Will Brooks Simpson Debate?

Arizona State University history professor Brooks Simpson has evidently had difficulty getting me out of his mind after my 4 May post on the 1866 Memphis Reconstruction Era Race Riot.

In less than two months he criticized it—mostly with ad hominem attacks—here, here, here, and here. I responded only once to him.

Among his assaults were innuendos to portray me as a racist and a claim that  my publishers have been “duped.” One of his post headlines identifies me as a “Confederate Heritage Apologist,” thereby implying that nobody can be proud of Confederate Heritage without being an apologist. I, however, respect the heritage of both my Northern and Southern ancestors, thankyouverymuch. Perhaps the professor might consider whether he should be labeled a “Grant Apologist” given the eighteenth President’s dismal White House record and Simpson’s persistent adulation.

Simpson disdains Confederate and Southern heritage. For example, he writes on 19 May, “I think the problem with Confederate heritage today is that it has less to do with the Confederacy…and much more to do with serving as a vehicle through which people express their political views and cultural values.”

In his 24 February post, however, Simpson uses Civil War history to broadcast a personal and current political viewpoint of his own. He cites a New York Times article quoting a poll proclaiming that 20% of Trump supporters think the Emancipation Proclamation was a bad idea. “Wow!” he exclaims.

One problem is that his source cites a poll that does not even mention the Emancipation Proclamation. If the professor had bothered to find the correct poll he would have discovered that 10% of Bernie Sanders supporters also opposed the Emancipation Proclamation. Would he say “Wow!” to that, too?


Brooks Simpson is a paragon for an underlying fault among many academic historians identified by Harvard’s Gordon Wood that might explain why Simpson thinks publishers have been “duped” into issuing my books and articles:

… 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.

In his response to my Memphis Reconstruction Era Race Riot article Simpson fails to address the concluding point, which is “a central question of the entire Reconstruction Era is whether [Republican advocacy] of black suffrage was chiefly driven by a political, or moral, motivation.” He fails to answer the question in two follow-up posts. Most amusing of all is his self-proclaimed verdict in that he “shredded” my analysis.

Outside of Simpson’s Reality Distortion Field, however, a debate contestant does not get to determine whether he “shredded” an opponent. Independent judges decide the winner. Since Professor Simpson cannot get me out of his head, I’ll give him a chance to restore peace of mind by challenging him to a face-to-face debate as follows:

Proposition: The post-Civil War Republican Party’s advocacy for black suffrage in the South was primarily motivated by a desire to obtain racial equality and not a wish to improve the Party’s political power.

Debating the Affirmative:      Dr. Brooks Simpson

Debating the Negative:            Philip Leigh

Location:                                         To be determined

Date:                                                  To be determined

Since Professor Simpson censors me from his blog perhaps somebody will alert him.


My Civil War Books

The Confederacy at Flood Tide
Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies
Trading With the Enemy
Co. Aytch: Illustrated and Annotated



6 thoughts on “Will Brooks Simpson Debate?

  1. josepharose

    I think that Dr. Simpson is probably more interested in avoiding a debate on the specifics of the subject than anything else.

    As to the subject of the debate, it would be very difficult for anyone nowadays to definitively quantify the motivations of the Radical Republicans, and those men might have found it difficult to weigh their own motives, as well. Even having good intentions as to civil rights, a politician could hardly be accused of not thinking about the benefits to himself or his party when pushing for Black suffrage or the disenfranchisement of southern Whites.

    Although President Grant supported civil rights for Black during his administration, he became strangely quiet on the subject afterwards, with few exceptions. How much of this support was due to his desire to help Black individuals achieve political and social equality and how much was based on a desire for the Republican party’s (and his own) political advantage?

  2. Eddie Inman

    Thad Stevens was pretty clear here of the purpose of black suffrage. Note the restriction of it to the “rebel States”, not including the so-called “egalitarian” northern States —

    There are several good reasons for the passage of this bill. In the first place, it is just. I am now confining my argument to negro suffrage in the rebel States. Have not loyal blacks quite as good a right to choose rulers and make laws as rebel whites? In the second place, it is a necessity in order to protect the loyal white men in the seceded States. With them the blacks would act in a body; and it is believed then, in each of said States, except one, the two united would form a majority, control the States, and protect themselves. Now they are the victims of daily murder. They must suffer constant persecution or be exiled.

    Another good reason is that it would insure the ascendency of the Union party. “Do you avow the party purpose?” exclaims some horror-stricken demagogue. I do. For I believe, on my conscience, that on the continued ascendency of that party depends the safety of this great nation. If impartial suffrage is excluded in the rebel States, then every one of them is sure to send a solid rebel representation to Congress, and cast a solid rebel electoral vote. They, with their kindred Copperheads of the North, would always elect the President and control Congress. While slavery sat upon her defiant throne, and insulted and intimidated the
    trembling North, the South frequently divided on questions of policy between Whigs and Democrats, and gave victory alternately to the sections. Now, you must divide them between loyalists, without regard to color, and disloyalists, or you will be the perpetual vassals of the
    free-trade, irritated, revengeful South. For these, among other reasons, I am for negro suffrage in every rebel State. If it be just, it should not be denied; if it be necessary, it should be adopted; if it be a punishment to traitors, they deserve it.

    1. Phil Leigh Post author

      Yes, even Stevens admitted that increasing the strength of the Republican Party was a major objective. Moreover, one reason he wanted to strengthen the Party was to keep tariffs high in order to avoid becoming one of the “vassals of the free-trade…South.”

      Stevens owned an iron foundry upon which his livelihood depended. He was, therefore, a leading proponent of high protective tariffs that were injurious to all consumers and even more harmful to the South’s export economy. In order to sell cotton to Europe, for example, Europeans needed to be able to earn exchange credits. High American tariffs, however, made it difficult for them to earn such credits by selling their manufactured goods into the USA.

      The debate question is whether Reconstruction era Republicans advocated black suffrage chiefly on racial equality principles or out of self-interest to control the federal government. I argue the latter.

    2. josepharose

      So, Thad Stevens discussed political freedom for the Black population for its own protection, which is commendable (but only in the southern states, which is not). He then discussed its purpose for the advancement of the Republican party. If such partisan policies and politics hadn’t held sway, the nation and all of its people might have been much better off.

      So how much was Stevens doing this for the Black population and how much was he doing it for his party? That is not an easy question to answer, to say the least.

      And although the Civil War was basically about slavery, Stevens indicates that this wasn’t the only cause of the war when he expressed worry about the power of the “free-trade” South.

      1. Phil Leigh Post author

        A question that is not an easy one to answer is a good topic for debate. If it were easy to answer it would not be debatable.

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