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A Revision of the Civil War

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Table of Contents 
  •  Introduction by Joe B. Frantz 
  •  Biographical sketch of Avery Craven 
  •  Beginning of lecture by Avery Craven 
  •  Craven's journey to becoming a Historian 
  •  Agricultural research 
  •  Mentions Professor William E. Dodd 
  •  Craven's first book, "Soil Exhaustion as a Factor in the Agricultural History of Virginia and Maryland" 
  •  On the life of Edmund Ruffin, as a microcosm of Southern extremism, and a conflicting story to pre-revisionist Civil War History 
  •  Craven's interpretation of pre-revisionist Civil War history: Slavery as the sole cause of the War 
  •  Mentions James Ford Rhodes 
  •  Mentions William L. Garrison and Theodore Dwight Weld 
  •  Impacts of the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. 
  •  Origins of Civil War Revisionism 
  •  Craven's article and book, "The Coming of the Civil War" 
 
Transcript 
  •  Joe B. Frantz: Professor Avery Craven was a fast man. 
  •  Not only was he a college quarterback and coach in football, but he set a school record for the one hundred and ten yard high hurdles that stood for some years. 
  •  However, unlike most sprinters, who start quickly but can't hold pace, Professor Craven, over a forty-year course, has proved he is a considerable distance man also. This time in scholarly races. 
  •  Born in North Carolina, he moved as a child to Iowa, where he was graduated from Simpson College.  
  •  He received his MA from Harvard, and his Ph.D. from Chicago. 
  •  Simpson, South Carolina, Tulane, Wayne State, Western Michigan and Cambridge have all granted him honorary degrees. 
  •  His teaching career includes stints at the College of Emporia, Michigan State, Illinois, and after 1929, at his alma mater, the University of Chicago. 
  •  He has also been a guest professor at the University of Sydney, Australia, 
  •  Pitt Professor at Cambridge, Salzburg, California, Colorado, North Carolina and South Carolina, Southern California, Northwestern, Western Michigan, Wisconsin, and Texas 
  •  He's been president of the Southern, Agricultural, and Mississippi Valley, historical associations. 
  •  Among his books are "The Coming of the Civil War," "United States: Experiment in Democracy," "Rise of Southern Nationalism," and "The Civil War in the Making." 
  •  Dr. Craven will talk to us on the coming of the Civil War. 
  •  His first lecture will be entitled, "A Revision of the Civil War," 
  •  his second, "The Coming of the Civil War,"  
  •  and his third, "Why The South Seceded." 
  •  Professor Avery Craven. 
  •  Avery Craven: i have often asked myself how it happened that i became an historian. 
  •  My interests in high school were in Latin and English, largely I suppose because my best teachers were in those subjects. 
  •  Even in college i took more of Science than i did of History. My leanings were decidedly toward Geology. 
  •  Independent reading, however, had kept alive a native interest in history, and when the president of my college suggested that i remain at that institution as an instructor in the chemistry department, 
  •  I surprised even myself by saying that if i were to become a teacher it would be in the field of history. 
  •  He came back a few weeks later with an offer as an instructor in History. 
  •  And so, without the slightest intention of doing so I became both a teacher, and a historian. 
  •  It was in the next two years, when i learned far more history than my students, that I took the next step:  
  •  I discovered Frederick Jackson Turner. 
  •  His approach to American History fitted both my interest in geology and my membership in a family that had migrated from North Carolina to Iowa. 
  •  He placed history down on the earth. The very earth on which I lived, and to which I knew something from personal experience. 
  •  It gave new dimensions to American History. 
  •  I moved to a city high school, where the near-criminal practice of combining history teaching with coaching the athletic teams paid more money, soon enabled me to begin my graduate study at Harvard, where this man Turner was a professor. 
  •  A few weeks in his classes convinced me that i had made the right decision. There would be no turning back. 
  •  A chance piece of research which i did for a term paper on the abandoned farms of New England brought the suggestion that the method used, if applied to the old South, would make a suitable subject for a doctoral dissertation. 
  •  Shortage of finances and a World War, however, delayed that project. 
  •  It was completed several years later at the University of Chicago under the direction of William E. Dodd. 
  •  It provided the material for a first book: "Soil Exhaustion as a Factor in the Agricultural History of Virginia and Maryland." 
  •  Thus, almost by accident, I was launched into the field of Southern history. 
  •  Agriculture was a good place to start in that field. The South was, and would remain primarily a rural agricultural region. 
  •  Its life and labor were dominated by that fact. Its role in the nation, and its reaction to a national problems, was fixed by the needs of a staple-producing economy carried on with slave labor. 
  •  Its politicians were kept busy protecting agricultural interests against an urban industrial rival. 
  •  The study of Virginia's effort to restore her worn out tobacco lands, and to bring her agriculture back to prosperity, bought an acquaintance with Edmund Ruffin, the leader of that reform movement. 
  •  Soil chemist of high merit, publisher of a superior agricultural periodical, and practical planter, Edmund Ruffin must be ranked high in the annals of American agriculture. 
  •  It's been said, with much truth, that his knowledge of soils was not matched in this nation until well after 1900, yet Edmund Ruffin is best known for what he later became: A Southern patriot of the fire-eating variety. 
  •  As an unmitigated hater of Yankees and all things Northern, the extreme defender of negro slavery and the peter the hermit of the secession movement. 
  •  So hardened were his efforts for Southern independence, that he was given the honor of firing one of the first guns against Fort Sumpter, and another at Bull Run. 
  •  No other individual better reveals the frustrations a man with progressive ideas had to endure in the Antebellum South itself. 
  •  Most certainly no other one worked more tirelessly to create a Southern nation, or to give his life more dramatically at its failure. 
  •  Better than almost any other, he revealed those complex and often hidden factors which made the Civil War inevitable. 
  •  In spite of superior ability and recognized accomplishments, Edmund Ruffin's life was one long battle against inferior foes. 
  •  Something was definitely wrong with the world. It all began perhaps in early childhood with his stepmother. 
  •  It became increasingly clear in the failure of college to educate, and was definitely confirmed when a venture into politics and a term in the House of Delegates in Virginia ended in utter failure for the absurd reason that he could not speak in public. 
  •  A superior intellect, evidently, did not qualify a man for public life in that Virginia. 
  •  Foiled in politics, Ruffin turned to the far less spectacular task of agricultural reform. 
  •  Here he made a contribution to his state greater than that made by most politicians, yet he was in no way satisfied. 
  •  Recognition was slow in coming and stubborn farmers were slow to change their ways. 
  •  Bitter and angry at the whole world because of undeserved neglect he left his native county, and for a time threatened to abandon the cause of even his own native state. 
  •  Not until he discovered Northern Yankees as the enemies of all things Southern did he began to discover virtues in all things Southern. 
  •  Suddenly all the pent-up resentments against the obstacles he had confronted in the South itself were turned against the North. 
  •  The indifference of neighbors and frustrations clearly due to the immediate surroundings were forgotten in the eager, unimpeded drive against an outside foe far enough away and indistinct enough to assume any form necessary. 
  •  He therefore found it easy to turn all Yankees into unscrupulous, money mad enemies whose whole purpose was to plunder the more genteel and virtuous tillers of Southern soils. 
  •  Even the stubborn and indifferent neighbors soon began to take on the qualities of Southern gentlemen. 
  •  Even his own health began to improve. 
  •  From this time on through the years, Edmund Ruffin toiled unceasingly for Southern independence and at downgrading and rejecting all of things Northern. 
  •  Dressed in course, Southern homespuns, he went about organizing his leagues of united Southerners, distributing with appropriate labels the pikes with which John Brown had expected to arm the slaves of Harper's Ferry, and working all the time to diversify Southern economic life while denouncing that same diversification at the North as a sign of inferiority and retrogression. 
  •  But it all came to nothing. 
  •  Somehow it proved impossible both to denounce the North and to copy it as the only road to survival in the modern world. 
  •  Somehow it proved equally impossible to convince the rest of mankind that a society which accepted negro slavery was superior to one based on freedom. 
  •  Confused and frustrated, both the man and his section chose to perish rather than face reality. 
  •  To have approached the study of civil war in the making through a knowledge of the complex personality of Edmund Ruffin created the suspicion that what historians had been saying about that subject was entirely too simple. 
  •  Under the lead of James Ford Rhodes, they had agreed that slavery and slavery alone had produced that struggle. 
  •  A few had recently hinted that differences between agriculture and industry and a conflict between two contending systems for control of the territories were also involved, but even here, slavery was at the bottom of it all. 
  •  Yet none of these things had seemed to have played a part in Ruffin's development into a Southern Fire-Eater. 
  •  He was potentially one well before he discovered the Yankees as the avowed enemies of slavery. 
  •  He did not have to go outside his own state to locate the enemies of Southern agriculture and he never did become the advocate of slavery expansion. 
  •  Even after he discovered the hated Yankees, they served as more of a symbol of some thwarting foe than as persons. 
  •  He never thought of them as individuals, he simply transferred to them, as an abstraction, the emotions already generated against the opposing forces he had met and resented in his own South. 
  •  Here was a situation that raised serious questions. 
  •  If these things had been true of Edmund Ruffin, might they not also have been true to some degree at least, to other Southern radicals and in the end perhaps the South as a whole? 
  •  And might not a study of the extreme abolitions of the North reveal the same kind of a transfer? 
  •  What, after all, did [William L. Garrison] Garrison or [Theodore Dwight Weld] Weld know slavery first-hand? 
  •  Had not most abolitionists already been busy setting up a perverse world right long before they found the master and his slaves? 
  •  Perhaps the simple issue of the right and wrong of slavery did not completely answer all the questions regarding the coming of the Civil War. 
  •  There was the even larger matter of the chaos, the uprooting, and the re-evaluations which the Westward Movement of the emerging industrial revolution had produced in the United States as a whole in the years from 1815 to 1860. 
  •  Seldom have changes so dramatic come in so short a space of time to any people. 
  •  Few economic or social relationships were left unaltered by these great destroying rebuilding forces. 
  •  Old established ways and institutions lost their authority. 
  •  Family ties weakened as their members scattered. 
  •  Churches split and disintegrated and new sects sprang up in every corner. 
  •  Political parties splintered and new ones appeared. 
  •  Confusion and strife developed as power shifted from one center to another. 
  •  And strange crusading movements arose as men sought to locate some villain against which to vent their dissatisfactions. 
  •  Might it have been possible, as in the case of individuals, that the tensions and frustrations, the resentments and fears, developed and expressed at local levels in both North and South were in the end turned against a rival section and symbolized by the institution of negro slavery? 
  •  There was enough bitterness against factories capitalists and corporations in the North, and enough resentments against the privileged slave holder and the swaggering cotton kingdom in the South to raise this disturbing question. 
  •  Was there no significance in the fact that in the 1830s Virginians were denouncing slavery as a transcendent evil? 
  •  A mildew, which had blighted everything it had ever touched. 
  •  While men in Massachusetts were denouncing their industrialists as obtaining labor and service without rendering labor and service in return and making wage slavery worse than negro slavery. 
  •  These were questions which have seldom been raised by the historians who accepted slavery and the slavery issue as the sole explanation of the Civil War. 
  •  They were, however, questions which now made my life miserable and kept me occupied for the next ten years. 
  •  The outcome was first an article and then a book, "The Coming of the Civil War," which started what was soon being called the revisionist movement in in the Civil War historiography. 
  •  As a matter of fact, this movement was already underway toward a wider approach in the acceptance of multiple causation. 
  •  My interpretation was never in any way intended to be a Southern interpretation as was immediately charged. 
  •  Because it rejected the single slavery approach that did not imply an effort to defend slavery or to ignore its evils. 
  •  It did insist that slavery was first of all a labor system, and since it involved human beings on both sides, white and negro, it could vary widely in practice. 
  •  Yet the Civil War had become to the North a sacred struggle against a great human wrong and against an effort to break up the Union, so the revisionist was sometimes charged with being friendly towards slavery and soft toward treason. 
  •  This was just another way I think of saying that anyone who touched the Civil War did so at his own risk. 
  •  The time, however, proved right for rewriting the Civil War story. 
  •  Scholars in widely scattered corners began taking a new look at old assumptions and questioning their validity. 
  •  They began asking why and how the war had come about. 
  •  They talked less of guilt and more about the part which emotions had played in turning problems which might have yielded to reason into problems to be settled only by war. 
  •  They asked that factors other than those dealing with slavery be considered. 
  •  They rejected simplicity and they substituted approaches so complex that few historians were equipped to deal with them, including the revisionists themselves. 
  •  Yet they were expressing doubts and they were asking important questions. 
  •  First of all, there was the widely accepted assumption of irrepressible conflict and of an inevitable civil war. 
  •  Was Theodore Parker right when he said that there were two opposing civilizations of the United States and had been from the very beginning? 
  •  That the North had been settled for the sake of religion and for freedom, while not a single moral idea sent men to Virginia, to Georgia, and to the Carolinas? 
  •  Looking Southward, Parker remarked, "You cannot gather grapes from thorns." 
  •  And were Southerners any more right when they said that the North and South were as distinct and hostile as were England and France? 
