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The Lost Cause (Part 2)

Lost Cause Book

In the previous post in this series, I outlined the four main myths of the lost cause. Now we’ll dive deeper into why these myths were believed to begin with, and whether there’s any truth to them.

Myth 1: Slavery was good for the slaves

This is of course not true at all, but there’s a reason why they started saying this.

Portrayals of slavery in the media tend to portray slave owenrs in the absolutely worst possible light. Many portrayals violate the slave codes these owners had to follow. This gives lost causers fuel because they can argue that the media is biased against them.

Myth 2: The Civil War was not about slavery

Wars are complicated, and historians can debate endlessly about the causes of them, but slavery was certainly at the root of secession.

The secession documents mention slavery quite a bit. The Mississippi documents say:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world” - (source)

Alexander Stephens, the VP of the Confederacy, made things pretty clear in his speech:

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” - (source)

Lost causers will say in response to all of this that those are just politicians talking, and that the soldiers on the ground weren’t fighting for slavery, but out of loyalty to their states.

Soldiers had many different reasons for joining the war, including defending their homes from invasion, but there is evidence that a lot of confederate soldiers believed they were fighting for slavery, because they said so in their journals.

Most confederate generals approved of slavery, and the average confederate soldier knowingly fought to preserve it.

Myth 3: “The War Of Northern Aggression”

From the Union perspective, the confederacy was nothing more than an illegitimate rebellion, but a Southerner at the time would argue that the confederacy was a completely sovereign entity, therefore any military action by the Union, such as maintaining a fort on confederate territory, could be seen as an act of aggression by the Union.

And this justified the confederate army attacking Fort Sumter and basically starting the civil war.

There are also arguments about the way that the war was conducted. Under the anaconda plan, the US blockaded itself, and according to international law, a blockade can only be done on a sovereign entity. So there’s an argument to be made that the anaconda plan was admitting southern sovereignty. This argument is reinforced more by the Union’s use of total war strategies.

But none of these arguments really matter, because sovereignty must be earned internationally. Anyone can claim to be a sovereign nation, but without recognition, sovereignty doesn’t exist.

The Confederacy failed at getting recognized. No major country recognized them as a sovereign entity. They tried hard to negotiate with Britain and France, but that was a failure, and so there’s not much of an argument for them being considered a sovereign state.

Myth 4: Reconstruction punished the South.

Lost causers tend to portray the military who were there to enforce civil rights acts as a form of further punishment, even though the US military never had a substantial presence there.

There were some who who wanted to punish the south and demote them to being territories instead of states, but that never happened. Reconstruction legislation was mostly about civil rights.

Sources

  1. Understanding the Lost Cause Myth

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