Issues and Views- History & Genealogy
Commentaries by Tony Thompson
3 Commentaries to date (7 July 2004)--(Updated August 08)
- Comparing Public Opion During WWII and Today's War on Terror
- Oh! The Changes We Have Wrought (Revisionist Textbooks and Watered Down Curriculum)
- Why Grover Cleveland? (Why so Many Thompsons were Named for the U.S. President)
Comparing Public Opinion During WWII and Today’s War on Terror
I recently acquired a copy of “The Fighting South”, written in 1943 by John Temple Graves. Some of Graves’ observations about American public opinion in the World War II years before Pearl Harbor have resurfaced again during the recent undeclared war against terrorists.
Graves noted that in Gallup polls before Pearl harbor most Americans were divided in their opinion about whether our nation should join Britain in World War II, however among those identified as Southerners, over 80% believed America should join the shooting immediately.
Graves pointed out that long before Pearl Harbor, and before the subsequent draft was organized that the number of Southerners volunteering for enlistments were so strikingly large that Alabama’s Congressman Luther Patrick was moved to comment, “they (the nation) had to start selective service to keep our southern boys from filling up the Army.”
Writers who did not share the South’s eagerness to join the fray offered some less than complementary explanations for it. Journalist Dorothy Thompson (no relation to yours truly) blamed the greater southern belligerency on poverty. Georgia-born author Erskine Caldwell (who was working in the U.S.S.R. at the time) said widespread southern ignorance was the culprit.
Author H.L. Mencken said the “unusual susceptibility of the south to British propaganda is an inheritance from Civil War days and is simply one more proof of the high voltage of Southern credulity but the main reason is the marked and almost pathological southern capacity for believing in bogus messiahs. (Mencken was an atheist, by the way.) Mencken went on to say “it is only in the south today where the evangelical clergy maintain their only remaining hold on public opinion and the poor man is always easier to fool than the fellow who is well heeled.” Mencken referred to vestiges of what he falsely termed “the recent war to save American democracy”, i.e. the Civil War. [I am sure my third great-grandfather John Thompson of the 4th Ga. Confederate Cavalry would have bloodied Mencken’s nose over that one!]
Mencken erroneously stated that “only the post-war South had Ku Klux Klan organizations” and that only the gullible South “had temperance unions and anti-saloon societies” and that only the South remained ignorantly “loyal” to our nation’s Christian heritage! [Side bar: Unfortunately, while Mencken is frequently used in high school and college classes in the south today, very little mention is made of his anti-Christian and anti-southern invectives.]
Notwithstanding the fact that Dec. 7, 1941 made all these indictments laughable and moot, most native Southerners knew why they supported Great Britain from the start and recognized the dangers of Hitler early on.
Virginia Senator Carter Glass commented, “The attitude of the south is due both to superior character and to an exceptional understanding of the problem involved.” Douglas Freeman of the Richmond News leader offered these reasons for Southern enmity toward Hitler, “first our English Stock, second our martial tradition and third our knowledge that some things are worse than war.”
Mark Etheridge of the Louisville-Courier Journal said, “We know better than anybody else that war settles questions.” Clark Howell, editor of the Atlanta Constitution said, “We of the south have once been a defeated and invaded country and we have learned just what this means. Our friends in the west have never had the invader set his foot upon their soil and possibly this is why there is no unanimity among them to defeat Hitler on the other side of the Atlantic rather than to wait for him to come over here.”
Chancellor Oliver Cromwell Carmichael of Vanderbilt University said, “the greater belligerence of the south towards this war is due to its greater abhorrence of dictatorship and greater love of liberty and freedom. The spirit of Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee is still reflected in the background and mass of Southern peoples and expresses itself in the vitality of its opposition to tyrannical systems.”
Sadly, we know that the good works of Marse Robert have been drowned in the modern currents of political correctness and even Southern schools no longer tout his virtues but perhaps Chancellor Carmichael’s opinion about that southern mindset still holds some validity today (albeit not at Vanderbilt's former Confederate Hall, now renamed "Memorial Hall".) Yet still, even now, when America’s policies regarding terrorism are under criticism, only a minority of that criticism comes from native Southrons.
