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Why Academics Change American History

(November 28, 2018) Academic historians are rewriting American history because the true story does not fit their agenda. Ninety-four percent of those admitting to a political affiliation are Democrats. Consequently, they envision an ever-stronger central government as the inevitable path to future public prosperity. Confident that the arc of history bends toward their ideology, their conception of the future is certain. Instead it is the past that they are always changing.

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The life of any historical figure that was out-of-step with today’s dominant academic interpretation must have his story rewritten.  If commoners refuse to accept the new narrative, the professors try to erase the subject from history altogether by urging that the applicable memorials and statues be torn down. George Orwell presciently described such madness in the form of a political Party controlled by a fictional society’s elite in his novel, 1984:

Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street, and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.

Banned for sale at eBay

There could hardly be a better depiction of the growing hostility toward Southern Heritage, particularly the Confederacy and her icons.  In the context of the Civil War and Reconstruction, consider the number of history books rewritten, paintings removed, statues destroyed or defaced, flags retired, symbols banned, songs censored and street and school names changed over the last thirty years.

Finally, academia prohibits contrary viewpoints. The academic presses generally will not consider manuscripts providing favorable interpretations of Confederate leaders and soldiers—or unflattering ones of sacred Yankee cows. To the contrary, they increasingly seek compositions that discuss incremental reasons for condemning Southerners or elevating Northerners. Among academics, for example, Ulysses Grant is now ranked as the best commander of the Civil War while Lee’s reputation is hammered continuously with “new” disclosures attacking his character or military competence. Some even go so far as to blame Lee for Grant’s failure to promptly rescue his fallen between-the-lines Union soldiers under a truce flag after failed attacks on Rebel entrenchments at Vicksburg and Cold Harbor.

All of the above impacts our culture. The mainstream press and Hollywood pick it up. They constantly attack Southern culture with extremes. For example, recent press reports implied that the Mississippi’s Republican senatorial candidate was racist merely because she once donned a replica Confederate infantryman cap to promote the state’s Jefferson Davis tourist site. Apparently they believe that Davis is among the past figures who should be erased from history and should therefore be denied a memorial site. Similarly, they took the opportunity to suggest that President Trump was racist merely for suggesting that Robert E. Lee was a good military commander

Excuse me while I go prep for a colonoscopy.

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What’s Next for Washington & Lee?

(November 26, 2018) Washington & Lee (W&L) is a Liberal Arts university of 2,000 students in Lexington, Virginia nestled in the Shenandoah Valley. It’s a town of 7,000 residents and also the home to the Virginia Military Academy. W&L traces its roots to 1749 when it was known as Augusta Academy. The name was changed to Washington College in 1813.

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It had barely survived the Civil War when former Confederate General Robert E. Lee became its president in October 1865. He had turned down lucrative business proposals, including one of $50,000 from an insurance company that wanted to trade on his name, for a $1,500 annual salary at the college. When he arrived, the school had but four faculty members teaching forty students a prep-school curriculum.

Lee rescued the school from obscurity by virtue of the donations his reputation attracted. Among them was a prompt $10,000 from inventor and businessman Cyrus McCormick who eventually gave a total of $350,000. More came from George Peabody who is regarded as the Father of American Philanthropy. When Lee died five years later the student body had grown to four hundred. Moreover, the school had been transformed from a classical academy into a true university with classes in applied sciences, journalism, business and even law, through an affiliated law school. Consequently, the trustees renamed the institution, Washington & Lee.

Among the legacies most identified with Lee is the school’s honor code. He famously promoted it with maxims such as “we have but one rule—that every student must be a gentleman” and “as a general principle you should not force young men to do their duty but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters.” W&L alum, and former TV news anchor, Roger Mudd recalls that students were allowed to take exams in their own residences, unsupervised as long as they affixed an honor-pledge that they had neither given or received aid on the exam. “The professors loved it because they could pass out their final exams and then leave,” Mudd said. “They didn’t have to monitor what was going on in the classroom as the students wrote their finals.”

