American Historians and Their History

Quickly becoming a people devoid of a historical memory, the United States as a proposition nation will continue to rewrite or invent history to suit the political and entertainment industry elite, and their subject peoples.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

American Historians and Their History:

“Almost a lifetime of considering what historianship is, I am satisfied that what it is or should be is storytelling. Assuredly it cant be a scientific experiment, nor a logical proposition, nor the illustration of a theory. Our existence is drama, that is, a story, taking place in the mind of God. Through history we have our only knowledge of the mysterious drama of our existence beyond what has been granted us as Revelation.

I like the delightful saying of the English historian Veronica Wedgewood: “History is not a science – it is an art, like all the other sciences.” Or more seriously, we can make the same point by calling on John Lukac’s perfect definition: “History is a kind of memory, organized and supported by evidence.” With emphasis on the evidence. In asserting that history is not certainty, I don’t deny that there are varying degrees of honesty and competence in the handling of evidence that allow us to judge the quality of a historian’s work.

If history is best understood as a story, at least two things follow. First, a story – like that of the Alamo – is somebody’s story – it is not everybody’s story as is claimed by those with an agenda, whether they be nationalist ideologues or mulitculturalists. Everybody can learn from a story, but if it is to be real and valid, it is some people’s story. It follows that American in our time cannot have a real history because America today does not have a real people.

There was a time, peaking in the World War II era, when the inhabitants of this vast and diverse nation-state almost mingled into one people. That opportunity is now past. The inhabitants of the United States are corralled under the same territorial monopoly of force and exploitation; they share the same bread and circuses.

They are not a people, only the motley subjects of an empire. Aggregations of Oprah watchers, sports fans, and mall shoppers do not make a people. After Augustus the story of Rome ceases to be the story of a heroic and patriotic people. The Roman people pass from sight. The history of rome becomes only an account of more or less evil emperors and a chaos of peoples without stories. Such is American in the era of Bush. The future history of the last national election can be written only as a meaningless contest in which the jocks barely beat out the nerds for possession of the imperial palace.

Most of the work of academic historians today can portray the American story in no other terms except as an abstract fantasy of oppressors and oppressed. No society has ever had more professional historians and devoted more resources to historical work of all kinds than modern America – or produced so many useless, irrelevant, and downright pernicious products. I know a historian who teaches that the great Virginians of the American Revolution were like the Taliban. Presumably because they carried weapons and were not feminists. This is to reduce human experience to a paltry and partial perspective, to remove from it everything that is worthwhile and ennobling, usable and true. But this is what academic historians mostly do these days.

A historian should be trying to say something true and useful about human beings, and doing so modestly and cautiously. No historian can discover indisputable truth, at least not about anything important. But that is what historians are claiming to do these days by reducing the drama of human experience to abstract, supposedly universal theory.”

(Defending Dixie, Searching for Fleas: American Historians and Their History, excerpt, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, pp. 44-45)

Nov 5, 2014 - Prescient Warnings    No Comments

Government Replete With Insupportable Evils

Patrick Henry was outspoken in his resistance to the adoption of the Constitution, pleading with the delegates to “consider what you are about to do before you part with [the articles of Confederation]”  He stated that history was replete with “instances of people losing their liberties by their own carelessness and the ambition of a few.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Government Replete With Insupportable Evils

“The [proposed United States] Constitution is said to have beautiful features; but when I come to examine these features, sir, they appear to me horribly frightful. Among other deformities, it has an awful squinting; it squints toward monarchy, and does not this raise indignation in the breast of every true American?

Your president may easily become king. Your Senate is so imperfectly constructed that your dearest rights may be sacrificed to what may be a small minority; and a very small minority may continue for ever interchangeably this government, altho horribly defective. Where are your checks in this government? Your strongholds will be in the hands of your enemies.

It is on a supposition that your American governors shall be honest that all the good qualities of this government are founded; but its defective and imperfect construction puts it in their power to perpetrate the worst of mischiefs should they be bad men; and, sir, would not all the world, from the Eastern to the Western Hemisphere, blame our distracted folly in resting our rights upon the contingency of our rulers being good or bad?

Show me the age and country where the rights and liberties of the people were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men without a consequent loss of liberty! I say that the loss of that dearest privilege has ever followed, with absolute certainty, every such mad attempt.

If your American chief be a man of ambition and abilities, how easy is it for him to render himself absolute? The army is in his hands, and if he be a man of address, it will be attached to him, and it will be the subject of long meditation with him to seize the first auspicious moment to accomplish his design, and, sir, will the American spirit solely relieve you when this happens?

