One was his great-great-grandson, 77-year-old William Marcus Ford, who described the film as ‘too dark and exaggerated’. He added: ‘By all accounts, my great-great-grandfather treated his slaves well and did his best for them. ‘He was born at a particular time in history when slavery was accepted throughout the South. ‘It wasn’t illegal. That doesn’t make it right or moral by today’s standards but back then it wasn’t an ethical issue. Northup saw him as a kindly person. He was a highly moral man.’ The film, says Mr Ford, ignores the fact that ‘slaves were regarded as valuable pieces of property and that it wouldn’t be in an owner’s interest to treat his slaves badly’. He said: ‘Good field-hands had worth. They were valued. A skilled craftsman like Northup would have been valued. There might have been a few bad apples, but I don’t think there was widespread brutality.’
The past few decades has witnessed an incredible outpouring of scholarship on the complexity of the master-slave relationship. The institution varied widely depending on both time, place and a host of other factors. No one should be surprised that as much as 12 Years A Slave has made room for meaningful discourse about the history of American slavery, it has also reinforced deeply entrenched positions and ideologies. For many a continued defensive stance is the only response. Continue reading →
A couple of recent titles leave me wondering whether some version of the interpretation that the Civil War was unavoidable owing to the loss of moderate influence is making a resurgence. If so, to what extent has it been fueled by our current political culture? It’s hard not to see this at work in David Goldfield’s recent book, America Aflame: How the Civil War Created a Nation, which focuses on the infusion of evangelical religion into political discourse as leading to the breakdown. [The video is from a recent presentation based on his book at the Minnesota History Center.] I just started William Cooper’s We Have the War Upon Us: The Onset of the Civil War, November 1860-April 1861 so it may be too early to say much of anything that is constructive in this context, but consider one short passage in the preface:
But not all Americans wanted another compromise. In the South, radical secessionists saw this moment, the election of a northern president heading a northern party by northern voters, as their opportunity to disrupt the Union. The North had its own segment that spurned any compromise with the South. These vigorous partisans of the triumphant Republican party were determined to celebrate their victory without any deal with an alarmed, uneasy South.
Of course, two books does not make a school of thought and I have not offered much in terms of historiography, but I thought it might help to get the intellectual juices flowing. What do you think?
There is an incredibly rich body of scholarship focused on explaining the outcome of the Civil War, but pastor John Hagee takes a slightly different approach.
Lincoln’s proclamation for a national day of fasting was signed in March 1863. I think Hagee needs to explain why it took another two years for Lee to finally find the “grace” to surrender. This is par for the course for these two clowns.
This morning I was interviewed by Mike Zitz of the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star concerning the Saturday premiere of “The Angel of Marye’s Heights” – a movie about Richard Kirkland. I made it clear that I could not comment on the movie beyond the few videos previews and other assorted postings that I’ve read on the movie website. We talked for about 30 minutes and I confined most of my thoughts to what this story tells us about how Americans have chosen to remember the Civil War. As far as I am concerned there isn’t much to talk about regarding the factual basis of the story since there are no wartime accounts. If I remember correctly, the earliest account is dated around 1880. I am going to hold off commenting further until the article is published on Thursday.
For now, consider this little video, which touches on some of the same themes in the Kirkland story. In 1913 Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain received a letter from a veteran of the 15th Alabama concerning the fighting at Little Round Top on July 2, 1863.
Here we have another story where in the heat of battle the compassion of a Confederate soldiers saved the life of his enemy. Of course, there is no way to confirm this story. In the end, however, the truth of the matter isn’t as interesting as what this tells us about how Americans chose to remember the war in 1913 – the same year as the 50th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg. Let’s not ask how the soldier in question knew that the man he was writing to in 1913 was the same individual that he remembered in 1863. I’m not even sure we can confirm that the author of the letter was, in fact, a veteran of the 15th Alabama. Like I said, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone decided to write to Chamberlain 50 years after the battle and acknowledge an act of compassion. What matters in reference to the Kirkland story is that someone decided to write a letter that highlighted the compassion of another soldier in the heat of battle.
This is a very strange history documentary hosted by Matthew and Laurie Crouch. The show, including the over-the-top set is a cross between the 700 Club and Joel Osteen Ministries. Mrs. Crouch is clearly playing the Tammy Fay Baker role, who along with her husband sit and nod in agreement. Actually, she looks as if she is high as a kite. David Barton offers a rather unusual analysis of Reconstruction that I will get to in a moment. You can watch the entire series here – not that I recommend it.
Barton’s interpretation of Reconstruction basically comes down to pointing out that everything positive that happened relating to race relations and civil rights during Reconstruction and through the 1960s occurred because of the Republican Party. The Democrats started the Ku Klux Klan, overturned legislation passed during Reconstruction, and resisted the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts of the 1960s. There is a bit of truth in much of what Barton has to say about the importance of slavery, the role of black Republicans during Reconstruction as well as the role of the Democratic Party in overturning much of the post-war legislation. However, Barton seems to think that the Republican Party of the 1860s and 70s is the same Republican Party of today. According to Barton, the KKK was started by Democrats to “whack Republicans.” Of course, Barton makes no mention of why blacks throughout much of the South transitioned to the Democratic Party in the 1930s, the Dixiecrat movement in 1948 or the fact that the president who pushed both landmark pieces of civil rights legislation was a Democrat.