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The Lost Cause was a belief system propagated by the supporters of the Confederate Army. The Lost Cause was a mechanism that they developed to make sense of the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. It was also a means to an end, because they utilized it to defend the idea of slavery. There are two possible reactions to their attempt to rewrite the history of the war. First, it can be viewed as a predictable reaction from people who endured the bitter taste of war. Second, it can be viewed as the foundation stone for racism and segregation in the South.
A Predictable and Understandable Coping Mechanism
The long speeches and the complicated rhetoric can be explained as a coping mechanism. The Lost Cause grew in the soil of a Southern culture that was steeped in the admixture of physical destruction and the psychological trauma of defeat (Blight 265). The members of the Confederate Army were never forced into the war. The Confederate Army was comprised of loyal, brave, and passionate soldiers who believed in the cause of the war. More often than not, armies that were empowered by a burning idealism were able to defeat superior forces. Thus, the bitter taste of defeat was made more potent, because the outcome of the unexpected result. The Confederate Army was led by generals inspired to fight for their rights. However, they were still defeated in battle.
It was not only their pride that was severely affected by the outcome of the Civil War. They also had to deal with the destruction of their ideals and traditions. The Confederate Army did not firght for a piece of land. They fought for the idea that the South had the right to own slaves. When they were defeated, they lost that right. However, they lost something even greater, because they did not know how to live without the help of slaves. They fought for a certain way of life, and the armies from the North took it away from them.
The economy of the Southern states were dependent on slaves. It is not hard to imagine the impact of the U.S. Civil War on their livelihood. Landowners saw their profitable plantations decimated by canon fire. They saw their properties destroyed by an invading army that utilized every means necessary to end the war in a dominant fashion. It is important to view their reaction as a form of coping mechanism, because it helps outsiders understand why they had to rewrite history on their own terms.
The power to rewrite history, and the ability to reinterpret the meaning of historical events was like a healing balm for them. It is comparable to the consolation prize given to the vanquished foe in a contest. It helps reassure the defeated person that life must go on. It is comparable to the crutches given to the crippled soldier after his legs were blown off by artillery fire. The crutches allowed him to walk dignity. The Lost Cause was a coping mechanism that gave them the strength to rebuild.
The Lost Cause doctrine made them feel good. It allowed them to pile up excuses as to why they lost the war. Jefferson Davis was one of the champions of the Lost Cause movement. He was a good leader, because he was able to articulate their belief system. He was a seasoned orator who remarked that the South did not have an army of professional soldiers. Davis said that even when faced with tremendous odds, they defended the land from powerful invaders (Kammen 17). He said that the Confederate Army was comprised of ordinary men who were noble and courageous. They left their wives, children, and peaceful occupations in order to fight for a worthy cause.
The Lost Cause was not only a healing balm for brokenhearted soldiers of the Confederate Army, it was also the byproduct of the anguished thoughts of defeated soldiers. These men did not accept defeat. It was only the enemy’s superior firepower that persuaded them to lay down their arms. They surrendered to the Yankees because they wanted to save their families and their farms. However, they cannot accept the fact that they lost the war because they adhered to the wrong ideology.
Paving the Way for Jim Crow Laws and Racial Segregation
Those who supported the Confederate Army contributed to the creation of the Lost Cause doctrine. It must be made clear that they did not pluck their ideas from thin air. Their positive view of slavery was based on how they interpreted hard facts. They saw with their own eyes how the U.S. government benefited from slavery (Fredrickson 183). A few decades before the Civil War erupted, the United States of America benefited from the labor of Negro slaves. The slaves contributed to the economic growth by producing close to one million tons of cotton per year (Zinn 167). The profitability of slave labor was made evident by the growth of the slave population from 500, 000 to 4 million (Zinn 167). The system was so entrenched. The U.S. government was forced to initiate a Civil War in order to eradicate slavery.
The Lost Cause doctrine was a major obstacle to the reconstruction of the South. It also paved the way for the implementation of Jim Crow laws. It was also the reason for the popularity of segregation practices in the South. The Jim Crow laws, and the evils of segregation were the inadvertent consequences of the abolition of slavery. The chaos and lawlessness that ensued provided more ammunition for those who believe that Negro slaves had to be under the control of a white master.
The inability of former Negro slaves to adjust to a new society was not due to the inferiority of their race. It was the direct result of the government’s failure to prepare for the aftermath of the Civil War. Nevertheless, it must be made clear that it was almost impossible to prepare for the unknown. A country that depended on slavery was bound to experience a tumultuous transition period. When the Negro slaves were freed from the bondage of slavery, only a few gave serious thought to the after effects of freedom. They were free, but they had no land, and they had no money to start a business. They were dependent on their masters to provide the clothes on their backs and the food they eat. Most of them were illiterate.
In order to put a stop to a cycle of defeat that haunted the members of the Confederate Army at the end of the Civil War, the Lost Cause doctrine was created. It enabled a defeated people to regain their sense of pride. It enabled them to regain a sense of racial mastery. However, the African-Americans in the South had to pay a dear price in order to implement the principles embedded in the Lost Cause doctrine. African-Americans were considered second-class citizens. They were viewed as helpless and sentimental children (Blight 272). In other words, they were not given the rights and privileges that should have been afforded to the citizens of the United States. Fortunately, there was no need for another Civil War in order to rectify the errors that were created due to the Lost Cause belief system. The Jim Crow laws were repealed after the success of the Civil Rights movement.
The proliferation of the ideas that were found within the Lost Cause doctrine was a predictable reaction of people that suffered from a terrible defeat in war. The supporters and soldiers who fought under the banner of the Confederate Army needed healing from the physical and emotional wounds caused by the Civil War. The ideas embedded in the Lost Cause rhetoric was like a healing balm for them. It also allowed them to have a sense of pride. They utilized the ideas found in the Lost Cause doctrine to reinterpret the aftermath of the war. They also utilized the Lost Cause doctrine to acquire a new a new sense of racial mastery. However, African-Americans became the victims of this new belief system.
Blight, David. Race and Reunion. MA: Harvard Press, 2001. Print.
Fredrickson, George. The Inner Civil War: Northern Intellectuals and the Crisis of the Union. New York: Harper & Row, 1993. Print.
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Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: Longman Publishing, 1980. Print.
Kammen, Michael., ed. Jefferson Davis: An Address on Behalf of the Southern Historical Society. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Print.