Barbara Cargill Is Whitewashing History

Let’s revisit the success of Texas State Board of Education member Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, in requiring social studies students to analyze Confederate President Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address. The Texas Education Agency has posted the revised American history curriculum standards (as of the January changes) here. The relevant standard for eighth-grade American history reads:

“(A)nalyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.”

The implication here is that Davis and Lincoln had competing ideas about “liberty, equality, union, and government.” Such competing ideas should be obvious: Davis was defending the Confederacy’s right to secede so that it could maintain the evil institution of slavery. Lincoln, who opposed slavery, was trying to maintain the Union. But that’s not what Cargill and other far-right board members really have in mind.

Writing for the New York Times this weekend, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham looks at how many people in the South continue to view the Civil War as a noble cause in which the controversy over slavery supposedly was a sideshow. He recounts, for example, Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell’s recent proclamation recognizing April as Confederate History Month in his state — a proclamation that originally didn’t even mention slavery. It calls for Virginians to honor people “who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth” and “the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.”


“Advertently or not, Mr. McDonnell is working in a long and dispiriting tradition. Efforts to rehabilitate the Southern rebellion frequently come at moments of racial and social stress, and it is revealing that Virginia’s neo-Confederates are refighting the Civil War in 2010. Whitewashing the war is one way for the right — alienated, anxious and angry about the president, health care reform and all manner of threats, mostly imaginary — to express its unease with the Age of Obama, disguising hate as heritage.”

People like McDonnell and his supporters, Meacham writes, “would like what Lincoln called our ‘fiery trial’ to be seen in a political, not a moral, light”:

“If the slaves are erased from the picture, then what took place between Sumter and Appomattox is not about the fate of human chattel, or a battle between good and evil. It is, instead, more of an ancestral skirmish in the Reagan revolution, a contest between big and small government.”

Cargill and her partners on the Texas State Board of Education are engaged in the same whitewashing of history and for the same reasons. One of the common themes of their hundreds of changes in vandalizing the social studies curriculum standards in January and March was the concept of ” big government” as a threat to liberty. Davis’s inaugural address fits that theme quite well.

Davis didn’t refer to slavery even once in his address. Instead, he praised the “courage and patriotism” of Confederates, the “rights of person and property” and the rights of “sovereign states” against “wanton aggression” and a federal government that, he argued, had “perverted” the Constitution.

Such language is hardly foreign in today’s far-right screeds against the federal government. Cargill, intentionally or not, has latched on to the wagon of what Meacham and others call the “Lost Cause” — the concept of a noble and freedom-loving Confederacy, destroyed by aggression against its people’s way of life.

But the “Lost Cause” is a lie. Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy were defending the “right” of southern states to continue the race-based enslavement of a large portion of their population. Davis said nothing about that in the address Cargill wants students to analyze alongside President Lincoln’s speeches. She and other far-right board members are simply whitewashing that evil history in our children’s classrooms, all in the service of the radical anti-government nonsense that passes for political discourse in America today. They should be ashamed of themselves — if they were really capable of it.

10 thoughts on “Barbara Cargill Is Whitewashing History

  1. Just further evidence that the Republican Party is clearly on-course to be a party solely of Southern states. And good riddance to them both. (written by a person born and raised in the South)

  2. WHEN will the South finally surrender?

    The Tea Party/KKK attracts those who would bring back the terrible old days of Jim Crow and if they could, slavery. For all of them, y’all LOST THE DAMNED WAR and like the Republican party you’re pretty damned sore losers.

  3. Excerpts from: DECLARATION OF CAUSES: February 2, 1861 A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union. (as reported in Winkler, Ernest William, ed. Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas 1861, Edited From the Original in the Department of State…. Austin: Texas Library and Historical Commission, 1912, pp. 61-65.) “Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated States to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility [sic] and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery–the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits — a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.” ….. “In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon the unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of the equality of all men, irrespective of race or color–a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of the Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and the negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States. ” ….. ” We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

    “That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding States. ” To read the whole “Declaration of Causes” go to

    There is more, much more along the same lines in the Journal of the Secession Convention. It should be required reading for the SBoE and perhaps for the school children of Texas, so all may recognize the lie that is told when apologists try to claim that secession had nothing to do with slavery.

