Browsing "Historical Amnesia/Cleansing"

History Should Revere the Truth

The report of the History Committee below expressed concern that “tens of thousands of boys and girls are growing up into manhood and womanhood throughout the South, with improper ideas concerning the struggle between the States; and with distorted conceptions concerning the causes” of the war. They sought remedies for this deplorable state of affairs.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

History Should Revere the Truth

“We have asked each member of our committee to urge upon each camp in his State the importance of gathering reliable data for the use of the future historian. This is a sacred duty that we owe to the living and to the dead and to those who are yet unborn. The establishment of truth is never wrong.

When we realize, as all of us must, that from the gloom of overwhelming defeat at the hands of superior numbers a righteous cause arises and appeals to posterity to render the verdict in accordance with the truth, loyalty to the memories of our dead, patriotism, and self-respect all urge us to go forward in our work till we are amply repaid for all of our labors by a glorious consummation of our undertaking.

Your committee has made an earnest effort to ascertain what United States histories are used in the schools of this republic. We have, so far, not found a single Southern history north of the Ohio and Potomac Rivers. I

In the South thousands of schools use Northern histories. We do not condemn any work solely on the ground that it is a Northern publication . . . What we desire placed in the hands of the millions of American youth is a work that metes out exact justice to both sections of our great country; a work that tells the truth, and nothing but the truth.

Below, we give an extract from an article recently written by a man of Northern birth, Northern education, and Northern principles. The subject that he discusses is “Unfair School Histories.” In speaking of some recent Southern publications, he objects to them because they glorify the South rather than the whole Union. He says:

“It cannot be supposed that such histories will have a permanent place in any school of our land, but why are they adopted in preference to those hitherto in use? Because the books of Northern authorship exhibit an offensive and unfair sectional bias. Northerners may not see it, but it is there. Our school histories seem to need revision.

Do our [Northern] textbooks impress the fact that slavery existed in many of the northern States also in the early years of the century? That it was New England votes, combined with those of the extreme South, that prolonged the slave trade twenty years, against the protest of the middle South? Do our school children realize that secession was boldly and widely advocated in New England in 1814?

Do they think of the Southern leaders as high-minded, noble, and devout men, who fought with consummate bravery? Are we clearly taught that many of those leaders were in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery? That the questions involved were open to honest differences of opinion? That financial considerations unconsciously biased the views of both North and South on slavery?

The truest history, as well as the most patriotic, is that which gives great emphasis to the heroism and honesty, the manliness and Christian character, of the combatants on both sides. No history is worth a place in our schools that is not written in this spirit.

We therefore recommend that there be a committee of three in each State to work in conjunction with similar committees from the Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy. Let each committee find out what histories are used in the different counties; find out their inaccuracies, and point them out to the various county boards of education and to the people generally.

Patriots everywhere recognize the fact that the continued denunciation and misrepresentation of any part of a common people is a danger to all, and an infamy to all. Let the histories that our children study revere the truth, and we shall be satisfied. Let them record that . . . the South stood on lines of self-defense in battle and in doctrine . . . that the South fought honestly and fearlessly, and that when its banner was furled upon its folds not a stain was there to mar its beauty.”

(United Sons of Confederate Veterans, Report of the History Committee, Confederate Veteran, January 1900, pp. 18-20)

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)

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

Major Joseph A. Engelhard points out below that the American South did not populate itself with African slaves, this was done by others.  It is true that Providence, Rhode Island was the slave trading capital of North America by 1750, wresting this dubious honor from Liverpool.  Further, the voracious cotton mills of antebellum New England needed slave-produced raw material and Manhattan bankers advanced attractive loans to Southern planters to expend their operations.  Engelhard served in the Thirty-third North Carolina Regiment 1861-65, was elected North Carolina Secretary of State in 1876, and in 1878 encouraged young Southern men at the University of North Carolina to be proud of their forefathers and the country and constitution they created.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Healing the Victims of the Avarice of Others

“If in any part of the United States there exists moral deformity, or outrage, or unseemly appearance of social or political evil, you can say that no portion of it can be traced to our door. It is true, we have been charged with the error and evil of Slavery, but history and the verdict of all men must be that slavery was introduced here against our will, first by the Dutch and afterwards by the Slave Merchants of the North.

Upon the garments of the South there is no stain of the “Slave Trade.” Those infamies and the profits of that traffic alike, belong to others.

