20 April 2009

Balance


There's an interesting article in the Washington Compost this morning. Surprisingly, it provides a more balanced view than usual on the teaching of the War Between the States (The piece even uses the "WBTS" term favored in the South.) Here's a quote from the piece which includes a comment from University of Richmond's Ed Ayers:

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Ayers said it is time for both sides to face facts.

"We do understand the centrality of race and slavery in all of American history," Ayers said. "But we also understand that the stereotypes about the war are not accurate. The North did not go to war to bring slavery to an end . . . and without slavery there would have been no Confederacy."

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I agree but, would hasten to add that, without the North's complicity, there would have been no slavery. And that, my dear friends, is what is so often overlooked (intentionally?) by those who play the morality card and wish to make the Confederacy the great Satan and the North the great Saviour. South bashing is so chic.

Read the complete story here.

15 comments:

James F. Epperson said...

Gee, I'm surprised you would recommend a book written by three *journalists* ;-)

Northern involvement in the development of the Southern economy is well-known to serious students, but not to the casual. Still, it is possible to overstate things. To the best of my knowledge, no New England Yankee was forcing anyone to buy slaves, or passing laws making it difficult to emancipate slaves. The fundamental issue is that there was money to be made via slave-based cotton agriculture.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

The fundamental issue I'm addressing in this post is that many scholars/writers like to demonize the South for slavery while they conveniently ignore the North's role.

"Northern involvement in the development of the Southern economy is well-known to serious students, but not to the casual."

And why do you suppose that is James?

James F. Epperson said...

Can you name a single author who "likes" to demonize the South?

As for why, I think most writers would rather do a book on Gettysburg than on the details of the antebellum Southern economy. The former will potentially sell widely; the latter, only to libraries. I have four books I use as my references on economic matters; none of them sold widely, and the writing style tends to confirm the notion of economics as "the dismal science."

cenantua said...

Richard, I agree and disagree with you. Yes, there are some who oversimplify the position of the North as the great savior and the South as the great satan, but as James mentions, I think this is more prevalent in some of those who are not serious students. Personally, I think it's a reflection of poor historical memory. No matter the location, I think poor historical memory is pervasive in society, even beyond topics related to the Civil War.

That said, I strongly disagree with your statement that "without the North's complicity, there would have been no slavery." There is so much more to the history of the institution on this continent beyond defining it as the responsibility of some of those in the North. Many attributed to the perpetuation of the institution, but it cannot alone be laid at the doorstep of the "North" as a broadly defined populace.

However, that's not my greatest interest in your statements. What is your objective in continually broad-brushing the North and the South in sectional terminology?
As we have pointed out, seeing history defined in sectional terms in the cloud of historical memory is bad enough. I don't think we need to fuel that poor historical memory by continuing in the practice. The Civil War South is not solely defined in terms of the Confederacy. Therefore, why should focuses on the intentions of the Confederate government to sustain the practice of slavery be considered "South-bashing?" Do people do this? Yes, they do, but who is your audience here? Not all see it this way. Considering the range of sentiments regarding the institution of slavery and the Confederacy as a whole in the Civil War era South, the actual act of "South-bashing" would be quite a feat encompassing all of that in one package.

Border Ruffian said...

Constitutional Convention vote on the African Slave Trade, 1787

A 'Yes' vote was for continuing the trade another 20 years-YesNew Hampshire
Massachusetts
Connecticut
Maryland
North Carolina
South Carolina
Georgia

(All New England states present voted to continue the trade.)

NoNew Jersey
Pennsylvania
Delaware
Virginia

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I think its because its overlooked due to the effort to shift most of the blame on the South for political and cultural reasons.

"Many attributed to the perpetuation of the institution, but it cannot alone be laid at the doorstep of the "North" as a broadly defined populace."

I agree completely. I think both sections are equally responsible, considering the complete history and how things evolved. As you and KL have noted, you cannot condense the history of the South and slavery into just the 4 years of the Confederacy.

"What is your objective in continually broad-brushing the North and the South in sectional terminology?"

