12. Memento - 2000
Are you tired of cheesy, computer-generated superhero movies? Do you crave a good psychological thriller now and again? If you’re ready for something different, Memento is a film by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk) about a man searching for his wife’s killers. The only problem? He suffers from anterograde amnesia and can’t form new memories. The film’s title is a reference to the fact that the main character must get tattoos, constantly write notes, and provide little mementos to guide himself along. The film does not have a linear plot, and will likely require more than one viewing - but gets better with each time you watch it.
11. Cape Fear - 1991
The 1962 version of Cape Fear, with Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck, was a great film. However, Martin Scorsese's 1991 film includes a heightened feeling of suspense and is clearly hostile toward the South in an almost satirical way. It was the first film I saw growing up that had a distinctly Southern villain. Allegedly, Scorsese wanted to make his version of the movie extremely critical of the many fundamentalist types that negatively reviewed his film The Last Temptation of Christ. In the opening scenes of the film for example, we see the criminal Max Cady (played by Robert De Niro) working out in his jail cell amidst pictures of Robert E. Lee and Stalin on the wall. As the film unfolds, more layers are added to the character that explore the themes of religion, race, class, and masculinity within the South. For example, the story takes place in New Essex, North Carolina and Cady’s people are described as “from the hills, Pentecostal crackers.” Cady himself later remarks “My grandaddy used to handle snakes in church. Granny drank strychnine. I guess you could say I had a leg up, genetically speaking.” Cady’s portrayal by De Niro is an effective one, and is essentially that of a poor white-trash psychopath. Pentecostalism seems to be his one redeeming value, as he quotes the Bible and even drives around with bumper stickers that read “You’re a V.I.P. on EARTH, I’m a V.I.P. in HEAVEN” alongside a campy Confederate bumper sticker that says “American by Birth, Southern by the Grace of God.” Even if you hate to see the South portrayed in such a light, this film is worth watching to see De Niro scarred from burns, drowning, and shouting in tongues at the end.
10. Gangs of New York - 2002
This film was a coming of age experience for me that opened my mind to the possibility that maybe the War Between the States wasn’t all what I was taught in school. The film feels like a true period piece and the acting is top notch. Daniel Day Lewis’s performance was particularly engaging, right down to the dirt underneath his fingernails. This film exposes the racism, deplorable conditions, political greed, and disunion within New York while balancing drama, action, and romance. It makes me think less of Scorsese’s South-bashing in Cape Fear.
9. Paths of Glory - 1957
My all-time, anti-war favorite. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, this film uses his fantastic camera work to take the viewer inside the trenches of WWI. Kirk Douglas stars as a French colonel, who is ordered to take a massive German fortification known as “The Ant Hill.” When the assault goes bad and the regiment retreats, the French high command decides to execute some of the soldiers who retreated so that an example might be set for future assaults. Douglas’s character decides to defend his men in a court martial that exposes war for the dirty racket it can be.
8. The Grey - 2011
This would probably be my “guilty pleasure’ film on the list. If you’ve seen any of Liam Neeson’s films, you know that he typically stars in action films without much depth. However, The Grey is an allegory for survival, life, and death. After a group of oil miners get in a plane crash that lands in Alaska, they must fight for survival while being stalked by wolves. To cap things off, the film is presented in a poetic, almost dream like atmosphere.
7. Vice - 2018
A dark, humorous, and intimate portrayal of former president Dick Cheney. The actor who portrayed him, Christian Bale, gained an intense amount of weight and credited Satan as inspiration for the role. The film explores Cheney’s fascination of power, but lack of charisma. It also delves into the issue of the “Unitary Executive Theory,” which is that assumption that “anything the president does is legal, because he’s the president.” At the end of the day, there are just some unanswered questions about Cheney, especially related to 9/11, that this film will hopefully help us get answers to. But it also leaves some unanswered questions. For example, there are a few scenes that show how Cheney got into politics under the wing of Donald Rumsfeld. They had a longstanding friendship, so it was interesting that the film left out Donald Rumsfeld’s speech, just one day before 9/11 when he announced 2.3 TRILLION dollars went missing from the Pentagon. This film, along with Oliver Stone’s W, have done much to make George W. Bush seem as if he was a simpleton with no idea what was going on while other people ran his administration.
6. The Hateful Eight - 2015
Two former Confederates, a former Union cavalry soldier, a bounty hunter, and some bandits are trapped in a cabin during a bone-chilling blizzard. Do I need to say much else? Typical of a Tarantino film, the dialogue and music choices are top notch. Unlike his other films, the setting of a small home in a blizzard causes a feeling of cabin fever to kick in. This film also has some hidden symbolism about America and has some moments that made me jump out of my seat. A must see, especially if you like Westerns.
