Today’s “Myth of American History” is written by Bo Traywick who is the author of Empire of the Owls and Virginia Iliad. As a guest contributor, Mr. Traywick’s opinions and claims must be taken as his own and not necessarily mine. — Phil Leigh
“History is the propaganda of the victorious” – Voltaire
Is the past that is reconstructed by historians a revival or a “new show”?
Paul A. Cohen asks this question in his History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth. He answers that the history created by historians is fundamentally different from the history made by the people of the times. The professional historian’s objective is to understand the past and then explain it as “event”, whereas those who made the history explain it as “experience”. The historian tries to look at the past objectively, whereas the people who made the history tend to look at it subjectively, and in a fashion that is psychologically tolerable to themselves. If such subjectivity becomes validated by communal consensus, then myths can be created in place of intellectual truth. “Myth” is the third way of looking at history.
Can an objective historian be a purveyor of myth? However committed he may be to the objective truth, he remains a product of his own culture, and he is subjected in varying degrees to its cultural imperatives, its “world view”. How much cultural subjectivity goes into a historian’s selection of historical matter to be examined or theses to be argued? How much pressure are professional historians under to be admitted to a course of study, to hold tenure, to gain grants, and to stay in good professional and financial graces with the powers that dispense these things?
It should come as no surprise to find that the most powerful nation in history has at its disposal the most powerful, extensive, subtle and effective means for disseminating its own version of history. From the history books used in government-accredited schools and colleges with their facts given or omitted, to television “docu-dramas”, Hollywood romantics, National Park Service presentations, and the politically correct sensationalism of the media, America has just as much incentive to tell its own story as “creatively” as anyone, and it has its own stable of government-accredited “Court Historians” with PhDs groomed to tell it – and, when necessary, to shout down, deride, or debunk with voluminous obfuscation anyone who disagrees with it.
Phil Leigh’s 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
The North’s war against the South’s secession is a glaring example. The story trumpeted from the heights is that the war was all about slavery, that the North fought to free the slaves and the South fought to keep them. End of story. Any questions?
Well, yes. Something doesn’t compute, here. If the North was waging a war against slavery, why didn’t she wage war on New York and Boston, the two largest African slave-trading ports in the world, and trading with Brazil and Cuba at the time of Lincoln’s election? Or on New England cotton mills and their profits from slave-picked cotton? Or on Northern iron foundries that forged the shackles and chains? Or on New England rum distilleries that made rum from slave-harvested sugar cane to use for barter on the African coast? Or on New England shipyards that built the slave ships? Or on the African slave-catchers, such as the Kingdom of Dahomey, the largest exporters of African slaves in the world for hundreds of years? And why did Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation say that slavery was alright as long as one was loyal to his government?
Why? Because the slavery issue was the North’s “red herring” used as moral cover for the true “Irrepressible Conflict” that was building within her classical mercantile system: the conflict between an increasingly predatory Northern industrial center that wanted to burst the constraints of the Constitution in order to achieve its ambitions, and a resistant Southern agricultural periphery that depended on the federative nature of that Constitution for its survival.
The attempted peaceful secession of the seven “Cotton States” at the election of Lincoln, the presidential candidate of the strictly sectional Northern party in 1860, should have resolved the situation, but with these States out of the Union, the North would have lost its largest source of cotton for its mills, its largest source of tariff revenues, a major market for its manufactured goods, and control of the mouth of the Mississippi. The South would do business with England while the North’s economy would collapse, so – at the behest of the Northern industrialists, railroad magnates, financiers and crony capitalists who got him elected – Lincoln provoked the South into firing the first shot, got the war he wanted, marched his armies across the South to the tune of the militantly Puritanical “Battle Hymn of the Republic” – burning, pillaging, raping, and killing – and drove the Southern States back into the Union at the point of the bayonet. So much for his Gettysburg Address.
The corrupt Reconstruction imposed upon the South by “the Party of Lincoln” then effectively destroyed the federative nature of the Constitution, concentrated power in the Federal Government, and cemented it in the hands of the North with her large sectional majorities. The result was the corrupt “Gilded Age” in the North, and economic subjugation and impoverishment for both Blacks and Whites in the South for the next hundred years.
It is common practice for us to confuse the causes of secession with the cause of the war, and the North – who controls the narrative – wants to keep it that way, for the Truth is an indictment against them. Secession had many reasons, but the war was Lincoln’s choice. The noted historian Barbara Tuchman, in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, called it “The North’s War against the South’s Secession.” It is the precise description of what the war was all about, proven when Lincoln raised his imperial fist above his lofty rhetoric.
During the secession crisis, Virginia, the “Mother of States and of Statesmen,” called a Peace Conference and tried to hold the Union together, but warned Lincoln that any attempt at coercion of the seceded States would mean war. When Lincoln called for troops, Virginia indicted Lincoln for choosing to inaugurate civil war and immediately seceded. Just as the Prophet Nathan said to King David (II Samuel 12:7), Virginia’s secession forever says to “The Great Emancipator” residing in his Olympian temple on the Mall: “Thou art the man!”
But this doesn’t dance well with the plaintive fiddle tunes on a Ken Burns TV show, so the North’s war of invasion, conquest, and coerced political allegiance must be turned into an Orwellian war of liberation. This “doublespeak” is the American Myth, the “propaganda of the victorious” validated by communal consensus, and eternally re-enforced by “Court Historians” and ham-fisted morality plays. But the Truth cannot be killed. It can only be buried alive.
H. V. Traywick, Jr.