Silver-level article

Lost Cause of the South

From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Neo-Confederates at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington.[note 1]
Fiction over fact
Icon ancient aliens.svg
How it didn't happen
So, let's start with the facts. The historic record is clear. The Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal—through monuments and through other means—to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity.
—Mitch Landrieu, Mayor of New Orleans[4]

The term Lost Cause of the South (also Lost Cause of the Confederacy) refers to a number of interpretations of the American Civil War from an effectively pro-Southern perspective. All wars in history have had complex, nuanced reasons for their occurrence, but the idea of the "Lost Cause" is a classic example of denialism, where the conflict is reframed to minimize or even completely ignore the primary cause of the Civil War; the existence of slavery. This mythos makes reference to a number of different themes, and these appear in various pop culture sources and persist to this day.


O, I'm a good old Rebel / Now that's just what I am / For this "Fair Land of Freedom" / I do not care a damn!
—"I'm A Good Old Rebel," Confederate folk song[5]

Almost immediately after the war ended in 1865, the defeated Southern states had to form a coherent reason why they had engaged in a rebellion against the Union.[note 2] Such reason could not highlight the centrality of slavery to the Southern cause, but instead had to minimize, or even deny, the role of slavery. The first appearance of the term "Lost Cause" was in the 1866 book by Edward A. Pollard, deceptively titled The Lost Cause: A New Southern History Of The War Of The Confederates as there was no such book that preceded it.[6][7]:156 Pollard laid the groundwork for the Lost Cause mythos: defending white supremacy, arguing that slavery was not a cause of the war, arguing for States' rights based on the Tenth Amendment, and that slavery was necessary to prevent race war.[7]:157 For Pollard, the Civil War only decided two things, the restoration of the Union and the end to slavery — not equality of the races, or voting rights for African Americans.[7]:157

The literature promoting what was to become the Lost Cause mythos can be traced to the revisionist 1890 book Why the solid South?,[8] which argued that Black voters only wanted government money and that the Black Republican dominated governments during Reconstruction were corrupt.[9]:129 The ideas in the book were later promoted by Thomas Dixon in 1906[9]:138 (Dixon later wrote the book that inspired the racist film The Birth of a Nation). Also beginning in 1896, steel baron James Ford Rhodes wrote a 7-volume revisionist history of Reconstruction, History of the United States from the compromise of 1850.[10][9]:138 Rhodes history came under contemporaneous and substantive criticism by historian John R. Lynch,Wikipedia but despite this, Rhodes' revisionist view of Reconstruction was taken up by William Archibald Dunning, a political theorist at Columbia University, as part of the Dunning SchoolWikipedia of historiography.[9]:138-139

Furthermore, many white Southerners during Reconstruction (1865-1877) believed that the Union had, in fact, placed an oppressive regime on their states. Union troops left the South at the end of Reconstruction, but the bulk of Confederate memorials were not built until after the beginning of the Jim Crow era in the 1890s.[11] The memorials were often funded and driven by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and supported by many Southern veterans' groups.[12] The purpose of this was to try and redefine the meaning of the war to ignore slavery, so that the Southern "heroes" would not seem like evil racists seeking to hold down an entire race of people. A very good example of this is how Robert E. Lee is often played up as being opposed to slavery and only fighting for the Confederacy because his home state of Virginia joined the Confederacy, which ignores the fact he himself actually owned slaves and refused to ever release them, punishing them brutally when they tried to escape.

The myth as laid out by Jefferson Davis drew on contemporary trends in its portrayal of an idyllic rural South opposed to the industrial North. It was influenced by naive Romanticism, in particular the writings of the Scottish Tory novelist Walter Scott, several of whose stories referred to the defeat of the Jacobite pretenders in Britain; these books were popular in the South before and during the Civil War. In 1869, Davis travelled through Britain to Culloden, site of the Jacobites' ultimate defeat in 1746, to pay his respects and reflect on an earlier lost cause.[13] Many Scots had emigrated to New World, particularly the Carolinas, and Davis praised the Scottish heritage of Stonewall Jackson and John C. Calhoun. An 1875 lecture published as Scotland and the Scottish People celebrated what he identified as the Scots and Irish love of tradition, and gave them as examples of glory in defeat, while recasting the war in Romantic terms as a defeat of rural tradition by brutal modern armies, and nothing to do with slavery.[14]


41 Texas civilians were hanged by a Confederate military "court" for opposing conscription.[15]

The Lost Cause mythos has several themes associated with it. Here is a brief summary of some of them.

About the war[edit]


See the main article on this topic: Secession
Legalistic Southerners tried to view the Constitution as a contract. Unfortunately, that viewpoint breaks down when viewed as a lawyer views a contract. There are very few ways to legally break a contract unilaterally.
—William C. Davis, historian from the Great State of Virginia the United States.[16]:186
In fact, the state rights defense of secession in 1860–1861 did not really appear in force until after 1865 as builders of the Lost Cause myth sought to distance themselves from slavery.
—William C. Davis[16]:180

A common claim is that the principles of Constitutional originalism allowed for the legality of unilateral secession and that it was unconstitutional to use military force to keep the Union together. Thus, James Buchanan is often portrayed as adhering to the true meaning of the Constitution while Abraham Lincoln violated it by disallowing secession. The question of why the Framers didn't spell out this right when they wrote the Constitution is left unanswered.

