New Views on the Civil War

The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is approaching and it shows just how much things have changed and, in many ways, how they remain the same.

Virginia was the epicenter of so much of the grief the war caused plus the triumph of African-American slaves who, in a new historical interpretation of the war, bravely faced death from Southerners for pushing for freedom but also somehow forced their emancipation on a reluctant North.

What’s important to note is that many of the political and constitutional issues that the war brought forward are still being battled over today, namely the 14 Amendment which gave African-American slaves citizenship if they were born on U.S. Today, some conservatives want to repeal the 14th Amendment because they see it being used by mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants who cook up a legal stew on citizenship if they have babies in the U.S.

I had the pleasure of putting these questions to Ed Ayers, the preident of the University of Richmond who is a well-regarded historian and scholar on the Civil War and Amerian history. His interview with me has run in two publications, Diverse Issues in Higher Education and in Richmond’s Style Weekly.

Meeting with me in his study last December, Ayers gave me an hour’s worth of commentary that I found remarkable for its precision and breadth. His key point is that unlike earlier rembrances where Blacks didn’t get to play much of a role, the Sesquicentennial will celebrate Emanicaption as much as the war itself. He blieves that Blacks cleverly forced their emancipation on the North, which he says later celebrated themselves as great human rights heroes.

He has a point. When the Centennial opened in 1961, I was a boy of about eight living in the D.C. area. The war to me meant lots of cool and gory trading cards showing Confederate and Yankee troops getting blown in half by cannon fire. Indeed, much of the celebration dealt with the usual White Southerner stuff about tactical manuevers by genius Southern generals and the romantic sacrifice for a lost Southern cause. This view was reinforced later in my life when I lived in North Carolina and in Virginia.

As Ayers pointed out, this manufactured view changed since it hit at a key moment in the Civil Rights movement with Selma, and the March on Washington, the dead college boys in Mississippi, and later race riots in Northern and MidWestern cities. Virginia started the Centennial with Massive Resistance to integration and by the time it ended in 1965, it was still a felony for a White and Black person to marry.

Here are a few highlights from Dr. Ayer’s interview:

Regarding the a controversy in Virginia about textbooks erroenously saying that 200,000 Blacks fought for the South.

“This has been a major point that those who would like to resist this revolution in understanding: If black men had fought for the Confederacy, then the war could not have been about slavery. It’s the reason people want to show that. But in fact we know that 200,000 black men fought for the Union. While there may have been some who picked up a gun in defense of the Confederacy or alongside their owner, there’s been nothing like this.
“Why the North fought against slavery was because black people forced it to be a war against slavery. They started flooding to these Union camps. They started demanding to be an ally in their own freedom. And it’s that northern men started running in shortages for enlistments. So the North needed black men to fight. The number of black troops who fought is larger than all the troops that fought at Gettysburg. This is a significant number of people who were fighting.
You also see that you didn’t have to be a black soldier to damage the Confederacy and thereby help the Union. Everywhere they could, women escaped to the Union from slavery as fast as they could. When their men were gone, many just refused to work. Without force, they said, now our time is our own. We’ll feed our children. We’ll take care of ourselves. We’ll get a crop in the ground.”

You have people fighting Hispanic immigration and as part of that they want to repeal the 14th Amendment. You have the anti-immigration laws in Arizona and Prince William Count. What’s the context here?

“It shows that issues touched by the Civil War haven’t left us. That’s why it’s important to understand where the 14th amendment came form in the first place. Every time we think this story is behind us, we find that it is not. Slavery is the great sin of this country’s history, followed by nearly 100 years of segregation. We can’t think we can just put it behind us. The Civil War is woven into all the hard questions about American society. It involves the powers of the state versus the federal government just this week about health care. There are two things here. One strand is how federalism works. The other is about the place of race and injustice in our society. These two things are always weaving together. The sesquicentennial gives us a way to see that this is all part of the same story.”

Richmond may be a city of monuments to Confederate generals. But if you go to other Southern cities such as Charleston, S.C, you see them marketing the “Confederacy” to tourists with the flags and uniforms. You don’t see that here. Somehow it’s OK there but not here. Why?

“Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. We’ve had one struggle after the other about this and it’s not productive. You’ve had the struggle over the floodwall; the Lincoln statue. One of the best days I have had in Richmond was at the unveiling of the Civil Rights Memorial at the capitol. African-Americans in Farmville began a moral revolution in this country.

“Richmond had half the battles of the Civil War taking place 30 miles from here. Charleston had one day in the Civil War when it fires on Fort Sumter. Richmond, on the other hand, was the center of suffering for so long.”

For the complete interview, read Style.

Peter Galuszka

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24 responses to “New Views on the Civil War”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    "You have people fighting Hispanic immigration and as part of that they want to repeal the 14th Amendment."

