[News] Why Do People Believe Myths about the Confederacy? Because Our Textbooks and Monuments Are Wrong.
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 3 15:36:17 EDT 2015
Jul 1, 2015
*Why Do People Believe Myths about the Confederacy?
Because Our Textbooks and Monuments Are Wrong.*
by James W Loewen
History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley allegedly
said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War.
As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens
and began to distort what they had done, and why. Their resulting
mythology went national a generation later and persists — which is why a
presidential candidate can suggest that slavery was somehow pro-family,
and the public believes that the war was mainly fought over states’ rights.
The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not
win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant
understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging
ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has
manifested in both our history books and our public monuments.
Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in
the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the
western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and
hoped but hostility … in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would
fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate
States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now
has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.
Neo-Confederates also won western Maryland. In 1913, the United
Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the
Rockville courthouse. Montgomery County never seceded, of course. While
Maryland did send 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, it sent
63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Nevertheless, the UDC’s monument tells
visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co.
Maryland / That we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line.”
In fact, the Thin Grey Line came through Montgomery and adjoining
Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam,
Gettysburg and Washington. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help
with food, clothing and information. They didn’t. Maryland residents
greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way
to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile,
Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early demanded and got $300,000 from
them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least $5,000,000 today.
Today, however, Frederick boasts what it calls the “Maryland Confederate
Memorial,” and the manager of the Frederick cemetery — filled with Union
and Confederate dead — told me in an interview, “Very little is done on
the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”
In addition to winning the battle for public monuments, neo-Confederates
also managed to rename the war, calling it “the War Between the States.”
Nevermind that while it was going on, no one called it that. Even
Jeopardy! accepts it.
Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South
seceded for states’ rights. When each state left the Union, its leaders
made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and
against states’ rights. In its “Declaration Of The Causes Which Impel
The State Of Texas To Secede From The Federal Union,” for example, the
secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended them:
Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts,
New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. These states
had in fact exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered
with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave
Act. Some also no longer let slaveowners “transit” through their states
with their slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding
against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for: white supremacy.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States,
and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white
race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no
agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and
regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only
could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
Despite such statements, during and after the Nadir, neo-Confederates
put up monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For
example, South Carolina’s monument at Gettysburg, dedicated in 1965,
claims to explain why the state seceded: “Abiding faith in the
sacredness of states rights provided their creed here.” This tells us
nothing about 1863, when abiding opposition to states’ rights as claimed
by free states provided South Carolinians’ creed. In 1965, however, its
leaders did support states’ rights. Indeed, they were desperately trying
to keep the federal government from enforcing school desegregation and
civil rights. The one constant was that the leaders of South Carolina in
1860 and 1965 were acting on behalf of white supremacy.
So thoroughly did this mythology take hold that our textbooks still
stand history on its head and say secession was for, rather than
against, states’ rights. Publishers mystify secession because they don’t
want to offend Southern school districts and thereby lose sales.
Consider this passage from “The American Journey,” the largest textbook
ever foisted on middle-school students and perhaps the best-selling U.S.
The South Secedes
Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it
already existed. Nevertheless, many people in the South mistrusted the
party, fearing that the Republican government would not protect Southern
rights and liberties. On December 20, 1860, the South’s long-standing
threat to leave the Union became a reality when South Carolina held a
special convention and voted to secede.
Teachers and students infer from that passage that slavery was not the
reason for secession. Instead, the reason is completely vague: [white]
Southerners feared for their “rights and liberties.” On the next page,
however, “Journey” becomes more precise: [White] Southerners claimed
that since “the national government” had been derelict “by refusing to
enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and by denying the Southern states equal
rights in the territories — the states were justified in leaving the Union.”
“Journey” offers no evidence to support this claim. It cannot. No
Southern state made any such charge against the federal government in
any secession document I have ever seen. Presidents Buchanan and before
him, Pierce, were part of the pro-Southern wing of the Democratic Party.
For 10 years, the federal government had vigorously enforced the
Fugitive Slave Act. Buchanan had supported pro-slavery forces in Kansas
even after his own minion, the Mississippi slave owner Robert Walker,
ruled that they had won only by fraud. The seven states that seceded
before February 1861 had no quarrel with “the national government.”
Teaching or implying that the Confederate states seceded for states’
rights is not accurate history. It is white, Confederate-apologist
history. It bends — even breaks — the facts of what happened. Like other
U.S. history textbooks, “Journey” needs to be de-Confederatized. So does
the history test we give to immigrants who want to become U.S. citizens.
Item 74 asks, “Name one problem that led to the Civil War.” It then
gives three acceptable answers: “slavery, economic reasons, and states’
rights.” If by “economic reasons” it means issues about tariffs and
taxes, which most people infer, then two of its three “correct answers”
are wrong! No other question on this 100-item test has more than one
“right” answer. The reason is not because the history is unclear, but
because neo-Confederates still wielded considerable influence in our
culture and our Congress until quite recently, when a mass of
politicians rushed to declare the Confederate flag unsuitable for
display on government grounds.
Now the dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., has noted
that the cathedral needs to de-Confederatize its stained glass windows.
That would be a start for D.C., which also needs to remove its statue of
Albert Pike, Confederate general and leader of the Arkansas Ku Klux
Klan, from Judiciary Square. The Pentagon also needs to de-Confederatize
the Army. No more Fort A.P. Hill. No more Fort Bragg, named for a
general who was not only Confederate but also incompetent. No more Fort
Benning, named for a general who, after he had helped get his home state
of Georgia to secede, made the following argument to the Virginia
What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession?
This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a
conviction … that a separation from the North was the only thing that
could prevent the abolition of her slavery…. If things are allowed to go
on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the
time the north shall have attained the power, the black race will be in
a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black
legislatures, black juries, black everything. … The consequence will be
that our men will be all exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds
over a hostile earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too
horrible to contemplate even in fancy.
With our monuments lying about secession, our textbooks obfuscating what
the Confederacy was about, and our army honoring its generals, no wonder
so many Americans supported the Confederacy until last week. We can
literally see the impact Confederate symbols and thinking had on Dylann
Roof, but other examples abound. In his mugshot, Timothy McVeigh, who
bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, wore a
neo-Confederate T-shirtshowing Abraham Lincoln and the words, “Sic
semper tyrannis!” When white students in Appleton, Wis., a recovering
sundown town that for decades had been “all white” on purpose, had
issues with Mexican American students in 1999, they responded by wearing
and waving Confederate flags, which they already had at home, at the
ready. Across the country, removing slavery from its central role in
prompting the Civil War marginalizes African Americans and makes us all
De-Confederatizing the United States won’t end white supremacy, but it
will be a momentous step in that direction.
- See more at:
Sociologist James W. Loewen is the author of "Lies My Teacher Told Me."
This article was first published by the Washington Post.
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