A Civil War Historian’s Talking Points

Aussie Billy Sherman

First Sergeant
Joined
Aug 29, 2015
I disagree.
1. The slave owning portion of the United States had political control of the country for almost all of the period between the Revolution and the Civil War. There was no threat of secession until they lost that control.
2. There was only a very brief period when slavery was both profitable enough, and relatively large enough to be worth fighting for and to have a reasonable expectation of success. Prior to 1840, the slave state economy was not worth fighting for. By 1870 the paid labor states would have been so much stronger than the coerced labor states that the conflict would have looked silly.
3. There was neither electronic mass media nor computer communication at that time. Ordinary people did not have much say in the matter once the election had taken place.
4. Abraham Lincoln won the 1860 Presidential election.
Definitely agree on 1. Most of the presidents in that time were southerners and many slave holders.
 

jgoodguy

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History by the devilish and capricious nature of the human mind--oh yeah, and the arrogance of that mind. Let's all just pretend we can regress our selves into back to the future.
I personally hold that history is the story of man taking another man's spouse, life, labor, children, money, farm, animals, pretty things and his future for personal gain.
 

jgoodguy

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A cautionary note on interpreting history with modern sensibilities and morals, is to realized that that is exactly what the Lost Cause did and in doing so, set our understanding of the Civil War back by a century.
 

Joshism

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Apr 30, 2012
Location
Jupiter, FL
NO ONE can "understand", really "understand" what people back then thought.
how does a modern man even begin to "relate" to a codification of rights of slaves? It is beyond our power to comprehend

Nobody is expecting us to grok 1860 racial views. Simply remember that most people back then thought differently. We don't need to be able to empathize, much less agree, with people who thought blacks were inferior chattel. However, we do need to remember and accept that many people did think that way and that such views were considered mainstream and normal rather than on the fringe. If one can't accept this and move on then one cannot effectively study the history.
 
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A cautionary note on interpreting history with modern sensibilities and morals, is to realized that that is exactly what the Lost Cause did and in doing so, set our understanding of the Civil War back by a century.

Ccould you elaborate that a little more? Because I´m not sure if I get the right meaning out of this.
 

O' Be Joyful

Sergeant Major
Serious question here. Did historians of the past, specifically those of this time period which we study; or those which they themselves studied, try to "understand the times"' in which those they wrote about lived when making their judgements about the lessons to be learned from the past?

As I recall the most widely read histories of the antebellum were rather strict in their judgements of the past. One example: Hannibal was not seen as a defender of Carthage against ongoing threats to its way of life, but some do today( Danged revisionists,whats wrong with that old history I was taught as a kid!). He was judged a Barbarian who was was an ongoing threat to the Glory which was Rome and the advanced civilization it stood for. If there was any attempt to "understand the times" it was certainly weighted towards Rome, first a slave republic and then slave empire.

I am not of course arguing against the study of history while keeping in mind the times in which those subjects of its study lived, any honest study would require it. But, an honest analysis in my mind leads to evaluation and thus a de facto judgement. The most impassioned pleas for understanding the times of those that lived it or proclaim that we could never possibly get into their minds seem to me to be almost always in defense of secession/treason or slavery. Rarely do we see those same voices call out for the same sort of understanding for example towards the abolitionists. They are readily adjudged as crazy or troublemakers, if it hadn't been for them a 1/2 million plus would have lived,etc.

What I am getting to in my roundabout way is, if Jeff Davis and Alec Stephens could never be expected to have anyway to "truly know the minds" of the founders but placed their judgement upon them as wrong in the eyes of their subsequent history, did they have any business do so? And if it was fine for them then why is it not also fine & correct for us to do so as well?
 

jgoodguy

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Serious question here. Did historians of the past, specifically those of this time period which we study; or those which they themselves studied, try to "understand the times"' in which those they wrote about lived when making their judgements about the lessons to be learned from the past?

As I recall the most widely read histories of the antebellum were rather strict in their judgements of the past. One example: Hannibal was not seen as a defender of Carthage against ongoing threats to its way of life, but some do today( Danged revisionists,whats wrong with that old history I was taught as a kid!). He was judged a Barbarian who was was an ongoing threat to the Glory which was Rome and the advanced civilization it stood for. If there was any attempt to "understand the times" it was certainly weighted towards Rome, first a slave republic and then slave empire.

I am not of course arguing against the study of history while keeping in mind the times in which those subjects of its study lived, any honest study would require it. But, an honest analysis in my mind leads to evaluation and thus a de facto judgement. The most impassioned pleas for understanding the times of those that lived it or proclaim that we could never possibly get into their minds seem to me to be almost always in defense of secession/treason or slavery. Rarely do we see those same voices call out for the same sort of understanding for example towards the abolitionists. They are readily adjudged as crazy or troublemakers, if it hadn't been for them a 1/2 million plus would have lived,etc.

