Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Myths: The Union, The War, and The Lost Cause

This is my second post prompted by the application of the Lost Cause myth to the Newt Knight/Free State of Jones legend recently claimed by some with a political agenda and represents my counter thoughts to those presented  in Victoria Bynam’s The Free State of Jones and Sally Jenkins and Paul Stauffers’ State of Jones. I address the issue in support of my conviction that we Southerners should be reading, writing, and teaching Southern history, not to mention making movies of our own

One who gives credence to Daniel Webster believes the Union predated the states. What, you might ask? Yes, well, that’s what our Southern ancestors thought, too, when they heard that foolishness. But Webster had to do something to debunk the validity of state rights, and that was less violent than what Lincoln did. [Don’t forget, however, that Webster wrote the Force Bill promulgating a federal military attack on South Carolina in 1833. I figure Webster would have approved of Lincoln.]

Now take Webster’s imaginative recast of history in tandem with William T. Sherman’s words in an 1864 missive to a subordinate in Huntsville, Alabama on dealing with Southern “treason” and intransigence against the United States government at whose pleasure the South even existed:

For my part, I believe that this war is the result of false political doctrine, for which we are all as a people responsible, viz: That any and every people has a right to self-government...In this belief, while I assert for our Government the highest military prerogatives, I am willing to bear in patience that political nonsense of...State Rights, freedom of conscience, freedom of press, and other such trash as have deluded the Southern people into war, anarchy, bloodshed, and the foulest crimes that have disgraced any time or any people.

Yeah, old war-is-hell Billy was a true patriot all right—a real supporter and defender of the Constitution. Then there was Charles Sumner’s stated belief “promulgated” during Congressional Reconstruction that the only rights the states had were those Congress blessed them with. Excuse me? Yes, it was Southern intransigence that provoked his revealing himself, but that arrogant, self-righteous traitor to the very concept of the republic was referring to all the states. Then there was Thaddeus Stevens (Pennsylvania), speaking, also during Reconstruction, to defeated Confederate general Richard Taylor (Louisiana), stating that the Constitution needed to be discarded; it was not a fit document to govern the nation. Well, the Radicals didn’t discard the Constitution, they desecrated it instead.

And we in the South didn’t know what we were fighting for against thugs such as those?

Just as a writer of historical fiction justifies her use of an anachronistic word using the yard-stick of a its having been in general usage for twenty years prior to its first appearance in the dictionary, the layman or woman should be forthright enough to consider the political opinions of such men had been floating around for some time before the South threw in the towel and said she’d had enough working with those undermining the basic tenants of our federal system (state sovereignty/limited federal supremacy). Extrapolating, anti-Southern encroachments harkened back to the 1830s—and that’s provable—all a forthright layperson has to do is pick up a history book. Alas, fewer and fewer indulge in such informed opinion now, but I would be willing to bet my Southern ancestors were very aware of this perfidious attitude spawned by self-aggrandizing economics, which required centralization to accomplish and maintain. This is the crop sown by Hamilton, tilled by Henry Clay, and fertilized with American blood by Lincoln’s Republicans. We’re reaping the results now. Next comes plowing under the fallow fields, a wasteland of lost liberty—eclipsing a Lost Cause.

Both Bynum’s work and the Jenkins-Stauffer book on the Newt Knight legend make much ado about the Jones County unionists, particularly Jesse Collins, who I would agree was a unionist—such as he thought a “unionist” was. It’s just my opinion, but what Jesse Collins wanted was the status quo that existed before the South seceded, which he didn’t have once Northern aggression forced an oft-resisted centralization of the Confederate government in its effort to survive invasion.  

