Professor Wilson and “Those People” Part One

If you’re a Northerner, Clyde Wilson doesn’t much care for you.  If you’re from New England, Clyde Wilson absolutely despises you.  That, at least, is the impression I got from reading two articles Professor Wilson posted at the Abbeville Institute website (Part 1 here, and Part 2 here).  Because when the articles are printed out they encompass 9 pages each, I’ll address each article in a separate post.

We have here a master propagandist at work.  Professor Wilson is an expert in history, and he uses that expertise to strategically tell a part of the story in order to make it appear a false story is in fact true.  He starts off saying, “General Lee, with characteristic restraint, always spoke of the invaders who came to loot and destroy the South as ‘those people.’ ”  He makes it seem as though one day the United States decided that it was just going to destroy all it could in the south and steal as much as it could.  The United States was putting down a rebellion.  It was a war started by the confederates, and wars lead to destruction.  As Major General William T. Sherman famously said, “I never ordered burning of any dwelling – didn’t order this, but can’t be helped. I say Jeff. Davis burnt them.” [Henry Hitchcock, Marching With Sherman, p. 53]  Oh, and there are a number of cases where Lee referred to the United States soldiers as “the enemy,” such as this one:  “If the enemy is there, we must attack him.”  Wilson refers to the Civil War as “the War to Prevent Southern Independence.”  He claims in a footnote, “This is the most precisely accurate term that has ever been used.”  That’s simply a falsehood.  It was in fact a civil war, so the most popular term for it, “the American Civil War,” is more precisely accurate than Wilson’s term.  The official name of the war, “the War of the Rebellion,” is more precisely accurate than Wilson’s term.  And an other, though highly charged term, “the War of the Slaveholders’ Rebellion,” is more precisely accurate than Wilson’s term.  Why?  Because Wilson is trying to muddy the waters.  The South wasn’t trying to be independent.  One can make a good case that the majority of southerners wanted to remain with the United States.  Four southern states, Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware, remained loyal.  West Virginia remained loyal and broke off from Virginia.  A large number of Unionists remained in the confederate states.  And the vast majority of African-Americans living in the confederate states were against the confederacy.  Wilson would like us to believe that South equals confederacy.  It doesn’t.  Not by a long shot.

Wilson claims, “It is difficult to believe now, but for a long time most Americans, including most Northerners, regarded New England, not the South, as the peculiar, out-of-step section of the country.  Yankees were the outsiders who thought and behaved differently from everyone else, and usually in disagreeable ways.  In fact, the South, in the times of Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, was the generally accepted model of what was ‘American.’  Remember that nine of the first twelve Presidents were Southern plantation owners.”  His main point is ridiculous.  First, let’s consider the original 13 states:  Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island.  Of those 13, “in the time of Washington,” six were southern states, four were New England states, and three were Middle Atlantic states.  From then until the end of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, the Union added Vermont, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, and Michigan.  That adds two states in New England, seven states in the South, and four states in what today we would call the Midwest.  Let’s look at population.  According to the 1790 Census, states in the South had 1,272,556 free people and 654,121 enslaved people; states in New England had 1,005,443 free people and 3,763 enslaved people; and the Middle Atlantic states had 921,668 free people and 36,323 enslaved people.  That’s a total of 1,927,111 free people and 40,086 enslaved people in New England and the Middle Atlantic states.  “Most Northerners” in 1790 were New Englanders, who presumably didn’t look at themselves as “disagreeable” and not “what is ‘American.’ ”  George Washington was considered the greatest man in America at the time, so it’s no surprise he was elected our first President and reelected as well.  It had nothing to do with southerners being “the generally accepted model of what was ‘American.’ ”  John Adams of Massachusetts, a New England state, was elected the second President of the United States.  Does that mean Americans looked at New England then as the “model for what is ‘American?’ ”

