Southern Comfort: The Racist Confederacy
In 2001 James McPherson reviewed three books on the American Civil War for the New York Review of Books.
It's an acutely relevant essay that reveals the gradual construction of a comforting myth in which the genteel South fought an honorable battle for liberty and states rights -- rather than, as actually happened, for slavery and white supremacy:
The Confederate vice-president, Alexander H. Stephens, had said in a speech at Savannah on March 21, 1861, that slavery was “the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution” of Southern independence. The United States, said Stephens, had been founded in 1776 on the false idea that all men are created equal. The Confederacy, by contrast,
is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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 moral condition. This, our new Government, is the first, in the history of the world, based on this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. [...]
According to Derek Black, the son of Don Black, the creator of Stormfront, it's not just the Confederacy:
Until Trump’s comments, few critics seemed to identify the larger relationship the alt-right sees between its beliefs and the ideals of the American founders. Charlottesville is synonymous with Jefferson. The city lies at the foot of Monticello and is the home of the University of Virginia, the school he founded. Over the years I’ve made several pilgrimages to Charlottesville, both when I was a white nationalist and since I renounced the ideology. While we all know that Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, which declared that “all men are created equal,” his writings also offer room for explicitly white nationalist interpretation.
My father observed many times that the quotation from Jefferson’s autobiography embedded on the Jefferson Memorial is deceptive because it reads, “Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these [the Negro] people are to be free.” It does not include the second half of the sentence: “Nor is it less certain that the two races, equally free, cannot live in the same government. Nature, habit, opinion has drawn indelible lines of distinction between them.”
(image via @ianbremmer)