I would rather infinitely – and I am sure most of this Convention are of the same opinion — have a king, lords, and commons, than a government so replete with such insupportable evils. If we make a king we may prescribe the rules by which he shall rule his people, and interpose such checks as shall prevent him from infringing them; but the president, in the field, at the head of his army, can prescribe the terms on which he shall reign master, so far that it will puzzle any American ever to get his neck from under the galling yoke.

But, sir, where is the existing force to punish him? Can he not, at the head of his army, beat down every opposition? Away with your president! We shall have a king: the army will salute him monarch; your militia will leave you, and assist in making him king, and fight against you: and what have you to oppose this force? What will become of your rights? Will not absolute despotism prevail?

(Patrick Henry, “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death” speech, March 23, 1775, before the Second Revolutionary Convention of Virginia; The World’s Famous Orations, William Jennings Bryan, editor, Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1906, pp. 74-76)

Gilded Age Workers Endure

In 1876, the North had been free from the political and moral restraint of Southerner leaders for 15 years. This morally-superior North had been very concerned about the welfare of black slaves down South not long before, and who at the same time worked children and young women in unhealthy factories for fourteen hours a day. A decent and moral people need no laws to protect young children from abuse such as this, and yet Sumner, Thad Stevens, Garrison, Greeley, all the various abolitionists previously concerned about the plight of those cared for from cradle to grave, remained silent.

 

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Gilded Age Workers Endure:

 “Factory Life:  For those lucky enough not to be out of work, factory conditions were far from ideal. Skilled workers, who had earned $4.50 to $5 per day in 1873, in 1876 had their wages reduced to between $1.50 and $2. Nevertheless, the New York times chided workers for not accepting wage reductions necessitated by the 1873 Panic; why should skilled laborers who “earned liberal wages…sullenly refuse to accept any reduction…It seems almost incredible than men should be capable of such blind folly.”

Child Labor: In 1876 Massachusetts passed a child-labor law, but child-labor laws were not enforced and had no effect until years later. Thus in 1876, children worked long, hard days and were often involved in very dangerous work. Harper’s Weekly stated:

“Recent legislation in Massachusetts has introduced new regulations for protecting young children from overwork and neglect in factories and workshops. A law which went into operation last March [1876] forbade, under penalty of from twenty to fifty dollars, the employment in any manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile establishment of children under ten years of age at all, and of children under fourteen, unless during the preceding year the child has attended school at least ten consecutive weeks.”

John F. Weir, “Forging the Shaft, 1877:

“When a workingman was injured in shop, mine or on the railroad, the claim agent of the employing company would at once present himself with an instrument of agreement for the injured man and his wife, if he had one, to sign,” wrote Terrance Powderly. “By the terms of the instrument the company would be released from all responsibility in consideration of the payment of a few dollars. Let me tell you of one such case out of the hundreds I witnessed. A coal miner, a neighbor of mine, had his back injured through a fall of rock in the darkness of the mine. The claim agent called to see him; he asked for time to consider and sent for me. He had a wife and children, his means were meager. I advised against signing a release, and here is what he said: “I am buying this house from the company. If I don’t sign this release, I can never get a day’s work under that company or any other round here, for if I get well I’ll be blacklisted. When my next payment on the house falls due, or the interest not paid we’ll be thrown out on the street. With no work, no money, no friends, what will my wife and babies do? . . . ”

(America in 1876, The Plight of the Poor, Lally Weymouth, Vintage Books, 1976, page 195)

 

 

Bearing Their Afflictions With Philosophy and Christian Fortitude

The postwar South endured a swarm of curious Northerners: some journalists, many exploitive speculators, and often offensive bigots “who gave advice, condemned customs, asked obtrusive questions, and published tactless statements.” Despite New England’s large part in the African slave trade and perpetuation of slavery with its ravenous cotton mills, the North was determined that the South alone would be punished for the supposed sins of slavery.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Bearing Their Afflictions with Philosophy and Christian Fortitude

“The defeated Southerners were expected to make the sacrifices necessary for reforms favoring the Negro. They were willing to recognize the defeat of the Confederate armies, the freeing of the slaves, and the restoration of the Union. A considerable number with the fear of summary punishment before them were willing to repudiate the Confederacy with unseemly haste. A few – the first scalawags – were prepared to adopt the beliefs of the conquerors.

For the great majority, however, the tragic outcome of the war increased their hatred of Northerners, made Southern doctrines more precious, and invested the war leaders with an aura of heroism. Only the minimum demands of the victor were to be accepted. As soon as it became clear that the North would not be as vindictive as some imagined every reform suggested from the outside was contested bitterly.

