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The Myth of the Lost Cause

The Myth of the Lost Cause

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Published by Brandon S. Pilcher
This Civil War-themed paper was written for a college history class and got a very favorable grade. In this I argue that the Confederacy's reason for secession from the Union was indeed motivated by a desire to preserve the institution of slavery.
This Civil War-themed paper was written for a college history class and got a very favorable grade. In this I argue that the Confederacy's reason for secession from the Union was indeed motivated by a desire to preserve the institution of slavery.

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Published by: Brandon S. Pilcher on Aug 25, 2011
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07/24/2013

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The Myth of the Lost CauseBrandon Pilcher
The two-word string ³Lost Cause´ first appeared after the Civil War in the title of historianEdward A. Pollard¶s 1866 book 
The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of theConfederates
. The basic concept behind the phrase was that the Confederates were the good guysin the Civil War, fighting in the name of an honorable cause and defeated because of the North¶smaterial advantage rather than any failure on the part of Southern military leaders. One of thekey arguments made by Southerners bellyaching about the ³Lost Cause´ was that the Southseceded not because of slavery but because of a legitimate objection to the Union¶s infringementon Southern ³states¶ rights´.The claim that states¶ rights or some other respectable cause motivated the Southern secessionmovement has been repeated so many times that it has almost become widely accepted amongthe general public even in this supposedly more enlightened age, bringing to mind the Nazis¶saying that a lie repeated often enough will be accepted as truth. Why Southerners embrace thisclaim is understandable, for few people nowadays want to admit that their ancestors fought for slavery. Yet any objective examination of Confederate statements during the Civil War era willshow that the nobility of the Lost Cause is a revisionist fabrication. The Confederacy really didsecede over the ³right´ of individuals to own other human beings and was not the least bitconcerned about states¶ rights.One need not look much further than the Confederate states¶ own articles declaring secession tofind the evidence that defending slavery was their prime motivator. For instance, Texas¶s 1861
 Declaration of Causes
is in large part a rant against abolitionists, accusing them of ³activelysowing the seeds of discord through the Union´ and murdering pro-slavery Southerners (nodoubt an allusion to John Brown¶s violent campaign against slavery). Near the end it provides uswith the following admission:We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior anddependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country berendered beneficial or tolerable.Likewise, South Carolina¶s
 Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify theSecession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
 
criticizes Abraham Lincoln¶s election onthe grounds that it was divisive for the country, because the President opposed slavery.:
 
A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of theUnited States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to beentrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he hasdeclared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,"and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.And Mississippi¶s declaration blatantly states that:Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatestmaterial interest of the world.As if the states¶ secession articles were not clear enough, Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy¶sVice President, said in his Cornerstone Address that slavery was ³the immediate cause of the laterupture and present revolution´. Later, in his memoirs, he would write that ³slavery was withoutdoubt the occasion of secession´. There you have it: one of the highest-ranking leaders of theConfederacy says in the plainest English possible that the South seceded over slavery!Some revisionists claim that Robert E. Lee, one of the Confederacy¶s most famous and mostromanticized military leaders, was opposed to slavery. It is true that Lee admitted that slaverywas an evil institution, but he argued not that it should be abolished but rather that it was a
necessary
evil. From an 1856 letter to his wife:In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, thatslavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless toexpatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white manthan to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of thelatter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks areimmeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race,& I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugationmay be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Not only that, but at one point Lee actually inherited sixty-three slaves from his father-in-law.When three of them tried to escape, Lee ordered that they be stripped to the waist and lashed between twenty and fifty times, with their wounded backs being washed with brine afterwards.Such behavior not only contradicts the popular image of Lee as an opponent of slavery, but alsothe idea that he was an unusually noble character. He was in truth every bit as vicious as anyother slaveholder.

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