The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

History You Probably Never Knew

Posted on | December 30, 2023 | Comments Off on History You Probably Never Knew

Very early in my childhood, history became a favorite subject, most likely because of my father’s service in World War II. Knowing that he had been wounded while fighting the Germans in France — he had a deep scar on the back of his neck from the shrapnel that nearly killed him — I was always eager to read anything about that war, and while still in high school read the entirety of William Shirer’s monumental The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. The history of the Civil War was of less interest to me, but my sixth-grade project for the Social Studies Fair at Lithia Springs Elementary School was about the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, which took place in neighboring Cobb County. Many times as a boy, driving up to Lake Altoona for fishing trips, we had stopped at Lost Mountain Store, near the western part of the Confederate defense line during that battle; when I was in college, I had a girlfriend who lived in Kennesaw, and my route to her house had me driving past the battlefield at Cheatham Hill on a regular basis. In 1979, to mark the 115th anniversary of Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, the Atlanta-Journal Constitution published a multi-part series about that campaign beginning at Dalton, and I was fascinated by this as the most detailed account of the Atlanta campaign I’d encountered up to that point. Later, after graduating college, I purchased Bruce Catton’s Civil War, a one-volume compilation of his three-part Army of the Potomac series, and as anyone who has read it knows, that was a masterpiece of narrative history.

All of this I recount as partial explanation of how it was that I subsequently became known as a “neo-Confederate,” an appellation intended by some to designate the target as a dangerous extremist — “RAAAAACIST!” — like those “neo-Nazi” misfits who fancifully imagine they can somehow bring about a Fourth Reich. The point I wish to make is that my interest in the Confederacy stemmed from my larger interest in military history and, considering how crucial battles of the Civil War were fought in the immediate vicinity of my childhood home in Georgia, this interest was by no means remarkable. The further tale of how I became a member of the League of the South, I’ve recounted elsewhere and need not repeat here; during the Great LGF Blog War of 2009, I decisively vindicated my reputation, without ever having been compelled to apologize or repudiate any of my prior associations. Whatever my faults and errors may be, those who know me best know that I am nothing like the sinister “white supremacist” character that left-wingers have manufactured by their smears. I owe those bastards no apologies.

Recently, I encountered on Amazon a book I’d never seen before: The Heritage of The South by Jubal Early, a Confederate general who rose to corps command in Lee’s army, and who had been a delegate to the Virginia convention that voted for secession (which Early voted against). Because of his background as a lawyer deeply involved in Virginia politics — representing Franklin County in the House of Delegates for one term, and later serving as Commonwealth’s Attorney — Early was well-qualified to discuss the history of events that led to the Civil War.

Here is how General Early begins his tale:

The struggle for independence made by the Southern States of the American Union, grew out of questions of self government arising mainly in regard to the institution of African slavery as it existed in those states, and as that institution was the occasion for the development of the difficulties which led immediately to the struggle, the conduct of the states lately forming the Southern Confederacy has been misunderstood, therefore, misrepresented, with the effect of casting upon them not only the odium of originating the war but even for the existence and continuance of slavery itself.
Much misapprehension has existed in the minds even of intelligent foreigners upon these subjects and it is therefore not inappropriate to take a retrospective view of the history of slavery in general and especially of the slave trade and of slavery in the United States, as well as of the questions which led to the secession of the Southern States and to the war consequent thereon.
It is said that the Portuguese began the traffic in slaves on the coast of Africa in the 15th century, and that at the beginning of the 16th century negro slaves had become quite common in Portugal.
After the discovery of America, the Spaniards made slaves of the Indians and employed them in their first settlements in the newly discovered country, but the supply not being found sufficient and the Indians not being very well adapted for the purpose in the tropical regions, negro slaves were introduced from Africa—the first being imported[ 12 ] into Hispaniola (St. Domingo), in the year 1503. The example of Spain in regard to the use of negro slaves in her American Colonies was followed by all the other nations of Europe, who undertook the colonization of the newly found continent and islands, to-wit: the Portuguese, English, French, Dutch, Danes and Swedes.
Sir John Hawkins, an English admiral and adventurer, was the first Englishman known to have engaged in the African slave trade, and he carried his first cargo to the Spanish West India islands about the year 1562. Report says that Queen Elizabeth became a partner in and shared the profits of his subsequent voyages in the prosecution of the trade. From that time the African slave trade became a regular branch of English commerce, and was conducted in its first stages principally under monopolies granted to companies, in the profits of which members of the Royal family, noblemen, courtiers and churchmen, as well as merchants, shared, as was the practice in those days in all important branches of commerce.
From the restriction under Charles II, the African trade, including that in slaves, was monopolized by the “Royal African Company” for a number of years; and that company built and established, on the coast of Africa, forts and factories for the purpose of facilitating and protecting the trade; but in the year 1698, the slave trade was thrown open to private traders, upon the payment to the company of a certain percentage towards the support of its forts and factories.
The growing demand in Europe for colonial products now gave a new impulse to the slave trade, and its profits were very great. It was not only recognized by the government, but was sustained by the universal public sentiment in England, and was fostered and cherished by Parliament as a lucrative traffic.
In the year 1713, by the treaty of Utrecht, the Assiento, a contract originally entered into by the Spanish government with a company of French merchants for a monopoly by the latter of the trade in slaves to Spanish America, was assigned to the South Sea Company. By the terms of this contract 4,800 negro slaves were to be furnished to the Spanish colonies annually for thirty years, the company being privileged to introduce as many more as could be sold.
In this company Queen Anne and the King of Spain became stockholders, as did a large portion of the nobility, gentry, churchmen, and merchants of England. England thus sought a monopoly of the entire slave trade, at least so far as her own and the Spanish colonies were concerned. The exclusive privileges granted to the Royal African Company having expired, in the year 1750 the British Government undertook to maintain the forts and factories on the African coast at its own expense, and the slave trade was thrown open to free competition on the part of its citizens. A great increase of the trade now took place, and England had become the leading nation in that trade, which was carried on chiefly from the ports of Bristol and Liverpool, but other ports including that of London shared in it—the West Indies furnishing the principal market, but a considerable number were also introduced into the colonies of North America. . . .

You can purchase the book from Amazon (paying me a small commission) and read the rest of General Early’s account, but perhaps you grasp the point he was endeavoring to make, i.e., that while Southerners were blamed for “the existence and continuance of slavery itself,” the institution had a much larger history. In fact, there were far more African slaves imported to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies (Cuba, Brazil, etc.) than ever arrived in the English colonies that eventually became the United States. According to Wikipedia, some 5.8 million Africans were shipped to Brazil, for example, compared to less than 400,000 shipped to North America. For some reason, however, we don’t hear many denunciations of Portugal (or Spain or France) over slavery; instead, as General Early remarked, the “odium” has historically been focused on the South. This was a function of politics, you see. The damned Yankees wished to believe that they were entirely innocent and that Southerners were uniquely guilty in regard to the practice of slavery. It may or may not surprise readers to learn that I grinned ever so slightly as I wrote about Albany, New York, removing the “statue of General Philip Schuyler that stood in front of Albany City Hall for nearly a century.” Because, yes, Schuyler owned slaves, and the fact that African slaves had toiled as far north as upstate New York might seem strange to most Americans, but guess what? Southerners knew all about the North’s hypocrisy, and were never deceived by the Yankees’ (rather conveniently belated) attempt to claim moral superiority in this matter.

