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Lone Star State History Books and Bumper Sticker "History"

Berry Craig: Just in time for next year’s sesquicentennial observance of the start of the Civil War, the Texas Board of Education apparently wants new Lone Star State history books that favorably compare Jefferson Davis to Abraham Lincoln.

Just in time for next year’s sesquicentennial observance of the start of the Civil War, the Texas Board of Education apparently wants new Lone Star State history books that favorably compare Jefferson Davis to Abraham Lincoln.


“After three days of turbulent meetings,” the New York Times recently reported, the panel “approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on history and economics textbooks....The vote was 10 to 5 along party lines, with all the Republicans on the board voting for it."

That “stamp” evidently includes a proposal to match Davis ’s inaugural address with Lincoln ’s speeches. It looks like the board wants to put Davis on a par with Lincoln as a leader and as somebody to be admired.

A final vote on the new curriculum is set for May. “…But given the Republican dominance of the board, it is unlikely that many changes will be made,” the Times said.

I teach history in a Kentucky community college. I often quote Lincoln, our 16th president, and Davis, the Confederate president. (Both were born in Kentucky.)

Lincoln opposed slavery in word and deed. Davis favored slavery in word and deed.

“Whenever I hear any one arguing for slavery I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally,” Lincoln said.

Davis praised human bondage as a worthy institution by which “a superior race” had transformed “brutal savages into docile, intelligent, and civilized agricultural laborers.”

My guess is Davis' comment would be a tad too candid for the new Texas history books. I mined it from Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War by Charles B. Dew.

Dew’s little book is one of the best Civil War reads to come along in years. Though published in 2001, it is especially timely because next year is the 150th anniversary of the date the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter and started America's bloodiest war. (The fort's commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, was a Kentuckian, too.)

If the Texas board makes a list of supplemental reading for students, I doubt Apostles of Disunion will be on it.

More than a few Texans -- maybe including the board majority -- seem to be proud that they live in an ex- Confederate state. Some Texans are even talking about seceding again.

Charles B. Dew

Charles B. Dew

Confederate-flag emblazoned “Heritage not Hate” bumper stickers are common in the Lone Star State. You also see them in Kentucky , which was a Union state.

Bluegrass State neo-Confederates suffer from secession-envy. They hate it that our state spurned disunion and that many more Kentuckians marched off to war in Yankee blue than in Rebel gray.

Anyway, there are plenty of other in-your-Yankee-face (or African-American-face) stickers around for latter-day Johnny Rebs. Another one comes with the requisite Rebel flag and the message: “You Think This Flag Represents Hate and Slavery? YOU ARE WRONG!”

I suspect we'll be seeing more of the same twisted history ballyhooed on vehicles in my part of the country (and in history books in Texas) during the sesquicentennial shindigs.

The “Heritage not Hate” white folks say slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War. They insist that 11 slave states seceded over “states’ rights.”

Of course, slavery had everything to do with the Civil War. "To put it quite simply, slavery and race were absolutely critical elements in the coming of the war,” Dew wrote.

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Dew is a Southern-born historian with a family tree full of Rebel ancestors. No doubt, his book has made him an apostate to Confederate apologists (and probably to most members of the Texas school board, if they know who he is.). Die-hard Rebels would have scorned him as a “scalawag,” meaning a fellow white Southerner who “betrayed” his race and region during the post-war Reconstruction period.

Dew uses the words of real Confederates to rebut the neo-Confederates.

He quotes a raft of Rebels from Davis and Vice President Alexander Stephens to emissaries from Confederate states who went to other slave states to tout secession. (In addition to Kentucky, border states Delaware , Maryland and Missouri rejected secession .)

“I believe deeply that the story these documents tell is one that all of us, northerners and southerners, black and white, need to confront as we try to understand our past and move toward a future in which a fuller commitment to decency and racial justice will be part of our shared experience,” Dew wrote.

The historian explained that after the Rebels lost the Civil War, many of their civilian and military leaders wrote their memoirs, in which they maintained "that slavery had absolutely nothing to do with the South’s drive for independence.” He added that their whitewash is being applied by white guy “neo-Confederate writers and partisans of the present day.”

In his book, Dew cited a multitude of primary sources: newspapers, letters, official publications and other documents. He carefully footnoted his research.

Stephens was thankful the Confederacy was based “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.” He added that the Confederate States of America was, therefore, "the first Government ever instituted upon principles in strict conformity to nature and the ordination of Providence …”

Dew also quotes from secession ordinances Southern states wrote as they exited the Union . When Texans pulled out, they denounced “the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race and color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

Mississippi disunionists announced that “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery….We must either submit to degradation and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union.”

Dew ‘fesses up that he teaches history at a Yankee school – Williams College in Massachusetts . But he was born in Dixie . He said he went to a boarding high school in Virginia and had a Rebel flag in his dorm room.

Dew’s pedigree easily qualifies him for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, though they might not let him in. “My ancestors on both sides fought for the Confederacy, and my father was named Jack, not John, because of his father’s reverence for Stonewall Jackson,” the author wrote.

Dew said as a boy, he had a ready answer for anybody who asked him why the South seceded: states’ rights. “Anyone who thought differently was either deranged or a Yankee, and neither class deserved to be taken seriously on this subject,” he explained.

But studying history in college mugged Charles B. Dew (and other open-minded white Southerners of his and subsequent generations). In honestly examining his region’s past, he discovered that by using the term “states’ rights,” white Southerners of the 1860s meant the right of a state to have slaves (just as white Southerners of the 1960s defended segregation in the name of “states’ rights”). Apostles of Disunion ultimately resulted.

Dew focused his book on a group of state-appointed commissioners who made the rounds of the slave states in 1860 and early 1861. They preached the same racist line: the only way to keep Lincoln and the Yankee "Black Republicans" from destroying slavery and white supremacy was to start a new Southern nation. (Today, the GOP is largely what the Dixie Democrats used to be: the white folks' party.)

“Our fathers made this a government for the white man, rejecting the negro, as an ignorant, inferior, barbarian race, incapable of self-government, and not, therefore, entitled to be associated with the white man upon terms of civil, political, or social equality,” a Mississippi commissioner said.

Declared another Magnolia State representative: “Slavery was ordained by God and sanctioned by humanity.”

Likewise, a Kentucky-born Alabama commissioner to Kentucky pleaded that secession was the only way the South could sustain “the heaven-ordained superiority of the white over the black race.” Another Alabama ambassador said ideas that slavery was immoral and that God created all people the same were rooted in “an infidel theory [that] has corrupted the Northern heart.”

Berry Craig

Dew concluded, “By illuminating so clearly the racial content of the secession persuasion, the commissioners would seem to have laid to rest, once and for all, any notion that slavery had nothing to do with the coming of the Civil War.”

This history teacher fervently hopes Dew is right.

Berry Craig