5. The Shootist - 1976
This was John Wayne’s final cinematic role, which is very important when taking into consideration that he began his career during the silent film era. He plays dying gunslinger, J.B. Books, who “never killed a man that didn’t deserve it.” When news spreads that Books is dying, aspiring cowboys from all over begin to come after him in order to gain some notoriety. The dying shootist takes on several challengers as he chugs laudanum to quell his own pain. This film ends in one of the greatest shootouts John Wayne was ever seen in, and ultimately is a film about rejecting violence.
4. The Battle of Algiers - 1966
A film about the Algerian fight for independence from the French, commissioned by the Algerian government. This film has been banned in some countries and has even been screened at the Pentagon. It’s a very important piece in that it exposes European imperialism and the high cost of blood it has caused. Terrorism and torture are just a few of the relevant issues that would make this movie important for everyone to see.
3. Heaven’s Gate - 1980
An epic western set during the Johnson County Range Wars of the 1890s. The original film was shot in such a way as to give a dusty, western look. The director, Michael Cimino, made the critically acclaimed film, The Deer Hunter, and was given a lot of money and artistic liberty with Heaven’s Gate. As time went on however, the production burned through millions and millions of dollars. The sets were all incredibly detailed and the film looks completely authentic to the period, with very few anachronisms. This painstaking attention to detail eventually made Michael Cimino a target to his own production company. Overall, Heaven’s Gate was a box office flop that ruined the career of Cimino and studio (United Artists). But the film was recently acquired by The Criterion Collection and has been beautifully restored and deserves a viewing. The performances by Kris Kristofferson and Christopher Walken alone are worth the cost of the film. It’s a long one, but a true hidden gem!
2. Diabolique - 1955
A French psychological thriller that will blow your socks off. A misogynistic school master is killed by his wife and mistress. But when his body goes missing and ghosts seemingly appear, nothing is as it seems. One of the biggest plot twists you will ever see in a move. When I was still dating my wife, she saw this film on my shelf and recognized it. That’s when I knew she was the one.
1. Badlands - 1973
A breakout role by Martin Sheen, set in the 1950s and based on the real life killing spree of Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate. Sheen plays a rebellious youth that falls in love with a local girl a bit younger than him. When he tries to take the girl away with him, he winds up shooting the girls father and the two wind up on a cross country shooting spree. The real life story on which this movie was based turned out to be one of the first such cases in American history, and the film launched the career of Terrence Malick, who went on to make the amazing WWII film, The Thin Red Line and a film about John Smith and the early exploration of Virginia, called The New World.
A review of Lincoln on Race and Slavery, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (Princeton University Press, 2009).
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a writer, economist, filmmaker, and Harvard professor who has come under fire recent years for some of his more controversial opinions. In 2010, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times called “Ending the Slavery Blame-Game,” which pointed out African involvement in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Being a person of color himself, Gates’ opinions drew a lot of criticism, but the points he makes are fascinating. He pointed out that the system could not have existed without “complex business partnerships” between Africans and Europeans. He also remarked that advocates of reparations, rather than look at truth or facts, believe in a “romanticized version that our ancestors were all kidnapped unawares by evil white men, like Kunta Kinte was in ‘Roots.’” Sadly, comments like these have endangered the jobs of Southern professors.
In 2015, Gates received more negative press in response to his genealogy show Finding Your Roots on PBS, after he hosted Ben Affleck. Apparently, Gates discovered some ancestors of Affleck’s that owned slaves, and Affleck requested the information to remain confidential. The whole situation came to light after emails between Gates and Sony were leaked by hackers.
Despite these controversies, Gates is still considered one of the premier scholars on the African American experience, and his writings on race and economics are widely read in college classes. His work, Lincoln on Race and Slavery, is not a book on Lincoln, rather a collection of Lincoln’s speeches and writings, with extensive notes, commentary, and a sixty-eight page introduction by Gates.
The introduction by Gates is worth the price of the book alone, simply for his unique perspective on Lincoln. At first, Gates comes across as critical of Lincoln - the colonization plans, the extensive use of the “N” word, and Lincoln’s often conflicting statements about white and black equality - but ultimately winds up defending Lincoln in a very interesting piece that almost comes across as Gates arguing with himself.
This book would prove to be useful for anyone looking to track Lincoln’s thought process throughout his career. Most importantly, it shows how Lincoln was able to effectively make the War Between the States “about” slavery and race. By the end, however, it became clear this book serves to perpetuate the Lincoln myth.
