Historian Benjamin B. Kendrick wrote in the Southern Review in 1936 that there exists those who would make history an “instrument of entertainment or of social control.” We can add that there also exists a “politics of history,” “the way in which political attitudes and views define the agenda and strongly influence the outcome of the historian’s research” — the result of which is a partial and incomplete account of history. The following is excerpted from “Another Look at the Confederate Battle Flag” by Dr. Samuel C. Smith, dated August 7, 2015 and published on the Abbeville Institute website, www.abbevilleinstitute.org.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org
No One-Dimensional History
“The modern knee-jerk reaction that the flag must be seen as nothing but a symbol of hate is a result of a seriously oversimplified view of history. As a historian I regularly alert my undergraduate and graduate students about the complex nature of the past. One of the hallmarks of what Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield called the “Whig Interpretation of History” is the problem of oversimplification, especially as it exists in the academic profession.
[Writer Donald] Fraser has fallen into this most alluring historiographic trap. He is not alone, as many take this path of least resistance.
Fraser sees the Civil War as one-dimensional, with a simple monolithic cause—slavery. There is a bedrock rule-of-thumb in the historical discipline: nothing has one cause. Was slavery an issue in the Civil War? No doubt. Some southern heritage groups have unwisely tried to promote the idea that it was all about States’ rights without any reference to slavery. Anyone who reads history knows this is wrong.
By the same token, to boil something as complex as the Civil War down to nothing but slavery is equally simplistic and wrong. What about the Morrill Tariff that created a 47% tax targeting the agrarian South? Or what about the radical abolitionists who were calling for the death of all Southern slave owners, and the one radical, John Brown, who tried to make good on his promise?
Or what about Lincoln’s own admission at the outset of war that it was not in any way about freeing the slaves? He said in his first inaugural that he would go to war with the South for two reasons only: to re-secure federal property (forts) and collect the federal taxes.
Of course half-way through the war he issued the Emancipation Proclamation mainly to keep England from coming in as a Southern ally. To say the least, the causes and consequences of the Civil War were varied and complicated.”