The 1800 Census tells us the South had a free population of 1,752,392 and an enslaved population of 851,532.  Of a total Northern free population of 2,596,627, 1,231,672 were in New England and 1,364,955 were in the three Middle Atlantic states of New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania [of a total enslaved population in the North of 36,080, 1,339 were in New England, in the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, and 34,741 were in the Middle Atlantic states].  In order for Wilson’s claim that “most Northerners” looked on New Englanders as “peculiar,” “out of step with the country,” and “disagreeable,” it had to be nearly 100% of the people living in the Middle Atlantic states, which is highly improbable.  The 3/5 Clause of the Constitution said that 3/5 of “all other persons,” which in this case meant enslaved people, counted for representation, and thus added representatives to slave states.  That means that for representation purposes, the South effectively had 2,263,311 people while the other states effectively had 2,618,275 people.  That translates to extra representatives in Congress, which in turn translates to extra electoral college votes.  In the Election of 1800, Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in Adams’ bid for reelection.  As the historian Garry Wills wrote, “If real votes alone had been counted, Adams would have been returned to office.  But, of course, the ‘vote’ did not depend solely on voters.  Though Jefferson, admittedly, received eight more votes than Adams in the Electoral College, at least twelve of his votes were not based on the citizenry that could express its will but on the blacks owned by southern masters. … It galled the Federalists that Jefferson hailed his 1800 victory as a triumph of democracy and majority rule when, as the Mercury and New-England Palladium of Boston said (January 20, 1801), he had made his ‘ride into the temple of Liberty on the shoulders of slaves.’ ” [Garry Wills, Negro President:  Jefferson and the Slave Power, p. 2]  This again was not a case of most of the country seeing the South as “the generally accepted model of what is ‘American.’ ”

The 1810 Census tells us that the South had a free population of 2,215,428 and an enslaved population of 1,103,700.  New England had a total free population of 1,471,573 with 418 enslaved people in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  The Middle Atlantic States had a total free population of 1,987,967 and 26,663 enslaved people.  By this time Ohio had been added to the Union with 230,760 free people and 0 enslaved people.  That makes a total free population in the North of 3,690,300 and an enslaved population in the North of 27,081.  In what way can we say that New England was “out of step” with most of the rest of the country?  Note also that the Middle Atlantic states have fewer enslaved people at this point than in the previous census.  During this time, Jefferson was reelected and James Madison was elected.  Madison was the “Father of the Constitution” and the author of the Bill of Rights.  Is it more believable that he was elected for these reasons or because the South was considered “the generally accepted model of what is ‘American?’ ”

The 1820 Census has the South with a free population of 2,902,589 and an enslaved population of 1,509,904.  Out of a total Northern and by this time Western free population of 5,624,414 and enslaved population of 19,108, there were 1,659,709 free in New England with only 145 enslaved people, located in Connecticut and Rhode Island.  The Western States of Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio had a total free population of 782,716 with 1,107 enslaved people brought there by people moving in from the South, located in Indiana and Illinois, both of whom would soon outlaw slavery.  The Middle Atlantic States had a total free population of 3,181,989 and an enslaved population of 17,856.  During this time James Madison was reelected and James Monroe was elected President of the United States.

According to the 1830 Census, the South had a free population of 3,789,669 and an enslaved population of 1,983,860.  The New England states had a total free population of 1,954,669 and 48 enslaved people out of the total for the Northern and Western states of 7,008,831 free and 3,568 enslaved.  In the Middle Atlantic states there were 3,584,932 free people and 2,732 enslaved people, and in the Western states there were 1,469,230 free people and 788 enslaved people, mostly in Illinois.  From 1820 to 1830 James Monroe had been reelected and John Quincy Adams was elected to a single term, followed by Andrew Jackson.  John Quincy Adams was from Massachusetts, so Professor Wilson’s formulation goes against his being elected.

