No surprise given that Annette Gordon-Reed seems to be rounding up all of the major history book awards for her recent study, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Although I read this book I thought that Thavolia Glymph should have won for Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge University Press, 2008), which focuses on the relations of southern black and white women. The most interesting aspect of the study is her analysis of the use of violence by women of the planter elite against enslaved women. Both books are well worth your time. Congratulations once again to Professor Gordon-Reed.
I‘ve seen this video around, but have never seen any clips from it until now. This has got to be one of the most convoluted and confusing documentaries that I’ve ever seen. After the glaring mistake of identifying March 1864 as the year that the Confederate Congress authorized the enlistment of slaves and within six minutes the video moves freely between discussions of slave loyalty to the master class before the war to slaves volunteering for service in the Confederate army to slaves serving as labor in the army. I have no idea who is being interviewed and I suspect they have done little or no research on the subject – at least nothing that I could find. The director, Stan Armstrong, is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (what a surprise). Click here for a short article on Armstrong’s interest in the subject. It turns out his great-great grandfather “took his black son to war.” I have no clue what that is supposed to mean. Enjoy.
I didn’t have much more to say about this issue until I read John Stoudt’s response to my last post. [By the way, I love the fact that I can now link to your profile page if I want to single you out.] Stoudt asks if the Biblical justifications of slavery by Thornton Stringfellow, James Henley Thornwell, Robert Dabney, Benjamin Palmer, and others should not count as examples of American Exceptionalism. Well, that depends. If our goal in teaching this concept is to impose our own assumptions about the significance of American history than perhaps not, but if the focus is on how Americans at different times understood their nation than it seems to fit in with the “City Upon a Hill”, “Manifest Destiny”, and the “White Man’s Burden” and Cold War ideology.
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)
It seems strange to me that those marching and protesting in the name of limited government and states rights would choose a Confederate flag as one of their symbols. We have Libertarian-leaning economists such as Thomas DiLorenzo and Walter Williams who celebrate the Confederacy and its leaders as the last bastion of limited federal power in the face of the Lincoln administration, which turned the nation toward “big government” with all of its inherent evils attached. For these guys, it’s the beginning of the end. [It's also one of the best examples of stepping out of your field of study and looking silly.] For most people who take part in political rallies such as the one this past weekend the flag represents the last stand of limited government, respect for individual and state rights and perhaps even a final gasp before the evils of modernity took hold.
Such overly simplistic distinctions may work well to reinforce our tendency to view the Civil War and much of the rest of our past as battle between good and evil. On the other hand, it makes for some really bad history. No one who understands the history of antebellum America could possibly make the mistake of drawing such sharp distinctions given the fact that it was the Southern states who were pushing for the power of the federal government during the 1850s to protect the institution of slavery through legislative acts such as the Fugitive Slave Act and court cases such as the famous Dred Scott decision. Northern states, on the other hand, insisted at times that states had the right to resist the Fugitive Slave Act by passing Personal Liberty Laws which effectively nullified the power of the federal government in their respective communities.
So, is the record of the Confederacy one of limited government and respect for individual rights? The record includes:
- Conscription (before the United States)
- Tariff (higher than the 10 to 15 percent rate proposed by Hamilton in his Report on Manufacturers (1791)
- Confederate National Investment in Railroads (amounting to 2.5 million in loans, $150,000 advanced, and 1.12 million appropriated)
- Confederate Quartermasters leveled price controls on private mills and were later authorized to impress whatever supplies they needed.
- Government ownership of key industries
- Government regulation of commerce
- Suspension of habeus corpus (According to historian, Mark Neely, 4,108 civilians were held by military authorities)
John Majewski describes this government as “Confederate war socialism”.