Had you been alive during the Civil War, would you have fought for the Confederates?
No doubt about it. What's more, I would fight for the Confederacy today if the circumstances were similar. There's a great deal of misunderstanding about the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, slavery, the whole thing. The political correctness of today is no way to look at the middle of the nineteenth century. The Confederates fought for some substantially good things. States rights is not just a theoretical excuse for oppressing people. You have to understand that the raggedy Confederate soldier who owned no slaves and probably couldn't even read the Constitution, let alone understand it, when he was captured by Union soldiers and asked, What are you fighting for? replied, I'm fighting because you're down here. So I certainly would have fought to keep people from invading my native state. There's another good reason for fighting for the Confederacy. Life would have been intolerable if you hadn't. The women of the South just would not allow somebody to stay home and sulk while the war was going on. It didn't take conscription to grab him. The women made him go.
What about fighting to end the institution of slavery?
The institution of slavery is a stain on this nation's soul that will never be cleansed. It is just as wrong as wrong can be, a huge sin, and it is on our soul. There's a second sin that's almost as great and that's emancipation. They told four million five hundred thousand people, You are free, hit the road. And we're still suffering from that. Three quarters of them couldn't read or write, not one tenth of them had a profession except for farming, and yet they were turned loose and told, Go your way. In 1877 the last Union troops were withdrawn after a dozen years of being in the South to assure compliance with the law. Once they were withdrawn all the Jim Crow laws and everything else came down on the blacks. Their schools were inferior in every sense. They had the Freedmen's Bureau, which did, perhaps, some good work, but it was mostly a joke, corrupt in all kinds of ways. So they had no help. Just turned loose on the world, and they were waifs. It's a very sad thing. There should have been a huge program for schools. There should have been all kinds of employment provided for them. Not modern welfare, you can't expect that in the middle of the nineteenth century, but there should have been some earnest effort to prepare these people for citizenship. They were not prepared, and operated under horrible disadvantages once the army was withdrawn, and some of the consequences are very much with us today.
Bedford Forrest's picture hangs on your wall. He was an ex-slave trader, responsible for the Fort Pillow massacre of captured black soldiers, and after the war deeply involved in the Ku Klux Klan.
You could add that in hand-to-hand combat he killed thirty-one men, mostly in saber duels or pistol shootings, and he had thirty horses shot from under him. Forrest is one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history; he surmounted all kinds of things and you better read back again on the Fort Pillow massacre instead of some piece of propaganda about it. Fort Pillow was a beautiful operation, tactically speaking. Forrest did everything he could to stop the killing of those people who were in the act of surrendering and did stop it.
Forrest himself was never a bloodthirsty sort of man who enjoyed slaughter. He also took better care of his soldiers and his black teamsters than any other general I know of. He was a man who at the age of sixteen had to raise six younger brothers and sisters after the death of his blacksmith father. He became a slave trader because that was a way of making enough money to support all those people and to get wealthy. Forrest was worth about a million dollars when the war started, an alderman for the city of Memphis. He was by no means some cracker who came out of nowhere. All writers will have great sympathy with Forrest for something he said. He did not like to write and there are very few Forrest letters. He said, I never see a pen but I think of a snake.
He's an enormously attractive, outgoing man once you get to know him and once you get to know more facts. For instance, he was probably Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, but he dissolved that Klan in 1869; said that it's getting ugly, it's getting rough, and he did away with it. The Klan you're talking about rose again in this century and was particularly powerful during the 1920s. Forrest would have had no sympathy with that later Klan. Last thing in the world was he anti-Catholic or anti-Semitic, which is what that Klan was mainly in the twenties. I have a hard time defending the Klan and I don't really intend to defend it; I would never have joined it myself, even back in its early days.
But I don't know what you expected men, having gone through four years of utterly savage war, to do--if you expected them to come home and put up quietly with the kind of occupation that happened in France after World War II. The French Maquis did far worse things than the Ku Klux Klan ever did--who never blew up trains or burnt bridges or anything else; they didn't even have lynchings. The Klan is as nefarious as you want it to be, but you have to understand better what they did do and they did not do. And the "massacre" at Fort Pillow, so-called, truly had better be investigated more closely.
