Human Events Unapologetically Pushes Civil War Revisionism

Among other stellar exhibitions of conservative values, this year’s CPAC featured, hilariously, a presentation that dared to ask the important question: “Abraham Lincoln: Friend or Foe?” Now, it’s altogether too easy to make fun of isolated presentations at a conservative fringe event. And it’s probably unfair to generalize on that basis alone.

But Human Events, a fairly mainstream conservative outlet (how sad is that?), sent around this e-mail to subscribers yesterday:

No, I do not know who signed me up for Human Events updates. And that’s not the point. The point is that the motivations for and the outcome of the Civil War are somehow now controversial, in a mainstream conservative paper. It gets worse, too. The e-mail goes on to offer a few revelations. DID YOU KNOW:

  • That secession was legal
  • That the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave
  • That leading Northern generals — like McLellan and Sherman — hated abolitionists
  • That bombing people “back to the Stone Age” got its start with the Federal siege of Vicksburg
  • That Stonewall Jackson founded a Sunday school for slaves where he taught them how to read
  • That General James Longstreet fought the Battle of Sharpsburg in his carpet slippers
  • That if the South had won, we might be able to enjoy holidays in the sunny Southern state of Cuba

These are all pretty bad, and pretty wrong. There’s a good reason you didn’t know about #1: because it’s not true. Although we can query whether Justice Chase had a conflict of interest, he was right to conclude, after the fact in Texas v. White, that secession was an illegal act utterly hostile to the values and the theory of the Constitution. And whether the Emancipation Proclamation was conceived as a military or a moral act is an interesting debate, but doesn’t alter, as this author seems to think, the conclusion that it was the Right Thing To Do. But unequivocally the worst has to be number four, which deserves its own highlight. The author finds it significant that:

Stonewall Jackson founded a Sunday school for slaves where he taught them how to read

Why would this fact be significant? Why does the author think I should care? Why does he care? Presumably, because it rehabilitates Stonewall Jackson as a partially moral man. But it really doesn’t. It shows that General Jackson was, at best, a benevolent slaver who believed in the “White Man’s Burden.” Partially benevolent slavery is still slavery. It’s still premised on the idea of black inferiority, and it still holds out human beings as property. Accordingly, it’s still grievously immoral, and the absence of physical cruelty doesn’t change that, or make it better. The cruelty we so often see in slavery is wrong, to be sure, but it’s a wrong that’s separate from and not necessary for the sin of slavery. By trying to argue otherwise, our author, a valued contributor to Human Events, seems to suggest that we should see where Stonewall Jackson was coming from. And that’s truly terrifying.

Bottom line: Human Events doesn’t understand the Civil War, a turning point in American history, a “constitutional moment” that improved the daily lives of every American, black or white, in a thousand different ways. They don’t care. Not about that, and not about the fact that half a million American soldiers died to secure those benefits. For them, it’s more worthwhile to tell your readers that, if the South had won the Civil War, maybe we wouldn’t have a country anymore, but hey. We’d always have Cuba.


  1. General James Longstreet fought the Battle of Sharpsburg in his carpet slippers

    That supposed to impress anyone? Winston Churchill fought the whole WWII in his dressing gown. (True story!)

  2. Actually – most of those points are true or at least open to debate.

    – Still debated

    – True

    – True

    – True

    – True

    – True

    – True

    As to the significance of those points – the Lingstreet thing is dumb. The rest are interesting but hardly make the case that the Civil War had an unfortunate outcome.

    As ny student of history knows, historical revisionism is what keeps historians employed. That’s how all of our Presidents got through periods where they are exhaulted and later condemned and then back again (Thomas Jefferson being perhaps the best example of this).

    The men of the Civil War were complicated individuals. Most historians speculate that Jackson did not like slavery but his spiritual beliefs lead him to believe it had been ordained by God. Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclimation but had no particular adversion to slavery (his best friend, Joshua Speed, owned many slaves here in Louisville).

    Conservatives in general are a bit more generous towards the South and in support of the cause of states’ rights, etc. Plus, the South has been the base of the conservative movement for a long time. Obviously Southern sympathies run deep here.

    I don’t see a likely-paid advertisement for a alternative book about the Civil War to be scandalous or misguided. They mention clearly in the ad that the South had a strong Constitutional case, which is, of course, true.

    1. Dear fellow German Nationalist,

      The politically correct history that dominates our schools and universities today insists that Adolf Hitler was another Jefferson Davis, Erwin Rommel was another Lee, and the Third Reich were our own version of the Confederate States of America — a blot on German history.

      But reality was different: the German Nation, as B. Q. von Matterhornbesteiger explains in The Politically Incorrect Guide (TM) to World War II, had concentration camps, but also immense culture, honor, and skill — not to mention a very strong jus gentium case.


      * That declaring war on Poland was legal?

      * That Hitler revitalized the German economy and political life after the disasters of the Great War and the Versailles Treaty?

      * That many Jews were allowed to leave Germany peacefully?

      * That Joseph Goebbels was not just a master communicator, but also a loving parent?

      * That Winston Churchill was very often drunk?

      * That thousands of innocent civilians died during the Allied firebombing of German cities such as Hamburg and Dresden?

      * That if Germany had won, we might be able to enjoy holidays in the sunny Italian state of Libya?

      (I’m sure my point here os be obvious, but I’ll be happy to explain if necessary.)

      1. Curiously enough, BTW, there doesn’t seem to be a The Politically Incorrect Guide (TM) to World War II at all. What a curious omission. I think I’ll go write a pitch letter right away.

      2. Yeah…..I don’t really get it. Unless your implication is that there is always a good/bad guy in every war and the good always prevails. Reminder: history is always written by the victors.

      3. Correction: history is emphatically written by historians (and, in the case of the The Politically Incorrect Guides (TM), apparently by hacks).

