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Somebody asked

The previous post, “Up the nose,” said that if I were sufficiently provoked, I would examine the risible arguments in a letter to The Sun claiming that the Civil War wasn’t primarily about slavery.

It doesn’t take much to provoke me. One comment from Mike Pope sufficed.

Before the demolition, let me point out a couple of things. William W. Freehling’s two volumes of The Road to Disunion are quite conclusive about the central role of slavery and the South’s determination to protect it that led to secession. Apologists, see whether you can confute him. In addition, a number of websites have posted the secession ordinances of the Confederate states, which do not dwell on the tariff, or an agrarian culture versus an industrial one; they say quite determinedly and explicitly that they secede to protect the institution of slavery.*

So we have some arguments by one C. Lyon of Clarksville. The main batch is easy to dispense with: Why was West Virginia admitted to the Union as a slave state? Why didn’t slavery end when the war did?** Why not until the 13th Amendment was ratified months later? Why didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation free all the slaves?

The answer is that slavery was protected by the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln said so while running for the presidency; it was not his original intent to end slavery, and it did not become so until he saw that it was a measure of military necessity. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the rebelling states as a military measure. The lawyerly Lincoln saw that he could do that but not end slavery elsewhere except by a constitutional amendment that he did not live to see ratified.

Why did Robert E. Lee, no enthusiast for slavery, fight for the South? He explained so himself; it was out of loyalty to his native state, Virginia. In the mid-19th century, many people felt more of a bond to their individual states than to the nation.

Why did men who owned no slaves fight for the rights of slaveholders? Same reason, loyalty to their native states, with, of course, our congenital susceptibility to demagogy.

What caused the Draft Riots in New York City? Reluctance to fight in a war that claimed more than 600,000 lives by its end might be one reason. Racism (See the stipulations below) might be another.

These points are not arcana; they can be found in scores of standard historical works.

The Confederate apologists shy away from slavery, and it’s hard to blame them for that. I have not yet seen anyone argue that the Confederacy should have prevailed, to become a backward section with an ineffective government, tied to a form of labor that the rest of the civilized world was abandoning or had already abandoned.

If we are going to celebrate our past, and we should, let’s acknowledge all of it. We sacrificed the lives of more than half a million young men, maimed tens of thousands others, and devastated an entire region because we could not resolve our political and economic differences peacefully and allowed hotheads to call the tune.


*We will also stipulate that the North was commercially involved with the products of the slave economy, that the North in its own way was quite as much racist as the South, and that, Julia Ward Howe notwithstanding, claims of moral superiority are difficult to sustain.

**The letter writer says that Maryland “did not become free until the passing of the 13th Amendment.” Actually, Maryland abolished slavery in its Constitution of 1864.



Posted by John McIntyre at 9:51 AM | | Comments (33)


I've been reading and living Civil War history for almost fifty years now. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, I've looked at the Civil War from both sides now, and it's Civil War illusions that are easiest to recall. The illusions are very powerful. I think that's because the illusions started even before the war itself. It's true that a few fought -- and bled -- both to keep and free slaves. But I honestly think both sides were fighting an ideological fight. Most were not fighting to free or to enslave people. They were fighting to protect their world view, their way of life, their closely held beliefs of what it meant to be RIGHT. South fought to protect a way of life which included slavery. They fought to resist the imposition of rules and behavior from a distant central government. North fought to protect the Union and to protect the sovereignty of a country that was on the road to eliminating a practice that had been in debate for almost a hundred years. They fought to keep their country safe from division and their homes from invasion. Preachers preached fervently on both sides of the issue. There was a lot of religious belief. As well as a lot of political belief. And they were all passionately convinced they were RIGHT.

The most telling history of what was going on can be found in the diaries, journals and letters of those who fought in the battlegrounds and those who lived the war on the homefront. It was about slavery for them, but not slaves (exception being the black units of the Union). It was about protecting the way they wanted to live and the way they wanted to believe. It was about ideology that was very often religiously based. And wars that are ideological and religiously based are often the harshest and bloodiest.

I am fully aware that in arguing with apologists for the Confederacy, I am spritzing the bonobos.