An example might be how Gates depicts the use and assessment of black troops in the war. Gates noted an Abbeville Institute associate and stated that: “The pioneering research of Earl James reveals that some slaves bore arms, and some free Negroes in the South actually enlisted and fought in the Confederate Army, as Frederick Douglass as early as 1861 warned Lincoln they would do, in an attempt to persuade Lincoln to authorize the use of black men as soldiers.” But Gates himself did not present one piece of research or commentary on such Southern blacks.
On the other hand, black Union soldiers were discussed at length and frequently referred to as Lincoln’s “warriors.” Gates clearly shows that Lincoln needed black soldiers to help his war effort and showed that even after the Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln still would not regard blacks as completely equal:
“Despite his declarations of support for the colored troops, it must be noted, Lincoln nevertheless refused to intervene to ensure their equal pay with white troops, an issue that nearly caused a mutiny of all the black troops; indeed, several were executed for opposing unequal pay. Only after an eighteen-month campaign by the Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Regiment and its supporters in Massachusetts did the government relent.”
Gates also correctly asserts that Lincoln pushed for colonization right up until his death, and describes how Lincoln always carried with a little black notebook around with him that contained newspaper clippings on colonization. This shows that Abraham Lincoln might have considered the various arguments regarding colonization, but probably never considered the issue a moral one.
In fact, Lincoln was constantly working to manipulate perceptions about slavery. Frederick Douglass, who Gates uses as an example, even pointed out that Lincoln blamed black people for the war and then tried to remove them through colonization. Douglass also referred to Lincoln emphatically as a white man’s president and felt that blacks were Lincoln’s “step-children” at best. Gates himself stated that Lincoln “held out hope that the blacks would realize, sooner or later, that colonization was in their own best long term interest.”
How should we remember Lincoln’s flirtation with the idea of colonization? Gates argues that even if Lincoln worked up to his death for colonization, it “would not sully his reputation in any meaningful way,” especially “if we judge him by nineteenth-century standards, and when we recall how very far Lincoln had come in his thinking about race and the abolition of slavery…” So according to Gates, Lincoln deserves no criticism for his colonization scheme because his ideas about race evolved over time.
Lincoln was also selective of the black people he deemed worthy of equality. Gates compares Lincoln’s ideas to W.E.B. DuBois’ “Talented Tenth,” and stated that Lincoln “abstracted from the large mass of black people, slave and free, a much smaller subgroup, an elite within a nation-within-a-nation, one comprising two distinct parts: those who had demonstrated their capacity to be valiant in war - those who were physically superior, we might say - and those, like Frederick Douglass, who were intellectually superior. These were the natural aristocrats of the race, that signal core group upon whom Lincoln eventually became willing to confer the perquisites of American citizenship.” In other words, Lincoln preferred blacks that he deemed intelligent or capable in battle, and did not necessarily want equality for the rest.
Page after page, Gates seemingly works to break down the Lincoln myth, but then completely reverses and forms his essay almost into an apologia: “We can do Lincoln no greater service than to walk that path with him, and we can do him no greater disservice than to whitewash it, seeking to give ourselves an odd form of comfort by pretending that he was even one whit less complicated than he actually was.” Wow, so we might be able to understand Lincoln better by looking at him objectively? Thanks Henry Louis Gates, we had no idea.
This is exactly how the gatekeepers work. They typically will acknowledge that Lincoln was a tyrant or dictator, but then use sophistry to explain away or justify his actions.
Gates goes on to commit his own disservice by whitewashing Lincoln and argues that: “I believe the most radical thing that Abraham Lincoln did...was his invocation of [The Declaration of Independence’s] opening line unequivocally on behalf of African Americans in a public debate well before the Civil War, and his insistence upon the inclusion of blacks in that definition consistently through his presidency.”
These ideas are downright misleading. Lincoln was not the first politician to question the moral dilemma of slavery and equality, as many Southerners also objected to the implications of slavery early on. George Washington, for example, wrote a letter to Robert Morris in 1786 that expressed a desire for a plan to abolish slavery. Later the same year, Washington wrote to John F. Mercer of Maryland and stated “I never mean, unless some particular circumstance should compel me to it, to possess another slave by purchase; it being among my first wishes to see some plan adopted by which slavery in this country may be abolished by law.”
Another lesser known Southerner, Richard Mentor Johnson of Kentucky, openly kept a slave as his common law wife during the Jacksonian era. Johnson was a senator and the ninth Vice President of the United States, and clearly had a different view on equality from Lincoln, who stated in 1857 that “there is a natural disgust in the minds of nearly all white people, to the idea of an indiscriminate amalgamation of the white and black races.” There was also a strong anti-slavery movement in the South that was headed by people like Sarah and Angelina Grimke, who recognized the equality of the black race and fought to change things.
