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Rewriting history

Jon Stewart and Larry Wilmore on The Daily Show have another one of their insightful and entertaining discussions about race in America, this time about the revisionist idea that slavery was not the cause of the southern secession that led to the Civil War and that if that socialist Abraham Lincoln had not been such a hothead and rushed to war but had instead been patient and used capitalistic ideas, the bloodshed could have been avoided.

(This clip aired on February 24, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

Comments

  1. colnago80 says

    Ah come on, everybody knows that the Civil War was the fought over coal mines in West Virginia. End snark.

  2. Wylann says

    For all the humor, that was quite a powerful dialogue. Larry Wilmore really knocks that one out of the proverbial park.

  3. readysf says

    Rewriting history appears to be a common pastime. Howard Zinn’s “Peoples History of the United States” was a real eye opener for me. It detailed the genocide of the native Americans.

    A country trying to rewrite history today is Israel. Avi Shavit and Max Blumenthal both have excellent books that factually detail the wiping out of Palestinians.

    Many Israelis today can’t even bring themselves to call them “Palestinians”, they call them “Arabs”, even as they seize their private property without compensation. This shameful practice is being underwritten by the US, by your taxes and mine.

  4. Peter White says

    You may recall that the fighting started when South Carolina opened fire on Fort Sumter at the mouth of Charleston harbor. We all learned that in grammar school. But WHY did they fire on the fort? Could it have been the fact that Fort Sumter was the Union’s means of enforcing the collection of import duties? Would the fort have fired on any ships trying to leave Charleston harbor without the tariff having been paid on goods the ship had unloaded?

    I don’t know, as I wasn’t there. But I do recall reading a speech by Lincoln (his first inaugural, perhaps?) stating something to the effect that he had no objection to the southern states leaving the Union. All he cared about was the collection of the tariff. So he was expecting South Carolina, which had seceded from the Union, to allow the United States to collect taxes in South Carolina, even though South Carolina was no longer a part of the United States.

    Now clearly a major reason for South Carolina leaving the Union was slavery. But can anyone show evidence that Lincoln kept a garrison at Fort Sumter after the secession of South Carolina because of anything having to do with slavery? Did South Carolina fire on the fort because of slavery? I’d like to hear any evidence for this.

    It seems to me that secession was partly or mainly due to slavery. But it also seems to me that the war began over taxation. We ought not to conflate secession with war. “Saving the Union” was important to Lincoln to the extent it meant collecting the maximum amount of tax for the Union. He brought slavery up as an issue well into the war with his emancipation proclamation, in which he foolishly “abolished” slavery in those areas of the Confederacy under the control of the Confederate Army, but not in areas controlled by the Union. Some “emancipation”! Good for public relations, perhaps. But not much good for anything else, it seems to me.

  5. colnago80 says

    Re Peter White

    The purpose of the Emancipation Proclamation was to dissuade the British Government from intervening in the war; in this respect, it was pure propaganda. There was considerable sentiment in the British Cabinet for intervening, which was opposed by, amongst others, Charles Darwin and his influential Wedgwood inlaws. That was the reason Lincoln delayed issuing it, waiting for a Union victory. Union propaganda portrayed the Battle of Antietam as a Union victory. It was a tactical victory in that Lee’s Army retreated south across the Potomac but strategically, it was not a victory as the Confederate Army remained intact. Lincoln recognized this when he admonished McClellan to, “general, next time put in all your men”. McClellan had withheld 2 corps from the battle when he had Lee on the ropes. Had he “put in all his men”, Lee’s army would have almost certainly been broken up and dispersed, much like the French Army was at the conclusion of the Battle of Waterloo. The problem was that McClellan was no Wellington.

  6. Kilroy says

    But I do recall reading a speech by Lincoln (his first inaugural, perhaps?) stating something to the effect that he had no objection to the southern states leaving the Union.

    Your recollection is faulty. Lincoln’s first inaugural address is online. Look it up. Read it.

    But can anyone show evidence that Lincoln kept a garrison at Fort Sumter after the secession of South Carolina because of anything having to do with slavery?

    Lincoln kept a garrison at Fort Sumter because it was federal property located on United States sovereign territory. The garrison had originally been stationed at Fort Moultrie but had been withdrawn to Fort Sumter, while Lincoln’s predecessor Buchanan was still in office, on the initiative of the garrison commander, who believed (rightly) that Fort Moultrie was indefensible.

