The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, a storied metropolitan daily newspaper, suffers from the same ills that afflict all of the formerly renowned organs of the print media these days in terms of declining advertising revenues, inability to compete with television and new media, and finally, shrinking readership numbers and the concomitant loss of influence. A great deal of this has been inevitable, given the rise of the internet and the shifting consumer tastes in news dissemination. Regular readers and critics of the Post-Dispatch, however, saw once again last week why this particular former giant of daily newspapers no longer commands the respect that it once had. In their lead editorial of Tuesday, June 27th, entitled “Monument on The Move”, expounding on the Confederate Monument controversy in the city’s Forest Park, the newspaper demonstrated a classic PD strategy of obfuscating an issue by drawing up a false or misleading premise, hammering on this logical fallacy as though it were indisputably true, and creating a false paradigm. (This author wrote about the Confederate monument controversy in this space recently.) The newspaper then proceeds to slander, defame and ruin anyone who questions or seeks to debate the issue.
In the PD editorial in question the author asserts that the sole motivation of Confederate soldiers in the Civil War was the defense of slavery, while an accompanying Op-Ed piece virtually accused every Confederate soldier of murder. The newspaper stated, “…it (the monument) pays tribute to soldiers who fought for the cause of preserving slavery.” Later in the piece, the paper dismissed the accomplishments of the likes of Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee because they were also fighting to preserve slavery, and arguing that this salient fact cancels out the great deeds these men accomplished. The paper steps around the fact that Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson, among others, owned slaves by saying that defending slavery was not the only thing those great Americans stood for, but that Lee and Jackson had done nothing noteworthy before in their public lives. Anyone who knows anything about US military history is aware of Lee’s heroics in the Mexican War, and knows that his reputation as a soldier before 1861 was exemplary.
So, were those who fought for the South really all fighting for the preservation of slavery? This is patently ludicrous on its face. Let’s take a look at the facts. In 1860, a total of 27.75 percent of white southerners owned slaves, while 72.25 percent of white southerners owned no slaves. Did those non-slave owning white southerners fight to defend a social institution they did not practice, and probably did not even support? Hardly. Likewise, what about the nearly 67,000 black southerners who fought for the Confederacy? The Confederate government granted freedom to any slave who would enlist in the CSA armed forces. It is nonsensical to suggest that black southerners fought for the Confederacy in order to preserve slavery when they most certainly enlisted to secure their own freedom.
While on this topic, it must be remembered that the CSA enacted three conscription bills, starting in 1862, that eventually required all southern white males between 17-50 years of age to serve in the armed forces. Were poor and often illiterate southern men who could not avoid the law and the conscription officers fighting to preserve slavery? What about those who fought because their residences and farms were in the path of advancing armies and they fought to defend hearth and home? Were these men fighting to preserve slavery? Of course not!
Some of the southern partisans were fighting to perpetuate that evil institution, as General Nathan Bedford Forrest infamously remarked, but to insist that all Confederate troops were fighting for this reason is ridiculous. Still, it comes as no surprise to that dwindling number of subscribers who read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the PD would rather not engage in reasoned debate on this issue, but would, instead, stoop to slander and character assassination. It is, sadly, what we have come to expect from this formerly great American newspaper.