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Historically Inaccurate Cinema of 1936

Roosevelt the Second charged Frank Capra with creating war propaganda films to sustain the war frenzy and silence critics of his war as “traitorously unpatriotic” — the facts would take a backseat to selling war bonds. The solution might be, as the editorial below suggests, of having films supervised by “well-known historical professors” – though it remains that the professors may willingly subvert the facts in exchange for tenure and a paycheck.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Historically Inaccurate Cinema of 1936

“Those of us who are interested in the presentation of correct history will read with interest an editorial which appeared in a recent Christian Science Monitor on historical films. While the writer deplores the fact that so many historical personages and events are treated inaccurately, yet he expresses his belief that better days are in the offing. The editorial says:

“The rising tide of historical films is rapidly sweeping away the bridges of knowledge that have been laboriously and slowly built over the wastes of popular ignorance. Such is the opinion of the effect of the recent state if historical films, expressed at the last annual meeting of the Historical Society of London.

The Society can easily back up its assertions with concrete instances. Henry VIII, who ruled over England with some strength at one of the most crucial periods of its existence, has been represented to millions of cinemagoers in all parts of the world as a mere buffoon. Catherine of Russia, one of the sternest and fiercest of governors has been shown as a sentimental schoolgirl.

But the French ruler who permitted Joan of Arc to go to the stake had perhaps better treatment than he deserved in a recent picture. Nor are such travesties confined to English-speaking films. The whole trend of serious historical study nowadays is to get away from attaching undue importance to personalities. This the screen is counteracting, regrettably, in an inaccurate manner. But there are signs that better days are approaching.

One large film company is this year extending its program of definitely educational pictures. Its first venture will be supervised by a well-known historical professor. This is perhaps only a small thing, but it may be the beginning of a more conscientious era of historical films.”

(The Main Street of the South, Anne V. Mann, Historical Films Not Always Accurate, The Southern Magazine, Volume II, Number 11, May 1936)

Machines and Objectivity

The Southern historian’s view of the conflict is not considered objective unless “he accepts and proclaims the Northern (i.e., “national”) interpretation of Southern things.”  A non-Northern viewpoint is considered by court historians as merely perpetuating the “myth of the Lost Cause.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Machines and Objectivity

“Once, years ago, a Southern historian beckoned me aside and led me to a room . . . “Look,” he said. An enormous machine occupied about half the room, and a graduate assistant was feeding punch cards into it. With inhuman noise and precision, the machine was sorting the cards.

The historian closed the door upon the noise and, with a kind of Stonewall Jackson glint in his eye, explained. Documentation, he said – mere documentation – would never convince the North. Mere argument was futile.

But if he could say, in a footnote to his forthcoming publication, that the figures in his statistical tables had been achieved by the assistance of a card-sorting machine (he would carefully cite the machine’s name and model), then the Yankees might hearken to both his documentation and his argument.

The machine, a guarantee of his “objectivity,” would remove his work from the area of suspicion that a study originating in the South would normally occupy.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 180-181)

No One-Dimensional History

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.”

Free Soil Iowa Without Black People

The free soil and anti-slavery mantras of the prewar Republican party meant confining the black man to the South and reserving the western territories to European immigrants who did not want to compete with cheap labor. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans felt that the best use of the territories was “for homes of free white people”; Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois admitted the white supremacy basis of his party, stating that “We, the Republican party, are the white man’s party.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Free Soil Iowa Without Black People

“It is surprising that so many forceful anti-Negro views could be aired on the frontier and yet escape the scrutiny of so many historians. At the constitutional conventions of almost every western State, the single most pressing question was the admission or status of the black population. “Shall the territories be Africanized?” was the way Senator James Harlan of Iowa phrased it.

Both proslavery and antislavery delegates vied with each other in verbalizing their resentment of black people, and their insistence that equality was entirely unacceptable to white residents of the States. Some even jeopardized their State’s admission to the Union by offering anti-Negro laws that were in clear violation of the wishes of Congress. And, as the slavery controversy grew and civil war appeared more imminent, colorphobia increased in the western States.

The 1850 Indiana Constitutional Convention illustrated the fury of this colorphobia. One delegate argued:

“. . . that we can never live together upon an equality is as certain as that no two antagonistic principles can exist together at the same time.”

Comments at the 1844 Iowa Constitutional Convention [were]:

“We could never consent to open the doors of our beautiful State and invite [the black] to settle our lands.”

“The ballot box would fall into his hands and a train of evils would follow that would be incalculable.”

“The Negro not being a party to the government, has no right to partake of its privileges.”

“There are strong reasons to induce the belief that the two races could not exist in the same government upon an equality without discord and violence.”

