Select Page

The South in the Building
of the Nation

November 14, 1912 — Washington DC


There comes to me a memory — the memory of our Dr. J. B. Lamar Curry, and what he said years ago, that history as it is now written is most unjust to the South, and history if accepted as it is written, will consign the South to infamy.

Who is responsible for the South’s unwritten history? Surely we cannot blame the northern historian. His duty is and was to record the facts as they are given to him; and if we of the South have not given him these facts, how can we hold the historian of the North responsible? The fault we find with the northern historian, (of course there are a few exceptions,) is not so much what he has said against us as what he has omitted to say.

Unless we, Daughters of the Confederacy, will look into this matter and see where the trouble lies we will still have this history untrue to us. As long as the Book Trust controls our Boards of Education and northern text-books continue to be used in southern schools to the exclusion of southern text-books, we will realize that the history of the South will never be known the coming generations.

We cannot in the South compete with the North in publishing houses. Therefore, we cannot sell books at as small a cost as they can be sold by northern publishers. This throws the responsibility upon the moneyed men of the South, who have not thought it worth while to spend their means in having publishing houses for southern text-books so that we can compete in prices with northern text-books. We must not blame the manufacturer of books at the North because he is pushing his interests in the matter of his books. You would do it and I would do it.

No, Daughters of the Confederacy, too long have we been indifferent to this matter. Only within the last fifteen or twenty years have we really awakened to the fact that our history has not been written. The institutions of the South, especially the institution of slavery; about which clustered a civilization unique in the annals of history, have never been justly presented from the southern point of view. Thomas Nelson Page, more than any other one writer, has thrown side-lights upon this institution which have revolutionized the thought of the world. And so we are greatly indebted to him!

Daughters, are the books of Thomas Nelson Page in your libraries, especially his Old South? Are these books given to your children to read? Are your children encouraged to read these books? If not, they should be. You cannot expect the North, and you cannot expect other nations to know by institution the greatness of the South. Ah! how often the vision comes before me of the passing years, and I see our inertness and indifference and I see more — the future years filled with keen regret and self-reproach.

I am here tonight, Daughters, yes, daughters of Confederacy heroes, to plead with you, to urge you to a more aggressive and progressive campaign in collecting and preserving this history. We have now living amongst us some who lived during the old plantation days ¾ some who can now tell us from their own experiences what that institution of slavery was, and what it meant to them and to the negroes under their control. In those days we never thought of calling them slaves. That is a word that crept in with the abolition crusade. They were our people, our negroes, part of our very homes. There are men and women still living who know these facts and who can give them to us, but they are fast passing away, just as are the men and women who lived during the War Between the States. Are we getting from these men and women the facts which only they can give us, or are we indifferent and not willing to take time and not willing to take the trouble to get this information? Let me say tonight that if we still continue to let the years pass by, without giving attention to this subject, the history of this period will ever be unwritten.

Now you say, “What can we do?” What can we do? Anything in the world we wish to do. If there is a power that is placed in any hands, it is the power that is placed in the hands of the southern woman in her home. That power is great enough to direct legislative bodies — and that, too, without demanding the ballot. As you are, so is your child, and as you think, so will your husband think, that is, if you are the right kind of mother and wife and hold the confidence and love of your husband and children. Your children are to be the future leaders of this land. Are you training these children yourself or are you relegating that power to someone else? Something is radically wrong with the education of the present day. We are training men and women who are not loyal to the truth of history, who are not standing for law and order, and who are weak enough to be bought by the Book Trust. Let us do quickly what we can to right it.

You may say, “Tell us the qualifications for a U.D.C. historian, and we will get to work.”

I would say the first qualification for any historian is truthfulness. History is truth, and you must truthfully give the facts. Be as careful to give the true history of the side against us as to give our own side, then we can demand from the northern historian that he shall do the same.

The historian must never be partial — no one-sided view of any question is ever history. You realize that in our U.D.C. history there are two sides to many questions. Time has not yet settled many of these points. What we must do as historians is to carefully record the facts on both sides.

There came to me in the preparation of any volumes of history for our work such questions as these: Who was the first to propose Memorial Day? There are two sides to that question. I may think I know, but my opinion should not go down as undisputed history. The evidence as held by both parties must be recorded for the future historian. So with the question, Who first suggested the United Daughters of the Confederacy? The evidence as held by both sides must be placed side by side. Where was the Last Cabinet Meeting of the Confederacy held? Three States are claiming that honor. Where was the last battle of the War Between the States fought? Two places are claiming that. You heard today North Carolina and Alabama claiming the origin of the Confederate flag. There may be facts on both sides of these questions which an impartial historian can decide in future years better than we now can, so I beg you to be careful and don’t let us think we know it all.

