In my book, The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!), Chapter VIII, Papers and Writing, is one of the best and has a lot of helpful information for students and adults. I include a warning, mid-chapter, on the horrible effect of political correctness on history.
Political Correctness Is Ignorance
and Leads to a Total Lack of Historical Understanding
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
The Elements of Academic Success was inspired by the legendary book, The Elements of Style, by Professor William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White. It is formatted the same way. There are 351 numbered topic sections in 10 chapters that cover everything a student will face in college, or an adult will face in the workplace.
(This post comes from "Papers and Writing," Chapter VIII of The Elements of Academic Success, How to Graduate Magna Cum Laude from College (or how to just graduate, PERIOD!), available on this website.)
257. You can not possibly understand history by using today's standards to judge the past.
You HAVE to look at the past the way the people who lived in the past looked at it. That's how you understand the past.
258. Political correctness is ignorance and leads to a total lack of historical understanding.
You can't define the past by snippets of acceptable history here and there.
For example, the South gets beat up all the time for slavery but most slave traders were New Englanders who made huge fortunes in the process. An argument can be made that the entire infrastructure of the Old North was built on profits from slave traders such as Boston's Peter Faneuil of Faneuil Hall fame. That's why most Northerners had NO problem with slavery. Less than 5% were abolitionists, and ironically, many abolitionists didn't like slavery because they didn't like blacks and did not want to associate with them.
One such person was Rep. David Wilmot, Democrat from Pennsylvania. Wilmot sponsored the Wilmot Proviso to keep slavery out of the West, though his real goal was to keep blacks out of the West, and he admitted it. Abraham Lincoln also said, in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, that he wanted the West reserved for white people from all over the earth. No blacks allowed.
While many say that slavery was the cause of the War Between the States, Abraham Lincoln said it was not. Before the war, Lincoln favored the first 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the Corwin Amendment, which would have left black people in slavery FOREVER, even beyond the reach of Congress, where slavery already existed. That amendment passed in the Northern Congress after Southerners seceded, and was ratified by some Northern States before the war began and made it moot.
There are breaths of fresh air here and there such as the 2005 book Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery, by Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank of The Hartford Courant.1
History is always more complex than the self-moralizing, politically correct want you to believe.
259. Southern history as it is taught today is a "cultural and political atrocity," and students are being cheated.
Esteemed historian, Eugene D. Genovese, who passed away September 26, 2012, was disgusted with the way Southern history is taught today. He writes:
To speak positively about any part of this Southern tradition is to invite charges of being a racist and an apologist for slavery and segregation. We are witnessing a cultural and political atrocity -- an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white Southerners, and arguably black Southerners as well, of their heritage, and therefor, their identity. They are being taught to forget their forebears or to remember them with shame. (My bold emphasis).2
A perfect example is William Gilmore Simms. According to Edgar Allan Poe, Simms was the greatest American writer of the 19th century. Simms wrote 82 book-length works including 20 that are very important in American history and literature. He understood the publishing industry of that era better than anybody and wrote about it. He chronicled American westward expansion when Alabama was the edge of the West; and his Revolutionary War novels, set in and around Charleston, are exciting, vivid history as it happened. Simms was a nationally recognized expert on the Revolution. He wrote dramatic, historically accurate scenes of when the British conquered Charleston and marched in, and when they lost the war and marched out, and everything in between. Simms also knew the local Indians extremely well and much of what is known about them is in his work, including their languages. There is a bust of William Gilmore Simms in White Point Gardens at The Battery in Charleston, high up on a beautiful pedestal.
But Simms is not studied because he was a slaveholder.
260. Young students of history and literature should examine everything.
Don't assume the War Between the States was about slavery when the economy of the North faced collapse and anarchy as the Southern States seceded. The Northern economy was dependent on manufacturing and selling to its captive Southern market, and without the South, Northern factories stood idle.
The South, on the other hand, seceded and was ecstatic at finally having control of its own economy. Southerners had always wanted free trade and immediately wrote into their constitution a prohibition on protective tariffs.
The North, at the same time, passed the astronomical Morrill Tariff, which made goods entering the North 40% to 70% higher. This was aimed at Southerners, as all the antebellum tariffs had been, so European goods would be too costly for Southerners to afford and they would have to buy from the North at higher prices.
But with the South out of the Union, Southerners were no longer obligated to pay Northern tariffs, and suddenly, much-sought-after Europeans goods were far less expensive for Southerners than Northern goods.
