A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We by Thomas Fleming

By Thomas Fleming

By the time John Brown hung from the gallows for his crimes at Harper’s Ferry, Northern abolitionists had made him a ““holy martyr” of their crusade opposed to Southern slave proprietors. This Northern hatred for Southerners lengthy predated their objections to slavery. They have been confident that New England, whose spokesmen had all started the yank Revolution, must have been the chief of the hot kingdom. as a substitute, they'd been displaced by way of Southern ““slavocrats” like Thomas Jefferson.

This malevolent envy exacerbated the South’s maximum worry: a race battle. Jefferson’s cry, ““We are actually to be pitied,” summed up their dread. for many years, extremists in either areas flung insults and threats, developing intractable enmities. by way of 1861, just a civil warfare that might kill one million males might store the Union.

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Extra resources for A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War

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It is this interaction and these results that recent historians are referring to when they speak so disparag­ ingly of those “underlying determinants” and “impersonal and inexorable forces” bringing on the Revolution. Historical explanation which does not account for these “forces,” which, in other words, relies simply on under­ standing the conscious intentions of the actors, will thus be limited. This preoccupation with men’s purposes was what restricted the perspectives of the contemporaneous Whig and Tory interpretations, and it is still the weakness of the neo-Whig histories, and indeed of any interpretation which attempts to explain the events of the Revolution by discovering the calculations from which individuals supposed themselves to have acted.

Thus, in addition to a contemporary Whig perspective, he pre­ sents us with a retrospective view of the ideas—their complexity, their development, and their consequences—that the actual participants did not have. ” Above all he urged us “to ascertain and recog­ nize the deeper irrelevancies and incoherence of human actions, which are not so much directed by reason, as invested by it ex post facto with the appearances of logic and rationality,” to discover the unpredictable real­ ity, where men’s motives and intentions were lost in the accumulation and momentum of interacting events.

Because Jefferson and the other Southern leaders of the Republican Party were slavehold­ ers, many present-day scholars have switched sides in accord with the 2 0 | Th e I d e a o f A m e r i c a political and cultural needs of our own time. Much as most historians continue to dislike businessmen and the commercial classes, they dislike slaveholders and racists more. 24 In today’s society, where many scholars see an illiberal and narrow-minded populism running rampant, the elitism of the Federalists doesn’t seem all that bad.

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