Somebody named JD Longstreet is very, very upset that Southerners and Southern history are not given the respect they deserve in the media, schools and commentary class (hat tip to Ol’ Broad). Given the Left’s infernal obsession with casting conservative views and traditional American values as racist, I would be inclined to sympathize with him…except for the fact that his post rapidly devolves into an unhinged, duplicitous tirade that is guilty of the very historical revisionism Longstreet claims to oppose.
Because I apparently didn’t have enough better to occupy my time with tonight, I decided to conduct a closer examination of this post. Click on through to check out my findings – if you dare:
Yes, we had slaves in the South. But so did the north. In fact, the north ran the slave trade. Many of the fortunes of wealthy northeasterners today were built on the slave trade.
True, but I’ve never encountered anyone who says otherwise. And while neither side had a monopoly on virtue or vice (something which, by the way, Lincoln himself reminded his countrymen of on more than one occasion), let’s not pretend that their comparative records were a wash. As Confederacy Vice President Alexander Stephens proclaimed:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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 normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
My family had no slaves. As sharecroppers there were times when the slave’s living conditions were, in fact, better than theirs!
Perhaps, but it goes without saying that “there were times” when the opposite was true, as well. As a general rule, did slaves really have it so much better than free laborers that it’s worth the trouble to dredge up one of Southern slave-holders’ old talking points?
And I am sick and tired of the anti-southerner’s vindictive claims that the War Between the States was fought entirely to free the slaves. That, dear reader is a bald-faced lie!
True, but is the claim that the Civil War “was fought entirely to free the slaves” common? Is there a significant movement to convince people of it? I certainly didn’t remember it from my time in high school (learning from The American Pageant: A History of the Republic, Twelfth Edition by Kennedy, Cohen & Bailey, Houghton Mifflin Co.).
But hey, maybe I lucked out and got one of the rare books not written by bloodsucking Northern propagandists. So I checked nine other history textbooks I happened to have handy:
– Goebel, Richardine & O’Loughlin. American History, Grade 5 (Teacher’s Edition). River Forest, IL: Laidlaw, 1964
– Graham, Vuicich, Cherryholmes, & Manson. United States: Our Nation and Neighbors, Second Edition. New York: McGraw Hill, 1988
– Harrell Jr., Gaustad, Boles, Griffith, Miller, & Woods. Unto a Good Land: A History of the American People. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005
– Henretta, Brody, Ware, & Johnson. America’s History, Fourth Edition. New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000
– Helmus, Toppin, Pounds, & Arnsdorf. The United States Yesterday and Today. Morristown, New Jersey: Silver Burdett & Ginn, 1990
– Davidson & Lytle. The United States: A History of the Republic (Teacher’s Edition). Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1981
– Davidson. The American Nation: Beginnings to 1877. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997
– Armento, Nash, Salter, & Wixson. A More Perfect Union (Teacher’s Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991
– Mason, Jacobs & Ludlum. History of the United States, Volume 1: Beginnings to 1877 (Teacher’s Annotated Edition). Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992
Guess what? All of them agree that the Civil War was fought not to end slavery, but to keep the Union together (although, that does beg the question of whether or not Longstreet views the Union as something worth defending).
Remember, of all slave-holding and slave-trafficking countries on the globe at the time, America was the ONLY one to abolish slavery through war! THE ONLY ONE!
This is a popular libertarian/paleocon complaint, but the rejoinder is obvious: and whose fault was that? If the rebel states hadn’t rebelled, there would have been no war. Who knows what slavery’s final fate would have been?
We are taught that Lincoln freed the slaves with the Emancipation Proclamation. That, too, is a bald-faced lie… have you ever actually read the Emancipation Proclamation? I advise you to do so. When you DO read it, and read it carefully, you will quickly see that it did not free a single slave – NOT ONE! In reference to the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln, himself, said the following: “The [Emancipation] proclamation has no constitutional or legal justification except as a war measure.” That statement was in a letter to Sec. of Treas. Salmon P. Chase; 3 Sep 1863. The following is a quote from the London Spectator, dated October 1, 1862 concerning the Emancipation Proclamation: “The principle [of the Proclamation] is not that a human being cannot justly own another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United States government.”
It’s technically true that the Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery (a fact those pesky history books admit, by the way), but Longstreet uses that fact to give a deeply misleading picture both of its significance and of Lincoln’s work toward freeing slaves. This excellent post sheds a lot of light on the question of Lincoln & emancipation. First, as commander-in-chief, Lincoln had no authority to unilaterally emancipate anyone except for those who were held as property by rebels, something Longstreet apparently knows, given that he quotes from a letter in which Lincoln explains precisely that, but he complains about it anyway. How the heck can Confederacy apologists justify knocking Lincoln for interpreting executive power too narrowly, when one of their biggest objections to Lincoln (as we’ll soon see) is that he interpreted other executive powers too broadly?! Are we really supposed to believe that Longstreet or any of his ilk would have been okay with Lincoln assuming the power to declare every slave in America free?
