Even More Liberal Lies About America

Well, we are getting down to the final few weeks in my AP American History course.  It’s always a mad rush in the last few weeks as I have to make sure that I’ve covered most of the major events into the 1990s.  Over the past few days we’ve been talking in detail about the rise of the modern conservative movement and given my recent posts [see here and here] on the supposed left-wing conspiracy in our college and high school classrooms I thought I might share a few thoughts about what we specifically look at.  According to some I am playing my own small part in this conspiracy as I spew my hatred for America and my denials of American Exceptionalism in front of my students.  I guess one need look no further for evidence of this than my use of Eric Foner’s book, Give Me Liberty!: An American History (Norton)

As I was reviewing the chapter it dawned on me that Foner offers a very rich overview of modern conservatism.  The title of the chapter in question is “The Triumph of Conservatism” and covers the period from 1969 to 1988.  Sub-chapter headings include “The Rebirth of Conservatism,”  “The New Conservatism,” “The Conservative Sixties,” “The Rising Tide of Conservatism,” “The Religious Right,” “The Tax Revolt,” “Reagan and American Freedom.”  The chapter covers a number of concepts and movements associated with conservatism, such as Libertarianism the Religious Right and includes references to Milton Friedman, Russell Kirk, Richard Weaver, William F. Buckley, “Young Americans For Freedom,” “neo-Conservatives,” Jerry Falwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Jeane Kirpatrick.  Court cases that favor a conservative reading of the Constitution include Milliken v. Bradley, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Bowers v. Hardwick, among others.  The chapter includes a full-page reprint of “The Sharon Statement” (1960)

Consider Foner’s own interpretation of the “New Conservatives” for yourself:

The “new conservatives” understood freedom as first and foremost a moral condition.  It required a decision by independent men and women to lead virtuous lives, or government action to force them to do so.  Although they wanted government expelled from the economy, new conservatives trusted it to regulate personal behavior, to restore a Christian morality they saw as growing weaker and weaker in American society.

Her lay the origins of a division in conservative ranks that would persist to the end of the twentieth century.  Unrestrained individual choice and moral virtue are radically different starting points from which to discuss freedom.  Was the purpose of conservatism, one writer wondered, to create the “free man” or the “good man?”  Libertarian conservatives spoke the language of progress and personal autonomy; the “new conservatives emphasized tradition, community, and moral commitment.  The former believed that too many barriers existed to the pursuit of individual liberty.  The latter condemned and excess of individualism and a breakdown of common values. (p. 1026)

That seems to me to be an incredibly thoughtful, albeit brief, description of the modern conservative movement that gives students a framework for understanding a great deal of recent political and cultural history.  It led to a very interesting class discussion today that I hope to continue tomorrow as we move further into the 1980s.

On the rise of the Religious Right, Foner has this to say:

The rise of religious fundamentalism during the 1970s expanded conservatism’s popular base.  Even as membership in mainstream denominations like Episcopalianism and Presbyterianism declined, evangelical Protestantism flourished.  Some observers spoke of a Third Great Awakening (like those of the 1740s and early nineteenth century)…. Evangelical Christians had become more and more alienated from a culture that seemed to them to trivialize religion and promote immorality.  They demanded the reversal of Supreme Court decisions banning prayer in public schools, protecting pornography as free speech and legalizing abortion.  (p. 1050)

As I said above, the chapter’s focus on conservatism is incredibly rich and benefits immensely from Foner’s commitment to looking beyond the major figures and most prominent organizations in the movement.

Now, of course, there is room to disagree even with the brief excerpts that I’ve provided here, but can we agree that there is nothing that is blatantly anti-American or biased in favor of a liberal/Democratic view of American history?  Actually, if you gave me this book without the author’s name I’m not sure I could nail down the political identity of the author.  Than again I don’t spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about the political affiliation of historians.  I tend to judge the quality of their work based on the principles of good history.

Anyway, I hope this alleviates the concerns among some of you that I am feeding my students anti-American ideology. :D

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“Team of Rivals”: The Museum Exhibit?

By now many of you have seen the short video featuring Doris Kearns Goodwin and her introduction to an upcoming Lincoln exhibit titled, “Team of Rivals.”  The exhibit will open in October at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum in Springfield, Illinois.  The goal of the exhibit looks interesting:

This exhibition takes you inside the highest levels of the United States government as Abraham Lincoln and his cabinet struggle with the momentous issue of war. Restricted to the information they possessed at the time, you will confront the perplexities and options they faced during the first weeks of Lincoln’s presidency — and decide for yourself if they made the right choices…

Following the approach so skillfully employed by Doris Kearns Goodwin in her critically acclaimed book Team of Rivals, the exhibition uses the experiences of Lincoln’s closest advisors to illuminate Lincoln’s leadership. A combination of compelling artifacts, images, and audio/visual presentations introduces you to the powerful personalities who advised the President and brings to life those fateful days when a divided nation teetered on the brink… then toppled into the dark abyss of civil war… [emphasis in the original]

My question or concern has more to do with the explicit connection with Goodwin and the title of her book.  I should point out that I have very little understanding of how exhibitions are put together beyond my brief work with the staff at Monticello.

