Category Archives: Ask Dr. Harris

A Response to Mr. Fisher

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Let’s shake on it!

Yesterday I took an admittedly snarky couple of jabs at Ben Jones, former Georgia state legislator and actor who portrayed Cooter on The Dukes of Hazzard. In it, I questioned Jones’s and the SCV’s vague assertions of state rights and heritage in connection with the Confederate Battle Flag and asked if I might have a few specifics. Really, I just wondered why – though I am certain that Confederate soldiers served under arms for many reasons and that they exhibited any number of virtues – descendants of these soldiers always seem to leave slavery and the the reasons for secession out of the heritage story.

I received two comments from one Mr. Michael Fisher, which I provide below (n.b. grammar and syntax are left in the original)

Wow all that crap you are spewing you must know exactly what happened in the Civil War. Me personally I think you’re freaking full of it. That crap they taught you in school is lies. So what you are saying is this country went to war with itself to stop slavery. Okay then explain to me 1 thing. Why did the North not relinquish there slaves before the war, during the war, but instead wait till somewhere about 3 years after the war. I mean really the North think they can have their way but insist the SOUTH cannot. Or how bout this in the 1800’s the South covered 70 percent of all the income in the United States at that time and the North threw another 40 Percent tariff on the South because the North was greedy and wanted more that’s what we went to war over. You see the South was the first to free all slaves in the South where you yanks kept them till after the war. PROVE ME WRONG I DARE YOU.

A few hours later…

Oh arguments pretty thin huh. Sure don’t see the one I put up there this morning. Got no come back for it nor does it fit your lying ass agenda right. Just one sided history. And you want it to be yours.

I was away from my desk much of the day, so I promised Mr. Fisher that I would respond once I returned to the convenience of my study. I trust he has not grown impatient.

I have never once claimed that the country went to war with itself to stop slavery. Slaves were protected constitutionally as property. Abraham Lincoln knew it and so did most everyone else. What I have said is that people in the slave states perceived a growing threat from elements outside of the South, namely the tiny abolitionist crusade and the much larger free labor movement, championed by the Republican party. Their perception was that a growing anti-slavery (white southerners often conflated free labor and abolition) sentiment in the North aimed to come after slavery eventually. The election of Lincoln suggested this to white southerners in profound ways – and thus they motioned to secede from the Union with the explicitly articulated intention to preserve the institution of slavery. Eleven of those states carried out this motion – and in their secession documents you can read why they did it. Hint: it was to protect slavery. I can’t see how you can dispute this…it’s crystal clear.

The loyal states sent soldiers to war to preserve the Union. They fought, not so much to free slaves (until it became apparent that freedom would help the Union cause) as they did to suppress a rebellion initiated to preserve slavery. I hope you can see the difference here. Suffice it to say: no slavery, no war.

Now on to your points about slavery in the North. In 1861 there were four slave states that remained loyal to the Union. The US Constitution protects citizens’ property in many ways. So there you have it. However, the Republican party did take steps to amend the Constitution to address specifically and be rid of slavery across the whole nation. We call that the 13th amendment. It passed both houses in January 1865 and was ratified by the states in December.

Regarding the tariff you mentioned  – there were a number of protective tariffs that spurred political debate from the nullification crisis in the early 1830s through the Morrill Tariff in March, 1861. I am not sure to which you refer – please be specific and we can talk. I am not really clear on your numbers, however. It would help if you provide citations so we are both working from the same documents.

I am equally confused about the South being the first to free all slaves. I double checked the Confederate constitution and sure enough it says in Article I, section 9: “No bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law denying or impairing the right of property in negro slaves shall be passed.” Also, in Article IV section 2: “The citizens of each State shall be entitled to all the privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States; and shall have the right of transit and sojourn in any State of this Confederacy, with their slaves and other property; and the right of property in said slaves shall not be thereby impaired.” It seems to me that slaves were around for good…so long as the Rebs won the fight, which of course, they didn’t.

Finally, I’m not a Yankee. I’m from Alabama.

So I hope this answered your questions. I am not forwarding any agenda that I can see – just reading from the historical documents.

With compliments,



Happy New Year!

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 11.53.39 AMAnd alas we have reached the end of another year. I hope your 2014 was a smashing success. Here in Hollywood, this year saw the publication of my first book, Across the Bloody Chasm and the launch of my monthly web-journal, The Americanist Independent. I guess I could say that 2014 was a spectacular year.