Of the criticism born in the south, the greatest I hear is that we should be more strident in the execution of our defense. Since 9-11, those calling for a formal declaration of war have largely been southerners and most southerners I talk to say we should confiscate Iraq’s oil wells long enough to pay for the expense of the war. Aside from these two suggestions, I do not hear many southerners saying anything like the clamor we hear from the west and north except those southern editors who try so hard to mimic their northern liberal counterparts, (and spend so much time denying it.)
I hear nary any nitpicking over whether there were weapons of mass of destruction or whether the CIA knew this or that. Most southerners I talk to seem to agree the war was necessary and they want it executed to the fullest. This same attitude was the most prevalent opinion expressed during the war of my youth, the Vietnam War. Most southerners I knew wanted that war formally declared, executed fully, and wholeheartedly supported by the government. And they were rightly disappointed when it was not.
I guess history will tell whether we are right or wrong this time or whether we Southerners are just ignorant or “pathologically” gullible. But for those presidential candidates looking southward, they should remember that history is on our side.
[Update August 08--I'm not sure what to make of the "War on Terror" anymore. It now looks like instead of a declaration of war, we have a declaration of occupation of Iraq. If anything we seem to have declared war on our own economy via billions in war debt and deterioration of our dollar. Doesn't look like we've won much. When I say "we" I mean our "government" which doesn't appear to be "us" or "our country" anymore.)
Copyright 2003 By Tony Thompson
Author of Kinfolks Across the River and The Tattnall County Inferior Court Records of 1805-1832
Contact at www.kinfolksacrosstheriver.com
Oh The Changes We Have Wrought
I do a lecture presentation in which I explain how the Revisionist History Movement and other forces have changed how we teach history to our children, especially Georgia History. Nothing I have seen illustrates the change better than this comparison of three passages. All three books are designed for use with children 12-15 years of age. All describe a familiar incident: the surrender of Savannah when the British departed at the end of the Revolution.
The first is exemplary; the last two are an insult to intelligence. Is this acceptable?
From History of Georgia written in 1898 by Lawton Evans.
“The British were very much alarmed when they heard of General Wayne’s arrival, and prepared to defend Savannah. The garrison there amounted to little over a thousand men, and these were scantily supplied with food and arms. The American army hemmed them in on all sides, and cut off supplies from every direction except by sea. The notorious Colonel Brown who had collected a body of Indians near Ogeechee Ferry was pursued by General Wayne. Wayne pushed through a thick swamp, reached the Indian camp in the dead of night, and drove Brown and his party into the woods. All the arms and horses of the party were captured, together with thirty prisoners. This was the last battle of the Revolution in Georgia.
In May 1782, orders came from the King to Governor Wright to surrender Savannah and to return to England. Governor Wright opened correspondence with General Wayne, and all the details were arranged between them. The king had sent ships to take away the British soldiers and the Tories who had taken refuge in Savannah. By the 21st of July everything was ready for the departure of the British, and the American army was drawn up in dress parade to occupy the city. Major James Jackson had been selected by General Wayne to receive the city. This honor was conferred on him because of his bravery, and the prominent part he had taken in driving the British from Georgia.”
From The Georgia History Book written in 1982 by Lawrence Hepburn.
“In the spring of 1782, the Tories and British gave up Georgia. As the American troops marched joyfully into Savannah, over 2,000 Tories and their slaves left the state. All of Georgia was once again under control of its own government.”
From Georgia in American Society written in 1987 by Wingo, Terry and Bussler
“The fighting did not end in Georgia. Elijah Clarke pushed the tories into Savannah but could not dislodge the British from their stronghold. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne came to help the whigs in Georgia. However, Governor Wright received reinforcements. The tories outnumbered the whigs by two to one, but Wayne refused to give an inch of ground. Wright tried to convince the new British commander, Sir Guy Carleton, that he could hold Savannah. Carleton however, decided to abandon the city. Governor Wright reluctantly gave up the city in July 1782. He turned the city over to James Jackson. Georgia was under complete whig control for the first time since 1778. The fighting in Georgia was over.”
Copyright June 2004 by Tony Thompson (Excerpts conform to reasonable use restrictions involving small portions to be used in a review.)
Why Grover Cleveland?