Second, just because the Emancipation Proclamation did not resolve the slavery question once and for all does not mean it was bad or useless. Lincoln issued it (after having reversed previous efforts of his subordinates to emancipate slaves militarily) when he became convinced it would be vital to the war effort for several reasons, among them the fact that putting the North firmly on the side of liberty would ensure that the anti-slavery populations of foreign nations would not tolerate their governments’ offering support to the South.
Third, the point ignores a little thing called the Thirteenth Amendment, which Lincoln advocated for. Facts are stubborn things…
But, we Americans are taught that Lincoln LOVED the black people, right? Well, it isn’t exactly the truth. Let us examine Lincoln’s own words and try to determine the degree of respect Lincoln held for the Black race.
Longstreet next offers several out-of-context quotes that purport to reveal Lincoln as a racist, but his cherry-picking fails to tell the whole story. First, Lincoln was deeply concerned with the need to present ideas to one’s countrymen in a way that could actually persuade them. In particular, he knew that the aggressive moral posturing of the abolitionist movement had done very little to actually impact slavery; in fact, they often repelled people from their cause, so much so that Democrats found it an effective political attack to characterize Lincoln and other Republicans as “Black Republicans” who wanted full racial integration. Indeed, when any open-minded person considers first that blacks were treated as second-class citizens well into the 1960s, and second that Lincoln was operating over a century earlier, he or she should be able to appreciate the monumentally difficult task he faced: how to make inroads on behalf of liberty in such an environment?
Lincoln’s answer was to carefully stress the difference between the things he advocated (keeping slavery out of new territories, and gradual & voluntary rollback of slavery in states where it already existed) and the things he did not (full social equality & integration of the races, which there was no chance of achieving anyway), and allowing the prevailing prejudices of the day to stand largely unchallenged, to make himself appear as unthreatening to as many voters as possible. But nobody familiar with Lincoln’s speeches and writings can deny that he was consistent, in public pronouncement and private correspondence alike, on the equal recognition of blacks’ basic right to live freely, or that his moral disgust toward slavery was genuine (more here). In particular, in the Lincoln-Douglass Debates, Lincoln spends a curious amount of time & effort arguing substantively against slavery for a man who doesn’t really care about it:
This declared indifference, but as I must think, covert real zeal for the spread of slavery, I can not but hate. I hate it because of the monstrous injustice of slavery itself. I hate it because it deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world, enables the enemies of free institutions, with plausibility, to taunt us as hypocrites, causes the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity, and especially because it forces so many really good men amongst ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticising the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.
Or, if you’re inclined to assume the worst of his public statements because “Lincoln was, first and foremost, a politician,” then consider his August 24, 1865 letter to his friend Joshua Speed:
I confess I hate to see the poor creatures hunted down, and caught, and carried back to their stripes, and unrewarded toils; but I bite my lip and keep quiet. In 1841 you and I had together a tedious low-water trip, on a Steam Boat from Louisville to St. Louis. You may remember, as I well do, that from Louisville to the mouth of the Ohio, there were, on board, ten or a dozen slaves, shackled together with irons. That sight was a continued torment to me; and I see something like it every time I touch the Ohio, or any other slave-border. It is hardly fair for you to assume, that I have no interest in a thing which has, and continually exercises, the power of making me miserable. You ought rather to appreciate how much the great body of the Northern people do crucify their feelings, in order to maintain their loyalty to the Constitution and the Union.
Yeah, “which is it? Was Lincoln Pro-slavery, of Anti-slavery?” is a real head-scratcher, JD…
Indeed, one of the central motivators of his career was his fear that America was losing sight of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. That some so-called “conservatives” today condemn him as an enemy of their own ideals—the ideals he fought for all his life—is a pity.
Ever hear of The Corwin Amendment? Some refer to it as the original 13th amendment to the US Constitution. Let’s take a look at it.
The Corwin Amendment would have enshrined in the Constitution a guarantee that Congress could never interfere with slavery within the states, and claimed that no future constitutional amendment could say otherwise. Lincoln endorsed it in his First Inaugural Address, but it wasn’t ratified. The conclusion we’re supposed to make of this is…what, exactly? That Lincoln was willing to enshrine slavery in the Constitution to preserve the Union?
