcoming book.

The anti-Lincoln critique is mostly, but not entirely, limited to a fringe. Yet it speaks to a longstanding ambivalence among conservatives about Lincoln. A few founding figures of this magazine were firmly in the anti-Lincoln camp. Libertarianism is rife with critics of Lincoln, among them Ron Paul and the denizens of the fever-swamp at LewRockwell.com. The Loyola University Maryland professor Thomas DiLorenzo has made a cottage industry of publishing unhinged Lincoln-hating polemics. The list of detractors includes left-over agrarians, southern romantics, and a species of libertarians — “people-owning libertarians,” as one of my colleagues archly calls them — who apparently hate federal power more than they abhor slavery. They are all united in their conviction that both in resisting secession and in the way he did it, Lincoln took American history on one of its great Wrong Turns.

Anyone familiar with mainstream academic work on Lincoln will find absolutely nothing new in this article.  It doesn’t take much for Lowry to dismantle the DiLorenzo-Williams interpretation of Lincoln because so little of it is actually built on a serious reading of the relevant history.  The humor of it all quickly fades. In fact, this article (and perhaps eve the book) has very little to do with Lincoln or the Civil War. Rather, Lowry is clearly worried about the current state and identity of the Republican Party. “A conservatism that rejects Lincoln,” writes Lowry “is a conservatism that wants to confine itself to an irritable irrelevance to 21st-century America and neglect what should be the great project of reviving it as a country of aspiration.” [click to continue…]

R.I.P. North and South Magazine (1997-2013)

North and SouthCan’t say that I am surprised by this news. After sixteen years Keith Poulter is calling it quits at North and South magazine. I still remember opening up the first issue back in 1997. At that time I was managing the periodicals section at Borders Books in Rockville, Maryland. At the time I was just beginning to read Civil War history seriously and I even tried my hands at writing a few book reviews for the Washington Times. I contacted Keith early on to see about writing book reviews for the magazine and he gave me the green light to contribute on a fairly regular basis. You can find a fair number of my book reviews in those early issues, which helped me quite a bit to begin to build up a resume and make new contacts.

For much of its history N&S was a quality publication, though now I understand that much of that had to do with the work of Terry Johnston, who eventually left and founded The Civil War Monitor magazine. For those of us looking for a bit more academic rigor North and South offered a wide range of topics from some of the leading historians along with footnotes. Who ever heard of such a thing in a glossy. I continue to use many of the articles in my Civil War courses. [click to continue…]

Mark Twain: Lost Cause Art Critic

Everett-B-D-Julio_XX_The-Last-Meeting-Of-Lee-And-Jackson-1864_XX_Museum-Of-The-Confederacy-Richmond-VirginiaWith the help of my book credits earned through Amazon’s affiliate program I recently purchased The Civil War and American Art. It’s incredible.  While I enjoy looking at art, I don’t spend nearly enough time reading about it. In the introduction I came across Everett B.D. Fabrino Julio’s The Last Meeting of Lee and Jackson, which as many of you know is located at the Museum of the Confederacy. I did not know that Julio initially offered the painting to Lee himself as a gift, who politely refused. I mean, where would you put it given the painting’s dimensions.

For a time it was on public display in New Orleans, which is where Mark Twain viewed it. Here is his colorful review.

[I]n the Washington Artillery building…we saw…a fine oil-painting representing Stonewall Jackson’s last interview with General Lee. Both men are on horseback. Jackson has just ridden up, and is accosting Lee. The picture is very valuable, on account of the portraits, which are authentic. But like many another historical picture, it means nothing without its label. And one label will fit it as well as another:

First Interview between Lee and Jackson.

Last Interview between Lee and Jackson.

Jackson introducing himself to Lee.

Jackson Accepting Lee’s Invitation to Dinner.

Jackson Declining Lee’s Invitation to Dinner–with Thanks.

Jackson Apologizing for a Heavy Defeat.

Jackson Reporting a Great Victory.

Jackson Asking Lee for a Match.