Ultimately, Lincoln on Race and Slavery does not present many new ideas on Lincoln. It’s also not a complete work on Lincoln and race, in my opinion, because it does not take an opportunity to research how Lincoln viewed another race - the Native Americans. Many people often overlook that Lincoln fought small wars against the Dakota and the Sioux in 1862 that led to many natives being forced into internment camps, while some were executed.
As far as Lincoln on the issue of slavery, this book will provide ammunition for those looking to deconstruct the man. In recent years, not even Lincoln monuments have been safe from vandals. Many Americans are waking up from the dream that is American exceptionalism and the Lincoln myth. Maybe sharing and discussing works like this can help this movement reach its apogee.
I grew up in Summerville, South Carolina, just a few miles from historic Charleston. This quiet little town is separated from the Holy City by some plantations, swamps, and marsh but shares the same fascination with local history. Folklore states that Summerville is the birthplace of sweet tea, the source being a newspaper article from 1890 that lists the menu for a Confederate veterans' reunion and included, in addition to jaw-dropping quantities of beef, ham, and bread, “600 pounds of sugar” and "880 gallons of iced tea to wash it down."
While the legend has been disputed over the years, the point is that many people in the Charleston area love it here and value their heritage. My experience growing up here cultivated a lifelong interest in all the local history. The area is filled with historic treasures including the first museum in America, the actual remains of the Hunley, as well as countless historic houses and monuments to famous South Carolinians. And I was always taught to appreciate the true diversity within the area.
Charleston, in the earliest days, was surrounded by Native American tribes and was home to a variety of groups like English Dissenters, French Huguenots, planters from Barbados, African Slaves, and Scotsmen. Growing up, I appreciated the history local Gullah Culture just as much as the others; I still walk through the streets of Charleston today and see the local Gullah sweetgrass baskets sell for top dollar to tourists flocking into the city for a hospitable experience. As a kid, I watched the Nickelodeon program, Gullah Gullah Island, which was filmed in the area and enjoyed it just as much as any other children’s show.
Despite this rich, diverse cultural heritage, many people have become divided over local symbols in the wake of the Emmanuel Nine shooting. While this shooting was certainly a tragedy, we need to focus on ways to bring people together, not divide ourselves based on heritage. Why should any average person, perhaps the average joe without a Southern identity, care at all about this? Our memory of the past helps shape our identity, understand the present, and predict the future. If we are not even allowed to look at, or even talk about our own history - on the land our ancestors bled to defend - we might as well be sheep...
Just like London already has done, Charleston, South Carolina is currently implementing technology that will bring the state’s historic memory to life by providing human voices for monuments around the city. Ideally, this will allow people to scan a monument with their phone and listen to a monologue. It seems like a decent idea, on the surface.
This project began not long after August 2017, when Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg released a letter to the city’s Commission on History recommending various changes to the city’s historical markers and stated: “I feel that adding to the historical story enables us to more fully understand and learn from our past.”
The changes Tecklenburg recommended include:
The project to create these talking monuments has been called Charleston Stories and it is subtitled Completing the Story: Bringing the Community together. Their website states that they are a “diversified private group of volunteers who are interested in historical accuracy and community harmony” and that their work “aims to lift the public spirit.”
But is the goal of this project really to bring people together? Denmark Vesey was a free black man that plotted a massive slave insurrection, and Charleston Stories is giving his monument a voice actor to tell his story and paint him as a symbol for freedom. The irony of this being that Vesey was turned in, and testified against, by other local blacks in Charleston. Meanwhile, some people want the monuments for John C. Calhoun, Wade Hampton, and the Defenders of Charleston get more plaques describing their part in the vast conspiracy of white supremacy. The project even proposed a new, clearly divisive and misleading text for Calhoun’s monument which read:
“This monument to John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), erected in 1896, was the culmination of efforts begun in 1858 to commemorate his career. It was erected at a time, after Reconstruction, when most white South Carolinians believed in white supremacy, and the state enacted legislation establishing racial segregation. These ideas are now universally condemned...The statue remains standing today as a reminder that many South Carolinians once viewed Calhoun as worthy of memorialization even though his political positions included his support of race-based slavery, an institution repugnant to the core ideas and values of the United States of America.”
This statement was rejected by the locals and sub-committee working on the project, having obviously been not acceptable or objective. Local Charlestonians have gone to great lengths to ensure whatever changes are made will be as unbiased as possible. While the concept of implementing oral history and technology for monuments seems promising, it will take a lot of time and effort from Southerners everywhere to ensure our historic parks are not turned into PC playgrounds.
