Your Media Matters article on the Confederacy
Allow me to point out a few major fallacies in this article you wrote (link: http://mediamatters.org/altercation/200807020004)
As a European born 93 years after the end of the War Between the States in America, with a lifetime of interest in and admiration of America, I claim a measure of detachment that would perhaps be more difficult to achieve for Americans themselves, while admitting of no handicap in acquiring a thorough knowledge of your incomparable nation’s history.
First of all, it seems to me that you violate your very own belief system – don’t preach to me – by preaching to others. Your article is not quite an objective historical comment. In fact, it is a sermon, and, I regret to observe, a hateful one at that.
Let me present the evidence.
You start by correctly ascertaining that the Nazis – in 1939 – unleashed a war that killed at least 10 million people. In the same breath, if just barely not in the same sentence, you describe the Confederacy – born in 1860 – ‘on the same scale’ as an ‘affront’ and an ‘abomination’, apparently because one of your own ancestors fought against it. Please explain to me – as a historian – the connection between the rise to power of the Nazis an ocean away and three generations later and the secession of the Southern States? The only one is your effort to connect the proven crimes against humanity committed by the Nazis with the fight for independence by the Confederacy, which was never guilty of anything remotely resembling what the Nazis wrought. History – which is not always ‘what follows when memories fade’, but in many instances, including this well-documented war, includes accurate recordings of the memories of contemporary witnesses – shows clearly that it was the North that invaded the South, after having provoked it into firing on Fort Sumter and having rejected all peace overtures (the Confederates had offered to buy the Fort).
Next you claim that the Confederate flag represents ‘racism, death, oppression and treason’. Let us examine these subjective claims one by one in the cold light of the documented facts.
Racism : the canard that the Confederacy was racist, implicating that the virtuous North was not, is a blatant lie that flies in the face of the evidence from those times. Slave ships bringing their profitable human cargo flew the United States flag and docked at Northern ports; no Confederate flag ever flew on a slaver. Slavery existed in the North as well as in the South. The famous Underground Railroad ran to Canada, not to the Union States – runaway blacks were not welcome to reside there. Abolitionists – considered extremists even in the North as late as 1860 – were certainly more vocal in the North, which had nothing to lose by abolishing slavery and could therefore afford to take the moral high ground, which few did. Factory workers in the North were, economically and even socially, much worse off than Southern slaves, as visiting prominent Brits, among them the author Charles Dickens, observed firsthand. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s propaganda work (she never set foot in the South) notwithstanding, few slaves were mistreated in the antebellum South. Most if not all were taken care of when sick and in their old age. Stating these facts should not be misconstrued as a defense of slavery, which is simply indefensible. Its abolition was and remains the only good thing that came out of that abominable war.
But let us proceed. Slavery was abolished in some Northern States only after the war ended. During wartime draft riots in the North, negroes were mistreated and murdered, notably in New York. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a political and military maneuver : it didn’t apply to Northern-held territories, only to conquered territory in the South. It was a shameless attempt at ethnic cleansing and roundly condemned as such in Europe : the idea was to have to Southern slaves rise up in the Confederacy, creating bedlam and mass murder behind Confederate lines (that didn’t happen). Lincoln himself held views that a modern person (though perhaps not a contemporary) would definitely call racist. And finally: race relations deteriorated strongly in the South after the war because of rapacious Northern policies under ‘Reconstruction’ (it was in fact more a kind of deconstruction) which disenfranchised and robbed white Southerners while placing and manipulating black freedman in sham State parliaments for twenty years, sowing the seeds of mistrust and hatred for over a century. So much for the liberators. The above are all facts that can be checked – I invite you to do so. Even today, race relations are far, far worse in the North than in the South – this from firsthand observation.
Death: the so-called ‘Civil’ War cost over 600,000 American lives, roughly equal numbers having fallen on both sides. As a historian, you are aware of the difficulty in establishing precise numbers of wounded, missing and dead after a battle in those days. However, civilian deaths caused by Union armies wreaking havoc in the South – burning, pillaging and murdering as they went – are unknown but most certainly substantial. By modern standards, and even by the standards of the age, civilian deaths caused by Union armies were committed with a malignant intent and on a scale that merits the term crimes against humanity. Please explain in objective terms how, in the light of those facts and in the context of a conflict between unequals in manpower, ‘death’ should be associated with the flag of the Confederacy rather than with that of the North. Bias is the only explanation.
