Jon Stewart on The Civil War

About six months ago The Daily Show with Jon Stewart hosted a mock TV game show called The Weakest Lincoln. Stewart asked questions about the Civil War targeting “contestant” Judge Andrew Napolitano whose answers were judged by a panel of “experts” all of whom are Righteous Cause MythologistsSeveral of the panel member statements were undeniably false and nearly all the others were misleading. The members were (1) Dr. James Oakes of City University of New York, (2) Dr. Manisha Sinha of UMASS-Amherst, and (3) Dr. Eric Foner of Columbia.

Dr. Oakes made at least three false statements. First, he said “nobody was talking about tariffs” as a War issue. But the Confederate Constitution outlawed protective tariffs thereby insuring that Confederate tariffs would be much lower than those in the USA. Also, many Northern newspaper editorials lamented the impact on the federal tax revenue and the economy if protective tariffs no longer applied in the southern states.

Second, Oakes said that Lincoln was committed to putting slavery on a path to extinction. But during his first Presidential inaugural address Lincoln commented that Congress passed an amendment to forever prevent the federal government from interfering with slavery in states where legal and he had “no objection to [the amendment] being made express and irrevocable.”

Dr. Manisha Sinha gave a misleading answer to Stewart’s question about how many slaves were killed during the Civil War. She could have responded that it would have been a fraction of the 50,000 total civilian deaths, which was much lower than the 620,000 soldiers killed. But as a characteristic Righteous Cause Mythologist she did not want to give a direct answer. Instead, Sinha went off on a tangent. She said 10% – 20% of the 12 million slaves shipped to “the Americas” over 400 years of slavery died. She did not clarify that (1) “the Americas” meant the entire Western Hemisphere and (2) the Confederate Constitution prohibited international slave trade. The great majority of slaves shipped from African into the Western Hemisphere did not go to the antebellum USA, but to countries like Brazil.

Additionally, Dr. Sinha commented that the tariff was raised only after South Carolina seceded. But she failed to explain that even prior to that about 90% of federal tax revenues were obtained from tariffs and that the South had long objected to protective tariffs. Characteristically, Oakes chimed in to claim “there was no tariff,” which was his third false statement.

Finally, Judge Napolitano said that Lincoln used federal marshals to capture and return fugitive slaves. All three panel members jumped on that statement like ducks on a June-bug. Technically, Napolitano was probably wrong, but none of the panel members volunteered to clarify that in his first inaugural address Lincoln also endorsed the requirement that the Fugitive  Slave Law be enforced in all the states. Admittedly, he commented that he was unsure whether federal or state law enforcement was responsible, but he clearly stated that it was a uniform responsibility of all the United States.

Feel welcome to write Jon Stewart to request that he repeat the imitation game show with an objective expert panel.

Mr. Jon Stewart
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
733 Eleventh Avenue
New York, New York 10019

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