When word of the massacre at Fort Pillow got up to Washington, Lincoln wrote to Grant and said, This is intolerable, I want whoever was responsible for it punished. Grant passed the word along to Sherman. If you know anything about Sherman, you know he would have jumped on Forrest like a tiger if he'd been guilty. Sherman never recommended anything along those lines. They sent a committee of Congress down to investigate Fort Pillow and they took testimony from people who were obviously lying their heads off, talking about people being buried alive, women and children shot while pleading for their lives. If you read a biography of Bedford Forrest, you'll get some notion of what a fine man he was.
Is there too much focus on the military in writing about the Civil War?
Well, Forrest said war means fighting, and fighting means killing. The Civil War was simply a four-year military action. The causes were so nebulous and so diverse. Lincoln said plainly: What I do about slavery I do because I want to win this war. If I could win this war by freeing all the slaves tomorrow, I'd do it. If I could win this war by keeping them all in slavery, I'd do that. I'd do anything to win this war. The emphasis was on war, "this mighty scourge." Almost everybody realized that the various bickerings and arguments and the fire-eaters in South Carolina and the abolitionists in Massachusetts, were sort of outside of things really. All they did was cause it. The real monster of the Civil War was that it cost us God knows what all, not only in young men, blue and gray, but in the recasting of what public life was going to be like. It brought a new cynicism in to us that we've lived with ever since. We began to appreciate scamps in politics, which we hadn't really done before. It was a military action and was to be studied as such--not neglecting the causes, not neglecting the arguments of what went on, but it's always primarily combat.
Forgive the lengthy block quote, but I like to err on the side of context. And given that context, I have to say that I found this interview deeply sad and deeply predictable. I've only made my way through the first volume of Foote's trilogy. I found it to be a lot of things, but neo-Confederate apologia isn't among them. It does slight slavery, but as I recall, it does not question--as Foote does here--that slavery was the cause of the War.
There are many lies here. Some of them rather blatant--claiming that the Klan didn't "have any lynchings," is not much better than claiming that the South didn't "have any slaves." Other are more slippery--damning emancipation by conflating freedom with prosperity, all the while ignoring the main actor in restricting black prosperity.
But the root of this is Foote's white romanticism. In Foote's eyes, Lee is not simply an honorable man but "a noble man, noble beyond comparison." Nathan Bedford Forrest is not simply the disbander of the (presumably nonviolent) Klu Klux Klan, but "one of the most attractive men who ever walked through the pages of history." Black southerners like Harriet Tubman, Andrew Jackson Smith or Robert Smalls are met with no such laurels.
I'm looking forward to finishing Foote's trilogy. It really is an engaging read. And yet here is the bit of sadness: He gave twenty years of his life, and three volumes of important and significant words to the Civil War, but he he could never see himself in the slave. He could not get that the promise of free bread can not cope with the promise of free hands. Shelby Foote wrote The Civil War, but he never understood it. Understanding the Civil War was a luxury his whiteness could ill-afford.
Beginning in July of this year, most everywhere we look, there will be a giant number on our food. The change will affect hundreds of thousands of edible products, and, so, hundreds of millions of people. It will affect the way we think about food for decades. (This update is the first in more than 20 years—so long ago that the FDA earnestly describes its current label design as “iconic.”)
Current nutrition labels, legally required on all packaged foods, are to be be replaced with the explicit purpose of improving people’s health. As Michelle Obama said at the unveiling of the new labels on Friday, “Very soon, you will no longer need a microscope, a calculator, or a degree in nutrition to figure out whether the food you’re buying is actually good for our kids.”
Why aren’t the critics comparing Donald Trump to a fascist acknowledging that the office he seeks is too powerful?
Wake up, establishment centrists: Donald Trump is coming!
After the Vietnam War and Watergate and the spying scandals uncovered by the Church Committee and the Nixon Administration cronies who nearly firebombed the Brookings Institution, Americans were briefly inclined to rein in executive power—a rebuke to Richard Nixon’s claim that “if the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Powerful committees were created to oversee misconduct-prone spy agencies. The War Powers Resolution revived a legislative check on warmaking. “In 34 years,” Vice President Dick Cheney would lament to ABC News in a January 2002 interview, “I have repeatedly seen an erosion of the powers and the ability of the president of the United States to do his job. I feel an obligation... to pass on our offices in better shape than we found them to our successors."
