Home / General / The End of Softselling Treason in Defense of Slavery

The End of Softselling Treason in Defense of Slavery


Boy, one wanders around the West for a few days, turning a corner and finding oneself 15 feet from a grizzly bear who mercifully was far more interested in eating berries than eating you, and the whole world has changed.

My blog colleagues and many around the internet have said much of what I would say about Trump’s official approval of NeoNazis and NeoConfederates. It’s a truly horror show, yet one that completely fits Trump’s base, which is one reason why McConnell and the like won’t call Trump out by name, even if a few Republicans who can see their political futures ending at the next election (Cory Gardner) have. But let me state a few things here as I get back into my routine of real work now that vacation has ended and I am setting up in Oregon for the next few months.

I have been pushing the idea of the Confederacy as “Treason in Defense of Slavery” for the last decade. I didn’t invent the term. I stole it from Lemieux and Noon and I believe it originates with a long-time friend of LGMers (a southerner it should be stated). I am glad to see it start to become a useful public term for discussing secession for the right to buy, sell, rape, and kill black people. To see an overwhelming rejection on the left of any interpretation of the Civil War that does not center slavery is highly rewarding to me, even if it’s not worth the hell that has created the situation.

As of last weekend, there can never be a reconciliation on the left with treason in defense of slavery again. Unfortunately, and we’ve even seen it in comments here over the years, there developed an equivalency on the left between the Civil War and anti-capitalist politics. This was particularly salient in the 1960s, where, despite the beginnings of real historical studies of the horrors of slavery, the popular conception on the left was, while not directly racist, a sympathy for southern planters fighting against a northern captialism seeking to crush everything in its path. Thus you have first Gram Parsons and then Lynard Skynard using the Confederate flag as a backdrop to their concerts, The Band having a huge hit with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and endless writings and other cultural productions on the left talking about how the Civil War was a capitalist war on the South, even if it happened to free the slaves.

This now defunct left interpretation of the Civil War is, of course, ridiculous. Historians such as Ed Baptist and Sven Beckert have demonstrated the deep integration of the plantation economy into not only a national but a global capitalism. Two generations of African-American history scholars have brought out the stories of slaves and freedom, exploring how slaves fought for their own goals and had their own demands both during and after the Civil War. Sure, capitalism was central to the Civil War, but the U.S. economy in the 1850s was a regionally integrated capitalist economy that was based more on the ownership of black bodies than any other commodity. Battles between northern and southern whites might have revolved around the future of that regionally integrated capitalism, but there was nothing anti-capitalist at all about the plantation South.

What this leaves is a far more correct interpretation of the Confederacy as a white supremacist state that hoped to become a world power based around slavery. There is nothing to romanticize, unless you want to romanticize white power. That’s what happened at Charlottesville and that’s what Herr Trump supports. That leaves no room for middle ground on this issue. There no longer can be any legitimate argument that Confederate memorials are “HISTORY” that need to be left alone. Scholars have pointed out the explicitly Jim Crow white nationalist origin of these monuments, as well as the inclusion of the Confederate flag on southern state flags in the 1950s and 1960s, the changing of which is another battle coming soon. Supporting these monuments is supporting the white nationalist origins of them that have been reclaimed by today’s racists.

Finally, the past is always politics. There is nothing about the study of history that is not political. How we understand the past is how we understand the present. Allowing the white South and their sympathizers to write the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction for a century explicitly reinforced white supremacy. The change in the study of the era in the last 40 years has challenged this and, not surprisingly, has fed into charges that higher education is “indoctrinating” our good young people. As per always, conservatives are projecting here because indoctrination is exactly what they want to do, especially with our history. Whatever happens with this nation, whether democracy is saved or a new century of white supremacy wins out beginning with Trump, supported by the Supreme Court, and doubled down upon by states restricting the suffrage, the battle over the past will be an important front in the war. And no event in our history is more central to that battle that the meaning of the Civil War.

This is why all of us on the left we need to fight for taking down all Confederate statues and ban the flying of the Confederate flag in public spaces. This is not about the past. It’s about the future.

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  • dhudson2728

    Well said.

  • C’mon, Loomis, even I can outrun a bushful of berries.

  • Thom

    Yes, this is well put. I was mildly resistant to the “treason in defense of slavery” line when I first heard it from Erik, but I came to see it as a very useful historical encapsulation, especially of course the variant re Texas, the only state, as Erik puts it, that did this twice.

    Eugene Genovese of course helped create this idea of the slave plantation South as non-capitalist. While his studies of slave resistance were very important in reshaping slavery studies (and were important for social historians everywhere studying “everyday forms of resistance,”) the idea of sugar and cotton plantations as separate from industrial capitalism was always ludicrous.

    • Erik Loomis

      And quite telling given his late life turn to the hard right.

      • howard

        l don’t know enough about genovese’s biography: i know that when i first encountered him in the late ’60s as a high schooler he was very impressive and i know that he turned right at the end of his career, but do you know why?

        • Erik Loomis

          I don’t really know all the details. He and his wife, the equally influential Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, converted to Catholicism as they aged and embraced a very hard-right version of it, but others will have to fill in the intellectual journey.

          • Karen

            His is one of the very few cases where an ideological flip can be blamed almost entirely on his wife. Elizabeth was much younger than he was and from a very wealthy New York family. She was, like most debutantes, quite aware of how precarious her position was and did her best to make sure her husband never had an occasion to reconsider his opinions.

            • djw

              quite aware of how precarious her position was

              Eh? Perhaps I’m missing something, but “tenured professor at an elite, wealthy university with extensive family wealth” doesn’t seem particularly precarious to me.

              • Karen

                She was an undergraduate when they met, end I am pretty sure there was an earlier Mrs. Genovese. She was Callista Gingrich avant le lettre.

                • BiloSagdiyev

                  -1 point for serial number of Gingrichwives, for Calista is #3 (of a series?)

                  + 1 point for yes, she sure is younger than him

                  + 5? 10? points for the Catholic and conversion angle, too, and presumably, hard right version. (How hard right for Newt? Dunno. Others in the American right wing loonysphere have turned Catholic since 9/11 because of… the Crusadey-ness. Egads. That’s loony.)

                • Karen

                  And now I can’t find confirmation of that. Oh, well. She converted first, and given her family background it’s likely that she simply thought she was favored by the Great Chain of Being and supported any policy that left her on top.

                • BiloSagdiyev

                  How many times a day must this wikipedia find me useful info so quickly? Whee!



                • Karen

                  Thanks. It appears that he liked attention and found ways of attracting it.

                • BiloSagdiyev
                • BiloSagdiyev

                  Yep. Being contrarian is an important and useful skill that any society needs among some of its people, lest they do something stupid like WWI for four straight years, or you know, put troops in Afghanistan for decades.

                  But some folks, say, Hitchens, just gotta contrary all the damned time.

                • djw

                  OK, but I thought we were talking about the swing to the right, by which time she had her own scholarly reputation, tenure, etc.

                • In the 1980s it was possible to find books with that whole “turn” of feminists in the town library. I’ve assumed they appeared after F-G and some of the others had started moving right but before there had been any absolute break, that is while people still thought of them as reasonable centrists (and vaguely “liberal” probably), but I’ve not been interested enough in the narrative of their careers to confirm that.

      • Thom


  • Cervantes

    I dunno, I went to public school in Connecticut, boarding school in New York state and college in Pennsylvania, where I took the American history course. I never learned anything other than that the Civil War was about slavery, the Confederate states seceded because they wanted to preserve slavery and expand it, and the emancipated slaves ultimately lost their political rights after Reconstruction. Maybe people learned a different history in the South, and maybe there were guys with scruffy beards in history departments writing a different story in obscure academic journals, but the basic idea was never muddled where I come from.

