Chris Wehner Strikes Again

I do my best to try to be a clear as possible on this site.  Of course, I do not always succeed, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why fellow blogger and APUS History teacher Chris Wehner is having so much difficulty understanding my position on American Exceptionalism [and here].  It’s one thing to disagree with me, which is something I have no problem with whatsoever and even encourage, but why does he continue to attribute positions to me that I’ve never expressed?  In his most recent post, and after hurling insult after insult in my direction, Wehner has this to say about what might be behind my comments:

However, I will offer a guess. (Note, this is my own personal opinion!) Levin has issues with the Republican Party going back to Reconstruction and what they failed to accomplish. He is also disappointed in what the American Revolution failed to accomplish. He is very much like Howard Zinn. But that is the problem, America was exceptional for what it was attempting. It initially failed to live up to our modern and presentists views. I wish our Founders were able to give equality to all, though nowhere else on such a scale was there anything close to early America in terms of political participation.

Thanks Chris, that was truly enlightening.  I sure could have used you the other day in class to help me with a lesson that pushed my students to understand the various factors that prevented most Southern slave owners from emancipating their slaves after the Revolution.  The goal of the lesson was to move beyond our own expectations to better understand the challenges that these men faced on a political/cultural/social and economic level.  Yep…sounds a lot like presentism to me.  I find it hard to believe how anyone who has followed my blog over the past few years could possibly arrive at such a characterization of my approach to history and/or the teaching of history.

Well, at least he remembered to provide a link this time around.

The Newest Member of the Dixie Outfitters Family

photoAs some of you know I use the Dixie Outfitters website to give students in my Civil War courses a sense of the continued hold of the Lost Cause on our culture.  In addition to examining the page devoted to their preferred view of the Civil War we do a quick survey of some of the t-shirts.  This year one particular shirt caught the eye of my students, which gave me a chance to discuss the history and myth of black Confederates.  We examined the t-shirt which depicts the Chandler Boys, which contains the following caption:

Black Confederate Silas Chandler carried his wounded boyhood friend, Andrew Chandler, several miles on his back before loading him on a box car headed for an Atlanta hospital.  After the war, they returned to their homes in Palo Alto, Mississippi where they remained close friends till death.  Silas Chandler received a Confederate veteran’s pension and today lies in a grave decorated with a Confederate Iron Cross placed by the Mississippi Sons of Confederate Veterans.

Well, you can imagine my surprise when one of my students presented me with my very own Chandler Boys t-shirt.  You may also be surprised to see that the student in question is African American.  The story is pretty funny.  Apparently, the store owner was very surprised to see a young black woman in his store asking for this particular t-shirt.  The owner was pleased, however, to see that she was aware of the rich history of black Confederates and encouraged here to share this story with her friends.  Needless to say, I was relieved that my student resisted getting into a debate about this subject as I am sure the store owner would have been defenseless against this student’s vast knowledge.

Why I Love This Blog

I was trying to find the perfect post to demonstrate the benefits of threaded comments as well as the other features that Disqus offers and came across the following from January 6, 2009 on Lee and historical memory.  It’s not the post that I want you to focus on, but the comments.  First, I think the discussion moves much more smoothly with the threaded format, but more importantly, your comments are incredibly thoughtful.  Readers are engaged with the topic at hand and are listening to one another.  Hell, I don’t think you are going to find a more thoughtful and intelligent group of readers anywhere else in the blogosphere.  Give yourselves a hand and give Disqus a try.

Update on Jefferson Davis’s Crown of Thorns

Pius_IXAfter last week’s post on the controversy surrounding whether the story of Jefferson Davis receiving a crown of thorns from Pope Pius IX was authentic, I received this additional information.

It looks like part of the problem has to do with commentary that is contained in Jefferson Davis: Private Letters 1823-1899, which was selected and edited by Hudson Strode (Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966).  As part of an introduction to two letters written in 1878 Strode wrote the following: “When the ex-President was in prison His Holiness had sent him a large photograph of himself with a crown of thorns woven by the papal fingers and an inscription in his own hand. The photograph and thorn crown may be seen today in Confederate Memorial Hall in New Orleans.”  The first letter was written by Varina for JD, but it is the second letter by JD that is worth considering here: “When our war had closed in the defeat of the South, and I was incarcerated with treatment the most needlessly rigorous, if not designedly cruel; … [more observations on the defamation, etc., JD endured] a voice came from afar to cheer and console me in my solitary captivity. The Holy Father sent me his likeness, and beneath it was written, by his own hand, the comforting invitation our Lord gives to all who are oppressed, in these words: ‘Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus.’ That the inscription was autographic was attested by Al. Cardinal Barnado, Dec. 1866 (under his seal).”  It seems strange that JD specifically mentions the Pope’s letter without also citing an object that was supposedly handmade specifically for him.

In addition, a list of “relics and documents” presented to Memorial Hall in New Orleans by Varina Davis attributes the crown of thorns to her. The following appeared in Confederate Veteran [July 1899]:

[F]amily Bible, given by Jefferson Davis to his wife Varina Jefferson Davis, with his written indorsement to that effect, and one from Mrs. Davis, presenting it to Memorial Hall; pciture of Pope Pius IX (framed), with an autograph and a Latin sentence inscribed on it by his holiness, bearing his seal, and certified to by Cardinal Barnabo Pref. (The Pope sent this picture to Jefferson Davis while a prisoner at Fortress Monroe.  Accompanying the picture is a crown of thorns, made by Mrs. Davis, that hung above it in Mr. Davis’s study[.]

