Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Causes of The Civil War According to Ken Burns' Documentary Series (Episode 1)

When the Right ponders why the Republican Party continues to struggle with race, conservatives should remember it's not just "Barack the Magic Negro" CDs, or Republican congressman referring to Barack Obama as "uppity" and "boy", or the Ashley Todd hoax, or "Obama Bucks". It's also that no one seems too terribly surprised to hear a Republican official in the 21st century refer to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression" ~ Steve Benen (dob 5/15/1973) a producer for The Rachel Maddow Show who was the lead blogger for the Washington Monthly's "Political Animal" blog (8/2008 to 1/2012) as quoted in a 2/11/2009 blog post.

An alternate title for this post could be "On the Ludicrous Notion that the Civil War Wasn't Fought Over Slavery". Ludicrous according to historians on the subject who are largely in agreement on the causes of the Civil war. Ludicrous as well according to the highly lauded and award winning Ken Burns documentary. A documentary that won 40 major film and television awards, including two Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards, Producer of the Year Award from the Producers Guild of America, People's Choice Award, Peabody Award and numerous others.

Although some history rewriting enthusiasts might claim that the series is "an anti-history smear documentary", the fact is that the film is correct (at least) in regards to the underlying cause, which is that the seceding states most certainly did fight for their independence from the United States in the name of slavery and the racial hierarchy that underlies it.

Even someone critical of the series, James M. Lundberg, an assistant professor of history at Lake Forest College who says the series is "a deeply misleading and reductive film that often loses historical reality in the mists of Burns' sentimental vision and the romance of Foote's anecdotes" affirms that the Confederates "were fighting for their independence from the United States in the name of slavery and the racial hierarchy that underlay it".

I just watched part one, and although it is titled "Causes" THE CAUSE, only the first hour is devoted to THE CAUSE (singular). The remaining half hour covers the attack on Fort Sumter and the Battle of Bull Run, after which both sides in the conflict realized their initial beliefs that each would win quickly was shattered.

During that first hour not once were tariffs mentioned. States' rights came up, but it was in the context of the South wanting to leave the union after Lincoln was elected because they worried that signaled the end of slavery (or, the beginning of the end of it). The fact is that ALL the reasons that lead up to the war were, according to the Ken Burns documentary, slavery related... hence the title of the episode THE CAUSE. Even the history rewriting enthusiast (HRE) mentions in his post that "Mr. Calhoun, after finding that the South could not be brought into sufficient unanimity by a clamor about the tariff, selected slavery as the better subject for agitation".

(John C. Calhoun, VP under John Quincy Adams, is best known for his intense and original defense of slavery as a positive good rather than a necessary evil. Although Calhoun died eleven years before the start of the American Civil War, he was an inspiration to the secessionists of 1860–61).

So, even the HRE admits that the populace was "agitated" to go to war to defend slavery and was NOT agitated to do the same over a tariff. Then he quotes the "North American Review" (Boston, October 1862) which wrote that "Slavery is not the cause of the rebellion. Slavery is the pretext on which the leaders of the rebellion rely, to fire the Southern heart, and through which the greatest degree of unanimity can be produced".

Pretext? If slavery fired the Southern heart, how the HELL can it be called a "pretext"? If it agitated and fired the hearts of the population to go to war, does that not point to slavery being THE cause? I say undoubtedly YES. Yet the HRE labels me a "total moron", and insists, if I opened an introductory history book, I would find that tariffs or states' rights or some reason other than slavery lead to war (and finally the HRE lies about me calling him "evil" as part of my "narrative").

The only "narrative" I'm pushing here is the one that comports with the truth. A truth, as I pointed out previously, historians are largely in regards to. Slavery led to the Civil War, and the historians interviewed in this first episode of Ken Burns' documentary are no different.

Having just watched it, I copied down some quotes - both historical and by present day historians - which I present below. As you will see, these quotes all support the historically correct version of events, which is that the underlying cause of the conflict was slavery.

Quotes from Part 1 of the Ken Burns' Civil War Documentary, "The Cause"

0:09:10 For me, the picture of the Civil War as a historic phenomenon, is not on the battlefield. It's not about weapons; it's not about soldiers. Except to the extent that weapons and soldiers at that crucial moment joined a discussion about something higher; about humanity, about human dignity, about human freedom ~ Barbara Fields, a professor of American history at Columbia University. Her focus is on the history of the American South.

(0:17:03) If there was a single event that caused the war, it was the establishment of the United States in independence from Great Britain with slavery still a part of it's heritage ~ Barbara Fields.

(0:26:18) As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal". We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except Negroes". Soon it will read "all men are created equal, except Negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics". When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy ~ Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln Letters.

(0:27:25) A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other ~ Abraham Lincoln, from his House Divided Speech.

(0:31:17) Herman Melville called him the meteor of the war ~ narrator David McCullough [Quote from Melville's "The Portent" (1859), a short poem about White abolitionist John Brown and his hanging following the raid on Harpers Ferry, which was an attempt by Brown to start an armed slave revolt in 1859 by seizing a United States arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia.]

(0:32:22) John Brown becomes the single most important factor, in my opinion, in bringing on the war. The militia system in the South had been a joke before this, becomes a viable instrument as the Southern militias begin to take a true form. And the South begins to worry about Northerners agitating the Blacks to murder them in their beds ~ Ed Bearss, a military historian and author known for his work on the American Civil War and World War II eras.

