While I’ve been calling this—Revisionist History Book Club—please note that many of these books, texts, speeches, and pamphlets—are the original textbooks used for education. These are the ones that actually called for the revisions to be made, or still do. Whether that be from misinformation, omission of truth, suppression of voices, or flat-out denials of equal opportunities of rights and education. There was an aimed purpose in not telling the entire truth after the Reconstruction period—setting the standard for shaping the minds of future generations, while also “vindicating” the Old South’s glory.
Historian-General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, Mildred Lewis Rutherford, set forth the guidelines for their “Lost Cause” crusade at the United Confederate Veterans reunion in Atlanta, Georgia in October of 1919. There had been some stumbling blocks on getting the exact messages across in the new Jim Crow South and it was time to reel it in (they didn’t have a big hit with their pro-KKK primer in schools, except for Mississippi). During this reunion a committee of five former Confederate Generals would approve Miss Rutherford’s proposal—then the Sons of Confederate Veterans appointed a committee of five to oversee the implementation of this program, as was advised for every SoCV and DOC chapter to do the same across the South. The mission was to use this pamphlet as a “measuring rod” for what they outlined as the “truth” throughout schools and universities in the South and beyond.
If I didn’t personally recognize that they at least somewhat succeeded in this mission, then I would not be doing this. In my opinion they were incredibly successful. I’m using this blog to document my research on some of this along the way. I am not a scholar on the subject (yet), and I always welcome feedback. I’ve been trying to put myself far into the perspective of Southerns of the time and I honestly have some sympathies for what occurred immediately following the war. But, these economic hardships are used to excuse the horrible reality of the entire foundation of the culture of the South. White Supremacy. The violence that occurred to reestablish this culture, and which was used to uphold it thereafter, cannot be swept under the rug. I’ve talked in previous writings about the murders, savagery, and terrorism carried out by the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. This paved the way for the South to rule through mob and lynch law—one that no longer need the hoods. A Tuskegee Institute study reported that at least 3,438 Blacks were lynched between the years of 1882-1951. Truthfully, the number is probably higher. During this period of lynch law, it became a priority for the South to tell the “truth” of the their role in the Civil War and on slavery, as well as to restrict the education of the Black population. That is where the UDC comes in.
Miss Rutherford’s Measuring Rod sets a very strict set of rules to follow when it comes to talks about the South. I think if anyone who grew up down here is honest with themselves they can see that these teaching parameters were clearly met in some way or another. These restrictions made their way into textbooks across the country as well. I’m working my way through some of them now and will write my “reviews” when I’m done. For the record, that includes some slanted Northern textbooks too. While the DOC and SoCV wanted to instill their heritage and values to White Southern youth—part of the reality is that these books were handed off to underfunded Black schools, where they were exposed to a Lost Cause narrative that depicts them as inferior. They stripped away the civil rights and culture of African Americans across the South by controlling what went into these books—excluding the voices of freed slaves and Black scholars.
Below I’m going to breakdown her guidelines. There is a link to the original text in the references below, as well as the links to speeches from her recommended Southern authors that I’m going to cite. I couldn’t help but to take some shots, just know everything in bold and italicized is verbatim.
The Do’s and Do Not’s for rejecting textbooks
DO NOT REJECT BOOKS THAT:
- …do not contain all that the South claims. Not all books are encyclopedias. There ain’t enough trees in all the Talladega National Forrest to print that set of encyclopedias.
- …does not mention your father, grandfather, your personal friends—it would take volumes to contain all of the South’s great men and their deeds. Seriously, this is the requirement. There is only so much heroification to go around.
- …may disagree with your estimate of the South’s great men. C’mon y’all, save the tall tales for the fishin’ trip.
DO REJECT BOOKS THAT:
- …speaks of the Constitution being anything other than a compact between Sovereign States. They really hit this one home a lot. My thought on this is that it helps retain the narrative that the South were the real stewards of the principles laid out in the Constitution. By suppressing opposing points of view, of course.
- … fail to give principles which the South fought for in 1861, and does not clearly outline the interference of rights provided by the Constitution that caused the South to secession. Goes into the above and continues to hammer it home that their Constitutional rights were violated. If you read into the succession articles you’ll see much of this has to do with property rights—you know what kind of property.
- … calls a Confederate a traitor, a rebel and the war a rebellion. They really fought for this one hard. I’ve talked before about the paradox of being Patriotic Confederates in the 20th and 21st century—this is where that really starts to form.
- … say the South fought to hold her slaves. I can’t with this one. There is a lot put into the sentiment of the testimonies of poor farmers of the time, but it excludes the literal words of the planter class that succeeded from the Union. There will be more on that below, but there is absolutely no way to deny this as a reason.
- … speak of the slaveholder as cruel or unjust to his slaves. Excludes the words of the freed slaves themselves—while giving insulting and almost comical, and fictional accounts of “happy” slaves. The documented truths of slavery are appalling and these early stories of “mammy” and “ole uncle wash” are similar to the minstrel shows of the day that helped create terrible and lasting stereotypes.
