14 August 2010

A Response to Professor David Blight's Article




 

“A man who would not defend his father's grave is worse than a wild animal.”
~ Chief Joseph






 

Yale history professor, author, and Civil War scholar David Blight, Ph.D., recently wrote a piece which appeared in The Free Lance Star of Fredericksburg, Virginia. The title of the piece is: "THE MYTHS OF GRAY: WHAT GIVES THE CONFEDERACY ITS STAYING POWER?" Blight wrote the piece in response to Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s Confederate History Month Proclamation. An offense that Blight, and other academics like him, cannot seem to forgive. In the piece Professor Blight asks, with apparent frustration, “Why doesn’t the Confederacy just fade away?”

Since Blight is a Civil War scholar, I think it is reasonable to assume he knows that the Confederacy died in April of 1865. So the title of the article begins with a false premise and what follows in the piece continues in perfect harmony. For the sake of argument and discussion, I believe it is safe to assume he is really referring to those who honor their Confederate heritage and ancestors when he uses the term “Confederacy.” Allow me to offer a contrary view from the perspective of a Confederate soldier's descendant.

As I’ve already noted, Professor Blight's piece centers on Governor McDonnell's Confederate History Month proclamation. Though the proclamation was in April, some academics and the conformist media just can’t seem to leave it alone, obsessively contemplating a collective navel—though not their own. McDonnell’s proclamation was discussed ad nauseum in the blogosphere as well as in a recent issue of Civil War Times. And now, almost three months later, Blight finds it necessary to continue the discussion. To use a common phrase, it's the gift that keeps on giving.

It appears to me that Blight's real issue is not that the Confederacy has “staying power”, as his title suggests. No, what really seems to be bothering Blight is that there are still people in the South who can find honor and heroism in those who fought for Southern Independence, which is all the proclamation was about.

Blight spends much of his time presenting “evidence” that the War for Southern Independence was fought solely over slavery, though he contradicts himself by admitting, “There were deep, long-term causes, as well as immediate, short-term catalysts that precipitated secession and armed conflict in 1861.” And also: “The war is rooted in the historically contentious separation of powers between states and the federal government.”  He goes on to suggest that all these “causes” and “contentious separation” were, however, directly related to slavery. But he fails to make the case. There are a number of things wrong with Blight’s simplified analysis of something so complicated as the American Civil War. Blight reads dutifully from the current script—citing various secession documents from the Deep South to support his argument. But he omits discussion of the Upper South and overlooks the fact that the secession ordinances were political documents and proclamations. While no one would disagree many were fighting for the preservation of slavery, we know that politicians don’t always state publicly the real or complete reasons for war. Anyone remember “weapons of mass destruction?”

Was slavery central to the WBTS? Yes. But to say it was the cause of the war is over simplification and shallow analysis. It doesn’t tell the whole story.

As Clyde Wilson pointed out in reviewing Gary W. Gallagher’s and Alan T. Nolan’s book, The Myth Of The Lost Cause And Civil War History. (Indiana University Press, 2000):

A single-issue treatment of the causes of any other great war in history, like Nolan's of the Civil War, would be laughed out of school. One of the greatest of American historians, Charles A. Beard, thought economics played the major part. But in Nolan's universe Unionists are always governed by the highest motives – they are never moved like other human beings by self-interest, vanity, a lust for domination, opportunism, and just plain old misapprehension and fecklessness. Apparently the long-standing economic conflict of the sections was insignificant.

Let’s consider a modern analogy. Did the United States invade Iraq over WMD’s? That’s what we were told. Did we invade because Hussein would not permit UN arms inspections? That was the “official reason” but does it tell the whole story? No, it does not. Did we invade Iraq over possible terrorist threats to the United States? Yes. Did we invade Iraq because we wanted to establish a strong presence in the Middle East to guarantee the free flow of oil at market prices? I believe so. Did we invade Iraq in order to establish a pro-Western government that would ostensibly have positive, long term consequences? Yes. Did we invade Iraq to rid the region of a mad man like Hussein? Yes. Did we invade Iraq because the United States government wanted revenge over Hussein’s plan to assassinate Bush’s father? Yes. All of these were reasons for going to war with Iraq. (You may disagree with all of these "reasons" - that's not the point, just that there were ostensibly multiple reasons.) It is extremely na├»ve to take the public, political statements and documents of politicians at face value when it comes to giving the reason for invading Iraq. It is ridiculous to claim one reason for our invasion of Iraq, just as it is with most wars; there were multiple reasons and tensions that built over decades for a whole host of reasons. It was no different with the WBTS.

