Friday, August 18, 2017

Most discussion about the Civil War is retarded*

Boy, there's a lot of idiocy being spewed about the Civil War.  I'm seeing the word to "traitor" being applied to pretty much everyone who wore gray or butternut uniforms.  The history that I learned growing up (and which was the common view as recently as Ken Burns' documentary) has seemingly been dropped into the dustbin of history.

This is retarded.  To help you understand this, here is a parable:
Let me try to make the decline of history more concrete by way of an analogy. Imagine that you had fallen asleep in 2005 and stayed asleep until 2150. Further assume that when you woke up in 2150, everyone loved the Iraq War. Not just Rumsfeld-style liked it, but fucking loved it. They loved it so much, that if you dared to question the righteousness of liberating the Iraqis from bondage, you’d be considered unfit for civil conversation. Intellectuals in 2150 prove their intellectual-ness by signaling to each other they support the Iraq War more than other people. In other words, by 2150, mainstream opinion on the Iraq War would be such that Donald Rumsfeld in 2005 would – by 2150 standards – be considered only moderately pro-war. 
Regardless of what you think about the Iraq War in the present day, you’d have a pretty low opinion of history as practiced in 2150.
We have all sorts of historians today rewriting the history of that period, because Reasons.**  Color me unimpressed.

As it turns out, there are a ton of primary sources from the day that are available to us, that we can use to check today's historical narrative.  That war was a defining event for the people of the day, and like the Greatest Generation's memoirs of World War II there were many, many who wrote of their experiences in the American War of Southern Independence.***  We can use these memoirs to see just how retarded today's narrative is, if we are careful.

We want to choose quality sources, of course.  There are quite a lot that can immediately be discarded as hopelessly biased - pretty much everything from Jubal Early and the "Lost Cause" school, for example.  But how can we tell reliable sources from propaganda?

We want to look for a number of things: We'd like someone who understood history and how it is documented; a professional historian would be ideal, as he would be writing at least in part for future historians.  We'd like someone who participated directly, of course, ideally fighting against the side that he defends in his writing.  As lawyers like to say, this "admission against interest" gives a lot of credibility.  And since the claim here is that modern historians lack credibility, we want credibility uber allies in the memoirs we choose from the time.

Is there such a source?  There is.

Charles Francis Adams, Jr. was a Harvard history professor, and first President of the American Historical Association.  Grandson and Great-Grandson of Presidents, he was from that Massachusetts Adams family,  He is more properly referred to as General Charles Francis Adams, having served in the Union Army during the war.

And so to today's charge of Treason leveled against Robert E. Lee, what can we learn from General Adams?  After all, Adams ticks all the boxes in what we are looking for in a credible source from the day.

Adams wrote a book (actually the transcript of a speech he gave to the Phi Beta Kappa Society - another box for us to tick!) that is available for free download today: Shall Cromwell Have a Statue?  You can download it yourself (it's a pretty easy read), but Fosetti covered this years ago:
The essay begins by questioning whether or not England should build a statue to Oliver Cromwell.  The purpose of the essay is really to discuss whether or not the US should build a statue to Robert E. Lee.  (Please keep in mind that Mr Adams fought on the Union side against Lee). 
Adams' answer is unequivocally "yes." 
He goes through a long argument about how Lee was not a traitor.  For if we wish to call Lee a traitor, we would have to call Washington, Cromwell, William of Orange and Hampden traitors as well.  Lee was loyal to his state, which was where he believed his primary loyalty lay. 
Then Adams tries to make a distinction between Virginia's decision to secede and other Cotton States' decisions to secede.  The latter states seceded when Lincoln won the election.  Virginia did not.  Virginia believed in secession (as did everyone who ratified the Constitution, according to Mr Adams).  Virginia was willing to let the other states peacefully secede, but did not wish to secede with them.  Only after the US government tried to re-supply Sumter, an act of war against a sovereign state (i.e. South Carolina), according to the logic of Virginia and the original understanding of the Constitution, did Virginia rebel.  According to Virginia, the North had effectively changed the Constitution at that point and Virginia seceded to defend the original Constitution.  Mr Adams understands this argument but sees it as hopeless outdated and out-of-touch.  Nevertheless, he sees it as consistent.  Lee then went with his state.
You can read Fosetti's review (or better yet, Adams' book) and learn what one of the best sources of the day believed.  Or you can keep calling Lee a traitor and keep sounding like a retard.  Alas, my view of the world is so jaded lately that I suspect that I know how many people will choose.  That's why I have a tag for "Decline of the Progressive West".

* I use the term deliberately, to smoke out people more focused on use of unapproved language than on actual thoughts and meanings.