Our lot has been to civilize, to humanize, to Christianize the victims of the avarice of others. Like men we fought for the institution, not, however, for its sake, but because through it all our sacred rights were assailed. The men who proclaimed victory at Mecklenburg; the men who fought seven years for it afterwards; the men who built the country’s strongest entrenchments in the Constitution; who extended most widely its area; who illustrated it with most honor in the National Councils, and who exposed and lost all to defend every approach of danger to it, never – never could be truly charged with the responsibility for human Slavery.

One thing all men must say of us, that the Southern people in two hundred years did more to elevate and render good and happy the African than all the world in all time ever did. And upon that record we stand.”

(Address of the Hon. Joseph A. Engelhard, Before the Philanthropic and Dialectic Societies of the University of North Carolina, June 1878, Edwards & Broughton & Co., 1879, pp. 11-12)

Harvard's Southern Club

Seventy-one Harvard alumni served in the Confederate military 1861-65 yet are not recognized today in that institution’s Memorial Hall. Interest in Harvard’s Confederate alumnus continued postwar  and in late January 1922 two donation checks were received for the Lee-Memorial Chapel at Lexington, Virginia – one from Boston Herald editor Robert L. O’Brien and a Harvard professor who had “asked the privilege of contributing to this fund.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Harvard’s Southern Club

“One of the most pleasant literary occasions of my experience was a dinner in Boston given by the Southern Club of Harvard in honor of Thomas Nelson Page and Hopkinson Smith, who were then on a tour giving readings from their own works. At this dinner the honored guests held the center of the stage.

At the Southern Club I met many undergraduates; these acquaintances introduced me to others on the outside, who in turn sometimes took me to their clubs, the most interesting perhaps being the Hasty Pudding with its large collection of things theatrical.

Many of the law students ate at Memorial Hall . . . I recall . . . Bart Gatlin[g] of Raleigh, son of the inventor of the Gatlin[g] Gun; [and] John C. Breckinridge, grandson and namesake of a vice-president of the United States.

At my own table sat a student prematurely bald whom we called “the bald-headed infidel” because he was fond of spouting his atheistic ideas, who in turn took delight in speaking of the Southern Club as “the Secesh Club.”

(Son of Carolina, Augustus White Long, Duke University Press, 1939, pp. 196-199)

The Legacy of the War

Author Robert Penn Warren writes below of “The Treasury of Virtue,” the psychological heritage left to the North by the War and the irrefutable basis of its long-serving Myth of Saving the Union. With his armies victorious the Northerner was free “to write history to suit his own deep needs . . . and knows, as everybody knows, that the war saved the Union.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

The Legacy of the War 

“When one is happy in forgetfulness, facts get forgotten. In the happy contemplation of the Treasury of Virtue it is forgotten that the Republican platform of 1860 pledged protection to the institution of slavery where it existed, and that the Republicans were ready, in 1861, to guarantee slavery in the South, as bait for a return to the Union.

It is forgotten that in July, 1861, both houses of Congress, by an almost unanimous vote, affirmed that the War was waged not to interfere with the institutions of any State but only to maintain the Union.

The War, in the words of the House resolution, should cease “as soon as these objects are accomplished.” It is forgotten that the Emancipation Proclamation, issued on September 23, 1862, was limited and provisional: slavery was to be abolished only in the seceded States and only if they did not return to the Union before the first of the next January.

It is forgotten that the Proclamation was widely disapproved [in the North] and even contributed to the serious setbacks to Republican candidates for office in the subsequent election.

It is forgotten that, as Lincoln himself freely admitted, the Proclamation itself was of doubtful constitutional warrant and was forced by circumstances; that only after a bitter and prolonged struggle in Congress was the Thirteenth Amendment sent, as late as January, 1865, to the States for ratification; and that all of Lincoln’s genius as a horse trader (here the deal was Federal patronage swapped for Democratic votes) was needed to get Nevada admitted to Statehood, with its guaranteed support of the Amendment.

It is forgotten that even after the Fourteenth Amendment, not only Southern States, but Northern ones, refused to adopt Negro suffrage, and that Connecticut had formally rejected it a late as July, 1865.

It is forgotten that Sherman, and not only Sherman, was violently opposed to arming Negroes against white troops. It is forgotten that . . . racism was all too common in the liberating army. It is forgotten that only the failure of Northern volunteering overcame the powerful prejudice against accepting Negro troops, and allowed “Sambo’s Right to be Kilt,” — as the title of a contemporary song had it.