    • Thom

      When were you in school and college?

      • Cervantes

        Graduated high school in 1972, college in 1978. Yeah, Swarthmore, Commie. But we used a standard American History text.

      • D. C. Sessions

        High school, Arizona, late 60s:
        The textbook was still Dunning, but my teacher was Bob Finkbine so we got a very different story in the lectures.
        College? No American History — too much fun studying other parts of the world (and that includes now — we have a great Russian History prof.)

    • royko

      I went to public schools in the Chicago suburbs in the 80s. In our history texts, the Civil War was over slavery, although it’s possible the muddy language of textbookese may have dulled the point a bit. But Reconstruction was largely explained through a Dunning prism. It was largely shown in a negative light, something that got in the way of national “healing”. From what I remember, anyway.

    • I went to school in the South where we were taught that the Civil war was about the “rights” (pronounced rats) of the southerners to be free of Yankee tyranny. Simple really.

    • rlc

      Ft. Lauderdale FL in the ’70s was all about states rights. And afterward, carpet baggers. However, for me and a few others as an exception, we got taught differently as HS Juniors in a “gifted” history class by a wonderful history ABD.

    • I had read a lot of books on my own about the Civil War and really don’t remember how it was being taught in school in California in the 60s and 70s. My daughter came home from school about ten years ago and told me that her high school history teacher had told them that slavery had nothing to do with the war. After I came down off the ceiling, she explained that he hadn’t meant it and had immediately explained to the class why that was wrong and had only told me that for the reaction that I rewarded her with.

      • Richard Gadsden

        I really wish that the word “troll” hadn’t been completely ruined, because in the old sense, that was a magnificent troll by your daughter.

      • markefield

        My high school history class in 1970 taught us that the War was about “states rights” and economic issues such as tariffs.

    • mattius3939

      I took an intro US hist. course at a small liberal arts college in S. Cal back in ’07 and my professor swore up and down that the civil war was not about slavery. She would never say what it was about, and at the time I figured she wanted something more holistic than “because slavery,” or some explanation that slavery fit into, rather than slavery being the be-all, end-all reason behind the civil war. It never occurred to me that her intentions may have been dishonest until some time after the term ended. I’m still not sure what she intended the lesson be.

      Anyways, my point here is that I suspect my educational exp. was more common than yours. (Even more anecdotally: Now that I’m teaching ELA in OR., a lot – A LOT – of SS teachers are FOX news junkies, and several at my school assign Bill O’reilly books as supplementary material.)

      • Matty

        fwiw, this is what I got in AP US History in high school circa 2002-2003. “The Civil War was caused by, well, it’s complicated, but slavery and the economy* and states’ rights and isn’t is so good we’re past all that now.”

        *As though they were separate.

        • Ash

          My AP US history course in Baton Rouge, LA in 1996-1997 was similar – though we made fun of the old Southern idea of “The War of Northern Aggression”, we were still taught that the Civil War had multiple causes – of which slavery was just one.

        • I don’t get the economy part. I mean slavery was part of the economic piece, so correct?

          • mattius3939

            I think the question is – part or whole? Was there an economic factor separate from slavery?

            People who romanticize The Traditions of Southern Heritage use overly broad terms like “economic factors” as a way of deflecting accusations of defending the institution of slavery. But slavery was the south’s economy! The south had no economy, no “way of life – absent slavery; that’s why the south went to war to preserve their “way of life.”

            • Figured it was goalpost moving as usual

      • I mean my beloved Simpsons did something like that. I think Apu was asked what the Civil war was about, and he said “it had complicated economic factors etc” and he was told to just say slavery.

    • fishieman

      Rural Michigan in the late 80s/early 90s. It was all about slavery. There wasn’t any revisionist “states rights” bullshit about it to “teach the controversy” then.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        Iowa late 70s same deal

        • dbk

          Illinois early 70s (AP American History) same deal.

    • bender

      Arlington, Virginia, 1958, segregated public school.

      Split the difference. Fourth grade state history included a sympathetic examination of the states’ rights theories of Calhoun. The Civil War was about states’ rights and slavery. Some slaves had it better off than some Northern factory employees, because their owners fed and housed them in their old age (this was mentioned in passing, not hit on hard). Not much discussion of conditions of slavery. Morning exercises included singing a patriotic song, and The Battle Hymn of the Republic was in rotation with several others.

      • Deborah Bender

        I remember zero coverage of Reconstruction, and I was paying attention.

      • Ohio, 1980s, I got the “slaves had it better than factory workers” thing too. Also, too, apparently most slaveowners weren’t planters. They were just regular working people who happened to OWN ONE OR TWO HUMAN BEINGS. You know, to help with farm chores.

        The soft pedaling of what slavery means was monstrous.

    • solidcitizen

      I have been reading a fair amount of wingnut comment boards on this subject the last few days. Basically, the argument goes that during the civil rights era and the horrors the ’60s, historians began lying to the youth about the Civil War to help destroy America. Your schooling may have been on the early wave of the lies, but lies none the less.

      • CP

        Do they ever address the question of “lying how?” Specifically, how commie professors lying to make the Confederacy look bad squares with the fact that the Confederates/slave owners/KKK were all Democrats and therefore commies?

        • solidcitizen

          Let’s not think it through too much. I saw a guy recommend someone read the Articles of Secession – to prove that the war was about states rights!

          • CP

            I know, I know, you’re right, of course.

            It’s just – fucking fuck. There’s that moment from the first episode of “Sherlock” when the villain goes “between you and me, why can’t people think? Why can’t people just think? Don’t it make you mad?” that starts playing in my head virtually every time I read a conservative.

            • solidcitizen

              That’s also a common refrain…”Why can’t liberals THINK? Why do they just want to BELIEVE what they are told? How dumb do you have to be to be a liberal?” Not at all to equate their position with our position, but it’s funny. Especially, after someone has just – and I saw this – argued that the North attacked [a boat or a supply train or something] when Buchanan was president. So, the war started BEFORE Lincoln was president 9and by the North!), so how could Lincoln becoming president have anything to do with the causes of the war?

          • so-in-so

            Presume he doesn’t think anyone will actually DO it, just repeat his talking point.

      • Origami Isopod

        It’s Always Projection.™

    • Sharon1W

      I graduated from HS in 79 in Maryland, the D.C. suburbs, and US History 2 pegged the civil war as a war over slavery. Then again, my history teacher was a PhD labor historian, so we also had a thorough grounding in the history of Reconstruction and the progressive era. I don’t know if that was unusual for MD schools back in the late 70s or if it was a bonus feature for kids who went to HS in the People’s Republic.

    • CP

      So, to sum up all the responses to Cervantes:

      Those of you who were raised in former Union states learned that the war was about slavery, and those of you who were raised in former Confederate states learned that the war was about states’ rights and Northern aggression.

      Sounds about right.

    • In my 6th grade history class, in the mid-80s, in Florida, the textbook called 1860-1865 “The War Between The States” and claimed it was about tariffs unfairly imposed by the dastardly North.

      Again, this was as late as the Eighties that they were still teaching this bullshit in the South.

    • Richard Gadsden

      England, 1980s, the Civil War was about the power of Parliament against the King.

      What? There was an American Civil War? Not in my class. In fact, there wasn’t an America on the grounds that it didn’t actually have any history.

      • Hogan

        “We didn’t really want those colonies anyway.”

        • Richard Gadsden

          Much cleverer than that, my school left out 1714-1789 entirely. We went from “Tudors and Stuarts” to the French Revolution and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. And yes, of course, the French Revolution had nothing to do with the American.

          The USA came into existence in my history class, like Athena from the head of Zeus, when the Lusitania sank and the Zimmerman Telegram was sent.

