Online Work

Online Etymology Dictionary
The Sciolist
Slavery in the North
Civil War Writing

Civil War Causes

It's often said that the American Civil War was entirely and only about slavery. Is there another view?

Yankee Canards
Was the ante-bellum South a primitive, backwards, illiterate, violent culture?

Numbers and significance of the Southern mulatto population

Northern Racism
De Tocqueville observed that "race prejudice seems stronger in those states that have abolished slavery than in those where it still exists, and nowhere is it more intolerant than in those states where slavery was never known"

Slavery as History
How can you make an honest inquiry into American slavery without understanding the mindset of slave-owners? How can you do that without being yourself a racist?

Rebel View
Early 19th century American politics and political culture as it was seen by many Southerners

Abraham Lincoln was perhaps the greatest writer in American political history. Writers are great, in part, because of their ability to disguise what they really intend.

Lincoln and Race
"You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races."

Thaddeus Stevens
The life and times of Pennsylvania's fiery anti-Southern Congressman

Sidelights on Christiana
The Christiana Riot of 1851 is sometimes described at the first skirmish of the Civil War

1860 Election
Even if all the Democrats had united behind one candidate, the Northern regional ticket would have won

The wire-pulling over the Morrill tariff bill in 1860 showed the party of the abolitionists cynically using a legitimate government mechanism to gain power in a presidential election.

Legal Issues
Secession was legal under the Constitution, based on its ratification by the states in 1787 and 1788

Cornerstone Speech
Alexander Stephens "Cornerstone Speech" in context.

Upper South
"States rights" is dismissed as a red herring argument, yet the Upper South states seem to have left the Union for this reason.

What Cost Union?
Lincoln saved the union, but at a terrible cost to America's democracy and culture of freedom.


Up from History
The evolving historical view of the American Civil War.

Soldiers and War
Responding to the slander against Southern military effort.

Why the South Lost
Was Northern victory inevitable?

War Effort
The South put forth a tremendous effort for independence.

The Southern Press
Journalism and Southern civil liberties.

An examination of the myth of massive Southern desertion.

A Closer Look
Desertion by the numbers; case studies North and South.

Ella Lonn
The original study of desertion in the Civil War.

Southern conscription was the first attempt to create a modern military system.

Draft of 1862
An overlooked draft in the North that was underway almost simultaneously with the first rebel conscription.

Albert B. Moore
An important source for the "South against the South" thesis.

The Lincoln Administration's crackdown on Maryland.

Occupied Maryland
A sampling of federal documents dealing with martial law in Maryland.

Maryland Peace Party
A pamphlet from the anti-government forces in Maryland.

Habeas Corpus
The suspension of Habeas Corpus in the North by the Lincoln administration during the war.

A Northern newspaper editor fights the administration after it closes down his press in response to anti-government articles.

"Keystone Confederates"
Some Pennsylvanians fought for the South during the Civil War.


Southern Populists
"You are deceived and blinded that you may not see how this race antagonism perpetuates a monetary system which beggars you both."

Coatesville Lynching
Zach Walker was burned alive by a white mob in Coatesville, Pennsylvania.

York Riots
A little-known but violent 1960s race riot in York, Pennsylvania.

New South
Slavery, racism, and segregation were national experiences.

New Lost Cause
A native-born Southern white woman worked with native-born Southerners, black and white, with a shared sense of decency, to accomplishing the work of desegregation in Mississippi.

Flag dispute
From 1879 to 1956, the Georgia state flag was essentially the "Stars and Bars." If you were going to link any state flag with slavery, that would be the one.

Jonathan Kozol
"So two-tenths of 1 percent marks the difference between legally enforced apartheid in the South 50 years ago, and socially and economically enforced apartheid in New York today"


sources consulted


I differ with some of my Southern friends in that I see Abraham Lincoln as a literary genius, one of the great American prose stylists and certainly the greatest ever to occupy the Presidency.

He could have written a Greek tragedy. Instead, he starred in one; and his abilities as a writer were accessories to his acts in office. They also gave his hagiographers ample material from which to build the myth of the patient, tolerant, humble Lincoln. That man is Lincoln's great fictional triumph; a character as enduring as Huck Finn and about as authentic. Herndon is the antidote, the man who knew him like a brother and described the struggles for self-control, the ambition, the intellectual arrogance, the bouts of rage and depression. The Lincoln worshippers in the History Departments were embarrassed by Herndon and tried to bury him in footnotes.

Those lulled by the music of Lincoln's words tend to miss the facts and the deeds. Perhaps it's not a coincidence that my deaf fiancee, who has no ear for the music of Lincoln's prose, finds him despicable. All the better to see the rocks that his siren words disguised.

Sometimes, he can make me laugh out loud. Lincoln, in a letter from his youth, describes meeting the girl he had agreed to court in Illinois:

"I knew she was over-size, but she now appeared a fair match for Falstaff; I knew she was called an 'old maid,' and I felt no doubt of the truth of at least half of the appelation."

You have to take a second to unravel that "half of the appelation" to get the joke, and it's a mean one. That's typical of him, though. I don't know if it's true, as some say, that Lincoln never lies; but you have to read him very carefully. When in the congressional election of 1846 he was accused (more or less correctly) of being an infidel, he replied that he could never support "a man for office, whom I knew to be an open enemy of, and scoffer at, religion."

