by Mike Scruggs
published March 6, 2007
`During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a
— George Orwell
It is often repeated that the victors write the history of wars. Even in democratic societies, the great preponderance of government, commercial and media power are geared to justify the cause of the victor and dismiss the cause of the vanquished. The greater the tragedy and costs, the more powerful is the impulse to justify them as righteous and necessary. Since about 620,000 soldiers and 50,000 civilians perished in the "Civil War," the impulse to post-war propaganda and ongoing political correctness is powerful indeed.
This is why good people, including retired high school teacher John Allen, who recently provided some misguided comments regarding my book, "The Un-Civil War: Truths Your Teacher Never Told You," are shocked when truth is uncovered from decades of propaganda.
Allen distorts many of my positions. He implies that I do not believe slavery was an issue. My position is that other economic and constitutional issues were actually much more important. Under the Morrill Tariff, signed into law shortly after Lincoln’s inauguration, the average tariff rate more than doubled to 47 percent.
This legislative implementation of shameless partisan greed would have enriched the North but impoverished the South. The tariff practically drove the major cotton states out of the Union, but Northern political and business leaders were unwilling to give up their tax revenues and subsidies. Southerners also felt their liberties were threatened by the North’s ideological drift away from a strong Constitution, limited government and states’ rights toward a powerful, unlimited federal government.
Allen’s understanding of Southern slavery relies heavily on exaggerated and often false accusations proliferated by Northern propagandists with various political agendas.
My position is that although slavery was an institution that we are all glad is past, its actual conditions in the South were much more benign than is commonly believed. Support for this comes from two highly-respected sources. The first is R.W. Fogel and S.L. Engerman’s "Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery." Both these Northern authors consider themselves to be liberals. Fogel is a Nobel Prize winner in economics. The second major source is "The Slave Narratives," a detailed account of interviews with several thousand ex-slaves, compiled by the Roosevelt administration from 1934 to 1936.
Allen’s false presuppositions about Southern slavery blind him to anything but the most exaggerated partisan claims of the radical abolitionists. Hence he rejects research findings indicating that the literacy rate of slaves remained between 30 and 40 percent even after the restrictive State codes that followed the Nat Turner slave rebellion in 1831. This estimate comes from page 80 of John J. Dwyer’s superb book, "The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War." Dwyer devotes 74 pages to various aspects of the slavery issue, including literacy. Anyone interested in this subject should also read Richard Williams’ book: "Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man’s Friend."
Taking a short paragraph from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephen’s March 1861 speech in Savannah, Allen concludes that slavery was the only real issue. This brief paragraph, however, was not representative of Stephens’ many other statements on the causes of the war. It certainly was not representative of statements by Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and a substantial majority of other Confederate leaders.
Allen may be surprised by the data in a new book by Terrell Garren, "Mountain Myth: Unionism in Western North Carolina." Garren’s thorough accounting revealed that 27,282 men from 21 Western North Carolina counties served in the Confederate forces, while only 1,836 could be documented as having served in Union Forces.
Also, Allen is apparently unaware that early armed intervention by Union troops prevented Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland from formally seceding. In addition, many of his statements — especially that high casualty rates among black Union soldiers prove they were almost all volunteers — reflect sloppy logic.
Finally, politically correct history has attempted to erase the important role played by African-Americans loyal to the Southern cause. A common estimate is that 95,000 blacks served in the Confederate forces. In 1862, a Union doctor observed more than 3,000 armed blacks among Stonewall Jackson’s forces. Many black cavalrymen distinguished themselves under Forrest and Morgan. But that doesn’t conform to the anti-Southern worldview.