    He brought slavery up as an issue well into the war with his emancipation proclamation, in which he foolishly “abolished” slavery in those areas of the Confederacy under the control of the Confederate Army, but not in areas controlled by the Union. Some “emancipation”!

    Lincoln’s position, which was entirely correct, was that he had no constitutional authority as president to abolish slavery in loyal areas. He claimed that he did have the constitutional authority to abolish it in disloyal areas, as a war measure directed against the Confederacy. He was not entirely confident of his own claim, and in any case realized that the demise of slavery could only be guaranteed by a constitutional amendment, which he subsequently supported. Watch Spielberg’s movie, Lincoln.

  7. Wylann says

    Peter White:

    All he cared about was the collection of the tariff. So he was expecting South Carolina, which had seceded from the Union, to allow the United States to collect taxes in South Carolina, even though South Carolina was no longer a part of the United States.

    I don’t know you, but your wording here makes it appear that you are slavery apologist. ‘All that Lincoln cared about’ was taxes? You know this how?

    Also, countries impose and collect tariffs on other countries all the time. Why would it be any different or special for the Union to collect tariffs on the Confederacy, and vice versa? The Union is even entirely within its right to impose a ‘slave tariff’ as discouragement to keeping slaves (whether it would be counterproductive or not is another discussion).

  8. hyphenman says

    Good morning Mano,

    Slavery is wrong.

    Having said that, any attempt to reduce four-score and seven years of our history to a single, dominate cause, is fated to fail. Like Marx, I look to economics for better understanding and anyone who ignores tariffs, northern business interests, international trade and our slavetocracy (to suggest just a few elements) is certain to miss the boat.

    I have spent considerable time studying our second revolution, more commonly referred to as reconstruction, and commend the work of Eric Foner on the subject for additional insights.

    Do all that you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess

    Have Coffee Will Write

  9. Kilroy says

    Also, countries impose and collect tariffs on other countries all the time. Why would it be any different or special for the Union to collect tariffs on the Confederacy, and vice versa?

    The right of the United States to collect the tariff at Charleston was based on the fact that Charleston was a city in the United States, not a city in a foreign country. The US did not recognize the existence of South Carolina as an independent nation, and it did not recognize the existence of the Confederacy as an independent nation.

    Had the United States ever recognized the Confederacy an independent nation, it would then have had the right to impose tariffs on any goods imported FROM the Confederacy. Similarly, the Confederacy would have had the right to impose tariffs on any goods imported from the United States; Northern goods that Southerners had once purchased duty free would be subject to Confederate import tariffs. Southern goods that Southerners had once exported from the United States duty free (because the Constitution forbids export tariffs) would have been subject to Confederate export duties (becuase the Confederate constitution allowed them).

  10. ysoldeangelique says

    Re #8 Hypenman: Each and every state tht Seceeded from the Union cited SLAVERY in their reasoning for secession and all of them inlude SAVERY as a protected right in their onstitutions. To beleive that any cause, other than slavery, as the fundamental reason for secession is patently riddiculous.

  11. bmiller says

    The ironic thing to me is that Lincoln’s success in the Civil War facilitated the nationalization of the economy and the dominance of today’s transnationals. A fundamentally “capitalism” state of affairs.

  12. hyphenman says

    @No. 10 ysoldeangelique:

    Consider:

    First, only a tiny minority of citizens in the slave states actually owned slaves. Most citizens were not slave owners and actually resented what was then derisively referred to as the “slaveocracy.”

    Second, at the time of South Carolina’s succession, the threat of slaveocrats, the Confederacy’s One Percent, losing their slaves was slim but economic pressures were great and increasing, building on The Tariff of 1828 (Tariff of Abominations) and subsequent tariffs favoring northern industrialists (the North’s One Percent); remember, those slave states that did not secede continued to hold their slaves until the passage and ratification of the 13th Amendment by Georgia on 6 December 1865.

    Third, given events in the north, like the New York draft riots of July 1863 and numerous other racist actions by northern citizens and soldiers (including the conscription of “freed” slaves to construct fortifications), making the case that somehow northern soldiers fought for anything other than economic dominance—protecting northern jobs—is a tough row to hoe.

    Fourth, given the failed experiment of Reconstruction, supporting a thesis that the North was invested in racial equality and freedom to the extent that citizens supported four years of bloody and economically ruinous Civil War to end slavery just doesn’t wash.

