Textbooks and the Confederacy : Teach the Whole Story

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Texas textbooks:
Let’s teach the truth about the Confederacy

By Michael Lind / June 2, 2010

‘Our new government is founded upon… the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man.’ — Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy

The Texas State Board of Education, the most astringently reactionary body since the Spartan Ephorate, has decreed that textbooks for the schoolchildren of Texas are to include Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address along with the first inaugural of Abraham Lincoln.

This controversy holds particular interest for me. I am a fifth-generation native of Texas. One ancestor of mine had his farm in Georgia incinerated by Gen. Sherman. Another came to Texas in the federal army of occupation of Gen. Custer. One of the last things that my late grandfather said to me was: “Sam Houston was a traitor to the South!” The Civil War ended in 1865, but clearly its meaning is still contested in the 21st century.

By all means, let schoolchildren in Texas read Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address. But there should be more material from the Confederate side of the conflict than that. For generations, apologists for the Confederacy have claimed that secession was really about the tariff, or states’ rights, or something else — anything other than preserving the right of some human beings to own, buy and sell other human beings.

That being the case, the education of schoolchildren in my state should include a reading of the Cornerstone Speech made by Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, on March 21, 1861. With remarkable candor, Stephens pointed out that whereas the United States was founded on the idea, enshrined in Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal,” the new Confederacy was founded on the opposite conception:

The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically … Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

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.

Let the children of Texas compare what Stephens had to say about natural rights and human equality with Lincoln’s views on the subject, and contrast the ideals of the American and Confederate Foundings. That should make for interesting classroom discussions.

Let Texas schoolchildren, as well, read the Confederate Constitution. It is surely the most bizarre constitution ever adopted. It is a copy of the U.S. Constitution, rewritten to cripple the central government. The Confederate Constitution bans the government of the new federation from spending money on infrastructure, with a few exceptions like harbors and lighthouses, and prevents the new government of the South from fostering industry.

With a central government that was deliberately weakened at its formation, how did the Confederacy expect to prevail in a war against the forces of the Union? The answer is that the rich oligarchy of slave lords who ruled the South hoped that the British empire would intervene to secure their region’s independence, just as France had intervened in the American Revolution to help the United States win its independence from Britain.

When the British declined the offer, the geniuses in charge of the Confederacy realized that they would have to win their independence with their own resources. This was no easy thing to do in a wannabe country that prided itself on its absence of factories and banks. But they tried anyway. They threw libertarianism overboard and mobilized for war. They instituted a draft. They passed an income tax and inflated the currency to push citizens into higher brackets. Lacking a native Southern capitalist class, they put generals and colonels in charge of government-owned factories and munitions plants.

But conscription, taxation and state socialism were not enough. Too many Southern men were avoiding the draft or deserting, to say nothing of slaves who ran away to freedom or to join the U.S. Army. And there was the resistance. In the semi-mythical “free state of Jones” in Mississippi, in the Big Thicket in East Texas, in the Texas German Hill Country, rebels fought the rebellion, in the name of the United States or their own rights.

The tradition of anti-Confederate resistance survived in the South after the war, to inspire Radical Republican “scalawags,” populists, socialists, and New Deal Democrats. The Southern right and the Northern left have erased the resisters from history. But not all of us have forgotten them.

Toward the end of the war, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis came up with a plan. Following Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, they proposed to save the Confederacy by freeing and arming slaves. In “Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves During the Civil War,” Bruce Levine quotes some typical responses.

Brig. Gen. Clement H. Stevens: “If slavery is to be abolished then I take no more interest in our fight.” Gov. Zebulon Vance of North Carolina: “Our independence is chiefly desirable for the preservation of our political institutions, the principal of which is slavery.” Once it became clear that the only way to save slavery and anti-statism in the South was to abolish slavery and adopt statism, the malfunctioning Confederate Mind short-circuited completely.

That is what my fellow Texans of younger generations should learn about the Lost Cause. Under British protection, the CSA might have evolved into a squalid banana republic run by landlords for the benefit of investors and industrialists in Britain. Without British protection, the CSA might have survived as a proto-fascist regime, with an economy of permanent war socialism and a government run by colonels.

In either case, the victory of the Confederacy would have been far worse for most white and black Southerners than its well-deserved defeat. For ensuring that I would be born in the United States of America instead of a broken-down failed state that combined the least attractive features of apartheid-era South Africa and death squad-era Honduras, I say: Thank you, President Lincoln, and thank you, Gen.Grant.

So let the students of Texas read the inaugural address of Jefferson Davis, and the Cornerstone Speech of Alexander Stephens, and the Confederate Constitution. And let the readings conclude with the speech that Texas Gov. Sam Houston gave on Sept. 22, 1860, in my home town of Austin, the state capital.

Houston had led the successful Texan revolt against Mexico in 1836 and had served as president of the Republic of Texas, then as a United States senator after Texas was admitted to the Union. His final campaign, before he was deposed from office by the Confederates, was his failed attempt to prevent the secession of Texas from the United States.

