Jubal Early, a Virginian, was an important leader in the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, and a primary constructor of The Lost Cause Myth of the Confederacy. Modern students of the war are very familiar with his lionization of Robert E. Lee and his unremitting attacks on Confederate general James Longstreet, whom he blamed for the defeat at Gettysburg. Fewer seem to have read Early’s book Heritage of the South, written right after the war but published decades later after the general’s death. Inheritance was his defense of the Confederacy and its formative institution, slavery.
Early was never a large slave owner, although he seems to have had an enslaved servant. He earned his own living as a West Point-graduated United States Army officer and later as a lawyer. When South Carolina and other Deep South states began the Secession Crisis in late 1860 and early 1861, Early opposed Virginia joining the new Confederacy. It was only when his state decided to leave the Union that Early threw in his lot with the Confederacy.
Early had an initially successful career in the Confederate Army, entering as a colonel commanding a Virginia regiment. After Bull Run he was promoted to Brigadier General. He would eventually rise to command of the Army of the Valley and in 1864 he nearly reached Washington, D.C. during the Confederacy’s last invasion of the North. His army’s decline in the last quarter of 1864 and early in 1865 led to his removal from command.
Unlike most Confederate military leaders, Jubal Early went into exile at the end of the Civil War, and he stayed there for years. In 1866 he explained that he was not going to return to the United States because; “If I was to set any foot [in the U.S. I would [be] arrested and consigned to a military prison.” [Found in Civil War Writing: New Perspectives in Iconic Texts essay by Kathryn Shively p. 147] Early was pardoned by President Andrew Johnson in 1869 and the former Confederate veteran returned to Virginia the same year.
By 1873, Early had sufficiently established himself as a leading defender of the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War that he was elected to head the Southern Historical Society, a group led exclusively at this time by former Confederate military officers and civilian office-holders. Early used his authority to defend the Confederate cause and preserve the memory of his deceased comrades. In 1875, for example, he protested plans to include Black troops in a Richmond event honoring “Stonewall” Jackson.
Early’s writings that are best known today are his memoirs and articles on the war, but he was a prolific writer of books, articles, notes, and missives. While he was still in self-imposed exile, Early wrote a book published after his death as The Heritage of the South. The book was edited by his niece Ruth Hairston Early and published in 1915, more than two decades after his death and nearly a half-century after it was written. In it, Early explains the cause of the Civil War.
I think it is worthwhile to explore the book both because of its frankness and because of Early’s role in the construction and propagation of the Lost Cause narrative of the Civil War. The link to the book is the Project Guttenberg version, but I used the Kindle format and cite to that version in my recounting of the text below.
In her introduction to the volume, Jubal Early’s niece Ruth H. Early says that the book examines “the causes which led to the political issue of the ’60s.” [p. 1] She explains that the “manuscript has lain unpublished during the passing of half a century, till passion having cooled and prejudice abated, there is no longer reason for clash from difference of feeling upon the subject.” [p. 1]
The first chapter of Jubal Early’s book on the causes of the Civil War is entitled “The African Slave Trade,” and every chapter thereafter is focused on slavery, the doctrine of White Supremacy, and the abolition of slavery. Early leaves no doubt about slavery and abolition being the cause of the war, and he wastes no time discussing modern Lost Cause issues like “tariffs” or “taxation” as the causes.
According to Jubal Early, Britain was responsible for the introduction of slavery into the American colonies in the 1600s, and Britain fostered slavery throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in the Western Hemisphere. Early claims that during this period “there was no sentiment in any Christian or unchristian country which regarded the reduction of the negroes of Africa to slavery as opposed to moral right or religious duty, or in any other light than as a blessing to the negroes themselves and a great benefit to their owners.” [p. 7] While he blames Britain for bringing slavery to what became the United States, and he characterizes the “Middle Passage” as a region of horror, he describes slavery itself as benign for both the owner and the enslaved.