The generals[edit]

Lee surrenders to Grant at Appomattox Court House.
Southern gentlemen who led in the late rebellion have not parted with their convictions at this point, any more than at any other. They want to be independent of the negro. They believed in slavery and they believe in it still. They believed in an aristocratic class, and they believe in it still.
—Frederick Douglass[17][note 3]

There is a strong focus on the Eastern Theater of the war, especially the battles that took place in Virginia, where Lee was able to hold down and defeat several Union generals. It ignores the Western Theater in Tennessee and points south, primarily because the Southern forces were routed there in the Battles of Shiloh and New Orleans in the spring of 1862. When the Western Theater is brought up, it is to focus on William T. Sherman's scorched-earth "March to the Sea".

Lost Causers also frequently invoke the pseudohistory of the United States as a Christian nation. Confederate generals and soldiers, particularly Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson are often described as pious, competent, gentlemanly figures, who often opposed slavery (despite owning slaves). Their motives were because their "home" was invaded. Lost Causers will often highlight the daring tactics of the Southern generals or the dashing nature of the cavalry units. Wartime atrocities committed by Union troops and generals are highlighted, but similar actions by "chivalrous" Southern troops (such as the Fort Pillow Massacre) and terrible conditions at various POW camps such as AndersonvilleWikipedia are ignored.

Robert E. Lee is claimed to have magnanimously "granted" an end to the war by surrendering in order to stop the bloodshed, rather than having his exhausted men, fleeing the fall of Richmond, being boxed in on all fronts. Lee, even among historians, is highly overrated as a general.[19] While Lee criticized the institution of slavery on a few occasions,[20] he also argued that slavery in America was better than being free in Africa, because it gave them discipline and Jesus; and that since God was fine with slavery, only God could abolish it. Furthermore, in the late 1850s when he inherited about 200 slaves from his father-in-law with the condition that he had to free them within five years, he not only kept them for the full five years, he actually went to court to try to have the time extended.[21][note 4] Additionally, during the Gettysburg Campaign, his troops kidnapped hundreds of free blacks in Pennsylvania and Maryland and sent them south for enslavement. On the other side of the coin is southern general James Longstreet, arguably the most competent corps commander of the war. Having become a "scalawag" (Confederate-turned-Republican) after the war, he is often demonized as a traitor to the South and especially to Lee, and somehow gets blamed for single-handedly losing the Battle of Gettysburg, despite Lee ignoring most of Longstreet's advice during the battle and having ordered the strategy (including Pickett's ChargeWikipedia) that led to the loss.

In contrast, Union generals are often framed as being barbaric sinners, having sub-par tactical skills, and being able to win only because the Union had more men, resources, or (rarely) technology. William T. Sherman, for instance, was an advocate of a soon-to-be modern concept of a total war. Sherman's March to the SeaWikipedia showed a grain of truth to the violence and disrespect for private property; by burning the entire state to the ground, Sherman and his army did achieve its objective of crippling the South's ability to wage war, but was obviously a large source of resentment for a number of decades afterwards. In modern eyes the march to the sea does not look so horrible, but given that it was the first (and only) time total war and modern weaponry were combined on North American soil, it sticks out. Many wars in Europe, Africa, and Asia have seen both crueler tactics and more victims through them, and Sherman's March arguably did succeed in its goal of a quick, decisive end to the war on the Western theater.

Lost Causers will sometimes either claim that before the Civil War, people held more allegiance to the states that they lived in than to the United States. Another claim is that Lee hated slavery but had no choice but to join the Confederate Army because of his Virginia residency.[22] As to the first claim, about 35-40% of Virginian military officers remained with the Union Army rather than join the Confederacy.[23][24] As for the second claim, Lee opposed slavery in a rather abstract way stating at one point that they should be freed in the unspecified distant future.[25]:73-74 Lee himself owned slaves and treated them harshly.[26]

Ulysses S. Grant was a common target of character assassination. He was depicted as an alcoholic and atheist. This even extended to his presidency. Yes, there was corruption (though Grant personally was innocent) and some of his ventures — like the annexation of what is now the Dominican Republic — failed spectacularly, but he was insanely successful in his Reconstruction policies and in crushing the Ku Klux Klan, aspects that were swept under the rug by a century of neo-Confederate historians. Some Confederate sympathizers may highlight Grant’s infamous General Order 11, which ordered all Jews out of Kentucky, Mississippi, and Tennessee and contrast that to the fact that the Confederacy had a Jewish person, Judah P. Benjamin, hold several cabinet positions. While true, the order generated immediate controversy and was revoked nearly a month later.[27] Additionally, it seems that Grant learned from this incident and he appears to have gone out of his way to appoint Jews to federal offices,[28] became the first sitting US President to attend a synagogue service in 1876, and donated $10 to the synagogue’s building fund.[29]

Emancipation Proclamation[edit]

Medical examination of a slave's back at a Union camp, widely circulated by Unionists and abolitionists.
The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party… anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose.
—Georgia Declaration of Secession.[30]
As soon as slavery fired upon the flag it was felt, we all felt, even those who did not object to slaves, that slavery must be destroyed. We felt that it was a stain to the Union that men should be bought and sold like cattle.
Ulysses S. Grant, remarks to Otto von Bismarck[31]

