Ed Driscoll

Copperheads Then And Now

On September 11th, 2003, we linked to a James Taranto item about the Copperheads, which one reference source described as:

in the American Civil War, a reproachful term for those Northerners sympathetic to the South, mostly Democrats outspoken in their opposition to the Lincoln administration.

Ironically, that definition comes from the 2001 Columbia Enyclopedia. As James Panero of The New Criterion notes, the school seems to be dusting off the Copperhead tradition and updating it for the 21st century:

So many people turned to the accusations of anti-Semitism, ethnic intimidation, and politics trumping academics at an Ivy League School in a liberal voting district. Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, said as much in his interview with The New York Times a few weeks ago:

Although Mr. Bollinger did not comment last night on what the report is likely to say, he said it was “simply preposterous to characterize Columbia as anti-Semitic or as having a hostile climate for Jewish students and faculty.”

I would argue that it is precisely this assumption of liberal, enlightened behavior that blinds the public to anti-Semitism on Columbia’s campus–and to wherever radical professors use the cover of the liberal university to their illiberal advantage. Remember that it took an outside organization, the David Project, to bring Columbia’s problems to national attention.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it was not this same attitude that set Columbia University up one hundred years ago as the headquarters of racial scholarship regarding the Civil War and Reconstruction. That right–the intellectual apologists of Southern Redemption were based right here in New York City. Professor William Archibald Dunning became Columbia’s first Lieber professor of history and political philosophy in 1904. His popular theories of the Reconstruction provided the source materials for, among other things, D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation,” and cemented racist ideologies throughout the country for half a century.

From the school of William Archibald Dunning to the school of Edward Said: Columbia University enters the twenty-first century in the same tradition it entered the twentieth. All this, from the heart of New York City.

I’m all for keeping traditions from the past when they work–but I’d be happy to see Columbia end its Copperhead phase once and for all.