        But my point is that when presented with an argument like the one in this book, at least as it is presented in the email, the important question is not whether or not the individual historical facts that are used are true or not. I don’t buy the ones about the right to secession and Cuba, but most of what they’re saying is probably true enough in the detail.

        No, the problem here is that through selection, selective emphasis and especially omission, even true facts can collectively be made to support a particular interpretation of history which is essentially misleading.

        So for instance, we have the good Herr von Matterhornbesteiger, who says: “Yes, okay, concentration camps and wars of conquest. But it wasn’t all bad! Just look at those nice autobahns, am I right?” And we have the TPIG(TM), which says: “Yes, okay, slavery and oppression. But it wasn’t all bad! Just look at those pretty magnolias, am I right?”

        I also have a secondary point in that while a book like TPIG(TM) to WWII would never ever become mainstream, least of all in Germany, I fully expect that to the Civil War will become an instant best seller. That seems to testify to a lack of, shall we call it self-reflection among certain parts of the American political spectrum.

        1. “Correction: history is emphatically written by historians…”

          Really? You want to go there? So I guess you’re ranking Venerable Bede right up there with Shelby Foote? History, for much of well, history, was written by people who felt like writing it, often for a hobby (see T.Roosevelt). Reasearch was shoddy or non-existant and conclusions were heavily influenced by the sensabilities of the day.

          As to the success of this book, there is a huge market for similar titles in the US. I was given The Politically incorrect Guide to Hunting for Christmas last year and my father-in-law received The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Middle East.

          Assuming you are also a student of history you know that history departments are all heavily politicized and that historians ALWAYS have an agenda. Painting any war in black and white terms is ludicrous. It’s good to challenge certain notions.

          This goes both ways. When i was doing archaeology full time I worked at a number of former slave sites. We invested a lot of effort into debunking the myth that slavery in Kentucky was a ‘kinder,gentler’ form of slavery, which was a popular story told by the little old ladies from the DAR who gave tours there.

          There is a HUGE difference between the atrocities of Germany verses the Confederacy. I think you know that, or else your knowledge of American history is woefully inadequate.

        2. Reasearch was shoddy or non-existant and conclusions were heavily influenced by the sensabilities of the day.

          Sure, they didn’t have the methodological benefits of the later professionalisation of history that we do today. But that’s exactly the point – we have those things today, source criticism and peer review and professional standards, and so on. And an historical work published in 2010 should be measured by the standard of 2010, not that of 1885.

          Unless you’re trying to say that this kind of history would have been more appropriate 125 years ago, sure, we can easily agree on that.

          history departments are all heavily politicized and that historians ALWAYS have an agenda

          Whoa, Mr Cynicism. I don’t know which departments you frequent, but most historians I know actually invest a certain professional ethos in getting their stuff right. Sure, there are some who are blatantly political, too, but they tend not to have too big a star among their colleagues. And yes, challenging notions is great, and it happens all the time, but it should be done to increase our understanding of the past, not exploit it to push some political/counter-cultural agenda like this. Although I’ll give these people the benefit of doubt and assume they’re just in it for the money.

          There is a HUGE difference between the atrocities of Germany verses the Confederacy.

          Okay, you’re still not quite seeing my point. I’m not saying the CSA was as bad as the Third Reich (although it was certainly bad enough). Rather, I’m trying to illustrate how deceptive the approach used here actually is, by applying the exact same line of thought to something that we can presumably all agree was bad. The CSA and the Civil War is perhaps a less clear-cut case, but that just means historians need to be that much more careful about presenting an accurate picture, not just picking and choosing facts like this.

    2. Mintman · ·

      Lanfranc: as a German who hears similar (though slightly less over-the-top) crap from genuinely clueless apologetic compatriots from time to time, I have to second Ames: awesome! Exactly the same logic.

  3. Lanfranc — AWESOME.

    Mike — no. There was a constitutional case for nullification, say, under the Articles of Confederation, but that’s not actually a constitutional case at all then. As for secession, it was only controversial because the South wanted it to be. Secession is otherwise an act utterly extrinsic to the act of union, officially disclaimed in the Preamble, and entirely alien to the Founders’ intent. There may be a philosophical case for secession — as in, “When in the course of human events…”, but whether that exists is an entirely different question than whether a *legal* case exists.

    Lincoln was a tepid abolitionists for his early life and early presidency. He wasn’t a fan, and believed it was wrong, but didn’t really care to make something of it. At least at the outset, and until partway through the war, the necessity of preserving the Union trumped the necessity of abolition. Any serious historian shows that that changed later in life, but the starting point too is different than what you appear to think.

    1. Lincoln was very clear that slavery was a non-issue for him in respect to why he was fighting the war. When you have that much power and you refuse to free the only slaves whose lives you have power over…it’s hard to give him the mantle of Friend of the Black Man.

    2. I’m not saying that Lincoln always was the Great Emancipator, but war changes people, and by 1864 at the latest, he was that. Have you read, say, Team of Rivals? She makes the “character arc” pretty clear.

      1. Jackson (and many other prominent Confederates) personally disliked slavery as well. Actions speak louder than words.

      2. Yes, yes they do. Like signing the Emancipation Proclamation, and advocating for what would eventually become the 13th Amendment.

        I realize you’ll say the last bit was just talk, but I’ll remind you he died before he could do more about it.

        1. I’m sure you know the old saying about the EP:

          “Lincoln freed slaves where he had no power and where he had power he freed no slaves.”

        2. Military commanders have power over conquered territories. And besides, the EP irrevocably committed him and his successor to the 13th Amendment.

          1. Yes – but freeing slaves in teritory he actually controlled would have possibly pushed Kentucky out of the Union. And Lincoln believed from the start of the war that KY was the key to the whole puzzle. Not to mention some of his closest supporters owned slaves there.

