Sunday, June 29, 2008

The First Of Many Sesquicentennials

So I promise that my discussion of the Lost Cause will be carried forward to its conclusion. I've got a few drafts going, just trying to keep it organized. For those joining this discussion thread late, please click on the "Lost Cause" label on the sidebar to get caught up.

As I've been working, I've been speculating on why this material resonates so deeply for me, and it's not just for the intellectual challenge or entertainment. The Civil War and how it is remembered remains such a huge part of our society, and yet still incredibly poorly understood.

The Civil War and the way it is remembered are going to become increasingly more important and popular over the next few years, as we are reaching the 150th anniversary of some of our nation's most important events. The first of these is the sesquicentennial of the Abraham Lincoln-Stephen Douglas debates of 1858. During that summer, the two men battled across the state of Illinois in their campaign for a senatorial seat with the slavery question first and foremost on their tongues. Their series of seven debates, now remembered as the Lincoln-Douglas debates, is one of the most famous and important campaigns in our history. Though Lincoln lost, his erudition and reasoning launched him into the national spotlight, setting the stage for his victory in the 1860 presidential campaignIn fact, this past Monday, June 16th, was the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's timeless and memorable House Divided speech, which preceded the actual debates between the two men

There are, of course other issues that bring this course of study home, like the Confederate flag flying in Tampa, which motivated me to start writing these posts in the first place. But more than that is how the Civil War, the Lost Cause, and the legacy of slavery are becoming a larger and larger part of the 2008 presidential election, to whit, Jim Webb, who recently surfaced as a potential Democratic nominee for VP. As the attention around him began to grow last month, he gave an interview to an online publication called Politico where he espoused his affinity for the Confederacy . His comments were so thoroughly steeped in Lost Cause mishmosh that one can easily imagine what his high school and college lectures had on the subject.

Does this mean he is a poor politician? No, but it's discouraging that his (and so many of our) education came up short, and also that he is not able to see past this neo-confederate blather. Just like the flag, this sort of marginalization of the real issues behind the Confederacy (slavery and the maintenance and expansion of same) shows a profound lack of racial sensitivity.

Bigger still; however, is the mere possibility of a Barack Obama presidency. What a statement would it be to have an African-American president leading the ceremonies to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War? I invite you to read this excellent essay on the subject of Barack Obama and the Civil War as we consider how his (potential) presidency would help us understand race and the legacy of slavery in our country. In order for us to truly gain as much from this (again, potential) opportunity; however, we must first try to embrace and understand the facts surrounding secession, slavery, the Confederacy, and the Civil War as they occurred at the time, not as the Lost Cause mythology would have us. Thus, we will push on with our study in the next few days

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