How many times must it be explained that the Civil War was about the preservation of slavery?

I shouldn’t have to say this but even people calling themselves historians cling to this bullshit. From the Washington Post in a story on a movement to remove statues honoring Confederate heroes:[1]

“You can’t satisfy some people,” said Samuel Mitcham Jr., the heritage operations historian for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who wrote a book, “It Wasn’t About Slavery,” arguing that the South left the Union for strictly economic reasons. “These monuments belong to our history. The only way we can come together is with tolerance, but Black Lives Matter isn’t very tolerant.”[2]

Bullshit. You saw the very same bullshit after a massacre in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.[3] No matter how much afficionados of the Confederacy—let’s just call them what they are: white supremacists—seek to deny it, the South fought the Civil War to protect its “peculiar institution,” slavery, while hardly better, the North fought to preserve the Union. The documentary evidence real historians rely on is what they call “primary documents,” that is, the originals from the time; it is overwhelming and irrefutable.[4] Seeking a source I thought might be friendliest to the Confederate cause, you know, in the name of “objectivity,” I dredged up my old history textbook (albeit, a more recent edition):

Few southerners believed [Abraham] Lincoln would fulfill his promise to protect slavery in the South, and most feared he would act as a mere front man for more John Browns. “Now that the black radical Republicans have the power I suppose they will Brown us all,” a South Carolinian lamented.[5]

We know the motivations for the Civil War and indeed, states began seceding even before Abraham Lincoln took office:[6]

With their secession, most of these states dispatched commissioners to persuade other slave states to follow them in exiting the union. These commissioners invariably made the same point: Lincoln’s election left southerners with only one choice—to secede or to accept “negro equality” and the end of slavery.[7]

Even to the extremely limited degree Samuel Mitcham, Jr., even has an iota of a point, it rests in the essential nature of capitalism and indeed in the debt that capitalism owes and that not only capitalist institutions owe slavery.[8]

So spare me: You simply do not get to argue what Mitcham argues; it is at best intellectually dishonest to pretend otherwise. And the Washington Post gives it far too much credit.

  1. [1]Marc Fisher, “Confederate statues: In 2020, a renewed battle in America’s enduring Civil War,” Washington Post, June 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/06/11/confederate-statues-attacked-protesters-george-floyd/
  2. [2]Marc Fisher, “Confederate statues: In 2020, a renewed battle in America’s enduring Civil War,” Washington Post, June 11, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/06/11/confederate-statues-attacked-protesters-george-floyd/
  3. [3]Campbell Robertson, Monica Davey, and Julie Bosman, “Calls to Drop Confederate Emblems Spread Nationwide,” New York Times, June 23, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/24/us/south-carolina-nikki-haley-confederate-flag.html
  4. [4]Alexander Abad-Santos, “Racists Ruined the Confederate Flag for Lynyrd Skynyrd,” Atlantic, September 21, 2012, https://www.theatlantic.com/culture/archive/2012/09/racists-ruined-confederate-flag-lynyrd-skynyrd/323381/; David W. Blight, “The Civil War Isn’t Over,” Atlantic, April 8, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/04/the-civil-war-isnt-over/389847/; Paul S. Boyer et al., The Enduring Vision, 8th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014); Ta-Nehisi Coates, “What This Cruel War Was Over,” Atlantic, June 22, 2015, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/06/what-this-cruel-war-was-over/396482/; Prachi Gupta, “Lynyrd Skynyrd decides it’s finally time to stop using the Confederate flag,” Salon, September 22, 2012, https://www.salon.com/control/2012/09/21/lynyrd_skynyrd_decides_its_finally_time_to_stop_using_the_confederate_flag/; Tony Horwitz, “150 Years of Misunderstanding the Civil War,” Atlantic, June 19, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/06/150-years-of-misunderstanding-the-civil-war/277022/; Glenn W. LaFantasie, “How the South rationalizes secession,” Salon, December 19, 2010, https://www.salon.com/test/2010/12/19/lafantasie_south_secession/; Andrew O’Hehir, “Welcome to the new Civil War,” Salon, January 5, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/01/05/welcome_to_the_new_civil_war/; Jonathan Terbush, “Lynyrd Skynyrd calls Confederate Flag racist, prompts fan revolt,” Raw Story, September 22, 2012, http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/09/22/lynyrd-skynyrd-calls-confederate-flag-racist-prompts-fan-revolt/; Tracy Thompson, “The South still lies about the Civil War,” Salon, March 16, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/03/16/the_south_still_lies_about_the_civil_war/; Chris Willman, “Lynyrd Skynyrd Backtracks On Comments, Proudly Lets Confederate Flag Fly,” Yahoo!, September 24, 2012, http://music.yahoo.com/blogs/stop-the-presses/lynyrd-skynyrd-backtracks-comments-proudly-lets-confederate-flag-003332446.html; Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (New York: HarperPerennial, 2005).
  5. [5]Paul S. Boyer et al., The Enduring Vision, 8th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014), 421.
  6. [6]Paul S. Boyer et al., The Enduring Vision, 8th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014).
  7. [7]Paul S. Boyer et al., The Enduring Vision, 8th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth, 2014), 423.
  8. [8]Sven Beckert, “Slavery and Capitalism,” Chronicle of Higher Education, December 12, 2014, https://www.chronicle.com/article/SlaveryCapitalism/150787/

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.