Davis had problems with his governors, not just Piney Woods farmers, the latter being a more direct problem for the governors than they were to Richmond. Anyone who has studied the history of this period—or history period—knows this. People at war often balk at the demands of their beleaguered government. The people of the Confederacy sure weren’t the first, and before it was all over, their government was under extreme duress, so, therefore, were its citizens. As a people they remained loyal to their government, particularly when faced with the hated alternative. And rest assured that alternative was hated and rightly so. Those comprising the alternative had just proven how evil they really were and things weren't going to improve for a long, long time. Given the nature of how Southern history is taught these days (or rather not taught), the Bynums, the Jenkinses, the Stauffers, and the Gary Rosses now making up the bulk of mainstream historians/media are taking the opportunity to try and persuade a Southern populace, who they assume to be ignorant until enlightened by them, to piss on their ancestors’ graves. All assumption aside, why would anyone worthy of respect—or whose respect we would aspire to gain—do such a thing? The only people more reprehensible are Southerners who buy off on these pied pipers and actually do it. That’s not to say the acceptance of facts when confronted with incontrovertible evidence should be considered sacrilege. We did lose the war after all, and there are a number of valid reasons for it—but Southern treachery falls too far down the list to be relevant. These subversives, however, would have Southerners believe otherwise. Worse, they portray men, whose feet of clay have long been regarded by Southerners with contempt, as American patriots. Historical studies identifying mistakes and even suggesting blame, where possible, should not be considered disloyalty to the Southern Cause, but critical self-analysis and the study of lessons learned are a good light-year away from sleeping with the enemy. That’s what the mainstream today is demanding Southerners do in order to become true Americans. Count among today’s mainstream many of our own Southern leaders; that is, after all, what they are doing.

In my opinion, Jessie Collins couldn’t see the forest for the trees. On page 49 of their book, Jenkins and Stauffer inserted a ditty:

I’m de po’ folks’ lan’ with my miles of sand,
and my cottonwoods moan and groan,
An’ I’m gonna stay free from hills to the sea and
my forest are all my own.

The authors maintain the ballad supports the regional pride and independence of the poor whites in the region of Jones County and surrounds. I agree. Now tell me how in Hades anyone can deduce loyalty to Lincoln’s Union out of that? What we have today is the absolute last thing those folks would have wanted. If they were here, vice their great-greats...they’d still be in the swamps. What the “federal union” resulting from ratification of the Constitution gave Collins and his neighbors was freedom from government and for seven decades state government stood as a bulwark against federal overreach. Secession—in tandem with all-out war waged against the state(s)—changed that. The interference on the part of the Confederate government, the government Collins forsook, was the direct result of unwarranted war waged against the South. His hatred of the Confederacy [which I suspect had more to do with partisan alignments within his county itself, divided along the lines of those actually working for the government (collecting taxes) and those who were not] probably translated more along the lines of “this wouldn’t have happened if you people hadn’t seceded. Everything would have been fine.” No, it wouldn’t have, but the Jesse Collinses couldn’t see that. Independent, primarily subsistence farmers/grazers, they had been isolated from the conflicting economic interests dividing North and South and the North’s ever-increasing push to marginalize the South’s political power in the central government. The Confederacy, through necessity, had dared to “bother” Jesse Collins, disrupt his life, and interfere with his well-ordered existence, which had been relatively free of governmental presence. The war was the Confederacy’s fault, not Yankee aggression—they’d always left him alone. Bynum, Jenkins, and Stauffer’s implication that those so-called Jones-county unionists would be pleased with Hobbs’ Leviathan of today is misleading and in my personal opinion, false.

Two other implications which run through both books—and this goes hand in hand with the authors’ attempt to marginalize the “Lost Cause”—are that secession equals war and the South opted for war to protect slavery. No, the South risked a war to protect her posterity by that time already threatened economically (the tariff), politically (denial of the formation of slave-holding states in the new territories, exacerbating a situation that was already pivotal and in only a few years would leave the South totally outvoted in the general government, something both sides knew and which the North promoted and the South, for obvious reasons, resisted) and physically (the threat to Southern property, i.e. the underground railroad encouraging theft and the much more ominous threat of terrorism and anarchy which manifested itself in the raid of  John Brown on Harper’s Ferry. That attack was financed by Northern industrialists, philanthropists, and abolitionists who created a martyr of a psychopath while the Northern populace exalted his life and mourned his death. The financiers were never brought to trial, leaving them and those of their ilk free to continue their madness.)

I feel no embarrassment in conceding the South’s agrarian economy was based on slave labor, especially when challenged by those supporting a regime sustained by a seemingly unlimited labor force of hapless immigrants ushered into poverty in filthy Northern cities to serve the masters of industry for a pittance. Really, who has the right to be judging anyone here on the basis of “humanitarianism”? But both perceived wrongs are irrelevant, because secession, no matter the reason, did not cause the war. Lincoln’s aggression did. And here’s the real crux of that second implication—Lincoln waged the war to free the slaves. What hogwash. Lincoln’s war to “free the slaves” is the greatest spin of all. I’d go so far as to call it an out-’n-out cyclone. The refusal of the North, again for self-aggrandizing economic reasons, to accept an independent South with free-market ports, and the more immediate loss of tariff revenue, is what prompted Lincoln’s aggression. It was the North that opted for war, and it did so for economic reasons.