All wars are sacred, to those who have to fight them. If the people who started wars didn't make them sacred, who would be foolish enough to fight? But, no matter what rallying cries the orators give to the idiots who fight, no matter what noble purposes they assign to wars, there is never but one reason for a war. And that is money. All wars are in reality money squabbles. But so few people ever realize it. Their ears are too full of bugles and drums and fine words from stay-at-home orators. Sometimes the rallying cry is 'Save the Tomb of Christ from the Heathen!' Sometimes it's 'Down with Popery!' and sometimes 'Liberty!' and sometimes 'Cotton, Slavery and States' Rights!'

I may be as tired of this debate as it's possible to be. In the early 1970s, I attended a high school in Tennessee whose team name was "the Rebels," and whose emblem until the year before I entered was the Confederate flag. Both years I attended (I bailed out a year early), we lost two or three days in the spring to riots between white students who wanted to bring back the flag and black (and some white) students who wanted no part of it. For heaven's sake, let's stop glorifying the Confederacy, be honest about slavery as the motivation for the war, and have done with it.

And, for the record, I had relatives on both sides of the conflict. A paternal great-great-grandfather who fought with an Alabama regiment (and for whom it was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight") sustained a serious neck wound, and a maternal great-great-uncle was a drummer boy for a Michigan regiment and died of measles. Both suffered needlessly.

Frankly, blogger Rhett Butler, you clearly DO give a damn. Very well said, indeed.

Ducky "War Sucks" Isaksson............. "damn the torpedoes!"

Well, Mr Butler, you may just possibly be overstating your case. Sometimes wars are a little more complicated. I don't remember my parents as idiots, or the world war in which they fought as a money squabble.

Thank you, Picky. Both of my parents, who died within 5 months of one another last year, joined the Navy during WWII. Neither was an idiot, and neither thought of the war in terms of money. And speaking of wars, I believe Mr Lincoln it was who wanted above all to preserve the Union, and prevent the South's secession.

Thank you, Picky. Both of my parents, who died within 5 months of one another last year, joined the Navy during WWII. Neither was an idiot, and neither thought of the war in terms of money. And speaking of wars, I believe Mr Lincoln it was who wanted above all to preserve the Union, and prevent the South's secession.

Picky and P the T: Is it possible you didn't realize that "Rhett Butler" is quoting a speech made by the actual character Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind? (It's on p. 231 of my Macmillan hardcover.) You can certainly still argue if you like whether WWII should be included in the general proposition, but for me, the comment also raises the question of whether an author writing in the early to mid-1930s (GWTW was published in 1936) in the guise of a character speaking in late 1862 or thereabouts should have been expected to foretell the future.


I'm not greatly interested in what Margaret Mitchell thought, or her character, but Rhett Butler (I mean the one who commented above) is presumably an at-least-partly alive person who thinks the fictional character's views merit repetition. They don't.

But, briefly, Mr Butler the First might have reconsidered had he stood with the thegns at Hastings or with Howard in the Channel, or on the ridge at Mont-Saint-Jean.  And if those proved too romantic and bugles-and-drums for him and Miss Mitchell and our commenter, a time-travel interview with Colonel Eichmann might have put them all right.

Picky, thank you for using the word "thegns." It has made this a good day for me.

HERE I am, an old man in a dry month,
Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.
I was neither at the hot gates
Nor fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving a cutlass,
Bitten by flies, fought.

from "Gerontion" by T.S. Eliot

Leave it to the erudite Picky to do his own 'thegn'.

I prefer the Shakespearian "thane" as in "Macbeth"s Thane of Cawdor. But that's likely the Scottish mitochondrial strands of my genome speaking. HA!

If Scandinavian were my dominant European genetic strain perhaps I'd lean more toward "thegn", which I gather has an Old Danish/ Norse linguistic root.

By-the-by, Picky, I commend you for your earlier eloquent defense of those warriors throughout history who have fought w/ both courage and conviction for whatever the higher cause, or belief, and further give you full creds for your most respectful admonishment of blogger R. Butler.

Proudly sharing the same surname of fallen Canadian 1st World War hero/ poet Dr. John McCrae, penner of the haunting, "In Fanders Fields", I have no excuse for not taking umbrage w/ blogger Butler's unfortunate use of the word "idiot"----- what amounted to a paint-with-a-singular-brush condemnation of all fighting men thru the ages.