The key word, of course, is "open." But the letter had the desired effect, and the Protestant objection died down. Just so, during the Mexican War, in 1848, he had eloquently staked out the moral high ground for rebellion: "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better." If Lincoln had been asked to explain these words in 1862, Gore Vidal pointed out, "Lawyer Lincoln would probably have said, rather bleakly, that the key phrase here was 'and having the power.' "

"Macbeth" was his favorite play. That's ominous. In his Springfield Lyceum speech of 1838 -- one of the key documents to understanding Lincoln's character -- he tells how an ambitious man, under the guise of fighting slavery, might re-order a republican nation in his own image.

That speech is available online, so I'm not going to take up space with it here. But there's another document that is not to be found among the reams of Lincoln material posted on the Web. And to me, it's one of the most crucial: the letter he wrote in June 1863 to Erastus Corning and others in New York state who had petitioned against Lincoln's trampling of civil liberties in the name of war for the Union.

He took the petition as an opportunity to reply with a public letter explaining his view of these things. And, to me, it's repressive and paranoid. Makes me think of Terrill, the Red Legs captain, in "Outlaw Josie Wales."

"...[A]rrests are made, not so much for what has been done, as for what probably would be done. ... The man who stands by and says nothing when the peril of his Government is discussed, cannot be misunderstood. If not hindered, he is sure to help the enemy; much more, if he talks ambiguously -- talks for his country with 'buts' and 'ifs' and 'ands.' "

Ye gods! It's not only the active traitors who should be arrested, in other words, but anyone who fails to cheer loud enough at the government pep rally. Because that's a sure sign of a traitor waiting to happen. You were either with him all the way, or against him. To simply decry the war effort was enough to brand you a traitor:

"... [H]e who dissuades one man from volunteering, or induces one soldier to desert, weakens the Union cause as much as he who kills a Union soldier in battle. Yet this dissuasion or inducement may be so conducted as to be no defined crime of which any civil court would take cognizance."

I've just been reading of the trial of Aaron Burr, where it was a serious legal question whether a man could be convicted of "treason" until he had actually physically made war on the government of the United States. Lincoln would extend that definition, in the face of centuries of law and custom and constitutional safeguard, into the very thoughts and words of his citizens. Now, here's the paranoia:

"The insurrectionists had been preparing for it more than thirty years, while the Government had taken no steps to resist them. The formerly had carefully considered all the means which could be turned to their account. It undoubtedly was a well-pondered reliance with them that, in their own unrestricted efforts to destroy Union, Constitution, and law, all together, the Government would, in great degree, be restrained by the same Constitution and law from arresting their progress. Their sympathizers pervaded all departments of the Government and nearly all communities of the people."

I'm unaware of any active, continuous conspiracy that began in 1830 and drove onward with a single-minded purpose to Fort Sumter. But Lincoln seems to believe in one. And any public objection to the government stripping away basic rights from tens of thousands of people? That, too, is the work of the supple tools of the traitors, the wolves among the herds, the fifth column:

"From this material, under cover of 'liberty of speech,' 'liberty of the press,' and 'habeas corpus,' they hoped to keep on foot among us a most efficient corps of spies, informers, suppliers, and aiders and abettors of their cause in a thousand ways. They knew that in times such as they were inaugurating, by the Constitution itself, the 'habeas corpus' might be suspended; but they also knew they had friends who would make a question as to who was to suspend it; meanwhile, their spies and others might remain at large to help their cause. Or, if, as has happened, the Executive should suspend the writ, without ruinous waste of time, instances of arresting innocent persons might occur, as are always likely to occur in such cases; and then a clamour could be raised in regard to this, which might be, at least, of some service to the insurgent cause.

"It needed no very keen perception to discover this part of the enemy's programme, so soon as, by open hostilities, their machinery was fairly put in motion. Yet, thoroughly imbued with a reverence for the guaranteed rights of individuals, I was slow to adopt the strong measures which by degrees I had been forced to regard as being within the exceptions of the Constitution, and as indispensible to the public safety."

Read it like Lincoln has to be read -- with an eye to the key phrase, which likely will be a subtle one: "... strong measures which by degrees I had been forced to regard as being within the exceptions of the Constitution ..."

If you want an image of what he would have done had he, not Buchanan, been in power during the secession winter, he spells it out for you:

"Of how little value the constitutional provisions I have quoted will be rendered, if arrests shall never be made until defined crimes shall have been committed, may be illustrated by a few notable examples. Gen. John C. Breckenridge, Gen. Robert E. Lee, Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, Gen. John B. Magruder, Gen. William B. Preston, Gen. Simon B. Buckner, and Commodore Franklin Buchanan, now occupying the very highest places in the Rebel war service, were all within the power of the Government since the Rebellion began, and were nearly as well known to be traitors then as now.

"Unquestionably if we had seized and held them, the insurgent cause would be much weaker. But no one of them had then committed any crime defined in the law. Every one of them, if arrested, would have been discharged on habeas corpus were the writ allowed to operate. In view of these and similar cases, I think the time not unlikely to come when I shall be blamed for having made too few arrests rather than too many."

That time has not yet come. Unless, perhaps, it has arrived in the private ruminations of a John Ashcroft or a Richard Nixon.*

* In light of what has since transpired, this was unfair to Ashcroft.

2002Douglas Harper "When misunderstanding serves others as an advantage, one is helpless to make oneself understood." -Lionel Trilling