Petty political fights distract from the Vermont senator’s goal of a long-lasting movement.
Bernie Sanders’s beliefs have been obvious from the start. He thinks wealthy elites exert too much influence over American politics. He wants the U.S. government to lessen income inequality. He believes climate change is a pressing threat to the world. The clarity and overarching ambition of his agenda has been central to his appeal and expectations-defying political success so far.
If Sanders wants his political revolution to last, he will need to win widespread support for his ideas well into the future. Yet as the primary election draws to a close, the campaign has increasingly made arguments that may undercut the long-term viability of the movement that has coalesced around the Vermont senator.
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
How a strange face in a random 19th-century newspaper ad became a portal to a forgotten moment in ASCII art history
One of the joys of modern technology is how easy it is to immerse yourself in the past. Every day, more libraries and archives are pushing pieces of their collections online in easily browsable interfaces.
The author Moira Weigel argues that the various courtship rituals of the past hundred-odd years have reflected the labor-market conditions of their day.
Love, it turns out, has always been a lot of work.
While every generation will lament anew the fact that finding love is hard, history seems to indicate that this particular social ritual never gets any easier or less exciting. In Labor of Love, a new book documenting the history of dating in America, Moira Weigel, a Ph.D. candidate in comparative literature at Yale University, confirms this lament: Since dating was “invented,” it has always been an activity that required a lot of effort.
As part of her research, Weigel read dating-advice books from the 1800s and hundreds of articles on dating from teen and women’s magazines over the years, and she found two common themes: First, there is usually an older part of the population that perceives dating to be “dying,” or, at least, as not being done “appropriately.” Second, Weigel found that the way people date has almost always been tied to the market forces of their era.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “The Door,” the fifth episode of the sixth season.
Every week for the sixth season of Game of Thrones, Christopher Orr, Spencer Kornhaber, and Lenika Cruz will be discussing new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners are being made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
A small but intriguing study done in West Philadelphia points to the importance of what researchers call microenvironments.
Social scientists and economists have been fascinated by the idea that a city—even a neighborhood—can shape someone’s economic success in life. Until last year, research linking neighborhood conditions to economic mobility was hardly conclusive. Then, a group of Harvard economists made a compelling case that poor children who grow up in more affluent neighborhoods (with better schools, less crime, and larger public budgets) end up earning more money later on than if they had stayed in a poor neighborhood.
A group of researchers from The University of Pennsylvania is now taking that idea a step further, showing that a similar pattern might even apply on the level of the city block. They studied West Philadelphia, which is largely made up of poor, African American families and where poverty is passed on from one generation to the next. Yet even within West Philadelphia, poverty, crime and education levels vary from block to block. These areas are what researchers are calling “micro-environments.”
The show had some bright spots—such as Larry David’s work as Bernie Sanders—but it largely failed to capture the zeitgeist in the year of Trump.
As Saturday Night Live wrapped its season last weekend, it made sense that it led off with Hillary Clinton (Kate McKinnon) and Bernie Sanders (Larry David) bidding each other farewell, and Donald Trump nowhere to be seen. The 41st year of SNL has struggled to find its voice during this demented election season, a time when the show usually taps into the zeitgeist, but if there’s anything it’ll be remembered for, it’s the inspired casting choice of David as an avatar of grumpy disgust with the nation’s political process.
And yet David isn’t in the main cast of Saturday Night Live—technically, he’s an alumnus of the show, having written for its 10th season. Darrell Hammond, who impersonated Donald Trump for most of the year after Taran Killam’s early attempt, is another veteran brought in for a specific role. And the 41st season finale, easily one of the best episodes of the year, worked mostly because its host Fred Armisen brought back many luminaries from his time on the show to help recall his own glory days. In the three years since Armisen departed, Saturday Night Live has struggled to define its new era, and the joy of seeing its old cast return has only helped to underline that troubling fact.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”