Speech at Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable

On Wednesday the 14th of June I will be speaking to the Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable about my new book, Southern Reconstruction and the details are provided below.

 

Audience: Palm Beach Civil War Roundtable
Topic:         Southern Reconstruction
Time:          7:00 PM
Date:           Wednesday: June 14, 2017
Location:   Scottish Rite Masonic Center
                     2000 N. “D” Street
                     Lake Worth, Florida 33460
Contact:     Gerridine LaRovere (561-967-8911)

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Southern Reconstruction Book Now Published

(June 10, 2017) My new book on Southern Reconstruction is now available at bookstores across the country. You may click here, or at the cover image below, to buy it online. If you would like a signed copy please email me and I will send you instructions.

Provided below is a speech I made about the book.

Historians reinterpreted Civil War Reconstruction over the past fifty years. Shortly before the Centennial it was commonly believed that the chief aim of the Republican-dominated Congress was to ensure lasting party control over the federal government by creating a reliable voting bloc in the South for which improved racial status among blacks was a coupled, but secondary, objective. By the Sesquicentennial, however, it had become the accepted view that Republicans were primarily motivated by an enlightened drive for racial equality untainted by anything more than negligible self-interest. Consequently the presently dominant race-centric focus on Reconstruction minimizes political and economic factors that affected all Southerners regardless of race.[1]

Contrary to popular belief, for example, Southern poverty has been a longer-lasting Civil War legacy than has Jim Crow or segregation. Prior to the war the South had a bimodal wealth distribution with concentrations at the poles. The classic planters with fifty or more slaves had prosperous estates but they represented less than 1% of Southern families. Partly because 1860 slave property values represented 48% of Southern wealth, seven of the ten states with the highest per capita wealth soon joined the Confederacy.[2]

Since nearly 70% of Confederate families did not own slaves, however, the regional per capita income was only slightly ahead of the north central states and well behind the average northeastern state. A century later eight of the bottom ten states in per capita income were former members of the Confederacy. The depth of post Civil War Southern poverty and its duration were far greater, longer, and more multiracial than is commonly supposed. It took eighty-five years for the South’s per capita income to regain the below average percentile ranking it held in 1860.[3]

The war had destroyed two-thirds of Southern railroads and two-thirds of the region’s livestock was gone. Steamboats had nearly disappeared from the rivers. Excluding the total loss in the value of slaves resulting from emancipation, assessed property values in 1870 were less than half of those of 1860, while property taxes were four times higher. Approximately 300,000 white Southern males in the prime of adulthood died during the war and perhaps another 200,000 were incapacitated, representing about 18% of the region’s approximate 2.7 million white males of all ages in 1860 and about 36% of those over age nineteen.[4]

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Best of the Blogs (6-9-2017)

(June 9, 2017) Although the intent of the post from Civil War Voices is to justify the sacking of a Mississippi town, the article documents that some Union soldiers in the lower Mississippi River Valley admitted that they felt justified in shooting female civilians who were interfering the lucrative wartime cotton trade.

Below from the same blog is a video of aged Confederate veterans performing the Rebel Yell.

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Century-Old Intolerance

(June 7, 2017) While re-reading Fredrick Lewis Allen’s 1931 Only Yesterday I am struck by the similarities between then and now of an intolerance for minority viewpoints. The chief difference is that a hundred years ago one side could shut down debate merely by characterizing an opponent—no matter how erroneously—as a Bolshevist whereas today a variety of labels such as racist and Neo-Confederate serve the same purpose.

In April1919 sixteen brown-paper wrapped packages were sent through a New York Post Office to leading politicians and capitalists. After a similar package had exploded in the hands of a servant for a Georgia senator, the New York packages were examined and discovered to also contain bombs. Thus began what Allen called, The Great Red Scare.

Alarmists concluded that America was on the brink of a Communist revolution in September 1919 when the Boston police force went on strike. When other unions discussed striking in sympathy with the police, Bostonians worried that “the dreaded revolution was beginning here and now.” Labor leader Samuel Gompers tried to intervene by wiring Massachusetts’s governor Calvin Coolidge to urge that no police lose their jobs over the strike. After Coolidge wired back that there was “no right to strike against the public safety by anybody, anywhere, anytime” he became an overnight national hero.

When workers in the steel industry decided to strike that same year Allen writes:

The public was jumpy and would condemn any cause on which the Bolshevist could be pinned. The steel magnates found little difficulty in pinning a Bolshevist label on the strikers.