[The Iowa Journal of History, Vol. I]

(The Black West, William Loren Katz, Open Hand Publishing, 1987, pp. 49-50)

Federal Government as an Ideal

Federal Government as an Ideal

“I wish, however, to enter my protest against that interpretation of American history that would make the Southern States the anvil on which federal government wrought out its greatest victory. This widespread misconception of our history implies that there were two sections in the United States, one seeking to uphold federal government, the other to overthrow it. That is not true.

Federal government as a principle, as an ideal, was not at stake, but only a particular form of federal government.

The first paragraph of the Constitution of the United States declares that we, the people of the United States, do ordain and establish this Constitution “in order to form a more perfect union.”

The first paragraph of the Constitution of the Confederate States of America declares that we, the people of the Confederate States, do ordain and establish this Constitution “in order to from a more permanent federal government.”

Scrutinize these two paragraphs as you will, the advantage for federal government as an ideal does not lie with the first.”

(Our Heritage of Idealism, C. Alphonso Smith, Address (excerpt) delivered at the University of South Carolina, January 11, 1912)

Lincoln's Revised Gettysburg Address

Those in attendance at Lincoln’s November 1863 short address after Edward Everett’s long speech were disappointed and Lincoln himself described his remarks as a “wet blanket.” After his assassination, presumably by Radical Republicans who wanted him out of the way, Lincoln’s apotheosis began.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Lincoln’s Revised Gettysburg Address

“General Donn Piatt, who traveled with Lincoln during his campaign and knew Lincoln perhaps as well as any man: “When a leader dies all good men go to lying about him. Abraham Lincoln has almost disappeared from human knowledge. I hear of him, I read of him in eulogies and biographies, but fail to recognize the man I knew in life . . . Lincoln faced and lived through the awful responsibility of war with a courage that came from indifference.”

Ward Lamon, intimate friend of Lincoln and his United States Marshal for the District of Columbia, and Colonel in the Secret Service; Historian Shepherd of Baltimore; W.H. Cunningham of the Montgomery (Missouri) Star, who sat right behind Lincoln at Gettysburg, all agreed and publicly stated that the speech published was not the one delivered by Lincoln . . .

[B]oth Edward Everett and [Secretary of State William] Seward expressed their disappointment and there was no applause; that Lincoln said: “Lamon, that speech was like a wet blanket on the audience. I am distressed by it.”

These gentlemen who heard the speech all say that the speech delivered was not the one which has been so extensively printed. Even [Lincoln secretary John] Nicolay says: “It was revised.”

William H. Herndon, under whom Lincoln began his law practice and longtime friend, wrote one of the first biographies of Lincoln, “Story of a Great Life,” but because of its frankness in unfolding the life of Lincoln it was bought up and suppressed. It was republished some years later, much modified . . . Lamon, in his “Life of Lincoln,” said:

“The ceremony of Mr. Lincoln’s apotheosis was planned and executed after his death by men who were unfriendly to him while he lived. Men who had exhausted the resources of their skill and ingenuity in venomous distractions of the living Lincoln were first after his death to undertake the task of guarding his memory, not as a human being, but as a god. Among those participating in the apotheosis Lamon names Seward, Edwin Stanton, Thad Stevens and Charles Sumner.”

(Two Presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, The Naylor Company, 1973, pp. 78-79)

 

Coolidge's Manufactured Lies Passing as History

Long before the Fort Sumter collision at Charleston, efforts to avoid armed conflict were pursued by the South to settle its differences with the North and avoid bloodshed. From the Crittenden Compromise of late 1860 to the Confederate commissioners sent to Washington in March of 1861 — to the Hampton Roads Conference of February 1865, the Southern statesmen worked diligently to both avert and end the war. It becomes very clear that as one reviews the timeline of peace initiatives and conferences that one side wanted peace, and the other wanted war.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Coolidge’s Manufactured Lies Passing as History

“After all, President Coolidge’s first installment of our history to set off Borglum’s group on a Western mountainside did not please the sculptor, and he wrote the history himself which is to be chiseled in stone and go down the ages! Who can say that it was not least as good as the ex-President’s?

At Gettysburg, on May 30, President [Herbert] Hoover exhibited to a marked degree that strange ignorance or that determined avoidance of the truth of history which we see when a speaker has to place Abraham Lincoln in that niche which had been fashioned for him by what Mr. Mencken calls “prostitute historians,” and which has now been accepted by the north, by the world, and even by the larger part of the South, which is both servile and ignorant, and yet it is a niche which shames truth and degrades history!