    Gooz, your bigotry betrays you in that statement…

  2. The rate of white home ownership is more than twice the rate of black home ownership.

  3. John mosby lived long enough to be a consultant during the first world war.

    The civil war was a teethes for technology used in ww1.

    Anything else the civil war was, pales in comparison to the damage it caused later.

  4. Sorry:

    The civil war was a testbed for technology used in ww1.

  5. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    My "bigotry" betrays nothing. It is a simple fact. After a little less than 150 years, conservatives are trying to repeal the 14th amendment because they believe it is being used by Latinios to spawn "anchor babies" as a road to citizenship. They don't want little brown "anchor babies."

    Point closed.
    Peter Galuszka

  6. Here, let me fix that for you.

    "they believe it is being used by ILLEGAL Latinos to spawn "anchor babies" as a road to citizenship. They don't want little brown "anchor babies."

    Not many years ago, my home was filled with little brown anchor babies. The difference was my wife waited in line, entered the country through the front door, and became a citizen BEFORE she had the little brown babies.

    The 14th Amendment isn't the problem. A government that violates its own laws to the detriment of citizen and non-citizen alike is the problem.

  7. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    Fine, come to terms with the illegal immigration program through a combination of amnesty, enforcement and work cards.
    But do NOT repeal one of the cornerstones of civil rights in this country.
    Peter Galuszka

  8. The difference was my wife waited in line, entered the country through the front door, and became a citizen BEFORE she had the little brown babies.


    But she got in.

    I filed an application for a TEMPORARY visa and waited three years before the government wrote back to say I needed to submit two original forms (Information not supplied anywhere on the application itself).

    A government that cynically violates its own regulations and procedures to the detriment of citizen and non-citizen alike is the problem.

    I don't think the 14th amendment says anything about the status of the parents, just that if you are born here, you are a citizen. The fact that your wife waited in line before having babies is not germane. the children would be citizens either way. That little problem is WHY the 14th amendment does not specify.

    Or is it that you are suggesting that a negro kidnapped in Africa and shipped here against his will was here legally?

  9. Gooze Views Avatar
    Gooze Views

    I have had a simnilar experience. I married a Russian woman in the 1980s when I worked there. At the time (being the Cold War) she had no trouble getting into the U.S. although the Soviets thew us some urves getting married.
    Daughters One and Two were born on U.S. soil. I think, they would have been U.S. citizens (perhaps dual citizens) had they been born in the USSR or later Russia.
    My wife entered the U.S. legally and waited three years for citizenship which she got when I was on my second tour in Moscow and we were visiting the states again. I remember have a robust celebration at a New York City steakhouse famous for the Mafia shot down out front a few years before.


  10. My point is that there is a procedure for becoming a citizen, or coming here to work temporarily.

    But instead of that procedure working as designed (which might be bad enough) the procedure istelf is deliberately abused in order to discourage legal applicants.

    When a legal citizen makes a legal application to bring someone here temporarily, it should not take three years to get a response that says something is wrong with your application.

    That is insane, that is broken. And so when you hear about people doing something ILLEGAL, I have to ask whether that is the governments fault.

    This is like writing a ticket for running a red light when only the taillights were still in the intersection when the light turned red.

    The whole story is actually worse. after I filed I promptly got a notice saying it had been recieved, and please to not inquire about it any further because that will slow things down.

    Three years later, I get a notice saying they needed two ORIGINAL signed copies. Now, you have to ask, slow things down comared to what? No new information was required, no new signatures, just two signed copies of the exact same information.

    This is insane. I cost them $20 to send me that letter and it would have cost 5 cents to make a copy.

    Then, the lettter suggested, that if I wanted my case "expedited" I could pay a $1500 'fee' to make that happen. Agricultural crew chiefs use that process to bring in hundreds of laborers at a time. They act as "sponsors" for th eimmigrants and then act as brokers to find them work.

    And then, just to rub it in, the letter was signed by a Mrs Rodrigues.

    Germany uses a lot of guest workers, but they have procedures for getting in that work, and if you screw up, they send you home.

    What we have is a system that is broken, and repealing the 14th Amendmet does nothing to fix the real problem.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    Back up the truck. The first sentence of the 14th amendment reads: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside."

    I have read an argument that the clause "subject to the jurisdiction [of the United States]" may not necessarily apply to a person not lawfully living within the United States. If I am a citizens of Canada or Mexico in the United States without permission, am I "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States"?

    The purpose of the Amendment was to protect African Americans who had been living in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction even though many were slaves under both state and federal law — at least until the 13th Amendment was ratified. I see a big difference between an African American who was lawfully here and others, not citizens of the U.S. and not lawfully here. This interpretation is subject to debate, but it is not a slam-dunk that this sentence necessarily confers citizenship on children of illegal aliens.


