Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Texas textbooks and the truth

Monday, May 31, 2010 19:01 ET

Texas is right: We should teach kids about Jefferson Davis
and the Confederacy. But let's tell the whole story

By Michael Lind

The Texas State Board of Education, the most astringently reactionary body since the Spartan Ephorate, has decreed that textbooks for the schoolchildren of Texas are to include Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address along with the first inaugural of Abraham Lincoln.

This controversy holds particular interest for me. I am a fifth-generation native of Texas. One ancestor of mine had his farm in Georgia incinerated by Gen. Sherman. Another came to Texas in the federal army of occupation of Gen. Custer. One of the last things that my late grandfather said to me was: "Sam Houston was a traitor to the South!" The Civil War ended in 1865, but clearly its meaning is still contested in the 21st century.

By all means, let schoolchildren in Texas read Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address. But there should be more material from the Confederate side of the conflict than that. For generations, apologists for the Confederacy have claimed that secession was really about the tariff, or states’ rights, or something else -- anything other than preserving the right of some human beings to own, buy and sell other human beings.

That being the case, the education of schoolchildren in my state should include a reading of the Cornerstone Speech made by Alexander Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, on March 21, 1861.

You can find the full Salon.com article here. Be sure to read to the end, and behold Sam Houston's stirring appeal to reason in the face of secessionist fervor. Like the author of this piece, I was born in Texas, as was my wife. Something really went haywire when even the venerable Sam Houston was deemed a traitor. Lost Causersincluding the people behind the campaign to acknowledge vast legions of phantom Black Confederatespaint a rosy picture of a post-war, independent Confederacy naturally weaning itself peacefully from its economic dependence on slavery by the end of the century. Not likely, given the sacrifice they were willing to make to preserve it. To say nothing of the fact that the institution transcended economicsit was part and parcel of southern culture. Chances are good they would have given Brazil a run for its money when it came to the longevity of slavery. Lind's image of a post-war Confederacy sounds much more feasible, and as a fellow son of Texas, I share his sentiments about the liberation of the Lone Star State.

That is what my fellow Texans of younger generations should learn about the Lost Cause. Under British protection, the CSA might have evolved into a squalid banana republic run by landlords for the benefit of investors and industrialists in Britain. Without British protection, the CSA might have survived as a proto-fascist regime, with an economy of permanent war socialism and a government run by colonels. In either case, the victory of the Confederacy would have been far worse for most white and black Southerners than its well-deserved defeat. For ensuring that I would be born in the United States of America instead of a broken-down failed state that combined the least attractive features of apartheid-era South Africa and death squad-era Honduras, I say: Thank you, President Lincoln, and thank you, Gen.Grant.

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