          • Origami Isopod

            Much cleverer than that, my school left out 1714-1789 entirely.
            … And yes, of course, the French Revolution had nothing to do with the American.

            I am laughing at this pretty hard.

          • yeah well, I read somewhere that the Iraqi books don’t mention the US. I mean I understand but it’s silly to erase things entirely.

    • NewishLawyer

      Same. Public K-12 in suburban NY and college in NY. I graduated HS in 1998 and college in 2002.

      From what I understand, American History is taught in a very geographic way. My Californian friends learned a lot more about the Missions than I ever did in NY because it is more relevant to their past. In NY, we spent a lot more time on the slums and tenaments and Ellis Island.

      • Rand Careaga

        Right-o on the California curriculum. Circa 1961 we were being taught a lot about the civilizing mission of kindly Father Serra, the accounts of whose career were presented an a manner I might charitably describe as un-nuanced. I pray that Loomis never comes across one of those old textbooks—he’d have an aneurysm.

  • Murc

    Battles between northern and southern whites might have revolved around
    the future of that regionally integrated capitalism, but there was
    nothing anti-capitalist at all about the plantation South.

    The pre-bellum south only resembles an anti-capitalist society because of the semi-feudal nature its capitalism took. That is, wealth in land and in people were the privileged and powerful form of capital, as opposed to wealth in… well, in money, or in goods, or in the means of production. To enter the highest rungs of southern society, it wasn’t enough to merely have money; you needed to be a planter and ideally you needed the right bloodlines. There wasn’t a lot of room for the nouveau riche there like there was in the north.

    Doublethink also plays a roll here, as it did in England, come to think of it. Southern gentry styled themselves as a new breed of noble chevaliers, with their vast estates and wealth in land, far above something so tawdry as engaging in labor or in trade, which they looked down their noses at. But they were all engaged in trade; they did not make their living by extracting rents from their tenants in coin or in kind, as actual feudal noblemen did, but in producing cash crops on their land and selling said crops on the open market for coin, which they used to build their fine houses and buy their fine clothes and fine horses and support their fine lifestyles. They were socially ashamed of their capitalism, but that didn’t make them not capitalists.

    From a distance of many years, it thus became easier to sell the south as non-capitalistic, because to someone born a century later, it doesn’t LOOK like the stereotypical conception of capitalism, all heavy industry and laboring masses and people for whom money, however obtained, was the only thing that mattered. The social veneer, coupled with the Dunning School, let a smoke-and-mirrors game be played.

    • sigaba

      The pre-bellum south only resembles an anti-capitalist society because of the semi-feudal nature its capitalism took.

      Land and... uh.. chattels are not "capital" for the purposes of anti-capitalism. Our critique of capitalism only falls upon banksters and industrialists.

      This is a pretty common trope in US populist politics, particularly the history of the Democratic party until after WW2. “Farming” defined rather broadly gets a pass, thus the cartoon feudalism of the Old South gets a pass.

      • Murc

        Farming can be weird in modern times. A guy who owns a hundred acres and the equipment to work it properly can be a multi-millionaire at the same time he’s doing some rather hard physical labor with long, punishing hours to produce an uncertain income stream.

        • sigaba

          The lesson of Donald Trump is that net worth is a poor way of judging the “wealth power” of a person. It’s these people that lease everything but have hundreds of millions of marginal dollars that they can throw at political campaigns, that’s where the attention should be focused.

    • Linnaeus

      I prefer to call the antebellum Southern gentry “slave lords”.

      • wjts

        Not wrong, but it makes them sound like the bad-ass antagonists in a Conan story.

        • Linnaeus

          In light of Steven Attewell’s most recent post, I thought of the 1st edition AD&D A-series of adventure modules.

          • wjts

            Also true.

      • liberalrob

        The Big Bad of The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers was the Queen of the Crown Empire, whose primary minions were “Slaver Lords.”

        • CP

          Dang, I’ve never heard of that but now I really want to watch it!

    • Hypersphericalcow

      It’s the difference between industrial capitalism and pre-industrial capitalism.

      • There was nothing pre-industrial about the Southern plantation elite. They preferred the industrial operations away from their agrarian paradise, yes, but they also fully supported the expansion of industrial capitalism because it meant more markets for their products.

        • Hypersphericalcow

          Yeah, you’re right, I was being too reductive. The Southern planters loved railroads as much as Northerners did.

          • so-in-so

            Also they were experimenting with slave worked factories before the war.

            • Thom

              Note that all sugar plantations in the slave era had “slave worked factories.” I think only Louisiana had sugar plantations in the slave era US, but sugar was of course the main driver of slavery in the Americas.

              • Origami Isopod

                And sugar harvesting was even more brutal than cotton harvesting.

          • Origami Isopod

            Edward Baptist traces a pretty direct line from U.S. slavery to things like Taylorism in the early 20th century. Erik’s written about the connections in the past.

        • bender

          I read in, like, elementary school, that the invention of the cotton gin made large scale production of cotton for export profitable. That gave a huge boost to plantation slavery in the South.

          Tobacco was an important export crop from colonial times onward, but tobacco exhausts the soil faster than cotton does. Were it not for Eli Whitney’s invention, plantation slavery might have declined in economic importance well before the 1850s.

          • Tobacco was a motive behind the American Revolution

            American tobacco planters, including Jefferson and George Washington, financed their plantations with sizeable loans from London. When tobacco prices dropped precipitously in the 1750s, many plantations struggled to remain financially solvent. Severe debt threatened to unravel colonial power structures and destroy planters’ personal reputations. At his Mount Vernon plantation, Washington saw his liabilities swell to nearly £2000 by the late 1760s.[1] Jefferson, on the verge of losing his own farm, aggressively espoused various conspiracy theories. Though never verified, Jefferson accused London merchants of unfairly depressing tobacco prices and forcing Virginia farmers to take on unsustainable debt loads. In 1786, he remarked:

            “A powerful engine for this [mercantile profiting] was the giving of good prices and credit to the planter till they got him more immersed in debt than he could pay without selling lands or slaves. They then reduced the prices given for his tobacco so that…they never permitted him to clear off his debt.”[2]
            The inability to pay what one owed was not just a financial failing, but a moral one. Planters whose operations collapsed were condemned as “sorry farmers” – unable to produce good crops and inept at managing their land, slaves, and assets. Washington excused his situation thusly:

            “Mischance rather than Misconduct hath been the cause of [my debt]…It is but an irksome thing to a free mind to be always hampered in Debt.”[3]
            In conjunction with a global financial crisis and growing animosity toward British rule, tobacco interests helped unite disparate colonial players and produced some of the most vocal revolutionaries behind the call for American independence. A spirit of rebellion arose from their claims that insurmountable debts prevented the exercise of basic human freedoms.


    • CP

      Ah, thank you! I should’ve read on before posting my question. Yes, I see and understand the distinction now.

    • djw

      it wasn’t enough to merely have money; you needed to be a planter and ideally you needed the right bloodlines.

      This is somewhat less true than is often assumed.

      • Murc

        That’s true, and you’re right to point it out, but I feel it’s true enough for the points I was making? Yes? No?

        • djw

          Absolutely; if anything it deepens your point, which I take to be that the purported “non-capitalist nature” of the South was largely aesthetic and cultural, rather than economic.

          • rea

            Twain thought they had all read too much Walter Scott.

      • Hogan

        Hardly true at all in the Deep South. Those were pretty much all New Men.

        • Origami Isopod

          I realize David Hackett Fischer isn’t considered heavy-duty scholarship, but IIRC he said that, initially, the planter class was made up of nobles. As time went on it became more and more “new men.”

