One Last Thought On McDonnell and Confederate History

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Here's a sampling of the correspondence I've received from Lost Causers over the past week. 

From e-mail:

Check your history, slavery was NOT the cause of the civil war. The right to govern was THE reason for the war. Slavery may have been the cause for some, but it was not the reason for the war. No one seems to mention the fact that there were more slave states in the Union at that time than there was in the "south', and the Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves in the South and not the North. In fact, the slaves brought from Africa, were in fact, sold by the Africans themselves. You want to blame some one? Blame the people who sold the slaves to start with! I agree slavery is evil, inherently evil, and has no place at any time. To say the entire population of the south at that time owned slaves and fought to keep them, is pure ignorance. The United States was the ones who bought and brought slaves here in the first place, on ships flying the flag of the U.S., and not the Confederacy.

E-mail:

Your statement that slavery was THE primary cause of the Civil War is a rather revisionist view. You may wish to read Lincoln's letter and memoirs at the Smithsonian regarding the real political flavor of that period that bolstered the call for succession. Most definitely slavery was a component part of the many issues at play in this arena but not "the center stage issue" you eschew.

From comments:

It is truly sad to see so many ignorant people repeating the lie that the "Civil" War was about slavery. Especially when one of those ignorant people is the governor of Virginia. The Confederacy was a group of free and independent states who fought a defensive war against an oppressive invading army. The causes of secession were many and just. The act of secession was an accepted reality and in this case it was carried out independently by each the southern states in an effort to defend the founding principles set forth in The Constitution of the sovereign states. To reduce the issue to slavery shows a grave ignorance of history, economics and politics. Don't forget that those victorious in war get to write the history books but, even so, they cannot alter the well documented truth of the matter. Dig deeper and you will find the truth.

And also from comments:

The Civil war was about state's rights vs federalism; Slavery was at best a tertiary issue. Your incomprehensible gibberish is typical of the revisionist history your ilk want to impose on anything you don't happen to like or that doesn't fit your narrow viewpoint. Like the Truth. Of course, how would one expect a high level of intellectual discourse from someone named "Ta-Nehisi"?

The sentiment that the preservation of white supremacy was ancillary to the Civil War is widespread. I was confronted with it while touring Virginia last year. I'm confronted with it whenever I post about Grant, Thomas or the USCT. 625,000 Americans died in the Civil War--two percent of the country's population. To put that in perspective, it would be as though we lost six million soldiers in a war today. There were more casualties in one day at the Battle of Antietam, than there were in the entire Revolutionary War. Men died in the worst ways imaginable--burned alive at the Wilderness, eaten by hogs at Shiloh, starved at Andersonville.

And yet despite all that death and suffering, a large swath of this country has no idea why it happened. It's not as though the scholarship is particularly mixed--even the most popular epics of the Civil War, Ken Burns documentary, and James MacPherson's masterpiece are very clear about its primary cause.

Some of you think that I was overzealous in praise of Bob McDonnell. Maybe so. But when regularly wrestling with this kind of boastful--and willful--ignorance, when consistently confronted with people who assert that whole regiments of blacks warred on the side of white supremacy, any ray of light gives me hope. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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