Interestingly, with the 1840 Census we see enslaved people for the first time outnumbering free people in the states of South Carolina [267,360 free, 327,038 enslaved] and Mississippi [180,440 free, 195,211 enslaved].  By the time of the 1850 Census the only enslaved people in Northern or Western states are 236 enslaved people in New Jersey.  As Dr. Wills tells us, “Without the federal ratio (the 3/5 Clause) as the deciding factor in House votes, slavery would have been excluded from Missouri, Jackson’s Indian removal policy would have failed, the 1840 gag rule would not have been imposed, the Wilmot Proviso would have banned slavery in territories won from Mexico, the Kansas-Nebraska Bill would have failed.  Other votes were close enough to afford opposition to the South a better chance, if the federal ratio had not been counted into the calculations from the outset.  Elections to key congressional posts were affected continually by the federal ratio, with the result that southerners held ‘the Speaker’s office for 79 percent of the time [before 1824], Ways and Means for 92 percent.’ ” [Ibid., p. 5]  We can also see that for “most of the North” to regard New England as “outsiders” and “disagreeable,” there would have had to have been a significant percentage of them.  As there were no polls conducted during this time, Professor Wilson’s claim is problematic.  Rather than the South being seen as the “generally accepted model of what was ‘American,’ ” it was the added representation they had due to the 3/5 clause that kept them in power.  “Even when it did not affect the outcome of congressional votes, it dominated Democratic caucus and convention votes, since the South had a larger majority there than in the total body.  The federal ratio guaranteed that Democratic presidential nominations would be friendly to the slave interest.  When control of the caucus seemed to be slipping from southern hands, a two-thirds requirement for nominating candidates was installed, to give them power to veto unacceptable men. … The slave states always had one-third more seats in Congress than their free population warranted–forty-seven seats instead of thirty-three in 1793, seventy-six instead of fifty-nine in 1812, and ninety-eight instead of seventy-three in 1833.”  [Ibid., p. 6]  So while Professor Wilson is correct that “nine of the first twelve Presidents were Southern plantation owners,” it wasn’t because, as he claimed, the South was seen as the “generally accepted model of what was ‘American.’ ”  There were a variety of reasons, and the 3/5 Clause played an important role.

Wilson claims, “The New York writer Washington Irving’s famous 1820 story about the Headless Horseman, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’ takes place among rural Hudson Valley people whose society could hardly be distinguished from the South.  Ichabod Crane was a cowardly Yankee twit from Connecticut who presumed too far on the hospitality of the New Yorkers, so one of the young blades scared him nearly to death and sent him fleeing back to where he came from.”  He again goes beyond what is actually true.  Let’s take a look at the story.

Here’s how Irving describes the lifestyle in Sleepy Hollow:  “From the listless repose of the place, and the peculiar character of its inhabitants, who are descendants from the original Dutch settlers, this sequestered glen has long been known by the name of SLEEPY HOLLOW, and its rustic lads are called the Sleepy Hollow Boys throughout all the neighboring country. A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere. Some say that the place was bewitched by a High German doctor, during the early days of the settlement; others, that an old Indian chief, the prophet or wizard of his tribe, held his powwows there before the country was discovered by Master Hendrick Hudson. Certain it is, the place still continues under the sway of some witching power, that holds a spell over the minds of the good people, causing them to walk in a continual reverie. They are given to all kinds of marvellous beliefs, are subject to trances and visions, and frequently see strange sights, and hear music and voices in the air. The whole neighborhood abounds with local tales, haunted spots, and twilight superstitions; stars shoot and meteors glare oftener across the valley than in any other part of the country, and the nightmare, with her whole ninefold, seems to make it the favorite scene of her gambols.”  How much of the South was settled by Dutch settlers?  Sleepy Hollow is a typical rural area.  Professor Wilson would like to pretend that such areas were rare outside the South, but such was an dis not the case.  The vast majority of the country in 1820 was rural.  As to Ichabod Crane, he was there as a school teacher.  Why did Irving say he was from Connecticut?  We only have to read what Irving wrote:  “He was a native of Connecticut, a State which supplies the Union with pioneers for the mind as well as for the forest, and sends forth yearly its legions of frontier woodmen and country schoolmasters.”  So according to Irving, many teachers were from Connecticut.  Professor Wilson tells a whopper when he claims that Crane “presumed too much on the hospitality of the New Yorkers, so one of the young blades scared him nearly to death.”  The “young blade” was a romantic rival of Crane’s for the hand of young Katrina Van Tassel.  And Crane was allegedly seen not in Connecticut but in New York City.  As Irving writes, “It is true, an old farmer, who had been down to New York on a visit several years after, and from whom this account of the ghostly adventure was received, brought home the intelligence that Ichabod Crane was still alive; that he had left the neighborhood partly through fear of the goblin and Hans Van Ripper, and partly in mortification at having been suddenly dismissed by the heiress; that he had changed his quarters to a distant part of the country; had kept school and studied law at the same time; had been admitted to the bar; turned politician; electioneered; written for the newspapers; and finally had been made a justice of the Ten Pound Court. Brom Bones, too, who, shortly after his rival’s disappearance conducted the blooming Katrina in triumph to the altar, was observed to look exceedingly knowing whenever the story of Ichabod was related, and always burst into a hearty laugh at the mention of the pumpkin; which led some to suspect that he knew more about the matter than he chose to tell.