Its a defensive position Robert, but I find it curious that you don't pose that same question to Kevin Levin regarding his "continual broad-brushing" from a different perspective. Please don't deny he does it. He's obsessed with it, particularly the SCV. I don't mind the question or criticism here, but many of KL's readers come here and offer their criticism and overlook the same issues on KL's blog. I find that interesting.

"The Civil War South is not solely defined in terms of the Confederacy."

Never said it was. Why do you and KL keep bringing that up? Who's saying that? Specifics? I hear the charge, but no specifics. Can you give specific examples?

In regards to your last questions, please read the header info.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BR:

Good point. Also, it was Virginia who was the first governing body in the West to criminalize the slave trade.

I've posted before on Virginia's efforts to emancipate slaves in the early 1830's but the Nat Turner event as well as growing abolitionist sentiment in the North doomed that effort. Thomas Jefferson's grandson had led the way in that effort.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

An addendum Robert:

If . . . "The Civil War South is not solely defined in terms of the Confederacy."

And I agree, then the Civil War South cannot be solely defined in terms of slavery either.

James F. Epperson said...

I'd still like an example of authors who "demonize" the South.

cenantua said...

Richard,

"The Civil War South is not solely defined in terms of the Confederacy."

This sentence was in reference to your "South-bashing" remark. When you write about "the South," I don't always see that you make an effort to distinguish between the four years and those years beyond. If you were to say "Confederate-bashing" is chic, I could see where you could justify that argument, but not "South-bashing."

As for both regions having a hand in slavery, yes, there is a shared responsibility right from the beginning, however, the shift of the North away from slavery while the Southern legislators wanted to expand the institution has to be recognized.

As for, "the Civil War South cannot be solely defined in terms of slavery," I agree it can't be defined in this way entirely, but the role it had in Southern culture, even amongst those who did not own slaves, was incredible (more in some areas than in others, of course). The Shenandoah Valley, for example, was not the Tidewater.

On the other hand, I would argue that the Confederate government was largely defined by its hopes to see the institution of slavery maintained. That's not to say, however, that the common Confederate soldier was an object in harmony with the actions or pursuits of the government. I think the 20 slaves exemption made this clear to the common soldier.

Ultimately, we need to begin to separate all of these pieces to get to the details. As long as we are mired in looking at the Civil War in terms of a sectional crisis, I don't think we can advance a better understanding of the war.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Perhaps "demonize" was a little strong James, but I'm describing the general attitude many writers, academics, etc. have in blaming the South for slavery and all the attending woes that followed.

You really question that?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I could see where you could justify that argument, but not "South-bashing."

I could cite numerous examples of both. Google: Jesusland election 2004.

"the shift of the North away from slavery while the Southern legislators wanted to expand the institution has to be recognized."

Right, after they made all the money from the slave trade and their economy no longer needed direct slave labor, though they continued to profit from the cotton trade. Sorry, I don't buy that for one minute.

"Ultimately, we need to begin to separate all of these pieces to get to the details. As long as we are mired in looking at the Civil War in terms of a sectional crisis, I don't think we can advance a better understanding of the war."

I'm not sure how you keep from examining it as a sectional crisis. But thanks for the input. That's all for a while as I'm out of town for a day or so.

Thanks to all for the lively discussion.

James F. Epperson said...

I agree that many folks criticize "the South" for lots of things, and I will even agree that *lots* of people criticize "the South" unfairly. But, I would like you to be specific for me. OK, you will concede that "demonize" was too strong; that's good. Please give me an example of someone who "[blames] the South for slavery and all the attending woes that followed."

Just for your information about myself, I consider myself to be "from" the South and of a largely Southern family (all Southern on one side, partly on the other).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James:

I'll be happy to do so upon my return. I'm headed South.

RGW

Brboyd said...

Look for indications and warnings...

"Today's textbooks have largely caught up with this view. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the classroom. "

Caught up with this view? So our text books in the past were flawed? I disagree. Today's "social cause" text books are written with a political goal and untrustworthy. I do accept that it is not a new thing and that some in the past were this way also, but generally I do not believe it was as rampant as it is today.