One of my 4 second great grandmothers, Stacey Dubberly Thompson, widow of James Thompson, gave birth at around 40 years of age to a son named Grover Cleveland Thompson. This came to my attention after the publication of Kinfolks. Cousin Jenny Londrico noticed it first in the census records. She saw a reference to a "Groover" in the household of Stacey Thompson. We were both intrigued.
Since then, we've found some clues. For starters, we know his full name and that he was indeed her son. I have found a picture of him that was owned by my grandfather Jim. He appears to have been close to my grandfather Jim Thompson. On the back of the photo there is a note that just says "Cleve". Even though Cleve would have been Jim's uncle, they would have been about the same age. And since Jim's father, Pete continued to live near his mother Stacey, in all likelihood Jim and Cleve were probably raised like brothers.
I have had the priviledge to meet one of Grover Cleveland Thompson's descendants. He was also looking for answers, which we both found in short supply. But we generally concurred about Cleve's upbringing and unknown parentage.
From the beginning I wondered why a woman in the post Reconstruction South would choose the name Grover Cleveland for her child. I knew he was a popular president during the 1880's. But what would so endear her to him to employ him as namesake? And she wasn't the only one doing so. Census records revealed at least six different Grover Cleveland Thompsons, and that was just in south Georgia. And it wasn't just a "Thompson thing". Census records showed Grover Cleveland was a favorite name all over Georgia. His popularity extended to other southern states as well.
I had never noticed the namesake popularity before. I was so focused on tracing my older, more familiar family names that when I came across an occasional "Cleve" or "Grover" it never raised my attention. Now I was puzzled by it.
I recently came across a passage that explains it.
In Immortal Captives by Mauriel Phillips Joslyn, she reminds us of the oppressive military occupation of Reconstruction. Returning Confederates (especially officers), found former clerk or teacher jobs filled by carpetbagging Northerners. Those who were lawyers and civil servants were forbidden to hold those jobs. Those who were the most educated and thus most qualified to vote were denied the right to do so. Hundreds of millions of state dollars were stolen outright by the corrupt legislature and Governors. Joslyn reminds us also that when Democrat Grover Cleveland became president in 1885, "Southerners were appointed to two of his cabinet positions, the first time since the war that the South was given more than token representation...several benefitted under the sympathetic adminstration acquiring appointments in the Post Office, Government Printing Office and other government agencies."
Indeed, one Grover Cleveland Thompson, in the 1920 census of the Savannah Beach area is listed as being 40 years old, and employed as a clerk at the "post office".
Grover Cleveland was narrowly defeated in 1888 despite winning a plurality of the vote. But after four years of Republican rule, he was shortly reelected to a second term in 1892. During the decade from the mid 1880's to the mid 1890's many southern tots were acquiring the moniker of Grover Cleveland as a prefix to their proud Southern surnames.
The return of Democratic party power in the South (and the end of Republican Reconstruction) must have been personified in the appeal of Democrat Grover Cleveland. So cheered were they to be again treated with honor by him that they returned the honor by bestowing his name on as many Southern boys as they could. One supposes that they figured folks like myself would need a reminder. And I did.
Copyright July 5, 2004 Tony Thompson, Thompson Publishing www.kinfolksacrosstheriver.com
What Do You Say When They Ask You What You Think About the Books They Want to Use in the School?
[In 2005 a friend and former colleague of mine (Mrs. Linda Webb) headed up the local textbook adoption committee here in Metter, Candler County Georgia. Like any good citizen I went down to the local board office and looked the books over. They had their preferred books labeled so you could see which texts they were leaning toward. Below is my letter that accompanied the form they asked each "concerned citizen" fill out. I simply didn't have enought room on the form to say everything! I got a courteous reply thanking me for my input but I think they went ahead and adopted the books I objected to anyway. Nonetheless, I voiced my objections and proceeded to homeschool my own children...more convinced than ever that I was doing the right thing. Textbooks are adopted on a seven year cycle in Georgia. If your child is stuck in a system using revisionist texts, they are stuck with those books for 7 years. Usually that's too long to overcome the ill-effects. Best to get out while you can. ----Note Mrs. Linda Webb is one of the finest educators I have ever had the honor to work with....the problem is not folks like her, but the educational establishment and the political correctness that dominates it.]