And in breaking 19th-century news:

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has come under fire for issuing a word-salad response when asked in New Hampshire on Wednesday why America fought in the Civil War, refusing to say the word “slavery.”
The moment came during a campaign event in the Granite State when someone in the crowd asked Haley what caused the Civil War. The presidential candidate seemed somewhat puzzled by the question to the point of calling the answer difficult.
“I mean, I think the cause of the Civil War was basically how government was going to run. The freedoms and what people could and couldn’t do,” Haley said.
When Haley asked the voter what he thought had sparked the Civil War, the voter said, “I’m not running for president.”
“I think it always comes down to the role of government and what the rights of the people are,” Haley added. “I will always stand by the fact that I think government was intended to secure the rights and freedoms of the people. It was never meant to be all things to all people,” she said.

Because I watch CNN (so you don’t have to), I’ve been watching this story recycled hourly for three days. Even if you don’t like Nikki Haley, sensible people must abhor the fact that she is subjected to such an inquisition, merely because she is from South Carolina. This continued effort to stigmatize the South, to fasten upon the Southern people this burden of blood-guilt, has become so mindless that even the daughter of Sikh immigrants from Punjab gets targeted, as if she bears personal responsibility for the, uh, misunderstanding at Fort Sumter.

The execrable Nikole Hannah-Jones was among those exulting over Nikki Haley’s stumble, but Glenn Reynolds took the opportunity to remind us of Hannah-Jones’s own history of . . . unusual comments.

That comment provoked a discussion in which Hannah-Jones refused to give the North any credit for ending slavery by force of arms:

Far be it from me to waste my time arguing with fools, a bad habit that anyone would be well advised to avoid, but the reality of the modern information system is such that it is dangerous to let folly go unrebuked. When people publish inflammatory and insulting claims, the absence of immediate pushback will lead many observers to think that the claim made is valid, and thus do bad ideas and harmful myths become commonplace. Are black people collectively victims of “inhumanity visited” upon them by white Americans collectively?

This is the implied meaning of Hannah-Jones’s rhetoric, seeking to make personal responsibility disappear by the use of racial collectivism to point the accusing finger at white people. The circumstances of history cannot be changed retroactively, and this guilt-tripping attitude — seeking to impugn white people based on what happened centuries before they were even born — also has the rhetorical effect of implying that no black person can expect success or happiness in America because white people are always inflicting “inhumanity” upon them.

Historically, people who incite this Us-vs.-Them way of thinking have not been viewed as philanthropic humanitarians. Unless you consider Pol Pot to be an advocate for “social justice,” you’d best avoid the kind of blame-game rhetoric that is the stock-in-trade of Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Rooting around in remote history in search of a pretext to hate other people is not just foolish, but wicked. It is un-Christian, to say the very least, and as the descendant of Confederate soldiers — including one who was captured at Gettysburg and spent two years as a prisoner of war at Fort Delaware — I know the importance of letting the past be the past. We should study history with an eye toward finding examples that can inspire us, as individuals, to strive for the best in ourselves and, as citizens, to benefit from what history can teach us about policy.

In 2019, I wrote this for The American Spectator:

Private Bolt signed his parole with an “X.” He was completely illiterate, you see, and it is therefore impossible for me to know what my ancestor’s opinions were on the controversies that led to the Civil War. However, I can form an estimate of his character from knowing his daughter Perlonia, my grandmother, a stern but kindly Christian woman who lived to be 94 years old. It should not be necessary to explain why I bristle at any insult to my grandmother’s family, to hear them smeared as “racists” by people who never knew them. Some people like to display their imagined superiority by impugning my Southern ancestors in this manner, and I’ve learned to restrain my temper about such insults. Had such men as Alabama’s William Lowndes Yancey been better able to restrain their tempers, there might never have been a Civil War, but we must live with the consequences of history as it actually happened, rather than in whatever fictional alternative anyone might fondly imagine. Wishing that slavery or secession never happened is as futile as wishing that J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry had been present to protect the advance of Lee’s army toward Gettysburg on that fateful July morning in 1863. . . .

You can read the rest of that, if you’re interested. As a famous Yankee once said, we should act with malice toward none, but with charity for all, to bind up the nation’s wounds. Alas, I fear that not everyone takes those words as seriously as they should. Beware the consequences.



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