Oppression: evidence shows overwhelmingly that Lincoln’s Administration was the most oppressive in U.S. history. Lincoln sent his military into several States, including Maryland and Kentucky, to interfere illegally, by military force, in the political process there to make sure those States stayed in the Union. He deposed, imprisoned and exiled State politicians and federal Congressmen – Clement Vallandingham comes to mind – who dared to publicly oppose him, not by force of arms but by the spoken or written word. Lincoln muzzled the press, ordering hundreds of newspapers that dared to disagreed with him closed and their editors thrown in jail without due process, violating a ruling by his own Chief Justice. During the war, draft riots – the worst ones took place in New York – were brutally and violently suppressed with military force. And how did the glorious Union armies behave in the South they only gradually managed to conquer at great human and monetary cost? They pillaged, burned, murdered and raped civilians, black and white alike; Union generals like Sherman and Sheridan boasted loudly of it. Sherman was proud to make war upon civilians, burning their homes and crops at the outset of winter. This is well-documented historic fact. The ‘March to the Sea’ was not a military feat of arms, but a murdering rampage in civilian territory. By contrast, in the CSA political dissent was tolerated. If anything, Jefferson Davis was the most criticized and vilified man in the Confederacy by his own compatriots. The press was free to criticize him, and it did so, all the time. There were no arrests of people who disagreed with secession. Unionists living in the South were not loved, but they remained unmolested throughout the conflict. Confederate armies under Robert E. Lee, when invading the North, paid for foraged supplies (albeit in Confederate currency) and never lowered themselves to the level of debased conduct in enemy territory that Union armies were notorious for. This should not be forgotten.
Treason: this was committed by the South only in the eyes of the North, in its capacity of victorious oppressor of the Southern States, whose people sought nothing more than to exercise their Constitutional right to choose for themselves the government they wished to live under. In fact, if treason was committed at all, it was clearly by the Lincoln Administration’s contemptuous disregard of that very Constitution, by trampling just about every right accorded to American citizens during the conflict, not the least of which was the right of habeas corpus. Consider this: after the fall of the Confederacy and his arrest, Jefferson Davis was never tried for treason by the North, because prosecutors knew they could never make that charge stick. To this day, it is unclear whether there is a right of secession by an individual State. In 1989, in Europe, the ‘velvet revolution’ launched the peaceful separation of Czechia and Slowakia that had once formed the single, unified nation of Czechoslowakia. Was anyone convicted of treason? Of course not. Yet secession was not a clearly defined right of either State in that case, either.
The painful truth is that the ‘magnificent, tragic, heroic, flawed, 232-year-old experiment in self-rule’ as you so aptly describe America’s founding document, very nearly was aborted in the struggle for supremacy in North America that ended so tragically for the Confederacy in 1865. But this historic truth, in your clearly stated opinion, needs to be suppressed: "Heritage be damned" in your own words. Regretfully, there seems to be plenty of room for hypocrisy, hyperbole, ignorance, even hate.
I call it by its name: a falsification of history. The sentiment you expressed in your article is part of it.
I am as appalled as you are by the Nazi and the Soviet flag. I lost family members in World War II, albeit indirectly and not as a result of hostilities, and I’ve lived for decades only hours away from Soviet tank columns poised to roll across Western Europe. I have been to Byelorussia, perhaps the only Soviet-style republic still in existence on the European landmass, and seen its horrors for myself. I need no convincing on the evils of fascism – on the rise again here in Europe, this time in Muslim fundamentalist garb – and of totalitarian communist oppression.
But I am equally appalled by your biased, contorted view of a key period – NOT one to be proud of – in your very own history. You, Sir – with all the respect due to you as a member of America’s armed forces – are right to reject anyone’s sermons, but you should refrain from giving any. You are also, when it comes to American history between 1850 and 1875, in sour need of an education on the subject.
As Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.
Johan F. Temmerman
For starters, you infer too much. You infer, for example, that I hold the northern States blameless in the institution of slavery, particularly as it was practiced post 1840. I did not say that. You inferred this in the absence of evidence. Not a good idea. Re-read what I wrote in my limited essay.
Second, the essay was NOT about the Confederacy. A mere few lines in a multi-thousand word essay made reference to that. Why do you not object to my statements about the Nazis (which were as long) or the Communists (which were longer.) Your perspective seems skewed.
I would estimate that 40 million African-descended slaves lived in slavery, under conditions which subjected them to murder, rape, forced labor, and degredation, from 1800-1865. Does this not exceed the obscenity of the Nazis with their mere 12 years of power?
I am not preaching. I am stating my beliefs to a voluntarily assembled readership on a web site maintained by the entity known as Media Matters. Those who do not like my beliefs, may leave. I did not ask anyone else to adhere to my beliefs about slavery and how wrong it is. For the record, I do hate slavery, and all those who pretend that the Confederacy was not created to sustain slavery.
The north did not invade the south. You must read our Constitution for starters, to see that the states that attempted secession illegally, and then opened fire upon American soldiers at Fort Sumpter, were the aggressors. Google: "First shot of the Civil War."
All else was merely a police action suppressing traitors.
The fact that runaways could not stay inside the US is due to US laws promulgated by…surprise…southern slaveholders. Duh. Dude, do you know nothing of our history?
I am curious to see the academic and archival research which supports your unique thesis that, "few slaves were mistreated in the antebellum South" as that is the most stomach-turning contention I have ever seen. Is 50,000 a "few" to you? How about 500,000? Or 10,000? What is your source for this contention, please? As I have not seen it in English, American, French, or German historical sources. You may speak other languages, however, and have access to academics who examined sources unviewed by African-American scholars, as well as French, German, and British academics. Please, show me your source for this contention.
