The Myth of the Lost Cause Brandon Pilcher The two-word string ³Lost Cause´ first appeared

after the Civil War in the title of historian Edward A. Pollard¶s 1866 book The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates. The basic concept behind the phrase was that the Confederates were the good guys in the Civil War, fighting in the name of an honorable cause and defeated because of the North¶s material advantage rather than any failure on the part of Southern military leaders. One of the key arguments made by Southerners bellyaching about the ³Lost Cause´ was that the South seceded not because of slavery but because of a legitimate objection to the Union¶s infringement on Southern ³states¶ rights´. The claim that states¶ rights or some other respectable cause motivated the Southern secession movement has been repeated so many times that it has almost become widely accepted among the 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 this claim 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 will show that the nobility of the Lost Cause is a revisionist fabrication. The Confederacy really did secede over the ³right´ of individuals to own other human beings and was not the least bit concerned about states¶ rights. One need not look much further than the Confederate states¶ own articles declaring secession to find 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 ³actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union´ and murdering pro-slavery Southerners (no doubt an allusion to John Brown¶s violent campaign against slavery). Near the end it provides us with 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 and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable. Likewise, South Carolina¶s Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union criticizes Abraham Lincoln¶s election on the 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 the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared 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 greatest material interest of the world. As if the states¶ secession articles were not clear enough, Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy¶s Vice President, said in his Cornerstone Address that slavery was ³the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution´. Later, in his memoirs, he would write that ³slavery was without doubt the occasion of secession´. There you have it: one of the highest-ranking leaders of the Confederacy 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 most romanticized military leaders, was opposed to slavery. It is true that Lee admitted that slavery was 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, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country. It is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably 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 subjugation may 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 also the idea that he was an unusually noble character. He was in truth every bit as vicious as any other slaveholder.

Not only did the South secede over slavery, but it actually had no problem with doing away with states¶ rights and other liberties when it was convenient to promoting the slavery agenda. Prior to the War, the Southern states demanded that the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required that runaway slaves residing in Northern states be returned to their masters, ignore state and municipal laws. They wanted the censorship of mail to prevent the distribution of abolitionist literature in the South. The South even forbade the petitions from the citizenry to the House of Representatives on slavery, a move remembered in history as the ³gag rule´. The South did not care about states¶ rights or any other rights. They were all about slavery. That is not to say that the Northerners were all good guys. Despite being personally anti-slavery, Lincoln himself made it clear that his top priority was preserving the Union rather than abolitionism per se. Although the Union armies had many black soldiers, they tended to receive lower pay than whites and were subjected to other types of discrimination. Furthermore, the famous Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in Union-controlled territory instead of the whole country. It is in light of this that we cannot simply declare the Union the ³good guys´ in the War. However, we can say that even if the Union were not all ³good guys´, the Confederates by and large were indeed ³bad guys´. Their defeat was pivotal in liberating millions of Americans and making this country much freer and just. The Confederates deserved to lose, and they deserved to be remembered as defenders of injustice. The Lost Cause was a bad cause. The time has come for the South to admit that.

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