And, as historian Douglas Harper has noted:

The American Civil War was "about" slavery like the Boston Tea Party was "about" tea. Slavery became the symbol and character of all sectional differences. It was the emotional gasoline on the sectional fires. Its moral and social implications colored every issue in terms of right and rights. William Seward, the Republican leader whose party made so much of this, recognized the fact: "Every question, political, civil, or ecclesiastical, however foreign to the subject of slavery, brings up slavery as an incident, and the incident supplants the principal question." (Emphasis mine.)


Despite what current orthodoxy proclaims as “the official” reason of the WBTS, state sovereignty was a compelling issue, as were religious and cultural differences, tariffs and other economic frictions. There were multiple causes that led to the War Between the States. And there were multiple reasons among the various states. Virginia did not secede for the same reason as did South Carolina, Alabama, et al. Blight’s citing of secession documents excludes the Upper South’s motivations. Moreover, Blight seems to accept, at face value, Southern proclamations when they support his perspective, but either ignore or dismiss those that don’t support his perspective, as he does with Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address which he admits does “not mention the word ‘slavery’; instead, since the world was now the audience, he founded the Confederacy on states' rights and the ‘consent of the governed.’”

Blight suggests we dismiss Davis's inaugural address because "the world was now the audience." How was the world any more the audience than it was with the various state secession documents? Blight then constructs another straw man: “But the Confederate Constitution mentioned and guaranteed the right of slave ownership.” True, but the United States Constitution, in its intentional avoidance of mentioning the words "slavery" or "slave", did the same. So the two documents were not at odds over the issue. The former affirmed, the latter, in dancing around the issue, assumed. The results were the same. Even President Lincoln acknowledged this fact. Moreover, the Confederate Constitution also guaranteed that the government could not impose protective tariffs nor grant subsidies. So, following Blight's line of reasoning, this proves the conflict was also over economic issues. If the mentioning of a specific issue in the Confederate Constitution supports an argument over the causes of the WBTS, let's at least be consistent.

Blight then cites Jefferson Davis’s racism in defending slavery to support his argument. I’m not going to insult the intelligence of readers here, as most are fully aware of Lincoln’s own racist views including his frequent use of racial slurs, as well as his belief that blacks would never be equals to whites. Suffice it to say that quoting either Davis or Lincoln on race proves nothing, as all 19th century Americans would be considered racists by our standards today.

Blight then asks a few rhetorical questions which undermine his whole argument that slavery was the cause of the Civil War:

Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away? Is it because we are irresistibly fascinated by catastrophic loss? Or is it something else? Is it because the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history?

So what is it that involves “federal authority” that “the Confederacy” is resisting “to this day?” Slavery is certainly dead and no one would lament that fact. Civil rights and racism is no more (probably less) of a problem in the South today than it is in any other region of the country. By framing the question in this way, Blight suggests that there is strong sentiment in the South, extending since the WBTS, to resist “federal authority.” He’s right and he unwittingly provides evidence that this “conservative resistance” was the underlying principle which brought North and South to war in 1861. Since this resistance has been alive for generations, and since Blight admits it was the same sentiment alive in 1861, he undermines his whole notion that slavery was "the" cause of the WBTS. Did Blight commit a Freudian slip and thereby admit that much of the South’s inherent “conservative resistance to federal authority” was as much a cause of the WBTS as anything else?

And then we have the “quote” by John S. Mosby. In quoting the Confederacy’s most famous guerrilla warrior, Blight claims Mosby     “. . . drove a dagger into the heart of Lost Cause mythology about slavery.” First of all, to suggest that one quote from one Confederate officer (who, by the way, happened to become a Republican after the war) ends the never-ending debate over the causes of the WBTS is absurd on its face. Secondly, there’s a problem with the quote itself. Here is what Blight claims Mosby said: “I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. The South went to war on account of slavery. I am not as honored for having fought on the side of slavery--a soldier fights for his country the South was my country.”

