Lies the Neoconfederates Told Me

Yes, I know, it’s just about every time they open their mouths. But this is actually an article by James Loewen, author of the books, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong. You can read the article here.

Loewen wrote the article in reaction to an essay by Clyde Wilson, the neoconfederate who tries to fool people by putting out a phony version of American history, which is doubly egregious because as the holder of a Ph.D. in history, he knows better.

Loewen comments on the poor scholarship displayed in Wilson’s essay: “He quotes not a single word from any secession document — indeed, from any source other than Robert E. Lee’s farewell address to his troops at Appomattox. From that speech he quotes seven words: Lee’s praise of the ‘valor and devotion’ and ‘unsurpassed courage and fortitude’ of Confederate soldiers. I have no quarrel with praising those qualities of the men. Grant paid them the same tribute, calling them ‘a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought.’ ”

While Wilson and his ilk try to deceive people into thinking protection of slavery had little, if anything, to do with the secession of the confederate states and instead such concepts as “states rights” drove secession, Loewen uses the words of the secessionists themselves to show they were actually opposed to states rights when it came to slavery. “He does not have to contend with why South Carolina’s leaders said they seceded, because he does not quote them. In fact, South Carolina’s leaders seceded because they were upset with states’ rights. In the key document, ‘Declaration Of The Immediate Causes Which Induce And Justify The Secession Of South Carolina From The Federal Union,’ adopted on Christmas Eve of 1860, delegates to the South Carolina secession convention made this clear. We are seceding, they wrote, because ‘fourteen of the States have deliberately refused for years past to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own statutes for the proof.’ Constitutional obligations? Sounds pretty vague! But the delegates go right on to spell out why they are leaving:

        The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: ‘No person held to service or labor in one State under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.’

“The ‘general government,’ South Carolina goes on, ‘passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery has led to a disregard of their obligations.’

South Carolina went on to list the states whose attempts to exercise states’ rights deeply offended them:

        The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the acts of Congress, or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from the service of labor claimed….

“South Carolina goes on to charge other states with other unpardonable offenses. New York, for example, no longer allows owners the right to take slaves through New York or use them temporarily there. South Carolina is outraged. Some states, South Carolina charges, let African Americans vote. Who votes in America was at this time, of course, a state’s right, until the passage of the 15th Amendment, two whole eras later, but the delegates refer to the Dred Scott decision and are offended that New Hampshire, for instance, lets blacks vote.”

That’s not Wilson’s only phony claim Loewen eviscerates. “Secession is not the only subject that Wilson gets backward. He denies all agency to the Confederacy in the coming of the war. ‘The U.S. government, under the control of a minority party, launched a massive invasion of the South,’ Wilson writes. Well, yes, eventually it did, but first, the Confederacy attacked Fort Sumter, for starters. No administration could have simply turned the other cheek to that initiation of war and remain in office. James McPherson makes this point at length in his 1989 essay, ‘The War of Southern Aggression.’ ”

The article is a very good summary of how neoconfederates use poor scholarship and outright falsehoods to try to portray the confederacy as some kind of a good thing.

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5 comments

  1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

    That’s the whole problem with the mythology of the lost cause. It collapses quickly as soon as facts are presented. The whole lost cause depends on a willingness to deny reality and to instead deliberately choose to believe in fiction. I think that’s why so many are so adamant about it. Their self-image is wrapped up in a lie and they just do not want to confront that lie or even challenge it because when they do, they start to explore more facets of themselves. What else is based on self-deception?’

    That is why education is such an important tool in the fight against ignorance. Educated people use analytical thinking to confront problems and then developing solutions to overcome those problems. Ignorant people choose to ignore the problem, reject solutions to problems, and even to deny that a problem exists if doing so means they will have to make changes to their lives. It is not about what is correct for them. It is about what is convenient for them.

    1. Something most lost causers will never be able to understand.

    2. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

      Mr, Dick, I appreciate your insights into the convoluted psyche of the Lost Causers. As someone new to the study of the ACW, I am continually swerving away from their dogma. One false key stroke and I find myself down the rabbit hole heading straight for the alternate history folk at Abby Road. Their books and articles appear like a bad rash whilst I am attempting legitimate research. Their kissing cousins the Flaggers, thankfully, are too ignorant to put out much in the way of pseudo-academic material.

      1. Jimmy Dick · · Reply

        Shoshana,

        I urge my students to look at where the information came from. I have them check on the sources used and to try to access those sources so they can read them in their entirety. A lot of bad history is the result of people cherry picking what they want from a source while ignoring the whole context of the document itself. I want them to use historical works by historians, so I have them check credentials as well. Peer review is critical as well. When something is not submitted for peer review that’s a red flag.

        I also like to refer students to this website. http://www.williamcronon.net/researching/index.htm

        Dr. Cronon is a past president of the AHA.

        1. Shoshana Bee · · Reply

          Mr. Dick,thank you very much for the heads up on the website; I just looked at it and I can see that it is going to be of great assistance. Cherry picking is a newer technique that participating in forums has introduced to me. Thankfully, there are vigilant, knowledgeable folk who root out the offenders, quickly.

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