Brooks Simpson’s Reality Distortion Field

Sometime last night, perhaps around sunset in Phoenix, Arizona State Professor Brooks Simpson wrote a critique of my post about the 1866 Memphis Race Riots. It’s at his Crossroads blog, which is a good place to safely observe his reality distortion field without having to worry about a bite in the neck.

Simpson fails to address the central question of whether black suffrage in the South was more important to Radical Republicans as a matter of morality or as a tool to sustain the Party’s political power. As always, he plays the race card early and often as if morality was all that mattered to Republicans and that racism was all that mattered to their opponents. He does not mention that Republicans abandoned black Southern voters eleven years after the Memphis Riots as well as many other factors suggesting the primacy of political—as opposed to moral—motivation.

Nor does he mention that three Northern states put black suffrage on the ballot in 1868 where all of them rejected it. He ignores Northern racism where blacks represented 1% of the population and could not impact the balance of political power in any state. Conversely, he pretends that racism alone explains the white Southerner’s objection to black suffrage where African-Americans represented 40% of the population and would be an even greater percentage of total voters given black suffrage and continued disfranchisement of former Rebels as in Tennessee and other Southern states.

Among the specific errors and obfuscations in Simpson’s remarks are the following:

Simpson: [In May 1866, which was the time of the Memphis riot,] there was not much support for black suffrage…The fact is that there is no evidence that there was widespread support for enfranchising blacks among Republicans in 1866.

1. Not true. After Congress refused to seat the Southern representatives sent to Washington in December 1865 under President Johnson’s Reconstruction Plan, the congressmen set-up a Joint Committee on Reconstruction to develop an alternate plan. The two would become known as “Presidential Reconstruction” and “Congressional Reconstruction.” The committee was composed of 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats. It was the brainchild of member Thaddeus Stevens who was the prime architect of Congressional Reconstruction and high profile proponent of black suffrage as well as a notorious vessel of hatred toward white Southerners and a businessman of dubious ethics.

At the time of the Memphis riots Southerners could not know that the Fourteenth Amendment, which was a work in progress, would not require black suffrage but instead mandate all states to reduce their congressional representation and electoral votes if they did not provide black suffrage. Thus, it would have negligible effect on the North  but big impact in the South. Republicans had to settle on the convoluted approach of limiting the influence of white Southerners because of doubts about getting enough Northern states to approve the amendment if it included universal suffrage without regard to race. California, for example, did not want Asian-Americans to gain power.

reality

2. Contrary to Simpson’s claim, the willingness of the vassal government in Nashville to do the bidding of Washington Republicans was fairly evident at the time of the riots. Tennessee, for example, was the third state to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment, which it did about two months after the Memphis riots. Seven months later it adopted black suffrage. It would also further disfranchise ex-Rebels by requiring that whites applying for voting certificates supply at least two witnesses that the applicant did not support the Confederacy during the war.

Simpson: [To gain control of Southern states Republicans] would have to appeal to at least some white voters, because only in three states was the majority of the potential electorate African-American in 1867 (Louisiana, Mississippi, and South Carolina).

1. The March 1867 Reconstruction Act required all former Confederate states—except Tennessee, which had already demonstrated its puppet status—to elect delegates to constitutional conventions to draw-up new state constitutions. Each state was required to have all adult black males participate in the elections, but many white males were excluded based upon their involvement with the Confederacy. The elections were held under the glitter of federal army bayonets, which would be used to settle disputes over a man’s qualifications to vote.

Furthermore, until after President Grant’s election the constitutions adopted at the conventions were required to mandate universal black suffrage and voting restrictions on former Rebels that were at least as strict as those applicable to the vote for convention delegates. Some were more restrictive. Consequently, blacks represented a majority of the electorate in five (Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida) former Confederate states, not three as Simpson claims.

2. Generally, a combination of black voters who voted as the Union Leagues instructed and influential carpetbaggers and scalawags who benefitted from profligate state spending could elect Republican vassal governments. Significantly, the carpetbag regimes sometimes collapsed as a result of a-falling-out-among-thieves when the state Republican parties split instead of losing to Democratic opponents.

Simpson: [Readers] will note that [President Johnson’s opposition to reconvening Louisiana’s 1864 constitutional convention authorized by President Lincoln] means that Johnson was on the side of the people who supported the New Orleans rioters.

The above is a prime example of playing the race card as if there were no other issues, but nobody should expect anything different from Simpson.