When it comes to the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by Lincoln as a war measure halfway into the war, it is emphasized that it "only" declared the freedom of slaves in those states still in rebellion, or about 78% of all American slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation did not affect the slaves in the "border states", the slave states which chose to stay in the Union (Kentucky, Missouri, Maryland, Delaware and West Virginia), or Confederate territory that was occupied by Union troops at the time. This point is meant to paint Lincoln as some kind of slavery-loving monster, which in turn supposedly makes the South look not as bad. This is ironic, as the South seceded due to fears that Lincoln would somehow dictatorially abolish Southern slavery, yet only from secession could this become a practical possibility. Lincoln (probably) didn't possess a wartime power to unilaterally abolish slavery in areas not at war with the USA, and in any case, enacting immediate emancipation in slave states within the Union would have risked alienating those states, possibly driving some into the arms of the Confederacy. As the war came closer to an end, he pushed for the Thirteenth Amendment (which did abolish American slavery altogether) against some counsel that it would be better to wait until the conflict was over.

A common corollary, advanced by both Lost Causers and left-wing critics of Lincoln, is that since Lincoln only abolished slavery in rebellious states, the Proclamation didn't actually free a single slave. This is actually incorrect: runaway slaves held in contraband camps were freed immediately, as were slaves in e.g. the Sea Islands off the coast of Georgia, already held by the Union Navy, where the whites had fled to the mainland and left the blacks to run their own lives.[32] According to Eric Foner, as many as 50,000 slaves were freed immediately.[33] The Proclamation turned the war into a revolutionary war, as slaves were freed wherever Union armies advanced into Southern states. Another criticism is that the Emancipation Proclamation only existed to prevent France and Britain from getting involved;[34] while this may be true to some extent, if it was exclusively for realpolitik there would be no need to push for the end of slavery as part of the terms of surrender thus extending the war by a month or two, to say nothing of later amendments regarding voting rights.

Also, a significant number of slaves had been freed even before the Emancipation Proclamation, by the Confiscation Acts of 1861Wikipedia and 1862,Wikipedia and the decisions by Congress to free the slaves in the US territories and the District of Columbia. Some border states abolished slavery by their own internal political processes even before the Thirteenth Amendment was passed: Missouri, Maryland and West Virginia.

That said, this point has been raised by non-Lost Causers (like Lerone BennettWikipedia) who intend to diminish modern reverence for Lincoln without suggesting that his moral shortcomings are somehow balanced by an equal measure of Confederate nobility. However, like Bennett, they often resort to gross revisionism and oversimplification, and end up being little better than Lost Causers, despite having different intent.


See the main article on this topic: African American
Boy, that slave sure looks happy and safe with his white master.
A feeling of strong affection existed between masters and slaves in a majority of Virginia homes.

Even if the master were not a kind person, it was to his own interest to keep his slaves contented and in good health. If he treated them well, he could win their loyalty and cooperation. … The intelligent master found it profitable to discover and develop the talents and abilities of each slave. … The more progressive planters tried to promote loyalty and love of work by gifts and awards.
—From a 7th grade history text book used in Virginia public schools as late as 1972[35][36][37]:369-370

Lost Causers claim that slaves were content with their lot. Likewise, they claim that slavery was a "mild or benign institution" that was for the "betterment" of Africans (sound familiar?). Examples include claims that slave owners were paternalistic figures to their slaves, that they loved their slaves like children, and were in turn loved as parent figures. Black women will fall into a "mammy" stereotype to defend the white families that they somehow love more than their own. Hearing these descriptions, one almost wonders what the whips were for! They either ignore the slave revolts or the millions of slaves that fled to Union lines with whatever property they had in the hope of gaining their freedom, or consider them traitors, thieves, or conspirators (especially during Reconstruction). Moreso, they ignore the significant numbers of military-aged white males who had to be continually kept on the home front to guard against slave revolts and escape attempts, despite the Confederate army experiencing a severe manpower deficit as the war went on.

They overemphasize the (very few) free blacks who did indeed own slaves[note 5][39] or fought for the Confederacy, ignoring that the Confederate government emphatically refused to allow any slaves to fight until about two months before the end of the war. Even then only a small number were raised, most never saw combat, and a majority had soon deserted for the Union. Northern black troops, additionally, are also presented as being alien to the Southern slaves, and because of that they were not willing to join. This claim is made despite that the black troops were often the North's best recruitment tools for Southern slaves to join the army.

White owners loved their slaves like children!

They repeatedly claim that the vast majority of whites did not own slaves:

At the peak of black slavery in the South, only 6 percent of Southern whites owned slaves. If you include the white people in the North, it means that only 1.4 percent of white Americans owned black slaves at the HEIGHT of slavery.[40]

Of course, to get these low percentages, you need to include all states, including those that literally outlawed slavery, and count only the head of each household as a slaveowner. A more reasonable method of counting shows that, in most slave states, over 25% of households owned slaves. In Mississippi and South Carolina, roughly half of households owned slaves.[41][42][43][44]

This also ignores two things: most of them almost certainly hoped to be wealthy enough to own slaves someday, and all whites benefited whether they personally had slaves or not. As long as blacks were slaves, being white guaranteed you weren't on the bottom-most rung of society no matter how poor you were. That being said, slavery propagated the vast income inequality in the South, and rich white slaveowners could even opt out of the war with money (this had created complaints by soldiers being about a rich man's war and a poor man's fight), so to argue about a "Lost Cause" is really more of arguing for the aristocrats' Lost Causes.

