Author of ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’ claims American textbooks have been lying about the Civil War

Confederate troops (top) fire on the Federal (Union) positions during the final battle of the Gettysburg conflict,
Confederate troops (top) fire on the Federal (Union) positions during the final battle of the Gettysburg conflict. Reuters

Some American textbooks are deliberately being vague about the reason southern states chose to secede because they don’t want to offend school districts in the region and lose sales, sociologist James W. Loewen writes for the Washington Post.

For example, one of the best-selling US history textbooks, “The American Journey” states that although “Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to disturb slavery where it existed,” many people in the South didn’t trust them and feared they would “not protect Southern rights and liberties,” which lead to secession.

Because of cloudy facts like this, Loewen, the author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” and “The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader,” claims the book avoids slavery as the main cause of the Civil War and cites the non-protection of Southern rights instead.

The same textbook goes on to say that Southerners claimed leaving the Union was justified because “the national government” refused to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act — which stipulated that all escaped slaves were to be returned to their masters upon capture, even when captured by officials in free states — and thus, denied southern states equal rights.

No southern state, however, brought formal charges against the federal government, according to the Loewen.

These misconceptions have caused many people to falsely cite reasons other than slavery, such as economic reasons and states’ rights, for the start of the Civil War. In fact, the test that immigrants who want to become US citizens must pass accepts all three as correct causes.

Loewen, however, argues that slavery is the only correct answer.

High tariffs and taxes in the south, often invoked as a reason for the war, weren’t an issue at the time, Loewen claims. After South Carolina demanded the right to nullify federal laws because of taxes in the 1830s, president Andrew Jackson threatened the state with force. South Carolina soon backed down, and the tariffs weren’t an issue again, according to Loewen.

As for states’ rights, Loewen claims that’s not correct either: “Confederate states did claim the right to secede, but no state claimed to be seceding for that right. In fact, Confederates opposed states’ rights — that is, the right of Northern states not to support slavery,” he writes.

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof with a confederate flag and a gun Alleged Dylann Roof website

The impact of confederate symbols can still be seen today, according to Loewen — on the clothes of Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 or more recently, the images of Dylann Roof, who allegedly shot and killed nine people in a black church in South Carolina, waving a confederate flag.

Loewen ends the piece by arguing that not accepting slavery as the pivotal reason for the Civil War “marginalizes African Americans and makes us all stupid.”

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