9 December 2005
Dear Mrs. Webb and members of the Textbook Adoption Committee of Candler County, Georgia,
re: Textbook Adoptions- Social Studies- U.S. and Georgia History (4th, 5th, 8th & 11th grades)
After reviewing the U.S. history books on display at the Board of Ed. office I wanted to make the following observations.
The AGS book appears to be for students with special needs so I will restrict my first comments to The American Nation by Holt, Rinehart et. al.
This particular title was singled out recently by the renowned educational research analysts at the Mel Gabler textbook review team of Longview, Texas. They concluded, as you see below, this was the worst U.S. history textbook they reviewed.
“American Nation” (Holt) Rating: Worst
Disproportionate, agenda-driven stress on anti-social history over political and economic themes:
·Divisive, inflammatory, unprofessional stereotypes of whites as oppressors and people of color as victims, polarizing multicultural populations ·Fragmentary coverage, incoherent explanations, low prioritization of key terms, issues, and concepts in U.S. Constitutional history
Dubious grasp of some topics in U.S. economic history; definite disinterest in questioning old left anti-capitalist, pro-big government prejudices.”
Attached you will find a list of 67 factual errors found in the book in 2003. I am sure some of the errors have been corrected or disputed, but it gives an idea of the problems this book has.
Ethnic and Racial Bias
As I read the review form in the display room I was struck by question # 4 which asked whether or not I agreed that “the material is free of racial, ethnic or gender stereotyping and bias.”
This struck me as odd, because IF this was a concern for the textbook adoption committee, I could hardly understand how THIS particular book was their favorite choice. This book has a clear ethnic bias that strongly stereotypes southerners, and particularly white southerners. Whether by omission, insinuation, distortion or outright falsehoods, readers are constantly left to conclude that slavery, racism, bigotry and all manner of social ills are largely, if not entirely the fault of white southerners. If my children were to be subjected to the lessons in this book, I would expect them to feel marginalized and ashamed for their themselves and their ancestors.
For example, on p. 364, readers are given the loaded question: “Explain why the south used constitutional arguments to protect slavery.” This implies that any attempt by Southerners to discuss the constitution was(is) merely a ruse to defend slavery.
This same insinuation is peppered throughout the book with references to states rights being “under” the constitution, when in fact they were written IN the constitution throughout the Bill of Rights and particularly the 10th amendment. This insinuation draws students away from any conclusion that the South was exercising a legitimate right when it seceded or that there was anything other to the “Civil” war than slavery. Again, at every discussion of other issues whether it be states rights, state sovereignty, tariffs, etc., the issue is relentlessly turned back to being part of the “slavery” debate. Furthermore, with this biased presentation, students are led away from the conclusion that the War destroyed the 10th amendment, which, of course, it surely did.
Compounding the stereotyping of white southerners is the omission or censoring of any mention of northern slave owners, nor of free blacks both north and south who owned slaves, thus leading students to believe that ONLY white southerners owned slaves.
When northern slavery is discussed it is as though some collective supernatural enlightenment caused them to cease the practice. There is no explanation of how they came to rid themselves of their slaves by selling them off or how New England shippers led the importation of slaves or how immigrant labor and geography made slave labor unfeasible economically. Students are left to wonder if these altruistic people are the same people who labored to exterminate the native Indian tribes.
And somehow the text finds it unnecessary to mention that most native American tribes (particularly the Seminoles) included slave ownership as part of their cultures too. It also finds it unnecessary to make clear that only a small minority of southern whites owned slaves.
In addition, when discussing the Confederacy, I saw no mention whatsoever of blacks who served in the Confederate army, nor any mention of the fact that prominent southerners like Robert E. Lee voluntarily freed their slaves long before the war. Nor is there any mention of Northern slave owners who refused to free their slaves until forced to do so, like Ulysses S. Grant.
Consistent with this censorship is the omission of any notion of northerners’ bigotry toward blacks which was the prevailing norm of nearly all Americans in the 19th century both north, south, east and west.