“The old country wives, however, who are the best judges of these matters, maintain to this day that Ichabod was spirited away by supernatural means; and it is a favorite story often told about the neighborhood round the winter evening fire. The bridge became more than ever an object of superstitious awe; and that may be the reason why the road has been altered of late years, so as to approach the church by the border of the millpond. The schoolhouse being deserted soon fell to decay, and was reported to be haunted by the ghost of the unfortunate pedagogue and the plowboy, loitering homeward of a still summer evening, has often fancied his voice at a distance, chanting a melancholy psalm tune among the tranquil solitudes of Sleepy Hollow.”  But the story as written doesn’t serve Professor Wilson’s purpose of demonizing New Englanders.  But then again, perhaps this argument didn’t originate with Professor Wilson.  I have to say what he wrote bears more than a striking resemblance to this piece.

Professor Wilson then claims, “By the 1850s, however, New York (and portions of the Midwest) had been colonised [sic] by Yankees, who made up much of the state’s population and were the leading newspaper editors and rich men of New York City.”  One can be forgiven for thinking Professor Wilson may have had a screw loosened somewhere.  According to the 1850 Census, out of 3,097,394 people in the state of New York, 307,111 were born outside the state, so the claim that New Englanders [which is how Professor Wilson defined “Yankees” earlier in his article] made up “much of the state’s population” is simply at odds with the truth.

Wilson continues, “Yet even as late as the eve of The War [sic], the Democratic governor of New York, Horatio Seymour, blamed sectional conflict on New England fanaticism, which had driven the South to secession.  He declared in a public address that the attempt to stop secession by force would end in destroying the American principle of self-government.  And such a war would be greatly immoral.”  The speech to which Professor Wilson refers was delivered in Albany, New York on January 31, 1861, before Lincoln was even inaugurated.  At that time, Seymour was not the governor of New York as Professor Wilson claimed.  He mentions New England one time in the speech:  “We gave up an area greater than New England, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey combined.”  There is no mention of fanaticism or fanatics in the speech.  So Professor Wilson’s claim that Seymour “blamed sectional conflict on New England fanaticism” is also at odds with the truth.  He continues, “Later, Lincoln was to find it necessary to send seasoned combat troops to New York City to control the elections and enforce the conscription of cannon fodder among the poorer classes.”  I wonder if he considers confederate soldiers who were conscripted [the confederacy imposed conscription before the Union did] to be “cannon fodder.” The Union sent combat troops to New York City due to the draft riots in July of 1863–riots that were instigated and led by Democrats.  The Federals sent troops to the vicinity of New York City in November of 1864 because there was information that confederates and Copperhead Democrats were going to disrupt the elections [see here].

Professor Wilson continues, “One can understand a great deal of American history by remembering a simple fact about the founding.  New England Puritans came to America to get away from a world of sinners and to construct ‘a shining City upon a Hill’ which would be an example for all mankind of a superior commonwealth.  The Yankee elite kept all of their overdeveloped and self-centered righteousness after they lost their Christianity and replaced it with the imported German philosophy of Transcendentalism.  By contrast, people who came to settle the South saw America as a promising garden to be cultivated, a place where land could be had and personal honour [sic] and independence be established by younger sons and common folk in ways that were no longer possible in the Mother Country.”  Here he references John Winthrop’s 1630 piece, “City on a Hill,” to represent the views of everyone in New England.  He also claims the Transcendentalists ran the region and were not Christians.  Nothing is further from the truth.  Professor Wilson then uses two men to represent entire regions:  “We can see the difference starkly proved by laying side by side two diaries from the early 18th century, those of the Reverend Cotton Mather of Massachusetts and Colonel William Byrd II of Virginia.  Allowing that both men were Englishmen born in the North American colonies, they could not have been more different.  Mather and Byrd lived in different mental universes.  While Byrd was writing in his diary about his good times (even the guilty ones), his wide reading, his socialising [sic] with cordial neighbours [sic], his love of nature, and his adventures in the wilderness, Mather was secretly recording the evil hearts of his associates, the failure of the world to fully recognise [sic] his merit, and complaints and lectures to God about his insufficient rewards.”  You can see Cotton Mather’s diary here and excerpts from Byrd’s diary here.  Professor Wilson would like us to think that a person’s education, family, and personal inclinations have little to do with their outlook on life.  He would like us to think that the region where they live is the most important determinant.  What I see when I read the two diaries is that Mather is hard at work at his vocation, whereas Byrd has other people–people he owned–doing the work for him, thus giving him the leisure time available to read widely, socialize with neighbors, and have adventures in the wilderness.  Mather himself owned slaves, yet Mather also labored for himself at his vocation.  Byrd’s vocation was planter, meaning others labored for him and he reaped the benefits of their labor.  Professor Wilson claims, “There are ‘scholars’ who assert that there is nothing distinctive about the South except its defense of slavery and segregation, that the South has never had any separate culture worthy of notice.  Slavery existed in all the colonies and it had nothing to do with the differences in the mental worlds of Mather and Byrd, differences that obviously go back to the early days of the settlement of America.”  This is quite obviously false, since without his slaves, Byrd wouldn’t have had the leisure time available for his many other pursuits.  The South developed a unique culture, but that culture was built on the backs of African-American slaves.