- … glorify Abraham Lincoln and vilify Jefferson Davis, unless a truthful cause can be found before 1865. I like that they left this one open-ended. Otherwise, I understand why this was here—some of the textbooks coming out of the North were certainly slanted this way.
- … when a book fails to tell of the South’s heroes and their deeds when the North’s heroes and their deeds are made prominent. Tit for tat I suppose.
Their “Truths of History”
- The Constitution of the United States (1787), was a compact between sovereign states and NOT perpetual or national. The Southern politicians and aristocrats were great speakers and made plenty of solid Constitutional arguments in their favor. But, they like to dance around the humanity of the issues at hand. It’s hard to accept that slavery is an issue when you view a slave exclusively as property. I’m serious, when you read the Confederate politicians arguments in the decades leading up to the war—keep a mind set that they are arguing about their Constitutional property rights. Some, with little to no thought on the humanity of their slaves. It will shift over time—making the argument that it’s in their best interest, etc… you know the drill.
- Secession was not rebellion. This one goes into their same constitutional arguments and will continually blame Northern aggressors. Many abolitionists of the time were no doubt agitators, they were trying to end slavery—an institution which the South made clear they had no intention of ending. Plenty of the Southern response speeches and writings to abolitionism are essentially the modern-day equivalent of “I wish a mutha would.” I’m serious, there was a lot of well-worded goading going on. This war was inevitable.
- The North was responsible for the war between the states. Same as above really. She blames Lincoln and abolitionists solely for the war. Failing to have even an inch of introspection.
- The war between the states was NOT fought to hold the slaves. It just was. The refusal to stop the institution of slavery lead to this entire conflict and they said it themselves. But, she starts whataboutisms; offering up Lincoln’s inaugural address where he states he won’t interfere with slavery, that Grant owned slaves and Lee freed his, that Northern troops had slaves too. This still doesn’t address the issue of the South’s actual stance on the institution of slavery—something they avoid addressing at all costs after reconstruction. And Lincoln reversed course, like it or not, that’s what happened and is well documented. The politics of this time are insane, no doubt. However, the lasting legacy of the war was white supremacy and failure to be honest about the past is the issue we still deal with.
- Slaves were not ill-treated in the South. The North was largely responsible for their presence in the South. I talked about this one a little already and detailed it plenty in my last review of the DOC’s pro-KKK primer. If you still think this was the majority of the cases, then you need to read some more on the subject. There were plenty of escaped slaves who went on to write about it. Start with Fredrick Douglass, but there are plenty more.
- Coercion was not Constitutional. See 1,2 and 3. Again, some of those dudes were pretty good at giving the old “I do declare sir” speeches in congress.
- The Federal government is responsible for the Andersonville Horrors. She places blame on Grant for not exchanging prisoners. Gives no details of the atrocities and firsthand accounts of survivors. Fails to mention Wirz at all, who they memorialized. There’s a lot to get into on this one, but all accounts show Wirz and the South having plenty of blame. There was enough to go around. Still looking for that introspection.
- The Republican Party that elected Abraham Lincoln was not friendly to the South. Uses the extreme examples of this. There is plenty of Northern hostility to go around, as were there Southern agitators. At some point maybe someone will carve, “The South was never going to give up slavery,” into the other side of Stone Mountain.
- The South desired peace and made every effort to obtain it. Goes into what I was saying above. The South just put it off as long as they possibly could.
- The policy of the Northern Army was to destroy property—that of the Southern Army to protect it. There’s some truth to be had here. Grant’s field orders to Sherman and others were pretty clear on what to destroy across the South. Sherman went a little far, but that seems to be an opinion that is born into everyone from Atlanta. Pro-Confederate or not. But, they over dramatize the kindness and chivalry of Southern Generals and leave out some of the most notorious instances of brutality in the war—like that of General Forrest at Fort Pillow.
- The South has never had her rightful place in literature. Claims favoritism of founding fathers, calls for boasting of orators like; Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, John Forsyth, Benjamin H. Hill, Robert Y. Hayne, William H Yancey, Howell Cobb, Alexander Stephens, Robert Toombs. Gives excerpts from an article in “The Outlook” from Hamilton Mabie in 1899. When I got to the end of this and saw her list of great orators to hold up—my face lit up as soon as I saw that list. If you’ve been reading my previous writings you may see that I’ve been trying to show the connections of white supremacy to the Confederacy. And she gave a great list to prove that point…
Let’s start with maybe the most outspoken defender of Southern slavery of all-time, John C. Calhoun. Calhoun served as Vice President to John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, as well as serving in the House and Senate for South Carolina. I’m going to select one of his remarks from his Senate speech in 1836. To sum up Calhoun; he is where the terms “necessary evil” and “positive good” stem from when it comes to talking about slavery.