Another noticeable omission is no mention of the fact that while Free Soil Party members advocated no slavery in new territories, they also advocated no blacks at all be allowed in the new states. Meanwhile they are juxtaposed against the southern pro-slavery view, giving the false impression that these Free Soilers, Republicans, and Northerners in general welcomed blacks and former slaves with open arms as they escaped from the evil old south. These magnanimous northerners are credited with being advocates of “equality” who formed the Republican Party, in order to advance civil rights, when in fact they were possessed of the same racism that permeated 19th century American thought. Somehow the book fails to mention that states like Lincoln’s Illinois, at his own suggestion, changed their constitution in 1862, to BAN blacks from entering the state at all.
The general conclusion students are left to draw is that white southerners were all bad and white northerners were all good. Even Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and the others who died at the Alamo are portrayed not as heroes, but as men looking to “expand slavery”.
Indeed, I saw only one statement that directly credits northerners with being possessed of any prejudice at all, and that was in regard to a riot in Illinois.
At the risk of being too lengthy, let me add a few more glaring biases.
-Nearly complete censorship of southern concern over Tariffs, absent any link of that argument to slavery. I saw no mention of the southern delegation that attended Congress dressed in homespun cloth to dramatize the ill effects of tariffs on the South. -A mere one sentence mention of Jefferson Davis. The State of Georgia used to give its students a holiday on the birth date of Jeff Davis. This book gives him but one sentence. By contrast Gloria Steinem got four paragraphs in a bio and a mug shot of her darling face. And Hispanic labor leader Caesar Chavez warranted nearly two full pages. -There is nary a word about the ill-effects of the Radical Abolitionists, nor the Southern Emancipation movement, nor the fact that both north and south were working together to end slavery before the Radical Abolitionists derailed the efforts after 1830 and led the nation towards secession. Nothing about founding father and Virginian, John Randolph freeing his 200 slaves. -The misleading portrayal of white treatment of slaves and free blacks is perhaps most disturbing. When the bond requirement for free blacks is mentioned it is done so in a vacuum, with no explanation that similar bonds were required for white orphans and indentured servants. There is no explanation that the antebellum southern society and plantation-based economy tolerated no significant number of unemployed men. In our neighboring (and parent) county of Tattnall, for instance, the entire annual budget for orphans, widows, and indigents in 1830 was a grand total of $125 dollars. Idleness and unemployment simply were not well tolerated in antebellum days. Anyone who was not clearly supported or financially independent was required to be bonded by someone who could insure they would not be a burden to the county. This was not unique to free blacks. It was the order of the day for everyone. -The book makes several incomprehensible and incongruent assertions about slave life. On one page it says slaves and free blacks were forbidden from reading. On the next page it cites a free black newspaper and black preachers. On one page it says slaves’ lives were totally controlled. But then it describes slaves fishing and having their own private gardens. It says slaves were forbidden to carry weapons, then later tells of slaves going “hunting”. We must suppose they hunted with their bare hands or in some way managed to scare their prey to death. It criticizes whites who “censored African American ministers” and made worship difficult for them, without explaining that it was whites who introduced their slaves to Christianity and encouraged them to attend church in the first place. Surely accuracy and completeness were not the goals of the authors. -Perhaps the most needless and injurious misconception offered about the treatment of slaves is the description of whippings without the clarification that this punishment was also the norm for whites as well. For example, again from Tattnall County, in 1805, John Clemmons, a white man was convicted of a minor crime, petty larceny. The jury recommended “mercy” and subsequently assigned him what they considered a merciful punishment: “to be taken to a whipping post and with a suitable cow skin or switch have laid on (his) bare back…thirty nine lashes…and pay all the fees and costs of prosecution” before he could be discharged. That was a white man, tied to a whipping post, who got 39 lashes on his bare back, AND was made to pay for his own prosecution, in what the jury considered “mercy” for a minor crime. -More than once the book referred to “myths of the Old South”. Taken for what it insinuates, that appears to be anything one might have to say today that reflects positively on the Old South.
Speaking of myths, among the more laughable notions in the book are the myths about Harriet Tubman and the assertion that the Underground Railroad had routes which ran throughout the South. There is even a map of it in the book!! [p. 278]. I have no axe to grind against Harriet Tubman or the Underground Railroad, but a history book should be obligated to present an accurate depiction of facts. And it seems this book wants us to feel bad about white southerners and to make us feel better than we should about people like Tubman who they heap false glory on.