Professor Wilson further writes, “Another fundamental thing to understand is that the North changed radically after the founding of the United States, especially in the 1850s, while the South, though expanding over a huge territory, remained substantially the same.”  As shown above, the change was that the North gradually gave up the institution of slavery while in the South that institution grew so that in two states the majority of the population was enslaved.  But Professor Wilson doesn’t want to get too specific in his identification of what the changes to which he refers were.  He claims, “The official view of The War tells us that Lincoln sought only to preserve the glorious old Union of the Founding Fathers, while Southerners, crazed by slavery, repudiated venerable American principles and tried to destroy it.  This is opposite of the truth.”  Professor Wilson no doubt has read the Declarations of Causes published by some of the states that seceded, and he has no doubt read the speeches and writings of the secession commissioners.  So how could he possibly in good faith make such a false claim?  This blog has already considered why South Carolina, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and Arkansas seceded.  It is inescapable that they seceded due to concerns over issues regarding the institution of slavery.  For Professor Wilson to deny that is simply going against the truth.  The seven cotton states of the Deep South seceded not because of any bad treatment they had received, but because the result of a free, constitutional election went against their wishes and they believed the winner posed a direct threat to the continued existence of slavery.  They certainly repudiated the American principle that the winner of the election gets to implement their policies over the whole land.

Wilson continues, “One of the first laws passed by the first U.S. Congress was to continue subsidising [sic] the Yankee fishing fleet as the British government had done before independence.  While Virginia conquered the vast Northwest territory and gave it to the Union for the use of all Americans, Connecticut demanded special land for itself (the Western Reserve in Ohio).  New Englanders opposed the Louisiana Purchase and in general most American land acquisition and westward movement, which would mean that an ever-growing part of America would be beyond their control.”  Well, you guessed it.  Professor Wilson has not accurately told us what happened.  See herehere, and here.  But the truth doesn’t serve his purpose of demonizing New England.

We see much the same thing throughout the essay–throwing in a bit of history slightly altered from the actual history in order to paint New England and New Englanders in the worst possible light.  He claims, “In fact, a the time of The War, a high proportion of American Catholics and Jews were found in the South and were loyal Confederates.”  Well, let’s check that out.  Maryland was founded as a colony by Roman Catholics, so we’d expect a significant number of Roman Catholics there.  Same for Louisiana, which came to the United States after being under both Roman Catholic Spain and Roman Catholic France.  But let’s look at all the numbers, shall we?