(My late paternal grandad, Nicol McCrae fought at Ypres w/ the Canadian army ground forces, and endured multiple exposures to German mustard gas assaults. He died roughly a year prior to my birth in 1945, from lung, and abdominal cancer, which his physicians claimed could have arisen from his wartime gas exposure. Who knows?)

In retrospect, my earlier praise for blogger Rhett Butler was perhaps given in knee-jerk haste, in my attempt to parody the filmic Butler's classic reply to Scarlett O'Hara.

@Laura Lee, thanks for that touch of Elliot.

Ducky "Spitting Hairs" Isaksson.

I've no doubt, Alex, that you felt impelled to get in your Clark Gable impression, but I suspect there's another reason why we all felt at first blush attracted by the Rhett Butler comment. We all know that war is vile, that it is definitely not dulce et decorum pro patria mori, and that none of us wants to be lied into war again.

But the truth is that sometimes there is a greater evil than war, and sometimes war is necessary, and in any case it is not appropriate to disparage as idiots those who took up their responsibility and their courage.

I did not know that RB2's comment was a straight quote from the book: I thought from its clumsiness that it might be a spatchcock of quotes and allusions to quotes. Truth is I have never read the book or seen the film - that's no cause for congratulation, it may be on the Hundred Essential Reads list for all I know - but it's a gap that probably won't be filled at this late hour.

That makes no difference. The opinions expressed are sad and dangerous. They lead, not to milk and honey, but to the sort of cynicism and vacillation we saw in the Third Republic.

As to the Confederacy, there I have a profound ignorance. But I believe we should all try to understand our history; I believe that involves pride and thanks for the achievements of our forebears; and therefore we cannot avoid shame for their sins; but we should go easy on the shame. But how can we go easy on the shame of slavery? Slavery is "so odious" as Lord Mansfield said in his famous judgement, and its effects are so much with us, on black and on white.

The United States has come so far as to elect as president a man of mixed European and African parentage. But not so far as to avoid a wicked campaign of nonsense about his birth and nationality and religion. And I cannot be smug until my own country has got even that far.

Commemorate the Confederacy, but be careful how you do it. And, please, I hope you will, as I shall, also remember, on August 24, the birth date of William Wilberforce.

There are a couple of things I learned about the Civil War long after my formal schooling ended that I wished I had known earlier.

One was that Kentucky became much more allied with the Southern view after the war, in part because of the undisciplined behavior of Union soldiers being demobilized in the Louisville area, and in part because of a cultish respect that grew up around Jefferson Davis, who was born in Kentucky.

The other thing I learned, which Mr. McIntyre alludes to, is that many people in the United States developed more loyalty to country than to their home states as a result of the war. That's why people these days have a harder time understanding Robert E. Lee's reasoning.

"But the truth is that sometimes there is a greater evil than war, and sometimes war is necessary, and in any case it is not appropriate to disparage as idiots those who took up their responsibility and their courage."
I wish I wrote that, picky. and full marks, too, on the notion that we should "try to understand our history" and confront our sins head-on. as a canadian, I hear all too often about america's sins (it makes us feel superior), but I just don't see and hear canadians debate our own sins and shortcomings, past and present, the way americans do. it is something I admire about the u.s.
if I may suggest one thing, picky: consider watching gone with the wind. not because it's great or important; it ain't macbeth, so let's call it a guilty pleasure. but clark gable and (especially) vivien leigh really were very good in it, and the movie is a reminder of another age of hollywood. if gone with the wind were made today, I'm pretty sure it would be a hollowed-out, style-over-substance 3D "epic" (is anyone else sick of that word?) featuring lightweight pretty-boy stars, and end with scarlet o'hara declaring, "as god is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!" (the rest of the story, of course, would be in theatres a year later, yours to enjoy for another 12 bucks.)
this was probably long-winded. sorry.
--paul hageman

Paul: Canadians, and the rest of us, could perhaps do it in this style:

"I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority.  We are all guilty—we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others." - Wilberforce in 1789, as quoted by Cobbett

Picky, I've never seen that Wilberforce quote before. Thank you for giving me yet another reason to admire the man.


P.S. A few years ago William Wilberforce's name came up in a group discussion. Only a couple of us knew who he was, and there were a few snickers at the sound of his name. The discussion leader then said, "OK, let's get it out of the way. Who wants to make fun of his name."