Early next turns to the period of the Revolution. American independence, he writes, was actually declared on July 2, 1776 and not on July 4th. Early makes this claim to diminish the importance of the Declaration of Independence. The July 2 vote on separating from the United Kingdom contained no language declaring that “all men are created equal,” he says. The Declaration of Independence was merely a “manifesto” designed to win allies for the new country, and not a declaration of law. Therefore the assertion that all men are created equal had no relevance to the question of slavery. Early says:
“The intention of it was to assert the right of the people, on whose part the declaration was made, to equality under the law with all other British subjects, and to maintain their right to set up a new government for themselves, when the one under which they had been living had been perverted to their oppression. If it was intended to assert the absolute equality of all men, it was false in principle and in fact.” [p. 50]
Therefore, he wrote, criticism of the leaders of the South that “the assertion contained in the Declaration of Independence ‘That all men are created equal, etc.,’ was entirely inconsistent with the continuation of slavery in any of the United States; and that the states which continued it were guilty of a great inconsistency” [p. 48-49] are unfounded because this was no assertion by the United States that slaves were equal, but instead this was merely a phrase “uttered under the enthusiasm and excitement of a struggle for the right of self-government,” for the white colonists making the rebellion. [p. 50]
In support of his contention of the supposed absurdity of a universal declaration of equality is Early’s question; “does any one believe, or will any one ever believe, that the native Congo, the Hottentot or the Australian negro, is the equal, mentally, physically and morally, of the Caucasian?” [pp. 50-51]
According to Early, the American Republic developed along economic and social lines that reinforced the continuance of slavery in the new country. He argued that “slaves bore such a proportion to the white population and the whole business of the country was so identified with their labor, that it was impossible to emancipate them, without entailing on both races evils far greater than those supposed to result from the existence of slavery itself. It was a practical question with which the statesmen of the country had to deal as practical men, and all they could do, was to allow the system to remain, as the best for all parties under the circumstances, without reverting to the dangerous experiment of the ideal schemes of a false philanthropy.” [pp. 51-52]
Slavery was so important to the Southern states that they made sure that the Federal government could take no steps to interfere with it. One example Early offers of the importance of slavery to the Southern founders of the new republic is the cession of its western territory by North Carolina to form the state of Tennessee. In placing this western land under Federal control, North Carolina stipulated “that no regulation made or to be made by Congress shall tend to the emancipation of slaves.” [p. 54]
Chapter IV of the book, titled “Causes Leading to Secession,” is devoted entirely to the issues of slavery and abolition. Early criticizes the Quakers for starting efforts to petition Congress to abolish the slave trade. So much anger was stirred up in Congress by these petitions that these were returned to the petitioners without going to members of the House and Senate because of their “incendiary and mischievous character.” [p. 64]
In 1834, Britain abolished slavery in her colonies. Early says, in the language of modern reparations arguments, “but she made no restitution of the hundreds of millions she derived from the profits of the inhuman traffic as she now styled it, and which had assisted in building up her marine, manufactures and commerce.” in other words, slavery had enriched and empowered the British and if slavery was illegal and inhuman, Britain should compensate Blacks. [p. 73]
Early alleges that “emissaries” from Britain came to America in the 1830s to begin the agitation for the Abolition of Slavery. He writes that:
“The preponderance of women in the New England States caused them to be selected as proselytes for the new crusade. There was also a class of men in that section, offshoots of the old persecuting theocracy who furnished recruits to the agitators. There were doubtless many who really believed slavery to be a great sin and wrong, who joined in the crusade from conscientious motives. Knaves there were in plentiful supply, gowned and ungowned, who were ready for anything which would tend to their personal advancement in position or their pecuniary profit. Out of these materials abolition societies were formed and petitions began to pour into Congress for the abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia and other places within the Federal jurisdiction, while the mails were filled with incendiary publications calculated to stir up insurrections.” [p. 74]
At the same time, John Quincy Adams introduced anti-slavery sentiment into Congressional debates. In the Northern states, Early complains, “The law for the recovery of fugitive slaves, always inefficient because of the refusal or failure of the states’ officers to enforce it, had now become a dead letter by the resistance to its execution by mobs and the still more mischievous action of several of the legislatures of the free states.” [p. 75] Apparently the idea of “states’ rights” did not apply to a state refusing to help kidnap Black people within its territory.
Early also had little regard for the First Amendment rights of newspapers to publish what they would. He wrote that among the crimes of the North was; “The circulation of incendiary publications through the mails had been forbidden by Congress, but the Northern press was prolific in the production of gross libels upon the character of the people of the Southern states and misrepresentations of the institution of slavery as it existed there…” [p. 75]
Tomorrow, in part two, Patrick will continue his review of Jubal Early’s book, The Heritage of the South, and its impact on Civil War memory.