    • Gareth

      “Southern gentry styled themselves as a new breed of noble chevaliers, with their vast estates and wealth in land, far above something so tawdry as engaging in labor or in trade, which they looked down their noses at.”

      Yes, they were capitalists pretending to be aristocrats. One way to see this is to read about plantation mansions – how often they were bought and sold, and how few generations they were passed down. None of them were exactly Winterfell.

      • Deborah Bender

        They also looked back to Ancient Rome for role models.

      • DamnYankeesLGM

        Yes, they were capitalists pretending to be aristocrats.

        Maybe I’m misreading, but isn’t the point more that aristocrats simply are capitalists, just of another stripe? It’s not either or.

        • Gareth

          There were real aristocrats who weren’t capitalists. There just haven’t been any for centuries, and certainly not in the South.

        • Origami Isopod

          Overlapping but not synonymous sets.

  • Dan Mulligan

    The revisionist history of a more benign South continued for quite a while. I remember going through “Time On The Cross” in my economic history course in the mid-70’s. My professor (admittedly Cal) was not impressed with the scholarship.

    • Hogan

      Eugene Genovese, also too.

  • Hypersphericalcow

    What this leaves is a far more correct interpretation of the Confederacy as a white supremacist state that hoped to become a world power based around slavery

    Finding out about the South’s bonkers attempts to invade South American countries (really, Nicaragua?) was eye-opening.

    • wjts

      William Walker was a strange fellow. As a young man, he was the editor of an abolitionist newspaper in New Orleans. As President of Nicaragua, he reestablished slavery.

      • Hypersphericalcow

        I’m reading his Wikipedia article right now, and I didn’t know that he actually managed to become President for a while. I thought he had been shot as soon as he stepped off the boat.

        • wjts

          His memoir, The War in Nicaragua, is fascinating reading.

          • Gabriel Ratchet

            As is the Alex Cox film about him, Walker. It’s far from perfect, but as a sort of Brechtian Spaghetti Western, it’s pretty interesting.

            • wjts

              I’d never heard of him before I saw that movie. It sparked a minor obsession with the man in my high school and college years.

      • CP

        Sounds like George Wallace. Starts out as a civil rights advocate, loses to a KKK-backed opponent, swears “I’ll never be out-n/gg/red again!” and goes on to be the patron saint of segregationism.

    • timb117

      and Cuba and Mexico and….I could go on, but you get the drift

      • BiloSagdiyev

        Ya gotta have a dream!

    • Origami Isopod

      For anyone who likes historical murder mysteries with a great deal of social commentary done well, I recommend Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, starting with A Free Man of Color. It’s set in 1830s New Orleans, as the area is becoming more and more Americanized post-Louisiana Purchase. The main character being (among other things) a piano player often hired to perform at dinner parties, there are numerous background and semi-foreground conversations between rich white men about planned adventures south of the border. Hambly’s rendering of those conversations delivers a real “same as we always was” punch, if you know what I mean.

      • CP

        Thanks, I will check it out.

        The only reason I know that name is because she wrote a couple of Star Wars books, and despite being a big consumer of that stuff, I haven’t read those two because the word from fandom is “avoid them like the plague!” If I like her historical fiction enough, I might have to go back and check them out after all.

        • I haven’t read the Benjamin January series, but I did enjoy her fantasy series (particularly the Darwath series and the Windrose Chronicles) and the first two of her James Asher vampire novels (haven’t read the others – they’re much more recent.)

          Her Star Wars books were bad, and so were the Trek books she wrote (at least two of them, I don’t remember if I’ve read the third).

          • El Muneco

            Differ a bit on the Trek books. “Ishmael” was fine, but not a lot of people were expecting a Trek /Here Come The Brides crossover and were nonplussed when they got one.
            The others reminded me of Greg Bear’s foray into Trek – adequate SF novels through which Trek characters occasionally wandered for no particular reason.

            • “Adequate SF novels through which Trek characters occasionally wander” is what I would call a bad Trek book :-)

              And I’m not familiar with “Here Come The Brides”, so I didn’t recognize the crossover and Ishmael would have appeared to be in the same category.

      • Deborah Bender

        I’ve read most of the series. Start with the first or at least one of the first two or three if you can. It’s an interesting time and place to set historical mysteries in.

        • Origami Isopod

          I’ve read about half the books at this point.

    • xenology

      I first heard of filibustering when I picked up a used copy of Robert E. May’s “Manifest Destiny’s Underworld” at random in a university bookshop and I think it changed my understanding of antebellum American history more than any other single book, so strong recommend on that one.

  • Judas Peckerwood

    So cool about seeing the grizzly — still haven’t seen one in the wild but am hoping to remedy that someday soon.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      Hope you see it first!

      Yellowstone has approx 280 to 610 grizzlies, and 500 to 650 black bears (depending on union regs and overtime funding.)

      I’ve yet to see a grizz, either, being an east coaster, and my camping trip in Yellowstone was very nice because it was January and every bear was in his hole. What we was saw bison out the yingyang, which gave us a big happy.

      • I’m a big fan of the above comment.

    • Rand Careaga

      I recall reading this account back in the late seventies, so I won’t claim the details are impeccably correct, but the story went something like this: a freight train derailed in Montana. Part of its cargo consisted of several carloads of corn. The crews arrived, righted the stock, salvaged what could be salvaged, and in the course of the cleanup simply bulldozed the corn into the ground…

      …where it proceeded over the course of the next couple of years to ferment, the products of this process presently bubbling to the surface. This was in due course discovered by the local grizzlies, who discovered that they liked this natural corn liquor. A lot. It turns out, unfortunately, that grizzlies are mean drunks: belligerent and territorial. It turns out further that a drunken grizzly apparently resents the peace of a Montana meadow being disturbed by a Burlington Northern train roaring through, and is disposed to confront the intruder. It turns out finally, and most unfortunately, that the biggest, fiercest, most ill-tempered grizzly in creation will not prevail when it goes mano-a-mano with a speeding diesel locomotive. Half a dozen or more of these irascible ursines were flattened before inquiries were made, and investigation revealed the cause, and environmental remediation undertaken.

      • N__B

        John McPhee, in one of his books, describes eastern black bears eating a lot of starch before hibernating and waking up drunk from intrastomach fermentation. But they’re cute little guys.

  • Mike in DC

    I suspect that the contents of American history textbooks (at the high school level and lower) will be another major battle as well.

    • Thom

      And remember the unfortunate influence of Texas (as a state that orders a lot of textbooks) on this.

      • BobOso

        My child goes to public school in Texas. The official state required academic test answer for the reason the civil war happened was: 1) states rights, 2) economic independence and 3) slavery. I take a little comfort in that my 7th grader and her classmates called bs on this answer during their test prep. She told me, “Dad, slavery was the right the Confederacy wanted and also the economic reason. So the answer should just be slavery.”

        • Thom

          Another smart kid!

        • BiloSagdiyev

          Very nice!
          Similarly, my retort is, “States’ rights to DO WHAT?”

          • Gabriel Ratchet

            Considering that the one right that the Confederate states didn’t have was to abolish slavery even within their own borders, that’s a valid question.

        • David

          Yep, I was raised in TN and it was always explained as an economic matter entangled with state’s rights. And the only reason Lincoln abolished slavery was to injure the South strategically.

    • Erik Loomis

      Already has been. It’s just that the left hasn’t taken it very seriously as a point of combat with revanchist forces.

      • liberalrob

        An oversight desperately in need of redress.

  • MacCheerful

    The night, they drove ol Dixie down,
    And all the bells were ringing,
    The night, they drove ol Dixie down,
    And all the slaves were singing,
    They went Ha, Ha-ha-ha-ha HA! Ha-ha ha-ha, ha ha ha ha…

    • Thom


    • bender

      I was a fan of Joan Baez when I was in high school, and bought some of her albums, but when she recorded that and sang it in concerts, I stopped being a fan.