It is forgotten that racism and Abolitionism might, and often did, go hand in hand. This was true even in the most instructed circles [as James T. Ayers, clergyman, committed abolitionist and Northern recruiting officer for Negro troops confided to his diary] that freed Negroes would push North and “soon they will be in every whole and Corner, and the Bucks will be wanting to gallant our Daughters Round.” It is forgotten, in fact, that history is history.

Despite all this, the war appears, according to the doctrine of the Treasury of Virtue, as a consciously undertaken crusade so full of righteousness that there is enough oversurplus stored in Heaven, like the deeds of the saints, to take care of all small failings and oversights of the descendants of the crusaders, certainly unto the present generation. The crusaders themselves, back from the wars, seemed to feel that they had finished the work of virtue.

[Brooks Adams pronounced] “Can we look over the United States and honestly tell ourselves that all things are well within us?” [Adams] with his critical, unoptimistic mind, could not conceal it from himself, but many could; and a price was paid for the self delusion.

As Kenneth Stampp, an eminent Northern historian and the author of a corrosive interpretation of slavery, puts it: “The Yankees went to war animated by the highest ideals of the nineteenth-century middle classes . . . But what the Yankees achieved – for their generation at least – was a triumph not of middle class ideals but of middle class vices. The most striking products of their crusade were the shoddy aristocracy of the North and the ragged children of the South. Among the masses of Americans there were no victors, only the vanquished.”

(The Legacy of the Civil War, Robert Penn Warren, University of Nebraska Press, 1998, pp. 60-65)

Angela Grimke's Cornerstone of the Republic

Poor Alexander H. Stephens!

The Vice President of the American Confederacy’s informal speech to a Savannah audience in March 1861 is used to verify that the defense of slavery is all the new experiment in American government was about — and despite the fact that Stephen’s remarks were simply imperfect reporter’s notes and we are not even sure if he uttered those exact words.

If Stephen’s indeed mentioned “cornerstone and African slavery” in the same sentence in Savannah, he most likely was referring to Charleston abolitionist Angelina Grimke’ who some 25 years before said this about the United States.

Angelina’s speech in 1836 was entitled “An Appeal to the Christian Women of the South” and its topic anti-slavery. Both she and her sister were born into wealth in Charleston, SC — and later moved to the former center of the transatlantic slave trade, New England, to become Quakers and join William Lloyd Garrison’s abolition movement. There the Grimke’ sisters perhaps not only engaged in serious abolitionist discourse but also discovered that the slavery they abhorred was a mostly New England enterprise, and supported by its notorious rum trade with Africa.

Grimke stated in her appeal that “The interests of the North . . . are very closely combined with those of the South. The Northern merchants and manufacturers are making their fortunes out of the produce of slave labor . . . [and] the North is most dreadfully afraid of Amalgamation. She is alarmed at the very idea of a thing so monstrous, as she thinks. And lest this consequence might flow from emancipation, she is determined to resist all efforts at emancipation without expatriation. It is not because she [the North] approves of slavery, or believes it to be “the cornerstone of our republic,” for she is as much anti-slavery as we are; but amalgamation is too horrible to think of.” (see “Against Slavery, An Abolitionist Reader,” Angelina & Sarah Moore Grimke’, Penguin Books, 2000).

Stephen’s wrote in his Recollection’s that he spoke extemporaneously in his Savannah speech, and the reporter’s notes he reviewed afterward “were imperfect” contained “glaring errors.” He goes on to explain the contents of his speech with “The relation of the black to the white race, or the proper status of the colored population amongst us, was a question now of vastly more importance than when the Constitution was formed. The order of subordination is nature’s great law; philosophy taught that order as the normal condition of the African amongst European races. Upon this recognized principle of a proper subordination, let it be called slavery or what not, our State institutions were formed and rested. The principle of the subordination of the inferior to the superior was the “cornerstone” on which it was formed. I used this metaphor merely to illustrate the firm convictions of the framers of the new Constitution that this relation of the black to the white race, which existed in 1787 . . . The status of the African race in the new Constitution was left just where it was in the old; I affirmed and meant to affirm nothing else in this Savannah speech” (Recollections of  Alexander H. Stephens, 1910/1998, LSU Press).

Thus Stephens viewed African slavery in the same way as the abolitionists who sought secession from the United States by New England, to separate themselves from what they saw as the evil cornerstone of the United States. And the Confederacy incorporated nothing more than what the United States already had recognized as a domestic institution of the States, to be accepted or eradicated in time by each State.  This raises the obvious question: If the abolitionists were opposed to slavery, why did they not advance a peaceful and practical emancipation proposal as did England in the 1840s with compensated emancipation?

