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July 5, 2013 - 4:00 pm
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Thomas Fleming is known for his provocative, politically incorrect, and very accessible histories that challenge many of the clichés of current American history books.  Fleming is a revisionist in the best conservative sense of the word.  His challenges to accepted wisdom are not with an agenda, but with a relentless hunger for the truth and a passion to present the past as it really was, along with capturing the attitudes and culture of the times.

In The New Dealers’ War Fleming exposed how the radical Left in FDR’s administration almost crippled the war effort with their utopian socialist experimentation, and how Harry Truman led reform efforts in the Senate that kept production in key materials from collapse.

In The Illusion of Victory, Fleming showed that while liberal academics may rate Woodrow Wilson highly, that he may have been the most spectacularly failed President in history.  100,000 American lives were sacrificed to favor one colonial monarchy over another, all so Wilson could have a seat at the peace table and negotiate The League of Nations.  Instead, the result of WWI was Nazism and Communism killing millions for the rest of the century.

Fleming’s new book  A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War , exposes how inflammatory Abolitionist rhetoric and propaganda were a major cause of the Civil War.  Every other civilized nation outlawed slavery, despite economic and financial incentives, without killing a major part of its own population to do so.

While reading the book, I imagined if the pro-life movement was actually dominated by spokesmen who advocated killing abortionists.

Fleming is also a novelist, the mega-best-selling author of Officers’ Wives and Liberty Tavern, among many others.  My personal favorite is the all too convincing alternate history novel, The Secret Trial of Robert E. Lee which also explores the hatred of the Radical Republicans for all things Southern.

He is best known for his numerous books on the American Revolution, including the gigantic-selling coffee table book, Liberty!, which was the basis for the PBS series.  Fleming is a leader in the movement to restore the reputation of the Founders– especially George Washington– in the public square.

Fleming is a recent past President of the Society of American Historians. Recently we sat down for an interview about A Disease in the Public Mind, perhaps his most provocative book yet.

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Top Rated Comments   
Does anyone think that hatred for the Southerner isn't alive and well?

Do we not have "White-Hispanic" George Zimmerman on trial for murder for doing no more than defending himself against an "unarmed Black teenager"?

We KNOW that we are hated...we only wait for the day that we can once again bid to be free of you people.

Preferably as amicably as possible, but if otherwise...that will be on YOUR head.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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All Comments   (55)
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Did Abolitionist Hatred of the South Cause the Civil War?
No.

Please, don't conflate your understandable anxieties about expanding, oppresssive government with some delusional notion about the Confederacy being "all about states' rights," and a "model" for governance or something. The southern states hid behind states' rights in order to not only maintain, but also expand slavery.

The Civil War was 150 years ago, and a lot has happened since then. Is anyone here aware that, after the end of Reconstruction, we had a Southern resurgence that 1) reinstated Democrats as Lords of the South, 2) officially instituted state-sanctioned segregation, 3) increased the range, power and influence of the Klan, 4) led to Southern dominance of the House (via seniority), 5) helped foster white supremacy, and 6) changed the narrative of the Civil War to one that was sympathetic to the Confederacy? That state of narrative lasted almost until the New Deal, before it was reversed.

No? Didn't know about any of this? Never heard of "Birth of A Nation?" Didn't know that the great Progressive Woodrow Wilson was an arch-segregationist? That he re-segregated the civil service? Did you know that the opening of the Lincoln Memorial in the early 20's was a cause for controversy? Did you know that it was very acceptable back then to be critical of Lincoln?

Did you know any of this?

Were you aware that a primary cause for precipitating the Civil War was the negation of the Missouri Compromise of 1820? This happened in 1850 (Kansas/Nebraska Act), when a new "compromise" threw the gates open for slavery to expand with the country via a state-by-state plebescite (when new territories were to become states). This was not popular with the non-slave states, and not just with "abolitionists." "Bloody Kansas" was the first battle of the Civil War, not the firing on Ft. Sumter. The north's efforts at containing slavery was unraveling. Had their been no Civil War, slavery would have continued unabated. The naive notion that the South would have eventually abolished outright slavery in short order is delusional. Slavery was not only detested by abolitionists, but also by free workmen. Labor unrest would have led to radicalization of the American labor force mush sooner than was the case.

