Alistair Cooke Explores America’s Civil War

This BBC documentary hosted by Alistair Cooke, which aired in 1972, is well worth watching if you have the time. The content of the documentary reflects some of the new scholarship on slavery but overall the script is marred by the Lost Cause narrative and a problematic view of Lincoln and, especially, Reconstruction. Some of the places visited by Cooke include the Custis-Lee Mansion, Shiloh National Military Park, Boone Hall Plantation, South Carolina, and Natchez, Mississippi. Enjoy.

[Uploaded to YouTube on October 14, 2014]

Searching for Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth

“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

Purchase your copy today!

6 comments… add one
  • V-M Airaksinen Jun 29, 2020 @ 9:08

    Downsizing my library for the final 25% of my life I encountered Alistair Cooke’s America from 1973. An excellent book; I can still remember the triumph of rescuing it from the closing America Center Library in Helsinki about 40 years ago. Having spent some time studying the American Civil War I decided to check Alistair’s view on that subject. Amazingly, he was a die-hard Confederate apologist. Go figure. Why would he would prefer the purveyors of slavery; was this the general attitude of the upper class British in the 1930’s? Today, if he had a statue, it would probably be pulled down. I don’t even dare to re-read the sections about native Americans…I guess I’ll toss the book.

  • Will Hickox Oct 17, 2014 @ 13:18

    I’ve never understood exactly what point Confederate apologists are trying to make in quoting Lincoln’s white supremacist remarks. By this point, is anyone shocked by evidence that most whites in the 19th century were racist by our standards? Name one reputable historian who has claimed that Lincoln didn’t fit our definition of a racist. Lincoln was a man of his time and place and also a politician who had to walk a tightrope between radicals and conservatives. His beliefs also changed during his lifetime and especially during the war. None of this is relevant, however, if your agenda is simply to smear the man.

  • A.D. Powell Oct 16, 2014 @ 20:07

    I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position.” [Cheers, “That’s the doctrine.”] “I have never said any thing to the contrary, but I hold that notwithstanding all this, there is no reason in the world why the negro is not entitled to all the rights enumerated in the Declaration of Independence-the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I hold that he is as much entitled to these as the white man. I agree with Judge Douglas that he is not my equal in many respects, certainly not in color-perhaps not in intellectual and moral endowments; but in the right to eat the bread without the leave of any body else which his own hand earns, he is my equal and the equal of Judge Douglas, and the equal of every other man.” [Loud cheers.]

    Lincoln believed in MORAL EQUALITY. This is the same morality that says, if you drive drunk and hit a 90-year-0ld woman or a Down’s Syndrome child, you can’t ask the judge to let you off because you are “superior” or more intelligent, or have more to contribute to society than your victim.

  • Michael C Williams Oct 15, 2014 @ 6:06

    Dosen’t look ‘problematic’ if it’s telling the truth.

    The man didn’t give a flyin rat turd about the slaves in the first place.

    He said so himself.

    “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the states where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

    – Abraham Lincoln in his first debate with Stephen Douglas in the campaign for the United States Senate at Ottawa, Illinois on August 21st of 1858.

    “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes, nor qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people. And I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. … And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”

    – Abraham Lincoln in his fourth debate with Stephen Douglas in the campaign for the United States Senate on September 18th of 1858.

    “I have never had the least apprehension that I or my friends would marry negroes if there was no law to keep them from it, but as Judge Douglas and his friends seem to be in great apprehension that they might, if there were no law to keep them from it, I give him the most solemn pledge that I will to the very last stand by the law of this State, which forbids the marrying of white people with negroes.”

    – Abraham Lincoln in the fourth debate with Stephen Douglas.

    • Kevin Levin Oct 15, 2014 @ 6:08

      Of course it doesn’t when all you can do is cite a few quotes from Lincoln without any context whatsoever.

    • Christopher Shelley Oct 17, 2014 @ 8:09

      As far as rat turds go, sorry, Michael C. Williams, but you are totally wrong. You make no distinction between Lincoln’s avowed concern and hatred of slavery with his apparent racism toward slaves and other blacks. And Kevin absolutely correct about cherry-picking quotes out of context. Hell, Thomas DiLorenzo has made an entire career from taking Lincoln quotes out of context!

      With Kevin’s permission, I’ve been writing about this very thing here: I trust I have used the primary sources IN CONTEXT.

      I recommend you actually read a larger sampling of Lincoln’s other speeches, especially into 1863 and ’64. Also, look at his actual DEEDS, not merely his words. After all, if Lincoln didn’t care about slaves, then why in 1864 as the election approached did he consult with Frederick Douglass? In that meeting, Lincoln expressed his fear that he would be defeated in the election, and then the slaves not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation would remain enslaved. He exhorted Douglass to come up with a “John Brown”-type of plan to RESCUE as many slaves still living beyond Union lines as possible, before AL was defeated and the Democratic president was inaugurated.

      There was no good political reason for him to do this for this most pragmatic of politicians. What does he get if he wins? The only answer is nothing. And so, what motivated him? A genuine, salt-water concern for slaves is the only answer.

      A.D. Powell’s below comment is right on. A.D., I highly recommend James Oakes excellent little essay “Natural Rights, Citizenship Rights, States’ Rights, and Black Rights: Another Look at Lincoln and Race” in Our Lincoln: New Perspectives on Lincoln and His World edited by Eric Foner. What A.D. refers to as “moral equality” (which reminds me of the Scottish Enlightenment ideas that Garry Wills argues Jefferson believed), Oakes refers to as natural rights. In that essay, Oakes argues that Lincoln’s apparently contradictory ideas about race make complete sense when viewed through the prism of Natural Rights (as expressed in the Declaration of Independence) vs. Citizenship Rights (which were not clearly defined until the 14th Amendment), and which he rightly shows were two different things. And indeed, by the end of his life AL was supporting Political Rights for blacks: the right to vote.

      Hard to reconcile this complex view of Lincoln with the cartoon racist Lincoln Mr. Williams scribbles with his rat turds.

Leave a Reply to Will HickoxCancel reply

Your email address will not be published.