    That the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments passed and were ratified (although the history there is particularly suspect) is to be applauded. We ought to have ended slavery in 1776; instead we took another 90 years to do so on paper and a further 90 years before the spirit of those amendments finally began to be realized. This is a battle we continue to fight as evidenced by the return of Jim Crow laws in recent years.

    Do all you can to make today a good day,

    Jeff Hess
    Have Coffee Will Write

  13. lpetrich says

    Just plain wrong. Selected Statistics shows that sizable fractions of the Southern states’ white populations owned slaves.

    In the Lower South (SC, GA, AL, MS, LA, TX, FL — those states that seceded first), about 36.7% of the white families owned slaves. In the Middle South (VA, NC, TN, AR — those states that seceded only after Fort Sumter was fired on) the percentage is around 25.3%, and the total for the two combined regions — which is what most folks think of as the Confederacy — is 30.8%. In the Border States (DE, MD, KY, MO — those slave states that did not secede) the percentage of slave-ownership was 15.9%, and the total throughout the slave states was almost exactly 26%.

    Also,

    Total number of slaves in the Lower South : 2,312,352 (47% of total population).
    Total number of slaves in the Upper South: 1,208,758 (29% of total population).
    Total number of slaves in the Border States: 432,586 (13% of total population).

    Figures from the 1860 US Census.

    So slaveownership was widespread in the slave states.

  14. lpetrich says

    Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics : The New Yorker He spent much of his time studying a famous “Slave Map” compiled from census data. He knew that the people in areas with lots of slaves were the biggest supporters of the Confederacy, while those with not many slaves could be convinced to support the Union side.

    That’s more-or-less what happened with the low-slave areas. Western Virginia seceded and joined the Union, while eastern Tennessee was unsuccessful in doing that. Confederate troops occupied that area and northern Alabama to keep them from seceding.

    Even if big slaveowners were not all the population, they had plenty of family members and plenty of free employees. They also had plenty of money, which they could use to buy influence and to finance defense of slavery.

  15. Nick Gotts says

    The key issue bringing about the Civil War was not slavery as such, but the balance between slave and free states: Lincoln won the Presidency on the platform of no more slave states, and it was this that prompted southern secession, as the southern elite were aware that being unable to extend slavery to new states would lead eventually to abolition. The importance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War is underlined by the huge increase in the number of slaves between 1790 (under 700,000) and 1860 (nearly 4 million) – mostly due to the invention of the cotton gin in the 1770s, and the rise of the textile industry in Britain, which combined to make slavery highly profitable. According to a panel of historians expert in the issue at a meeting of the American Historical Association in 2011:

    considered the root cause of the Civil War. The panel, consisting of Elizabeth R. Varon, Bruce Levine, Marc Egnal, and chaired by Michael Holt, emphasized that while slavery and its various and multifaceted discontents were the primary cause of disunion, it was disunion itself that sparked the war.

    According to wikipedia:
    Historians today generally agree that economic conflicts were not a major cause of the war. While an economic basis to the sectional crisis was popular among the “Progressive school” of historians from the 1910s to the 1940s, few professional historians now subscribe to this explanation. According to economic historian Lee A. Craig, “In fact, numerous studies by economic historians over the past several decades reveal that economic conflict was not an inherent condition of North-South relations during the antebellum era and did not cause the Civil War.”

    When numerous groups tried at the last minute in 1860–61 to find a compromise to avert war, they did not turn to economic policies. The three major attempts at compromise, the Crittenden Compromise, the Corwin Amendment and the Washington Peace Conference, addressed only the slavery-related issues of fugitive slave laws, personal liberty laws, slavery in the territories and interference with slavery within the existing slave states.

    We also have the words of confederate leaders themselves. Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens said, in his “cornerstone speech”:

    The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.”

    Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.

  16. sailor1031 says

    Well any fule kno that the attack on Fort Sumter was a false flag op. designed by a malevolent federal government, that was even in 1861 completely out of control, to create a casus belli to justify declaring war on a peaceful confederacy.

  17. Nightshade says

    What Southerners insisted on in the name of States’ Rights was what every country on earth insist upon in the name of national sovereignty,namely, the ‘right” to determine the status of the minorities in their borders without outside interference.
    Lincoln would never have allowed outside powers to intervene on behalf of American Indians or blacks.The United States today would never countenance such interference on behalf of any minority ,black, Am. Indian, Aleut. Inuit or native Hawaiian.
    The simple fact is that is true in every State on the planet.

    I do believe the Secession War could have been avoided if Northerners had treated slavery as a national problem requiring a national solution ,rather than a southern problem requiring a northern solution.

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