On the other hand, Lost Causers deflect to the atrocities committed by Union forces against slaves and free blacks. They also deflect the cruelty of black units against white populations (also known as the Black brute stereotype).

Lost Causers argue that slavery was ended in the Southern states before it was ended in the Northern (border) states, as a sign that the war was not really about slavery or that the North enjoyed slavery more. Of course, slavery's ending in the South was not voluntary, and its existence in border states was much smaller in slaves per capita.

Lost Causers argue that today's African-Americans are fortunate to live in the United States rather than modern Africa. Putting aside the problems with generalizing Africa as entirely miserable, while also being irrelevant to history, ignores that in the hypothetical absence of any slave trade (or the accompanying European/American imperialism), today's Africa would be a very different place in ways that are hard to estimate. If alien invaders regularly kidnapped thousands of Americans over hundreds of years, the USA just might become a tad worse off. If the slavery industry had worked with such a goal in mind, being for the betterment of people in the future, then there's no reason anyone had to be taken forcibly from their families, and definitely no reason for actual enslavement. The (non-)slavers could simply have provided a free or commercial travel service, akin to the ships that went to Ellis Island. Yet Lost Causers who make this rather outrageous argument also tend to take a hard stance on modern illegal immigration (such as by supporting deportation of undocumented immigrants). If Africans enter the USA illegally, a consistent conservative would insist that they be sent away. Furthermore, no one who says this has ever proposed which modern-day endemically-poor country the USA should start kidnapping from for the sake of future generations.

They may attempt to blame slavery on Britain, as slavery in North America started when the future US was still part of the British Empire. However, this ignores that the British Parliament abolished slavery before the US, and did so peacefully. Not to mention that while it may have started with the British Empire, that hardly excuses continuing it after independence (which, incidentally, slaveowners had insisted on), thus making this argument also irrelevant.


Reconstruction refers to the period of time in between 1865 and 1876 when the US Army was in effective control of the former Confederacy. While not a part of the war per se, it is nonetheless important. Significant myths include:

  • That freed slaves were coerced by Union forces to vote in elections for puppet Republican governments.
  • Conversely, that freed slaves collaborated with the Union forces to install harsh Republican governments and suppress and harass white people.
  • That many freedmen and women were content to engage in sharecropping.
  • That Jim Crow laws were needed in order to deal with a "small number of malcontents", or that most black people liked it.
  • That Congress was overly harsh in its reconstruction policies (this is still disputed).
  • That the Ku Klux Klan was not a terrorist organization, but was some type of veterans or civic group (and if you believe this I have a really nice bridge in Brooklyn that I'm looking to sell).


All of the above themes are present in the myth of the Lost Cause of the Civil War. Sadly, they have not fully gone away a full century and a half after the war ended, especially in popular culture. Notable examples include the movies Birth of a Nation (1915),[45]:6,178-186 Sidney Howard's Gone With the Wind (1939) based on the 1936 novel by Margaret Mitchell,[46][47]:13-26 and more recently the theatrical cut of Ronald F. Maxwell's Gods and Generals (2003).[48] These popular renditions of the Lost Cause mythos have helped to cement the idea among some northern Whites, but it actually began in the 1880s with Civil War veterans' reunions that hastened reconciliation between the two sides.[7]:162 There are some historians today who still persist in presenting these myths (though very few of them are mainstream academics). In their more extreme forms, these myths are still alive and well in neo-Confederate organizations and other hate groups.

Right from the horse's ass… er, mouth[edit]

Still believe that the Confederacy wasn't about slavery and racism? The founding documents of the Confederacy disagree with you.

Alexander Stephens[edit]

In his famous 1861 Cornerstone Speech, Alexander StephensWikipedia (1812–1883) — the first vice-president of the Confederacy — disputes, at length, this so-called Lost Cause of the South:[49][note 6]

The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its 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. [Crowd applauded.] 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 its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind — from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics; their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just — but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails.

Articles of Secession[edit]

Among the various Articles of Secession promulgated by the would-be members of the Confederacy were:[50]


The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.


Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slaverythe greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.

South Carolina:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.


Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union... She was received into the a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery — the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.

In all the non-slave-holding States… the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party… based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States

all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations

Confederate States of America Constitution[edit]

Constituent assemblies in the other states of the Confederacy all underscored in their discussions the need to maintain a slave society and economy. Likewise, the right to hold slaves was specifically protected by the constitution of the Confederacy, denying its constituent states the right to outlaw slavery within its territories[note 7] (so much for "states' rights").