  •  That no Carthage or no Rome ever presented greater contrasts. 
  •  They, too, thought the two civilizations were in conflict here and have been from the infancy of our Union. 
  •  The historian, however, taking a second look, discounting the emotions that by 1860 had been aroused began to have his doubts. 
  •  North and South did not constitute two distinct geographic regions, and no reputable scholar thought that they did. 
  •  The old idea of puritan and cavalier had been completely discredited with likeness as well as differences had been recognized. 
  •  The two had worked together in the revolution and had taken a common part in the establishment of a more perfect government. 
  •  In the years after 1815 they experienced to a degree the same great changes that were so profoundly reshaping american life. 
  •  Their political parties had been and were still national parties and to the mid-1840s their members voted primarily by party and not by section. 
  •  Even the fact that the South remain primary agricultural under plantation dominance, while the North moved steadily toward an urban industrial family farm economy, did not necessarily portend an irrepressible conflict. 
  •  Every year Northern mills took an increasingly larger percentage of Southern cotton, and Southern planters still depended on Northern merchants for their supplies and on Northern bankers for their financial requirements. 
  •  Northern concerns marketed Southern crops, insured them, and carried them to distant markets. 
  •  Farmers of the Northwest were even in 1860 still sending the larger part of their surplus downriver to Southern markets. 
  •  Now all this argued against the idea of a built-in irrepressible conflict and inevitable civil war. 
  •  It suggested that men themselves were largely responsible for the predicament in which the nation ultimately found itself. 
  •  It may have been true that issues in the form in which they appeared in 1860 were unsolvable this side of civil war. 
  •  But had they always been so? 
  •  Slavery, for instance, might, at an earlier time, have been viewed for what it really was, an economic matter involving millions of dollars of invested capital. 
  •  A social matter, presenting a race question not solved even today. 
  •  And as a political factor, where three-fifths of the slaves counted as population in determining representation. 
  •  Yet in 1860 none of these things were considered in the blind drive to rid the nation of a great sin to be repented and abandoned at once without any plan in mind whatsoever for taking care of the resulting chaos. 
  •  This may have been due, of course, to the american belief in the possibility of social perfection, and to our unique tolerance of the extreme critic, regardless of the danger to our national stability. 
  •  This, of course, is necessary in a democracy, but it does not mean that all critics are saints, as DuMont [sp?] thinks, and that all their efforts are wise. 
  •  If in this case sane progress was not made toward a peaceful solution might there not have been some human factors involved. 
  •  The first impulse, of course, was to turn toward their extreme abolitionist and the extreme Southern Fire-Eater. 
  •  Although not always highly regarded in their own day, abolitioni- [unintelligible due to tape tracking problem] -Garrison, had with the war and afterward attained new standing. 
  •  They were regarded as prophets, well ahead of that time. 
  •  As worthy individuals with perhaps, more of the milk of human kindness in their unselfish make-ups or perhaps they had more of moral fiber. 
  •  Southern extremists such as Edmund Ruffin, were on the other hand to the same degree viewed as foolish shortsighted individuals to be denounced and to be forgotten. 
  •  Their cause, of course, was a lost cause. 
  •  The revisionist, beginning to view the war as a national tragedy was inclined to question both the reasons given for the extremist zeal and the place that have been assigned to them in history. 
  •  They agreed that these persons played a part in keeping issues before the public and in giving them an exaggerated emotional appeal. 
  •  Yet they were not sure that the driving force behind them was a love of truth and an unselfish devotion to a sacred cause. 
  •  Nor where they convinced that these extremists played the decisive part ascribed to them in shaping events. 
  •  Their personal characteristics were often against wide influence, their impatience often irritated instead of persuading. 
  •  They doubtless did play a part in turning a repressible conflict to [the?] irrepressible one, but whether it was a really important part was a question something else. 
  •  Were not Calhoun and Douglas the ones who would link slavery with territorial expansion? 
  •  Was not "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which more than anything else created the picture of slavery as a sin for evangelical america? 
  •  Was it not sectional economic rivalry that made slavery the symbol of all sectional differences? 
  •  The extremist may have served as a irritant to keep the people conscious of an evil, but did they really serve any other purpose? 
  •  It was questions like these which forced the revisionists to look deeper for the factors which were driving the nation towards civil war. 
  •  Gradually he reached the conclusion that the real culprit was the emerging modern world with its demands for a more active central government, the spread of urban industrialism in its course, and its insistence on the wider democratic humanitarian outlook. 