” The difficulty is in the diversity of the races. So strongly drawn is the line between the two, in consequence of it, and so strengthened by the force of habit and education, that it is impossible for them to exists together in the same community, where their numbers are so nearly equal as in the slaveholding States, under any other relation than which now exists. Social and political equality between them is impossible. No power on earth can overcome the difficulty. The causes resisting lie too deep in the principles of our nature to be surmounted.”Senator John C. Calhoun, February 4th, 1836
Next up is Howell Cobb, A five-term Congressman and former Governor of the State of Georgia. Best known as a founder of the Confederacy, serving as The President of The Provisional Congress of the Confederate States. In 1856 he wrote what may be considered the compendium of slavery from the slaveholding states point of view: A Scriptural Examination of the Institution of Slavery in the United States; With Its Objects and Purposes. This is a lot to take in. He pretty much uses Christianity to excuse slavery, claiming that Africans should have to pay that price, like the Hebrews before them. He does document the history of slavery quite well, specifically the tribal slavery within Africa. That wasn’t exactly relevant to the matter of abolition, but the colorful detail of it all makes for what I would call excellent whataboutisms today. He really leans into the biblical examples for justification. Overall, this is a very well worded and detailed history of slavery. Again, from the point of view of a slaveowner. I can’t help but feel like this is a response to the 1839 compendium American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, published by the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). The most he speaks on that is some colorful rebuke of abolitionists beliefs—never taking in any accounts of freed slaves of course. His entire report is below, but I can save you the time with this summary: The Bible says that it is the Europeans destiny to enslave Africans for their own advancement. Classic God-complex interpretations.
Benjamin H. Hill was a Georgia Congressman and Senator, the later being for both the United and Confederate States. While he was originally opposed to succession, he did have some pretty strong thoughts about White supremacy. He gave a speech in La Grange, Georgia in March of 1865, not long after the Battle of Atlanta. The context of this speech is mostly all about the recently freed slaves and the potential of Sherman setting up lands for these now freemen to have. He is making a rallying cry to the people for unification against this changing landscape. As is nearly always the case, it boils down to that underlying theme of the Confederacy that keeps getting swept under the rug…
“The negro, of himself, can never make, administer or execute laws for the white man. His intellect is not equal to the task of either supremacy or equality. His taste, his habits, his nature can never, by any innate charm or power, rise to social equality with the white race. And I repeat, these ends will not be reached as results naturally arising from his state of freedom.”Benjamin H. Hill
I couldn’t find the the exact article she refereed to from Hamilton Mabie, but I did review one of his history books from the period. He is one of the more unbiased writers for the time—managing not to offer up too many opinions regarding slavery. Being from New York I can see why she chose him at the time, at least that’s my opinion. One thing he said did jump out to me though; “the negro knows his destiny is in his own hands. He finds that his salvation is not through politics, but through industrial methods.” This was after his gloss over of Reconstruction and the stripping of voting and political rights from Blacks. He joins in the Booker T. Washington school of thought of, “education and entrepreneurship,” instead of seeking voting and equal rights by going against the segregation laws of the Jim Crow South. This isn’t me speaking ill of Washington, just pointing out where pretty much all the White scholars of the time would stick with that narrative and sweep the others under the rug.
And I saved the best example for last. Alexander H. Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederate States and would later serve as a congressman and the 50th Governor of the State of Georgia. On March 21, 1861 he delivered his famous cornerstone speech in Savannah, Georgia to thunderous applause. In the excerpt below he is referring to Thomas Jefferson’s forecast of slavery being a finite institution—hence the “opposite ideas” mentioned in his speech. The entire speech is in the references below, but it only makes the point worse…
“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; it’s foundation are laid, it’s cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.”
While these men were certainly great orators of their times, all of them uphold slavery as the foundational institution of the South. And why wouldn’t they? Free labor is the cornerstone of the economy that the elite class in this country was built off of—the whole world for that matter. The problem is that the South was unwilling to change this economic structure. Bottom line. Slaves were property and they use the Constitution of this country to uphold their rights to it. Sometimes brilliantly so. I enjoyed reading some of these Constitutional arguments, these were educated men for their time that speak brilliantly at times on Constitutional matters, but they do gymnastics to avoid the main issue. That slavery was immoral and should be abolished. That was not an option for the planter class. Period. Jefferson, for all his hypocrisy on the issue (and there is plenty), understood that slavery was an institution that could not withstand the future. The scholars of the South seemingly used that forecast to fortify Constitutional defenses against the inevitable increase in abolition debates forthcoming. The postwar South fought hard—literally killing at times— to make their narrative the standard of the South. Sweep the uncomfortable truths under the run for another day, and make sure we keep “them” in their place.
“I have seen a land right merry with the sun, where children sing, and rolling hills lie like passioned women wanton with harvest. And there in the King’s Highway sat and sits a figure veiled and bowed, by which the traveller’s footsteps hasten as they go. On the tainted air broods fear. Three centuries’ thought has been the raising and unveiling of that bowed human heart, and now behold a century new for the duty and the deed. The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”W. E. B. Du Bois, Of The Dawn Of Freedom
Segregation, exclusion, and the continuation of White supremacy made it the problem of the Twenty-First Century too. I’ll be here pulling up these rugs as long as I can. And it’s not to cancel or shame anyone, I’ve admitted my own racism plenty and will do so more in the future. To me this is about telling the full-truths of history and accepting them as the standard. Then we can move forward. No one is going to forget the past—the unfortunate part is so much of it was already forgotten and intentionally untold.
Love all y’all!
James C. Marshall, July 22nd, 2020