Keep in mind that Varina Davis was still alive in 1899.  Do you believe that Varina would have allowed this attribution to go unanswered if it in fact was a mistake?  That’s it for now.  I will keep you updated if I hear anything more.

Let’s Disqus Your Comments

disqus_125As some of you know I’ve been playing around with an external comment system to help improve discussion and community.  Before WordPress added the threaded comments option this was the main reason why these plugins were used.  I played around with it, but in the end decided that it was too much hassle since it only takes a small number of people to fail to use the system properly.  The other issue was not wanting to hand over my comments to a third party.  Luckily, most of these comment tools have taken care of this issue.  In recent weeks I tried again, but had some difficulty syncing the comments.  After the technical problems of last week subsided I decided to give it another shot.  This time things are much more promising.  The only issue is getting the comments from the last five days properly synced.  The customer support system at Disqus is first rate so I am hoping to hear from them soon.  For those of you who have commented on the last few posts please rest assured that your comments are safe.

While you will be able to take advantage of threaded comments, the real benefit is in the way that Disqus fosters community among readers.  I urge you to take a few seconds to set up an account with Disqus.  Of course, you can still comment the old-fashioned way, but an account will allow you to subscribe to the comments of others and your own comments will be archived from around the Web.  I think that is pretty darn cool.  Finally, it would be great if those of you who comment frequently would upload some kind of image to your comments.

I hope you find this worthwhile and you can start by leaving a comment to this post.

Deep Thoughts By H.W. Crocker III (2)

It’s a pretty miserable day here in central Virginia.  On top of the rain I am strung out on the couch watching college football and dealing with a cold and sore throat.  Since it looks like I will not get anything serious done today I thought I might offer you the second installment of my examination of Crocker’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War.  The following is titled “We’re All Confederates Now” and asks the reader to imagine the following:

Put yourself in Robert E. Lee’s shoes.  If the South seceded today, how many of us would think the proper response would be for the federal government to send tanks over the bridges spanning the Potomac into Virginia, to blockade Southern ports and carpet bomb Southern cities?  If we don’t, it’s because we see the United States as the Confederacy saw it, as a voluntary union.  The idea that we have to keep California, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Maine together by force would probably strike us as ridiculous.  And if it came to that, it would probably strike us as horrendous and wrong. (p. 33)

First, why do we need to put ourselves in the shoes of Lee?  Does he have some kind of privileged position that would steer us to the correct answer as to what would be considered a proper response by the federal government in case of a modern day secession?  To show how absurd this little thought experiment is, why not put ourselves in the shoes of Winfield Scott, George Thomas or any other Southern graduate of West Point who took part in the invasion of their own homes.  Scott himself outlined the invasion of much of the South in his Anaconda Plan. More importantly, we now know that the generation of Southern West Point cadets that graduated in the 1830s did not resign their commissions in 1861.   In the end, it is irrelevant what we would countenance as a legitimate response.  What we do know is that plenty of white Southerners in 1861 believed that “invasion” was the only response to the actions of most of the Southern states.

There is plenty more where this comes from.

A Few More Thoughts About American Exceptionalism

After reading Chris Wehner’s erratic response to my thoughts about American Exceptionalism as well as Richard Williams’s predictable response I thought I might follow up with a few words to clarify my position.  As usual, rather than try to explore what I’ve said about this subject Williams pulls out the same tired references to the “liberal elite” who supposedly hate America and all that is good.  [blah, blah, blah…Howard Zinn, blah, blah, Eric Foner, blah, blah]  What is truly astounding about Williams’s response is that this is the same guy who constantly rails against teachers/academics for imposing their view of the world on their students.  I stated very clearly that one of my overarching goals in the classroom is not to impose my views on my students one way or the other.  Here is what I stated:

I’ve said before that I do not consider it my responsibility to influence students in how they judge the collective moral status of the United States through its history and current policies.  In addition to the concept of exceptionalism I also steer clear of any notion of America as “God’s Chosen People” or the notion of an inherent “Evil Imperial Empire” that is espoused by some on the extreme Left.

In other words, as difficult as it is I am trying my best to maintain a neutral stance when it comes to teaching history.  You would think that Williams would acknowledge this in his post.  Either way there is no winning with this guy.  I guess we see what we want to see.

[click to continue…]

Deep Thoughts By H.W. Crocker III (1)

I thought I might start a little series of posts from The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War by H.W. Crocker III.   I would say that such passages are worth a good laugh, but then I step back and realize that these books sell incredibly well both here in the states and overseas. The Lost Cause lives.

Reconstruction: the bad

There had been no segregation in the antebellum South.  Plantation slaves lived in cabins within feet of their owner’s house.  City slaves lived in brick houses behind their owner’s house.  While whites in the North often lived far away from black people, Southern whites lived and worked (and their children played) side by side and thought nothing of it.  That changed after the war when the Radical Republicans sent armed regiments of black soldiers into the South as occupation troops and installed black politicians into local and state governments slots, while barring all former Confederates from holding office. (206-07)