          2. Mike, so you believe the 13th Amendment would not have been passed if Lincoln had not been assassinated – or what?

            1. Sure it would have. But I also believe slavery would have ended in the South in short order if they had won.

            2. Why would they? Most of the southern states’ economy was based on slavery, and they had been fighting tooth and nail since before the Revolution to avoid emancipation.

              1. As I mentioned previously, many Southern leaders were not firendly to slavery, Lee being chief among them. We can speculate a President Lee would have pushed for an end to slavery and his mythical status would have made it happen. Furthermore, as the South industrialized slavery would have been increasingly useless.

          3. Yeah. Mike, drawing the inferences most favorable to you, and adding in my uncontested facts, you’ve proved:

            1. Lincoln was not ab initio an abolitionist, even if he did not like slavery.
            2. Despite this part of the causus belli was a Southern belief that he would free the slaves, immediately.
            3. During the conduct of the war, realizing that emancipation of the North and winning the war were irreconcilable, he threaded the needle by freeing slaves in conquered territories, thus making eventual abolition inevitable upon conclusion of the war.
            4. Upon the conclusion of the war, he began advocating explicitly for abolition and universal suffrage. Recall the story of when Booth resolved to kill him, at a speech after the war (to a friend: “That means ni***r citizenship. Now, by God, I’ll put him through. That is the last speech he will ever make.”)

            In that context, even his half-steps towards abolition seem clearly focused on an eventual goal, which he won in death.

            1. The Emancipation Proclamation was effectively an executive order, wasn’t it? Would Lincoln even have had the authority to free any slaves in the non-rebelling parts of the Union by EO? Sounds like there would be some major constitutional issues with that.

              1. To consolidate replies, you’ve got cause and effect wrong on industrializing. Slavery forecloses a need to industrialize; with slavery present, you can’t assume industrialization happens. And your little fantasy scenario takes a big gamble on a single man, literally, being able to oppose his newly formed country. Lincoln’s conduct of the war made abolition inevitable after 1863, albeit impossible before then; there’s no reason at all to expect that any scenario would’ve done better.

            2. And whose to say that many Southern leaders wouldn’t have moved in the same direction? Robert E. Lee would have been a likely successor to Davis and he was firmly opposed to slavery. Please keep in mind that this whole line of debate comes from you saying that Jackson’s personal attitudes towards slavery were irrelevant in lieu of his actions. Lincoln didn’t free any slaves in the United States. Period. We can speculate that he would have but for 4 years he chose expedience over morals. I’m not saying I blame him for that, but don’t hold other Civil War figures to a higher standard than the Great Emancipator.

              1. A further note on this: you seem to be willing to draw incredibly favorable inferences from Lee’s conduct, but none from Lincoln’s. You conceptualize Lee and Lincoln as about equivalent on slavery — neither liked it, but tolerated it while they had to — but read Lee’s utter inaction as proof that he falls more on the side of abolition, and Lincoln’s belated but affirmative actions as somehow proving that he was a True Ambivalent. That’s insane.

                1. Not so – I’m actually pointing out that you did the exact same thing with jackson verses Lincoln. You basically dismissed any positive denotation with Jackson on slavery while giving Lincoln a pass because he set the ball in motion. Your crystal ball only seems to work for Abe.

                2. I point to things Lincoln did, you say ‘words aren’t enough’ and then point to things Jackson said. Unimpressed.

                  1. Lincoln was n a much better position to act. Jackson was not.

                    Did Lincoln do everything he could have? Show me the line letter from Lincoln that says, “My plan is to free all slaves in the United States.”

  4. Forgive me my venture into alternative history imaginings but I rather doubt that Cuba would have become a confederate state. Now certainly the Confederation’s founders dreamed of an expanding southern slave empire deep into Latin America but keep in mind that even if they had won independence, the south still would have been a primarily agrarian economy with little of needed industrial might to wage wars of conquest. Southern forces couldn’t even break the union naval blockade or stop union forces from entering southern territory at will.

    Add to that the fact that the even in victory the south would been massively economically weakened by the war and its debts and that at the time Cuba was still part of the Spanish empire. Now by the mid 18th century this empire was not what it used to be but Spain was still an industrialized nation capable of waging war on a level the new born C.S.A. likely could not match. Add to this the likely military assistance from still potent Mexico and other Latin nations, who would be very eager to quash any dreams of southern expansion by Anglo conquerors and the assistance of a humiliated Union more then willing to do anything to hem in their traitorous former countrymen and you would find that not only would a Cuban conquest not be the cake walk that this southern apologist thinks it would have been, but that independence for the south would not have been the end of its troubles, but only the beginning.

    In the end this little book looks to be a fantastical romp in dreamland that is only plausible if you ignore the real history and is yet more proof that it was undoubtedly better for America and the south that the rebels lost.

    1. I agree with your analysis, and we could add that even if the CSA managed to annex Cuba, actually keeping it would have been a nightmare. There was a very strong desire for independence in Cuba by the second half of the 19th century, and just exchanging one foreign colonial power for another would not have been accepted.

      In fact, it’s interesting to note that Congress absolutely insisted (through the Teller and later the Platt Amendments) that the US should not annex Cuba during the Spanish-American War. They knew perfectly well that an independent Cuba within the US sphere of interest was far preferable to trying to maintain an annexation in the face of a hostile Cuban population.

      Also, Americans did in fact “enjoy holidays in sunny Cuba” for over 50 years until the runaway corruption and political unstability allowed Castro et al. to move in and take power. But that’s another story…

    2. Why is it assumed it would have been a war of conquest? Why not a peaceful annexation or an offer of statehood?

      1. Wandered In · ·

        Well, given that Cuba rebelled in 1868 in a war known as the Ten Years War, I doubt they would have welcomed foreign rule around then, or for quite a while. So any C.S.A. move to take power would have to be against their national preference… even an offer of statehood would probably be refused by an independent nation; Hawai’i, the only independent country to become a state (I think), had to first have its government overthrown by various plots.
        So no, I doubt Americans would be welcomed as liberators, unless they were actually trying to liberate Cuba from Spain.