Abolitinists were indeed a hot-headed bunch. But was their cause a "bad" one? Seriously?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The South had become what the Founders had warned against: a colony of the North supplying it cheap raw materials and it was treated as such. It is a curious bit of psychology that very often when one is dependent, they come to hate the one they depend on. This seems to have happened in the North which was dependent on Southern slave labor. Without slavery supplying cheap raw materials, and the high tariffs plundering Southern income which was spent by Congress in the North, the North would not have been able to industrialize as it did. Indeed if the Planter Class had not also resisted industrialization, the map of the US could easily have been reversed.

As it was, most people in the South knew slavery was no good. It was inefficient, promoted poverty and unemployment amongst the free people, and was just morally wrong. Newer machines were coming into being that would have replaced the need for slaves even in the fields. These could have been used as a chip to end slavery: free machines for freeing the slaves. But no, the emotional abolitionists wanted it NOW! They wanted revenge and to inflict suffering and they got it. Not personally mind since most religiously avoided the battlefield, but the nation sure did and still does. A peaceful resolution like other nations had would have meant a much different USA today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yeah, new machines. Labor-saving devices. You mean, like the Cotton Gin? The Cotton Gin proved a boon to slave owners, because their slaves could become more productive. The fact that even many southerners found slavery objectionable does not mean that slavery would have been abolished, say, befoer the end of the 19th century.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I'd like to venture the opinion that 'states' and 'state's rights' are fraudulent notions. You are either a nation or you are nothing, and America functioned as a collection of competing interests from the Revolution to this point. That's why Britain was able to resolve the slavery issue without a civil meltdown or the hip-hop nonsense of a missouri compromise. In the 1870's the collection of colonies, states and territories incorporated and functioned as a legitimate country - thank G_d for that.......
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I don't agree with you take on states' rights, sorry. Federalism is the proper term for the original American notion of states having a certain amount of autonomy. Your well-intentioned paean to "nationhood" is a bit dangerous for freedom.

As you can see from my other comments here, I object to the South's hiding behind states' rights to maintain slavery, and, almost a century later, to keep segregation. It is this odious hijacking of states' rights by entrenched white racist interests that helped to all but destroy the perfectly good notion of states' rights and genuine federalism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you for your considered and respectful reply.......

Re. federalism; I would've been happier to see a confederation based on shared common values rather than perceived mutual interest, that sentiment informed my statement. I would like to not be over-awed by the concept of 'freedom', that essential poison that can either cure or kill depending on whether reality is something one is immersed in - or something that lives inside your head.......'>.........
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
To the victor go the spoils and to the writing of the historical record. I've never been naive enough to picture the North as our better angels and the South as pure devils. There were heroes and villains alike on both sides, most Negros as pawns caught in between.

Too many atrocities happened on both sides to excuse and most in the South owned no slaves. It is obvious many were willing to go to their deaths for more reasons than to hold up the South's aristocracy.

It would be an interesting read to read those personal diaries as evidence.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Read my comment above. The modern "non-southern" narrative was not always in vogue. For at least three decades from the late 19th century on the narrative had reverted to one sympathtic to the South. Indiana in the 1920's had the largest Klan organization, and the Klan even marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in large numbers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Most Germans didn't kill any Jews. That doesn't mean Nazi Germany was innocent. Most Southerners weren't slave owners, but a sizeable majority were very wedded to the idea of slavery, or at least the continued enslavement of black people, because they feared competition for their jobs if the slaves were freed.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Second rate scholarship.

Wilson entered the European war -- kicking and screaming.

The Zimmerman Telegram did him in -- particularly when the Foreign Secretary of Germany, Zimmerman, de facto, declared war on America during a press interview with the global press in attendance -- the subject being HIS telegram -- was it really his?

As for the Civil War: the pre-trigger was when Buchanan FEDERALIZED southern slavery by interfering with the Dred Scott decision -- and got his southern pals on the USSC to issue a sweeping ober dicta.

As a DIRECT consequence of that case law, Northern Federal courts were compelled to enforce southern writs against escaped slaves -- all the way to the 49th parallel!

Such matters had northern pressmen spitting blood. Lacking the biometrics of today, re-enslavers would sweep up ANY hapless Negro with their Federal warrants. (Escaping across state lines made freedom a Federal crime, de facto.)

Once down south, such a Negro would NEVER be permitted to testify. For how could property speak?

The Confederates wigged out after reading Lincoln's Cooper Union Speech.