Finally, I seek to understand how you reconcile your support for a national movement whose sole motivation was the preservation of SLAVERY. Are you a racist yourself, or merely ignorant of the fact that the reason the southern states attempted to seceed was solely so that they could preserve slavery, which they believed endangered?
Re: your Media Matters article on the Confederacy
Here we go: anyone not sharing the conventional ‘wisdom’ on the Confederacy is a racist, although you have the limited decency to put a question mark behind that epithet, which you seem to sling about loosely. You inferred this in the absence of evidence – not a good idea, I concede that. You re-read what I wrote: that slavery is indefensible, and that its abolition was the only good thing to come out of that war. You will be disappointed to hear that I haven’t got a racist fiber in my body – although I freely admit to loathing bigots, of any stripe or color. Is it fulfilling, gratifying that need of yours to stroke your ego by accusing others of racism? But perhaps I infer too much one again, by noting that you are desperately struggling to occupy the moral high ground, and for good reason.
Yours is the classic liberal approach to what could have been a civilized conversation: you don’t for a moment attempt to contradict the arguments I presented, you merely attacked their presenter. As a military man, you should see that this is fighting from a position of weakness.
Back to the facts and the arguments then, if you please.
Slavery was not the only issue over which the South seceded and the North went to war. The causes are many and complex; as usual, economic motives played a much larger role than is now acknowledged. Slavery was certainly about forced labor and was undoubtedly degrading – anyone in his right mind acknowledges that. But where is the evidence that murder and rape of slaves in the South was the order of day? Why would Southern slave-owners have damaged and destroyed what were to them very valuable economic assets? You are not making sense, you are ranting. Stick to the facts, please. I will come back to the evidence in a minute.
The North did invade the South. Was Sherman a Southerner on a rampage in Northern States perhaps? Has Virginia moved South on the map? Come off it. Refusing to acknowledge even that basic historic fact, which the most hardened defenders of the Union cause wouldn’t dare do in public in fear of ridiculing themselves, casts doubt on your intellect.
The record shows that the Confederacy, upon secession, immediately tried, in vain, to open negotiations with the North to settle differences over territory, arsenals, forts, shared waterways and the like. It offered to buy Fort Sumter. The Confederacy did fire on Fort Sumter first, an attack provoked by Lincoln’s provisioning of the Fort against an agreement made earlier not to do so. It was a clever maneuver to make the South look like the aggressor – and the ploy fooled many, including you. Google is not a reliable historic source – I hope that isn’t news to you. Try reading Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy, if you can manage it – I could. He is the major authority on the military history of the Civil War.
I presume that the "all else" – the war on tens of thousands of Southern civilians, the destruction of homes and crops to starve them out, the pillage and rape (including of the newly ‘liberated’ slaves), the burning of towns and even entire districts, the random murders and abased conduct of the glorious Northern armies – is included in your definition of a ‘police action’ to suppress ‘traitors’. Robert, the people who live in your county don’t know how lucky they are that you’re not a policeman, and that Lincoln is safely in the ground.
The fugitive slave laws certainly were promulgated under pressure from Southern congressmen before 1860. But what stopped the North from repudiating them in 1860? They never did. The simple truth is that Northern States abhorred the idea of runaway slaves, or indeed black freemen, settling there. They enacted laws forbidding blacks to live there – it’s in the historic record, look it up. So the Underground Railroad had to run to Canada because only Canada welcomed blacks, the North did not.
Let me satisfy your amusing curiosity concerning the evidence for my ‘unique thesis’ that relatively few slaves were mistreated in the South. Why not let the slaves speak for themselves? Did it not occur to you, as a flawless and virtuous anti-racist, that many former slaves have testified about their experiences after the Civil War and that these testimonies are part of the historical record? That their testimonies have been assembled by a US government project and called The Slave Narratives? That it was part of the Federal Writers’ Project in the 1930s? Or, to borrow your own, insulting words: dude, do you know nothing of your history?
Please check the evidence on http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/snhtml/. Note that I don’t share your fondness of Google as a reliable source of history. I have turned to a slightly more credible source: the Library of Congress. And now for the surprising part: slaves remember mostly hard work and… kind masters, who took care of them. They also took a very dim view of their ‘liberators’. Surprising, eh? Facts can be real bastards to the purveyors of opinion who haven’t met them before.
I invite you to read and learn, so that you will be able – as other Americans I know already are – to express opinions founded in fact and take part in polite, civilized conversation, rather than ranting and throwing baseless accusations of racism at people who disagree with your views. I do not brag about my education, although I do admit to reading, writing and speaking English, Dutch, French and German, but I learned from elementary school onwards first to get my facts straight. You could do worse than by taking that advice.
A final remark, Robert. I might be mistaken in this, but I think you hail from the North. This I infer (I do that a lot now, don’t I) not from your opinions, because sadly enough many Southerners today hold a dim view of their Confederate past, but from your tone, your arrogance and your insults.
No Southerners I have ever met (and/or conversed with via this channel), has ever used that tone with me, although our differences of opinion, be it on political, social, religious or other subjects, have been as great as ours are on the subject of the Civil War. They were, well… civil, at all times.
Let us not resume this conversation before you can be, too.
Johan F. Temmerman