Then the historian must be very patient. The material that we are seeking is scattered far and wide. The veterans are very slow to glorify themselves, and you must tactfully draw from them the things you wish to know. Oh, great patience is required on the part of the historian!

Then you must be bold and fearless, daring to tell the truth even if adverse criticism comes to you for doing it. But while bold and fearless be tactful, be broad and be liberal-minded.

An historian should have with her the elements of the philosopher. It must need be that you are required to deal with the social, the economic and the political questions of the day, and you must be prepared to discuss them without passion. You must learn to hold yourself within yourself in discussing all questions of that kind.

You must have enthusiasm, also — that enthusiasm which will carry all with you; but, here again your enthusiasm must be tempered with good will and with fairness. Then you must be a patriot — because the Confederate soldier was the highest type of a patriot, and when you are writing of him you must know what patriotism means.

And you must be loyal to truth — not with regard to Confederate history only, but loyal to the truth of all history.

What is history? I would say that it is not dates chronologically arranged, nor is it gossip about politics, nor is it descriptions of battles only. All of these things may enter into history, but I think history centers around some human event, some social movement. And to write history one must know human nature. Not only must we know the event, but we must know what caused it and all the circumstances attending it, and the motives of all the people connected with it.

The field of history is as broad as human life; the qualities of history should be truth and wisdom; the aim of history should be to find the truth; the methods of the historian should be to pursue truth and weigh it, then publish it after it is weighed. In a word, if you ask me “What is history?” I would answer, “It is getting truth.” The sources of history are oral or written. We have, Daughters, an opportunity to-day to get much of our history from oral testimony. Shall we neglect to do the thing which is a few years we cannot do?

Do you know, that the South has had a great part in the building of the nation? If you examine those text-books your children are studying you would never think it. And from them they will never discover it. Our institutions are very often unjustly — I should not have said unjustly, for we ourselves have never put them justly before the world — but as history stands now it is unjust to the institutions of the South.

Do you know, that in the books your children are studying and reading the institution of slavery is said to have weakened the mental faculties of the men and women of the South, making them lazy and inert? But history unjustly as it has been written will by the lives of these men disprove that very statement.

Not only were we the first permanent colony that came to these shores, but more than that for it is stated upon good authority that one of our Jamestown colony was instrumental in inducing the Pilgrim Fathers to come to Plymouth Rock, and yet you and your children know all about that Plymouth Rock colony, and can answer without a moment’s hesitation that it was the Mayflower that brought over the Pilgrim Fathers to this country, and few can give the names of the Good Speed, the Discovery, and the Susan Constant, the three vessels that brought the members of the Jamestown colony first to these shores.

Why? I will tell you why. The North has thought it worth while to preserve its history carefully, and we have not thought it worth while to have our history written. In other words your children are studying what the North says and not what the South should say.

Do you know, that most of the men who took part — a prominent part — in the building of the nation were the slaveholders that have been so maligned? When they were looking for a president of the first Continental Congress why did they go to Peyton Randolph, of Virginia, a slaveholder, to be at the head of that body? And why, when a resolution had to be drawn that these colonies must be free and independent states, did Richard Henry Lee, another slaveholder, have to write it? Why was it when they were seeking for some one to write the Declaration of Independence, they chose Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder? The British Encyclopaedia, which is so unjust to the South, says it was because he was a ready writer. Compliment No. 1 that this encyclopaedia, found in every Southern library, has paid to the South.

Did not our George Mason of Virginia, give the first Declaration of Rights ever passed on this continent? Then when they were looking for a commander-in-chief of the Army, did they not choose another slaveholder, George Washington? And when they were looking for a commander-in-chief of the Navy, was it not our James Nicholson of Virginia? And was it not John Marshall’s pen that welded the states into a union? And when they were looking for men to write a paper stronger than the Articles of the Confederation, did not they first choose our James Madison to write it — that is our Constitution before amended since the war? And when they needed Chief Justices for the government, did not our Marshall of Virginia, and Taney of Maryland, for over sixty years hold that office? And wasn’t it a southern man that was made the first President of the United States? Was it not Thomas Jefferson that added the Louisiana Purchase ¾ millions of miles of territory — to the United States; and was it not James K. Polk of Tennessee, that added the Pacific slope? Did not Virginia give to the United States, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and a part of Minnesota? There were 15 Presidents before 1860 and 11 of them were southern men. Five of these were re-elected and every one from the South. It cannot be denied that southern men were foremost in the War of 1812, and you know it took a southern man, Francis Scott Key of Maryland, to write our National anthem ¾ The Star Spangled Banner.