Maybe we could compromise by keeping all the monuments exactly like they are, and add little air-conditioned shacks, complete with coloring books nearby. This will calm all micro-aggressed, triggered snowflakes that simply cannot stand their own history.
The South needs to wake up and realize that it’s okay to stand up for our history. A couple of weeks before Tecklenburg’s letter, a Charleston civil rights attorney named Armand Defner said that South Carolina’s Heritage Act is an embarrassment and “makes the state look stupid.” The Heritage Act, which was passed in 2000, protects state and local lands from any change whatsoever without a two-thirds majority vote in both the state Senate and House of Representatives. Defner likened this statute to the 1925 Tennessee vs. Scopes trial and stated “This law makes South Carolina look like a place for yokels, and that’s really unfair to our people.” Finally, Defner argued that The Heritage Act builds artificial barriers, stops dialogue, and discourages participation in the democratic process.
It has to be acknowledged that the snowflakes and social justice warriors are the real ones stopping dialogue and creating barriers. They literally make human chains, shout people down, and destroy anything of historic value that they do not agree with.
In fact, polls are consistently showing that the majority of voters, many including black Americans, want to keep Confederate monuments as historic symbols. This is why the Left is obsessed with microaggression and agitation. Their movement is so weak in its arguments and logic, that they must resort to tearing down the memories of greater men in order to feel satisfaction. Their only real hope for survival as an ideology is to trigger another Charlottesville, so they can stay relevant.
Charleston’s plan to implement mobile technology and make Southern history more accessible is a great idea, and will hopefully get more people interested. But “adding to the historical story,” as Mayor Tecklenburg hopes to do, is not such an easy task. It implies that the actual story is not interesting or dramatic enough. Most people have a hard time seeing past their own biases, let alone those of the private groups and politicians that are trying to alter these monuments. It will take the effort of local communities everywhere, who hold the most important memories, to make sure the real story is being told.
Above, two photos of a press conference by the American Heritage Association on October 20, 2018 that called for the candidates for governor to state their position on The Heritage Act. On the left, a photo of the actual crowd supporting the protection of their monuments. On the right, an image from Charleston’s Post and Courier showing less than half the supporters. This distortion is just one small example of how the media has, and will continue to, spin the fight for our heritage.
One of the things that drew me to Donald Trump was his outspoken attitude, commitment to draining the swamp, and his ideas on limiting the government. His inaugural address particularly struck me when he stated: “...we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another -- but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C. and giving it back to you, the American People.”
These promises strongly resonated with working class people everywhere, and are the main reason I will continue to support Trump (as long as he does not invade an American state). But the longer Trump is in office, the more I wonder if he really meant these things, or if he is just a clever shill that sells hats. Here are three reasons that I believe Southerners should be concerned about Trump:
1. HE TOYS WITH THE HEARTSTRINGS OF SOUTHERNERS
It's no secret that the South is filled with some of Trump’s biggest supporters. Even though Trump once stated he thought the Confederate flag belongs in a museum, he has been very vocal about the attack on monuments throughout the country. He has referred to the leaders that have taken down monuments as “weak,” and has alluded many times that removing Confederate monuments will lead to the removal of statues of other men like Washington and Jefferson. But what has he really done to open a dialogue or prevent it? Trump has signed at least 77 executive orders since his inauguration, having signed 42 in just his first 200 days. None of them have addressed the monument issue, even though he brings it up frequently. George Washington only signed 8 executive orders in his entire time in office. Will Trump really stand up for American history?
2. SPACE FORCE IS A HOAX?
The budget for NASA is right at 19 billion dollars, over 52 million dollars a day. You would think with that kind of money, they would be giving us real pictures and information from space. But in 2012, a NASA data visualizer and designer named Robert Simmon admitted that all the pictures of the Earth since the 1972 are photoshopped because “it has to be.” You can watch that clip here. According to Simmon, most of the known photos of Earth we have seen are composites, made from satellite data and artistic effect.
In addition, other well known people within the scientific community are saying that Earth is an oblate spheroid, which is a ball that is wider at the equator than it is at the poles. Neil DeGrasse Tyson has even gone as far as saying that Earth is “pear shaped” and “chubby.” Yet, if you look at all the photos of Earth from NASA, you will see perfect spheres. Something is not adding up.
Trump has stated he wants a space force because “Space is a war-fighting domain just like the land, air, and sea.” Why should we be spending money to keep peace in space, when we cannot even manage peace here on Earth? Why should we be sending people to Mars when we have widespread problems here on Earth that still need to be addressed?
