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Mon Mar 8, 2021, 08:47 AM

The Myth of The Lost Cause: James M. McPherson, Historian [View all]

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The Lost Cause, Definitions and Origins, James M. McPherson, Historian, American Battlefield Trust, 2020.

As the Civil War drew to a close in 1865, defeated Southerners looked around at the death and destruction that the war had inflicted on their homes, businesses, towns, and families. “The South was not only…conquered, it was utterly destroyed…More than half [of] the farm machinery was ruined, and…Southern wealth decreased by 60 percent,” states historian James M. McPherson. The war initiated over the issue of the preservation of slavery, as pronounced in the seceding states’ articles of secession and in the Confederacy’s constitution, was the cause of this devastation. “The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.,” read one such justification of secession and war in 1861.

With the abolition of slavery becoming the law of the land in 1865, it became harder and harder for many Southerners to justify the purpose of the war and the deaths of nearly 300,000 of their sons, brothers, fathers, and husbands. Thus, many Southerners set to work to rewrite the narrative of the war. Former Confederate general and one-time commander of the United Confederate Veterans claimed, “If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History [sic] solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union for our Country.” Thus, from the ashes of war, the myth of the “Lost Cause” was born. There are 6 main parts of the Lost Cause myth.

- The seal of the Southern Historical Society, which is nearly identical to that of the Confederate States of America.

The first and most important myth is that secession, not slavery, was the cause of the war. Southern states seceded to protect their rights, their homes, and to throw off the shackles of a tyrannical government. To the proponents of the Lost Cause, secession was constitutional, and the Confederacy was the natural heir to the American Revolution. Because secession was constitutional, all those who fought for the Confederacy were not traitors. Northerners, specifically Northern abolitionists, caused the war with their fiery rhetoric and agitating, even though slavery was on its way to gradually dying a natural death. They also argued secession was a way to preserve the Southern agrarian way of life in the face of encroaching Northern industrialism. Second, slavery was portrayed as a positive good; enslaved people, who were submissive, happy, and faithful to their masters, were better off in the system of chattel slavery which offered the slaves protection.

Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens declared in 1861 “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.”

Following the end of the war, these formerly enslaved people were now said to be unprepared for freedom, which was an argument against Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments of the Constitution. The third tenet states that the Confederacy was only defeated because of the Northern states’ numerical advantage in both men and resources. The Confederate Army was less defeated than overwhelmed, as their lesser resources. Former Confederate officer Jubal A. Early justified the Southern defeat by stating that the North “finally outproduced that exhaustion of our army and resources, and that accumulation of numbers on the other side which wrought our final disaster.” Early went on to say that the South “had been gradually worn down by combined agencies of numbers, steam-power, railroads, mechanism, and all the resources of physical science.” The lack of southern manufacturing and the outnumbered population doomed it to failure from the start. Thus, the “Lost Cause.”...

More, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/lost-cause-definition-and-origins

Jubal A. Early, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jubal_Early

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