Did it not take two southern men, Taylor and Scott, to gain Mexico, and were not the men most prominent in that campaign from the South ¾ Jefferson Davis of Mississippi, Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. Jackson, our Stonewall, Jos. E. Johnston, and A. P. Hill of Virginia, Henry H. Jackson and Josiah Tatnall of Georgia, Beauregard of Louisiana, Braxton Bragg of North Carolina, Butler and May of Maryland, and others too numerous to mention? Was it not James Monroe who bought Florida for the U. S., and it has been his Monroe Doctrine, abuse it as you may now, that has kept our America for Americans so long. And was not Sam Houston the hero of Texas, and was it not Meriwether Lewis of Virginia and William Clarke of Kentucky, who opened up the Yellowstone and the great West?

No, we do not begin to know what part the South had in the building of the nation — not only in one direction but in many.

Let us turn to the inventors. Was it not our Cyrus McCormick of Virginia that invented the reaping machine which revolutionized harvesting?

Was it not our James Gatling of North Carolina that invented the gatling gun? Was it not our Francis Goulding of Georgia that invented the sewing machine? But history don’t tell you so. It says Howe and Thirmonnier did it. Was it not our William Longstreet of Georgia that first suggested the application of steam as a motive power? History will not tell you that either, but will say that Fulton did it. Was it not Watkins of Georgia who invented the cotton gin? You never heard of him before, did you? History tells you Ely Whitney invented the cotton gin. The first passenger railroad in the world was in South Carolina, and the first steamboat that ever crossed the Atlantic ocean went from Savannah, Georgia. You don’t find that in northern histories, do you? Wasn’t Paul Morphey the greatest chess player in the world? And wasn’t Sidney Lanier the finest flute player ever known? Cyrus Field could not have made his cable a possibility without our Matthew Maury to devise the plans. There never was an ornithologist like our Audobon (sic) of Louisiana. And I do not believe they could have tunnelled under the Hudson without our William McAdoo of Marietta, Ga. Then, again, when they wanted a leader of the Union forces in 1861 why did they go to our Robert E. Lee? And when he refused, did they not choose Winfield Scott, another southern man?

Then when we come to science and medicine, what physician had done more to alleviate the sufferings of the world than our Dr. Crawford W. Long of Georgia? He was without doubt the discoverer of anesthesia, and I don’t believe you know all that means to you, or you would have applauded louder, and you would not allow others to try to take the honor from him, and you would have erected a monument to him long ago. Was it not our Sims of South Carolina who first suggested surgery in hospital service?

Then let us come to the question of education. If there is a thing that the South has smarted under in the false way that history has been written, it is in regard to illiteracy in the South, and I want to open your eyes a little bit along this line, and you of the South need an opening of the eyes as well as the people of the North. We do not ourselves know all that the South may claim.

Do you know, that William and Mary College at Williamsburg, Va., was the first university in the United States? Now, mind you, I did not say college, for I have no desire to take from Harvard her glory. And did you know that William and Mary was the first to receive a charter from the crown; the first to have a school of modern languages; the first to have a school of history; the first to use the honor system? And do you know, that the Georgia University, Athens, Ga., was the first State University in the U. S.? Besides this, do you know that the Wesleyan College at Macon, Ga., was the first chartered college for women in the world, and that it was a Georgia woman who received the first diploma ever issued?

Do you know, that in 1673 Mosely of North Carolina, was establishing public libraries in his state, and Byrd of Westover as early as 1676 gave 39 free libraries in his state, Virginia ¾ a veritable Carnegie, and had no strings tied to them, either. Why, South Carolina was having free schools as early as 1710, and I think Virginia had them before this. What nonsense to say that the South was behind the North in literary taste and culture in the days of the South of Yesterday! The first book written in American was in Virginia, and the first book printed in American was in Virginia. The libraries in the Old South contained the best books then published, and the best magazines in this country and in England were on the library tables. And as to the matter of illiteracy, since the War, just let me put this thought in your mind. It was Savannah, Ga., in the World’s Almanac of 1910 or 1911, I forget which that was said to have had the lowest percent of illiteracy in the U. S., and remember, too, that Georgia’s population is about half negroes.

