Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Wrong history

Killing time at a bookstore I am accustomed to frequent, listlessly looking toward yet another shelf, my tired eyes were stopped by a great title: Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. Couldn’t resist, got down to it, hoping it lived up to its title. No dice. I was reeling, the hogwash between the covers gave me quite a wallop. Max Boot has done us a service. He has read it and pointed out some of the crap to be found in it. You know the stuff, Calhoun was a good guy, Lincoln a tyrant during the war between the states (as the Civil War is called), and on and on. Boot is right, shame on Regnery for publishing this hooey. The author of it, by the way, seems to be a founding member of the League of the South which "advocates the secession and subsequent independence of the Southern States from this forced union and the formation of a Southern republic." Read Boot, but don’t buy the book.

Discussions - 7 Comments

Watch out also for Rowman Littlefield’s "When in the Course of Human Events," by Charles Adams, which is arguing the case for Southern secession in what appears to be an odd mix of misconstrued constitutionalism and Marxist economic forces.

When I moved to the South as a teacher, I feared that my love of Lincoln would get me in trouble. The kids down here are too interested in Starbuck’s, reality TV, and video games to put up much of a fight. Maybe the consumer culture is ending the debate that moral principles could not.

If at first you don’t secede....

The author is affiliated with the John Birch Society.

Ah take it that you Yankees don’t much cotton to the Suthun view ah history?

Well, truth be told, I’ve read parts of this book, and while the author errs here and there, some parts strike me as pretty accurate. The notion that the Confederacy "rebelled" against the Federal Government is absurd. They were sovereign States, and some had insisted on the right of secession before ratifying the Constitution. Secession was not forbidden by the Constitution, and as it says, whatever powers aren’t addressed in the Constitution are reserved to the States and the people.

Case closed.

As for slavery, funny that it should die a relatively peaceful death everywhere but the U.S. Moreover, most Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves, nor were they fighting to retain slavery. They were fighting for independence and the right to self-determination.

And if Abe Lincoln was such a great guy, why did he 1) free slaves only in non-occupied territory (the Emancipation Proclaimation), 2) authorize Sherman’s "March to the Sea," thereby sanctioning war against women and children, and 3) refuse to exchange prisoners with the South, guaranteeing Andersonvilles of both North and South. I learned how great Lincoln was in school just like you folks, but since then I’ve begun to question that learning. Mr. Lincoln did things that no Christian would have authorized.

And I thought condemnation by association (e.g., John Birch society, etc) was a tool of the Left? Critique the man’s ideas, not his affiliations. Ad hominem doesn’t become us.

I find that the older I get I have less and less patience for this line of argument. To rebut most of these canards I suggest consulting any of the standard works on the Civil War; and for the Emancipation Proclamation, take a look at Allen Guelzo’s excellent recent book.

I am actually sympathetic to secession in theory, but I find it difficult to muster very much in the way of warm feelings for it in the case of the Old South. As Paul Johnson put it, "No state held a referendum. It was decided by a total of 854 men in various secession conventions, all of them selected by legislatures, not by the voeters. Of these 157 voted against secession. So 697 men, mostly wealthy, decided the destiny of 9 million people, mostly poor."

Moreover, most Confederate soldiers didn’t own slaves, nor were they fighting to retain slavery.

What does that have to do with anything? Most German soldiers in World War II didn’t kill Jews, nor were they fighting to retain the concentration camps. The Confederacy’s own vice president, Alexander Stephens, admitted that the war was essentially about slavery; I see no reason why he should not be taken at his word.

Finally, I see no reason why a person’s affiliations ought not be taken into consideration when considering his or her views. The groups to which a person belongs are an indicator of one’s judgment and moral sense. If I know that someone is a Nazi, or a Stalinist, or a Klansman, I can reasonably conclude up front that he or she has nothing of value to say. I don’t necessarily put the Birchers in quite the same category, but affiliation with that bunch is at least enough to get me to put my hand on my intellectual wallet, so to speak.

With all due respect, I don’t require the services of a historian to spin what is perfectly straightforward history. If Lincoln had the moral uprightness credited to him, the Emancipation Proclaimation would have freed the slaves regardless of the territories they resided in. He was a politician, not a saint.

Did he or did he not authorize Sherman’s "total war" against the Southern population? Did he or did he not refuse the South’s request to exchange prisoners? Virtually everything he did suggested he preferred war to negotiation.

As for slavery mattering, that issue was used by people on this blog (and by Max Boot) to discredit any attempt to justify the Southern cause. If you look at the temporal ordering of events and study the decisions of key Southerns you quickly find out that the "civil war" was fought for many reasons, not just slavery. And the notion that a small set of elites started the war (and that, implicitly, the populace therefore did not approve) is utterly absurd. Most Confederates were fighting to start a new country...many of them were deeply ambivalent about slavery, and the vast majority of them owned none. And yet they fought.

I had ancestors on both sides of that war, and none of them had vested interests in slavery (or ending it).

The John Birch Society is rather strange...

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