  4. I’m a southern boy born and raised–and still live in the South. When I was a child, my little life was surrounded by Confedaerate trappings—quite literally. That was in the early 1960s. As I have told you before, my mother sat on the lap of her uncle who fought against the union forces at Shiloh. That generation is dead now and the link is gone. Yes, it was American history, and I do appreciate it as history. However, to tell you the truth about it, the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, Jefferson Davis, and all of the trappings might as well be a Fleet Enema for all I care.

    An old girlfriend of mine was a history major, and she did her senior thesis on the Civil War. I think she is pretty conservative now. Nonetheless, she came to the conclusion that the Confederate cause was little more than a small handful of wealthy and influential southern plantation owners who snookered 100,000s of dirty, penniless, and illiterate southern farm boys into laying down their lives to keep these mint-julip-sipping &*%$#@ in business and in the “comfortable way of life to which they had become accustomed.” Mr. Lincoln pretty much exterminated that way of life and in doing so performed a great service to humanity. I have no hopes for its resurrection. Let’s see. How do Joan Baez put that:

  5. Heh! Phrynosomatx, I think you’re on to something! Cargill, after all, didn’t clarify what conclusion she wanted our eighth-graders to reach. Your additional material may be exactly what textbook publishers need to submit at the next round of adoptions. Hey, it’s even specifically about Texas! I’m sure Cargill will lead the charge to adopt a textbook like that!

  6. Once again, the Republicans and tea partiers are showing their true colors (pun intended).

    This glorification of the Old South is as offensive as it would be if Germany glorified its Nazi past. What’s the difference?

  7. I don’t understand the objection to this topic: “(A)nalyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.”
    Dan seems to be complaining because Cargill is proposing putting Jefferson Davis’s inaugural up against Lincoln’s 1st and second inaugural and the Gettysburg Address. I don’t understand why Dan is upset by that assignment. Notice that we get Lincoln, 3 to 1 odds and two of those pieces by Lincoln are among the clearest and most elegant writing in the English language.
    Whatever Cargill has in mind, I should think that those of us on Lincoln’s side should be delighted to have students compare those four pieces.
    Dan says that “Davis didn’t refer to slavery even once in his address.” But Lincoln did and incredibly effectively.
    Shouldn’t students learn that when someone leaves a major point out of their argument, then perhaps it means that that point doesn’t work very well for them?
    I’ll bet there’s not an 8th grade class in the country in which some students wouldn’t point out the omission of slavery in Davis’s speech.
    What’s wrong with Cargill’s proposal?

  8. I am a History Major in Florida- a southern state- and though I am completely opposed to the idea of “white washing” history… I find that the statements above claiming that the civil war was a racial war only, are completely bias. Slavery was a very big focus for this war, but it was not the main driving force. Any history professor will tell you the same. I think that this article proves that more nonbias history should be taught to our students i order to insure academicly correct arguments when it comes to serious issues such as this. How can you protest something when your facts are completely accurate

  9. Hi, everyone. I am Australian and I don’t claim to be an expert on the American Civil War but, from my non-specialist perspective, I find it hard to accept Alexandria Bergeron’s claim that slavery “was not the main driving force” behind the conflict. Wasn’t slavery THE issue of the 1860 Presidential election? Having said that, I am inclined to agree with Wayne that, fairly presented, a comparison of the inaugural addresses of Lincoln and Davis couldn’t do any harm. But I share Dan’s suspicion of Ms Cargill’s motives. We have many people in Australia acting in this way: seeking to promote a far Right agenda in our schools under the cloak of “fairness” and “balance”.