      • Origami Isopod

        Has she ever walked it back? Apologized, stopped performing it, etc.?

        • Deborah Bender

          I haven’t been following her career much.

          I doubt Baez is intellectually sophisticated enough to know the history of the Lost Cause meme. I think I once heard her blow one of the better lines in the song by singing, “There goes the _Robert E. Lee_ ” instead of “There goes Robert E. Lee.” If I heard that right, she was associating with the lyrics of the old song “Waitin’ For the Robert E. Lee” which is one of the old sentimental Dixie pop songs. Nobody who was actually paying attention to the meaning of the lyrics of “The Night . . .” would have failed to understand that the song was talking about the defeated general, not a steamboat.

          • rea

            And what would Robert E. Lee be doing in Tennessee, anyway, other than rhyming?

          • MacCheerful

            Funny, I always heard it “there goes the Robert E. Lee” and thought it was sort of a tribute to the man, like Robert the Bruce, in Scotland

    • nick056

      “Virgil Caine was my name
      And I won’t accept any blame
      For the night they drove Old Dixie Down.”

    • njorl

      I had always had a very different (and wrong) interpretation of the song, probably because I liked The Band and couldn’t believe that they were confederate sympathizers.

      It always seemed to me that the narrator was a small farmer who hated the war. He resented the army that killed his brother, but also resented the army that took him away to serve. There would have been a lot of pro Union people in Tennessee, so the celebration, while he grieved for his brother would have been galling whatever his loyalties were.

      But it’s clear from interviews with members of The Band, that that isn’t so.

      • MacCheerful

        I agree there’s some complexity in the lyrics, e.g. “they should never have taken the very best” but the overall tone of nostalgia for the Confederacy and bitterness at the Yankees pretty much overwhelms it.

      • I understand it as being a song about being on the losing side of a war. There’s really not much more to it than that. There ‘s really nothing in there to either support or denounce the cause of the Confederacy.

        • Erik Loomis

          I agree and I actually like the song. That said, it does represent a set of beliefs about Confederates being trod upon in some way.

      • Mr__Neutron

        I’ve read a good amount of interviews with members of The Band and never got a sense of confederate sympathy. The song is written from the point of a poor everyman, not the plantation owner type common to Lost Cause mythmaking like “The Birth of a Nation,” and shows the devastation of war as it affected the white non-elite who unthinkingly went along with the Confederacy and suffered for it. Robbie Robertson wrote the song based on his experience of visiting the south as a teenager, and was also inspired by the only Southern member of the group, Levon Helm, who came from the same background as Virgil Caine and was perfectly suited to sing from his perspective.
        Incidentally, Joan Baez had a much bigger hit with the song, whose lyrics she reworked with disastrous results. Even more incidentally, The Band also wrote one of the greatest and most positive of all pro-union songs, “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”

        • Mellano

          Yeah. I used to avoid this song because it sounds like it’s drawing the listener into mourning the fall of the Confederacy.

          But its specifics are enough that these days I can listen to it with some sympathy. I still think the strongest condemnation is that by choosing a relatively sympathetic figure, the song ignores the larger context of secession. But the upcountry whites in Tennessee and elsewhere had a complicated relationship to the war, so although this allegorical family sided with slavery, it’s a little easier to focus on the sense of loss when they’re not part of the plantation class who had the most to gain from white supremacy or who led the political drive for treason.

          More subtly (or not?), the name “Virgil Caine” at least places the song in the context of original sin, and suggests that the family’s suffering is accepted, even just . . . “you can’t raise a Caine back up when he’s in defeat.”

          I’ll have to look up some interviews by The Band themselves, for some reason I never saw their comments on it.

    • Gabriel Ratchet
    • Rand Careaga

      You want some cosmically stupid Civil War lyrics, revisit Elton John singing “My Father’s Gun” on the album Tumbleweed Connection. It’s like listening to someone singing about the Allied landings in Copenhagen on D-Day in 1948.

  • wjts

    Can we start renaming some military bases now?

    • Thom

      We could change Fort Hood to Fort Elvis (since he served there).

      • wjts

        I think it would have to be Fort Presley, but I like the way you think.

        ETA: Or Fort Elvis Presley, like Fort Leonard Wood.

        • liberalrob

          Fort (Stevie Ray) Vaughn?
          Fort (Willie) Nelson?
          Fort (Bob) Wills?

          • Mellano

            Fort Blind Willie McTell

            Not a Texan, but there’s Fort Benning in Georgia.

        • ericblair

          It will always be Fort Lost-In-the Woods for everyone. Don’t take that away.

          Also, Fort Eustis = Fort Useless = Fort Even Uncle Sam Thinks It Sucks

          If you’re going to change all this shit, there needs to be some sort of transition period to think up new insulting nicknames.

          • rea

            Leonard Wood was never a Confederate, and was kinda cool–the only army doctor to rise to the position of Chief of Staff of the Army.

          • wjts

            I’ve heard from friends who were in the Army that full name of the base is Fort Lost-in-the-Woods, Misery.

      • Wapiti

        Or Audie Murphy, who was from Texas.

        Or if we need to name it after a general, we could go with General Walton Walker, also of Texas, a 4-star, served in WWI, WWII, and Korea (died in Korea).

        • Karen

          I love the idea of changing the name of Ft. Hood to Ft. Audie Murphy. Especially since Murphy spent the last few years of his life arguing for better treatment for PTSD.

          • BiloSagdiyev

            That would be the cherry on the sundae. Just his service as a soldier was extraordinary. He’s known for that day he stood on the burning tank and mowed down a bunch of Austrian soldiers with a Browning .50 cal, etc etc, but that wasn’t the first time in combat where he had been fearless.


    • Erik Loomis


    • SomeTreasonBrewing

      Fort Truth, Fort Tubman, Fort Douglass somewhere in the deep south sounds about right. The USS John Brown…

    • nick056

      Let’s just rename Ft. Bragg to Ft. Rosecrans.

      • As I believe someone on this very board has pointed out, Ft Bragg can stay, on the grounds that Braxton Bragg’s incompetence provided plenty of help for the Union.

    • IM

      No, Rommel barracks will stay.

  • Perkniticky

    Hell yeah!!!!

  • CP

    Unfortunately, and we’ve even seen it in comments here over the years, there developed an equivalency on the left between the Civil War and anti-capitalist politics. This was particularly salient in the 1960s, where, despite the beginnings of real historical studies of the horrors of slavery, the popular conception on the left was, while not directly racist, a sympathy for southern planters fighting against a northern captialism seeking to crush everything in its path. Thus you have first Gram Parsons and then Lynard Skynard using the Confederate flag as a backdrop to their concerts, The Band having a huge hit with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” and endless writings and other cultural productions on the left talking about how the Civil War was a capitalist war on the South, even if it happened to free the slaves.

    I’ve never really thought deeply about this, but I have noticed things like this before. I put it down to the fact that the post-war revisionist narrative of reconciliation, states’ rights, and the South being, at worst, misguided brothers, had become so universally accepted that even on the left people thought little of it. Hadn’t occurred to me that the C.S.A. could, from a certain point of view, be seen as brothers in arms in the anticapitalist cause.

    • Origami Isopod

      Hadn’t occurred to me that the C.S.A. could, from a certain point of view, be seen as brothers in arms in the anticapitalist cause.

      A certain M. Tracey probably still views them so. He’s not alone.