What I am getting to in my roundabout way is, if Jeff Davis and Alec Stephens could never be expected to have anyway to "truly know the minds" of the founders but placed their judgement upon them as wrong in the eyes of their subsequent history, did they have any business do so? And if it was fine for them then why is it not also fine & correct for us to do so as well?
2 wrongs don't make it right.
Also their particular interpretation led them into a disastrous war.
 

wausaubob

Lt. Colonel
Joined
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Location
Denver, CO
What type of rhetoric requests that you suspend your moral capacity? In my view it is someone who is going to persuade you to accept something dreadful. These talking points are intended to prepare your mind to accept something awful.
 

O' Be Joyful

Sergeant Major
2 wrongs don't make it right.
Also their particular interpretation led them into a disastrous war.

Of course jg and I agree. You are not part of the audience that I was aiming at. I'm curious if those that zealously argue the "you have to understand" the times and thus, in my mind, conditionally let em off the hook are only wedded to the War and its "peculiar" issues or can they logically apply it elsewhere.
 

jgoodguy

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Of course jg and I agree. You are not part of the audience that I was aiming at. I'm curious if those that zealously argue the "you have to understand" the times and thus, in my mind, conditionally let em off the hook are only wedded to the War and its "peculiar" issues or can they logically apply it elsewhere.
A difficult question.

In the case of Davis et.al. IMHO their historical interpretation was more accurate than Lincoln's in most ways. Their failure was not to realize the world and nation had changed.

My example would be the Lost Cause where putting lipstick on the pig led to a century of oppression for blacks.

I have a problem with your assumption of "conditionally let em off the hook" I can say Slavery is bad bad bad and evil evil evil until someones eyes glaze over with little effect, but teach them unemotionally and without moral reference the economics of slavery and I can just about guarantee you, most reading will be in the rest room throwing up shortly afterward.
 

wausaubob

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I think a person should understand that the US federal status quo was worth defending for most people between Baltimore and Boston. Business was recovering and the US had minimal foreign enemies.
For people in the Midwest, there was a very understandable issue regarding competition for control of the west. Most wars had been about control of land and the US Civil War was like that, but the common people had some hope to participate in western development.
 

wausaubob

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A difficult question.

In the case of Davis et.al. IMHO their historical interpretation was more accurate than Lincoln's in most ways. Their failure was not to realize the world and nation had changed.

My example would be the Lost Cause where putting lipstick on the pig led to a century of oppression for blacks.

I have a problem with your assumption of "conditionally let em off the hook" I can say Slavery is bad bad bad and evil evil evil until someones eyes glaze over with little effect, but teach them unemotionally and without moral reference the economics of slavery and I can just about guarantee you, most reading will be in the rest room throwing up shortly afterward.
Aside from judging their morality, the secessionists were very poor judges of military contingencies, and were wantonly ignorant of the demographic and economic power of the northern states.
 

byron ed

2nd Lieutenant
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Mar 22, 2017
Location
Midwest
...3. Just as we cannot impose 21st century values back into the 19th century...

Of your long list, this is the only statement I would contest. This is a common "truism" -- something which sounds eminently correct but is not.

imho if we accept the truism "that we can't impose 21st century values back into the 19th century" it is to allow both Confederate and Unionist apology, in other words it allows an obfuscation of history.

So after all, we certainly can, and should, impose our values when we are called to do so, as inherently moral human beings. The truism fails because it hinges on the adjectives "21st century" and "19th century," by which we are expected to suppose that inherent morality has changed over that time, that our quaint Antebellum/CW ancestors were locked into their quaint moral universe.

It's bunk. Our Antebellum/CW ancestors were every bit as morally sophisticated as we are today. They understood right and wrong in the very same way we inherently do today. They acted or failed to act on their inherent morality the same way that we do today. They were not a less advanced form of human than we -- this is not a case of evolution of the species. All this is abundantly clear in the published writings of the great moralists of that period and in some of the extensively perceptive correspondence of the common folk of that period that we cite so often here in this forum.

Also imho, to accept the truism is a disrespect to our ancestors. It supposes that back then they, like children, "couldn't help" but to accede to some prevailing moral center.
 
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wausaubob

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Denver, CO
The 17th century conditions in which slavery had been spread in the colonies no longer existed by 1860. The blacks were no longer demoralized involuntary immigrants, traumatized by voyage to the US.
They were instead well along in becoming full Americanized. The cash poor position of the early colonialists no longer existed. Moving to wage or tenancy system might have slowed the expansion of cotton production, but the the ability to supply the necessary credit to the south existed after the gold rush.
Moreover, the cost and danger of European immigration had fallen rapidly. The millions of people who had crossed the Atlantic and moved the US were real. It was not an obsession or a delusion, and southerners who had traveled in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states knew or should have known that steam engine technology was moving away from experimental to developed, in every phase of productive activity.
 
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