The great steel strike had been in progress only a few weeks when a great coal strike impended. In this case nobody needed to point out to the public the Red specter lurking behind the striking miners…The government must act.

And Attorney General Mitchell Palmer did act. He began by “rounding up alien membership of the Communist party for wholesale deportation.” Over six thousand men were promptly arrested on the thinnest evidence. Palmer reminded “the twenty million owners of Liberty bonds and the nine million farm-owners and the eleven million owners of savings accounts that the Reds proposed to take away all they had.” Allen continues:

College graduates were calling for the dismissal of professors suspected of radicalism; school-teachers were being made to sign oaths of allegiance; businessmen with unorthodox political or economic ideas were learning to hold their tongues if they wanted to hold their jobs.

Innumerable patriotic societies had spring up, each with its executive secretary and executive secretaries must live, and therefore must conjure up new and ever grater menaces. Innumerable other gentlemen now discovered that they could defeat whatever they wanted to defeat by tarring it conspicuously with the Bolshevist brush….A cloud of suspicion hung in the air and intolerance became an American virtue.

“America,” wrote…Harper’s Magazine in 1922, “is no longer a free country…No thinking citizen…can express in freedom more than a part of his honest convictions…[E]verywhere free speech is choked off. The only way in which an American citizen…can preserve any freedom of expression is to choose the mob that is most sympathetic to him, and abide under the shadow of that mob.”

Similarly, today Civil War discussion websites have become echo chambers in which participants “abide under the shadow of” the opinion of a majority that behaves like the “mob” described by Harper’s Magazine 95 years ago. The difference is that colleges and universities eventually became centers of free speech in the earlier era, whereas presently they are among the leaders of censorship. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the history of the American Civil War and Reconstruction where intolerance for a minority viewpoint is regarded as a virtue.

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Compounding Revisionism

(June 6, 2017) To those of us with some gray hair it seems like the trend that is culminating with the defacement and removal of Confederate memorials is a recent, if not abrupt, development. Fifty years ago, for example, there was a spirit of reconciliation regarding sectional heritage between the North and South that no longer exists. Presently, most historians insist that our Southern ancestors were the immoral ones who must bear the burden of “being on the wrong side of history.”

My purpose today is not to address the merits, or demerits, of such an interpretation but instead to demonstrate that it has been building for a long time and only seems to be a recent phenomenon.  It began with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, which drew the focus of such now-prominent historians as James McPherson and Eric Foner to the racial side of the story. Although the Academy is now obviously dominated by their acolytes, they did not seem to have such overwhelming influence until “Only Yesterday”… as Frederick Lewis Allen might have put it.  That, however, is characteristic of compound growth.

To illustrate, consider a pond that at the first of the month has Lilly pads on only 1% of its surface area. Swimmers hardly notice the weeds. If the pads grow at a 16% daily rate, after a week they still cover less than 3% of the pond and remain ignored by swimmers. On the 27th day they cover a little over half the pond and even the casual observer can see that a problem is developing. But the significant point is that the second half of the pond gets fully covered by Lilly pads in only the last 4 days of the month. The pad-free surface, like the minority opinion of the Civil War, gets suddenly, and completely, choked off. The chart below illustrates the pattern of compound growth.

The hostile attitude of the Academy toward Confederate heritage is only one sign of a compounding growth in intolerance for minority opinion on American campuses. Recently students  at Evergreen State College demanded that a biology professor be fired because he disagreed with their proposal to require that white students abandon the campus for a day. The politically progressive and racially enlightened professor was stunned to be thus targeted. He felt he should be immune because of his political beliefs.  Such are the consequences of unchecked compound growth. Once the Confederate monuments have been removed the intolerant will seek other fuel to keep their fire burning.

Nobody is immune to tyranny except the tyrants and any excuse will serve a tyrant when deciding to exercise her tyranny.

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Southern Senator Defends a Black During McCarthyism

In the two minute video clip below from 1954 Arkansas Senator John McClellan defends the rights of a black lady that was under interrogation by New Yorker Roy Cohn when Cohn was the legal counsel to Wisconsin Senator Joe McCarthy’s Investigative Subcommittee.

Although school segregation was regrettably legal in McClellan’s home state at the time and he would ignobly sign the Southern Manifesto to retain Jim Crow two years later, his conduct also shows that he believed blacks were entitled to some rights that Cohn and McCarthy evidently did not.

Historians that did not experience Southern segregation often fail to realize that even some segregationist Southern leaders could stand up for the rights of blacks when some influential Northern whites would not.

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