      2. What Wandered said and, historically, “offers of statehood” haven’t gone well. Canada just whooped us in hockey, and they had a standing offer of statehood for the entire period of the Articles :)

  5. At the risk of sounding like a defender of that book (shudder), it’s a mistake to look back at the controversy over secession through the lenses of postwar events and modern constitutionalism. That’s bad history. Granted I’m no legal historian, but in the political sphere concepts like union and secession were hotly disputed from 1787 to 1860; the civil war just represented a final, violent rupture. The constitution was deliberately vague on sovereignty. Federalists constructed the idea of dual sovereignty during the ratification debate, which theoretically allowed Federalists and states’ rights advocates to think their side had won, but this only papered over deep fissures. This was still a time when people thought of their state as their “country”. But he civil war settled the political controversy, which led to the acceptance of judicial arguments against secession (written both before and after the war). Scholars and Judges can say what they want, but until politics and social movements concur opinions don’t necessarily drive events. As for the email’s other points, I’d answer either “yes,” or “maybe,” – “but so what?” I’d have to read the book to know what its conclusions are, but based on the authors and publisher I’d guess it’s loose with its primary sources and ignores or distorts contrary research and scholarly consensus. That’s the real problem as I see it.

    1. This is a good observation and another reason why the southern cause was doomed from the start. Simply put, Davis and the southern legislature did not have the power they needed to effectively direct the war because they created a government akin to that which existed under the Articles of Confederation. Now anyone who wasn’t a southern legislator at the time could have told you that fighting a war requires a strong central authority to efficiently direct men and resources, especially when you are trying to repel an invasion. This however, was emphatically not what the southern elite wanted; central authority was seen as a threat to their own privilege and power. So the south euphemistically began the race by shooting themselves in the foot with the starting gun.

  6. James F · ·

    Soooo….what’s the intended take-home message, that it’s OK for Texas to secede from the USA?

  7. Responding to Mike…

    To start, his last public address before his assassination laid the foundation for the Fifteenth Amendment.

    With Congress, he secured the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1864, following through on his statement in his first inaugural that he had “no objection” to emancipation. Sooooo.

    1. Your reading of that speech is a lot different than mine. He mentions blacks once, slavery once and freedom once…all in a fairly vague way.

      The point you keep missing is not that Lincoln wouldn’t have eventually pushed for full abolition, but whether or not Confederates would have continued to embrace it. The truth is that slavery was fading fast with or without the Civil War. It would have probably devolved into something like apartheid and then something else. In lieu of having a specific statement from Lincoln explaining his intention to free all slaves or a statement from the people like Lee or Jackson stating their intention to preserve slavery forever…you’re just speculating.

    2. You’re going to have to explain to me how pushing for and then signing a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery isn’t “a specific statement from Lincoln explaining [and acting on] his intention to free all slaves.”

      And it is the DEFINITION of speculating to say that slavery was “fading fast.” Wow.

    3. You will find that ending slavery through a constitutional amendment was an explicit part of the 1864 Republican platform (in articles 3 and 5). See here or the primary source here (p. 225).

    4. Also, glad to know that you’d settle for apartheid.

      1. Who said that? Try reading again.

      2. Withdrawn. Anyways, 13th Amendment. The thing speaks for itself.

        1. And many Confederates were on-record as either opposing slavery or believing it would end at some point (Jeff. Davis said two generations, for example). As I said, there is ample room to believe that slavery would not have continued in the Confederacy. Perhaps the timeline would have been different than it was in the US, but as we know, Democrats created a Jim Crow South that was only marginally better than the slave days.

  8. This is fascinating: While speculating based on “x said” and “if only,” you reduce my citation to historical fact to rumor.

    And can the party label bullshit. You’re smarter than that, at least I hope so. Neither major party has weathered the intervening centuries as an unchanged structure, or even as one unchanged enough to support the imputation of 140 year old wrongs based on a “D” alone. I could reframe the issue as one between progressives and conservatives, where your side, ever waging the rearguard action against beneficial change, comes off much worse. But I’m classier than that.

    Besides, I’m not the one arguing that if we’d just given the South a chance, things would’ve worked out. My God, it even feels ridiculous to type. How do you do it?

    1. If the Democrat Party was able to backslide into apartheid within such a short timeframe, why is so hard to believe the South couldn’t have gone the other direction with the right leadership?

    2. I’m not aware of the existence of a Democrat Party, so I can’t really say.

      1. I feel the same way about the tea party movement.

    3. Also, as you so readily remind us elsewhere, let’s not forget that the Civil War wasn’t just about freeing the slaves. *Northern progressives*, not southern Democrats, gave us the 14th Amendment, which proved to be the only vehicle capable of enforcing the promise of emancipation by tearing down Jim Crow. Had Lincoln *actually* shrugged his shoulders and walked away from the South, maybe in a century things would’ve changed. But it would’ve done so without the enforcement mechanisms that we’ve found necessary to keep the peace.

    4. There’s also the problem that unlike the US, the CSA had several guarantees of the continued existence of slavery explicitly written into the Constitution, which would have made it even more difficult for this imaginary future leadership to abolish it. It’s possible Lee was against slavery, but would he have been able to convince two thirds of the state legislatures? Seems far fetched.

      1. Legal slavery ended in the Western Hemisphere in 1888. Are you suggesting that it would have continued much longer if the Confederacy had won?

      2. When you’re talking about 1888, you’re already talking about a timeline influenced by abolition partially accomplished in 1863, and consummated in 1865. So your alternate timeline is already derailed.

