The Paternalism of Richard Williams and His Best Friend

Update: Looks like Williams doesn’t like this post either. He seems to believe that what he has written has been distorted. That in and of itself is quite funny given the kinds of things he has written about me. You can read his book for yourself. Sigh. Finally, the timing of Williams’s own update suggests he was eagerly awaiting my response.

My friend from “Old Virginia” is once again disappointed with what I have written on this blog. In recent months he has expressed his displeasure more than once concerning a whole host of issues. A few days ago I offered a vague reference to a body of literature that includes Richard Williams’s book, Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend. I referenced the subtitle of his book, but for some of the specific points made in the post I had, in addition to his book, a few other titles in mind.

Williams decided to write up a detailed response and I guess he expects me to respond. Well, I am not going to do that. Continue reading “The Paternalism of Richard Williams and His Best Friend”

Moving Beyond Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School

There is a fairly popular narrative that places slaveowners at the center of a progressive movement to minister to and educate slaves in the decades leading to the Civil War. It tends to focus on high-ranking Confederate officers as part of a larger attempt to get the Confederacy itself right on slavery and race relations. One such book, which explores Thomas J. Jackson’s efforts to educate slaves in Lexington, concludes that he was “the black man’s friend.”

These accounts fail to place changes in the evangelical mission that many Christians embraced in the 1830s alongside the fear that ensued as a result of Nat Turner’s Rebellion in Southampton County, Virginia in 1831. They ignore laws that barred blacks from preaching to free and enslaved blacks and they fail to address the emphasis placed on service and loyalty to one’s master as opposed to stories of liberation. Continue reading “Moving Beyond Stonewall Jackson’s Black Sunday School”

William Prince Ford & Stonewall Jackson: Black Man’s Friend

12-Years-a-SlaveIt is being reported that some of the descendants of slaveowner William Prince Ford are not happy with how he has been portrayed in 12 Years A Slave.

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 “William Prince Ford & Stonewall Jackson: Black Man’s Friend”

Is The Irrepressible Conflict School Making a Comeback?

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?

Fasting and Prayer Ended the Civil War

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.