In front of that audience in Austin, the haggard old soldier mocked the claim that the rights of the Southern states were threatened in any way by the North:

Our forefathers saw the danger to which freedom would be subjected, from the helpless condition of disunited States; and, to “form a more perfect Union,” they established this Government. They saw the effect of foreign influence on rival States, the effect of dissensions at home, and to strengthen all and perpetuate all, to bind all together, yet leave all free, they gave us the Constitution and the Union.

Where are the evidences that their patriotic labor was in vain? Have we not emerged from an infant’s to a giant’s strength? Have not empires been added to our domain, and States been created? All the blessings which they promised their posterity have been vouchsafed; and millions now enjoy them, who without this Union would to-day be oppressed and down-trodden in far-off foreign lands!

What is there that is free that we have not got? Are our rights invaded and no government ready to protect us? No! Are our institutions wrested from us and other foreign to our taste forced upon us? No! Is the right of free speech, a free press, or free sufferage taken from us?

Has our property been taken from us and the government failed to interpose?

No, none of these! The rights of the States and the rights of individuals are still maintained. We have yet the Constitution, we have yet a judiciary, which has never been appealed to in vain — we have yet just laws and officers to administer them; and an army and navy, ready to maintain any and every constitutional right of the citizen.

Whence then this clamor about disunion? Whence this cry of protection to property or disunion, when even the very loudest in the cry, declared under their Senatorial oaths, but a few months since, that no protection was necessary? Are we to sell reality for a phantom?

Class dismissed.

[Michael Lind is policy director of the Economic Growth Program at the New America Foundation and author of What Lincoln Believed: The Values and Convictions of America’s Greatest President.]

Source / Salon

Thanks to Tom Cleaver / The Rag Blog

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10 Responses to Textbooks and the Confederacy : Teach the Whole Story

  1. Justin says:

    Well done sir. I only wish that someone had read Alexander Stephens’ speech at the public forum.

  2. Anonymous: What in the world are you talking about? Comments to The Rag Blog aren’t even moderated. You post it and it goes up. If a comment contains personal attacks or racist or misogynist remarks, for instance, we may then take it down after the fact.

    There are often technical glitches with Blogger that cause folks to have trouble posting, but that is out of our control.

    So chill!

  3. Fed Up says:

    Great article. But I think when you characterize the issue as one of the Confederates trying to preserve slavery in the South, and the North trying to end it, you are mistaken.

    The essence of the conflict during the US Civil War was that the North was not going to have slavery expanded into the Western Territories. They were going to have free farming and free labor capitalism in those Western Territories, and there was very little moralism about it! My great grandfather was an abolitionist rank and filer, and he fought out of Kentucky for the Union, and I was told stories as a child about Thaddeus Stephens, etc. etc. My great grandpa fought against slavery, but “the elites” did not!

    This is also why they could AFFORD to make the Jim Crow deal with the South after the Civil War — they did not need free framing and free labor in the South as much as they needed a peaceful south to free them to go slaughter the Indians … so they could consolidate capitalism.

    Frankly, I suspect that the reason the English did not support the South was because they knew that the deepest issue was the consolidation of capitalism vs. fuedalism globally.

    Frankly, if progressives understood things more like this, we might be more clear on what is going on in the world these days.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think Fed Up is on target.It suddenly dawned on me that Feudalism and Capitalism are as much a problem for each other as Communism is for either.
    pms

  5. Anonymous says:

    Inclusion of Jeff Davis’ inaugural address in text books is a blatant attempt to revive slavery and Jim Crow. Robert E. Lee said at Appamatox “I can’t think of a worse cause to fight for.” We gotta get past our petty prejudices.

  6. Alan L. Maki says:

    Boycott, Divest, Sanction… Stop the Israeli killing machine!

  7. Pollyanna says:

    I’ve had problems a few times when posting comments on the Rag Blog, and they are both entirely my own fault and lack of attention.

    There are two common reasons.
    1. My comment is too long (there is a character limit).
    2. I incorrectly type the security word displayed.

    The problem is that instead of scrolling back up to the TOP of the comments section to be sure my comment has been SAVED, I blithely go on to other things. When there’s a problem, that is also displayed at the TOP of the page.

    Too bad, some of my most inspired blatherings have been lost in this way!

    So always check to be sure your comment has been SAVED, rather than hike your blood pressure in pure paranoia!

  8. Pollyanna says:

    sorry — wrong info in previous comment — when there is a problem with a comment, the info that it’s been saved will not appear at the top of the page, but the problem itself will be identified at the end of your comment

    btw I love the security non-words, a lot of them seem like they should BE words, and I find myself thinking about possible definitions!!

  9. Fed Up says:

    "I think Fed Up is on target.It suddenly dawned on me that Feudalism and Capitalism are as much a problem for each other as Communism is for either.
    pms"

    Capitalism is free farming and free labor with the domination of commodity production as opposed to agricultural semi subsistance production. At the time of the US Civil War, both slavery and capitalism existed.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Why no moral outrage at Lincoln’s offer to the seceding states that he would preserve slavery if they would only rejoin the Union? Not allowing the cancer to spread is well and good, but allowing it to fester does not a moral paragon make.

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