It tells one story, and a sufficient one; for it says quite plainly and satisfactorily, “Here are Lee and Jackson together.” The artist would have made it tell that this is Lee and Jackson’s last interview if he could have done it. But he couldn’t, for there wasn’t any way to do it. A good legible label is usually worth, for information, a ton of significant attitude and expression in a historical picture.

Clearly, Twain’s brief stint in Confederate ranks did little for his respect for the Lost Cause. And for that we thank him.

What Should “Silent Sam” Say?

Silent Sam

The 100th anniversary of the dedication of “Silent Sam” on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has not surprisingly led to a renewed push to have it removed. These protests have been a regular occurrence in recent years as more people, both on and off campus, interpret both the war and historical context of the dedication through a racial lens. This time the president of the NC chapter of the NAACP is leading the charge.

“The reality is that Sam has never been silent,” state NAACP President William Barber told the crowd. “He speaks racism. He speaks hurt to women – particularly black women. And he continues just by his presence to attempt to justify the legacy of the religion of racism.”

One of those at the rally was 77-year-old Jerry Carr of Chapel Hill, a UNC student in the mid-1960s and 1970s.  “I was always irked by this statue,” Carr said. “It was always said that the war wasn’t about slavery – that it was about states’ rights. And that kind of squelched any discussion about it. It’s taken a long, long time to recognize the truth – that the war was about the preservation of slavery.”

Zaina Alsous, a 2013 UNC graduate and member of the Real Silent Sam Committee that helped organize the demonstration, said the group wants people to understand “the painful parts of our history, the part of UNC’s history where we expressed violent racial discrimination, and also to be critical of where we are today.”

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am sympathetic to the power of these monuments and the pain that they cause certain people. I’ve been consistent in my belief that regardless of whether the monument is removed or altered in some fashion or whether an interpretive marker is added is entirely up to the relevant parties. [click to continue…]

Common-place: List of Contributors

monkey and organ grinderYou may remember that Megan Kate Nelson and I are co-editing a special edition of Common-place on the Civil War Sesquicentennial, which should be published in early 2014.  We just finished getting together our list of contributors and it looks awesome. We’ve covered a great deal of ground from how the war is being taught in the classroom to interpretation in museums as well as how the war is being commemorated across the country and beyond. This issue is going to have a little bit for everyone interested in this important subject.

Here is our list of contributors as of today:

  • Chris Lese, Teaching Civil War Memory in the Classroom
  • John Hennessy, Public History and Memory at the NPS
  • Ari Kelman, Native Americans, the West and Civil War Memory
  • Frances Clarke, War Memory as a Global Phenomenon
  • Carrie Janney, commemoration and reconciliation
  • Matt Hulbert, memories of guerrilla warfare (Missouri)
  • Manisha Sinha, abolitionism and memory
  • Adam Arenson, on going back to the battlefield
  • Judy Giesberg on Emilie Davis and digital memory
  • Anne Marshall on Lincoln in Kentucky
  • Steve Berry—Introduction
  • Andrew Talkov–museums

Megan and I seem to be getting along like a monkey and an organ grinder. It’s still unclear as to which roles we are playing.

A Virginia Teenager Assesses the War

One of the last independent studies that I advised in Charlottesville was a project centered on female diaries of the Civil War that one of my students used to write her own work of historical fiction. We spent some time looking through female diaries in Special Collections at UVA, including one written by Sallie Strickler of Madison County, Virginia. I am not surprised to find it referenced in Caroline Janney’s new book. I still remember the response of this particular student when we came across the passages below. The experience of holding the actual diary as well as the sense of loss and continued feelings of bitterness made for a memorable experience.

It grinds me sorely to think of our being compelled to give up our best-beloved institutions. I truly believe that African slavery is right. I love it & all the South loves it. It suits us & I do not see how we can do without it. It humiliates me, more than language can tell, to think of our being forced, ay forced, to give up what we love. So well! And that by Yankees. (quoted in Janney, pp. 84-85)

If memory serves me there simply isn’t enough wartime material to merit publication, which is disappointing given the quality of material on the war that is available.