AN INCONVINENT TRUTH…OF SORTS

This has nothing to do with Global Climate Change or a documentary of the same name produced by a former Democratic vice president but I feel the need to express my belief that while the climate has changed as much as the South’s most revered river, the Mississippi, has meandered, both will continue to do so without help from the human population that inhabits our little blue ball. That being said, I also believe that, despite what superstitious conservatives say, the human population is helping to speed up and worsen the outcome of those changes and that Al Gore did not invent the internet. Hopefully the audience that is reading this has a clue as to what I just said.
There is a problem with history because it is just that—history. We weren’t there and we have to rely upon the writings of others in the form of what are called primary documents to attempt to put together the pieces of the puzzle that is that history. We must also view what is being said using the “light of the times” which has dimmed as time has marched on. Most of us, unless we are historians, don’t want to go to the trouble of pouring over dusty historical texts that are decades old. We want the CliffNotes or we want someone to teach us the history that we need to know and if it is an inconvenient truth we look for a different set of CliffNotes or teachers who support a more convenient truth. We also tend to look at it in the light of our times which sometimes reminds me of that beautiful “honky-tonk angel”… when the harsh light of closing time comes on…not that I have spent any time in honky-tonks lately unless Linda Gail was in attendance and she looks beautiful whatever the light.
For instance, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” Ever heard this statement before? Sure you have. Civics and US History classes or if you slept through mine, Fourth of July celebrations. Sometime in your life you have heard it even if you can’t remember if it is the Declaration of Independence or the Preamble to the Constitution. Which is it? Hint—July 4, 1776. But what did it mean in 1776? That’s right it was the Declaration of Independence but what did “all men” mean. We think that “these truths” meant “all men and women.” The old universal man because we are seeing it in the light of today. But “these truths” didn’t mean that. Our founding fathers could have just as easily said “Only white men of voting age who are landowners are created equal.” No slaves, no women and no white men who didn’t own something. Universal women’s suffrage would not be enacted until 1920 although women in Wyoming territory had the right to vote in 1869 the same year that the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified giving all citizens the right to vote…except women. Male ex-slaves would have the right to vote, although severely abridged, before women and Native Americans who were not made citizens as a group until 1924. I also believe that there are a group of old white guys in blue suits who wish it was still that way. Yeah I’m an old white guy but the closest I will come to a blue suit will be a predominately blue Hawaiian shirt.
As the Civil War is being re-fought throughout social media I keep seeing statement after statement, reported as truth, which as a history teacher has me reaching for the Preparation H or at least the Gold Bond. Excuse my indelicacy but, “It galls my ass!” The latest had to do with the most revered man of the Confederacy, Robert E. Lee and the most defamed man in the Union, Abe Lincoln. Over and over posters stated that Lee “freed his slaves before the war” and that Lincoln was actually a “closet” slave owner. I also something about him being gay but he never appeared to be too happy. From my research, I am not sure how many slaves Lee actually owned, if any, and he may have freed what HE owned but he certainly did not free the ones his wife, and therefore he, inherited from her father until 1862 when the point was mute because the Union Army had already taken over his inherited home at Arlington. Why did he not free them? In his own words Lee stated that he needed them to avoid bankruptcy “and to put things right.” Should this make him any less revered? Should we defame him for having the worst comb over prior to Donald Trump? Viewing it under the light of times, I would say not, but stating what are at best the half-truths in today’s light makes one wonder.
Abe Lincoln a slave owner? Except for a short stint of time in Washington, Lincoln spent his entire life in Illinois, a free state. His family was so poor that his father “contracted him out” to pay for the families debts. Maybe that is where the confusion came from. Lincoln was a type of indentured servant for his own family which is a type of forced servitude but he owned no slaves. Grant owned slaves, as did eleven other former US Presidents but not Lincoln.
While I am on stupid statements about slavery, “There was just as much slavery in the North as the South!” Really? Not including the Border States, which were considered Upper South and in which Delaware was included, only two Northern states, Connecticut and New Jersey, had not abolished slavery by 1848. According to the 1860 census Connecticut had no slaves to free in 1865 while New Jersey had a whopping two hundred and eight-six too many. And while we are at it, Lincoln could not free the slaves in the rest of the United State with the Emancipation Proclamation. It would take an Amendment to the Constitution to do that and it did in 1865.
I was taught that if you were unsure of an answer or were sure you did not know the answer try and “baffle them with bullsh!t.” It would seem that I was not the only person to learn this lesson. I have seen much bul sh!t lately whether is dealt with the Civil War, religion, gay rights or our presidential candidates. Anytime someone states an opinion other than yours, rather than take the time to look up and research a rebuttal, we throw out what are at best half-truths or at worse total lies. When all else fails we just call each other names.

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