According to the 1860 Census, 20.94% of Roman Catholic churches, representing 19.63% of the aggregate accommodations of those churches, were in the South, while the rest of the country had 79.07% and 80.37%, respectively.  Maryland, with 7.24% of the South’s population, had 16.02% of the South’s Roman Catholic churches, representing 16.85% of the aggregate accommodations of those churches.  Louisiana, with 4.54% of the South’s population, had 19.34% of the South’s Roman Catholic churches, representing 22.32% of the aggregate accommodations of those churches.  Without those two states, the South’s numbers are pretty small.  As to synagogues, the South had 25% of the nation’s synagogues, representing 27.05% of the aggregate accommodations of those synagogues.  Louisiana had 26.32% of the South’s synagogues, representing 13.58% of the aggregate accommodations of those synagogues.  Maryland had 15.79% of the South’s synagogues, representing 46.74% of the aggregate accommodations of those synagogues.  Once again, without those two states, the South’s numbers are very small.  Professor Wilson’s assertion doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Professor Wilson claims, “It has been shown that the fabled Underground Railroad was mostly just that, a fable made up after the fact when it was safe to have been a brave antislavery worker.  Sometimes the Underground Railroad involved slave stealing for resale rather than slave freeing.”  Well, that’s a statement that demands substantiation, isn’t it?  His footnote cites Larry Gara, The Liberty Line:  The Legend of the Underground Railroad.  In his footnote, Professor Wilson writes, “The ‘Underground Railroad’ has spawned enough recent literature to fill a small library, much of it directed at children and produced by the U.S. government, although it is an insignificant and dubious portion of the ‘history’ of slavery in the U.S.”  As we could have guessed beforehand, Professor Wilson misstates what Dr. Gara reports in his book.  There was indeed an Underground Railroad, but it was primarily operated by fugitive slaves and free African-Americans.  The fable built up around it was that it was operated by heroic whites.  There was no national organization to the Underground Railroad.  Rather, it was very loose and the term “Underground Railroad” simply provides an umbrella label to activities that were going on in several localities to get fugitive slaves to freedom.

But Professor Wilson isn’t done yet.  He writes, “For Lincoln and his party to take power and inaugurate a war of conquest against the South was a new and revolutionary development even in terms of Northern history.”  It would have been if that’s what happened; however, Professor Wilson’s statement is at odds with the truth.  Lincoln and his party didn’t inaugurate the Civil War.  Jefferson Davis did.

Professor Wilson next turns his attention to a specific part of New York state.  He writes that some Republican leaders “were born in the Yankee [read that as New England]-dominated region of upstate New York, known throughout the United States as ‘the Burnt-Over District’ because it had been swept by so many waves of fanaticism.”  The Burnt-over District was in Central and Western New York.  It wasn’t first called that until 1879, which makes it very difficult for it to be “known throughout the United States” at the time of the Civil War as Professor Wilson asserts.  The Burnt-over District consisted of the following counties:  Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genessee, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Ontario, Orleans, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming, and Yates.  According to the 1850 Census, the states had the following percentages of people born outside the state:

Allegany – 16.7%

Cattaraugus – 15.7%

Chautauqua – 17.6%

Erie – 10.8%

Genessee – 16.8%

Livingston – 14.2%

Monroe – 10.7%

Niagara – 11.8%

Ontario – 12.6%

Orleans – 14.6%

Seneca – 14.9%

Steuben – 11.5%

Wayne – 9.7%

Wyoming – 19.4%

Yates – 10.3%

So this region wasn’t “Yankee-dominated” to use Professor Wilson’s terms [recall that by “Yankee” he means “New England].  It wasn’t “known throughout the United States [at that time] as ‘the Burnt-Over District.’ ”  And it was known by that term because it had been swept by reform movements, not “waves of fanaticism.”

Professor Wilson makes the claim that, “The abolitionism flooding forth from parts of the North in sermons, orations, newspapers, schoolbooks, slanderous petitions, and pamphlets in the 1830s was something new and different.  It had little interest in the welfare of black people, nor even in the bad effects of slavery on the American economy that had been argued (erroneously) by earlier critics.  Slave-holding was a SIN [emphasis in original], a blot on the perfection of what was not regarded not as the Union but as a ‘nation’ with a divine mission.  Abolitionists preached vividly that every evil they could imagine as a potential abuse by a slave-owner was a fact of everyday life in the South, of which they were completely ignorant.”  I suppose Professor Wilson doesn’t consider being free to be an improvement in the welfare of African-Americans.  They appear to have disagreed with him.  Many, if not most, religious abolitionists did in fact regard slaveholding as a sin.  That’s one for Professor Wilson.  Now, what in particular does he think “Abolitionists preached vividly that every evil they could imagine as a potential abuse by a slave-owner?”  He gives one example.  “The great abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher (brother of Mrs. Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin), got rich and famous from staging mock slave auctions where young, nearly-white women were put on the block.”  It was that lucrative that he got rich off it?  Somehow I doubt that.  Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Professor Wilson is correct, that Beecher held these mock slave auctions.  Would that be something that never happened in the South?