  • CP

    Historians such as Ed Baptist and Sven Beckert have demonstrated the deep integration of the plantation economy into not only a national but a global capitalism. Two generations of African-American history scholars have brought out the stories of slaves and freedom, exploring how slaves fought for their own goals and had their own demands both during and after the Civil War. Sure, capitalism was central to the Civil War, but the U.S. economy in the 1850s was a regionally integrated capitalist economy that was based more on the ownership of black bodies than any other commodity. Battles between northern and southern whites might have revolved around the future of that regionally integrated capitalism, but there was nothing anti-capitalist at all about the plantation South.

    Interesting. I’d always accepted the notion of the Northern/Southern culture clash as being between capitalist and pre-capitalist societies – that the conflict between traditional, agrarian, militaristic elites in the South and the modernist, urban, merchant elites in the North was the American version of aristocracy vs. bourgeoisie in Europe. (Granted, that may be me projecting the way Europeans related to the American Civil War, but the Southern aristocrats vs. Northern capitalists narrative isn’t rare among Americans either). Are you saying that most historians now reject this narrative and would argue both sides were basically capitalist?

    • It was more capitalism than feudalism, I’d say. Feudalism was based on ancestral links to the land on the part of lords and peasant farmers, the latter of which were dissolved with enclosure. Now consider today’s plantation agriculture. That’s clearly part of global capitalism. What of the plantation agriculture they had then? It too was part of a global capitalist system. Cotton, for example, was and is a commodity meant mainly for international markets. Slaves were themselves a traded commodity.

      • Murc

        We really need Steven all up in the thread. Someone who can cite Polayni without needing to go get the book. :)

      • Murc

        Feudalism was based on ancestral links to the land on the part of lords and peasant farmers,

        More than that; it was based on reciprocal social arrangements.

        A feudal lord has responsibilities to his tenants, often laid out in the conditions of their tenancy, and those tenants often had extensive rights as well.

        A capitalist landowner owes his tenants jack shit and the conditions of their tenancy will often make that fact EXTREMELY clear.

        • CP

          Well, fuck. When you put it that way, I start having second thoughts about whether I really prefer capitalism.

          • Origami Isopod

            Yeah, it’s complicated. Certain aspects of the Middle Ages were progressive from our vantage point. Medieval serfs had many more days off than most U.S. workers do, largely religious feasts. Women could run guilds (the surnames “Baxter” and “Webster” are feminine forms of “Baker” and “Webber” and may indicate descent from a guildswoman), and nunneries were often excellent places for ambitious women who didn’t want to marry. The wives of feudal lords exercised considerable power at home, given that their husbands were frequently off at battle. Viking women weren’t quite equal to the men but had more rights on average than most European women. Renaissance thinkers unearthed ancient Latin and Greek misogyny along with ancient Latin and Greek wisdom.

            None of this is to idealize the medieval period of Europe, in which there was no religious freedom, no class mobility, very widespread illiteracy, and existing misogyny largely stemming from religion. But some things about it were better than what followed.

            • Richard Gadsden

              Need to be careful about the days off argument, in that most modern workers have 52 Saturdays off, and the feudal era peasant didn’t. There’s room for a hell of a lot of religious feast days when you only have a one-day weekend.

              • Origami Isopod

                Fair point.

        • Hogan

          Getting those feudal rights enforced could be a bit of a chore, involving flails and torches and scythes and such, against a feudal lord and retainers who were expected to have military training and equipment.

          • Murc

            Oh, yes, absolutely.

            The flip side of the arrangement was that your rights might not include the right to ever leave your land or sell your labor, justice was an extremely arbitrary thing, and there were a lot of other problematic issues. And it was much easier for a feudal lord to shirk his obligations than it was for you.

            • Also there was probably not much a peasant could do if some teenage nobleman got drunk and picked a fight, unless he was seized by an unexpected bout of conscience.

        • JohnT

          A interesting panorama of this can be seen in the transition away from a feudal economy to a slave economy in Russia. Russian Serfs had been part of a feudal system before the time of Ivan the Terrible and they more or less continuously resented the fact that they were gradually turned into property. My understanding is that because they had a strong folk memory of when things were different they had a fairly reliable habit of rebelling whenever the screws were turned a little further away from feudalism and towards capitalism. Often these rebellions included a strong element of appealing to the the Tsar, who despite being the uber-noble and serf-owner, was seen as being the protector of the feudal system.

          • CP

            It was common in a lot of medieval Europe for the national ruler to present himself as the ultimate arbiter to whom the peasants could go for redress against the local nobleman if he got too far out of control. That was a not-so-subtle way to keep the nobles under control, since the implicit threat was “if you push me too far, your unruly peasants are going to find me more and more attentive to their needs.”

            • The idea that this was common is such a strong feature of so much “anti-modern” propaganda that I generally suspect it was not. (That this idea was also a feature of a lot of pro-imperial thinking in Austria-Hungary is also the thesis of a new book on the A-H Empire, of which I’ve only read the first chapter.)

              • Murc

                No, CP has the right of it, bianca.

                Indeed, sovereigns implementing uniform legal codes and imposing them on the nobility and removing from them their rights of judgement and their rights of pit and gallows and instead implementing royal courts with royal judges was a major, major development along the road towards the modern nation-state.

                It wasn’t so much that monarchs were pro-peasant so much as they were anti-powerful-nobles-who-can-threaten-me, and a good way to offset that was to present yourself as an evenhanded, fair ruler who would provide neutrally adjudicated justice to all the peoples and so have popular legitimacy against the perceived caprices of your local lord.

                Basically, sovereigns did not like other people making and enforcing laws. THEY were the law.

                • You’re talking about a different period than CP is. Feudalism meant government by the local landowner. The movement toward centralized government and a powerful monarch comes later and is part of the movement towards modernity of which capitalism is a part. Even in the 18th century (see Tom Jones) the local landowner was the judge. The ideology was hierarchical. The idea that the king hated his nobles and wanted to help the peasants directly is frankly laughable. In most of Europe there were no kings, only minor princes and people who inherited nominal title to a land or two through inscrutable processes and wars.

                  The idea that the King protected society as a whole, which included farm laborers, was theoretical: his rule was justified as part of the order of things, which made things best for everybody without there having to be a mechanism by which it worked. The movement away from feudalism, toward Enlightenment and modernity, comes only after people took this seriously enough to point out that it didn’t work but could be made to.

      • kvs

        Neo-feudal economies did exist, like the one in NY’s Hudson Valley. And the tenants did revolt.

    • I don’t think this notion was accepted among historians. It matched the South’s conception of itself before the war, and some Southern intellectuals (think T.S. Eliot) tried to revive it in the early 20th century, but was considered by objective scholars to be a self-serving myth.

      It occurs to me that 20 years ago or so, there was still a vestige of a debate online about how the New England school of intellectuals, deriving the national culture from the Puritans, with the South as a “regional” variant, was still over-dominant, and should become more diverse–now they’re nowhere to be seen.

  • Joe Paulson

    W.E.B. DuBois in a letter to President Wilson wrote:

    “Sir, you have now been President of the United States for six months and what is the result? It is no exaggeration to say that every enemy of the Negro race is greatly encouraged; that every man who dreams of making the Negro race a group of menials and pariahs is alert and hopeful.”

    ETA: To add something, my understanding is he actually endorsed Wilson in 1912, so there was a certain additional edge to that comment.

  • MacCheerful

    I seem to recall that Marx himself was an enthusiastic supporter of the North, though I don’t have the links right here.

    • stepped pyramids


      The question of the principle of the American Civil War is answered by the battle slogan with which the South broke the peace. Stephens, the Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, declared in the Secession Congress that what essentially distinguished the Constitution newly hatched at Montgomery from the Constitution of Washington and Jefferson was that now for the first time slavery was recognised as an institution good in itself, and as the foundation of the whole state edifice, whereas the revolutionary fathers, men steeped in the prejudices of the eighteenth century, had treated slavery as an evil imported from England and to be eliminated in the course of time. Another matador of the South, Mr. Spratt, cried out: “For us it is a question of founding a great slave republic.” If, therefore, it was indeed only in defence of the Union that the North drew the sword, had not the South already declared that the continuance of slavery was no longer compatible with the continuance of the Union?