  12. If I am a citizens of Canada or Mexico in the United States without permission, am I "subject to the jurisdiction of the United States"?


    If not, then I guess you are not illegal. If you are not subject to the jursidiction, you must be a free spirit or have diplomatic immunity.

    There are crackpots and lawyers that will argue that nothing means what it says.

  13. many were slaves under both state and federal law —


    Well, yes, but under Nigerian law (or whatever) they were most likely kidnap victims, who were brought here illegally. Had the african nations the presence, they might have sent an army to bring their people back home, and claim THEY had jursdiction.

    That would have changed the war.

  14. I see a big difference between an African American who was lawfully here and others, not citizens of the U.S. and not lawfully here.


    It clearly says that if you are born here, you are not illegal. Does not say anything about the parents.

    You see the difference you want to see, but I see nothing about the status of parents, slaves or otherwise. It says nothing about who a child is born unto.

    We can argue whether that was a mistake or an oversight now being used as a loophole that was never intended, but that is a different issue.

    What about people who come here legally but are mentally deficient, just so their children will benefit from our excellent social support system? Does the status of their parents matter?

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    Ray, if your theory were true, children of foreign diplomats born here would be U.S. citizens, rather than citizens of the country of their parents.

    I'm not sure how the courts would decide this issue, but it is not a slam-dunk that the U.S. must recognize the child of an illegal alien as a U.S. citizen. Lots of other nations wouldn't do so based on their laws.


  16. No, because foreign diplomats work here under immunity and therefore are not under us jurisdiction.

    In point of fact, they could probably choose us citizenship, but it wouldn't be very politic.

  17. We are not talking about their laws and ours says nothing about the parents.

    Other countries also allow dual citizenship, and we don't.

    I understand the complaint, but I don't think it has real basis. We just don't want to be over run by outsiders. Same emotion as causes excess zoning regs.

  18. If you are Mexican and just wanted a tourist visa you have to prove you have property, money or investments, a car, job: things a lot of Mexicans will never have. Basically, it is impossible.

    In French Polynesia, you just have to deposit enough money for plane fare out. When they want you to leave, they put you on the plane. That's reasonable.

  19. In my case, as sponsor/employer I would have guaranteed his return. My word is not good enough for my government. As a result, I'm pretty sure my friend is here illegally, someplace. He would rather be able to go home.

  20. Suppose we change the law, if you are born here to illegal parents, you are not a citizen.

    Now what?

    You were not born in Mexico, so you are stateless?


    This is off topic, maybe Jim bacon can make one and include this. For now, call it a new view of the carbon war.

  22. tobiasjodter Avatar

    So if my mother was on a business trip to Germany and went into premature labor and I was born several months premature and I survived – you really think it makes sense that Germany should be required by law to consider me a German citizen? And since I was not born in the US it makes sense that I would not be a US citizen?

  23. I did not say anything about what Germany is required to do. They make their own laws.

    All I said was that the 14th amendment is silent on parentage.

    Bringing parsentage into he issue is a red Herring.

    If you are born here, under our laws, you are entitled to claim citizenship.

    I have a problem with claiming that the parents illegal status gives us the right to break the law. Illegal is illegal either way.

    Now, I believe it is also possible to renounce citizenship. So a German born here prematurely is not REQUIRED to be a us citizen, but they are so privileged if they choose.

    It is now a matter of German law, not ours, to decide whether to accept a newborn, born to German parents.

    Same for Mexico, except fewer
    parents probably ask.

    We are not talking about what Germany is required to do. But if German law recognized anyone born there as a citizen, like ours does, then they should obey their law, and we should obey ours.

    Until we change it.

    Personally, I think we are big enough not to hold an infant accountable for what the parents did.

    If that is a problem, we should raise taxes, until we have enough money to stop them at the border.

    Are you suggesting we raise taxes, or that we break our own law?

  24. It sounds like you are saying it is ok to rationalize breaking the 14 the but not ok to enter the country illegally. I'd say the enforcement should be balanced by cost. 100% enforcement of our borders will be very exspensive. When it gets more expensive than the costs associated with accepting the occasional baby, to illegal parents, then it isn't worth doing. I'd like 100% enforcement of drunk driving laws, too, but when the marginal cost of preventing the next drunken fatality is higher than the cost of preventing the next mine fatality, I'd say we were misallocating resources.

    I can hire an American laborer, or I can hire an illegal and accept certain external costs. The risk of getting caught is one, and some claim there are high social costs associated with providing services to illegals. I'm not sure you would not wind up providing as much service to any category of laborers, lets accept the aregument, for now.

    The cost of hiring the illegal is the cost for him, the external costs, and the cost of border enforcement.

    TC = PC+ EC+ GC

    If that cost is higher than hiring an American, then hire the American laborer, otherwise you are hurting yourself and the illegal in order to help the American. There is no point, and its not cost effective.

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