The group remained silent, somewhat chastened. Then one irrepressible soul (bless his heart) said, "All right, I'll give it a shot. May the Wilberforce be with you!"


Tim, it's from Cobbett's report of WW's first big speech to the House of Commons proposing the abolition of the Trade. He had many years ahead of him before he succeeded, and then many more before he heard, just before his death, that the Bill abolishing the institution of slavery itself in the Empire was certain to be passed.

What fascinates me especially about him is that he was really a man of a very conservative outlook on life who was impelled into radical causes, almost against his instinct, by the force of his religious convictions.

I fancy his rather unusual name sounds funnier in AmE than BrE. It's Yorkshire, I would think. Force is Northern BrE for a waterfall, so it may be a place name originally.


Thanks for your citing of early Brit abolitionist William Wilberforce. The name rang a vague bell in my cluttered noggin, but my curiosity lead me to a Wiki-search of the gentleman, which proved immensely enlightening.

Accompanying the Wikipedia 'article' there were a couple of rather fine period portraits-in-oils of Wilberforce, as a young man, and another in his dotage........ clearly a few 'stones' heavier. The lively portrait from his formative years immediately conjured up the likeness of the British actor Dirk Borgarde of the slightly turned up nose, and penetrating, dark eyes.

This observation is neither here, nor there in the grander scheme of things. But for me, it simply reminds me, as a professional caricaturist, how having a special sensitivity to the nuances of facial likenesses can be both a bane, or a blessing.

Ducky "May The Farce Be With You" Isaksson

paul hageman,

As a fellow Canuck, having lived and worked down here in L.A. for over three decades, but all-the-while retaining my Canadian citizenship, I have to concur w/ your observation of how many Canadians assume a rather smug, self-righteous, or overly judgmental attitude with respect to, for instance, how America wields her power on the world stage, and on the home-front, the phenomenon of the seemingly ever-widening divide between the "haves" (the wealthy), and the "have-nots" (the dwindling middle and increasing underclass), in the U.S..------among numerous other societal ills, and inequities ---as you put it, "sins"--- confronting the States as she stumbles into the 2nd decade of the new millennium.

Just as the U.S. federal government felt obliged to send mainland* American-born citizens of Japanese ancestry, plus a small contingent of non-nationals, to various internment camps throughout the southwest after the Pearl Harbor attack, many Canadians have selective memory loss when it comes to our own official government treatment of Japanese-Canadians during the 2nd World War, the lion's share residing in British Columbia.

Post Pearl Harbor, over 23,000 Japanese-Canadians, over 80% Canadian-born nationals, through official confiscation, lost most of their worldly belongings, including businesses, land, and homes, and not unlike in the U.S., were carted off to several internment camps, mostly in the rugged interior of British Columbia.

Most of the able-bodied, younger adult males---fathers, husbands, bachelors---were forced into public works projects and menial stoop agricultural labor scenarios, whilst the women and children were relegated to the harsh confines of the 'concentration camps'.

Paul, you are most likely aware of the amazing story of esteemed Japanese-Canadian geneticist/ biologist/ professor/ filmmaker, and world-renowned environmentalist, David Suzuki? He had to endure the indignity, deprivation, and stigma of spending several of his childhood years in the Slocan, B.C. 'camp', which was basically a repurposed abandoned silver-mining ghost-town, w/ decaying built infrastructure, and threadbare basic domestic amenities.

Despite the stigma and isolation of his internment years, and his family's relocating from B.C. to rural Ontario post-war, initially experiencing blatant racial taunts, and ostracizing from his public school peers, the exceedingly bright, curious, and ambitious Suzuki began to thrive academically, eventually rising to eminence in his chosen field of genetics, which lead to future fame, and recognition as an outspoken, and committed environmentalist, and public broadcasting mainstay w/ his award-winning "The Nature of Things" widely syndicated nature awareness TV series.

Here's a telling passage in Suzuki's own powerful words from his 2006 autobiography**: "In my teen years, my identity was based on the consciousness that in the eyes of white Canadians, I was Japanese first, Canadian second. All my adult life , my drive to do well has been motivated by the desire to demonstrate to my fellow Canadians that my family and I had not deserved to be treated as we were. And if that was the psychic burden I carried as a result of our experience during the war, just think of the consequences for First Nations people from the terrible treatment they have been subjected to since first contact."