Those among the conquerors who imagined that military defeat had reduced the white Southerners to impotence were to be unpleasantly surprised. Although defeated, these people were not without material resources. Despite threats of confiscation, the land remained mostly in their hands and agricultural possibilities partially compensated for decline in land values. All tools were not destroyed and many cities were unscathed or only partially wrecked.

The whites faced their difficulties with superb courage. “While clouds were dark and threatening,” wrote a Northern newspaper reporter, “I do not believe there was ever in the world’s history a people who bear their afflictions with more philosophy and Christian fortitude than these unfortunate people.” Women cheerfully returned to the kitchen and men turned to manual labor. A philosophy of hard work and close economy was preached, and every expedient which might lead out of the impasse of poverty and social stagnation was advanced.

The war had accustomed men to hardships, and the women had learned to manage plantations, maintain slave discipline, and endure privations. Certainly there was no ground for the belief, fostered by the romantics, that Southerners were a lazy and improvident lot who were helpless unless ministered to by faithful blacks. Actually, they were ready to assume duties previously exercised by Negroes, at the same time resisting Northern assaults on their inherited privileges.

They were backed in their policies by an assertive country folk who were accustomed to dwell on lands of their own, and who had a profound contempt for Northerners . . . had proved their stamina while serving in the Confederate army . . . [and] were ready to terrorize Yankees and Negroes alike if members of either group attempted to upset the traditional social order.”

(The South Old and New, A History, 1820-1947, Francis Butler Simkins, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 171-172)

 

Secret Society Radicals

The Union Leagues were able to muster such large memberships as many Northern white men stayed home while foreigners, impressed former slaves, and bounty-enriched substitutes were off fighting Americans in the South. The Union League quickly became a powerful propaganda arm of the radical Republican party, strong enough force Lincoln to remove conservative General John Schofield from command of the western department.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Secret Society Radicals:

“The first Union League was founded in Pekin, Illinois, by a Republican party activist, George F, Harlow.  As war weariness deepened, and the restraint that had held back dissenters in the early months of the war fell away, loyal Republicans became alarmed by the resurgence in support for the Democratic party. To combat this, they formed a secret society “whereby true Union men could be known and depended on in an emergency.” By the end of 1864 the Leagues claimed more than a million members.

In May 1863, the [Philadelphia] Press urged that the North unite “by any means” and called on Unionists to “silence every tongue that does not speak with respect of the cause and the flag.” Union Leagues institutionalized the denial of legitimate partisanship by conflating opposition to the Union [Republican] Party with disloyalty to the United States. “Men of the Northwest! Are you ready for Civil War?” asked an editorial in the radical Chicago Tribune, “the danger is imminent; the enemy is at your door . . . a Union Club or League ought to be formed in every town and placed in communication with the State central committee.” They formed vigilante groups, which reported suspected disloyalists to the War Department and called for the suppression of opposition newspapers. Leagues also mobbed the offices of several small-town newspapers whose editors had expressed support for Democratic candidates or had attacked the [Lincoln] administration.

Unlike the mass-membership Union Leagues, the Union League of Philadelphia, the New York Union League Club, and the Boston Union League Club were founder with the appropriate accoutrements of a mid-Victorian gentlemen’s club: elegant headquarters with libraries, billiard rooms and butlers. Membership was by invitation only and determined by social status and “unqualified loyalty to the Government of the United States and unwavering support for the suppression of the rebellion.” The idea was to exclude anyone suspected of Southern sympathies from business or social relations with members.

“Sympathy with [armed rebellion] should in social and commercial life be met with the frown of the patriotic and true. Disloyalty must be made unprofitable.” [A founding member of the Philadelphia club] . . . the issue of the war was, after all, one that directly confronted the class interests of the city’s business elite. “We . . . live under the national law. If that is broken down, our interests, our property, and our lives may be lost in the disorder that will ensue…Nothing but ruin awaits all business interests of ours . . . if the doctrines of the Secession leaders are to prevail” Sustaining the federal government was essential . . . [and] Furthermore, as bankers and the monied elite of New York assumed an ever-greater responsibility for financing the war effort through buying government bonds, there was also a strong economic interest in the success of the Union war effort.

