I Just Can't

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I spent a lot of time early in my career as a historian arguing with Confederate apologists on the Internet. Joining the Twitter ranks at its inception offered a glorious field of fire when it came to potential opponents. But I'm done arguing with the apologist crowd. I'm not defeated -  far from it. I'm just tired of saying the same thing over and over again to glazed-over nitwits who refuse to accept that the protection of the institution of slavery was the primary motivating factor for secession. I just can't argue with people who refuse to consider the evidence. I just can't do it anymore.

I just can't continue to underscore the political debates of the 1850s that focus on the extension of slavery into the territories.

I just can't continue to point out the collapse of the Democratic Party over internal contentions concerning popular sovereignty.

I just can't continue to point to the southern press continually accusing the Republicans of taking aim at their "institution."

I just can't continue to emphasize slave-holders' characterization of Abraham Lincoln as a "black Republican."

I just can't continue to direct people to the secession documents that specifically note the protection of slavery as the reason for secession.

I just can't continue to direct apologists' attention to Alexander Stephens's cornerstone speech. 

And yes, my apologist friends...I am well aware that most white southerners did not own slaves. Does this mean that the war wasn't about slavery. No. While southern soldiers may have joined the cause for many reasons, they were doing so on behalf of a new government created explicitly for the preservation of slavery. Secession established that fact. No one was confused about this. Read the newspapers...they certainly did. 

And of course, apologists...I am well aware that the United States cause was specifically defined as a cause to preserve the Union. Does this mean the war wasn't about slavery? No. The secession documents clearly state the preservation of slavery as the Confederacy's founding principle, it was enshrined in their constitution, and both the Confederate president and vice-president noted slavery as a foundational feature of the new republic. Secession was without question undertaken to preserve slavery. No secession...no need for a Union cause. 

And oh yes, apologists...I am well aware that Lincoln promised not to interfere with the institution where it already existed. Does this mean the war wasn't about slavery? No. White southerners in 1860 were aware of all of the other things Lincoln said too, they were aware of his unbending stance against slavery in the federal territories, and they were aware of his assertion that the nation could not survive half slave and half free. Do the math. If you believe the southern press...then it is quite clear that the overwhelming sentiment in the 1860 South was that Lincoln's election was the single biggest threat to the institution. Perception is everything. Really...everything. 

And with crystal clarity, apologists...I am well aware that southern Democrats favored a state rights government. Does this mean that the war wasn't about slavery? No. Let me just ask you this...which state rights, specifically, did the Lincoln administration threaten - besides the right to own slaves as property?  

And yes, apologists, I am well aware that white people in the North were racists. Does that mean the war wasn't about slavery? No. Newsflash...one could be opposed to the institution of slavery on both moral and economic grounds and want to prevent its expansion AND still (like most white Americans in the 19th century) think of black folks as inferior in some way or another. Lincoln had words about this...so did many abolitionists. But they still hated the institution and sought to keep it out of the territories, which threatened the slaveholding South. Seriously...just read the papers. It's that easy. 

And finally, apologists...I am well aware that proposed Republican tariffs annoyed an agricultural South that depended on European imports. Does this mean the war wasn't about slavery? No. Tariffs may have indeed been a sectional bone of contention, but arguments against them pale in comparison to the anxiety caused over the threat to slavery. Just read the secession documents from Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama...etc and count the number of times they mention tariffs. Now count the number of times they mention slavery. Go ahead...

There is really one and only one way to come to the conclusion that secession, and thus the Civil War, was not about slavery...and that is to ignore the evidence. 

I just can't be bothered to engage with the apologist crowd anymore. Seriously, I can think of no greater waste of time. There is a mountain of evidence that illustrates their utter lack of historical consciousness, and once upon a time I would have offered, as a rebuttal to their non-sensical and ahistorical ramblings, the whole enchilada. But I just can't anymore. 





Keith Harris