1. Louisiana was one of the first Southern states to adopt a Reconstruction constitution. It was adopted in 1864 at a convention authorized by President Lincoln’s Ten Percent plan and produced a Republican state government. After the war, returning Rebel soldiers were permitted to vote and did not approve of some of the governor’s actions. Consequently, the governor concluded that he wanted a large constituency that he could control, which inevitably led him to focus on freedman.

His chief problem was that the Lincoln-approved Louisiana constitution did not allow for black suffrage. Therefore, the governor contrived an excuse to reconvene the 1864 convention—which had already completed its purpose—for the sole excuse of writing a new constitution that would enable him to isolate a fortified constituency, to wit freedmen. The legal way of going about it was with an amendment or an act in the legislature, but he rejected them both. He preferred instead to call a new convention whose qualifying delegates would be individuals pre-disposed to his agenda.

The governor’s actions were essentially a coup d’etat. President Johnson said he would support whichever side of the dispute was judged to be legal by the local courts. That put him on the side of the law.

2. Even Simpson admits that War Secretary Stanton did not tell Johnson of the telegram from the local commander asking whether the military should intervene as a confrontation became pending. Failure to let the President know of the telegram was a failure to let him know that violence was pending—not merely possible even likely—but pending.

Stanton’s failure was either an egregious error or a deliberate action designed to provoke a race riot in order to strengthen support in the North for mandatory black suffrage in the South, but not the North. If Stanton’s action was deliberate it was indeed a reprehensible, and successful, attempt to provoke race killings in order to promote the political power of the Republican Party.

Simpson: …there is no evidence that Stanton did anything to withhold information on events in Memphis.

He certainly did not heed advice from the first post-war Memphis area commander to avoid using black troops in the garrison due to their potential to ignite race conflicts. Stanton also ignored similar advice from Ulysses Grant and other prominent army officers. Thus, the warnings from subordinates in the field are part of the evidence suggesting that Stanton wanted such riots so that Northerners would conclude like Simpson “that blacks needed the ballot to protect themselves from violence exemplified by the Memphis and New Orleans riots.” In the case of New Orleans, however, there would have been no riot if there had been no attempt to abrogate the 1864 constitution. Simpson bites on Stanton’s 150 year-old bait and drags it off to his reality distortion field where he foists it upon students who actually are required to pay him for such propaganda.

In sum, the central issue, which Simpson shrinks from debating, is whether Republican interest in Southern black suffrage was chiefly motivated by desires for racial equality or represented an attempt to secure a reliable voting block that would sustain the Party’s political power.

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19 thoughts on “Brooks Simpson’s Reality Distortion Field

  1. Pingback: Will Brooks Simpson Debate? | Civil War Chat

  2. josepharose

    Professor Simpson apparently eschews the American Historical Association’s Standards of Professional Conduct, which call for “mutual respect and constructive criticism,” “reasoned discourse,” and a commitment to “balancing fair and honest criticism with tolerance and openness to different ideas.” Historians should “respect and welcome divergent points of view even as they argue and subject those views to critical scrutiny.” Instead, Dr. Simpson slings such derogations as, “First, note the phrase “good reason.” It also appears above in the discussion about the Memphis riots. In Mr. Leigh’s lexicon, it seems to mean ‘I have no evidence, but I’ll try my best.’”

    Elsewhere in his response to Mr. Leigh, Simpson wondered: “As for Tennessee’s decision to enfranchise black adult males in February 1867, one would think that Mr. Leigh would approve of this, since he’s already stated that Andrew Johnson and ‘nearly everybody’ agreed that it was a state’s right to determine who voted. So what’s the objection? Is it that the people who were enfranchised were black?” That sounds to me as if Simpson is implying that Leigh is racist. But there is nothing in this excerpt from which such a conclusion could be drawn. It’s merely an ad hominem attack, which poisons this discussion of the issues at hand. (In a different post, professor Simpson similarly charged: “After all. Mr. Leigh forgot to mention the Colfax and Hamburg massacres. Are we to conclude that he’s once more covering up for or excusing (perhaps even endorsing) white supremacist violence?”) Such slanders have no place in an honest, intellectual discussion.

    And in replying to Mr. Leigh’s observations about the situation in Memphis, Dr. Simpson stated, “That’s interesting, largely because there was not much support for black suffrage at that time. All Congress had done was to pass (over Johnson’s veto) the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which allowed for federal intervention in cases where state courts failed to protect equality before the law. The new legislation said nothing about suffrage.” And he acidly noted, “But let’s not have evidence stand in the way of a good story.”