(No Party Now, Politics in the Civil War North, Adam I.P. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 68-74)

Union League Begat the Klan

To paraphrase Southern leaders during Reconstruction hearings in Congress, disband the Northern Union and Loyal Leagues that set black against white in the South, and the Klan would disappear from the face of the earth. This original Klan was apparently defensive in nature and flew no flag.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Union League Begat the Klan:

“The nocturnal secrecy of the gatherings, the weird initiation ceremonies, the emblems of virtue and religion, the songs, the appeal to such patriotic shibboleths as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Flag, and the Union, the glittering platitudes in the interest of social uplift—all these characteristics of the [Union] League had an irresistible appeal to a ceremony-loving, singing, moralistic and loyal race. That the purposes of the order, when reduced to the practical, meant that the Negro had become the emotional and intellectual slaves of the white Radical did not dull the Negro’s enthusiasm, he was accustomed to be a slave to the white man” [South Carolina During Reconstruction, Simkins & Woody, page 7].

The Union League gave the freedmen their first experience in parliamentary law and debating . . . the members were active in the meetings, joining in the debate and prone to heckle the speakers with questions and points of order. Observers frequently reported the presence of rifles at political rallies, usually stacked in a clump of bushes behind the speakers platform, sometimes the womenfolk left to guard them. In the autumn of 1867, a League chapter made up mostly of blacks, but with a white president named Bryce, was holding a meeting with its usual armed sentries on the perimeter. When a poor white named Smith tried to enter the meeting, shots were fired; there followed a general alarm and, subsequently, a melee with a white debating club nearby. The Negroes rushed out; Smith fled, hotly pursued to the schoolhouse; the members of the debating club broke up in a panic and endeavored to escape; a second pistol was fired and a boy of fourteen named Hunnicutt, the son of a respectable [white] citizen, fell dead.

[Carpetbagger John W. De Forest wrote]: “The Negroes, unaware apparently that they had done anything wrong, believing, on the contrary, that they were re-establishing public order and enforcing justice, commenced patrolling the neighborhood, entering every house and arresting numbers of citizens. They marched in double file, pistol in belt and gun at the shoulder, keeping step to the “hup, hup!” of a fellow called Lame Sam, who acted as drill sergeant and commander. By noon of the next day they had the country for miles around in their power, and the majority of the male whites under their guard.”

(Black Over White, Negro Political Leadership in South Carolina During Reconstruction, Thomas Holt, University of Illinois Press, 1977, pp. 29-32)

 

History: The Muse and Her Doctors

Scholars recommend caution when selecting books written during or after America’s cultural revolution of the 1960’s and the advent of cultural Marxism. What often passes for history today are poorly-disguised opinions and class struggle, slanted psycho, social and political histories, and introductions which state that “most of the empirical basis of this study derives from two computer databases.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

History: The Muse and Her Doctors

“The historian may in addition permit himself to digress in order to opine, argue, explain, speculate, moralize and compare. The visions will differ and perhaps clash, but will be nonetheless desirable. But these excursions must not become ends in themselves. The truly historical statements must greatly predominate over the rest. If “truly historical” needs illustration, here is one of the shortest: “Veni, vidi, vici” is a historical statement. “The main spring of his character was conquest” is a psychological statement. “The net effect of his career was destruction, not creation” is a sociological statement.

How radically unlike is the work done by students who use history for their purposes – to find “fresh” answers to questions social and typological – may be seen from a glance at the open page of their books, or at the daily paper. What one may chance upon is a diagram in dots, crosses, and other marks, headed: “Computer-prepared map of violent incidents in France, 1840-1844,” while on the opposite page is a geometrical outline of France, also crossed and dotted, showing the incidence of incidents. Positive and negative numbers to three decimals express the absolute values applying to each of the levels of violence, side by side with a frequency distribution.

A historian need feel no objection or distaste whatever at this use of history; rather, he rejoices that the ancient urge to record the past leads later on to such refined methods for dissecting it.

But he is simultaneously conscious of one certitude and one doubt. He knows as he studies the charts in all directions that he is not reading history; and he feels an uneasiness about the capacity of the graphic-quantitative method for truth telling.”

(History: The Muse and Her Doctors (excerpt), Jacques Barzun, American Historical Review, February 1972, pp. 58-59)

History Helps Those Who Help Themselves

The victors write the history of events unless challenged by the defeated; Colonel Waddell (below) was an accomplished jurist, author, and essayist, and led Wilmingtonians in their fight against corruption and violence during political reconstruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

History Helps Those That Help Themselves:

“In November, 1901 the annual convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was held in Wilmington, North Carolina and Mayor Alfred Moore Waddell, welcomed them to this historic city. In his address, he said that “As one who bore a humble part in the service of the Confederacy I reverently salute you the wives, sisters, and daughters of my comrades, the noblest army of heroines and patriots that ever trod the earth.” He went on to say that:

“Your organization is unique in human annals, as was the struggle whose memories you seek to preserve. The dreamer and sentimentalist may fold his hands, and with a sigh exclaim that history will do justice between the parties to that struggle; but experience has shown that history, like Providence, helps those only who help themselves, and will honor only those who help her to record the truth. You will readily admit that if the Southern people had remained silent, and had used no printer’s ink after the war, they would have been pilloried in history as Rebels and traitors who had, causelessly and without a shadow of excuse, drenched the land with the blood of unoffending patriots.