[Hoover] stated, in effect, that all the blood and horror and tears of the “Civil” War might have been avoided had the people been possessed of the human kindness and tolerance of Abraham Lincoln.

There could scarcely have been fashioned a statement which would have done more violence to the truth. The veriest tyro in history research must know that Abraham Lincoln was a part of, and largely cooperated with, that group which thought that “a little bloodletting will be good for this nation.”

Everyone not an ignoramus in Southern history must know that Lincoln opposed sending delegates to that compromise or peace convention which might, at the last moment, have devised some means for avoidance of the holocaust. Everyone not determined to make a point at expense of truth must know that Lincoln, secretly, determinedly, and almost alone, sent that fleet of reinforcements and supplies to Fort Sumter, and thus, as five of his cabinet had told him, brought on the war inevitably.

Lincoln did much to inaugurate war, and there is no word of history which sets forth the fact that he did any act or uttered any word which would have avoided war, and yet, in a speech which was to reach the ears of the world, President Hoover, at Gettysburg, makes the statement, totally devoid of accuracy, that we might have avoided war had we been possessed of the human kindness and tolerance of Abraham Lincoln, the man who more than any other, or any group of others, is responsible, as worthy historians now set forth, for the inauguration of four years of horror in this country.

We sometimes wonder if the Yankees do not get weary themselves of this incessant round of prevarication, or are they so steeped in this false history that they cannot see the truth. We know of many instances, which have come directly to our knowledge, where they refuse the truth when it is demonstrated to them. But are all of them that way?

Or is it just a part of the price, this living lie, which we, as a conquered people here in the South, must pay in order to establish the truth of that time-old statement which sets forth that a conquered people must have their history written by their conquerors, as has been done since Ur of the Chaldees, and submit, gracefully or otherwise, to the inevitable sequence of this, that our history shall be nothing but manufactured lies.”

(Our History in High Places, Arthur H. Jennings, Past Historian in Chief, SCV, Confederate Veteran, July 1930, pp. 254-255)

 

Making the South a Political and Social Inferno

Famed historian Douglas Southall Freeman edited the Richmond News Leader from 1915 to 1949 and lived by the maxim prominently displayed in his office: “Time alone is irreplaceable. Waste is not.” He lived to regret supporting Woodrow Wilson’s war in 1917, feeling that he had been swept up in the psychosis of war hysteria. In his commentary on the Republican party below, Freeman mentions the notorious GOP method of ballots being “distributed wholesale to rascals who were divided into “blocks of five” and paid to cast them illegally.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Making the South a Political and Social Inferno

“On the political front, Freeman was writing his first partisan editorials on behalf of [Woodrow] Wilson’s reelection. Virginia was reliably Democratic . . . [and] Freeman lashed the Republicans with gusto and turned loose his most vicious attack with a history-laden philippic. “Yes, the country knows” about the Republican party he wrote:

“It knows that during the forty-seven years and more of power of their party since the close of the war between the States the Republicans, in 1876, stole the presidency, and in 1880 bought it with their “blocks of five.” It knows that they forced upon the South the reconstruction additions to the Constitution in violation of that instrument; it knows that they turned loose upon the South an army of alien cormorants to prey upon what little substance was left us after the wreck of the war.

It knows that they made parts of the South political and social infernos, and that in malice and envy they aimed to uproot and destroy the very foundations of Southern civilization. The country also knows that they, the Republicans . . . retarded Southern industrial recuperation and Development . . . bound the nation to a juggernaut of robber protection . . . and perpetuated a banking and currency system that entrenched a currency monopoly.”

Freeman tended to be more restrained in his attacks on the Republican nominee for president, former Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes. “We have had in previous years a high respect for Mr. Hughes,” he wrote, “and we have believed him a man of courage and capacity.” Now that he was the leader of “the party responsible for the most criminal class legislation the United States has ever seen,” Freeman dismissed him as a “camp-following wagon-driver.”

(Douglas Southall Freeman, David E. Johnson, Pelican Publishing, 2002, pp. 120-121)

Beware Demagogues Seducing the Gullible

The late Southern conservative M.E. Bradford understood that the centrality of freedom was the core of Southerners’ insistence on their right to govern their private and local affairs in their own way, and the same for citizens of all other States. He held that “the only equality Americans can universally approve is accidental, a corollary of liberty or simple equality before the law with limited scope.” Bradford made his readers aware of Lenin’s belief that the only way to make men equal is to treat them unequally.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Beware Demagogues Seducing the Gullible

“The wrath [Bradford] directed against Lincoln, like the wrath he directed against Julia Ward Howe, the authors of the Reconstruction amendments, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and all those who had imposed the teleological will of an instrumental government and judiciary upon an unsuspecting nation, had little to do with personal animosity.

