I have become resigned to the often gratuitous trashing of my Yankee heritage that is a regular feature of Chronicles.  Sometimes, we even deserve it.  After all, it is your magazine, and it’s a very, very good one.  I cannot, however, let Clyde Wilson’s outrageous statement in “Confederate Rainbow” (Reviews, October 2001) go unchallenged.  He says—and this is not taken out of context—that “In fact, the most fundamental goal of the war (and of Reconstruction) was to keep blacks out of the North.” 

This is on the level of Muslim journalists claiming that Jews flew those planes into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C.  I can imagine that Dr. Wilson has what he considers “evidence” for this nonsense, perhaps taken from one or another demented abolitionist.  I have accumulated over the years a rather lengthy list of statements by Southerners that would probably be unpleasant reading for today’s defenders of the Lost Cause.  But I would not try to portray them as central to the often noble aims of the Confederacy.

Can’t you just hear the Willsons, my great-grandfather and his brothers, say “Let’s go south, boys, and get our butts shot off so we can keep the blacks out of New York”?  And maybe you can imagine how they would have reacted to anyone who tried to convince them that this was a good idea.  Come on, give us Yankees a break once in a while.

        —John Willson
Hillsdale, MI

Dr. Wilson Replies:

I am sorry to have offended my old friend Professor Willson.  I stand by my statement about the most fundamental, underlying goal of the Northern attack on the South.  The immediate cause of the war was the absolute barring of slavery from the territories.  As Jefferson long before pointed out, stopping the “expansion of slavery” was not a benefit to the slaves but a benefit to Northern political power.  Let’s remember that the black population of the North in 1860 was quite small, and degraded.  Even most of the free blacks were in the South.

If you read the private and public statements of the Republican leaders, their desire to keep the territories a white man’s country is obvious.  They stated it over and over.  The proof of the pudding is Reconstruction.  The U.S. government was giving away millions of acres of land in the West to corporations and immigrants.  Not an acre went to the million landless families that they had just “freed.”  Their policy was to keep them in the South by giving them the vote and allowing them to help keep the Republicans in power.  I have no doubt that John Willson’s ancestors were fighting honorably for the Union, as were many others, and that some Southerners were motivated by a wish to prevent outside interference with slavery.  But to think that the Northern war of conquest was motivated by benevolence is to buy into a pernicious mythology that has contributed greatly to the destruction of republican government.