  •  It had already largely remade Western Europe, and was now making its uneven way across the American continent. At every step, it was forcing individuals and regions to become more and more dependent upon each other. 
  •  Telling people where they should live and how they should make their living.  
  •  It was assigning to one region in the United States the task of raising cotton to feed the hungry machines of the industrial revolution, and in another region to building great factories for the purpose of turning this cotton into cloth. 
  •  It thus, caused one region to remain primary rural and agricultural in character and it forced the other to build towns and cities for its convenience. It remitted the cotton-raiser to go on using negro slavery on his plantations and the other to bring women and children down from the new england hills to toil beside the machines. 
  •  Then, it had asked another region to grow crops for feeding both the factory worker and their fellow townsmen, and to make their surplus large enough to see that the cotton plantations had enough food, enough horses and mules, and enough hemp for their cotton bales.  
  •  It then put steam to work in engines for the purpose of tying these independent parts into one great organic whole with railroads on land and steamboats on lakes and rivers. 
  •  Yet at the very time it was demanding unity it was increasing diversity. 
  •  Diversity in economic needs to be met by a common government 
  •  Diversity and social structure and diversity even in moral values which could not be reconciled. 
  •  This meant that in the normal political struggle for favors from the common government, morals, and social values would be mixed. 
  •  And thus, concrete ends could be sought under high abstract of values. 
  •  And so, in the end, North and South faced each other. 
  •  One on the basis of right, and the other on the basis of rights. 
  •  On this abstract level, that should have been the end. 
  •  Tolerance, compromise, or even rational discussion were out of the question. 
  •  The revivalist and the revisionist, far enough away from the emotions of that day could now begin to see that all of it was in terms of a tragedy. 
  •  As a historian he knew that the men who were raising cotton on plantations with negro slaves did not do so from deliberate choice, but because that was the accepted way in their time and place to get ahead. 
  •  Nor did the men in New England towns employ the women and children from the hills in their factories because they were more virtuous than the men of the South, but because that was the way in their region to get ahead. 
  •  Because the one was a bit more in keeping with the demands of the incoming modern world than the other, a bit more democratic and more elastic, that did not necessarily mean that motives differed. 
  •  Perhaps, after all, the only sound historical approach to the whole problem might be one of feeling a bit more sorry for each because their differences in the and drove them into civil war. 
 
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Metadata

Title:A Revision of the Civil War
Identifier:dv_00175
Description:Professor Craven has long been identified as a leading figure of the revisionist movement in Civil War historiography. In this lecture Craven tells of his early interest in the agricultural history of the old South that led him to question traditional explanations of the causes of the Civil War. Before his time, most historians saw as the primary difference between North and South, and therefore as the principal cause of the Civil War, the attachment of the one section to freedom and of the other to slavery, a moral difference that made conflict between them irrepressible. But in studying the economic bases of the sections, in particular the thinking and character of a pre-Civil War Southern figure, Edmund Ruffin, Craven came to feel that the assignment of a single cause to the Civil War greatly oversimplified the matter. Craven describes how, in the course of his historical inquiry, he came to discard the easy and simple answers for an explanation that gave weight to more profound and less tractable issues. For Craven, the issue of slavery as a right or a wrong was only representative of the deeper forces of modern life that drove the North and South to confront one another in a regrettable but apparently necessary Civil War. [Synopsis from "The History of American Civilization By Its Interpreters; A Student Guide to the Television Series" by James A. Bonar, Roger E. Willson, and The University of the State of New York] Tape is dated 1974/11/09, indicating that it is a dub of an earlier generation recording. Notes from transfer: Audio is 2 channels mono. There is break up in the beginning of the program, tracking is drifting. Slight RF noise in the picture, recorded into program, example at 00:17:10. The program was recorded with wide horizontal blanking, causing black bars to the sides of the picture. There is a little tearing on the teachers hands and collar, as recorded. There is break up at the edit points at the top and end of program, on the theme song and slide.
Country:United States
State:Texas
City:Austin
Date:circa 1962-1963
CreatorCraven, Avery (lecturer)
Location:4110
Source:KLRU-TEMP Video Collection
Contributor:Radio/Television, The University of Texas (producer)
Mischer, Donald L. (television director)
Pengra, Mike (assistant director)
Hendricks, Lyle (art, set, and titles)
Frantz, Joe B. (project director)
Language:en
PublisherKLRU
Rights:Dolph Briscoe Center for American History
Original Format:2 inch videotape