Is This An Example of American Exceptionalism That Should Be Taught?

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.

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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)

Are You Sure You Are Waving the Right Flag?

29303976It 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)
  • Tax-In-Kind
  • 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”.

Confederate Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Promise of a New Football Season

With the new college football season upon us it might be worthwhile to reflect on the cultural connections with the Civil War and defeat and the Lost Cause.  While the enthusiasm here in Charlottesville, Virginia probably doesn’t match the anticipation found elsewhere around the South [I lived in Alabama for two years.] the talk seems to be all about UVA’s prospects and even who will start at the quarterback position.  Apparently, this is a serious matter for many.  I’ve never been a big college football fan and I have even more trouble understanding how it is possible to get so excited about playing William and Mary as a season opener.  Perhaps UVA fans no all too well that the rest of the season is likely to be a real bummer.  For those of you who are college football fans and Civil War enthusiasts I offer you the following for your reading pleasure.  The first is a journal article, titled, “From Lost Cause to Third-and-Long: College Football and the Civil Religion of the South, which appeared in the Journal of Southern Religion.  Additional commentary can be found here and here.  And I almost forgot, GO TERPS!!!

From the Bain-Selbo essay:

A particularly moving moment occurs at the end of a game. In this video, we see such a moment after a hard-fought Mississippi loss to Alabama in the fall of 2005. While some fans leave the stadium, a large portion (particularly the student section near where the band sits) stays for a final playing of the medley. It begins slowly, mournfully (particularly appropriate after a tough loss)—the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie” gently mixing together. One feels a sense of longing— longing for a past more ideal than real. Midway through, the tempo picks up, hands are clapping, and the parts that include the fans singing (particularly the chorus of “Dixie”) are louder and more boisterous. This all culminates with a yell, a hope, a declaration of defiance rising from all—”The South will rise again!”

John Stauffer Responds

Thanks to Prof. Stauffer for taking the time to write up such a thorough response to the recent criticisms of The State of Jones that can be found here and elsewhere.  I would much rather move on from this controversy, but given the circumstances outlined at the beginning of his response I thought it was only fair to post it.

I rarely read blogs, and this summer I’ve had difficulty keeping up with the Internet:  my wife gave birth to a boy, we’ve been without shower and kitchen owing to a house addition, and I’ve had to finish two 10,000 word essays on deadline.  Sally Jenkins and I welcome debate, as we emphasized, and the fact that I was unaware of your tacit expectation that I should read and post responses on your blog should not be interpreted as a refusal to engage in public and scholarly conversation.

You may be right in suggesting that “the blogosphere is now shaping” academic debates and historiography.  After all, the past forty years have witnessed an extraordinary democratization in academia, with scholars of the highest order having richly diverse institutional affiliations, from high schools, newspapers, and magazines to museums, educational institutes, the film industry, and colleges and universities of all ranks.  The Internet, which has revolutionized access to archives and other repositories of knowledge, has accelerated the democratization.  My hunch is that blogs will contribute to this process. In any event, let me try to address the major criticisms of “The State of Jones”

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