According to the 1860 US census, among the states that attempted to secede, 30.8% of families owned slaves.[52] The vast majority of soldiers depended on slaves.[53][54] According to the exhaustive study of the Army of Northern Virginia performed by historian Joseph Glatthaar, about 10% of the 1861 enlistees personally owned slaves (along with more than half of the officers), and very nearly half either owned slaves or lived in a slave-owning household.[55]:309-314 And non-slaveholders had plenty of reason to fight to maintain these lucrative slave relationships: they had friends and neighbors who owned slaves; who ran businesses which rented slaves; they made their money by doing business with slaveowners; they aspired to own slaves; slaves kept the rich rich and the poor poor; or they simply believed that slavery was morally right and liked having someone to feel superior to. So sure, less than one person in three owned slaves, but when you consider the Glatthaar study[55] and other factors e.g. the manpower required to enforce slavery on a domestic and national level e.g. Overseers, domestic help on plantations etc, then it's likely that more than half the Confederacy's free population benefited from, or depended upon slavery.[56]

Crittenden Compromise[edit]

As a final nail in the coffin, there's the proposed Crittenden CompromiseWikipedia of 1861. Four states had already seceded, but Senator John J. Crittenden hoped that war could be prevented and union restored with a massive "compromise" that was largely a concession to the South. The compromise consisted of a set of proposed Constitutional amendments that dealt entirely with slavery. In other words, Crittenden had some reason to believe that war could be prevented solely by promising the preservation of Southern slavery, and if it weren't for Republican opposition (the amendments lost in the Senate by 25 Republican votes to 23 others), the compromise could very well have succeeded. It never occurred to anyone to prevent war by offering the South a non-slavery-related compromise.

Now do you think the South wasn't racist, or that slavery was just a minor issue in the declarations that led to the treasonous War to Preserve Slavery?

The mis-education of the Virginia student[edit]

When you control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his 'proper place' and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.
—Carter G. Woodson[57]:xiii

Carter G. Woodson, in his 1933 book The Mis-Education of the Negro, made reference to propagandistic school textbooks written by white people that claimed that white people were superior to black people.[57]:2 Woodson laid out how education discouraged critical thinking.[57]:x This was the main problem with Lost Cause textbooks: they were propaganda designed to discourage critical thinking by obscuring the truth. Prior to Woodson, Frederick Douglass criticized the Lost Cause mythos as early as 1870, and African American publications continued to criticize it into the 21th century.[7]:165-167

The teaching of the Lost Cause in school textbooks can be traced back as far as 1885 with claims that states' rights were the primary cause of the Civil war,[58]:198 and continuing to Susan Pendleton Lee's textbooks of the 1890s that claimed that the North started the Civil War[59]:182 and that the Civil War was not about slavery.[60]:263[61] In 1878, a speech at a Confederate monument dedication specifically mentioned that children should be indoctrinated in the Lost Cause mythos.[7]:19 This was a time when Southern whites began to reject the narrative of the war provided by Northern publishers.[61]:14

In 1950, the Virginia state legislature created the Virginia History and Government Textbook Commission to oversee the creation of public school textbooks in the state.[62] The commission was founded as a direct reaction to President Harry S. Truman's civil rights agenda.[62] The commission was controlled by the Byrd MachineWikipedia (or Byrd Organization), a political machine that was led by Senator Harry F. Byrd, a segregationist.[62][63][note 8] The commission hand-picked authors of the textbooks, some who were qualified historians but others who were only schoolteachers.[62] However, the commission held the ultimate control of the content and demanded repeated revisions to reflect the 'Virginia spirit', an apparent euphemism for the Lost Cause ideology.[62] The commission focused on three textbooks, one each for 4th, 7th, and 11th grades. Each textbook was published in two editions, one in the 1950s and one in the 1960s.[note 9] The commission disbanded in 1957, four months before the textbooks were first delivered to schools, but the textbooks were in use as late as the 1970s.[62]

For the 11th grade textbook, Cavalier Commonwealth,[66][67] scholar Fred R. Eichelman commented, "A reader of the textbook would not be aware that any controversy existed over integration if this were his only source of information."[62][63]

Early critics of the 4th grade textbook, Virginia's History, accused it of peddling myths, but one of the 7th grade textbook's coauthors, Spotswood Hunnicutt Jones, defended the book, saying, "To explode the Pocahontas legend would be much like saying there is no Santa Claus."[62]

Virginia: History, Government, Geography[edit]

A page from Virginia: History, Government, Geography, with image depicting 'Thomas' Herndon and emancipated slaves

The 7th grade textbook, Virginia: History, Government, Geography, has been described as "Historically wrong and morally bankrupt — but for tender White minds, discomfort-free."[35]

The textbook is written in a vague and generalizing style that might have been common for that time and age group. It lacks both bibliography and suggestions for classroom discussion.[37]

The book engages in a casual racism: though claiming that Africans from the Gold Coast (part of modern-day Ghana) were "strong and intelligent",[37]:183 the book uses the term 'people' to refer to white people or perhaps more specifically to slave owners: "Many people feared that the slaves might rebel against their masters."[37]:185 Later in the text, the authors claim that before the Civil War "the feeling between the white people and the Negroes was quite friendly."[37]:448 The text then goes on to engage in a more overt type of racism by stereotyping recently freed enslaved people as lazy for refusing to work for their former-enslavers.[37]:448[68]

Although they were badly needed for work on the farms, many of them refused to work at any price. They thought that freedom from slavery meant freedom from work; they wanted to enjoy freedom in idleness.