(0:35:45) Southerners saw the election of Lincoln as a sign that the Union was about to be radicalized, and that they were about to be taken in directions that they did not care to go. The abolitionist aspect of it was very strong, and they figured they were about to lose what they called their property. And faced ruin ~ Shelby Foote, an American historian and novelist who wrote The Civil War: A Narrative, a massive, three-volume history of the war.

(0:42:31) Our new Government is founded upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the White man ~ Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens, from his March 1861 Cornerstone Speech, which declared that African slavery was the "immediate cause" of secession.

(0:50:15) The first gun that was fired at Fort Sumter sounded the death-knell of Slavery. They who fired it were the greatest practical abolitionists this nation has produced ~ Assistant Adjutant-General Moses C. Brown, in a 6/28/1863 NYT article.

(1:09:47) Teach the rebels and traitors that the price they are to pay for the attempt to abolish this government must be the abolition of slavery ~ Frederick Douglass, an African-American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement.


While there are those who criticize Ken Burns' Civil War documentary, I haven't been able to find a SINGLE slam, knock or nitpick from one damn source that even suggests Ken Burns' documentary is wrong for declaring unequivocally that the Civil War was fought over slavery - and that *IS* what "The Cause" concludes says. It doesn't "conclude" it at all, it states it as a matter of FACT, beginning with a summary of slavery in the United States and proceeding from there for an HOUR stating the war was fought because of SLAVERY, SLAVERY, (and also) SLAVERY.

Which makes me wonder, what kind of idiot writes literally dozens of posts declaring this fact "ludicrous", cites a bunch of reasons that have to do with Lincoln being willing to do practically anything to avoid war and keep the Union intact, and then basically admits slavery was the reason, but that it was "political"?

No, what was political were the solutions proposed by Lincoln for keeping the Union from breaking up. It was extraordinarily clear from his writings and statements that he strongly opposed slavery - but politicians compromise, which is what "A" though "D" on the HRE's list of "proofs" that the Civil War wasn't about slavery ARE - political compromises (or "ploys") designed to keep the union whole.

Frankly I'm surprised the HRE has never referred to the Civil War as "The War of Northern Aggression", which, according to the Urban Dictionary, is a "Southern term for the American Civil War that is mostly used by those who think the south should have won". While I do not believe the HRE thinks the South should have won, he is a Lincoln-hater who is absolutely convinced the North was the aggressor and that the Civil War should NOT have been fought (and the Southern states should have been allowed to secede).

Coincidentally, this is where one of the Burns' documentary critics finds fault with the series. Leon F. Litwack, an American historian whose scholarship focuses on slavery, as quoted in the book Ken Burns' The Civil War: Historians Respond, complains about Shelby Foote "refusing to concede that slavery defined the Confederacy as a nation [and] for wishing, in retrospect, that compromise had prevented the war in the first place.

Sounds like a new series for the HRE to take up... instead of slamming Michael Mann for "lying" about global climate change, he can slam historians like Leon F. Litwack who "lie" about the Civil War. But then the HRE would have to acknowledge that such people actually exist. The HRE might argue that Mr. Litwack is imaginary, given what information he THINKS is contained in introductory history books.

SWTD #250, wDel #58.


  1. All you have to do is read the actual documents that the states wrote giving their reasons for secession to see that it was all about slavery.

    1. Yes, Will acknowledges that in his latest post... but he says those documents mention slavery for "political reasons".

      Will: So slavery was a political ploy, in other words, and damned if that doesn't make a hell of a lot more sense.

      A "political ploy" and not the REAL reason. Does that make "a hell of a lot more sense"? Not to me it doesn't. Apparently it does to history rewriting enthusiasts like Will though.

      Seems to me that a political ploy would be to say they were leaving the union for State's Rights reasons. The tariff thing simply does not hold up, as if they didn't leave the Union they had enough votes to squash that (the tariff increase on exported cotton).

    2. What political ploy? I would rather take them at their word.

    3. That slavery was mentioned in those succession documents was a "political ploy"... according to Mr. Hart. If that doesn't make any sense to you - it makes no sense to me either. You'll have to ask Will, given that he's smarter than the both of us... or at least me. Maybe if he explains it to you - you'll understand and can come back and try and explain it to me.

  2. Maybe we should bring back Slavery, at least we knew where the blacks were late at night then. Today, who knows?

  3. Given how much Lester HATES it when I copy his comments from elsewhere and post them here... below are two comments he made in reply to the Contra O'Reilly post "On the Ludicrous Notion that the Civil War was Fought Over Slavery"...

    MAY 5, 2014 AT 9:35 PM
    Will Hart publishes his idiotic and historically innacurate commentary.

    MAY 6, 2014 AT 7:48 PM
    Lester Nation comments.
    Lester: I'm thinking there will be another Whirling Dervish, aka Dervish Sanders... post soon on his gutter blogs in response to this.

    May 7, 2014 AT 3:17 AM
    I post the historically ACCURATE commentary above.

    MAY 7, 2014 AT 5:04 PM
    Lester Nation (after viewing my blog) comments a second time.
    Lester: Bingo, Whirling Dervish, aka Dervish Sanders... has a post up already as long as a State of the Address.

    Looks like Lester is keeping close tabs on me. Despite his constant denials of ever viewing my blog.

  4. Of course I check in now and again. I love the comedy you provide!


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