Freshmen still sign the Honor Code (White) book in a ceremony traditionally held in a campus chapel named for Robert E. Lee where  a recumbent statue of the General rests at peace. One present student, Hayden Daniel, describes the ritual:

It is a very visceral experience. It’s the first time your honor is tested at Washington & Lee. Everyone in your incoming class is with you, and you make the pledge, and then you sign the White Book and see Lee in his recumbent pose as you’re signing. . . . And then you look behind you and you see all those pews where everyone comes and gathers, and you think of all the previous W&L classes that have signed the White Book. You’re connected to the history of the honor system itself. You’re there with the man who personified it, and you’re there in spirit with all the people who came before and signed it, too. So you’re inducted into this sort of fraternity of honor there when you sign that book.”

Unfortunately, many of the faculty that arrived during last twenty years have a hostile viewpoint of Robert E. Lee, which is shared by the mainstream press and academia generally. They condemn Lee and the Confederate soldier because in fighting to defend their homes from invaders they were also supporting a country seeking to preserve slavery.

To such critics it is immaterial that Lee opposed secession. Four months before his native Virginia joined the Confederacy he wrote his son Custis who would later himself become a W&L President for twenty-six years: “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than dissolution of the Union. . . . I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor [to preserve it.]”

Similarly the politically correct faculty members don’t care that Lee urged fellow Southerners to peaceably accept reunification after the war ended: “I think it the duty of every citizen,” Lee wrote his trustees, “in the present condition of the country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony, and in no way to oppose the policy of the State or General Governments directed to that object.”

But Lee’s critics among the faculty and student body relentlessly seek to minimize his memory to the vanishing point. One “recommended” step is to distance the school’s honor code from Lee in order “to ensure [its] credibility.” They want the code book-signing  removed from Lee Chapel.

In seeking to reduce Lee’s memory in the history of the school his critics misleadingly revise that very history. The W&L website now includes a vague remark that “the earliest evidence of an academic Honor System dates back to the 1840s,” which was about twenty years before Lee arrived. Nonetheless, Lee’s legacy is undoubtedly what made the code an enduring and nonnegotiable standard. The tricks to which his critics will stoop to create a revised narrative about Lee’s character prompts me to my solitary prediction about the future of Washington & Lee University:

The cherished honor code will not survive because students will copy the examples of those professors who twist the truth in order to achieve personal goals. The students will discern that such faculty have no honor.

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The Washington Post March of Infamy

(November 25, 2018) Yesterday The Washington Post published an Op-Ed by former General Stanley McChrystal in which he boasted of removing a long-displayed Robert E. Lee painting from his home to “send it on its way to a local landfill for burial.” It is but one of perhaps a dozen Post articles during the last three years disparaging Lee, Confederate monuments and Southern heritage. All condemn Lee and the Confederate soldier because in fighting to defend their homes from invaders they were also supporting a country seeking to preserve slavery.

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To such critics it is immaterial that seventy percent of Southern families did not own slaves and that Lee opposed secession.  Four months before his native Virginia joined the Confederacy he wrote son Custis: “I can anticipate no greater calamity for the country than dissolution of the Union. . . I am willing to sacrifice everything but honor [to preserve it.]”

The Washington Post’s March of Infamy against Southerners plays the Trump cards of slavery and racism as if they were the only two evils in the World’s history. In truth, however, the great majority of 1860 American voters did not oppose slavery in the states where it was legal. Moreover, racism was common in both the North and South.  Even President Lincoln admitted in his first inaugural, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Eighteen months later when speaking about the problems of integration to a group of free blacks he urged them to leave America and concluded, “It is best for both [races], therefore, to be separated.”

A better way to evaluate Robert E. Lee is to compare his conduct to standards applicable to both his time and ours. In that context, consider how favorably he compares to Ulysses Grant who committed transgressions that are repugnant not only by modern standards but also by those of his time. Lee, for example, usually slept in a tent as opposed to commandeering the home of a nearby resident as was General Grant’s custom.

When his army suffered a surprise attack at Shiloh, Grant had his headquarters ten miles distant in an appropriated Southern mansion. Although saved from defeat by reinforcements from a second Union army, Grant refused to give them any credit for the ultimate victory. Afterward he declined to pursue the defeated Confederates by claiming that their 40,000-man army actually totaled 100,000. He also lied by falsely reporting that the Rebel attack had not surprised him. He blamed subordinate Generals Lew Wallace and Benjamin Prentiss for his army’s poor performance on the first day of the two-day battle.