261. Those historians with a vested interest in maintaining that slavery caused the war are not telling you the truth. They are cheating you out of understanding much of American history.
Economic factors were HUGE in 1861 just as they are today. The collapse of the Northern economy, alone, was enough for Abraham Lincoln to want war.
Just look at our own era. We have been quite willing to go to war to maintain the free flow of oil from the Middle East because a disruption of the oil supply means economic hardship, even collapse. Gas prices would soar and cause the price of everything else to jump off the scale. Business would grind to a halt. People would lose their jobs and not have money to feed their families. They would be angry and in the street. [NOTE: This book was published in 2014 when America was still dependent on Middle East oil.]
You can imagine what would happen if supplies of oil to the United States were cut off abruptly and completely! Fortunately, that would never happen because we would go to war to prevent it. We have.
But, "abruptly" and "completely" is exactly what happened to the North when the South seceded and the Northern Congress passed the Morrill Tariff. Instantly, it would cost the rest of the world 40% to 70% more to do business with the North, so NOBODY wanted to.
The rest of the world was beating a path to the South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional and where there was a huge market for goods, and that market was wealthy because it controlled King Cotton, which had been 60% of U.S. exports alone in 1861.
The North had shot itself in the leg with the Morrill Tariff -- actually, it had shot itself in the head. Northern greed and mismanagement made the economic destruction of the North inevitable and Northern leaders were in a panic.
Don't take my word for it. Read the words of almost all Northern newspaper editors after January, 1861, when it became apparent that the North needed the South, but the South did not need the North. Northern editors were not thinking about slavery. They were thinking about their own wealth and economy, and they were all petrified. War was preferable for them just as the disruption of oil made war preferable for us.
An excellent two-volume work makes Northern newspaper editors easy to study: Northern Editorials on Secession, edited by Dr. Howard Cecil Perkins, Volumes I and II, over 1,100 pages, a 1964 reprint published by Peter Smith, Gloucester, Massachusetts. Northern Editorials on Secession was originally published in 1942 by the American Historical Association.3
262. Another major issue was unfair taxation -- British taxes were a huge issue in 1776 but were minuscule compared to what the South was paying in 1861.
For Southerners, 1861 was 1776 all over.
Southerners were paying 3/4ths of the Federal Government's taxes, but 3/4ths of the tax money was being spent in the North. Robert Toombs famously called it a suction pump sucking wealth out of the South and depositing it in the North.
The level of "taxation without representation" that led to the Revolutionary War was minuscule compared to what the South was suffering prior to seceding.
The point is that politically correct historians who tell you that it is cut and dried that slavery caused the War Between the States are being dishonest. Many are lazy because they have not been required, by vigorous academic debate, to look into other issues - especially economics. Many don't understand economics, and why should they bother. It is too easy for them to play up slavery and call anyone who disagrees a racist.
However, we have fought two Gulf Wars in our own times to guarantee the free flow of oil because a disruption would cause an economic meltdown and untold problems. No government is willing to risk that because history has shown us that an economic collapse will get out of control and lead to a collapse of the government itself, and anarchy. War is preferable.
It's true today and it was true in 1861.
So, look deeply into the entire picture and assume nothing.
263. Be a scholar.
Read primary sources. Read the words of the people of the past, their speeches, newspapers, diaries, laws and documents. Pay attention to secondary sources from historians you trust, and give no credence to those you don't. That's fair and responsible. In your writing, debunk the scholars you disagree with, and tell why they are wrong.
264. Write what you want.
Don't let political correctness chill free speech and intimidate you into not writing on a topic that interests you. Talk to your professor. The best professors will encourage you.
And if one discourages you, find a way around him/her by approaching the topic from a different angle. If he/she brings up some historian who goes against your conclusions, then YOU bring up two who support them. History should always be a vigorous debate.
Do exhaustive research and a thoughtful analysis and document everything properly. Argue with power, vigor, confidence, clearly and persuasively. Do NOT use today's standards, or lack thereof, to judge the people of the past. Understand how the people of the past viewed their lives and times, and what their standards were, and why.
That's what real scholarship is about.
1 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jenifer Frank, Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005).
2 Eugene D. Genovese, The Southern Tradition, The Achievement and Limitations of an American Conservatism (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1994), xi-xii.
3 Howard Cecil Perkins, ed., Northern Editorials on Secession, Volumes I and II (1942; reprint, Gloucester, MA: Peter Smith, 1964) by permission of The American Historical Association and Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc.