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,