In contrast, less than three months after taking command of the applicable Confederate army in June 1862, Lee’s outnumbered force carried the war in the east from the doorstep of the Confederate capital at Richmond to the front porch of the Union capital at Washington. Additionally, unlike Grant who blamed others for his failures, Lee took responsibility for his most notorious defeat at Gettysburg and offered his resignation to President Jefferson Davis.

Grant’s timeless—as opposed to era-specific—immorality even sank to inhumanity during at least two battles. First, after the futile May 22nd Union attack on Vicksburg entrenchments he left his wounded between battle lines for several days. Not until the Confederate commander suggested a truce did Grant send litter bearers to retrieve his dead and wounded. About a year later he repeated the outrage at Cold Harbor. After a failed assault his wounded troops lay between-the-lines for two days. He took no action at all until subordinate General Meade urged it. Grant delayed relief even longer by refusing to request a conventional truce although General Meade reminded him that Lee would require it.

After the war Grant led America’s most scandal-plagued presidential administration. Next, he went on a self-aggrandizing World tour before attempting to capture a then-unprecedented third presidential term. In contrast, Lee became president of a small failing college, which he rescued financially by virtue of the donations his reputation attracted. He famously promoted the Washington & Lee Honor Code with maxims such as “we have but one rule-that every student must be a gentleman” and “as a general principle you should not force young men to do their duty but let them do it voluntarily and thereby develop their characters.”

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Monuments for Civil War Reconstruction

(November 20, 2018) Recently The New York Times published an Op-Ed by two professors that urged the National Park Service to “help convey the full story of how America was remade after the Civil War.” They want the Service to manage a network of narrative-based memorials. Unfortunately, their comprehension of the “full story” is distorted by political correctness. Every potential site they mentioned involved race-centric stories.

While the racism in the region of the era was undeniably shameful, the Op-Ed falsely implies that Southern whites endured no hardships worth remembering. It suggests that Southerners are fit only to play the role of the villain, with blacks as the victims and white Northern Republicans as “the good shepherd” whose noble intentions went awry. If the Reconstruction narrative of earlier eras sanitized the part of Southern whites, this version whitewashes Northern Republicans.

First, Southern poverty was a longer lasting consequence of the Civil War than was racial segregation. In 1960 eight of the ten states with the lowest per capita income were former Confederate states. Although commonly associated with blacks, as late as 1940 two-thirds of the South’s tenant farmers were white. Moreover, black and white sharecroppers earned “almost identical” incomes averaging seventeen cents per day.

Various discriminatory federal policies, such as high tariffs, contributed to the South’s protracted poverty. Although imposts on dutiable items were under 20% prior to the Civil War they averaged 45% for forty-five years after the war. They dropped briefly during Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s two presidential terms but jumped upward after Republicans regained power in the 1920s. America did not become a true free-trade advocate until after the end of World War II when the industrial economies of Europe and Asia were wrecked and could not compete with the factories north of the Ohio and Potomac rivers.

Such tariffs injured black and white Southerners in three ways. First, they increased the price of manufactured goods, including farm implements. Second, by restricting American imports they made it difficult for European countries to earn the exchange credits needed to buy Southern cotton and other raw material exports. That motivated overseas commodity buyers to seek raw materials from other countries. Third, they fostered the growth of domestic monopolies in the manufacturing sector. Despite the higher shipping costs, for example, American steel producers sold some finished goods cheaper in Europe than they did domestically—a signature characteristic of monopolies.

Second, contrary to popular belief, post-war Republicans generally opposed civil rights for racial minorities. What rights initiatives they did adopt were selfishly selective. They focused on ex-slaves because blacks composed the solitary racial minority large enough—and sufficiently Republican-loyal—to assure the infant GOP’s long-term control of the federal government. Since the Party was only a decade old at the time, its leaders worried that it would be strangled in its cradle unless the Southern states could only be readmitted to the Union as Republican-controlled puppet regimes.

Some blacks, such as Booker T. Washington, were not fooled:

In many cases it seemed to me that the ignorance of my race was being used as a tool with which to help white [Carpetbag and Scalawag] men into office, and that there was an element in the North which wanted to punish the Southern white men by forcing the Negro into positions over the heads of the Southern whites.