NASA frequently talks of missions to Mars, yet they have openly admitted many times that we cannot currently go “beyond low earth orbit” in space. Even Obama admitted this in a speech and one astronaut named Don Petit stated we cannot return to the moon because “we destroyed that technology” and its a “painful process to build it back.” The reason is that the Earth is surrounded by the powerful Van Allen radiation belts that we cannot currently penetrate. How did the NASA go the moon six times in the 60’s and 70’s if they can’t go back now?
3. TOO MANY CONTRADICTIONS
Trump, even though he was a wealthy businessman, has always branded himself as more of a “man of the people.” For example, he has likened himself to Andrew Jackson and even talked about how a president like Jackson could have prevented The War Between the States.
But in his actions, Trump has been more of a keyboard warrior. Most of his tough talking is done through “tweets.” Andrew Jackson settled his problems like a man and would have preferred being shot dead in a duel over being an internet “tough guy.” While it is clear Trump likes having a direct line to the people, he should pick and choose his battles and should not engage on twitter with every celebrity or athlete that disagrees with him.
It’s also clear that Trump is not going to drain the swamp. His promises to investigate and lock up Hillary Clinton were hollow rhetoric aimed at exciting his base. Even if he manages to uproot the corruption in places like the F.B.I., that will not necessarily stop the inherent tendency toward abuse that comes with these institutions.
Finally, Trump’s greatest contradiction was the decision to launch a missile attack on Syria. Sources show 59 missiles were launched at Syria in response to their alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians. The most disturbing fact about this is that Trump tweeted his opposition to Obama’s strikes on Syria at least five times. Is it really clear where Trump stands on anything?
There is a dichotomy to how people view Jesse James. While some have viewed him as a murdering thief, others have argued that he was like a modern-day Robin Hood. To really understand the man requires an examination of his life and an honest analysis of the events that shaped him in Missouri.
Who was Jesse James?
Jesse James was born in Missouri on September 5 1847, just seven years before the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854. His father, Robert James, was a Baptist pastor and died when Jesse was just three years old. Robert was a man of learning and left behind fifty-one books in his will that dealt with math, chemistry, theology, astronomy, grammar, Latin, Greek, public speaking, philosophy, history, literature, and other subjects. By 1850, Robert James outright owned 275 acres of land and had also helped found William Jewell College. The James farm had 30 sheep, 6 cattle, 3 horses, a yoke of oxen, and 7 slaves. These facts show that Jesse James was not some backwoods yokel lacking a good upbringing, but was fairly well educated knew right from wrong.
In fact, Jesse’s older brother Frank loved reading and quoting Shakespeare, while Jesse preferred to read and quote the Bible. Jesse was known to sing in the choir and was reputed to have always treated women in a gentlemanly fashion. Some accounts say he did not drink alcohol or use bad language, and was noted for his extremely loyal to kith and kin.
How Missouri and "Bleeding" Kansas Shaped Him
The violence in Missouri and Kansas before and after the War Between the States was an important part of Jesse’s development. After the Kansas and Nebraska Acts of 1854, various groups labeled Free Soilers, Jayhawkers, Red Legs, Radical Republicans, and Abolitionists flooded the border of Kansas and Missouri with the goal of disrupting the national balance of power in favor of the “free states.” Their initial goal was to prevent any Southern people from entering Kansas, but they also went on raids in Missouri to attack Southerners and take their property. Any Southerners from Missouri that traveled to retrieve their stolen goods in Kansas were promptly killed.
Even though Southerners are typically labeled “border ruffians” during this period in most popular histories, it was the Northern groups in Kansas that took the violence to another level and mutilated men from the pro-Southern camps. John Brown’s actions at the Pottawatomie massacre are just one example of the barbarous acts committed by these radical abolitionists.
When the first elections in Kansas Territory were held in 1855, the results were overwhelmingly pro-slavery. The free state settlers refused to accept this and held their own elections, having even set up their own legislatures by 1856. They then started building abolitionist newspapers and a massive military fortification known as “The Free State Hotel.”
President Franklin Pierce reasoned this free-state legislature unlawful and called for arrests. A group of abolitionists attempted to assassinate a sheriff in Lawrence, Kansas to prevent these arrests. In response, Federal Marshall Israel B. Donaldson led a posse of hundreds of Southerners into Lawrence, where they destroyed the newspapers and “Free State Hotel.” No abolitionists were killed during this event.
The Democratic Platform, a newspaper from the time, printed the following in response to the border violence:
“Kansas must be a slave state if half the citizens of Missouri had to emigrate there with musket in hand, prepared to die for the cause. Shall we allow such cutthroats and murderers to settle in the territory joining our own state? No, if popular opinion will not keep them back, we should see what virtue there is in the favor of our arms.”
The idea of “Bleeding Kansas” usually conjures up images of political cartoons with slavery being forced down the throat of free soilers. But these ideas are misleading, and the free soilers were more opposed to competition for white labor than they were about the morality of slavery. The Republican Platform of 1856 is also ample evidence that the North intended to overturn the elections of Kansas and keep it open exclusively to free whites.
Southerners who rushed to arms were merely defending their own homes, and Union sources from the time prove this. Major A.V.E. Johnson of the 39th Missouri’s federal troops declared that he would “devastate the country and leave the habitations of Southern men not one stone upon another” and that “extermination in fact was what they [Southerners] all need.”
Kansas Senator James Henry Lane, who went on to be a Union general, said: “Missourians are wolves, snakes, devils, and damn their souls - I want to see them cast into a burning hell. We believe in a war of extermination. There is no such thing as Union men in the border of Missouri. I want to see every foot of ground in Jackson, Cass, and Bates Counties in Missouri burned over and everything laid waste.” Lane also wrote George B. McCLellan and proposed that any disloyal white rebels could have had their lands taken and given to loyal blacks.
James during the War Between the States and Reconstruction
By June 1861, federal troops under Nathaniel Lyon captured Jefferson City, ejected the lawfully elected officials, and set up a military government. James’ family maintained strong Southern sympathies and his brother Frank joined the Confederate ranks early on in 1861. Frank fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and later returned home because of illness.
The legend holds that in May of 1863, Jesse was at his plow when Union men came searching for information about Confederate forces. The soldiers attacked Jesse and partially hanged his stepfather, Dr. Reuben Samuel, several times from a tree. At the end of this encounter Jesse was badly beaten, his mother was thrown in jail, and his stepfather was inflicted with serious brain damage.
Jesse then went on to join the Confederate guerrillas and participated in several violent, effective raids against Union forces. Confederate guerrillas were so successful that Union general Thomas Ewing issued two proclamations to try and stop them. His General Order 10 made it a crime punishable by death to aid Confederate soldiers, and General Order 11 stated all Missourians within certain counties had to report to Union camps or leave the state. The chaos which ensued was captured in a famous painting by George Caleb Bingham, who served in the Union army and vehemently disagreed with Ewing:
Acts like these actually resulted in greater sympathies for Confederates. George Caleb Bingham described the Union soldiers as having actually killed men in the act of obeying the General Orders and stealing their effects from wagons. Southerners were massacred and even children were shot in the arms of their families.
Sadly, the murder and theft that happened as a result of General Order 11 was not an isolated incident and these savage acts had been perpetrated against Southerners since 1854. One Red Leg officer described the destruction by saying his men burned 110 houses, worth about $20,000 each. And that was just one group of Union soldiers, causing what would be (in today’s dollars) tens of millions of dollars worth of property damage.
At the end of the war, Jesse was shot while attempting to surrender and spent some time trying to recover. He eventually returned home and tried farming, but the new bayonet government complicated things. A Senator from Missouri, Charles Drake, drafted a new state constitution. Under the Drake constitution, former Confederates were disenfranchised, former slaves were given the right to vote, and segregated public schools were created. It also held that a new “Ironclad Oath” would be instituted to keep only Union loyalists as judges, teachers, lawyers, and pastors.
Hundreds of state officials were purged from their posts, and radicals jailed justices that declared Drake’s actions unconstitutional. Some sources show that in 1866, some 4,000 Southerners were killed in Southwest Missouri. By 1867, former Confederate guerrillas were basically wanted dead or alive. Jesse and his gang resorted to robbery because the Union’s military government had made an honest living impossible.
Jesse James’ early robberies were all small, and he was first mentioned in a newspaper after the robbery of Daviess County Savings Bank in Gallatin, Missouri. Jesse reportedly thought the bank’s cashier was the Union soldier that had killed Confederate “Bloody Bill” Anderson, so Jesse shot him. This was seen as an act of vengeance in the public eye and built on the James’ already prominent reputation. The James gang worked with other groups to commit 25 robberies and 25 murders, but not all of these are directly attributed to Frank and Jesse.
The Reason Jesse James is not a Robin Hood
Jesse James has been compared to Robin Hood since about 1870 when James originally started writing John Newman Edwards, the editor of the Kansas City Times. John Edwards was a Confederate sympathizer, and Jesse wrote him many letters defending the James gang’s actions and declaring their innocence. Edwards began portraying James as a Robin Hood figure, but the comparison has been perpetuated by famous American writers like Carl Sandburg.