    Dr. Simpson is correct that the Fourteenth Amendment “did not enfranchise blacks,” but it punished states that didn’t enfranchise them and, therefore, appears to be solid evidence of Republican support for Black suffrage (especially as Radicals apparently thought that this didn’t go far enough. Wikipedia, for example, noted that “In late 1865, the Joint Committee on Reconstruction proposed an amendment stating that any citizens barred from voting on the basis of race by a state would not be counted for purposes of representation of that state. This amendment passed the House, but was blocked in the Senate by a coalition of Radical Republicans led by Charles Sumner, who believed the proposal a ‘compromise with wrong’, and Democrats opposed to black rights.” Otherwise, this would serve as solid evidence that the Republicans were aiming for an electoral advantage either in the presence or the absence of Black suffrage. It must be one or the other, if not both. Yet, Dr. Simpson studiously avoids accusing the Republicans of having such crass motives during Reconstruction. But it would seem very odd to me if these politicians didn’t factor in political advantage into their legislative actions.

    Lastly, blogger Patrick Young has written on both the riot and the events leading up to it—and Dr. Simpson provides links to these posts—yet much of what Young noted actually lends support for Mr. Leigh’s findings. Mr. Young commented on how, “With laws in the offing that would extend the suffrage to blacks, the Irish could well imagine that their grip on power might end if the African American population continued to swell.”

    I haven’t contacted Mr. Leigh directly on these issues, but he seems to have ample cause to dispute Dr. Simpson’s inappropriate personal and historiographical assaults.

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Well said, Joe. I especially appreciate your mentioning Mr. Young’s remarks that support my point about the black suffrage concerns among the Irish in Memphis because Young wrote a comment at Simpson’s blog supportive of Simpson’s viewpoints, one of which directly contradicts Young’s statement that you cite.

      I do, however, differ with you in one way. Dr. Simpson’s accusations against me may not be merely slanderous. They may be libelous because they were made in writing as opposed to a transitory form such as speech.

      I wish also to point out that Dr. Simpson’s statement in his May 14, 2016 “A Massacre of History” blog post that “Mr. Leigh might also read the Fourteenth Amendment, which…did not enfranchise blacks” was an erroneous implication that I did not understand the Amendment. Months earlier he made identical false accusations against others regarding the Amendment as documented at the Old Virginia Blog. Proof that I understood the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment well before Dr. Simpson’s May 14th accusation is available at the link below, which is an article I wrote for Discerning History in November 2015.

      http://discerninghistory.com/2015/11/the-politics-and-economics-of-reconstruction/

      Reply
      1. josepharose

        As to your last paragraph, it’s been amply demonstrated that Dr. Simpson often acts as if past conversations somehow never happened, as he accuses his opponents of ignorance on topics that had already been thoroughly discussed. And he loves to charge his opponent with a “failure to note” something-or-other. If a simple blog post doesn’t comprehensively footnote the entire corpus of research on a particular matter, Simpson will criticize it for an omission of evidence, which he can then claim was consciously committed. For someone with a PhD in history, his ability to hold a reasonable debate on any particular topic seems sorely lacking.

      2. Phil Leigh Post author

        Agreed.

        Thanks for sharing your experiences.

        Encouragingly, however, I am getting a fair amount of traffic from his blog from readers who evidently want to know what I *really* wrote as opposed to what *he said* I wrote.

      3. josepharose

        I would also point out that, concerning the Memphis riots, Dr. Simpson asserted that, “there was not much support for black suffrage at that time.”

        Yet, in a previous post, Dr. Simpson had declared that, “Most Republican voters might support equal rights and enfranchisement” (by implication in the period between the end of the war and 1866).

        One of these two statements must be incorrect.

      4. Phil Leigh Post author

        Thanks for the clarifying points, Joe. Simpson is vulnerable.

        Have you considered challenging him to a debate about U.S. Grant?

        I don’t know if you have speeches coming up in California, but if so you could stop by Phoenix to debate him. His students would greatly benefit. Perhaps one of the Civil War Roundtables would agree to sponsor a debate. Milwaukee and Chicago, for example, normally cover speaker travel expenses. An online forum might work if one can be found where the censors are not biased in favor of Grant.

      5. josepharose

        A debate with Simpson is an interesting concept.

        As a teaching professor, he should be able to wipe the floor with me verbally, and maybe even convince the audience that he has the better argument. But, as I can readily show how and where his research and findings are deeply flawed, he would be wise to decline any proposal.