        1. I’m talking about Brazil Ames. They were the last Western country to abandon legal slavery. I’m asking if lanfranc (and you) believe that the Confederacy would have held onto slavery far beyond 1888? In the rest of the world slavery was only isolated to a few pockets by 1910 or so. Would slavery in the Confederacy lasted beyond that?

        2. Right, but butterfly effect. It’s plausible that in a world where a part of the old Union — because, in your world, secession was accomplished — held on to slavery, other pockets of the world would not feel a need to rise to a moral standard that America had not.

          And otherwise, it’s certainly plausible, yes, that the south would feel no pressure to follow suit on an issue of human rights even though the rest of the world had. See, e.g., gay marriage…

          1. There may be some truth to what you’re saying…afterall, the Democratic Party certainly felt no need to continue on with the reforms set in place by Republicans and pushed the South back into a 100 year apartheid. We can only speculate about how much better the lives of recently-freed black men would have been if the GOP would have remained in power.

  9. In the rest of the world slavery was only isolated to a few pockets by 1910 or so. Would slavery in the Confederacy lasted beyond that?

    I just don’t see many structural factors, aside from the possible good intentions of Lee and other individuals, that could contribute to such a development, and lots of factors which would prevent it.

    Good counterfactual history must rely on trends which were present before the point of divergence, or those which at least can be traced back to such trends, otherwise it’s just idle speculation.

    This is not my period of specialization, so correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that the CSA economy, and therefore also the greater part of the political elite, was heavily dependent on the plantation system and on slavery. In our timeline, obviously this changed by the second half of the century, but it’s difficult to draw conclusions from that, because it was a forced transition rather than a natural one. In the absence of slavery after the 13th Amendment, the system simply had to change. But could it have done so as a natural development?

    You bring up Brazil, which is interesting for comparison. Brazil abolished slavery effectively for three reasons: domestic politics, foreign politics, and economics.

    *Domestically, there was a fairly strong abolitionist movement with influences deep in the ruling elite and even with Emperor Pedro II and Princess Isabel. Pace Lee, such a strong movement was hardly present in the CSA.

    *Foreign politically, there was strong pressure from Britain to end slavery. However, the CSA was far stronger that Brazil both economically and militarily and would have been able to resist such pressure. Further, although I’m not downplaying the moral and humanitarian motivations, the British pressure was partly due to concerns over the competitive advantage of Brazil’s slavery-based sugar production, which could be produced cheaper than the British in the Caribbean. Cheap cotton and tobacco from the CSA, on the other hand, would have been beneficial to British factories and consumers – end result, probably a much weaker level of pressure on the CSA.

    *Finally, there’s economics. beyond pressure from the UK, another reason why slavery was abolished was that increased immigration to Brazil created a large pool of labour, which was often cheaper for the plantation owners than the cost of maintaining slaves. This is probably the only anti-slavery factor which might have been present in the CSA. Even then (and again, correct me if I’m wrong), the South has never really struck me as typical immigration territory, so to speak. Even when the great immigration waves of the 1880s and 1890s hit, they appear to have gone overwhelmingly to the North and the West.

    On another point, you argued earlier that a President Lee would have been able to use his political capital to abolish slavery. I think on the contrary that a victorious CSA would most likely have seen a strong ideological aversion exactly against abolition – effectively, people would say “we just fought a war to keep slavery, and now you want us to pull it down anyway? Did hundreds of thousands of our citizens die for nothing?”

    Even for Lee, I think getting a constitutional amendment through would have been next to impossible for a very long time. It’s not the same, of course, but we could compare the process with the Civil Rights Movement, which didn’t see significant successes until the 1960s and even then had to imposed in some places.

    So to conclude this small(ish) essay, it’s all well and good that there were people in the CSA who disliked slavery – I’m not saying that every Confederate was a rabid slavery-supporter, and I’m sure many of them fought as much for what they considered their country as for the causes involved.

    But history is not changed by individuals alone. What individuals can do is limited by their historical circumstances and by the structures and trends of their societies. And when I look at our hypothetical victorious CSA, I see a great number of social factors which would contribute to the continued existence of slavery for a very long time, and very few which would contribute to its abolition.

    So would there still have been slavery around in 1910 of this timeline? Perhaps not to as large an extent as in 1861, but I think it would still have been there, yes.

    1. Is there a historian’s equivalent of the phrase “lawyered”? Because, if so, you’re entitled to use it for this and your other recent comments. Ba-bam.

      1. Not so fast Ames…

        Lanfranc, you are ignoring the most important of factors that would have quickly lead to the abolition of slavery, in my estimates within 20 years of the war ending. That factor was foreign pressure. The Confederacy desperately wanted foreign support during the war and went so far as to offer to end slavery in return for diplomatic recognition towards the end of the war. If the South had won they would have still wanted that recognition for a variety of reasons and public sentiments throughout Europe firmly opposed to slavery. The international pressure would have been tremendous and a flegling country would have seen the writing on the wall. That alone would have been enough to push things forward.

        I have no doubt that the move away from slavery would have been slow and marginal, but that was the case in every country that did so, including the US.

      2. You’ll note I did discuss foreign pressure as part of the comparison with Brazil, and in any case, I don’t think the South could have won without at least the continued tacit support of Britain. So by positing a CSA victory, you’re already pretty much assuming a less anti-slavery oriented Britain than in our timeline, or at least one that considered the US more of an immediate threat to Canada and its other interests. This is not at all unlikely; Lord Palmerston for instance had fairly strong Southern sympathies.

        In the long run, British assistance to the South would permanently have soured relations between the US and Britain an prevented the Great Raprrochement from happening, so it would have been in Britain’s interest to ensure the continued existence of the CSA to secure their possessions in Canada.

        France was even more pro-South, due especially to Napoleon III’s involvement in Mexico, and they could easily have gotten deeper involved in the War as well.