But the Southern people did not remain silent; they published in a thousand forms the truth, both as to the causes which impelled them to assert their rights and as to the battles in which they maintained them, and have thus made a partial, unjust and one-sided history impossible. In this work the Memorial Association first, and after them the United Daughters of the Confederacy, have been the most heroic and devoted, and they may justly claim a large share of the credit for successfully vindicating before the world the causes which their Southern countrymen engaged, and in which thousands of them sacrificed their lives.”

Confederate Veteran Magazine, November 1901, page 485-486

 

Historical Objectivity and Machines

Since the end of the war, the Southern historian’s view of the conflict was not considered objective unless “he accepts and proclaims the Northern (i.e., “national”) interpretation of Southern things.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Historical Objectivity and Machines

“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)

New York's Notorious Slave Ships

In the post-Revolution era, African slavery was waning as cotton production was a laborious task and not worth cultivating on a large scale until Eli Whitney of Massachusetts revolutionized the industry in 1793. Thereafter, New England mills could not live without raw slave-produced cotton, Manhattan lenders ensured plantation owners that money was available for plantation expansion, and New England slavers continued to import the labor supply.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa 1865

 

New York’s Notorious Slave Ships

“In the decade 1850-1860 Great Britain maintained consulates in six Southern ports: Norfolk, — changed to Richmond in 1856 – Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, New Orleans and Galveston.

[Consul G.P.R.] James [in Norfolk and Richmond] . . . considered that Virginians were very kind to their slaves and that slavery was an injury to masters rather than Negroes. One of the proprietors of the Richmond “slave warehouse” was, wrote his son Charles later, an “unmistakable Yankee,” said to be very humane to his charges, “but the business was regarded as infamous.  I heard a respectable man denounced for accepting his hospitality.”

At Niagara Falls, James saw a runaway Negro belonging to one of his Norfolk neighbors; he had found it difficult to make a living and was cold and he begged the consul to ask his owner to take him back.

[Consul] Henry G. Kuper of Baltimore gave assurance that the slave trade was being extensively carried on by many American citizens, especially in New York . . . with the connivance of Spanish authorities in Cuba where most of the cargoes were conveyed . . . Consul Edward W. Mark wrote from Baltimore that at any moment twenty vessels might be found under construction at that port, admirably adapted for the slave trade. Some were built expressly for the trade by “respectable houses,” which would not enter the trade themselves but merely executed the orders they received.

Mark believed, however, that in Baltimore little countenance was given to the trade. It was carried on rather “from New York and the eastern parts of the Union . . . and generally by New England and foreign firms.”

[In 1858 Consul] Molyneaux of Savannah told the story of a Charleston mercantile house . . . which proposed to send the ship Richard Cobden . . . on a [suspicious] voyage to Africa to bring “free emigrants” to a United States port. The collector of the port appealed to United States Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb who pronounced the proposal illegal.

About the same time the Lydia Gibbs, a vessel of one-hundred and fourteen tons of Northern build, sailed from Charleston under one Watson, a Scotchman naturalized in the United States. He took it to Havana where it was sold to unknown persons for $12,000.  Watson was to receive $6,000 more if he escaped detection, and in addition a certain percentage of the slaves he should succeed in landing in Cuba.

[In July 1858 Charleston Consul Robert Bunch] wrote that the brig Frances Ellen had cleared from Charleston for Africa, supposedly to engage in the slave trade; that the firm of Ponjand and Lalas, two Spaniards, which sent it out, was believed to be regularly engaged in this traffic [and] intended to land five or six cargoes in Texas . . .

In December, 1859, the South Carolina legislature received from the New York assembly a set of resolutions passed by the latter body, condemning the slave trade and urging the Southern States not to connive at or encourage the odious traffic.  South Carolina returned the resolutions to the senders without comment and Bunch, though agreeing with the New York sentiments, dryly noted that the action was not “happily received,” “as it is notorious that, during the present year, at least ten slavers have been fitted out in New York for one in the entire South.”

(The South in the 1850’s as Seen by British Consuls, Laura A. White, The Journal of Southern History, February 1935, excerpts, pp. 29, 31, 36-41)