Confronting David Barton’s Revisionism

We’ve written about right-wing pseudo-historian David Barton on a number of occasions and followed his work closely for several years, so usually when he produces a new piece or shows up to speak at an event, we have a pretty good idea what he is up to. 

But today I was talking a look at his Wallbuilders website and came across this newly released report entitled “Confronting Civil War Revisionism: Why the South Went To War” and was utterly confused.  In it, Barton proclaims that there is an effort underway to to re-write history to convince contemporary Americans that the “Civil War was not a result of the slavery issue but rather of oppressive federal economic policies.”

I had no idea that there was such an effort underway … but I had even less of an idea why Barton would undertake his own effort to refute it in order to “disprove these claims and indisputably show that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was indisputably the driving reason for the formation of the Confederacy.”

Yet that is exactly what he did, laying out a series of declarations of succession from southern states that cite the issue of slavery as a primary concern.

But still I couldn’t figure out what Barton was so intent on reminding everyone that the reason for the Civil War wasn’t “states’ rights” or economic oppression or whatever – it was slavery. At least I couldn’t figure it out until I came to this section discussing the election of 1860, at which point it all made sense:

Why was the Republican election victory a cause for secession? Because the Republican Party had been formed in May of 1854 on the almost singular issue of opposition to slavery (see WallBuilders’ work, American History in Black and White). Only six years later (in the election of 1860), voters gave Republicans control of the federal government, awarding them the presidency, the House, and the Senate.

The Republican agenda was clear, for every platform since its inception had boldly denounced slavery. In fact, when the U. S. Supreme Court delivered the 1857 Dred Scott ruling protecting slavery and declaring that Congress could not prohibit it even in federal territories, 10 the Republican platform strongly condemned that ruling and reaffirmed the right of Congress to ban slavery in the territories. 11 But setting forth an opposite view, the Democrat platform praised the Dred Scott ruling 12 and the continuation of slavery 13 and also loudly denounced all anti-slavery and abolition efforts. 14

The antagonistic position between the two parties over the slavery issue was clear; so when voters gave Republicans control of the federal government in 1860, southern slave-holding Democrat states saw the proverbial “handwriting on the wall” and promptly left the United States before Republicans could make good on their anti-slavery promises. It was for this reason that so many of the seceded states referenced the Republican victory in their secession documents.

It was not just southern Democrats who viewed the election of Lincoln and the Republicans as the death knell for slavery; many northern Democrats held the same view.

Suddenly it made sense that Barton would produce this sort of document laying out the central role that slavery played in the decision by Southern states to secede from the union because the South was dominated by the Democratic Party at that time.  As such, the rest of the report consists of Barton citing Democratic elected officials from the time vociferously defending the institution of slavery while highlighting the Republicans Party’s resolute refusal to “to abandon its anti-slavery positions.”

In essence, this new report is merely a continuation of Barton’s biased efforts to tie the history of the Democratic Party to slavery, Jim Crow, the Ku Klux Klan, and every other oppression suffered by African Americans in order to insinuate that the party maintains those views to this day.

Of course, as we’ve pointed out several times before, Barton’s history lessons always seem to stop right around the time of the civil rights movement and the contemporaneous rise of the GOP’s “southern strategy.”

It is interesting that Wallbuilders, which bills itself as “an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history,” seems to be organizationally committed to intentionally forgetting the history of the last forty years.