    2. Cheers. “Historianed”? “Historianised”? I think I’ll have to take that up with the colleagues (over a pint).

    3. Until such a time, I’ll use “Lawyered” —


      But please let me know what you decide :)

  10. Haha, sidenote, you’ll note that Mike is cribbing his arguments directly from Ron Paul:

    1. I’ve never seen that interview – but he’s makes some solid points. Slavery would have indeed ended, probably before the end of the 19th century. But I’ve always believed the war needed to be fought. That’s mostly because it wasn’t just about slavery and the states’ right question had to be answered.

      Even Lincoln admitted that fighting to end slavery only became the cause of the war mid-way through.

    2. Slavery would have indeed ended, probably before the end of the 19th century.

      You keep saying that, but I still fail to see which particular factors would lead to such an outcome against the points I have outlined above.

      1. – Foreign pressure

        – Industrialization (tractors and other automated farm equipment)

        – Influx of cheap immigrant labor.

        – Collpase of the cotton market

        – A previously stated willingness to trade slavery for a place on the international stage (this is a corollary of #1)

      2. I honestly have to ask if you have read anything that I wrote above, because I already addressed most of those. And the antebellum world had already seen several collapses of cotton prices (notably in 1819 and 1837) with no effect on slavery.

        1. Yeah, I read them, but I simply don’t agree with your conclusions. Discounting the foreign pressure alone seems ludicrous to me. Throw in the other factors and I think you’re dreaming.

        2. Whatever, mate. I’ve argued for my conclusions. If your only reply to that is to repeat bullet points, that’s your call, I guess.

          1. And I think my bullet points directly contradict your arguments. You are over-selling the Souther affinity for slavery and it’s inability to transition away from it. May I also remind you that 4 US border states with similar economies gave up slavery with no real ill-effects? The plantations here in KY adapted. Confederate states would have too.

  11. Of course they could have, since they did in real life, but that’s not the question – the question is would they?

    Although you think I’m “over-selling the Souther affinity for slavery”, it’s difficult to disregard the fact that slavery was far and away the most contentious North v. South issue in ante-bellum America, right back to the drafting of the Declaration of Independence or probably even before that. And it continued in the Constitutional Convention, the Missouri Compromise, Bleeding Kansas, and so on. So I don’t know about any “affinity”, but the Southerners sure fought pretty hard to keep those slaves, so I’ll keep calling them as I see them.

    It also seems that a Confederation that had just fought a civil war over states’ rights and the right to retain slavery couldn’t then very well turn around and attempt to end slavery from above themselves. And I’ll still deny foreign pressure as a credible factor for the reasons already stated.

    So frankly, I think your best argument would be a microeconomic one – that slavery would eventually become unprofitable enough for the individual slave owners that the institution would die away on its own.

    I guess you could also make the strategic/macroeconomic point that an economy based on slavery and primary production will be at a long-term disadvantage against a competitor based on manufacturing, so to keep up against a hostile USA, the government of an independent CSA would probably have had to offer incentives for industrialisation if at all politically possible.

    But that would be a much slower process, and even then, I think slavery still be kept around in at least some CSA states, probably mostly in the form of domestic slaves as a status symbol.

    Oh, and the civil rights movement under those circumstances? Good luck with that.

    1. We’re not really talking about a Civil Rights movement…need I remind you that apartheid existed in the US until about 40 years ago? I never claimed that oppression would have disappeared and I do believe that a Confederate States in 2010 would be at a different place in race relations that the U.S. is in 2010. What I said was that legal slavery would have disappeared in short order. You and I will just have to agree to disagree on the power of foreign pressure, but I think history is on my side since emancipation was already offered to Europe once as a price for their recognition. That could have just as easily happened after the war. I also refuse to believe that the Confederacy would have been so stubborn as to remain the last vestage of slavery in the West and in the world, as you contend. Afterall, they were Americans too and they wanted their place in the growing world economy just like those in the North did. Slavery would be an obstacle to that. You act as though Southerners were some alien life form that was radically different to Northerners.

      Also, you ignore the lack of ill effects suffered by Northern states that moved away from slavery.

      More than likely the South would have moved towards a system not unlike the Democrat-created Jim Crow system which would have pleased Europe but kept the black man down. By now it would probably look something like South Africa, albeit without the blacks in control.

  12. Mike, this all started with you complaining about me being overly speculative. I showed my speculation was based on reason, and that my argument didn’t even depend on it but rather on established facts (eg Lincoln DID draft & pass Amd XIII). You replied with speculation of your own, which Lanfranc showed was not only groundless, but ridiculously optimistic. Now, you claim speculation should defeat facts. We’ve come full circle.

    1. What? I think my first comment mentioned that many of the points they made in the advertisement were, in my opinion, factual.

    2. oneiroi · ·

      Mike, Lanfranc agreed with you that some of those may be facts, and gave you other facts about ww2 as an example. I thought the point was that those facts were without context. That you could go to an atrocious historical moment, search for a list of positive facts, and try to spin it in a more happy way.

      Yet that requires you to ignore large swaths of other pertinent information.

      And these instances of not everyone in the north hating slavery, and not everyone in the south loving slavery is History 101 stuff. I don’t think these things really shatter a conception of the civil war or anything. At least for any moderately educated adult.

      1. Go back and re-read my very first comment. All I said was that those facts were correct and that there is a lot of gray areas in the history of the Civil War. Since both sides held slaves until the war ended and in fact Union states held slaves until December 1865, I think we shouldn’t be so quick to frame the Civil War as a good vs evil conflict. Lanfranc’s comparison to Nazi Germany is unfortunate and just the kind of silliness that creates a market for these kinds of books.

      2. On the merits, then:

        * That secession was legal

        Texas v. White still says otherwise.

        * That the Emancipation Proclamation did not free a single slave

        Incorrect – thousands of slaves were freed in those areas of the Southern states that were under union control.