In that address, Lincoln shreds the southern moral defense, and legal defense. Not surprisingly, it, the speech, keeps falling off the table whenever this matter is brought up by revisionist 'historians.'

Google for it. With only thirty-minutes of effort, you'll know all of the gritty details that never made it to your high school history texts.

"Hatred of the South" is the WORST dreck.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Thank you Sir. Good post.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Fleming, like many other historians, ignores much evidence of foreign meddling in the secession cause that arose in the South starting in about 1830, after the founders who could have explained that the Union was meant to be perpetual were all dead and gone. One agitator, for example, was Thomas Cooper, a British citizen who lectured at university in South Carolina about the need for that state and others to secede.

There was much monkey business about the actual secessions that smacks of something more sinister going on, including the sudden plebiscite in Texas to vote on it that represented an end run around Sam Houston, and questions about the legality of votes to secede in other states such as Georgia and Louisiana.

Judah Benjamin, who held different high offices in the Confederate government, was originally a British subject born in the West Indies (and later supposedly a US, then Confederate, citizen) who hightailed it to Britain after the war.

The Union nearly went to war with Britain over the Trent affair and other issues, and in Liverpool shipyards were constructing warships meant for the Confederacy, most of which were thankfully never delivered. That country was a hotbed of pro–Confederate sentiment. Our relationship was different then; we weren't friends as we are now.

Secession and the Confederacy were as much foreign-influenced creations designed to split the US and enable European powers to reclaim "lost colonies", as they were to preserve slavery from Lincoln's purported desire to end it. Fleming's work doesn't consider this possibility, I'll bet.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Abolitionist hatred of The South, generalized as Northern hatred of The South, was certainly a contributor to the secession of the original seven seceding states and all you have to do is read the resolutions and the debate to know that. The thinking of Southern political leaders in the critical time between Lincoln's election and the onset of hostilities is well laid out in a book called "Apostles of Disunion," the author of which escapes me right now, but it is about the emmisaries the Lower South states sent to the other slave-holding states seeking their support in secession.

My own view is that the threat to the institution of slavery, which despite Lincoln's words was made graphic by the fact that Lincoln had been elected President with NO support from any slave-holding state, led to secession. Secession and the attack on Ft. Sumpter led to war. Lincoln would never have gotten a declaration of war to end slavery. In fact, the US never recognized the Civil War as a war. The Southerners took Lincoln's election without Southern support to mean that they would have no influence over a Lincoln Administration nor any control over federal appointments to positions in or dealing with the Southern states. Southern governors had nighmares about abolitionist military officers, postmasters, and customs officials fomenting unrest among the slaves.

By the 1850s the rift between North and South had become irreconcilable and the tipping point was the Mexican Cession territories. The Mexican War had been fought mostly by Southern troops and the Southerners believed, rightly, that they were being deprived of the benefits of the territory they had been responsible for bringing into the Union. The first great fruit of the Mexican War was the discovery of significant quantitites of gold in California, the first large gold discovery in the US. CA was quickly made a state, a "free" state thus further upsetting the delicate balance of the US Senate. States had been added in pairs, one slave, one free, since the Founding to preserve that balance. That brought the controversy over "the territories" to a rolling boil and destroyed the Missouri Compromise of 1825. By 1850, Clay, Calhoun, and Webster weren't around to hold the Union together, and by the mid-1850s there was little Southern interest in holding it together. The '56 election was the portent and Southern militias began drilling and equiping in earnest. Dred Scott in '57 and various attempts by Northern states to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act just added fuel.

Many, most, in The North were willing as Greeley put it, "to let our erring sisters go." A little reflection on what a free trade port of New Orleans would do to the Y traffic, the Missouri, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers, that the North had spent so much money, much of it collected from tariffis in The South, to divert to an east-west traffic with roads, canals, and railroads caused Northern mercantile interests to take an interest in keeping the Union unified. Lincoln then played the Southern fire-breathers for the hotheads that some were and provoked the attack on Ft. Sumpter and thus began The War For Southern Independence.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
More neo-Confederate revisionism. The South left the Union because they saw the Demographic handwriting on the wall. Slavery, the foundation of Southern aristocratic life, was doomed. When their candidate lost the 1860 election, rather than abiding by the results, they quit the Union in a huff. The Civil War was first, last and always about the preservation of slavery and Southern dominance.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
As I've pointed out elsewhere in this thread, Southern revisionism had its day almost a century ago, and for at least half a generation. Reviving a new cycle of "The South Shall Rise Again" rhetoric and revisionism is really misguided. It's not the best way to promote states' rights and federalism.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
More Yankee arrogance and ignorance. I think that visions of Tara and "Southern aristocratic life" have more of a hold on Yankees than even on all the Southerners whose whole knowledge of the antebellum South and The War is from Gone With the Wind - if it weren't for the Yankees, we'd all still live at Tara. The reality is there were at most a few hundred "Taras" and most were the center of a working farm and the rough log cabin that daddy or grandaddy had lived in when he started clearing the place was still nearby.