So what’s the problem? The quote is edited and incomplete. That would not necessarily be a problem had Blight not violated a fundamental rule of quoting by failing to insert ellipses (. . .) to alert the reader that the quote is incomplete and/or edited for brevity. Mosby’s original words are contained in a letter to his former Chaplain, Sam Chapman, dated 4 June 1907. Here’s the full context of the quote, without the omissions:

Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance – Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war – as she said in her Secession proclamation – because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding. The truth is the modern Virginians departed from the teachings of the Father’s. John C. Calhoun's last speech had a bitter attack on Mr Jefferson for his amendment to the Ordinance of `87 prohibiting slavery in the Northwest Territory. Calhoun was in a dying condition – was too weak to read it – So James M. Mason, a Virginia Senator, read it in the Senate about two weeks before Calhoun's death – Mch. 1850. Mason & Hunter not only voted against The admission of California (1850) as a free state but offered a protest against wh. the Senate refused to record on its Journal Nor in the Convention wh. Gen. Taylor had called to from a Constitution for California, there were 52 Northern & 50 Southern men – but it was unanimous against slavery -- But the Virginia Senator, with Ron Tucker & Co. were opposed to giving self-government to California. Ask Sam Yost to give Christian a skinning. I am not ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in. The South was my country. (You can read the complete letter here.)

I believe it’s obvious that the complete quote puts a slightly different—though important—spin on Mosby’s attitude and complicates Mosby’s attitude somewhat. I wonder how Professor Blight would have viewed the same error in one of his student’s papers? But even if Mosby’s words had been more direct and to the point, so what? We could exchange cherry-picked quotes now until doomsday. Here are just a few examples:

“So far from engaging in a war to perpetuate slavery, I am rejoiced that Slavery is abolished. I believe it will be greatly for the interest of the South. So fully am I satisfied of this that I would have cheerfully lost all that I have lost by the war, and have suffered all that I have suffered to have this object attained.” ~ Robert E. Lee

“With all my devotion to the Union, and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to make up my mind to raise my hand against my relative, my children, my home. I have, therefore, resigned my commission in the Army, and save in defense of my native State (with the sincere hope that my poor services may never be needed) I hope I may never be called upon to draw my sword.” ~ Robert E. Lee

“My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing any slave I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps save the Union.”
~ Abraham Lincoln


Professor Blight has his dagger, I have mine.

And then there there is this comment from Blight’s piece:

Is it really all about federalism? Or the honoring of ancestors? Or valor and loyalty? Or regional identity? Or about white racial solidarity in an America becoming browner and more multi-ethnic every day? (Emphasis mine.)

The last part of that “question” is leading, presumptuous, condescending, and inflammatory and reveals an astonishing misunderstanding of the background, ethnicity, and ancestral makeup of many families in the South. Apparently, the insulated and monolithic world of academia has kept Professor Blight from the truth about many Southern families. Take mine for example: I have three great-great grandfathers who fought honorably for the Confederacy. Two were wounded in action and served time as prisoners of war. I am extremely proud of that heritage of honor and sacrifice. Yet, I am also descended from fine New England stock, which includes being a direct descendant of the Reverend Roger Williams who founded the colony of Rhode Island. I am also proud of that heritage. I married a woman of American Indian descent. She is proud of that heritage; as well she should be. She is also descended from two Confederate soldiers. She is just as proud of that heritage. Our oldest son married a beautiful young lady who was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Puerto Rico, and then immigrated to the United States. Their union has produced two very fine and handsome boys—our grandsons. Their skin is brown. They have Confederate ancestors. Our youngest son also married a beautiful young lady whose grandfather immigrated to the United States from Lebanon. Their union has produced two very fine and beautiful daughters—our granddaughters. Their skin is brown. They have Confederate ancestors. These grandchildren, like the other nine (soon to be ten) who have a mixture of Scots-Irish, Welsh, English, German, American Indian, and Jewish ancestry will all be taught to honor their fathers and their grandfathers, which include Vietnam, Korean, WWII, WWI, and Confederate veterans. This tradition of honoring our collective and mixed heritage, including that of our Confederate ancestors, has nothing to do with how much melanin any of us happen to have in our skin. It is, in fact, based on honor, tradition, and valor. So whatever Blight is basing his “solidarity” comment on, it’s certainly not the facts. Making false assumptions regarding motivations, and based on stereotyping people you don’t know, makes for poor commentary. I could make false assumptions about Blight’s motivations, but I won’t.