For example, Reviewer Michael Chesson of The Textbook League observed the following about this book and Tubman:
“The American Nation proclaims: "One daring conductor, Harriet Tubman, had escaped slavery herself. Risking her freedom and her life, Tubman returned to the South 19 times. She led more than 300 slaves, including her parents, to freedom. Admirers called Tubman the 'Black Moses,' after the ancient Hebrew leader who led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Slave owners offered a $40,000 reward for Tubman's capture."
·By making explicit or implicit connections between the Underground Railroad and Tubman's trips, and by depicting Tubman as an Underground Railroad superstar, the book implies that the paramount purpose of the Underground Railroad was to launch slave-stealing expeditions. That is false. The Underground Railroad was not in the business of staging raids, and Tubman's excursions were idiosyncrasies at best. ·False claims about Tubman -- such as the claim that she made nineteen trips to liberate slaves, and the claim that slave-owners put a huge price on her head -- are not historical facts. They are inventions. [The $40,000 claim in American Nation would be the equivalent of $2 million today.] ·When students read that Tubman "returned to the South" or made "trips to the South" to snatch slaves, the students surely will conjure images of Tubman skulking through the strongholds of slavery in, say, Mississippi or Georgia. The images will be quite false, but the students will be blameless. The textbook-writers have carelessly and misleadingly used the phrase the South as if it were a synonym for slave states, and they have failed to distinguish the classic slave states of the Deep South from the border slave states (such as Maryland and Delaware) where slave populations were lower. During her time as a slave, Harriet Tubman had lived in the border state of Maryland, close to free territory. And after her escape from slavery she settled in Philadelphia, got a job in a hotel, and made short slave-rescuing trips from Pennsylvania into Maryland or Delaware.. [She did not venture into the interior of "the South." Students are steered away from the fact that Tubman rescued slaves from Union States as opposed to states that would later join the Confederacy.]
The number of slave-snatching trips that Tubman made, and the number of slaves whom she shuttled to freedom, will never be known with certainty.
The only evidence of any reward for the capture of Harriet Tubman is an item that ran in a Maryland newspaper in October 1849, soon after Tubman made her own escape from slavery. The reward that was offered was $100.
To believe that slave-holders offered an extravagant reward for Tubman, one must believe that they knew of her, knew that she was taking slaves, and attributed their losses specifically to her. There is no evidence to support any of those notions, and the notions don't even make sense. How would slave-owners know whether their slaves were being spirited away by Tubman, or were being taken by some other individual or individuals, or were simply fleeing by themselves?”
As for the map of the Underground Railroad in American Nation [p. 278], Chesson observes,
“The map is unusually foolish. It shows escape routes originating in the Deep South -- in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina -- and running all the way through the Upper South and into the free states and Canada. Amazingly, the same map shows a route running from southern Georgia into Florida, where it splits into three branches. One of the branches is labeled "To Bahamas." No doubt the slaves who followed that branch used submarines to complete their journeys. The Underground Railroad evidently was an Underwater Railroad as well.”
Clearly this book has succumbed to pressures from Revisionist historians who seek to denigrate white Southerners while playing the adoring sycophant to every politically correct notion and favored minority group under the sun. Suffice to say that when I see a U.S. History book in which Gloria Steinem warrants 4 full paragraphs and Jeff Davis gets only one short sentence, I smell a rat.
Let’s be honest about question # 4. This book is NOT free of racial, ethnic or gender stereotyping and bias.
The question should be, “Do I accept the racial and ethnic stereotyping and bias this book demonstrates towards white southerners?”
For what it is worth, I observed the same Revisionist themes in the 4th and 5th grade history texts and the Georgia History text. The 4th grade book explained that those evil southerners “passed laws preventing free African Americans from holding certain jobs”, while neglecting to mention that many of those magnanimous northern states passed laws forbidding free blacks from holding ANY jobs in their states.
I understand your constraints and limitations. I have been there too. I appreciate your patience if you have read this far. With fewer and fewer publishers in the textbook field, I understand that it is difficult to find ANY texts not influenced by the radical Revisionists which also meet the demands of your similarly revisionist curriculum standards. I just wanted to get these criticisms before you so that you might ameliorate them however your conscience dictates. I would also like to ask that copies of the adopted books be put in the public library to be available for parents year round.
Your obedient servant,
9 December 2005