My recent piece on James Ryder Randall, “At Arlington”, touched a nerve, at least with Christian McWhirter. I spent some time in “At Arlington” discussing his March Time magazine piece, and thus he was compelled to reply.
McWhirter begins by wondering when the “neo-Confederate crowd” would respond to his article. It only took him one sentence to use the tired pejorative “neo-Confederate” to try to undermine my position (one comment on his article wondered why it only took me six sentences to compare Lincoln to Hitler, which I did not do). To people like McWhirter, anyone who disagrees with the modern pogrom against all things traditionally Southern has to secretly pine for a return to the 1860s.
He then questions my “research skills” because I inadvertently used “James” instead of “Christian” for his first name in the original draft. You got me.
So with my one mistake out of the way, let’s focus on McWhirter’s, because there are many, including reading comprehension, consistency, and honesty.
He takes issue with my labeling him a “Lincoln apologist” by arguing that he “barely mention[s] Lincoln in my [McWhirter’s] article.” According to his byline at Time, McWhirter is an Assistant Editor for The Papers of Abraham Lincoln and Editor of the Journal of the Abraham Lincoln Association. He also uses Lincoln as his avatar on his blog. I think that would constitute a Lincoln apologist regardless of how many times you “mention Lincoln” in your “article.”
From there, McWhirter jumps into a discussion of the term “dissident,” which was featured prominently in his piece. He agrees that the term “is often used to describe opponents of authoritarianism,” but then contends “that obviously wasn’t my meaning in the article.” To whom was it not obvious? He directly called Ryder’s Maryland, My Maryland “dissident” and complains that the song is “pro-secession.” That would be “dissidence.” What magical and hidden definition of the term is he using? Perhaps he needs a better thesaurus or dictionary.
He then states that I suggest “all such action”–meaning dissidence–“is good.” Reading comprehension is a problem here. From my piece: “It seems dissidents are those usually on the right side of history [emphasis added].” When did “usually” become synonymous with “all”? That new thesaurus would come in handy again.
The real crux of his argument in this paragraph is that the state of Maryland should not use Maryland, My Maryland as the official state song because:
Maryland didn’t secede during the Civil War and thus has never claimed to be independent from the United States. Thus, it makes no sense for an obviously loyal state with deep ties to and clear benefits from the American union to have a state song that openly calls for the dissolution of that union.
True, Maryland did not secede from the Union in 1861. It did declare its independence from Great Britain separately in 1776, making it a “free and independent state” legally independent from both Great Britain and the United States which had yet to be created. Maryland acceded to the Union in 1781 and again in 1788, but the state of Maryland preceded the Union of the States. And how loyal was Maryland? It is fairly well established that Maryland may have seceded in 1861 had not Benjamin Butler had the entire pro-secession faction of the legislature thrown in jail. That is not my definition of “obviously loyal.” And what about John Merryman and other citizens of the state, including the Baltimore police chief, who were arrested for their opposition to the Lincoln administration? Did these men have a “clear benefit from the American union”?
McWhirter then claims I argue “that the Confederacy has nothing to do with slavery.” I never said that in my article. Again, reading comprehension. I did say, “I would agree that “Maryland, My Maryland” is pro-Confederate and pro-secession. Randall openly advocated Maryland secession, but pro-slavery? Not a word in the song is dedicated to the institution.” That was in response to McWhirter’s position that because the song is “pro-Confederate” it is “thereby pro-slavery.” That is a logical fallacy. Randall only penned the poem in response to the federal invasion of the state. How is that a defense of slavery? And I will repeat, not a word in the poem is dedicated to slavery.
McWhirter also takes issue with my classification of Lincoln as a despot, stating, “There are more than enough places online and elsewhere to find eloquent and convincing refutations of those long discredited Lost Cause positions [emphasis added].” Finally the “Lost Cause” rears its pejorative head. He had already knocked out “neo-Confederate” so it was only a matter of time before “Lost Cause” entered the fray. Lincoln was classified as a despot during the War by many prominent Northerners, including abolitionists Lysander Spooner and former Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis. In fact, more mainstream historians and legal scholars are coming to this conclusion. This is not a creation of the “Lost Cause” and it has not been “long discredited.” McWhirter is obviously blinded by his adherence to the Lincoln myth, the real “Lost Cause” in American history.