What’s on the agenda for 2015? Well, I’ve got an essay coming up in a book on the 1864 Overland Campaign edited by Caroline E. Janney and Gary W. Gallagher – it should be out in spring. And of course the journal is still on point. Also, I am working on a book tentatively titled, An American Racist: D. W. Griffith and the Making of the Birth of a Nation. I hope to have it done by summer. Expect some surprises.

I wish you all the very best in the upcoming year! My advice: strive for excellence, do something exceptional, and kick some serious ass.

With compliments,


How Not to Use Twitter

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 7.49.33 PMOr rather…how to use Twitter poorly. This post will initiate a series discussing the things one should and should not do when using Twitter…or if you like, Social Media etiquette. I am specifically addressing people involved with historical inquiry and education – teachers, students, scholars, and everyone else. But this can just as easily apply to anyone.

I am on Twitter constantly. My students think it is funny that the old guy has a Twitter account, but I assure them that I am not interested in the Kardashians or any of the other Internet sensations out there, but rather the pursuit of knowledge and – here it is folks….INTERACTION with others who are doing the same thing.

Interaction means real conversation with real people. Note the message on the left I received from a radio host who does a show on the Constitution. I initially followed him to perhaps get a little insight on this foundational document – maybe engage in some conversation. But then I received his stupid, impersonal, meaningless automated message.

I’ll admit my response was a little snarky (I’m the king of snark). But honestly…an automated message? This is my Twitter pet peeve. I have such an unfavorable reaction to these because they serve to undermine the very best application of the platform. Here is what an automated message says: “Hi, thanks for following me. I am far too important to personally introduce myself to a peon like you (did you notice, I have 57k followers!) – but I would still like you to follow my other shit – and buy stuff too.”

No thanks.

Now normally I would publicly call this person out. But seeing that the message was intended to be private (fake or not), I respect that person’s privacy and thus blacked out their handle and website. But none of that really matters. The image simply serves as an example of what NOT to do. A very good example…I might add. Full disclosure: I used to employ one of these automated systems until I realized how obnoxious they were.  Friends, if you want to reach out to a new follower then send them a personal message. Sheesh. If you don’t, you just look like a bot. And NOBODY likes a bot.

With compliments,


Speaking Engagement in Pasadena – October 28th

Screen Shot 2014-10-07 at 9.33.16 AMGreetings to my Southern California friends – I will be speaking to the Pasadena Civil War Round Table on October 28th at 7:15 PM. The place: the Pasadena Central Library. The topic: Civil War veterans and reconciliation. This talk will be kicking off my book tour, of sorts…kind of promotional and kind of informative at the same time. If LSU press comes through by then, I might even have a copy or three on hand. Come one, come all – I PROMISE you will not be disappointed!

Here’s the deets.

With compliments,


The Lee v. Grant Twitter Experiment

Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 9.21.40 AMFrom time to time, as you all by now surely know, I ask some sort of little question on Twitter to get the ball rolling toward a conversation. Recently I asked the hypothetical: “Who would you rather have on your side, Grant or Lee…and why?” Kind of a silly question of course, since there are so many other factors to consider when it comes to victory and defeat, but my point was to get people talking about the military prowess of each commander. 

The most interesting thing happened. The votes were unanimously cast for Ulysses S. Grant. This surprised me a little – the Twitter universes is a big place, and surely there have to be some Lee fans out there. But not this time.

A number of things could explain this. One, we are looking at these two men retrospectively and well, we know who won. So yes, we all like to pick a winner.

But I think there is more to it than that. Answers indicate that Lee was overrated both in his time and by subsequent generations…that he was too audacious and unnecessarily bled his army to defeat. Grant, on the other hand, masterfully used the resources that those before him did (or could) not. This suggests to me that myths surrounding both men have changed drastically over the last several decades. 

Others suggested that northern leaning sentiment is slowly taking over the Internet – that perhaps a less technologically savvy older generation favors the Lee camp and thus doesn’t really use social media platforms to speak their minds. I’m not sure if I agree with this – I have seen plenty of web-based pro-Confederate groups who maintain active forums declaring the many virtues of their beloved Robert E. Lee.

At least one person figured that I might have driven the pro-Lee crew away and they just did not participate. After all, besides being a “Yankee metrosexual wearing purple sunglasses” I am also on record as favoring the Union cause…maybe I was just baiting them. (I wasn’t. I am also on record as stating that I think RE Lee was a hell of a soldier) 

I’ll give the Lee crew a chance to weigh in here. But as it stands so far – Grant is a clear winner in the “who would you rather have on your side” contest.

With compliments,