The closing days of the sesquicentennial has offered media outlets the chance to reflect on the outcome of the War. The results were to be expected. Both “conservative” and “liberal” websites have lamented that the end of the War did not produce the sweeping political and social revolution that could have been, or in their minds should have been. Three pieces are of note.
The first, authored by Josh Gelernter for the “conservative” National Review, suggests that Southerners should discard their “romance of the Confederacy” for the “better part of its heritage,” namely the thousands (estimated 110,000) of Southerners who resisted secession and fought for the Union. After all, they weren’t traitors. Gelernter offers this advice out of respect for his family, many of whom fought for the Confederacy but ultimately “picked the wrong side.” The Confederacy should be buried along with its cause and its symbols. “[M]ore than one of every ten southerners who fought in the war fought to end slavery and keep the country united. The South ought to be very proud of that,” he writes.
Why, Mr. Gelernter, haven’t Southerners seen the light before? The South should abandon the nearly one million men who wore the gray in favor of 110,000 men who chose the “right side.” I am sure the thousands who were left destitute by the war, who suffered unimaginable hardships in support of the effort—women and children included—and who lost everything at Appomattox would welcome such unsolicited advice. Apparently so, because they spent so much time after the War glorifying their Union brethren. The thousands of monuments in honor of the Confederacy across the South are a testament to that fact.
The second by Brian Beutler at the leftist New Republic is pure vitriolic bile. Beulter cannot hide his disdain for the South, its people, its heritage, and its culture, which Beutler would probably summarize in one word: hate. He would have famous (or infamous) company. The historians Dan Carter and Drew Gilpin Faust have made a lucrative career pushing that cart.
Beutler has a simple agenda: rename, remove, or destroy any vestige of the Confederate past, including the ten United States military installations named for former Confederate soldiers, “the myriad totems to the Confederacy and its leaders that pockmark the South,” or any other public place named after “the Confederates [who] committed treason against the United States in support of a war for slavery.” The federal government could remove the Confederate memorial at Arlington, stop spending money on Confederate headstones and strike any Confederate landmarks from the National Register of Historic Places. Beutler would spare the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named after “a vicious white supremacist, who committed treason against the United States as a Confederate general, and later terrorized former slaves as an Alabama Klansman and Democratic Senator,” but only because “the bridge should bear Pettus’s name eternally, with the explicit intent of linking the sins of the Confederacy to the sins of Jim Crow.”
The exclamation point would be making April 9 a national paid holiday labeled “New Birth of Freedom” day, replete with fireworks and grand jubilees designed to denounce treason, secession, and anything Southern. Beutler suggested this would fulfill President Obama’s charge for “each successive generation…to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals.” America would finally be remade.
Beutler uses the word “treason” several times in the piece and reduces a complex war to a single issue. You guessed it, hate (or more historically slavery). I see a theme developing. According to this logic, Americans should scrap Independence Day, remove all references to the founding generation, and eagerly advocate a reunification with the mother country, Great Britain. The British called Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Hancock, and Henry “terrorists” guilty of “treason.” Instead of Benjamin Franklin, we should admire his Tory son, William Franklin. Our heroes in the South should consist of Cornwallis and Ferguson rather than Marion, Sumter, and Pickens. The British did insist that the United States was simply fighting to perpetuate the institution of slavery. Maybe they had a point. Slavery was legal in all of the British North American colonies when the war began. Perhaps Americans should rename Brown University or Faneuil Hall, both built with money made in the slave trade. I won’t hold my breath. Liberal hypocrisy would never allow it.
The third piece by “conservative” Richard Brookhiser is nothing less than gushing hero worship of Abraham Lincoln coupled with a patronizing lament about the failures of the “Union’s main goals…the new birth of freedom for black Americans.” “The South,” he wrote, “needed guidance.” Robert E. Lee wouldn’t provide it; Lincoln was food for worms; and thus one of “the worst” presidents and a group of “Lost Cause romantics and bitterend partisans” let the South run to murder and terrorism. The South was only redeemed of its sins one hundred years later.
His sophomoric, simplistic tale of Reconstruction misses the mark entirely, but that should be anticipated from a “Lincoln scholar” who is not familiar with the more complex story of the 1876 election or the intricacies of the Reconstruction period. His tale is pro-Republican propaganda for the masses, an abridged “Reconstruction for Dummies” that would make the communist Eric Foner proud. Andrew Johnson is one of “the worst” presidents because he vetoed unconstitutional legislation, something “conservatives” usually applaud, and Northern propaganda of the Reconstruction period, much of which was refuted both at the time and in the early twentieth century, is considered infallible by this “conservative” historian. Of course, that is because the “Lost Cause romantics and bitterend partisans” lied. No Yankee ever stretched the truth. That is probably why Daniel Boone once said he never wanted to live within 100 miles of a “d—d Yankee.” They are completely worthy of our trust and admiration. Brookhiser is a nice example.
Fortunately, there is an antidote for this disease. If you are reading this, you have found it. The Abbeville Institute re-launched our website just over one year ago. In that time, we have published over 300 articles on Southern history, politics, and culture aimed to refute the now prevalent narrative of Southern imbecility, perfidy, and “treason.” Over 100,000 people from all over the globe have explored “what is true and valuable in the Southern tradition.” As long as we continue to publish, Southern culture will not only survive but the principles of 1776 and 1861 will flourish. The South is America. The cultural Marxists and American nationalists on both the left and the right would like to eradicate her history and replace it with a more palatable set of heroes. We cannot let that happen. Please help us in our goal to remember the cause of our fathers and defend a culture that is older than the United States. Both the South and America depend on it.