I could assume that since Professor Blight, “as a historian” publicly endorsed, for President, an ultra-liberal Democrat who favors greater federal authority; and since McDonnell is a conservative Republican whose administration is resisting greater federal authority (Virginia’s lawsuits against the EPA and healthcare “reform”); and since Blight seems to indicate he’s frustrated with “the Confederacy” being “to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history”; I could assume that his real motivation in writing this piece was purely political and has nothing to do with historical analysis or perspective. I could assume that it is actually “the Confederacy’s” conservative resistance to federal authority that Blight really wishes would “just fade away.” I could assume this, but I won’t.

And finally, to answer the good Professor’s question: “Why doesn't the Confederacy just fade away?” The answer is simple—because many Southerners continue to teach our children and our grandchildren what our fathers and mothers and grandparents have taught us and passed down for generations. We still share our family history around the supper table; eating harvest that was grown and nourished from the very soil that contains the blood of our kin—blood that was shed while defending our homes. We still share our family history on the front porches of our homes in the fading light of summer evenings surrounded by great trees that were present when our ancestors lived. We still share our family history before a crackling fire in our homes on cold winter nights with our children and grandchildren gathered close around us—we continue to share the stories, the sadness, the glory, the bravery, the love, the patriotism, the loyalty, and the sacrifices of those who have gone before us. We do this, in part, that we might “honor our fathers” as the Scriptures command us. And our children and our grandchildren, despite the relentless and misguided assault on their heritage by the likes of Professor Blight, will do the same when their turn comes. 

44 comments:

13thBama said...

That is a fine rebuttal Mr. Williams. It certainly seems that Blight is a member of the "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it" crowd.

We sure did let a lot of tares grow with the harvest, didn't we?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you 13B. I would not want to assume that Professor Blight is an Alinskyite. I just could not let his preferred version of history go unchallenged. I prefer the company of Chief Joseph.

Vince said...

Here are my thoughts, starting with the cosmetic and getting to the more important:

First, the Confederacy still exists in memory, which I think is his point. It has "staying power" in the same sense as "What gives Elvis is staying power?"="Why do people still care about Elvis?"

I think Blight makes the point, and makes it well, that the *primary* (or, predominant) motivation for secession was the protection of slavery. He asks, "states' rights for what?", and answers: it pretty much always turned out to be slavery. You can believe that there were diverse causes, but you can also believe that one can be a giant that overshadows the others. It's not a contradiction. It's more a question of statistical significance.

Considering your WMD analogy, I don't understand why Southerners would lie to say that their primary motivation was the protection of slavery if it really wasn't. To impress the Europeans? No, it would have been the opposite. What incentives would Southerners have for saying they were seceding to protect slavery when they really were doing it for other reasons? By the way, given the high regard for the Declaration of Independence, I would think these words were carefully chosen.

Considering Douglas Harper's comments, slavery wasn't a symbol...I don't see how a system with hundreds of millions of dollars in capital that affected millions of lives directly can be a symbol for anything. Lots of money and lots of people. Slavery's pretty real itself. If anything, I believe "sectional differences" were really symbols for slavery.

Regarding the different states' Declarations of Secession, I just briefly read Virginia's version, and it's pretty short and basically says to me, "We're with them." Unless I see evidence to the contrary, I infer that Upper vs. Deep South differences weren't all that important when considering the reasons for secession.

On Jeff Davis vs. Secession Documents, it seems obvious to me why a different tone would be taken: Davis actually had to worry about cobbling together a war effort, which would be much easier with European suppport. The writers of earlier documents didn't have to deal so directly with the consequences of their words as Jeff Davis did. Maybe that's why the states that seceded later had more muted declarations?

In summary, yes, multiple causes led to the Civil War, but slavery is a giant that dwarfs them all according to my and many others' parsing of the historical evidence.

Maybe I'll post some of my thoughts on the second half of your post later. Thanks for your thoughts, though. I think it's good to have discussions around essays like this one.

Vince said...

Considering Douglas Harper's comments, slavery wasn't a symbol...I don't see how a system with hundreds of millions of dollars in capital that affected millions of lives directly can be a symbol for anything. Lots of money and lots of people. Slavery's pretty real itself. If anything, I believe "sectional differences" were really symbols for slavery.

Regarding the different states' Declarations of Secession, I just briefly read Virginia's version, and it's pretty short and basically says to me, "We're with them." Unless I see evidence to the contrary, I infer that Upper vs. Deep South differences weren't all that important when considering the reasons for secession.