Not so fast. Longstreet doesn’t mention that in the First Inaugural, Lincoln also said that he believed Corwin’s effect—the feds staying out of the states’ internal affairs—was already “implied constitutional law.” This is fully consistent with Lincoln’s often-articulated support for limited government, fidelity to the Constitution, and separation of federal and state authority.
Granted, the provision claiming to preempt future constitutional amendments about slavery could be seen as controversial, but a.) I’m not sure how well that would hold up in practice (couldn’t you just repeal the amendment, then ratify another one?), b.) for most of his life, Lincoln believed slavery would end when the people decided to abolish it on a state-by-state basis, making federal law of little consequence, and c.) the actions of the South placed Lincoln in one of the most difficult positions any president has ever faced, leading Lincoln to make such a generous concession to the South to ease their fears, and Southern apologists like Longstreet have the gall to turn around and bludgeon Lincoln with it? Absolutely shameless.
(To Longstreet’s bizarre non-sequitur about how the Corwin Amendment could theoretically be ratified today, I simply say: get a life.)
Congress even passed the Crittendon-Johnson resolution on July 22, 1861 in which the Congress announced that the purpose of the war “was NOT interference with the rights or established institutions of those states, but to Preserve the Union with the rights of the several states unimpaired.”
Um…so? This looks like a good time to point out that Longstreet has given plenty of evidence on his own showing that the South had no reason to fear that the North would destroy Southern slavery. That begs the obvious question: what reason did the South have for seceding in the first place? What offense or danger was so egregious that it could not have been resolved within the constitutional process, leaving secession as the South’s only recourse?
Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments: 1 – Slaves not freed by the Emacipation proclamation were to be freed over a 37 year period, to be completed by January 1st, 1900. 2 – Provided compensation to owners for the loss of their slave property. 3 – The government would transport “FREED BLACKS,” at government expense, out of the United States — and relocate them in Latin America and in Africa.
From Thomas Jefferson onward, it was well understood that the prospect of taking four million people who had been born & bred into dependence, degradation & ignorance for generations and making them independent in a country full of people prejudiced against them had several practical difficulties. So why is it scandalous that Lincoln floated several different suggestions for how to handle it?
For instance — did you know that Lincoln started a war without the consent of Congress? Did you know that he illegally blockaded southern ports; illegally suspended habeas corpus and arrested tens of thousands of his political opponents; illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia; shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers and imprisoned their editors and owners; deported the most outspoken member of the Democratic Party, Congressman Clement I. Vallandigham of Ohio; confiscated private property, including, by the way, firearms; ignored the Ninth and Tenth Amendments; tolerated the arrest of ministers who refused to publicly pray for him; arrested duly elected members of the Maryland legislature, as well as Congressman Henry May of Baltimore; and supported a law that indemnified federal officials from all these illegal acts.
Of course, no anti-Lincoln screed is complete without whining about Lincoln as a tyrant who trashed the Constitution. First, we’ve already seen that, when it came to slavery & states’ rights, Lincoln was far more respectful of the Constitution than neo-Confederates admit. Second, I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with every single example Longstreet gives, but given everything we’ve seen so far, we should take this paragraph with a grain of salt.
And yet again, the author fails to acknowledge the extraordinarily difficult position Lincoln was in—has it occurred to him that when violence broke out, Congress wasn’t even in session, and wouldn’t be in session for months (traveling to DC takes a little longer without a little thing called the airplane, and several states hadn’t even held their elections yet)? Nobody would have liked to hit “pause” more than Lincoln, but wars don’t work that way.
Further, Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution allows for suspending habeas corpus “when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” The Confederacy’s attempt to secede clearly qualified, making the only question who had the authority to suspend it, Congress or the President. And Congress obviously wasn’t an option. When Congress finally convened, Lincoln made his case and submitted his actions to their review. He noted that he faced the difficult choice of either broadly interpreting one law, or allowing the collapse of all laws, and pointed out that the Founders recognized the need for broad, unilateral executive action in times of crisis (more on Lincoln & executive power here).
To summarize, this is one of the absolute worst blog posts I’ve read in ages. It’s an exercise in deception and bias worthy of Keith Olbermann or the Daily Kos. Given the rampant and egregious distortions, bad history, and cherry-picking on display in this rant, it’s all the more jarring to hear Longstreet boast about “pure propaganda,” wise men questioning everything, and “true history.” Simply put, he’s not a crusader for truth trying to set the record straight; he’s a propagandist who’s just bitter that his version didn’t win out, and to rectify the situation he has no qualms about employing the very tactics he rails against. Pitiful.