The book claims that because corporal punishment of children was commonly accepted at the time, the whipping of slaves was justified:[37]:186

Most masters did not want to punish their slaves severly. Whipping was the usual method of punishing disobedient Negroes. In those days whipping was als the usual method of correcting children. The planter looked upon his slaves as children and punished them as such.

The book makes the preposterous claim that enslaved Africans were better off in Virginia than in Africa:[37]:187

It is true, of course, that life in early Virginia was not easy for the Negro. He liked Virginia, however for the same reason the white man liked it. Virginia offered a better life for the Englishman than the English did, and it offered a better life for the Negroes than did Africa. In his new home, the Negro was far away from the spears and war clubs of his enemy tribes.

The book puts forth the idea that states' rights were central to southern later secession.[37]:358-367

The book claims that though laws for controlling slaves were strict, they were often not enforced, and implies an inherent libertarian belief among slave owners:[37]:368

Early in Virginia's history the General Assembly made laws closely controlling the Negroes. However the laws were not fully enforced. Many slave masters did not like to have the state government meddle in what they considered their private business.

In second page on the description of life as a slave, the authors give an exceptional case as an example, not a typical case. The case was that of Reverend Thaddeus Herndon (misidentified in the book as Thomas Herndon[37]:369)[69]:281-282 freeing a slave family and sending them to Liberia.[37]:369 Besides getting Herndon's name wrong, the textbook authors needlessly partly-fabricated a quote that was attributed to Herndon.[37]:369[69]:281-282 The population of slaves in the United States varied between 2.3 million to 4.4 million from 1830 to 1860,[70] but the total number of emancipated slaves who returned to Liberia before the Civil War was only 15,000 (less than 1%, an obvious case of cherry picking).[71]

Abolitionists are portrayed very negatively, and it is implied that slave owners would agree to abolition if only they were compensated for the loss of their property, the enslaved people; no mention is given for remuneration of the enslaved people.[37]:383,385-386,400

In response to Nat Turner's slave rebellion,Wikipedia Virginians had a debate about the abolition of slavery and a vote in the state legislature. The abolition of slavery did not pass in the legislature, and the legislature instead voted for even harsher laws against slaves.[72] This was the likely outcome because Virginia still required one to be a white male property ownership to vote in elections at that time,[73] so the legislature was dominated by slave owners and those elected by slave owners. The textbook depicts Virginia's most vocal slavery-defender Thomas Roderick Dew as having the 'correct' argument:[37]:387-388

Virginia's inability to get rid of slavery led Thomas Roderick Dew to answer the false statements of made by Abolitionists. Dew said that slavery was good. He was supported in his reply by such respected Virginians as the famous farmer, Edmund Ruffin; the editor, George Fitzhugh; and the Reverend William A. Smith, president of Randolph-Macon College. These men agreed that slavery was not only necessary, but was good for both master and slave. They insisted that life under slavery was calm and peaceful.

The Union Army is described as "the enemy",[37]:427 and as an invading army.[37]:415,417 This is despite the Confederacy having started the war by attacking Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and Fort Monroe in Virginia having been occupied by the Union Army continuously from 1834-2011.[74][75] It was also the case that many white families were divided about secession and fought on opposite sides in the war;[76] this was true particularly in border states, including Virginia (the state still known today as West Virginia was literally "formed because of the Civil War",[77] since the population of the region refused to take part in secession).


Consider the future of a nation whose founding principle was the right to secede from the larger body over any heated political disagreement in which regional interests were also involved. Consider how fortunate all of us are — especially those who would have had to live there — never to have had such a nation in North America.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. The text of the plaque on this side of the monument reads, "To our dead heroes by the United Daughters of the Confederacy: Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni." The Latin sentence comes from the Roman poet Lucan's Pharsalia,Wikipedia and translates as, "The victorious cause pleased the gods, but the conquered cause pleased Cato."[1] The implication of the use of this phrase in a Confederate monument is perversely that it likens the Union to the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (the victor in this case) and likens the Confederacy to the losing but moral cause,[2] hence the 'lost cause' relevance.
    Not just the plaque's text but the statue itself is a monument for the Lost Cause movement. The statue was erected in 1914, during the Jim Crow era. The statue also depicts two stereotyped African Americans in furtherance of the Lost Cause ideology (a "Mammy"-type figure holding a White baby and an "enslaved man following his owner to war").[3]
  2. Compare and contrast with the former Imperial German High Command's invention of the stab-in-the-back legend to scapegoat the civilians,Wikipedia socialists, and not least the JOOOOZ for the defeat in World War I.
  3. See also this quote:
    Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.
    Francis Frank Wilholt[18]
  4. Along with the slaves, he inherited his father-in-law's plantation at Arlington (where the military cemetery of the same name now is), and intended to have all of the debts that came with it paid off before the five years was up. He reportedly treated the slaves brutally — which nearly caused a slave revolt. He also made a cruel habit of breaking up slave families, something which the Custis and Washington families (his wife was descended from both) traditionally refused to do.
  5. One scholarly source estimates in 1830, about one percent of the free black population (~3,700 persons out of ~319,500) owned about 12,900 black slaves out of 2 million total black slaves; thus blacks owned less than one percent of black slaves in the entire United States. Black slave owners were more likely than white slave owners to have only one slave, often a relative or friend who was only nominally enslaved.[38]
  6. He apparently thought the idea that black people were inferior to white people and should be slaves was a radical new idea that was just a bit slow catching on.
  7. See Article I, Section 9 (4); Article IV, Section 2 (I) and (3); Article IV, Section 3 (3) of the Constitution of the Confederate States.[51]
  8. At least two of Byrd's ancestors had been slave owners (William Byrd II,Wikipedia Robert Carter IWikipedia).[64] William Byrd II wrote in his diaries of frequently beating his slaves and occasionally devising cruel punishments; the beatings are often mentioned in the same paragraph as his prayers.[65]:2,15,22,38,46,53,75,79,84,112-113,119,127,148,192,221,224,240,241,307,337,384,412,419,481,512,514,533,551,585,562
  9. 4th grade: Virginia's History by Raymond C. Dingledine (1956, 1964) Scribner
    7th grade: Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole (1955 and 1964) Scribner
    11th grade: Cavalier Commonwealth: History and Government of Virginia by William Edwin Hemphill (1957 and 1963) McGraw-Hill.