On Jeff Davis vs. Secession Documents, it seems obvious to me why a different tone would be taken: Davis actually had to worry about cobbling together a war effort, which would be much easier with European suppport. The writers of earlier documents didn't have to deal so directly with the consequences of their words as Jeff Davis did. Maybe that's why the states that seceded later had more muted declarations?

In summary, yes, multiple causes led to the Civil War, but slavery is a giant that dwarfs them all according to my and many others' parsing of the historical evidence.

Maybe I'll post some of my thoughts on the second half of your post later. Thanks for your thoughts, though. I think it's good to have discussions around essays like this one.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hey Vince - "one can be a giant that overshadows the others."

Yes, but Blight seems to suggest, unwittingly, that the "giant" is "resistance to federal authority" that he openly admits exists to this day. I think Harper's point is a valid one. Your other points were addressed in my post. Thanks for commenting.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - so what is the "statistical significance" of the "conservative resistance" that "exists to this day?" As I noted, a Freudian slip?

I believe the underlying principle, the "giant" as you call it, was this resistance to federal authority. Slavery, as one of the "causes" was symbolic in that sense and a manifestation of this resistance. Again, Blight assigns great significance to parts of Confederate documents, and dismisses other parts that don't support his conclusions. That's not honest historical analysis, in my view.

Moreover, he is obviously stereotyping those who honor their Confederate ancestors. This is revealing and casts doubt on his "analysis."

Michael Bradley said...

Let me remind all readers that the South knew quite well that slavery was secure under the U.S. Constitution. The Supreme Court had just affirmed that in the Dred Scott Decision. Lincoln could no more end slavery than George Bush could end abortion. In both instances a revesal of the Supreme Court would require the appointment of a new justice who would take the "other" side of the issue OR it would require a Constitutional amendment.

With the Southern states in the Union no anti-Scott justice could be appointed neither could an amemdment overturning Scott be passed.

If all the South wanted to do was defend slavery staying in the Union was the easy way to do the job. Southern political leaders knew this.

If you want to understand why these leaders talked about preserving slavery consider the effect of John Brown on society. How could the South continue to be part of a nation in which a terrorist was hailed by prominent Northerners as a hero and martyr? How could the South abide a president-elect who refused to condemn Brown?

The leading scholars in the field of Historiography always remind students that assessing motives by reference to political speeches is highly questionable.

I also think it is a very weak analysis which sees no difference between the actions of the Lower and Upper South. Tennessee voters rejected a secession referrendum in Feb. of 1861 only to vote overwhelmingly in favor of secession in June of 1861--the only change in conditions was not the issue of slavery but an invasion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Professor Bradley - all excellent points. Thanks for chiming in.

Michael Bradley said...

I failed to add, in my previous post, that David Blight is one of the people who signed the 2010 letter authored by Ed Sebasta urging Pres. Obama not to place a Memorial Day wreath at the Confederate Monument in Arlington Cemetery.

Obviously, Blight and Sebasta both have an agenda. I assume all C.W. buffs know about Sebasta and his idee fixe concerning the Confederacy.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - I never suggested that part of the reason for secession was not slavery. I simply stated that suggesting it was "the" cause is intellectually shallow. Blight made an extremely poor case using preferred evidence and an edited quote. Hardly convincing.

msimons said...

Thanks for such a fine rebuttal of the Blight. For all that I learned from the Dr's Yale Lessons online I found his article to be very anti-South and disgraceful to our Southern Dead.

Vince said...

"If all the South wanted to do was defend slavery staying in the Union was the easy way to do the job. Southern political leaders knew this."

This argument makes little sense when you consider how at least some Southerners felt. Mississipians included in their Declaration of Secession a section beginning with: "That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove."

They go on to talk about a dozen ways "staying in the Union" had posed or did pose a threat to slavery! For example, they cite the denial of the expansion of slavery to new states.

Also, I welcome added nuance to understanding Deep South vs. Upper South motivations for secession, and understand that the outbreak of war changed things. Please feel free to link/describe any historical sources in which Upper South states codify their feelings about the importance of protecting slavery and distinguish themselves from the other states.

Vince said...

"I believe the underlying principle, the 'giant' as you call it, was this resistance to federal authority."

I find this hard to believe. To separate the two issues, let's look at historical instances when supporting slavery and resisting federal authority were contradictory goals. Which would trump the other? Can you cite any antebellum instances in which future Confederates' principled devotion to limited federal government was so strong that it led them to take a stand that hurt slavery?