There was something of an aristocratic air to the old Tidewater plantations along the eastern coast from Virginia to Georgia, but they'd been in cultivation since the early 18th Century and were about played out; few crops are harder on land than cotton and tobacco. Most of them had become essentially slave farms to feed the labor demands of the burgeoning upland short-staple cotton plantations, some of which did have the archtypal central plantation house, but to the extent that it was some ancestral home, the ancestors were at most a generation or two before as large-scale cultivation of upland cotton didn't begin until the early 19th Century as the cotton gin, invented in 1793, came into widespread use. Rarely was more than 10% of a farm's acreage in cultivation because cotton depleted the soil so quickly. The bulk of cotton production and the bulk of slave labor was on industrial cotton plantations owned from afar, usually by shareholders, and run sometimes by a younger son, but more often by an overseer, many of whom had a well earned bad reputation. This was the slavery of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" to the extent it existed at all. You may ask yourself when was the last time you saw a farmer beating his tractor; if nothing else, a slave was an expensive piece of equipment. This industrial agriculture moved through the upland South like locusts. They acquired land by lottery, purchase, or fraud, used it up, abandoned it for taxes and moved on to the next plot of land further west. Small holders moved in on the played out land behind them. Since there was little banking in The South, you may wonder where the money came from to finance the operations and you'll understand why some large Northern banks and insurance companies get very nervous about reparations talk.

A family with a working plantation such as the O'Hara's in GWTW would have had a relationship with a factor in Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans or some other port city who would in turn have a relationship with cotton buyers in England, France, or The North. Earnings were held by the factor or in English or Northern banks with not a little kept privately in specie.

Most of what is readily available about antebellum Southern culture and economics was written by Yankees, usually with a strong bias and usually with little understanding of the rural environment. Olmstead goes on about the lack of urban amenities, but The South was overwhelmingly rural because it wanted to be and needed little in the way of urban infrastructure. The only cities The South needed were the port cities and each county would have a small "county seat" town with a courthouse and a few merchants and other service providers but most trade was with itinerant merchants, many of them Jewish. Roads were only needed to get to the courthouse and the nearest riverboat landing or seaport, though by the '40s railroads were beginning to supplant the riverboats. The literacy rates were about the same north and south, at least among men. There were private academies and not a few usually church affiliated colleges. The Presbyterian Church had an extensive network of colleges in The South.

What The South saw was an estimated $4Billion dollars worth of legally held property in danger of be rendered unusable due to dissention and disruption or lost to riot and destruction. If the then slave-holding states remained unified, you couldn't pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments even today. It is hard to say from the vast distance both in culture and time how rational Souther fears of slave unrest were, but those fears had at least some rational basis and wealthy, powerful forces in The North were threatening to foment that unrest even to the point of arming and leading slaves in rebellion. Those same wealthy, powerful forces had just elected themselves a President. No more than I would today take Comrade Obama t his word on anything, my ancestors weren't much inclined to take Mr. Lincoln's word either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your defense of the South is about as effective as the Florida's arguments against George Zimmerman.

You admit that the Southern way of life was based on slavery and with the rapidly changing demographics succession was the only way to maintain their money and power. If the Civil War was about "rights" then the Confederacy would have done as Longstreet wished -- emancipated the slaves and then succeeded. But then what would be the point of it all?

Your statement that "If the then slave-holding states remained unified, you couldn't pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments even today" is unintelligible. They were united. It was called the Confederates States of America and since Grant could only be in one place at one time it took fives years to subdue the defenders of slavery.

A little more history for you. The slave holding aristocracy was a minority of the southern population. the average Confederate soldier fought for his community and state not slavery. However, many southerners stayed loyal to the Union despite their racial views. There were many union regiment raised in Alabama, Florida, (West) Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas and Tennessee. In fact all southern States provided volunteers to the Union Army. The South raised no regiments and had few volunteers from the loyal states. That should tell you something about the moral worth of both sides.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"You admit that the Southern way of life was based on slavery and with the rapidly changing demographics succession was the only way to maintain their money and power."