Again, you cannot put a two-cent stamp on a letter that a southern man and a slaveholder, George Washington, does not speak to you; and you cannot handle our silver currency that another southern man and a slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson, does not speak.

No, we do not ourselves know our own greatness, and how can we expect others to know it? If time permitted I could go, on and on, giving one thing after another that would astound you; but this much I will say, that no section of the land can show greater statesmen, abler jurists, braver soldiers, purer patriots, more eminent men of letters, more skilled physicians and inventors, truer and holier divines, finer orators, and more men who have been foremost in all departments of life than our own South. And the time has fully come, and all sections of the country seem to have realized that the time has come, for the South to come into her own.

Thank God that Gov. Woodrow Wilson has been elected President of the United States ¾ a man who stands for all that the South stands for; a man who is above being bought; a man who will be equally just to the North as to the South. And we of the South must stand back of him and show implicit confidence in all that he does and says. We must be slow to join in any adverse criticism, and let him know that we believe that he is going to do the very best thing in the very way. Georgia feels very proud that for the first time in history the Lady of the White House will be a Georgia daughter.

Now, just as the Confederate soldier returned after the war and became a peaceful citizen, because he was a hero, and could rise above the humiliation of surrender, and from a hero of war become a hero of peace, so should we, daughters of these Confederate soldiers, emulate their sample. The Confederate soldier fought with honor, surrendered with honor, and abided the issue with honor. After the war he came back into the Union equal with all Union men. He is as loyal to the flag today as other Union men. It is true, he had to fight his way with shackled hands during that awful reconstruction period; but wise men of the North understand why it was a necessity then. He was compelled to establish the political supremacy of the white man in the South. So, too, the Ku Klux Klan was a necessity at that time, and there can come no reproach to the men of the South for resorting to that expedient.

Loyalty to the flag was shown by the South in the Spanish-American War. More soldiers in proportion to the population went from southern states than from northern states. And was not our Joe Wheeler of Alabama “the backbone of the Santiago campaign?” And was it not said of our Hobson of Alabama that he performed the most wonderful feat ever performed in naval history? And did not Willard of Maryland plant the first flag in Cuba? And was it not Tom Brumby of Georgia that raised the first flag at Manilla? Ad dud not Anderson of Virginia fire the first salute at El Caney? And so in many ways other southern heroes have shown their loyalty to the flag.

But, does loyalty to the flag that floats above us prevent our loyalty to the Confederate flag? Not at all. That is the emblem of the South’s patriotism. Four years it waved its precious folds above a righteous cause, and when we furled it, it was because we were overpowered and not because we were conquered. Silently and reverently we laid that flag away, that our children and children’s children coming after us might revere it; it will teach to them the principles for which our fathers fought ¾ states’ rights and constitutional liberty.

Every Confederate State had a share in the War Between the States. Some states suffered more than others. Dear old Virginia was the battle ground. Ah! how Virginia suffered. Over five hundred battles were fought on Virginia’s soil. But I believe North Carolina holds the palm when it comes to sacrifice. One-fourth of all the Confederate soldiers that were killed during the War Between the States were North Carolinians; one-fourth of all who were wounded were North Carolinians; one-third of all that died from disease were North Carolinians; and that 26th Regiment of North Carolina sustained the heaviest loss ever sustained by way regiment during the war on either side. Eight hundred fell in Pickett’s charge, either killed or wounded, and only eighty were left to tell the tale. This shows how the old North State stands for bravery.

You would think from this, wouldn’t you, that I am a North Carolinian? I am not, but a Georgian. I am Georgia born and Georgia bred, of parents Georgia born and bred ¾ Georgian from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and loyal enough to old Georgia to wear tonight a velvet dress woven on a Georgian loom at Griffin. But Georgia has so many things of which to boast she can well afford to be magnanimous to other states.

The War Between the States was a war of secession and coercion. It really came about by a different interpretation of the Constitution. The South interpreted it to mean State sovereignty. The thirteen states ratified that constitution. Why was it ratified by them at that time if they were unwilling to abide by it in later years?

A very significant thing happened last year. The son of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charles E. Stowe, gave a talk before the Fiske University at Nashville, Tenn., the largest college for negroes in the South, in which he said: “It is evident that there was a rebellion, but the North were the rebels, not the South. The South stood for state rights and slavery, both of which were distinctly entrenched within the constitution.” And we have had no harsher critic of the South than Prof. Goldwin Smith, and he said that you cannot accuse the southern leaders of being rebels for “secession is not rebellion.”