I say this noting that the Pennsylvania county that gave some of the highest margins for Lincoln in 1860 also was the one that witnessed a deadly riot against the authority of federal government officials nine years earlier.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"I find this hard to believe."

I don't see why, especially since Blight brings it up and admits “The war is rooted in the historically contentious separation of powers between states and the federal government.”

He just doesn't give it the weight others do.

Scott Manning said...

Richard, the misuse of Mosby’s words is the most troubling part of Blight’s article. The words change slightly, but the meaning changes significantly. In Blight’s version, Mosby simply appears to be unashamed that he fought for and even approves of slavery. However, in the full version, Mosby says very plainly that he disapproves of the institution. In addition, he makes a bigger case that people should not be judged by today’s standards, especially when they inherited their situation. I would have much preferred to see Blight address these words. Should we look with moral condemnation on the Confederacy? If so, should we also look down on other ancestors that “were pirates & cattle thieves,” as Mosby puts it? Or should we look down on the likes of Washington and Jefferson, because they owned slaves as well? Where does it stop?

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Scott - excellent points. And I agree with you. It is especially troubling coming from a scholar like Blight. It appears to be a deliberate omission. Presentism is an easy trap in which to fall.

Vince said...

It's worth noting that Blight's _Race and Reunion_ devotes about three pages to Mosby (pp. 297-299), and does use the quote correctly and elaborates on the context. Perhaps the newspaper editor messed it up? Or if it was his mistake, I think we can turn to the book as a better expression of his scholarship than that article.

(By the way, sorry about the double post above: feel free to delete the first or second and third. Blogger gave me an error on first submission)

Rebel Raider said...

"Unless I see evidence to the contrary, I infer that Upper vs. Deep South differences weren't all that important when considering the reasons for secession."

I guess it would depend on how high in importance you rank a full blown invasion of the southern states to be. The secession of North Carolina was preceded by an attempt by Lincoln to acquire 75,000 troops for the purposes of coercing the states already in "rebellion." Governor Ellis saw this move as a violation of the Constitution. In response to Lincoln, he stated that he would "get no troops from North Carolina." A special session of the legislation was called whereby Governor Ellis recommended an ordinance of secession.

http://thomaslegion.net/governorjohnellis.html

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - the fact Blight knew the context of the full quote makes the violation all the worse. I seriously doubt you can blame this on the editor.

Vince said...

I don't see how it makes it a violation of any seriousness. It's not like he was trying to hide something that he spent three pages of his book formally and properly explaining.

Also, it seems like each version (e.g., KC Star) on the internet has differences in the punctuation of this quote when you look at the ellipses and em-dashes. I don't really know what's up, but it doesn't really matter to me. I care much more about what he says in Race and Reunion.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - it may not matter to you, but it does to many others.

Brooks D. Simpson said...

Disclosure: I know David Blight, having gone to graduate school with him and having co-edited a book of essays with him.

That said, the original version of this essay appeared in the Fredericksburg paper, and so I take that as the base text.

Here's the quote as printed on the website of the paper in question:

"I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. The South went to war on account of slavery. I am not as honored for having fought on the side of slavery--a soldier fights for his country the South was my country."

Now, this is what Mosby said ...

First,

"Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders."

Then several sentences later, we have:

"The South went to war on account of slavery."

Then, after a lengthy discussion, we have:

"I am not /strikeout/ ashamed of having fought on the side of slavery – a soldier fights for his country – right or wrong – he is not responsible for the political merits of the course he fights in."

The last quote is clearly mangled in the translation. Unfortunately, I can't get the manuscript itself to come up at the moment ... just the transcription.

Reading the entire document, I see it makes a point Blight well might want to make, but the quote as rendered makes a different point, and the way it is rendered understandably raises questions. And no, that's not insignificant.

Now, no reasonable person is going to say I'm a neo-Confederate or defender of the Lost Cause. But Richard does have a point here. I may not agree with his own interpretation, but I remember reading David's editorial and wondering about some aspects of it.

If one suspends one's standards of scholarship in the pursuit of some political point, well, that's not scholarship, regardless of where it came from or what's being said. I don't know what happened here (and I am aware that newspapers can also mangle arguments and quotes, both in reporting and in preparing op-eds for print). But I for one would not dismiss Richard's point about the quote out of hand.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Brooks - thanks for your input and perspective. I will be the first here to support your declaration that you're no "neo-Confederate." ;o)

I appreciate your comments.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BTW, it was Scott Manning who first brought to my attention that the Mosby quote was edited and out of context.