It stemmed from his indignation against people he viewed as so intellectually blind as to be incapable of understanding the enormity they had wrought or so morally blind as not to care, provided only that they accomplished their immediate ends. Such attitudes, for Bradford, embodied the reverse – indeed the repudiation – of the obligations of stewardship and amounted to the despoiling of the children as well as the desecration of the fathers.

Bradford refused to apologize for the severity of his message – that the Northern victory had extracted a terrible cost from the country and its culture. Rejecting the cult of equality as the opiate of the intellectuals, Bradford rejected the fashionable identification of the Declaration of Independence with the Constitution, referring to “the Great Divide of the War Between the States.”

He explained: “it has been more and more the habit of our historians, jurists, and political scientists to read the Continental Enlightenment, and the Age of Revolution that was its political consequence, back into the beginnings of our national beginnings by way of an anachronistic gloss upon the Declaration of Independence.”

He constantly reminds his readers that the Constitution, not the Declaration, embodies the country’s law, which it exists to articulate and protect. Thus, he argues in an uncharacteristically optimistic vein, the “Constitution makes it difficult or even impossible for us to alter our political identity on whim or when momentarily carried away by the adjuration of demagogues.”

By the time Bradford died [in 1993], he had reason to know that the American political identity he cherished was under formidable assault, primarily at the hands of the Supreme Court justices – those supposed custodians and interpreters of the Constitution itself.

Experience and history taught Bradford, as he believed they had taught the Framers, that in politics one must conjoin the “caution of David Hume and the pessimism of Saint Paul,” especially with respect to the seductive promises of demagogues. In the time of the Framers, as in our own, he insisted, caution and pessimism should lead to a deep mistrust of the myths of equality with which demagogues love to seduce the more gullible of the citizenry, and he approvingly quoted Rufus King of Massachusetts, “the unnatural Genius of Equality [is] the arch Enemy of the moral world.”

(M.E. Bradford’s Historical Vision, EF & ED Genovese; A Defender of Southern Conservatism, M.E. Bradford and His Achievements, Clyde N. Wilson, editor, University of Missouri Press, 1999, pp. 79-82)

Vindicating the South

The articles of Dr. Albert Taylor Bledsoe would often express “in vigorous language . . . the best types of literature of the conservative point of view” from the South. In battling against the inevitable tendencies of modernity changing the postwar South, he reminded Southerners that their civilization was one to cherish and perpetuate.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Vindicating the South:

“The most indefatigable champion of the Southern cause was the Southern Review, established January, 1867, by Alfred Taylor Bledsoe, formerly professor of mathematics in the University of Virginia and the author of the noteworthy book entitled “Is Davis a Traitor?” A man of undoubted intellectual power and with remarkable energy and resourcefulness, he had already during the war, by his studies in the British Museum, made himself familiar with the first hand sources necessary for the study of early American history.

He brought back into the South the point of view of John C. Calhoun and gave forth the arguments in favor of secession with searching logic and a scholarship that was more exact than that of the great statesman himself. He conceived it to be his duty through the Review to give permanent statements to the ideas that had been fought for by the Southern people. He would not let any criticism of his course to change him in his desire to set forth the Southern point of view.

“Shall we bury in the grave of the grandest cause that has ever perished on earth, all the little stores of history and philosophy which a not altogether idle life has enabled us to enmass, and so leave the just cause, merely because it has fallen, to go without our humble advocacy? We would rather die.”

He quoted with great gusto the words of Robert E. Lee: “Doctor, you must take care of yourself; you have a great work to do; we all look to you for our vindication.” None of the discouragement incident to the management of the Review or threatened poverty could for one moment cause him to swerve from his frequently expressed object. In a long article in Vol. VIII, in pleading with the Southern people to stand by him in the fight, he says:

“To abandon The Southern Review would be like the pain of death to me. It is the child of my affections. Money is not my object. I am willing to work for the South; nay, I am willing to be a slave for the South. Nothing but an unconquerable zeal in the cause of the South and of the truth, could have sustained us under the heavy pressure of its doubts, its difficulties, its trials, and its vexations in spirit.”

He has no sympathy for modern democracy, for to him it was the child of infidelity. He is opposed to all the tendencies of modern science, for it tends to destroy the faith of mankind. He is opposed to industrialism, looking upon it as the enemy to all that is chivalric and beautiful in civilization. He will have nought to do with German philosophy or German criticism, for they are both the inaugurators of the reign of radicalism and rationalism.”

(The South in the Building of the Nation, Volume VII, Edwin Mims, Southern Historical Publication Society, 1909, pp. 463-465)

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