Some Personal Comments from President Jimmy Carter on the Civil War Era

President Jimmy Carter

President Jimmy Carter in his book An Hour Before Daylight: Memories of a Rural Boyhood, talks about his ancestry, the Civil War, and Abraham Lincoln. He mentions that he had several ancestors who served in Confederate military service. His views on that era could be considered “textbook” for some with a Southern heritage. They include the thinking that the North “invaded” the South. President Carter also states that he doesn’t ever remember hearing slavery talked about (which is still an ongoing “oversight” common in “lost cause”circles). Here is, in part, what he writes:

“I’ve often wondered why we were so infatuated with the land, and I think there is a strong tie to the Civil War, or, as we called it, the War Between the States. Although I was born more than a half a century after the war was over, I grew up in one of those families whose people could not forget that we had been conquered, while most of our neighbors were black people whose grandparents had been liberated in the same conflict. Our two races, although inseparable in our daily lives, were kept apart by social custom, misinterpretation of Holy Scriptures, and the unchallenged law of the land as mandated by the United Supreme Court.

It seemed natural for white folks to cherish our Southern heritage and cling to our way of life, partially because the close ties among many of our local families went back another hundred years before the war, when our Scotch-Irish ancestors had come to Georgia from the British Isles or moved south and west, mostly from Virginia and the Carolinas. We were bound together by blood kinship as well as by lingering resentment against those who had defeated us. A frequent subject of discussion around my grandparents’ homes was the damage the “damn Yankees” had done to the South during the Reconstruction years.

Many older Georgians still remembered vividly the anger and embarrassment of their parents, who had to live under the domination of carpetbaggers and their Southern allies, who were known as scalawags. My grandfather Gordy was thirteen years old when what he saw as the Northern oppressors finally relinquished political and economic control of the state in 1876, eleven years after the conflict ended.

My mother was the only one in her family who ever spoke up to defend Abraham Lincoln. I don’t remember ever hearing slavery mentioned, only the unwarranted violation of states’ rights and the intrusion of the federal government in the private lives of citizens. Folks never considered that the real tragedy of Reconstruction was its failure to establish social justice for the former slaves.”

 

President Carter, I believe, is being honest with his family history when writes the above. Does he also believe what he says? Probably. Many people subscribe to the same views. That’s why the Civil War is never really over. May we learn to live in peace despite our differences and, sometimes, totally opposite views on the Civil War.

 

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