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

The belief that the Northern soldier fought for the emancipation of the black man is a long-standing myth and coupled with the parallel myth that Lincoln saved the Union. The army of occupation brought an alien culture to the South which looted farms and left destitute American women and children without food or the means to survive.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

No Full-Blown Yankee Heroes

[Diary Entry] June 5, Monday [1865]:

“A Yankee came this morning before breakfast and took one of father’s mules out of the plow. He showed an order from “Marse” Abraham and said he would bring the mule back, but of course we never expect to see it again. I peeped through the blinds, and such a looking creature, I thought, would be quite capable of burning Columbia. [Northern] Capt. Schaeffer . . . He not only will not descend to associate with Negroes himself, but tries to keep his men from doing it, and when runaways come to town, he either has them thrashed and sent back home, or put to work on the streets and made to earn their rations.

People are so outraged at the indecent behavior going on in our midst that many good Christians have absented themselves from the Communion Table because they say they don’t feel fit to go there while such bitter hatred as they feel towards the Yankees has a place in their hearts. The Methodists have a revival meeting going on, and last night one of our soldier boys went up to be prayed for, and a Yankee went right up after and knelt at his side. The Reb was so overcome with emotion that he didn’t know a Yankee was kneeling beside him . . . Some of the boys who were there told me they were sorry to see a good Confederate going to heaven in such bad company.”

[Diary Entry] June 6, Tuesday:

Strange to say the Yankee brought back father’s mule that was taken yesterday — which Garnett says is pretty good evidence that it wasn’t worth stealing.

They are making a great ado in their Northern newspapers, about the “robbing of the Virginia banks by the Confederates” but not a word is said in their public prints about the $300,000 they stole from the bank at Greenville, S.C., not the thousands they have taken in spoils from private houses, as well as the banks, since these angels of peace descended upon us. They have everything their own way now, and can tell what tales they please on us, but justice will come yet. Time brings its revenges, though it may move but slowly.

Some future Motley or Macaulay will tell the truth about our cause, and some unborn Walter Scott will spread the halo of romance around it. In all the poems and romances that shall be written about this war, I prophesy that the heroes will all be rebels, or if Yankees, from some loyal Southern State. The bare idea of a full-blown Yankee hero or heroine is preposterous. They made no sacrifices, they suffered no loss, and there is nothing on their side to call up scenes of pathos or heroism.

(The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, Eliza Frances Andrews, D. Appleton, 1908, pp. 287-290)

Defending Lee and Southern Heritage

A past historian of Lee’s Arlington mansion, Murray Nelligan, understood that Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton determined that the Lee family should never occupy their home again — placing a hospital on the grounds and a village for Negro refugees from the South. Not stopping there, he had a tax levied on the property which required payment by the owner in person. A relative of Mrs. Lee offered to pay the tax, but the authorities decided that such a procedure did not fulfill the letter of the law, so the estate was put up for sale at public auction on January 11, 1864, in Alexandria, Virginia. Congressman Graham Barden lectured Northern women on their continued sectional bitterness.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.circa1865.org

 

Defending Lee and Southern Heritage

“Barden’s opportunity to appear as a champion of the South occurred when a delegation of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic appeared before the [House] Library Committee to oppose a resolution to erect a memorial to Robert E. Lee near the mansion in Arlington.

Barden sat quietly and uncomfortably until the ladies attack upon Southern generals and the Confederacy turned into a tirade against the South and all Southerners. Then, as the only Southerner present on the committee, Barden came to the defense of not only Robert E. Lee, but of Southern heritage.

The congressman declared that he had “never heard such sectional bitterness expressed.” Answering the women’s insistence that Arlington National Cemetery was a “Union and not a Confederate graveyard” and that even though a few Confederate dead were buried there, Arlington was not a place to honor Confederates, Barden pointed out that in his home town of New Bern [North Carolina] a thousand Union soldiers were buried with honor in a beautiful cemetery.

He continued: “We of the South do not propose to keep our brains and characters befogged by bitterness and prejudice. The hospitality of the South has never been questioned, not even by a dead Union soldier.” [New Bern Sun-Journal, April 27, 1935]

The effectiveness of Barden’s position was apparent when the committee voted to report the Memorial bill favorably.”

(Graham A. Barden, Conservative Carolina Congressman, Elmer L. Puryear, Campbell University Press, 1979, excerpts, pp. 22-23)

 

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.”

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