  1. victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Catoni Latin Is Simple.
  2. Asterix and the Banquet: Latin Jokes Explained (February 22, 2015) Everything Asterix.
  3. Confederate Memorial Arlington National Cemetery.
  4. 'We Can't Walk Away From This Truth': New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explains to his city why four monuments commemorating the Lost Cause and the Confederacy had to come down. (May 23, 2017) The Atlantic (archived from February 4, 2021).
  5. Good Ol' Rebel Soldier by Major Innes Randolph, C.S.A., Civil War Poetry.
  6. The Lost Cause: A New Southern History Of The War Of The Confederates: Comprising A Full And Authentic Account Of The Rise And Progress Of The Late Southern Confederacy — the Campaigns, Battles, Incidents, And Adventures Of The Most Gigantic Struggle Of The World's History by Edward A. Pollard (1866) E. B. Treat & Company.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 "Confederate Monuments" by Karen L. Cox. In: Myth America: Historians Take On the Biggest Legends and Lies About Our Past, edited by Kevin M. Kruse & Julian E. Zelizer (2022) Basic Books. ISBN 1541601394. Pages 155-168.
  8. Why the Solid South? or, Reconstruction and Its Results (1890) R. H. Woodward & Company.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America by Heather Cox Richardson (2022) Oxford University Press. ISBN 019758179X.
  10. History of the United States from the compromise of 1850. Volume 1850-1854 by James Ford Rhodes (1896) Harper & Brothers Publishers.
  11. Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide (2020) Atlanta History Center.
  12. Investigation Finds Millions in Taxpayer Dollars Goes to Confederate Memorials (01.14.19) Equal Justice Initiative.
  13. While Statues Sleep, Thomas Laqueur, London Review of Books, Vol. 42 No. 12. 18 June 2020
  14. The Walter Scott Experience, Mike Goode, in Constellations of a Contemporary Romanticism, edited by Jacques Khalip, Forest Pyle, Fordham University Press, 1 Jul 2016
  15. Great Hanging At Gainesville by Richard B. McCaslin (Updated: March 30, 2018) Texas State Historical Association.
  16. 16.0 16.1 The Cause Lost: Myths and Realities of the Confederacy by William C. Davis (1996) University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0700608095.
  17. Our Composite Nationality by Frederick Douglass (December 7, 1869) Teaching American History.
  18. See the Wikipedia article on Francis M. Wilholt § Wilholt's Law.
  19. The truth about Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee: He wasn’t very good at his job by Rosenwald, M. (October 31, 2017) The Washington Post.
  20. Arlington, Bobby Lee, and the 'Peculiar Institution' by Ta-Nehisi Coates (August 13, 2010) The Atlantic.
  21. The Myth of the Kindly General Lee: The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed. by Adam Serwer (June 4, 2017) The Atlantic.
  22. The Southern generals who stuck with the Union in the Civil War by Gillian Brockell (April 9, 2023 at 7:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  23. The General in His Study by Elizabeth Brown Pryor (April 19, 2011 9:30 pm) The New York Times.
  24. William R. Terrill (1834–1862) by Stuart W. Sanders, Encyclopedia Virginia.
  25. The Making of Robert E. Lee by Michael Fellman (2000) Random House. ISBN 0679456503.
  26. Let’s get real about Robert E. Lee and slavery by Gillian Brockell (September 10, 2021 at 8:24 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
  27. Anti-Semitism in the United States: General Grant’s Infamy Jewish Virtual Library.
  28. Sarna, Jonathon D. (20120), When Grant Expelled the Jews
  29. Ulysses S. Grant's Washington Synagogue by Samuel D. Gruber (June 15, 2011) Forward.
  30. Georgia Declaration of Causes of Secession Wikisource.
  31. Grant on Slavery Ulysses S. Grant Homepage (archived from December 5, 2006).
  32. The Civil War (TV miniseries) by Ken Burns.
  33. Historian Eric Foner On The 'Unresolved Legacy Of Reconstruction' by Terry Gross (June 5, 20201:42 PM ET) NPR.
  34. Emancipation Proclamation was foreign policy
  35. 35.0 35.1 Glenn Youngkin’s No-Guilt History of Virginia for Fragile White People by Dana Milbank (February 1, 2022) The Washington Post.
  36. An Excerpt From Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Kevin M. Levin (June 23, 2008) Civil War Memory.
  37. 37.00 37.01 37.02 37.03 37.04 37.05 37.06 37.07 37.08 37.09 37.10 37.11 37.12 37.13 37.14 37.15 37.16 Virginia: History, Government, Geography by Francis B. Simkins, Spotswood H. Jones, and Sidman P. Poole (1964) Scribner. Revised edition.