But let’s just suppose those Southerners so long ago really did not know what they were fighting for or believed after times got tough they were fighting for the rich man’s slaves, that the state-rights issue and home rule and curbing the growing tyranny of a central government in the hands of industry never even crossed their poor “stupid” minds—it certainly should be crossing our minds now, because those were the issues that mattered and that’s what the mainstream is trying to deflect. If we don’t do something to reclaim our history, in fifty years all our Southern ancestors will have been opposed to the Confederacy—there will be nothing left spearheading those old battles, but evil slave owners, and the federal republic created by our founders will be a forgotten political theory swallowed up by a fabricated democracy embracing the concept of a worldwide, “elitist-supervised,” mediocre humanity. (The lowest common denominator is the only way to make egalitarianism work). 

Next time, a documented history of Jones County from another point of view.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, March 6, 2017

It’s Not Whether Newton Knight was a Traitor and a Criminal. His Threat Lies in the Spin

Almost a year ago now, when a Google+ follower asked for my opinion on the then upcoming Gary Ross’ movie based on Newt Knight and the free state of Jones County, Mississippi, I really couldn’t say much except that I didn’t intend to see the thing. I knew from the git-go where the movie would go; and its focus, as is all focus concerning the South at present, disturbed me. I’ve worked on this post off and on since then. As far as the movie is concerned, I haven’t seen it and a critique from a pro-South point of view has already been done more effectively than I could have managed. So in structuring my thoughts on the subject, I decided to let my focus on writing and teaching Southern history be my guide. This is my first of several posts resulting from this most recent regurgitation of the Jones’ County legend. Though discussion of the movie is now dated, the theme of Southerners championing Southern history is not and, I hope, never will be.

At the time the question was asked of me, I had a general knowledge of Newton Knight and Jones County, had been aware of the history since I was in high school—and that was a long time ago. I had a copy of Ethel Knight’s Echo of the Black Horn—I’d paid a pretty penny for it, too—but I hadn’t read it. (It, as well as Thomas Knight’s tale of his father’s adventures, were reprinted in time for the movie’s debut and are now on sale at a reasonable price). Reading about a criminal and a deserter from Jones County didn’t interest me nearly as much as sorting out the causes of unwarranted war (kidding—there’s always a reason, but its noble justification is too often created by the twenty-twenty hindsight of the victor. That’s the spin, and our War Between the States is a classic example.). Of even greater interest to me is the war’s result—in this case the loss of liberty and the creation of Hobbs’ Leviathan right here in North America.

I have since read both Knight books and three more on the subject. Aided with the ignorance of the masses, Ross’ movie, with its reach, is one more notch in the gun of those pushing that spin of righteousness on the part of Lincoln’s Union in waging war on the South. And the South is not the only victim here. So, too, is our Founder’s Republic, now threatened by the determination of this most recent group of centralizers to portray what came out of Philadelphia in 1787 as the blueprint for democracy rather than a federal republic.

The present attack on Southern history has been ongoing since the 60’s, but the intensity has fluctuated markedly over the past five decades. The present onslaught hasn’t seen the like since Reconstruction and, for all intents and purposes, is unwarranted—when taken out of the context of the Left’s attack on all things American [ah, but that’s an important context to note]—and amounts to nothing less than a purge of the South and its history. But purgers can only accomplish their objective through genocide of the people they seek to erase...or if survivors themselves capitulate. What I’m saying is the obliteration of Southern history, i.e. the South’s role in colonial history, the Revolution, the framing of the Republic, and as the champion of state rights can only be destroyed if we Southerners allow it to happen. 

