Southern Educators Perpetuate Myths When They Should Know Better!
David Alan Black
The nature of the stealth campaign being waged today against the Constitution and traditional republican values is much like others we have seen in other places and in other times. When the South was attacked in 1861, Americans witnessed the beginning of what has become a flurry of anti-constitutional views propped up by our educational elites.
Though I am not a trained historian (my doctorate is in theology), for many years I have researched the Civil War—or, more accurately, the War for Southern Independence (“Civil War” wrongly implies that the South was fighting to gain control of a central government). I have seen with my own eyes the vast amount of original documents that back up the illegality of the Northern invasion of the South. Yet even many Southerners who have a Confederate heritage hang their heads in shame because the government schools teach them to. In the documentary, “Africans in America,” an African-American woman put it best when she said, “Slavery was not a Southern problem; it was an American problem.” The South did not create slavery—Northern ship merchants did that.
I recently spent a day examining several widely-used high school history textbooks and discovered that in dealing with the South before 1865 they include numerous false assumptions. Liberals who spread emotional lies about the war and about the South often go so far as to equate the Confederate flag with the Nazi swastika. Historical revisionists who attack the legitimacy of the Confederacy and its cause—and thus the right of Southerners to exist as a people with a unique culture and heritage—usually base their attacks upon falsehoods. The premier myths are the following:
* Antebellum Southern whites treated their slaves cruelly, and nearly every white Southerner had slaves.
* Slavery was practiced only by white Southerners, and when practiced was a sin, which damned all Southern whites and their descendants forever.
* The Southern states attempted to leave the Union only to perpetuate slavery.
* The Southern states could not lawfully secede from the Union; therefore they were in rebellion against the Union.
* The Southern states fought a civil war with the intent to overthrow the federal government in Washington, D.C.
But the most insidious myth is that of the “great and good” North marching into the “cruel and evil” South for the sole purpose of freeing the slaves. There are many quotes from Northern leaders (Lincoln, Grant, Sherman, and others) that show clearly that the main purpose of the North was not the eradication of slavery but the subjugation of the Southern people. If you will take the time to study these commonly accepted myths, you will easily find them to be false and spread either accidentally, through ignorance, or else deliberately, with contempt towards Southerners.
Contrary to what most Americans are taught in school, Lincoln did not launch the war in order to make blacks equal with whites. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates he said, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races, and I have never said anything on the contrary.” In a speech in Illinois in 1858 he said that he was not in favor of making voters or jurors of blacks, or qualifying them to hold office or to intermarry with white people. In his own words:
I will say, then, that I am not now, nor never have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social or political equality of the white and black races. I am not now, nor never have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriage with white people; and I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which, I believe, will forever forbid the two races living together in terms of social and political equality. Inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white man.
Lincoln supported the Illinois law that prohibited the immigration of blacks into that state and advocated sending blacks to Haiti, Central America, or Africa. In his eulogy to Henry Clay in 1852, he said, “There is a moral fitness to the idea of returning to Africa her children….” In a message to Congress in 1862 he said: “I cannot make it any better known than it already is that I strongly favor colonization.” In a famous letter to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, on August 22, 1862, he wrote, “My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it.” That was Lincoln’s position.
Another common misconception is that Southern blacks were all slaves and could own no property. However, blacks themselves held slaves throughout the war. According to Roger D. McGrath, in “Slavery’s Inconvenient Facts,” Chronicles Magazine, November 2001, in 1860 some 3,000 blacks owned nearly 20,000 black slaves. In South Carolina alone, black slaveholders owned more than 10,000 blacks. Born a slave in 1790, William Ellison owned 63 slaves by 1860, making him one of Charleston’s leading slaveholders. In the 1850 census for Charleston City, the port of Charleston, there were 68 black men and 123 black women who owned slaves. In Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish, according to the 1860 census, black planter Auguste Donatto owned 70 slaves and farmed 500 acres of cotton fields. Of course, black slaveholders were the exception to the rule, but so were white ones. According to McGrath, only a small minority of Southern whites owned slaves—little more than five percent of the white population if calculated by individual owner, or twenty to twenty-five percent if all the members of the slave owners’ families are included. This means that seventy-five percent or more of Southerners neither owned slaves themselves nor were members of families who did.
Those who claimed that the war was not about slavery stretched from the Virginia farmer defending his humble home, to the first Southern commissioners seeking Britain’s recognition of the Confederacy, and even to Union generals. During the summer of 1861, the federal Congress passed resolutions saying that war would be fought only to “preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired.” And General Ulysses S. Grant, who accepted Lee’s surrender on behalf of the Union at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, in April, 1865, once said that if he “thought this war was to abolish slavery, I would resign my commission, and offer my sword to the other side.”
Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was issued well into the war with the purpose of preventing foreign intervention. The Proclamation freed slaves only in parts of the Confederacy where Lincoln had no legal authority. Slaves in the North where the federal government had legitimate authority were freed only after the war. Robert E. Lee did not own slaves, but many Union generals did. When Lee’s father-in-law died, he took over the management of the plantation his wife had inherited and immediately began freeing the slaves. By the time Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, every slave in Lee’s charge had been freed. Yet some Union generals didn’t free their slaves until the ratification of the 14th Amendment in 1868.
When the schools of the South were reopened after the war, the great majority of the youth of the land were fed with a literature created by Northerners. Publishers whose sole purpose was to secure the great market now opening in every school district in the South issued books that were found to be full of error and misrepresentation. The aims of the people of the South and of their state governments were falsified, and the characters of the great men who had led the South were belittled and defamed. Hence a generation grew up with conceptions of the motives of their fathers that were not only mistaken but altogether dishonorable. The result was that the youth of the South were robbed of a glorious and proud heritage.
Little has changed today. That slavery was the cause of the war; that prisoners of war held in the South were treated barbarously; that Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee were traitors to their country; that the young men who died willingly on a hundred battlefields were rebels against a righteous government—all these falsehoods continue to be taught and perpetuated. Even schoolteachers in the South, ignorant of their own history, accept the Northern view that slavery was the cause of the war. They take this position despite the fact that the quarrel between the North and the South began when slavery existed in all the States.
In 1898, 34 years after Sherman’s army burned Atlanta to the ground, a Union veteran visited the city. The veteran addressed the Georgia legislature, praising the valor of the Confederate dead and offering federal aid in the care of their graves. Georgia rose up to welcome him and with Georgia the whole South. It was a magnificent gesture by President William McKinley, who had been a teenager at Antietam. The scene has been recreated by biographer Margaret Leech in her book In the Days of McKinley:
He sprang to his feet when the band played “Dixie” and waved his hat above his head. He reviewed the marching ranks of gray-clad troops….His voice was fervent as he said that the old disagreements had faded into history and the nation would remain indivisible forever. Gen. Joe Wheeler often stood beside the president, swelling the ovation by his immense popularity.
My friends, if this veteran of four years of fighting could stand out of respect for the flag of his foes, what’s our problem 105 years later?