Vince said...

Even though it was originally published in the Fredericksburg paper, Blight's personal website links to the Kansas City Star copy, which had better punctuation but still not as good as Race and Reunion. This could indicate he wasn't happy with how it was handled in the Fredericksburg version.

Perhaps you could ask him, Prof. Simpson?

http://www.davidwblight.com/press.htm

msimons said...

I am a pro-South, History Loving , Small Government Tea Party Man. I honor all my family that served in the Military from Mr.Lynch in the ANV to my cousin serving in Afgan.

IMO Dr. Blight is not acting very Bright!

Michael Bradley said...

I have a very serious question to ask. Vince, what is the source you are quoting for the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession? I have just re-read that document. It has only four sections and none of them contain the language you cite in your post which responds to my argument.

What is your source? You are not quoting the Mississippi Ordinance of Secession!

Bob Pollock said...

This is the document Vince is referring to:

http://civilwarcauses.org/reasons.htm#Mississippi

Vince said...

No, I'm certainly not quoting/referring ro the MS "Ordinance of Secession." I'm quoting "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union." ["Journal of the State Convention", (Jackson, MS: E. Barksdale, State Printer, 1861), pp. 86-88] http://civilwarcauses.org/reasons.htm#Mississippi

To me, the document looks to be a public and official justification of secession by the state legislature. If there's context for this document I'm missing, please feel free to let me know. Maybe someone who's studied the political history of the secession process in depth could inform us what was really going on at a state and local level and how secession was pitched to the people.

Leonard Lanier said...

The language Vance cites comes from "A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of State of Mississippi from the Federal Union," a document which the Mississippi Secession Convention adopted after passing the Ordinance of Secession to further explain the state's reasons for leaving the union. The entire document is available at the following link:

http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html

,but the opening section pretty much sums up the argument of the declaration,

"In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin."

Vince said...

Actually, there's a mistake on the civilwarcauses.org site...the citation confuses a March 1861 state legislature document with a January 1861 document. Here is the correct link, anyway:

http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/missconv/menu.html

Proceedings of the Mississippi State Convention, Held January 7th to 26th, A. D. 1861. Including the Ordinances, as Finally Adopted, Important Speeches, and a List of Members, Showing the Postoffice, Profession, Nativity, Politics, Age, Religious Pre.
Jackson, Miss.: Power & Cadwallader, Book and Job Printers,, 1861.

Vince said...

For context, the document I was referring to (which I perhaps should I called a declaration of causes for secession?), was the product of a committee appointed by the president of the convention on January 26, 1861. Just after that, a resolution was passed for printing the committee's proceedings, so we can safely assume the committee knew it was writing for an audience. It "was received and adopted," and distributed according to the following resolution:

"Resolved, That twenty-five hundred copies of the Declaration and Address of the immediate causes of the secession of Mississippi from the Federal Union, together with the Ordinance of Secession, with the names of the members who signed it, be printed in pamphlet form, and distributed to the members of this Convention."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - Thanks for clarifying. However, as I've already pointed out, "official justification" by politicians and/or governments does not always reflect the complete, and often complicated, reality involved in reasons for war. Certainly, you're not that naive.

Vince said...

You raise a valid question, Richard. Although I don't understand the incentives for some Southerners in early 1861 to publicly declare their motivation was centered around slavery when it really wasn't, I'll leave that question alone.

At this point, though, I'm not knowledgeable enough to tackle that question in detail myself, but it does appear that Charles Dew's 2001 book _Apostles of Disunion_ on the secession crisis, particularly the speeches and letters of the secession commissioners, is a good source for me to defer to. Dew notes:
"What is most striking about [the documents] is their amazing opennes and frankness. The commissioners' words convey an unmistakable impression of candor, of white Southerners talking to fellow Southerners with no need to hold back out of deference to outside sensibilities. These men infused their speeches and letters with emotion, with passion, and with a powerful 'Let's cut to the chase' analysis that reveals, better than any other sources I know, what was really driving the Deep South states toward disunion." [21]

The rest of the book catalogues how concerns over the fate of slavery seriously motivated the proponents of secession. I got the book from the local library, so I'd be happy to discuss the topic of what motivated secession further, including how the relationship between the Deep South and Upper South on this issue.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - as I've already stated - 3 times now - I don't dispute that some Southerners were fighting for slavery. As I pointed out in the post, I believe it's quite clear there were other motivations involved. Suggesting slavery was the only cause of the WBTS is not supported by facts and logic. No need to restate everything in the post. We're going around in circles now.

