Sunday, September 03, 2006

1. The Civil War

What follows is critique of A Beka's 6th grade history text, New World History and Geography. This section reviews A Beka's coverage of the American Civil War.

For many people [the Emancipation Proclamation] changed the reason for fighting the Civil War. Before, the Union army was fighting to keep our country from dividing and the Confederate Army was fighting for states’ rights.
NWHG Page 188

Using the “states’ rights” argument to explain the outbreak of the Civil War may seem an innocent matter of semantics. It is not. States’ rights “became a staple of post-war Southern apologetics, advanced by such prominent Confederates as President Jefferson Davis and Vice-President Alexander Stephens, and is still invoked by neo-Confederates and their allies today.” (1) While the causes of the civil war may still be an issue of debate for some Americans, it is not an issue of debate among even the most amateurish of historians. The cause of the civil war was quite simply the South’s desire to maintain the institution of slavery.

Consider these excerpts from Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephen’s “Cornerstone Speech” delivered on March 21, 1861:

The [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.

…[The Confederacy’s] foundations are laid, its corner- stone 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.

… With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system

NWHG’s invocation of states’ rights paints a view of history that is in direct conflict with the South’s stated (and racist) explanation for its session. Further complicating the matter is the text’s positioning of the abolition of slavery as a dilemma between freedom for the enslaved and the economic needs of the slave holders:

Many Northerners who had previously ignored the issue began to side with the abolitionists. But by this time, the South depended on its slaves, even though fewer than five percent of the white Southerners owned slaves, and half of these had no more than five slaves each. If the Southerners freed their slaves, how could they make a living? And how would the freed slaves earn a living? There were no easy solutions to the problem of slavery.
NWHG Page 183

The issue on the table was not one of finding an easy solution so much as demanding a just solution. One hopes that NWHG is not suggesting that possessing “fewer than five slaves” was somehow acceptable or that slavery is somehow more palatable when only five percent of the population engages in it. Perhaps the extent of the issue would be clearer if NWHG noted that nearly one third of the population of the 11 Confederate were slaves (this latter fact is noted in “Build Our Nation”).

Strangely, NWHG’s apparent disdain for a quick end to slavery is explored not in the section on the American Civil War but toward the end of the book in a discussion of Brazilian history:

While many Brazilians called for the complete abolition (doing away with) of slavery, slave owners clung to their valuable work force. Pedro II opposed slavery, but he realized the power of the landowners and planned to free the slaves gradually. First he granted freedom to the children born to the slaves; later he freed the elderly slaves. In time he hoped to free them all, but the abolitionists continued to demand immediate abolition. Finally, in 1888, while Pedro II was away in Europe, his daughter Princess Isabel yielded to the pressure and declared all of the slaves in Brazil free. Though 700,000 slaves applauded her, the plantation owners revolted. Within a year, the royal family had been banished to Europe, though Pedro II is still honored as a national hero. Since 1889, Brazil has been ruled mostly by a succession of military dictatorships.
NWHG Pages 334-335

That Brazil “has been ruled mostly by a succession of military dictatorships” following Princess Isabel’s capitulation to the abolitionists is a far from subtle rebuke of ending slavery quickly.

With regard to those who fought in the Civil War NWHG notes that “Stonewall Jackson has gone down in history as a great general and a great Christian” (2) and that “Whenever Robert E. Lee had a decision to make, he first asked himself, “What is my duty as a gentleman and a Christian.” (3) While there is little doubt that both of these men were brilliant generals who served their cause with extraordinary courage there is also little doubt that they engaged in treason for a cause founded on racism in a conflict which claimed the lives of 580,000 Americans.

Only by pleading states’ rights could Lee and Jackson be positioned as heroes and their witness as Christians be promoted. NWHG falls into the trap of rationalizing the actions of anyone who claims to love God without pursuing the more important issue of how God-loving people can commit such atrocious acts. At best, the text should have noted Lee and Jackson’s exploits and been done with it.

While no one reasonably expects a middle school history text to fully explore the causes of the Civil War, A Beka’s promotion of states’ rights denies students a basic understanding of one of the foundational events of our nation’s history. Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War and students deprived of this understanding will fail to understand a conflict whose roots extend back to the writing of the US Constitution. More ominously, the omission of slavery’s central role in Southern Secession leaves the unwary student open to a broad array of dangerous misconceptions about issues of race and inequality that haunt our nation to the present day.

If you are still in doubt about the cause over which the Civil War was fought consider the words of a freed slave:

We prays for the end of Trib'lation and the end of beatin's and for shoes that fit our feet. We prayed that us niggers could have all we wanted to eat and special for fresh meat. Some the old ones say we have to bear all, cause that all we can do. Some say they was glad to the time they's dead, cause they'd rather rot in the ground than have the beatin's. What I hated most was when they'd beat me and I didn't know what they beat me for, and I hated they strippin' me naked as the day I was born.
Mary Reynolds – freed slave, Dallas, Texas, American Slave Narratives (1936-1938)

The reader may examine Appendix A of this document for further quotes from NWHG and other sources on slavery and the Civil War.

Notable Omission:
The word Slavery does not occur in NWHG’s index
The development of color codes following the civil war and the codification of racist laws in the South that brought about the civil rights movement

(1) Mackubin T. Owens - Professor of Strategy and Force Planning at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. The Providence Journal
(2) NWHG page 190
(3) NWHG page 189


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Seeker said...

Anyone who dares to teach about the causes of the Civil War, and does not mention the Southern Ultimatums, is an idiot.

Five Southern Ultimatums, by the Southern leaders themselves, as shouted out in headlines, North and SOuth, in March of 1861.

All five Southern ULtimatums were about the SPREAD OF SLAVERY into the territories by force.

The Southern Ultimatums mandated that the US COngress spread slavery. Do you grasp that?

Read the Southern Ultimatums, read what the Southern leaders and newspapers were bragging about at the time.

Google Southern ULtimatums, or read the Richmond and New York newspapers.


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