  3. Richard Williams

    “. . . many historians have become obsessed with inequality and white privilege in American society. And this obsession has seriously affected the writing of American history. The inequalities of race and gender now permeate much of academic history-writing, so much so that the general reading public that wants to learn about the whole of our nation’s past has had to turn to history books written by nonacademics who have no Ph.D.s and are not involved in the incestuous conversations of the academic scholars.” ~ Professor Gordon S. Wood

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Outstanding quote, Richard. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Perhaps the arrogant student that Matt Damon told-off in the bar in Good Will Hunting was modeled after Simpson, who did attend Phillip’s Exeter.

      You might find the article in the link below to be an antitoxin to Simpson’s poisonous view of Reconstruction.

      http://discerninghistory.com/2015/11/the-politics-and-economics-of-reconstruction/

      Have you written any books, articles or blog posts yourself?

      Reply
    1. terry6400

      I was present at Gettysburg’s Sesquicentennial event: I wrote this in my journal about the event. “Sunday, 30 June 2013 – On the way to Gettysburg. I make it in plenty of time to hear Kent Masterson Brown’s talk on George Gordon Meade and the Gettysburg Campaign at 9:30 am. His talk is very good as expected. I get a signed copy of Retreat From Gettysburg. I stick around to hear blog owner Brooks Simpson talk about “Dejavu all over again: Generalship at Gettysburg.” Simpson doesn’t have much good to say about anything south. Simpson don’t like Confederate flags. He claims to be from Philly Pa, and his wife from North Carolina. Simpson was so vitriolic towards the South, I don’t know how his wife puts up with him. Must be hell.”

      Reply
      1. Phil Leigh Post author

        Thanks for sharing.

        Simpson is from Seaford, New York. It is a privleged community with a median family income of about $80,000 where 99.8% of the population is white. That’s right, only 1 in 500 residents are non-white. I agree with you that he seems to hate the South, even though in the South blacks are mayors of more cities over 50,000 in population than any other part of the country. As I recall, about 45% of all black mayors of such cities are in the South.

        Simpson is becoming increasingly irritable because he has spend most of his life writing hagiographies about Ulysses Grant. Now that Grant has reached his best reputation since the Ciivl War, the General’s long ignored flaws are being exposed by authors like Joseph Rose and Frank Varney in their books Grant Under Fire and General Grant and the Rewriting of History

  4. Phil Leigh Post author

    Provided below is a link to Simpson’s response:

    https://cwcrossroads.wordpress.com/2016/05/14/republicans-and-black-suffrage-during-reconstruction/

    He writes a total of eleven paragraphs, five of which play the race card, sometimes more than once. He apparently suffers from a private signature form of Tourette’s syndrome in which the term “racism” (or one of its code words) ejaculates uncontrollably from his mouth or keyboard.

    Be that as it may, he also cites four of his old blog articles as examples of his work that address the question of whether post civil war Republicans were more motivated to advocate mandatory black suffrage as a genuine commitment to racial equality or as a tool to maintain political control in Washington.

    Pathetically, but predictably, none of the articles target the question, much less answer it. Keep pretending Professor Simpson. You do it so well. Characteristically, you continue to shrink from a debate you know you can’t win, perhaps because the attempt aggravates your Tourette’s.

    Nonetheless, I suppose I can be gracious enough to give you a nod of thanks for increasing my blog traffic by 15% today.

    Reply
  5. jessie sanford

    Simpson and all of those in his echo chamber he calls a blog have a very obvious agenda which is to denigrate Southern history at ever turn. I wonder how his in-laws enjoy his blog.

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      I concur with your observation on the Simpson agenda. Does he have Southern in-laws?

      Reply
  6. Ron Walker

    Mr. Leigh also did not mention the main purpose of empowering Blacks as voters and disabling whites: They looted the ex-Confederate states with gusto.

    Reply
    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Ronny.

      Freedmen were largely manipulated by white carpetbaggers and scalawags. The principle lesson to be learned from the carpetbag experience is found in the ancient wisdom:

      “Watch what people do, not what they say.”

      Carpetbag constitutions incorporated a number of progressive measures. But in practice the priorities of those who governed was on lining their own pockets. For example, public works spending could benefit the citizens, but not if projects were wildly inflated so that most of the money went to Reconstruction Era politicians, which was often the case.In short, carpetbaggers and scalawags followed the immorality lead radiating from Washington during President Grant’s two administrations.

      Reply

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