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


One of the gulfs between most of the modern historians I read and many of the older ones is that the earlier historians were able and willing to look at slavery as an economic institution, and at the enforcement of fugitive slave laws as a legal process between the sections.

It is necessary to do this to understand the coming of the Civil War. But it's also not easy or entirely pleasant to do so. We who do it stand in an exposed position, not in terms of historical realities -- because in doing so we're more true to those realities than our opponents -- but in terms of modern moralities.

To grapple with slavery as a dynamic force between North and South in America, you have to think of it in terms of its meaning to two groups of white people. To do that does not ignore the humanity of the slaves, or the fact that slavery was the central aspect of a slave's life. But it does set it aside for the duration of the argument.

That "setting aside," after the 20th century, is something we feel as horrible. It is a mental process akin to the one that allows genocides. I suspect it is a natural muscle in the human mind, but it is one we're desperately trying not to exercise.

A similar grappling goes on in literature, dealt with more openly but no less emotionally. Readers, writers, and critics anguish over writing they know is good, and that actually opens minds in the dominant race toward the downtrodden one, yet it relies on stereotypes to do so, and it takes that other race, ultimately, as a backdrop or a symbol.

In America, we have the "problem" of "Huck Finn." The British and the Europeans have the same ambivalence toward Joseph Conrad, especially "Heart of Darkness."

Chinua Achebe, father of modern African literature, has long argued that Conrad was nothing more than "a thoroughgoing racist." Caryl Phillips, an author and writer who admires both Conrad and his great African detractor, sat down with Achebe one day and tried to hash out his outrage for a book she respects. The results were published [Feb. 24, 2003] in a long and fascinating article in the British newspaper The Guardian. One of the things Phillips, and most modern Westerners, like about "Heart of Darkness" is its grim questions about the colonizing mission that so many Europeans of Conrad's day took for granted as the proper ordering of God's creation.

Achebe understands this, but he finds it insufficient. He tells her:

"Africa as setting and backdrop, which eliminates the African as human factor. Africa as a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognisable humanity, into which the wandering European enters at his peril. Can nobody see the preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of props for the break-up of one petty European mind?"

Later, he tells her,

"I am an African. What interests me is what I learn in Conrad about myself. To use me as a symbol may be bright or clever, but if it reduces my humanity by the smallest fraction I don't like it."

She answers him.

"Conrad does present Africans as having 'rudimentary' souls."

Achebe draws himself upright.

"Yes, you will notice that the European traders have 'tainted' souls, Marlow has a 'pure' soul, but I am to accept that mine is 'rudimentary'?" He shakes his head. "Towards the end of the 19th century, there was a very short-lived period of ambivalence about the certainty of this colonising mission, and Heart of Darkness falls into this period. But you cannot compromise my humanity in order that you explore your own ambiguity. I cannot accept that. My humanity is not to be debated, nor is it to be used simply to illustrate European problems."

The realisation hits me with force. I am not an African. Were I an African I suspect I would feel the same way as my host. But I was raised in Europe, and although I have learned to reject the stereotypically reductive images of Africa and Africans, I am undeniably interested in the break-up of a European mind and the health of European civilisation. I feel momentarily ashamed that I might have become caught up with this theme and subsequently overlooked how offensive this novel might be to a man such as Chinua Achebe and to millions of other Africans. Achebe is right; to the African reader the price of Conrad's eloquent denunciation of colonisation is the recycling of racist notions of the "dark" continent and her people. Those of us who are not from Africa may be prepared to pay this price, but this price is far too high for Achebe. However lofty Conrad's mission, he has, in keeping with times past and present, compromised African humanity in order to examine the European psyche. Achebe's response is understandably personal.

And those of us who muck around in history have it harder than Caryl Phillips. A literature student can walk away from a novel, even a beloved one, and take up another. But we have only the one past. And if you find it too soul-destroying to enter into a state of mind that can feel white supremacy as God's law, or if you aren't willing sometimes to think of slaves as a sort of property-with-free-will, I can certainly understand that. But you'll never understand the whys and hows of the Civil War without it.

Which leads inevitably to the question, does the strong leftist, social progressive, personal ideology of a Eugene Genovese or an Eric Foner (before you accuse me of stereotyping, read their own autobiographical stories) color their historical writing? I would be amazed if it didn't. History isn't written by emotionless pod people. What they choose to investigate, what they choose to see, is very deliberate. In most cases, they will cheerfully acknowledge this. Read their addresses to one another in the professional organizations. They write the past, but they live the present, and their academic work is done with a view to a future they would like to shape.

Listen to Genovese, answering the interviewer's question, "You grew up in a working-class family. Did this experience influence your scholarship? If so, how?"

"Undoubtedly it did in a big way. The specifics, however, are hard to come by. To take a direct example, my discussion of the driver in 'Roll, Jordan, Roll' drew upon the stories that my father, a wood caulker, told me of the contradictory roles of foremen on the docks in the port of New York. More broadly, growing up with workers and in a working-class neighborhood provided a strong antidote to the romanticism that characterizes a good deal of the 'new labor history.'

"I entered the communist movement in 1945 at age fifteen and spent summers working in shops as an organizer for Communist-led unions. It was a valuable experience, which reinforced my hard class attitudes but also my resistance to romanticism. ... In any case, I grew up in a class-conscious home -- class-conscious but by no means ideologically driven. I hated the bourgeoisie with the terrible passion that perhaps only a child can muster. When I came across some Communists at age fifteen and read the Communist Manifesto and some other pamphlets, I suddenly had a precise focus for my hatred. I would happily have sent the bastards to firing squads in large numbers, and their wives and children along with them.

"... My biggest problem as a historian has always been, I suppose, the conscious effort to rein in that hatred and not let it distort my reading of the historical record. I am sure that it has taken a toll, but I hope I have kept that toll to a minimum."[1]

As he hints, his practical side later rebelled against doctrinaire Marxism (it ultimately led him to Catholicism), and cost him banishment from leftist academic historical circles. He emerged, recently, as one who has been able to write with some sympathy and understanding of the Southern "master class" and to separate slavery from racism and say the latter, not the former, is the real American tragedy.

Yet I still think there is a lot more doctrinaire tone here than most people will be comfortable with who are interested in knowing history as what really happened. Describing one written work of his, Genovese states his goal like this: "I was trying to help develop a left-wing orientation toward the re-emerging problem of black nationalism so that the white Left could prepare itself to contribute constructively to emerging struggles." And looking back on the entire body of work he and his contemporaries accomplished, he concludes, "Whatever our errors and inadequacies, I think we can claim to have accomplished what we set out to do: to reorient the study of southern slave society and to compel a confrontation with a new set of questions."

1. "Eugene D. Genovese and History: An Interview," in Slavery, Secession, and Southern History, ed. Robert Louis Paquette and Louis A Ferleger, University Press of Virginia, 2000, p.197.

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