  38. Did Black People Own Slaves? by Henry Louis Gates Jr. (March 4, 2013 at 12:03 AM) African America.
  39. Black Slaveowners: Free Black Slave Masters in South Carolina, 1790-1860 by Larry Koger (1995) University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 1570030375.
  40. Hey Kids… It's Time For Some Dumb Myths And Smart Facts About Slavery! by Jim Goad (November 30, 2005) Vice.
  41. 1860 United States census, tallied by The Civil War Home Page
  42. Did Only 1.4 Percent of White Americans Own Slaves in 1860? by Alex Kasprak (7 August 2019) Snopes.
  43. A Vice article gives us some 'smart facts' and 'dumb myths' on slavery, user BreaksFull (May 2015) Reddit, r/badhistory.
  44. Percentage of families owning slaves, 1860 Census Infogram.
  45. D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation: A History of "The Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time" by Melvyn Stokes (2007) Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195336798.
  46. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (1936). Macmillan.
  47. "Gone With the Wind (1939) and the Lost Cause: A Critical View" by Melvyn Stokes (2007) In: The New Film History: Sources, Methods, Approaches, edited by James Chapman et al. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0230001696.
  48. "Gods and Generals Movie Review" by Roger Ebert (February 21, 2003).
  49. The "Cornerstone" Speech by Alexander Stephens (March 21, 1861) Owl Eyes.
  50. Declaration of Causes of Seceding States (archived from February 14, 2015).
  51. Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861 Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.
  52. Selected Statistics on Slavery in the United States Causes of the Civil War.
  53. Dead Confederates, A Civil War Era Blog
  54. Small Truth Papering Over a Big Lie: A Texas State Senate Resolution claims that most Confederate soldiers didn't own slaves. Why that's misleading. by Ta-Nehisi Coates (August 9, 2010) The Atlantic.
  55. 55.0 55.1 General Lee's Army: From Victory to Collapse by Joseph Glatthaar (2009) Free Press. ISBN 1416596976.
  56. Why Non-Slaveholding Southerners Fought by Gordon Rhea (January 25, 2011) Civil War Trust.
  57. 57.0 57.1 57.2 The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter G. Woodson (1933 [1993]) Africa World Press. ISBN 086543171X.
  58. A Brief History of the United States by Joel Dorman Steele (1885) American Book Company.
  59. Lee's primary school history of the United States by Susan Pendleton Lee (1897) B. F. Johnson Publishing Co.
  60. New School History of the United States by Susan Pendleton Lee (1899) B. F. Johnson Publishing Co.
  61. 61.0 61.1 Lost Cause Textbooks: Civil War Education in the South from the 1890s to the 1920s by Earl King (2018) University of MississippiU. Honors Thesis.
  62. 62.0 62.1 62.2 62.3 62.4 62.5 62.6 62.7 Happy slaves? The peculiar story of three Virginia school textbooks by Rex Springston (Apr 14, 2018) Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  63. 63.0 63.1 A Study of the Virginia History and Government Textbook Controversy, 1948-1972 by Fred R. Eichelman (1975) Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Doctoral thesis.
  64. See the Wikipedia article on Harry F. Byrd.
  65. The Secret Diary of William Byrd of Westover, 1709-1712, edited by Louis B. Wright & Marion Tinling (1941) The Dietz Press.
  66. Cavalier Commonwealth: History and Government of Virginia by William Edwin Hemphill (1963) McGraw-Hill.
  67. Then and now: new perspective on old textbook passages by Rex Springston (Apr 15, 2018) Richmond Times-Dispatch.
  68. Popular and Pervasive Stereotypes of African Americans (Oct 23, 2018) National Museum of African American History & Culture..
  69. 69.0 69.1 Virginia Baptist Ministers by George Braxton Taylor (1912) J. P. Bell Company. Third Series.
  70. Black and slave population of the United States from 1790 to 1880 Statista.
  71. Extreme Mortality in Nineteenth-Century Africa: the Case of Liberian Immigrants by Antonio McDaniel (1992) Demography 29(4):581-594.
  72. The birthplace of American slavery debated abolishing it after Nat Turner’s bloody revolt by Gregory S. Schneider (June 1, 2019) The Washington Post.
  73. Property Requirements for Voting in Virginia, 1670-1850 Virginia Places.
  74. Fort Monroe, Hampton Government
  75. Fort Monroe becomes National monument, Obama White House Archives, October 20, 2011
  76. The Divided Family in Civil War America by Amy Murrell Taylor (2009) The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807861863.
  77. Preston Williams, West Virginia: The state that said no. The Washington Post, 30 March 2011.