........... indeed, our First Nations peoples. Another ugly, sad and lingering chapter in Canada's shameful human rights record from our Nation's inception, onward. But I digress.

*Interestingly, Japanese-Americans living in the state of Hawaii were not deemed a national security threat, and didn't have to endure the indignity of relocation to internment camps. Go figure that one out.

** "David SUZUKI: The Autobiography" / Greystone Books/ Douglas and McIntyre Group

Ducky " Canuck Ex-pat" Isaksson

Having a guilty doubt lurking, I did what I should have done at the time, and checked. According to Wm Hague's biography, Wilberforce does indeed derive from a place name, but it has nothing to do with "force" a waterfall. The family were from Wilberfoss near York, and the etymology is apparently Wild Boar Forest.

Top o' the morning to you, Picky.

And greetings to you, Laura.

Picky's back!

Slight indisposition, Dahlink, nothing too fatal. Now I must read up to date. There will have been many occasions when Mr McIntyre might have missed the benefit of my firm but sympathetic guidance.



So delighted that you've finally resurfaced, after that puzzling absence. Frankly we were starting to fret a smidgen.

I'm assuming that your "slight imposition", as you phrased it, could have been a pressing medical, or health-related concern, indicated by your, "nothing too fatal", words of assurance to Dahlink. Enough said.

If I may speak for our motley mix of "You Don't Say" regulars, we are all very heartened to hear you are very much alive, and doing well, hopefully chomping at the bit to resume contributing your thoughtful words of wisdom, and wit, as only Your Pickyness can do. (And here we all thought you were being wined-and-dined by the Royals. HA!)

You really do have some catching up to do. True-to-form, our trusty Mr. Mac has managed to cover quite the gamut of discussion-worthy topics, from doomsday cultist predictions of end-of-times, musings on the new crop of college graduates as the official academic year ends, and of course, the running feud between the two dichotomous grammarian camps----the rather anal-retentive-leaning "prescriptivists", and their loosey-goosey rivals, the more permissive, "descriptivists".

As one irate descriptivist was heard to say after brusquely accosting a rather gobsmacked prescriptivist, 'You know where you can shove your %$^&@#*@ quotation marks!"

(In this little fictive scenario, the "colon" has nothing remotely to do w/ the discipline of punctuation.......... if you get my naught drift. HA!)

Picky, old lad, I better wrap up this little welcome-back post, toute suite, before Her Terseness gets on my case. I'm off to warm up my 2% -fat 'cow juice'-------Patricia's prescription for the chronically longwinded. (I guess I qualify. HA!) Thankfully, I'm not lactose intolerant, but sadly suffer wind, (and the occasional bout of the vapors) of another sort entirely. Toute not-so-suite. Excuse my bastardized French. HA!

Picky's back! YEAH!


P.S.: That high-minded Wilberforce gent was hardly a 'bore', yet, as you pointed out, his surname is thought to have a beastly 'boar' derivation, w/ some leafy arbors thrown in for good measure.

Heard the famed Black Forest in Germany, aside from giving its name to a delightfully rich, fluffy, popular dark chocolate cake, was once teeming w/ wild boar. But the story goes that their numbers have dwindled in recent decades, to a paltry, scattered population, due to over-hunting, and continuing urban encroachment.

IMO, they're not very handsome creatures (a face only their mother could love), yet have been around forever, and are likely the direct progenitors of our domestic pigs, I gather originating in South East Asia. OINK! (Have to admit I'm kind of partial to those adorable Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs. But I'll stick to pooches as my pet-of-choice for now....... thank you very much.

Margaret Thatcher once had a much-beloved cat she named Wilberforce. A classy lady, the former P.M. Heigh ho, Pickey retornatus est!

Sorry for the extra "e," Steed old clot. Keep it in case you run short on your next trip to France.

I try to avoid the vowels in France. They go straight to my nose.

Today is the birth date of Wm Wilberforce, one of the greatest sons of our civilisation.

Thanks for the reminder, Picky. Wilberforce's fight to end slavery was his best known but not his only great accomplishment. That was quite a life he had.


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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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