I am not quite sure why, but somebody sent me as a gift the book entitled The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War. The civil war in question is the American conflict of the 1860's. It is written with great sympathy for the South's point of view in that conflict, hence its reference to being politically incorrect. I actually agree with many of the points made, Yankee liberal that I am. For example, yes the right to secede from the union was a legitimate motivation, as argued by the author H.W. Crocker III. Yes, the North had economic motivations and was very much acting in an imperial fashion. Although I did not fully realize it before reading the book, it is entirely plausible to me that many of the northern generals were actually indifferent, or even supporters, to the institution of slavery. They were simply more loyal to either the notion of a union or to their own states than they were to the South.
The book's greatest failing is the manner in which it deals with the whole question of slavery. Crocker is very much supportive of states rights, but very much indifferent to the rights of blacks to be free men. To be sure, he does not argue in favor of the institution of slavery. Rather he argues that the institution would have simply withered away had the South been allowed to go its own way. This is a very curious line of reasoning. The argument of the South was that slaves were rightly considered to be property. A notion that they were willing to fight for, if only indirectly. The whole Dred Scott decision reinforced the idea that slaves were property, even when they accompanied their masters to "free" states. Further, the North was expected to respect the right to own such property even to the point of returning escaped slaves. In that sense, the South was actually trying to impose the institution of slavery upon the north. Even in the expansion to the west, the South wanted to at least maintain a balance between "free" and "slave" states. For some, this trumped whatever feeling the locals might have on that matter. So much for state's rights. Not a promising beginning to the path toward liberation, even if such a path was envisioned by the likes of a Robert E. Lee
Crocker raises the objection that the North should not have forcibly imposed its views upon slave owners of the South, but does not seem to recognize that slave holders very much forcibly imposed their views on the slaves over which they claimed ownership. Crocker acknowledges this force only in the same breath that he excuses it on paternalistic grounds. The slaves, having been deprived of the right to an education or to practice the art of self-sufficiency, needed the slave owners just in order to carry on, or so the argument goes. The self-perpetuating aspect of this vicious cycle is not explicitly acknowledged, but rather is left to the reader to piece together. Slavery is further excused on the grounds that slave owners often were protective of their slaves, if only to care for their investments in these beings. In this manner, slaves were little different from horses or pet dogs.
When we clearly see the hypocrisy in the argument that the South should have been free to go its own way in order to be able to perpetuate the the institution of slavery, Crocker's whole argument falls apart. This has implications for the attitudes of today. Consider this among his concluding comments:
"Imagine that there had been no war against the South and subsequently no Reconstruction putting the South under martial law disenfranchising white voters with Confederate pasts,and enfranchising newly freed slaves as wards of the Republican Party. Without that past, race relations in the South would have been better, not worse, and the paternalist planters would have arranged, over time, to emancipate their slaves in exchange for financial compensation."
His objection here starts out as a condemnation of the policies of the North against the South. Yet, it ends up excusing the poor race relations of the South by blaming the North for the racist attitudes of the South. As if racism had nothing to do the origination of the institution of slavery. As if racism were simply a matter of "the devil made me do it". As if racists of the South are not culpable for their own racist attitudes. Adding to that insult is the notion that slave owners should have received financial compensation for the freeing of their slaves. It is not enough they they often gained great wealth through the efforts of their slaves, but they should have also been compensated for then agreeing to free those slaves?
Politically incorrect indeed.