      Marx was cutting down “state’s rights, not slavery” arguments in 1861.

    • CP

      I don’t know if this applies to all of Europe, but from what I’ve researched of French and British foreign policy in this era, for them, at least, the battle lines were pretty clear-cut when it came to the American Civil War. Monarchists (either old-school or Bonapartist) sympathized with the Confederacy, liberals/republicans/progressives sympathized with the Union, with a few exceptions made for some liberal/modernist factions of monarchism. In that equation, the nascent workers’ rights and women’s rights movements in those countries were mostly sympathetic with American abolitionists, so it’s no surprise to me that Karl Marx was as well.

      • MacCheerful

        I know you’re not making this argument but I am wondering to what extent the monarchists of the period were anti-capitalist. My sense is that at least by the time in France you get to Louis phillip or Napoleon III they were entirely happy to be kings of prosperous capitalist states. Or for that matter Leopold.

        • CP

          It’s Louis Philippe I was thinking of, actually. IIRC, in France at least, his supporters and people who wanted a descendant of his on the throne were the only monarchist faction of note that was for the Union. (Don’t know as much about Britain).

        • Murc

          I know you’re not making this argument but I am wondering to what extent the monarchists of the period were anti-capitalist.

          As I say above, during this period of time you had a lot of capitalists who were aesthetically and culturally presenting a facade of anti-capitalism because they fancied themselves as feudal aristocrats, but were absolutely engaged in capitalistic enterprises.

          • CP

            Interesting point, because that “feudal on the outside, capitalist on the inside” thing in economics kind of mirrors the “monarchy on the outside, democracy on the inside” solution that a lot of European countries eventually arrived at in politics. (Lots of monarchies left in Europe, but they’re usually not actually monarchies, just democracies with state-sponsored mascot families. You bow to modernity, but keep the trappings of tradition).

          • JohnT

            that’s right. Equally, thinking things through carefully has never been a strong point of reactionary conservatives. To the extent that there were still a few true feudalist monarchists out there in the 1860s (and I think that by then there were very few, unlike in the previous century) the logic of their position should have compelled them to hate both sides of the American Civil War equally, as neither side stood for a hierarchical system with mutual duties and responsibilities. But most monarchists by this point were fairly straightforward traditionalist authoritarians, and once they saw a somewhat hierarchical and agrarian side launch itself against an urbanised, egalitarian power they were bound to let the optics drive them to support the former. (worth remembering that Piketty has shown that the nineteenth century non-slave US was vastly less unequal than contemporary European countries. Monarchists hated that).

            • CP

              (worth remembering that Piketty has shown that the nineteenth century non-slave US was vastly less unequal than contemporary European countries. Monarchists hated that).

              Yeah. I get the sense that simple resentment of the U.S. was one of the biggest reasons for pro-Confederate sympathies – having a successful democracy around in the world, even a highly imperfect one, set a terrible example for the peons.

              Combine that with the slaveowners’ flattering tendency to cosplay as European noblemen, and there’s your recipe for a lot of fondness for the Confederate cause in upper class circles.

      • chethardy

        The Confederates got nowhere with Britain. They embargoed the export of cotton, very important to them at that time, in hopes of drawing them into the war.

        The downtrodden mill workers basically took the position that they would rather starve to death than support slavery. The elite didn’t accept that the British Empire should be blackmailed by Mississippi.

        • CP

          Correct! (When I was researching this, popular opposition to slavery and the cotton embargo were two of the reasons I found that the British didn’t come to the aid of the C.S. The other two were that the Rebs never delivered a decisive, Saratoga-like victory to prove that they were a serious player worth investing in, and that the British were a global superpower with a lot of fish to fry, some of them much closer to home than the Americas).

          I use the word “sympathized” advisedly. As near as I can tell, the way the British and French related to the Confederacy was similar to the way the West related to apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Conservative elites felt kindly towards the regime, and certainly hoped that it would defeat its opponents, but public revulsion made it difficult for them to actually do much to support them, even if they’d wanted to.

      • burritoboy

        I don’t recall most of the monarchists in Continental Europe having any thoughts whatsoever on the Civil War. They were mostly too wrapped up in either trying to restore monarchy (in places where it had been abolished) or preserve it within Europe itself. They would have seen the “aristocrats” of the CSA as absurd – at best – parvenues.

        • CP

          They certainly did have thoughts about it in France, but I’d believe that most people east of there didn’t so much.

          Although, as another “fun” fact – the Vatican (very much in the Ancien Régime camp) discouraged the enlistment of Catholic European volunteers on the Union side. It also sent a letter to Jefferson Davis addressing him as president of the C.S, which had no legal or diplomatic meaning, but was nevertheless seized on as a sign of sympathy by the cause: Lee would later call the Pope “the only European sovereign” to recognize the Confederacy.

          • so-in-so

            I have read that the Russian Czar offered to send a fleet to help the Union. Lincoln thanked him, but passed.

        • Richard Gadsden

          Also, Europe was mostly a bit distracted. Garibaldi’s Thousand were completing their march as the war began, the great Polish revolt came in 1863, and the Danish War that started German Unification was in 1864. If the war had been fifteen years later, then Europe would have been in a much stronger position to intervene.

          • wjts

            Also Napoleon III’s excellent Mexican adventure.

            • CP

              Actually, that was pretty much a direct result of the Civil War. As long as the war was on, the French figured Monroe Doctrine enforcement was out of commission and took advantage of it to try and start their own empire in Mexico.

              • wjts

                Yeah, good point.

  • As per always, conservatives are projecting here because indoctrination is exactly what they want to do, especially with our history.

    They already do it. It’s called Sunday School.

    • BiloSagdiyev

      We need to push back against that, then. Call it Sunday “School”?
      “Christian madrassah” would be unfair. But I had to say it anyway.

  • The Band were basically Canadian.

    and as all Canadians should know, a southern man don’t need them around anyhow.

    • Mr__Neutron

      You’re leaving out one-fifth of The Band–Levon Helm, drummer, lead singer on “The Night”, and native son of Arkansas. Robbie Robertson wrote the song as an attempt to go back in time and get into the shoes of the folks Levon came from.

  • Uncle_Ebeneezer

    A friend (soon to be “un-friend”) of my wife commented on FB that what we really need is for historians to take a good look at all the postcards, letters etc. from the Civil War and analyze them to figure out the REAL reasons why it was fought (because obviously “Slavery” is just too triggering to her White Fragility™ simple/PC.. Strangely she neglected to mention the fact that historians have been doing this forever (I assume) and that a significant number of the voices we might want to hear from, were legally prohibited from learning to read and write as part of the terms of their Slavery. I mean, really??? we are going to take White People at their word on racism?

    • mongolia

      this sort of view is not uncommon in denialist circles – see how many global warming deniers spend their time trying to find contradictions in scientific papers about the degree to which agw is happening. the solution to this sort of thing is to get back to the basics – for global warming, i like to just point out that the effect has been known about for over 180 years, and over 100 years ago a leading scientist (arrhenius) was able to predict the effect of agw on global temperatures to within 10-15% – thus, this is simple & settled science. obviously, most won’t believe this, but the purpose is to simplify it for people who might overhear this argument but haven’t taken a “side.”

      for slavery/states rights debates, probably the easiest is just to use davis/stephens/calhouns own words for their views on the south – the cornerstone speech is a rather pithy defense of the correct view that the confederate cause was treason in defense of slavery. won’t convince that person, but for those that may have never happened upon the words of leading secessionists, might open their minds enough to start accepting reality

      • SpiderDan

        I also like to point out to the states’ rights denialists that the Constitution of the CSA federally prohibited any Confederate state from restricting the slave trade.