McWhirter displays his inconsistency and dishonesty in the next paragraph:
First of all, McClanahan can’t possibly know my opinion on the removal of Confederate monuments because I’ve made no public statements on the matter. Indeed, I go out of my way in my original article to set the two issues apart.
He then cites these lines from the Time piece:
Unlike current dialogues about Confederate monuments, there’s really no room for debate here. We might hesitate to move or destroy marble monuments for fear of permanently losing them, but if Maryland leaves “Maryland, My Maryland” behind, the song will still exist—it will just go back to the historical record where it belongs.
But he fails to mention these sentences from the first paragraph of the same piece:
Yes, after decades of failed attempts, we finally have a compromise that might work—replacing the original 1861 lyrics by James Ryder Randall with a milquetoast but inoffensive 1894 rewrite. It’s a big step and part of the broader movement to remove, replace, or re-contextualize public displays of pro-Confederate (or Lost Cause) memory across the nation. Up to this point, these efforts have paid more attention to monuments and building names, but “Maryland, My Maryland” certainly deserves such scrutiny.
That is only setting the “two issues apart” by about 500 words.
As for the quotes, “hesitate” is the key word in the first. A hesitation is a pause before an ultimate action, the action in this case being the purging of Confederate symbols. I have seen no such “hesitation” on the part of anti-monument people in the last year. It can also mean a reluctance to do so, but from his opening paragraph, it is clear that McWhirter is not reluctant to take part in a “broader movement to remove, replace, or re-contextualize public displays of pro-Confederate (or Lost Cause) memory across the nation.” How do I know that? He calls Maryland’s decision to alter the state song “a big step,” and he lumps changing the song together with removing and replacing monuments. That is a “public statement” on the issue. And by the way, the original title of the piece when it ran at the History News Network was “What Took Maryland So Long.” No hesitation there.
He closes with a poor attempt at humor coupled with a concurrent display of unwarranted hubris:
Apparently, if his imaginary version of me and my PC buddies change the song and remove these monuments, we won’t just alter the country’s historical landscape, we’ll erase the very ideas of “self-determination and opposition to authoritarianism.” I had no idea I (or “Maryland, My Maryland,” for that matter) wielded such enormous power. It’s like McClanahan’s the Uncle Ben to my Peter Parker. Who knew I had the strength to obliterate democracy itself? Here, I just thought I was pointing out how absurd it is for a loyal state [sic] to have a song defying the existence of the federal government, but I’m actually summoning a horrifying Orwellian dystopia of political correctness and blind deference to authority. My God, what have I done?
I never said McWhirter himself “wielded such enormous power.” I thought so little of him that I incorrectly substituted James for his first name, and I never placed such high emphasis on his work. Hubris, even if it was an attempted joke. But I think McWhirter unknowingly admits why these symbols are under attack. It is not “racism,” of which the North was in no short supply, or slavery, for as the ardently neo-Confederate “Lost Cause” partisan James McPherson has pointed out, the vast majority of Confederate soldiers did not fight for the institution. No. Confederate symbols are under attack because they represent resistance to authoritarianism and centralization, the true definition of “dissidence.” After all, the inscriptions on many of these monuments erected long after the conclusion of the War say as much. They also exemplify non-conformity with Lincoln’s America and a belief in self-determination. By default, removing them finally, permanently, and shamefully confers the slander of “traitor” and “treason” to their cause, the same cause which created the American states in 1776. You will be assimilated. McWhirter takes issue with Maryland, My Maryland because it is “dissident.” Even if he wants to, he cannot alter the definition of the word or his original line of attack.
Ultimately McWhirter’s piece is an example of the current political climate and as such should be discussed and refuted. Confederate symbols and monuments are the low-hanging fruit for the modern PC crowd. But what happens when they are gone? Where does the mob go next? No one can rightly believe that political correctness will end there. If they do, they are not paying attention. Simply writing “Trump” in chalk on a college campus is now viewed as a violation of a “safe space.”
I would recommend, however, that McWhirter keep writing for such an esteemed publication as Time. They have a fine track record of being on the right side of both history and political issues in general. And yes, I am having a bit of fun with the one or two people who actually read his blog and comment on it (“It is not political correctness. It is historical correctness”), because as you know, all of us “neo-Confederate,” “Lost Cause,” Tom Woods and Tom DiLorenzo “shrill” partisans believe Lincoln’s secret middle name was Adolf.