It’s not surprising to me that Goodwin would be involved in an exhibit that features the decisions made by Lincoln and his cabinet on the eve of war and given the popularity of her book it seems appropriate that she would serve as a “personal guide” through the exhibit.  That said, for some reason I have trouble with the title of the exhibit; it smacks of crass commericialism and leaves the visitor with the impression that the exhibit is the result of one individual.  More troubling is that the visitor is likely to believe that the exhibit is based on Goodwin’s interpretation and conclusions.  Of course, I have no way of answering such questions.  I must assume that the exhibit is the result of a collaboration between historians, curators, and archivists.  Did Goodwin have overarching control and influence that would justify such a title?  Again, I have no way of knowing.  I would be very interested to know the extent of Goodwin’s involvement in the development of this exhibit.

Is there any precedent for this?  Does anyone else have similar concerns or are my worries completely off base?  What do you think?

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Dimitri Rotov…

is going to blow a gasket when he sees this.  Enjoy Dimitri.

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Upcoming Appearance by Earl Ijames

We haven’t heard from our favorite “colored Confederate” researcher in quite some time, but it looks like Earl Ijames will be taking part in an upcoming conference on United States Colored Troops in New Bern, North Carolina.  The conference is being sponsored by the New Bern Historical Society and runs from May 6-9.  The conference is free and open to the general public.  Interestingly, Mr. Ijames will speak as part of a session on “The Myth of Black Confederates”.  I have no idea why a session on this subject would be included in a conference on USCTs.  I would love to attend, but unfortunately, this is a pretty busy time of year for me at school.

It would be great if someone could attend and take notes and/or audio of his presentation.  We have notes and audio from Mr. Ijames’s last presentation in Savannah, Georgia in which you can read and listen to some of the most incoherent claims made about this complex and widely misunderstood subject.  With the help of numerous people we’ve been able to discredit much of Mr. Ijames’s research on a case-by-case basis on this site.  I am curious as to what he will say about Weary Clyburn and John Venable.  [For a sense of just how irresponsible Ijames can be, check out the contradictory claims made about Clyburn.]  Mr. Ijames is responsible for a number of dubious claims about this subject and has refused to publish anything based on his research even after over ten years working at both the North Carolina Department of Archives and History and North Carolina Museum of History.  I am hoping that someone will be able to attend.

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Appealing to Slavery and Race When It is Convenient

In the wake of Governor McDonnell’s amendment to his Confederate History Month Proclamation, representatives of the Sons of Confederate Veterans did their best to convince America that slavery and race have little or nothing to do with understanding the war.  Actually, the SCV has no problem discussing these issues – in fact, they are obsessed with the subject – as long as they control the terms of the debate.  As a result we are introduced to thousands of loyal black Confederate slaves and other distortions designed to redirect the conversation away from the central role that slavery played in the Confederate experience.  A few days ago I suggested that the SCV’s preferred view of the past has been on the defensive for the past few years and is on a fast track to becoming completely irrelevant. The responses from SCV members that I received served to confirm this prediction.

Reading accounts of yesterday’s dedication ceremony of the Davis-Limber statue at Beauvoir points to the extent to which the SCV’s agenda has been minimized and forced to remain on ground that they maintain. The statue is a case study in SCV propaganda and outright bad history.  The SCV has never been interested in Limber’s story; rather, he functions (as do “black Confederates”) to steer any discussion of the war and the Confederacy away from race and slavery.  Here are a few choice quotes from the ceremony that make my point:

In the name of the Sons of Confederate Veterans of all the people of the south of all the people of good conscience and righteousness throughout the world, we dedicate this statue of Jefferson Davis.  That it may stand as eternal testament to a duty well done.  Well, in the south, we know it takes a family to raise a child, and that’s what Jefferson Davis was willing to do.  — Chuck McMichael

This really humanizes Jefferson Davis, tells a story which isn’t really told very often,” said Bowling. There are two young children standing next to Davis with arms linked. One of the children was rescued by Davis’ wife during the war.  Jim Limber, the black child being beaten up and pushed around by an older man, and she hopped out of the carriage and pushed him away and grabbed Jim Limber and took him home where he became a functional member of the Davis household. — Brag Bowling

As you can clearly see, this story has nothing at all to do with little Jim Limber.  It’s about an act that was performed, not by Jefferson Davis, but by his wife, Varina.  Why isn’t she featured in this statue?  What is truly disturbing, however, is how little we know about Limber as well as the very brief period of time he spent with the Davis family.  In William J. Cooper’s massive biography of Jefferson Davis we find not one reference to this boy, though the author spends a great deal of time discussing the Davis family.  Joan Cashin’s recent biography of Varina Davis does include a few brief references to Limber, but it raises more questions than answers.  She notes the incident in Richmond that led to Limber joining the household, but as to his place in the family Cashin suggests that he functioned as a “playmate” to the other children.  In fact, it looks like it was Davis’s biological children who took a liking to the boy and pressed the issue of whether he could stay.

If the SCV wishes to be taken seriously than they should have no problem pointing us to the primary sources that support the claims that were made yesterday and at countless other times.  [Oh…just in case you need to be reminded, Rickey Pittman’s book does not count as scholarship.]

I won’t hold my breadth because as I said this isn’t really about Jim Limber and, ultimately, it may not even be about the Davis family.  Tell em’ Mr. Bowling:

“It wasn’t about slavery. It was about freedom, and the Jefferson Davis statue symbolizes freedom”

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