If I’ve connected the dots right, the book from which Gary Ross derived his idea for a movie, The Free State of Jones, was written by Victoria Bynum over fifteen years ago. Sometime during the ensuing period, Ross wrote a screenplay and did some research of his own, then turned that screenplay over to Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post and Paul Stauffer, a Harvard history professor, to co-write The State of Jones, a book paralleling/supportive of the screenplay. The Bynum book is a scholarly piece of work and comes replete with a lot of history regarding the origins of the families who settled the Piney Woods during territorial days—she is, in fact, a branch off the tree. For that reason, if none other, folks interested in the history of the South and migration from the Carolinas and Georgia west will find value in her work. It’s the spin that I find disconcerting, but I expected it when I embarked on this study. Bynum meets my expectations in the afterward to the second printing (timed again to coincide with the movie’s release): Reviving this history is to undermine the Lost Cause “myth” of a solid South struggling in defense of its way of life against the Northern aggressor. The implication is that those who initiated the struggle were slave owners determined to protect slavery, and, in this retelling of the tale, there is a substantial number of Southerners who were against secession and hence, war. Oh, then there’s the emphasis on an interracial love story between Newt Knight (a married man with children) and Rachel, (his grandfather’s slave with numerous children of her own), a “subplot” ignored during the founding of the legend.

The State of Jones, the Jenkins and Stauffer book, is another entertaining read, an excellent example of fiction masquerading as historical fact. The work is fraught with  “probablys,” may-haves, can-be-guessed-ats, “perhapses,” and likes, to mention a few, followed by passages culled from valid accounts and then near seamlessly superimposed into the Newt Knight story leaving the non-partisan reader to accept the skewed narrative as fact.

What are these people trying to accomplish here? Would you buy into their trying to establish a warm and fuzzy feeling between still divided sections because after 150 years, two World Wars and numerous other major conflicts with Yank and Reb fighting side by side we are still at each others’ throats? [Cow patties don’t stink, folks, unless someone takes a stick and stirs them up.] Is the production of these recent books and movie an acknowledgement by our intellectual betters that all Southerners aren’t really bad after all? That the majority of our ancestors were merely the stupid dupes of a few evil, self-aggrandizing men and their progeny has remained stymied in that same ignorance ever since? And now, by swallowing this kaa-kaa being rammed down our throats, we will be forgiven and welcomed back into the egalitarian, feminist, and pure democracy of Thomas Jefferson as “true” Americans?

Forget that ever happening. It never will. First off, Jefferson was a slave owner and a Virginian and no amount of deflection will change that—it’s such second guessing and apologizing for slavery for which we have no right or need to make that has painted the South into a corner. Second, Jefferson believed in liberty, and the only way to ensure liberty is to limit government. Democracy and limited government fell under the purview of the states and the locales within them, not the general government. But no matter which road we take at this point in history, Southerners will never be the intellectual equals of leftist elites; in fact very few will, Southern or not. The elites are superior, don’t you know? More importantly, we should never aspire to be. Once we Southrons swallow and digest their poison, the nation of our forefathers will be worth no more than what we defecate out our other end. We will no longer be of concern to those supreme beings, because the threat we pose to their goals will have ceased to exist, our having finally achieved the mainstream’s ideal of what an “American” is supposed to be. Then, all of us will be good for nothings. But, I digress.

Regarding secession, a major factor in the Jones County legend, a lot of Southerners opposed it, but I’m informed enough to know that being against secession and being pro-Union are two different things. For a variety of reasons, including internal interests, anti-secessionists did not think separating from the Union was a good idea, preferring to weather Northern abuse. Understand they were aware of the problems with their Northern counterparts: the tariffs, the application of public money for internal improvements in the North, the efforts to minimize Southern representation in Congress so the North could expand its advantage. A preference for staying in the Union didn’t necessarily compute to agreeing with the Union cause, which, as it turned out, meant keeping all the territory together under one supreme ruler and keeping the South around to serve as its cash cow and cannon fodder; individual liberty be damned. The Whigs—the biggest, richest slave owners in Mississippi (and across the South), were passionately opposed to secession, but do not delude yourself into thinking these Southern patriots, regardless of their stance on slavery, accepted subordination to Northern interests. They simply preferred the economic/defensive security guaranteed by membership in the Union and hoped to negotiate the injustice/share in the wealth; it was to their economic advantage to do so. Certainly, as in any other state in the Union, each Southern state had diverse economic interests and rivalries. That existed in the beginning and continues today.  What I find galling are people, with an agenda, assuming to tell Southerners the reason they seceded and what they were fighting for, of twisting facts around to make them appear as something else. What happened folks ain’t complicated and it sure the devil wasn’t altruistic. Worse yet are native Southerners—and I mean people who can trace their roots back to colonial days and the early Republic, and there are lots of us down here, buying off on the so-called neo-Confederate/Lost Cause myth. Consider that in January, 1864, Irish-born Confederate general Patrick Cleburne of Helena, Arkansas stated:

 “It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”

And Confederate General Richard Taylor pointed out in Destruction and Reconstruction (published in 1879):

“During all these years the conduct of the Southern people has been admirable....they have struggled in all honorable ways, and for what? For their slaves? Regret for their loss has neither been felt nor expressed. But they have striven for that which brought our forefathers to Runnymede, the privilege of exercising some influence in their own government.” (For those of you who don’t recall from your social studies days, Runnymede is the place where the Magna Carta was signed).

And my third and last rebuttal, though thousands of such exist: It was Edward A. Pollard, editor of the Richmond Examiner, who, in 1866, first used the term, “Lost Cause,” as the title of his book on the War Between the States. Yet today’s mainstream historians/or pseudo-historians are trying to convince today’s Southerners we don’t know what our ancestors were fighting for between 1861-1865 (1861-1877 actually) and The Lost Cause is actually a myth created by the Southern Democrats at the end of the 19th century, then expanded upon well into the 20th to keep themselves in power. Beyond its bogus application of the term “myth” in this case, I won’t argue the mainstream’s point, but it has gotten a bit ahead of itself here. First those Southern Democrats had to get themselves back in power.

Throughout the travails of Reconstruction while New Departure Democrats, infiltrated with old-line Southern Whigs, routinely sacrificed principle in their efforts to counter the Republicans, the old-line Democrats, the Bourbons, stuck to the principles of home rule, sovereign states, and decentralization. In the end they prevailed over a corrupt and treasonous Republican Party—and in so doing eclipsed the failed policies of the less Conservative Democrats. This brings the reader up to 1875-1877 and a long way (in human years) from the turn of the century.

What did develop near the end of the 19th century and expanded well into the 20th in the wake of the perceived Negro betrayal of the Populist Movement, when jolted white politicians decided it was more cost effective to eliminate the Negro vote than court it, was the emphasis on white supremacy historians link to pro-slavery. Now that those Southern Democrats did tie to the Lost Cause. They then used the threat of “Negro rule,” which proved so devastating during Reconstruction, to keep themselves in power. That today’s historians link the evolution of the Lost Cause of state rights and limited federal government and the legality of the South’s secession under the Tenth Amendment to the white-supremacy tact of the old Southern Democrats nearly a half-century later is indicative of one of two things, ignorant and unthinking historians or those with an agenda. I don’t think they’re ignorant and I think they’re doing a lot of thinking—about how to twist the facts to meet their agenda in tandem with the hope readers don’t pick up a history book with a copyright prior to 1960. Okay, I’m being facetious here, but you get my drift. This double whammy against the South serves a (leftist) mainstream agenda, and is a real coup in supporting their perversion of our federal system into the faux democracy lauded today as the enemy of racism and champion of civil rights. For any American who cares about our Republic, to buy off on this deflection due to ignorance is unconscionable.

Now, if, on the other hand, you believe the Founders were wrong, and you reject the Constitution they framed, and you believe we really should be a democracy where social norms are dictated and enforced by an all-powerful central government, then have at it, but don’t ream the South for believing as it did, because when it comes to the Founders and the Constitution, the South was right and Southerners who aren’t aware of that, or deny it, shame on them. The biggest threat to the preservation of Southern rights (state rights), values, principles, and history is the Southerner.

 My point in what I presented above is to argue there is no break in the Lost Cause faith through the war up to and including the present day and to imply it was all concocted by the sons of Bourbons at the turn of the last century, and that, in fact, the South seceded for the cause of an institution that was legal and protected by the Constitution is a falsehood, one perpetrated by design and bought only by the ignorant drunk on their own “feel-good” propaganda...or those with a self-serving agenda. The mainstream media, hopelessly infested with a leftist ideology, is not trying to expose a lie inherent to the “Lost Cause”; it is determined to obliterate the truth, a truth rooted in the Founding itself.

Next in this series I’ll delve into the real “myths” of the War for Southern Independence—or the Civil War if you druther. That’s what the mythmakers call it, anyway.

Thanks for reading,