Here’s something from Page 81 of Henry Hitchcock’s Marching With Sherman:


Here’s something else, from page 248 of the same book:


So it seems that what Professor Wilson regards as something purely from the imagination of the abolitionists was actually witnessed in Georgia.

Professor Wilson claims, “Southerners found themselves regularly and publically [sic] denounced in the harshest and vilest terms, as barbarians, pirates, kidnappers, evil, tyrannical men lacking every American and Christian virtue.  It is significant that the orthodox clergy of the North looked unfavourably [sic] on the new currents.  Northern Catholic and Episcopal bishops and Presbyterian theologians plainly denounced and warned against the hysterical propaganda of the abolitionists.  Episcopal Bishop John Henry Hopkins of Vermont said in 1863, even as The War had raged on:  ‘The South has done more than any people on earth for the African race.’ ”  Well, first of all, Professor Wilson misquoted Hopkins slightly.  Hopkins actually said, “The South has done more than any people on earth for the Christianization of the African race.” [my emphasis]  In other words, not for the general benefit, but rather for converting African-Americans to Christianity.  A number of church leaders published proslavery works like this one.  Just because Hopkins was a slavery apologist doesn’t make him right.  Wilson would like us to believe anyone who was proslavery and discount anyone who was against slavery, it seems.  Professor Wilson wants us to think that someone who happened to live in the North and was a slavery apologist was somehow an objective observer.

Wilson then makes this patently absurd claim:  “Abolitionism, looked at as it actually was, had more to do with hatred of the slave-holder and then of the whole Southern white population than it did with black welfare.  It was an inappropriate and destructive response to the problem of slavery in the United States.”  Apparently, slavery forever would have been preferable for Wilson, because the slave owners were showing no signs of ever giving up slavery.  Not stopping there, he gets even more brazen:  “By 1860 there was a Northern generation that had grown up knowing nothing about their Southern fellow countrymen except abolitionist propaganda.  And vast numbers of recent immigrants, ignorant of American history and the Constitution, were highly susceptible.  By that time, the most thoughtful and perceptive Southern clergy of all denominations were convinced that the North was given over to heresy and atheism and that secession was a religious as well as a political necessity.”  Wilson thinks that people who aren’t as expert as he is in history will simply accept what he has to say without question.  Well, some will for sure.  The heritage instead of history crowd will always eschew real history and subordinate truth to their version of their “heritage.”  But those of us who have studied this period in history understand the church schisms were over the institution of slavery.  You can see a history of the split in the Methodists here.  You can read about the Presbyterians here.  And why did the Southern Baptists split off?  You guessed it. You can read more here, here, and here.

Wilson claims, “In New York City in 1860 there were women and children working 16 hour days for starvation wages, 150,000 unemployed, 40,000 homeless, 600 brothels (some with girls as young as 10), and 9,000 grog shops where the poor could temporarily drown their sorrows.  Half of the children of the city did not live past the age of five.  And at the same time there were ostentatiously rich men who kept race horses and mistresses, dined every day at Delmonicos, and lit their cigars with fifty dollar banknotes.”  Being an expert propagandist, Professor Wilson has chosen his target carefully.  New York City had the lowest standard of living of major cities in the North.  Now, I don’t know what he considers “starvation wages.”  After all, if the work force starves to death you lose them and their experience.  I suppose it’s analogous to the minimum wage today, whose increase I would wager Professor Wilson does not support.  However, “At the outbreak of the Civil War, the average New York City worker earned just 85 cents a day.  The city suffered from another recession in early 1861 after Southern businessmen repudiated their debts, but within a year, as the industrial and production might of the city was unleashed, it was prospering like never before.”  Of course, the mayor of New York, Fernando Wood, was a proslavery Democrat who was sympathetic with the South.  Professor Wilson’s statistics appear to be highly inflated to make New York appear to be worst than it actually was, as well.  Actual child mortality was bad enough, but Professor Wilson apparently doesn’t think it was bad enough, so he embellishes it.  “Between 1860 and 1865, the total infant population of New York City (classified as being under the age of five) numbered 118,477. During that time period the average annual deaths of infants was 12,188, or 102.9 per thousand, as compared with a total mortality rate of 29.7 per thousand for the same period. Of infant deaths, 7,473, or roughly 32 percent of the average annual mortality rate for the total population during those years, were children less than a year old.”  The difference between New York City and most plantations, of course, was that the plantation was its own brothel and the slave owner kept his horses and his mistresses near his house.  Don’t take my word for it.  Here’s what Mary Chesnut had to say:


Professor Wilson, at the end of his essay, says, “In 1860 antislavery sentiment itself was not sufficient to win an election, much less to inaugurate a war of conquest.  There had to be other developments to bring Lincoln and his party to power.  Described briefly, these included an impulse toward ‘national greatness’ (a product of both economic interests and emotions), with the ‘nation,’ of course, understood as the North; the rise of an aggressive class of industrial and banking moguls in New York and in the Great Lakes corridor of Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago; the arrival in the Midwest of radical, power-worshipping Germans fleeing the failed revolutions of 1848, to provide a militant nucleus of ideologues, activists, and soldiers for the Republicans; and Lincoln’s clever manipulation of a phony but powerful issue:  the ‘extension of slavery.’ ”  Like the rest of his propaganda, there is so much wrong with what he claims in this small excerpt that it takes a long time to answer.  True, antislavery sentiment by itself wasn’t enough for an electoral college victory.  But it was by far the most important factor.  Professor Wilson would like us to ignore that most important factor in favor of the small factors that were, in effect, the tiny grains of sand that were enough to supply the rest of what was needed.  The nation, of course, was the entire nation, not just the North.  Professor Wilson knows that, but he doesn’t want you to know it.  The Revolutions of 1848 weren’t conducted by power-mad people, as Professor Wilson asserts, knowing it’s a false assertion, but rather an attempt to reform European monarchies to make the more democratic by giving people the vote, providing for freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of expression.  If expansion of slavery was a phony issue, how is it that it was cited so many times by the secessionists as a reason for seceding?  Professor Wilson would like us to ignore this major real reason and to believe his made-up reasons.  Sorry, Professor, not gonna happen.  And he tries again to convince us, contrary to the actual history, that Lincoln and the Republicans started the Civil War.  They didn’t.  Jefferson Davis did.

I have to hand it to Professor Wilson.  He is one outstanding propagandist.  He tries to demonize one sector of the country in order to make another part of the country feel better about itself and to focus the hatred of that part of the country against the sector he’s trying to demonize.  Where have we seen this before?

Oh, yeah.  Now I remember.



  1. I admire your ability to be able to even read through Prof. Wilson’s article without going crazy, much less taking the time to write such a through debunking of it!

    1. Thanks very much for your kind comment. It took quite a bit of time.

  2. I once stated, I can respect a person’s education but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to agree with him. So far I have seen no negative criticism of Edward Ayers or Gary Gallagher based on reliable facts. So, did Clyde Wilson prove that you can earn a PhD and still be a poor historian?

    1. Professor Wilson is probably a terrific historian. The problem is that here he’s acting as a propagandist, not a historian.

  3. Al, thank you for correcting me. I mistook your analysis of his research as questioning his skills as an historian.

    1. No problem, Pat. I certainly don’t question his skills as a historian, but I do take exception to his propaganda writing.

  4. Reading Wilson’s description of New York as a colony of New England, I was prompted to look at the political power elite of the city and state. Here are the top men of 1861:

    William Seward was born in New York. His father was from New Jersey. Fernando Wood was born in Philly. Thurlow Weed was born in New York. Horatio Seymour was born in New York. George Opdyke was born in New York. August Belmont was born in Germany. James Gordon Bennett, the publisher of the city’s leading paper, was from Scotland.

    1. And yet Professor Wilson would like us to think that New England was running everything outside the South.

  5. Patrick Young, Sir, has anyone ever written a good book about the life of Horace Greeley that could be made into a movie? I did my own research on Greeley and he had some type of contact with those you mentioned in your last post. If not would you be interested in writing one yourself?

  6. Kristoffer · · Reply

    Excellent posts. I’d love to see Wilson’s reply.

    Good to see you found Bytwerk’s archive. Here’s Goebbels accusing the British of using the Big Lie:

    He wasn’t the first to say the British were using the Big Lie:

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