Not too long ago, historians were required to carry out extensive primary research and pay at least a token attention to objectivity and balance. Now one becomes celebrated as a worthy historian by cherry-picking out of the record whatever enhances the current PC view of human experience. That means that the best history is now being written outside the academy and will continue to be so.
Witness two good recent works by “amateurs” on the great conflict of 1861-1865, its causes and consequences. No period of American history is more pervasively under the reign of PC, but these authors have penetrated the veil to reveal some of the real story.
Kirkpatrick Sale, author of the classic Human Scale and a founder of the Second Vermont Republic, has written Emancipation Hell, available on Kindle. Knowledgeable people have always found Lincoln’s revered Emancipation Proclamation to be a dubious thing. Sale’s close examination of the document and its context leads to the conclusion that the emancipation of the slaves as carried out in the United States was a “stupendous fraud,” initiated in the worst possible way and with the worst possible consequences.
Lincoln’s Proclamation succeeded in one of its goals, favourable international propaganda for his war, and failed completely in another goal, the raising of a slave insurrection in the South. It freed not a single slave, as has long been noted. Emancipation, which was peaceful in most places in the New World, came as the result of a vicious military invasion and occupation carried out by forces pursuing their own rent-seeking agenda and without any real interest in the welfare of the people to be freed. To the conquerors, the freed people were instruments to be used, not people whose transition to a new status needed charitable planning. When the using stopped, the South was left impoverished, with a lasting hostility between the races which had not existed before, and with the black population in some respects worse off in 1900 than in 1860.
The fourth and final volume of Howard Ray White’s Bloodstains: An Epic History of the Politics That Produced the American Civil War, has just appeared. There is nothing else like this remarkable work in all the vast library of writing on the Civil War. The four volumes: The Nation Builders, The Demagogues, The Bleeding, and Political Reconstruction and the Struggle for Healing are available in a print edition and through Kindle. This is definitely not just one more contribution to the guns and bugles history of the War or the celebration of Union righteousness. The work constitutes an unprecedentedly close-up history of American politics from the antebellum era to the healing presidency of Grover Cleveland.
Mr. White is by profession a chemical engineer. His interest in this matter, he tells us, was inspired by the bloodstains on the floor of a family home in Middle Tennessee which had been a hospital during the battle of Murfreesboro. How did this bloodletting come about? White has carried out his research and presented his findings with scientific precision and thoroughness. The result is a compendium of facts not to be found elsewhere, combined with a convincing, detailed narrative. There is a great virtue to this: a precise factual knowledge of the progression of events tells a story and gives a view quite different from the usual sweeping (and partisan) generalizations that pass for historical knowledge. Very few academic historians of today have given as much thought as White has done to what history is and how it is to be rightly constructed. The result is an authority and authenticity rarely achieved these days.
Another virtue is that the narrative is carried along in part by biographical accounts of major figures. This is a venerable and useful approach to history. A close account of the life stories of men like Abraham Lincoln, Charles Sumner, and Thaddeus Stevens teaches us things about their true character and motives that can be learned no other way. To follow White through the most important part of American history is a process of almost endless discovery.
December 31, 2012
Copyright © 2012 by LewRockwell.com. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.