        * That leading Northern generals — like McLellan and Sherman — hated abolitionists

        I understand that Sherman at least changed his mind during the war. More generally, I’m sure that an in-depth investigation of the opinions on slavery among Civil War leaders would be an interesting project, but I somehow doubt we’ll get that from this particular publication.

        * That bombing people “back to the Stone Age” got its start with the Federal siege of Vicksburg

        I’m not even sure what that means. That the phrase originated at that time?

        * That Stonewall Jackson founded a Sunday school for slaves where he taught them how to read

        That’s nice of him, but even the “white man’s burden” issues aside, I suspect they would have preferred being freed – and then learning how to read.

        * That General James Longstreet fought the Battle of Sharpsburg in his carpet slippers


        * That if the South had won, we might be able to enjoy holidays in the sunny Southern state of Cuba

        Unless “we” happen to be non-white, most likely. (And I still doubt this. Besides, what, Florida isn’t sunny enough anymore?)

      3. To stand up for Lanfranc, I don’t think there was any real implication that they were comparative events, and I thought it was just an analogy using an exaggerated example in order to make a point.

        1. Right – but how many people have made a similar comparison and been 100% serious when they did so? That is what so many Southerners and students of history object to. That is also what creates a market for books like this one. Anytime an overly sanitized version of history starts to be told, there are going to be people who try to correct it, even if they do so in a clumsy way.

          My youngest just started a section on the Civil War in her 5th grade class. Y’know why they were told the Civil War started? Because lincoln wanted to free the slaves and the Southerners didn’t. Sounds a bit different than the history I learned when I took a Civil War & Reconstruction class in college.

  13. Whine, whine. An attempt to shift the premise to ground you think you can win by blaming nameless, faceless enemies not involved in the dispute.

    That story about the Civil War is wrong at the deeper levels, but accurately states the superficial conflict. It’s the story that I learned in 5th grade, and that you probably did too. You can’t expect 5th graders to hear about complicated economic incentives.

    1. Yeah, teaching history to kids in primary school is hard enough as it is, and I guess a lot of teachers don’t really have the time to familiarise themselves with the more complex subjects as much as could be desired.

      That’s only tangentially related to this discussion, though, because I think that’s a problem with all areas of history and in lots of different countries. I know I’ve been taught some hilariously superficial things about e.g. my country’s history during WWII or the Roman Empire.

      So rpesenting this as a problem specifically with the Civil War historiography is not quite accurate – but even if it were, the solution surely isn’t to produce books that are just as superficial.

      1. It’s not ‘specific’ to the Civil War. it’s a problem with much of history. As I said early on, history is written by the victors. People are smart enough to figure it out and then there is sometimes a knee-jerk reaction which goes too far in the other direction.

  14. For example, I’d argue that assigning Romulus Augustulus as the “last” Roman emperor improperly omits the Ostrogothic kingdom from the “Roman” story. Theoderic’s Rome was largely continuous with Augustulus’ — it may have constituted a “conquest” but the pains to which the Ostrogoths went through to hold the fabric of Roman society together entitles them to some respect.

    So, I’d cut the fall of the West at, say, Belisarius’ Italian campaign.

    1. But even then, at least part of it lived on through the great senatorial families, who had extensively turned to either the Church or the new Frankish or Ostro-/Visigothic monarchs for patronage. So the line from the Western Empire to the later Carolingian is perhaps a little crooked in places, but not entirely broken.

      Incidentally, I wrote an essay on a related subject recently. [/shameless self-promotion]

  15. Just as an FYI, I did a quick search on Amazon for the term ‘The Politically Incorrect Guide’. This book is one of a very large series that covers everything from the Bible to the Founding Fathers to Islam to the Vietnam War. Glancing through some of these books, sure, there’s a ‘conservative’ slant in the sense that some of the PC bullshit that afflicted historians for the last 30 years also meshes with their latent liberalism. Ultimately though it’s just an attempt to present the other side of so many stories we take for granted. I don’t see a problem with it at all since the books are not really presented as serious scholarship. It appears the whole premise of this post was really just typical kerfuffle over nothing.

    1. I guess you didn’t look too closely at the “Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam.” The whole series is pushed by Human Events and, among other things, lifts up the South as the victim and argues that all Muslims are inherently evil. Those may be part of a larger revisionist scheme, but to deny that the slant of the scheme and of its subsidiary parts is rightwards is naive, or willfully ignorant.

      1. As I said – they are presented as serious scholarship and historical scholarship can certainly use an infusion of alternative viewpoints.

        I’m curious though as to what you think Human Events goal is with these? Obviously they’ve invested millions so I’d love to hear your theory as to what they are planning back in their secret underground lair?

      2. Earning huge amounts of cash from the gullible?

    2. Not to mention Science, Darwinism and Intelligent Design, and Global Warming. And I shudder to think about what they may have done to English and American Literature.

      I guess the only consolation is they’re most likely pretty much preaching to the choir, so hopefully the damage is minimal.

      1. So if the ‘masses’ aren’t reading Herodotus they are gullible? I think you’re being incredibly arrogant to believe that everyone reading them is going to swallow it hook, line and sinker. ALL history, from the most heavily footnoted to the most casual and informal, should be read with a skeptical eye.

        These books present facts, wrapped up in the agenda of the author, which, as I said, is pretty obvious. On the contrary, you could have someone like a William Manchester who wrote an over-the-top biography of MacArthur that was presented as serious scholarship and is still widely read in universities but was mostly a PR job that directly contradicts the accounts of other contemporaries such as Eisenhower.

      2. Oh, wow, I’m sorry. I thought saying disparaging, generalizing things about vaguely defined groups of people was politically incorrect, and therefore good. My bad, I guess. This “politically correct” concept is just so confusing. :-(

  16. Herodotus was uncharacteristically silent concerning the Civil War.

    And if your contention is that pushback on historical narratives is good, fine. But to fulfill that mission, you need serious scholarship from a new but plausible perspective, not partisan hackery about how Stonewall Jackson was a good guy because he didn’t beat his slaves.