        Confederates were perfectly happy with federal slavery laws, as long as those laws enforced slavery.

      • Ash

        I was taught that the CW had multiple causes (slavery but also state’s rights and economics) in high school and accepted it. I was initially skeptical of the “treason in defense of slavery” framing – until I read the cornerstone speech, and went “Yep. Just slavery.” So it can happen.

    • rea

      What we really need is for historians to take a good look at all the postcards, letters etc. from the Civil War and analyze them to figure out the REAL reasons why it was fought

      Some 17-year-old private’s reasons for fighting in the war are not going to tell you much about why the war was fought.

      • so-in-so

        Of course not, but when you don’t like one answer it’s time to go searching for a more palatable one. Although why someone would think that nobody else had done it in the last 150 years…

    • wjts

      I am willing to believe that individual soldiers enlisted in the Confederate Army for a variety of reasons and not simply to preserve slavery, just as I’m willing to believe that not every single Tommy at the Somme was there out of a deep-seated personal dedication to the strategic geopolitical goals of the Entente Powers. This has jack shit to do with answering the question, “Why was the American Civil War fought?”

      • CP

        Of course, a lot of them were simply drafted, so their opinions matter even less.

        Honestly, I hate this general “what do the soldiers think?” approach to wars’ rightness or wrongness, because the blunt fact is that what the soldiers think rarely matters, except in coups and mutinies. They go where they’re told. A similar approach is taken today, when an obsessive focus on the thoughts and feelings of The Troops! in Vietnam and Iraq is used to excuse/sanctify the war itself. Never mind that most of The Troops! probably couldn’t even have placed either Vietnam or Iraq on a map before they were sent there, had very little idea why they were being sent there except in terms of generic slogans about Stopping Communism and Remember 9/11, and had no bearing on why they were being sent there either way.

        • Zagarna_84

          Actually, very few soldiers in the Civil War were successfully drafted; the Southern draft in particular was almost comically ineffectual. This was partly because they exempted planters and slave overseers from service, and partly because aside from its postal service, the Confederate government was a completely ineffectual shitshow.

          The North at least bilked its industrialists out of some cash to buy the privilege of staying where the bullets weren’t flying. Funded a good bit of the war effort, too.

    • nick056

      The premiere living CW historian already did this. The resulting book is For Cause and Comrades.

      Shockingly, not many letters went, “As you know, I believe all men should be free and fight for the Confederacy despite being a regular Liberator reader.”

      In fact, no Southern letters among those he reviewed expressed a belief that all men should be free.

  • rlc

    Hear! hear! Extremely well stated, Loomis.

  • Spiny

    One of the things I remember best from my International Trade class is sneering at Ha-Joon Chang for writing that the Civil War was about tariffs in his book critiquing trade from a left perspective. I probably should have retained a lot of other things too, but I stand by that memory.

    Since yesterday Baltimore pulled down its Confederate monuments, Lexington committed to doing it faster than it was going to do previously. The above-mentioned future ex-Senator Cory Gardner held 3 town halls in CO on the same day Trump went full white nationalist, and while Gardner explicitly shat on Nazis he refused to push Trump to fire Bannon et al, and got yelled at for it. Today, the resort that was going to host a white nationalist conference in Colorado Springs cancelled. I’m starting to feel the dangerous creep of optimism.

  • Aaron Morrow

    The cotton gin clearly industrialized the planter economy by the turn of the 19th century, and ensured that Southern slave-owners became very profitable capitalists.

    More of a response to multiple comments than Loomis’s hopeful post, but I’m surprised no one else specifically mentioned Whitney’s invention.

    • bender

      I mentioned it about five minutes after you did, while working my way down the comments.

  • Simple Mind

    It took me until I was 50 to get around to reading U.S. Grant’s personal memoir in which he states flat out that the South was building a white supremacist oligarchy, having made overtures to Brazil and other slave-holding South American states. But truly, II never heard of any left notion of southern planters fighting against northern capitalism. Now if you will excuse me, there’s some high schools around here bearing the names of Confederate generals that need re-naming.

  • Dumbspear OSparrow

    Not to be too much of a contrarian here. After all, a lot of this is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” stuff, and I’m struck that Eric namechecks Gram Parsons and Lynyrd Skynyrd as opposed to relevant academics here. (And who would the latter be? Eugene Genovese? Robin Blackburn?) The fact is that Marx himself sided with the Union, and Marx saw this as yet another example of a more productive economic system driving out a less productive one. It’s not about capitalism vs. non-capitalism, although certainly many academics have framed it that way. I’m still persuaded by David Brion Davis’s argument that northern capitalists’ support for emancipation was about the ideology of free labor and diverting attention away from the exploitative nature of “free” labor in northern (and European) factories. In other words, this is another episode in the history of Marxist ambivalence about capitalism: is it progressive or exploitative? It is, of course, both, and a further question must be asked: compared to what?

    • Dumbspear OSparrow

      Not to mention the fact that there are many different varieties of capitalism, of course.

  • SatanicPanic

    I actually remember hearing this take on the civil war from leftists, and being like- where did that come from? Thanks for illuminating this for me.

    • ericblair

      Racist leftists wanting an excuse to be racists, then working backwards from there.

    • JMP

      I saw that bullshit just earlier today from someone who is an economic leftist but also a huge racist (and a giant conspiracy theory nut as well).

  • Mark Dobrowolski

    You have said the truth. As far as anticapitalism, Trump & the white supremacy movements are feudalists. That elitewill live well, the rest of them, not so much. Globalization is happening, it won’t be stopped any time soon . One can unionize in the US, but the capiltalists will just move jobs overseas (see the 90s). The only way forward for the workers is for an international unionize of all workers.

  • NewishLawyer

    I’ve heard the line or similar lines since the late 1990s or early 2000s and have been using it as much. The Slaver’s Rebellion is also popular.

    Here is what I find good and bad.

    The good is that GOP governors and other politicians are realizing that the monuments need to be taken down.

    The bad is that Trump can still clamp down on white nationalism and cause a lot of damage and delay.

  • Sharon1W

    Thanks Eric.

  • Otherjen

    My response to the use of “the war of Northern aggression” to describe the Civil War is “you mean the war of Southern treason.”

  • D. C. Sessions

    I so want a copy of that picture with the flag changed …

  • sanjait

    I can’t even …

    So, somehow the slaveowning feudal plantation economy is less “capitalist” than the early industrial Northern economy at the time?

    I mean … what is a plantation if not an enormous rivalrous capital asset? And what is a slave if not a worker exploited to the maximal degree?

    On what planet does an alignment of “anti-capitalism” and the Confederacy make any sense?

    I believe that anyone who purports or even implies they are against “capitalism” should be forced to state definitely and unambiguously what they believe “capitalism” is and is not, and should STFU if they are unable or willing to do so. This would deter a lot of dumb arguments if enforced.

  • yes. I like this. Perhaps a link to all relevant info? I think something by Coates would help. My Southern friends are throwing the “the North was racist too” card right now. Yeah, let’s talk levels people.


    As a child of the south, who went to a school called Battle Ground Academy, I viewed the Confederacy
    and it’s “heroes” with at least acceptance if not admiration. That is until I read ” Apostles of Disunion” by Charles B Dew. In the words of the secessionists the Civil War was fought because of racism and fear of the slaves themselves. It completely changed my view(apparently the same thing happened to the author). This just happened, I am nearly 70( I hate to say that), so maybe old people can change.

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