Monday, April 12, 2010

We need a Democratic History Month

Time Magazine's David Paul Kuhn, propagating not only the simplistic myth that the Civil War was primarily about slavery and that the Republican Party is somehow implicated in it:
The Confederacy cannot be divorced from its consequence. If the South won, blacks would have remained enslaved as "property." Because the Union won, blacks were liberated as people and Americans.
Kuhn's remark comes after Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour defended Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's decision to proclaim April "Confederate History Month." The myth that slavery was somehow the efficient cause of the war goes down well with people who, in addition to being historically challenged, like to give other people moralistic lectures about, well, just about anything. And by "other people," we mean primarily Republicans.

And in what way exactly are Republicans complicit in slavery? Well, you see, when you are rewriting history, it is convenient to forget that it was Republicans primarily who opposed it. In fact, it seems to be forgotten in these discussions that Lincoln was the first Republican president and that the defenders of slavery were primarily Democrats--who continued their obstructionism well after the War in their involvement in organizations like the Ku Klux Klan.

One would think that if the War was about slavery that Lincoln would have a) freed the slaves in northern territories in process of emancipating southern slaves (he didn't), and b) would have said, when asked, that that's what the war was about (he didn't).

Concerning b), here is Honest Abe himself in his letter to journalist Horace Greeley, who did want the war to be about slavery, but was frustrated because Lincoln wouldn't agree:
I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views. [Emphasis added]

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.


A. Lincoln
But it does salve the consciences of certain people to make it appear that their opponents are defending slavery when they're not and who want the rest of us to conveniently forget the complicity of Democrats in everything from slavery to segregation.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Mississippi’s succession statement:

…Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin…

Anonymous said...


…in this free government *all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights* [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding states…

Anonymous said...


The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitition were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States.

Anonymous said...

South Carolina:

...A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction. This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear the issue was not slavery.

Them said...

I appreciate these posts from Anonymous, because they underscore that we can't ignore the centrality of slavery to the war.

The depressing thing to me is that the southern states combined something horrific, chattle race slavery, with something so utterly essential to freedom and our constitution, state's rights and thus local governance.

To remove the cancer may have killed the patient, though the death has been gradual.

Martin, you are also ignoring the fact of the "southern strategy" of the Republican party and the extent to which it combined states rights with racism.

If you are a black American, to which government have you turned when you needed to be represented? Until whites understand that, black Americans will, in vast proportions, turn to the only government that has ever protected them from their neighbors.

This is why I argue that slavery continues to eat away at our beloved country.