Today’s post is written by H. V. (Bo) Traywick who is the author of four books, including three on the Civil War. More information is available at his website. Readers with questions should email Bo directly: hvtraywickjr (at) outlook.com. Although I welcome Bo’s commentary, the views in the his article below are not necessarily my own. (Those other readers wishing to submit articles are directed to the “Submission Guidelines” tab on this website’s home page.) — Phil Leigh
The Myth of American History
By H. V. Traywick, Jr.
“History is the propaganda of the victorious” – Voltaire
“He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…” – Jesus
“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor” – God
(May 11, 2017) Is the past that is reconstructed by historians a revival or a “new show”?
Paul A. Cohen asks this question in his book History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Event, Experience, and Myth (New York: Columbia UP, 1997). He answers that the history created by historians is fundamentally different from the history made by the people of the times. The 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 means of 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 “Court Historians” with government-accredited PhDs groomed to tell it – and, when necessary, to shout down, deride, or debunk with voluminous obfuscation anyone who disagrees with it.
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 according to the January 1862 issue of the New York Journal of Commerce, 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 bartering for a cargo of slaves 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 insisted on the federative nature of that Constitution that was the charter of the Union of Sovereign States that each had acceded to with ratification in 1788.
The attempted peaceful secession of the seven “Cotton States” at the election of Lincoln, the presidential candidate of the first strictly sectional party in US history, 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, its largest source of exports for its shipping, 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 into bankruptcy and social anarchy, so – at the behest of the Northern industrialists, railroad magnates, financiers and crony capitalists who had gotten 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. As many as 38,000 citizens in the North who disagreed with Lincoln’s policies got locked up without trial after he suspended the writ of habeas corpus in 1862. So much for the lofty sentiments of his Gettysburg Address.
The corrupt Reconstruction imposed upon the South after the war by “the Party of Lincoln” then effectively destroyed the federative nature of the Constitution, created an empire, concentrated its 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 the economic subjugation and impoverishment of both Blacks and Whites in the South until World War II.
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 provoked the South into firing the first shot and then called for troops with just that intention, Virginia indicted him 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 to 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,” Politically Correct textbooks, Hollywood sensationalism, race-hustling politicians, and ham-fisted morality plays, while Southerners must be placed upon stools of everlasting repentance, and every trace of the truth of the Confederacy must be cast down the Orwellian “memory hole.”
But the Truth cannot be killed. You may bury it alive, but it will not die.