** I think there's something to the idea floated yesterday on Instapundit that as long as the South voted Democrat, historians were happy to present a different history.  Now that the South reliably votes against the Democrats, it's book burning time:
But there’s also this: “Don’t overthink this, because it’s quite simple, really. When Democrats’ national position depended on unwavering support from ‘the Solid South,’ we got lots of pro-Southern propaganda: the Lost Cause, Gone With The Wind, Disneyfied Uncle Remus, etc. As a vital Democrat constituency group, southerners, even practical neo-Confederates, were absolved of all sins as long as they stayed in line.” If the south were still a vital constituency today, Democrats would sound like Bill Clinton did in the 1990s.
*** It wasn't a Civil War because the Confederate States did not want to take over the north.  "War Between the States" is ambiguous, losing the underlying motivations.


drjim said...

Even way back when I was in grade and high-school, most people thought the war was fought "to end slavery".

It wasn't.

Slavery had already been abolished by Lincoln, and the war was fought to prevent to Southern states from leaving the Union.

AFAIK, and it took me many years to realize why the war was fought, it was fought only "to preserve the Union"....

I'm sure you can make the case for many other reasons as to why the war was fought, but if I'm in error here, please correct me....

Alexamenos said...

Fought only to preserve the union -- that's very accurate in a succinct fashion in my view. Less succinctly--

The southern state's seceded because wanted slavery. The union attacked the southern states because that's what empires do to separatist movements. Virginia et al joined the confederacy because they recognized that the north was behaving in a tyrannical fashion.

The Lab Manager said...

The war was about $$$$. Lincoln would hate to give up those juicy tax revenues to help corporate scumbag buddies up North.

Unknown said...

One of the major contributing factors, if not the primary contributing factor , that pretty much everybody overlooks when it comes to the ACW is the economic war waged in congress leading up to the ACW. In a gross oversimplification the manufacturing plants in the northern/New England states wanted to pay less for the agricultural products grown in the southern states and the southern states wanted to sell their agricultural products to whomever would pay the most. The slave state / free state misnomer was applied as an easy way to figure out which side the individual state fell as listing them as growers / manufacturers, while more accurate, would not have the same propaganda value. Especially with the abolitionist movement slowly gathering steam.

As far as the abolishment of slavery. That did not happen until the 13th Amendment was passed January of 1865 just 3 months before Lincoln was assassinated. Not only does the President of the US not have the power to create laws, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address referred only to the slaves in the states under rebellion. In other words, he illegally freed the slaves in territory that he had no control over. The slaves in the territories that he had "dominion" over had to wait 2 years before being granted their freedom.


drjim said...

Thanks, Gregg.

I was a little fuzzy on what the "Emancipation Proclamation" did, although I realized the 13th Amendment made it the law-of-the-land.

matism said...

Very well said, Gregg. VERY well said.

Goober said...

Nobody ever taught me that. I was always taught that the first states in the South seceded as a result of the federal government trying to force them to end slavery, and the rest joined in after the first battle because they saw it as an act of a tyrant attempting to force those states to comply.

Which is pretty close to reality.

However, one thing I refuse to accept is the argument that slavery had nothing to do with the war. Folks say "states rights!" and I say, "well, yeah, the state's right to allow men to keep slaves!"

Morally, for that reason, the South was in the wrong.

However, I do not see those that seceded as traitors. Men who defended the horror of slavery? Yes.

But not traitors.

I understand in one respect why people consider monuments to the confederacy to be offensive. I disagree vehemently with anyone who says we should tear them down, though. Our history is what it is, you can't change reality by ignoring it, or trying to erase it.

matism said...

Well, Goober, according to Walter Williams:

but then again Mr. Williams is clearly just another one of those GD Nazi White Supremacists...

Old 1811 said...

Regarding the proper name for the war: The official name for it (at least it was for purposes of the National Archives) was "the War of the Rebellion." I think that's actually pretty succinct.

Goober said...

And what, exactly, did I say that disagrees with Mr. Williams in the slightest?

Why are you assembling a straw man?

All I said was what I was taught in school, which was pretty close to reality.

Pretty close.

Read that again.

Pretty close.

There were trade disputes and disputes over the power and reach of the federal government all along, but the dispute that set it all off was the dispute over the threat of the federal government overstepping its constitutional authority on the matter of slavery.

You can revise history all you want, but it changes nothing. The civil war was fought over repeated federal over steps of authority, many favoring the more populated north*, INCLUDING the issue of slavery, which was the issue that actually caused the first seccessions. This is all true. If the war wasn't fought over slavery, it certainly started in large part because of it.

And Lincoln quote needs to be put in context. He's a president that saw the union evaporate over the issue of slavery, now saying "I could give a fuck about sLavery at this point, I just want to save the union." It certainly is not "proof" that the war wasn't fought over slavery.

*the Missouri compromise, nature turner, wilmot, the kansas/Missouri issue (fought over slavery in large part) and finally, the election of lincoln, with his anti slavery rhetoric during the campaign, causing south Carolina to secede less than a month later.

Delude yourself all you want. Build strawman all you want. Slavery was a huge part of the causus belli on both sides.

Chuck Pergiel said...

Since I haven't heard it anywhere, I'm wondering who is calling General Lee a traitor. Maybe I don't want to know. If I knew I might be tempted to read what they have to say, which would likely be a waste of time since it would be stupid stuff. Still, a name to add to my blacklist would not be amiss.