The South's economy was based on agriculture. Slavery was an adjunct to that, but not intrinsically so, since the Southern economy is STILL based on agriculture without chattel slavery today.

There's an apocryphal story about a Yankee soldier accusing a Rebel one of defending slavery. The Rebel replies that neither he nor his family owned any slaves. The Yankee then asks the Rebel why he is fighting against him to which the Rebel replies:

"Because you're HERE!"

Perhaps one day another army will invade and occupy the Yankee homeland to free the oppressed Black man from the stinking ghettoes and housing projects and prisons that the avaricious Northern-backed Federal government has consigned them to.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Like to add one more thing. We agree on the facts, we agree on the interpretation of the facts. What we disagree on is the legitimacy of a society based on slavery.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You know, I think I covered all that so you are telling me nothing I didn't know or say. Until the Civil War people thought in terms of their community and then their states. Being an American was still not the primary feeling in either North or South. So iit was quite natural that a southern enlisted soldier would express those thoughts. However, many southerners were not on aboard with their wealthy slave holding elites and proudly served in the Union Army. The one positive social outcome of the Civil War was when it was over we got a unified identity.

I note that the oppressors of minorities in the North are the same Democratic Party elites that ran the South before the Civil War. You can have them back.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"You know, I think I covered all that so you are telling me nothing I didn't know or say."

Color me: "surprised".

"The one positive social outcome of the Civil War was when it was over we got a unified identity. "

I think that it is entirely arguable that that would be an unqualified "positive social outcome"...exchanging the tyranny from Washington for the tyranny of Richmond or Albany seems a bit much of a cost for whatever benefits may have accrued.

"What we disagree on is the legitimacy of a society based on slavery. "

I'd ask you what you mean by "the legitimacy of a society", but I'm afraid that you might actually tell me.

You can apply some subjective moral judgment to a society...any society...even your/our own, but society is under no obligation to give credence to your indictment...or even to take notice of it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Very interesting interview. My father's family settled in TX in the 1840s. Until my father's generation, they were farmers, raising cattle and the usual corn, wheat, etc. They never owned slaves--never supported the idea--and had tennant farmers on part of their land until the late 1940s. They fought in the "war of northern aggression" because it came to them, although their views were more in line with the yankees.

At various times before WW II when the Klan was increasing activities in TX, my grandfather made sure his neighbors of color (he would have hated the hyphenated American term) were armed and could defend themselves. If they needed to be elsewhere during a suspected night raid, his barn was always open to them and their entire families. My grandmother made sure they had plenty to eat. They did not brag about these activities or use it to feel superior to other whites, they kept quiet for reasons of safety and humility.

I suspect there were many people like my family in TX, who wanted an end to slavery without a war. Why American went a different way than other countries is worth looking at again. Will definitely read the book.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the things that gets left out of most pro-Southern accounts of the Civil War is that the poor white Southerners weren't by any stretch of the imagination unanimous in their defense of slavery. There were numerous outbreaks of violence or at least passive resistance to the Confederacy, notably in Eastern Tennessee, West Virginia (which went so far as to secede from its parent state) and even parts of Texas. In the latter state there were a number of immigrants from Germany, and some were actually hanged for their refusal to fight for slavery (as they saw it). Most of the Confederate states had at least one Union leader who hailed from it, from Admiral Farragut (Tennessee) to General George Thomas (Virginia) to lesser-known characters like Gen. John Gibbon (North Carolina) and Col. Benjamin Davis (Miss., he was Jefferson Davis' cousin).

Not all poor southerners fought for the South on behalf of "states rights." Some saw through the b.s. and fought for their country, instead.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The impression I get is there were more than a few soldiers fighting for the Confederacy that were like that.
I recall something from Ken Burns "Civil War" by Shellby Foote
A Union soldier ask a Confederate soldier why he was fighting...Because you're down here, was the answer.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Did Abolitionist Hatred of the South Cause the Civil War?"

No! Hatred of Slavery...Yes. Hatred of "The South"...No.

I have every confidence that our Neo-Confederates will have a grand old time with this.

Was Slavery the only reason? No, but it was at the heart of the matter.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So you didn't bother to read the piece either?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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