For seventy-three years the South stood back of this constitution to protect her rights and those rights were protected; but when Abraham Lincoln was elected on an anti-slavery platform, without an electoral vote from the South, war was inevitable. We felt that if one state’s right was interfered with, other state’s rights would be. I have heard even some southern people say that the war was fought to keep our slaves. What gross ignorance! Only one-third of the men in the Confederate army ever owned a slave. Gen. Lee freed his slaves before the war began and Gen. Ulysses S. Grant did not free his until the war ended.

In 1860 there were 40 millions of people in the United States ¾ 31 millions being north of Mason’s and Dixon’s line. Nine millions only were in the South, and four millions of these were our negroes. That left five millions of people including young children and old men and women from which our army of 600.000 had to be chosen. The North had an army of nearly 2,800,000. Gen. Buell, a general on the other side, said, “It took a naval fleet and 15,000 men to advance upon 100 Confederates at Fort Henry. It took 60,000 men to whip 40,000 at Shiloh, and it took only 60,000 Confederates to drive back with heavy loss 115,000 at Fredericksburg, Va.”

Yes, there was a great disparity in number, but the makeup of our army was the very flower of Southern manhood; those men fought! Never in the annals of history has been recorded such devotion to duty and principles as was found in the southern soldier.

We were not then a manufacturing people, we were an agricultural people. This cannot be said about us now. So the home supplies soon gave out, and our soldiers did suffer sorely.

Half-clad, they went through storm and sleet, through shot and shell.

Half-shod, they marched through thorn and thistle and, bare-foot, scaled the mountain heights to meet the advancing foe.

Half-fed, on half rations they went without complaint and cheerfully shared their little with others in the devastated regions.

No, you will never find anything like the record of the Confederate soldiers. They surrendered when forced to surrender like heroes. Can we blame them when they wept like children?

They came back to the old South to readjust the old South to the new order of things. They do not acknowledge there is a new South. Henry Grady was a very young man when he went to Boston and spoke of “the new South.” He did not know how the people of the old South would feel about that. There is no new South. The South of today is the South of yesterday remade to fit the new order of things. And the men of today and the women of today are adjusting themselves to the old South remade.

But the time has come now when the men and women of the South can sit down quietly and discuss with the men and women of the North the War Between the States, and have no bitterness in their hearts. We could not have done this a few years ago. It only goes to prove how our people are becoming a reunited people. Our sons are marrying northern daughters; our daughters are marrying northern sons; our sons are entering the army and navy and standing side by side with the boys from the North.

Conventions, as the D.A R., the Colonial Dames, the Women’s Federation of Clubs, and religious convocations are bringing us closer together, so that we are beginning to know each other and love one the other.

I think the Spanish-American War did more than any other one thing to make us understand each other. The soldiers of the North camped in the southern states. Two regiments of Pennsylvania troops were stationed in our town, Athens, Ga. They began to understand conditions with us in Georgia, and knew better how to sympathize with us in solving those problems so perplexing to us in the South. We met those soldiers, many of the officers were invited to our homes, and so we learned to know them.

Then, too, such a speech as President Taft made to us on Tuesday night will tend greatly to make us a reunited people. Ah! how that touched our hearts. We can never forget it. We may forget many things that this Convention may bring forth, but his words will linger long in our memory. Again, words from such men as Corporal Tanner will bind us close together ¾ men who are brave enough and true enough to their own side, and to their own principles, and yet broad enough and true enough to see our side, too.

And so the day is fast coming, a day of peace. God grant that peace may soon reign in all hearts, so that we may be a nation known as a God-fearing people; a people that will stand for temperance ¾ that temperance that will not harm our brother man; a people that will stand for purity ¾ that purity that will make for pure manhood and womanhood; a people that will stand for honesty¾that honesty of conviction and principle that will dare to do the right thing and the just thing. May we stand before all nations as the greatest people on the earth¾a people that knowing right will dare to do right.

And when I urge upon you, Daughters of the Confederacy, to write the truth of history and to teach it to your children, it is with no desire to arouse in your hearts and minds nor in their hearts and minds any animosity or bitterness, but that all may intelligently comprehend the principles for which our fathers fought. Teach your children to resent their being called rebels and traitors, and let them know that our fathers fought so valiantly in order that they might preserve constitutional liberty. We will never be condemned for being Confederates, but the whole world has a right to condemn us, if we are disloyal to truth and to our native land.



Source: Four Addresses, by Mildred Lewis Rutherford (Birmingham, AL: The Mildred Rutherford Historical Circle) 1916, pp. 3-15.