    1. There is plenty of ‘serious scholarship’ that is completely derailed by the partisanship of the historians. I find that much more dangerous than a light-hearted book that roughly comes from the same genre as “An Idiot’s Guide to Romance”.

    2. You keep asserting this “partisanship” or “political correctness” or “bias” among historians as such, but I’ve only seen a few anecdotes from you to actually back it up. And one of those was even from a 5th grade course.

      Do you have any actual quantitative data to support your assertion, or are we operating at the level of truthiness (as in “your pyloric antrum told you it’s true”) here?

  17. Well I also mentioned William Manchester. How many examples do you need? 5? 10? 20? It gets to be a silly exercise.

    1. Well, there must be tens of thousands of historians in the US, and even more globally, so two examples are not what I’d call ‘statistically significant’.

      I’m not really looking for more andecdotes, though. I’d like to see an honest, scientific study that can demonstrate this “politically correct” bias. If it’s so rampant and widespread as you assert, it should be easy. And I assume you already have this data ready and present, since I would never expect you to argue a case without solid evidence to back it up, right?

      1. Oh jesus. Got to love liberals and the way they debate. Let’s see if I can recall how this goes.

        – Mike provides 2-3 book reviews which criticize the bias of the author.

        – Lanfranc says, “That’s only 2-3 of thousands of books and eventhose critics are biased themselves.”

        – Mike give 3 more

        – Repeat step 2.

        – Lanfranc demands a ‘scientific study’ of bias in written history.

        – Mike provides various articles, blog posts, etc.

        – Lanfranc criticizes each source as irrelevant because they aren’t graduates of Oxford. Ames jumps in and says they are also part of a vast conservative conspiracy.

        – This continues ad nauseum until Mike dives out of office window to end the mental suffering.

        Sound about right? Don’t be one of those guys Lanfranc. If you are a student of history than you know that there are any number of journals and other publications which take a critical look at any new historical works that come out. Quite often those works are found to be good, but flawed in a variety of ways. If you want to see them, I suggest Google.

      2. It’s interesting that you think expecting debate to happen on an informed and accurate basis is a particularly liberal characteristic. I did suspect something like that to be true, but it’s nice to have it confirmed.

        It’s also interesting that you think two or three book reviews can act as a sort of bill of attainder, as it were, against an entire profession. Certainly, reviews sometimes find particular books to be overly biased. It’s not my impression that it happens often (because, and this may come as a surprise to you, most historians actually recognise that bias is bad and try to avoid it), but it happens.

        But here’s the really interesting part: You know who write those reviews? Other historians! So we find ourselves in a bit of a paradox here. If the entire profession is so horribly tainted by bias as you assert, why would such critical reviews ever appear? Wouldn’t the reviewers just look at the bias and go, “yeah, that’s great, he’s absolutely right about that”?

        But wait! I have a solution. Could it be – and I’m talking pure hypotheticals here – that most historians actually recognize and agree that bias is a bad thing, and try their level best to avoid it? Could such a thing be true?

        I don’t know, but my fundus tells me it’s true, so it must be.

        1. It’s also interesting that you think two or three book reviews can act as a sort of bill of attainder, as it were, against an entire profession.

          So then tell me what would be a sufficient case for you? How many examples would it take? This is what i am talking about when I see typical liberal debating…create an unattainable standard which the other side must meet or else they are wrong by default.

          I am not saying that the entire field is guilty of bias or that all historians are tainted. I’m saying that most works of scholarship in the field of history are influenced by the biases of the author. I say this as someone with a degree in history. I’ve done plenty of peer reviews, journal reviews and I read a lot for personal consumption. I’ve worked with historians. I’ve worked at historical sites. I’ve written stuff myself. If you really want to believe that conclusions are reached without bias, you’re fooling yourself. Archaeology is the same way. try reading up on ‘functional group patterning’ and then tell me there’s not room for bias.

        2. If you have a degree yourself, surely you must know what I mean when I say “quantitative data” or “scientific study”. A representative survey of historical publications from a range of different universities. And not just those intended for the popular book market, but articles and specialised monographs as well. I’m sure that will give us a better picture of just how great the problem of bias is in the historical profession.

          I am not saying that the entire field is guilty of bias or that all historians are tainted.

          I have a really hard time interpreting statements like “the PC bullshit that afflicted historians for the last 30 years” or “the partisanship of the historians” otherwise, especially when you use them to argue that the solution is not with the historians themselves but with publications like these “Politically Incorrect Guides”.

          1. If you have a degree yourself, surely you must know what I mean when I say “quantitative data” or “scientific study”. A representative survey of historical publications from a range of different universities. And not just those intended for the popular book market, but articles and specialised monographs as well. I’m sure that will give us a better picture of just how great the problem of bias is in the historical profession.

            As I said, create an unattainable standard and declare victory if the other side doesn’t play along. I’m not going to waste hours providing data that you will still find fault with, because, after all, that is how the game is played. So here you go Lanfranc – you win. You’re right on all your points because obviously if I won’t provide the exact supporting data you demand then i am conceding defeat.

            When did I stumble into a dissertation defense? Clearly you have more free time on your hands than I do.

          2. Well, I’m sorry, as I said I just tought you already had that kind of data available since you appeared so convinced. But I guess in the absence of actual data, we could just let our respective truthiness-supplying stomach parts fight it out…

            …IN THE THUNDERDOME! Two internal organs enter, one internal organ leaves!

            (On second thought, I didn’t really need that image just before dinner.)

  18. […] Author – ACG, Politics | Tags: Education, Fundamentalism, Religious politics, Texas Last week saw a brief debate about simplifying history for classroom consumption — “the Civil War was about […]

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