I further point out that some scholars will take Confederates' comments and documents at face value, and as the gospel truth, when it supports their argument, yet dismiss them when it doesn't, i.e., the economic statements, pension documents for Black Confederate soldiers, etc.

Again, not very convincing.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Vince - I think you (perhaps all of us) are missing the elephant in the room. Politicians need public support, (at least they used to), in order to advance their agenda. The more public support, the more they can do and the faster they can get it done. So they will cast as wide a net as possible. They form coalitions in order to increase their numbers - modern conservatives attempt to gather libertarians, social conservatives, advocates of a strong national defense, and anti-tax advocates to form a majority. Modern liberals do the same thing with their various constituencies - pro abortion groups, unions, etc. This is nothing new. I believe the same thing was going on in the South - Southern politicians were simply casting a wide net and attempting to assemble the largest coalition they could.

Vince said...

"I don't dispute that some Southerners were fighting for slavery. As I pointed out in the post, I believe it's quite clear there were other motivations involved."

I understand that. I'm trying to argue the relative importance of those different motivations, and believe we can more-or-less scientifically analyze that question using primary sources from November 1860-April 1861. Furthermore, I see those documents showing perceived threats to the slave system as being of much greater importance than any other motivation for secession.

Unless there's anything else you'd like me to address, I'll leave it there and agree to disagree. Thank you for the conversation, Richard.

P.S. The Dew chapter on Virginia is very interesting.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"we can more-or-less scientifically analyze that question using primary sources from November 1860-April 1861."

No, I don't believe you can. No more than you can look at the Iraq invasion documents/info in the same comparative time frame. You have to look further back and examine the tensions that had been building for decades, as well as ALL the reasons for those tensions.

You're right on one thing, we will have to agree to disagree; which I always assumed would be the conclusion of this. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts and opinions. I appreciate it.

Michael Bradley said...

The complete title of the document is"A Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union."

The document acknowledges that slavery is key to the commerce and society of Mississippi. The document does not cite the Union as the danger to slavery but the unwillingness of the Federal and northern state governments to maintain the rule of law becasue of the influence of abolitionists. It cites the fear raised by John Brown by saying"It has invaded a state, and invested with the honors of martyrdom the wretch whose purpose wss to apply flames to our dwellings, and the weapons of destruction to our lives,"

Mississippi knew slavery was safe under the Constitution, but Mississippi saw the Constitution being ignored.

Brian W. Schoeneman said...

If I may go back briefly to Dr. Blight's thesis - the question doesn't make a lot of sense, seeing as how, historically, cataclysmic events like major wars have had centuries-long impacts on peoples across the globe.

Just for a few examples, almost all of western civilization owes its existence to the Roman Empire - and we're still fascinated with it today. From movies about Gladiators, to TV shows about the fall of the Republic, to Shakespeare, we're fascinated by Rome - even though the western empire was gone almost a millenia and a half ago, and the eastern almost half a millenia ago.

Those of Jewish descent still recall the disapora. Rome's conflict with Carthage lasted over 100 years - Rome was obsessed with Carthage. Even centuries after Rome had obliterated Carthage, they were still honoring Hannibal.

There is nothing unique or odd about folks in the south still being fascinated with the Confederacy - it would actually be more of an aberration if they weren't.

Dr. Bright should understand that better than most - he is an historian after all. His entire profession is based on it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Brian.

"There is nothing unique or odd about folks in the south still being fascinated with the Confederacy - it would actually be more of an aberration if they weren't."

I wholeheartedly agree. What in the world would folks like Blight have to discuss and write about were it not for the bad boys of the Confederacy? They'd have to find another boogie-man.

msimons said...

Blight would be out of things to write about along with his buddys.

shanadthompson said...

What a fantastic blog! I love reading this and all of the differing commentary. I am presently knee deep in civil war research for a future novel and have stumbled upon this blog- thanks for so much refreshing essays!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thank you for the kind words. Do visit and comment as often as you like.