Fables of the Reconstruction, part one

History easily morphs into myth over time.  Typically the process is innocent.   If an oversimplified version of the truth, or a convenient half-truth, is repeated long enough, it becomes substituted for the whole truth. 

Sometimes the process is a result of propaganda.  This most frequently happens with regard to current events.  Thus, at the time the claim was made, most folks accepted on faith the supposed “fact” that the Kaiser’s soldiers bayoneted Belgian babies for sport.  Historians are usually able to expose such myths, once the passions have cooled.

And sometimes propaganda replaces history with myth long after the fact.  Thus, the stories Parson Weems created about George Washington’s boyhood became accepted as truth, because they were taught as such to American schoolchildren.

Historical myths can be dangerous, not only because they are untrue, but because the myths may obscure or replace important truths.

In this and posts which follow I will challenge some enduring myths about American history.  Because an entire book could be written on this subject, and because I don’t want this blog to become devoted to only this topic, I’ll take it on in small bites, and I don’t intend to finish up all at once.  I’ll just return to this topic from time to time, for another bite at it.  Posts on this subject will always have the same title (with apologies to R.E.M.).  Obviously, this can be a divisive subject, and one of the reasons it so rarely discussed dispassionately is that we’ve become accustomed to ascribing bad motives and character traits to those who challenge the myths.  And of course many who challenge them do in fact have bad motives and character traits.  For those of y’all who want to hear me out, I just ask that you reserve at least some judgment till the end, and please try hard to give me the benefit of the doubt on motive and character.  And if you feel that’s not possible, or the subject just gets you too emotional, skip the posts with this title.  Hopefully there will be other stuff here that you might still enjoy.

The myths I plan to challenge include these: 1) that the American Civil War was fought to end slavery, 2) that the Northern States fought to end slavery, 3) that the Southern States fought to defend slavery, 3) that Abraham Lincoln was a great President, most notably because he preserved the Union and ended slavery, and 4) that the cause for which the Northern States fought was noble and just, and the cause for which the Southern states fought was shameful and unjust.  I will argue that the War, and particularly the victory of the Northern States, was a national tragedy that has permanently and severely damaged our national character, and that, far from being a victory for freedom and liberty, the War and its results have greatly compromised our freedom and liberties.  In so doing, I will argue that the abolition of slavery was nothing more than one of several mechanisms through which those in control of the Republican party were able to secure victory and power, ultimately for the benefit of industrial and financial interests, that have, through securing their power, changed the character of the nation for the worse.  But because the abolition of slavery was such a great (albeit incidental) good, the great injustices and deprivations have been obscured, in part by design, and in part through the natural evolution of history into myth.

Details to follow…

Grace and Peace