Victor Davis Hanson’s smug, simplistic assessment (“Sherman’s War,” November 1999) of the leaders and followers of the Old South as people who deserved all the ills that befell them—because they held on to slavery—smacks of the same mean-spiritedness some adherents of the Religious Right espouse in saying AIDS is the just reward for the nation’s homosexuals in violating human normality.
Never mind that thousands of Southern slaveholders from the colonial period up to 1861 were quite sensitive to the evil of slavery and indeed did free many slaves. But in a world that universally recognized the ideal of white superiority, what kind of freedom did an African-American have back then anyway, if one was freed? Even President Lincoln urged the removal of freed slaves to Latin American countries or elsewhere. If those Southerners who continued to own slaves ever gave any serious thought to throwing their economic survival to the four winds, they must have considered the helplessness of their chattels shifting alone. As for secession—treason, as Dr. Hanson so glibly describes it—the Republican-party platform of 1860 dismissed the Old South from having any standing in its scheme of things. What was so sacred about such a Union?
We all can see that slavery was at the very root of the vast differences between North and South, but the severance was the result of something much deeper than that. Professor Hanson can find the real reason for the Civil War every morning: when he looks into the mirror and sees the countenance of a self-righteous, arrogant damn Yankee who has nothing to lose by the standards he would impose on others and who delights in the misfortunes of those he considers to be morally inferior and whose shoes he hasn’t worn.