In contrast, Republicans generally denied citizenship to other racial minorities such as Chinese-Americans and Native-Americans. The 1870 Naturalization Act, for example, excluded Chinese and other “non-whites” although it specifically included “persons of African descent.” The Republican-controlled federal government waged war on Native-Americans and cheated them out of their lands. Even today the U. S. Treasury stands ready to disburse about $1 billion to the Sioux alone for Black Hills claims—an award the tribes are refusing as too little. Moreover, most of the money many historians assume Republicans used to supervise Southern elections for the benefit of blacks was really used to police elections in Northern cities where immigrants tended to vote for Democrats. Finally, America’s largest lynching happened in 1873 in Los Angeles, not the South, where all nineteen victims were Chinese-Americans.

Third, within a dozen years after the Civil War Republicans no longer needed the black vote to retain control of the federal government for two reasons. First, population gains put more electoral college votes in the North. Second, all five new states added to the Union between 1861 and 1876 had predominantly Republican electorates and initially had two Republican senators each. Moreover, the next seven states to join between 1876 and 1896 were Republican as well and also initially each provided two new Republican senators. Consequently, Northern Republicans largely abandoned blacks after the 1876 presidential elections, only about a dozen years after the end of the Civil War.

   *    *    *

My Southern Reconstruction book provides more information.

Christmas Special

(November 19, 2018) Buyers of my books listed below during this Christmas season will get a 10% discount, free shipping and a signed copy (if requested) by alerting me in the comments section of this blog or emailing me — phil_leigh(at)me.com.

All books are otherwise available at stores like Amazon.com.

Southern Reconstruction ($29.95) analyzes Reconstruction by putting it in the context of overall American history, such as the Gilded Age at the North, and includes multiracial aspects of the story as opposed to a single race-centric narrative.

The Confederacy at Flood Tide ($28.00) tells the story of the Civil War from June to December 1862 when the South came closest to winning independence.

Lee’s Lost Dispatch and Other Civil War Controversies ($18.95) analyzes twelve pivotal incidents that determined the outcome of the War.

Trading With the Enemy ($26.00) is a history of inter-belligerent commerce between the North and South during the Civil War when the Yankees secretly bought  twice as much cotton from the South as the Confederacy sold to Europe.

Co. AytchAnnotated and Illustrated ($14.95) is a version of Confederate Private Sam Watkins’s Civil War memoir that includes my 250 annotations to clarify his story and correct errors.

The Devil’s Town ($17.95) is the story of Hot Springs, Arkansas during the Gangster Era from 1927 to 1967.

Please order by December 14, 2018 to get delivery by Christmas. Inventories of some titles are low. They will be shipped on a first-come, first-served basis until out of stock.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Confederate Symbols Correlate to American Patriotism

(November 16, 2018) If a tendency to voluntarily join America’s military indicates loyalty to the United States, then Southerners may be stronger patriots than Northerners despite the South’s fondness for Confederate symbols. The table below shows that today’s residents of the eleven states of the former Confederacy are more likely to serve their country militarily than are residents of the twenty Northern and Western states that fought against the South during the Civil War.

Only Louisiana among the former Confederate states currently contributes fewer soldiers than its proportional share of America’s population. The rest provide between 105% to 144%. An arithmetic average of the eleven states indicates the entire region supplies about 120% of its population parity.

In contrast, the twenty Northern and Western “slave free” states that fought for the Union during the Civil War currently provide only about 85% of their population-based share. Thus, in proportion to regional population the South is supplying 41% more soldiers than the former “free” states.*

Of the twenty “free” states only Nevada and Ohio exceed 100%, although New Hampshire, Maine and Kansas are at parity. The remaining fifteen don’t contribute their fair share. New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, Minnesota and Wisconsin are the weakest suppliers with a below-parity arithmetic average of 67%.

While critics of Confederate symbols often disparage them as traitorous icons, it appears that the region that most reveres such emblems is making the greater per capita effort to defend our reunified nation. That ought to justify more  tolerance for Southern heritage.

*  [100*(120/85) – 100]

Source: Elizabeth Chang, “Where do Military Recruits Come From?” The Washington Post, July 17, 2017