The fact is that Robin Hood is a myth, and Jesse James was very real. Comparing James to a fictional character takes away from the complex history that shaped him. There’s no evidence to show that James distributed any of his loot to the poor. However there are some claims that he would not rob former Confederates, and some papers defended his actions as honest. For example, the Lexington Caucasian newspaper on December 12, 1874 defended Jesse James’ gang after a robbery by saying:
“The funds seized by the bandits were just as honestly earned as the riches of many a highly distinguished political leader and the railroad job manipulator.”
These various interpretations make James more difficult to categorize. He was not some common criminal or Robin Hood, but more of a “outlaw” or “vigilante,” both of which had different meanings than they do today.
Being a vigilante in James’ day legally meant the creation and enforcement of laws by organized extra-legal groups in the absence of law enforcement. Vigilantism basically started with the Regulator movement in the pre-Revolutionary backcountry of the Carolinas. Just as the Regulators took the law into their own hands when the British Royal Government would not protect them, so too did Jesse James when Union soldiers plundered his homeland. Clearly, this type of vigilante is not the same image we see depicted today in movies like Death Wish, where vigilantes indiscriminately kill criminals despite capable law enforcement.
Interestingly, Webster’s definition of outlaw in 1828 was “A person excluded from the benefit of the law or deprived of its protection.” James, as a Southerner and Missourian growing up in his day, had been basically on the run from federals since his teens and was never protected by the law. In 1875, Pinkerton agents allegedly firebombed the James family home. The explosion blew off the arm of Jesse’s mom and killed his half brother. All of these factors show that Jesse James was not just an “outlaw,” but someone that the government conspired against and never deemed worthy of a fair trial.
By this definition of the word, Southerners are technically outlaws right now because we are deprived and excluded from the protection of the law when our monuments and history are allowed to be illegally torn down. The way people interpret history is becoming too complicated and, ultimately, it is irresponsible and intellectually lazy to refer to Jesse James as a Robin Hood figure. If the critics and fans of James took the time to investigate his motivations, it would be clear that Northern and Union depredations made James into the “outlaw” he was. Had the federal government not perpetuated lawlessness and violence in Missouri for two decades, Jesse might have grown up to be a completely different person.
Anyone with a basic understanding of our history knows that the northern states (particularly New England) have felt the need to impose their beliefs on all Americans from the early days of this nation. Education is no different. Going back even to 1642, the state of Massachusetts (knowing better than individual families) passed the first “Compulsory Education” law. This mandated that parents and masters had to instruct children in reading, religion, and the capital laws. Five years later, they passed the “Old Deluder” (a reference to Satan) School Law. This required towns of 50 householders to provide education in reading and writing. Towns with over 100 householders had to establish a grammar school. While this remained a northern method of education, the public school movement became nationwide between the years of 1830-1860. Even the first textbook came from the north. The New England Primer, pictured above, taught children letters and basic grammar using stories from The Bible.
In true Yankee know-it-all fashion, Horace Mann (Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education and public school propagandist) declared in his 1848 Twelfth Annual Report on education: “The Common School, improved and energized, as it can easily be, may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.” For many years, Horace Mann had been bragging about the messianic power of tax-supported, nationwide public schools. The truth is that this propaganda is typical of northerners and was simply a mask for intolerance. Many Americans were upset by cultural changes during the mid nineteenth century. Urbanization, industrialization, and immigration (particularly of Roman Catholics) worried many proponents of public schooling.
The same “reformers” that touted the power of public schools also feared private schools would sabotage the goals of the public school movement. Private schools became labeled as divisive, non-democratic, and hostile to the public needs. By the 1860s, the once blurry line between public and private schools became more visible. Driven mostly by anti-Catholicism, the northern states of Michigan (1835), New Hampshire (1848), Ohio (1851), Massachusetts (1855), Illinois (1855), California (1855) and New Jersey (1866) terminated government funding of private schools by statute or constitutional provision. Public schooling was becoming more prevalent, especially after the “Civil War.” For example in 1850, out of over sixteen million dollars spent on schools and colleges, only forty seven percent came from the public. By 1870 however, public school spending soared to over ninety-five million, with sixty-five percent coming from the public purse. By the late 1800s, many academies and private schools that did not transform into public schools had to shut down, or re-establish themselves as colleges or elite boarding schools.
The difference in educational philosophies of the north and south were drastic. From the beginning, in the 17th century, the education in the south centered around the Church of England. Schools, libraries, and missions were established throughout the South by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, a branch of the Church of England. Southern indentured servants and even orphans bound to apprenticeship were legally owed an education in reading, writing, and arithmetic. After the American Revolution, education became primarily the responsibility of private individuals in the South. As a result, private academies became extremely popular—with more than two hundred in Virginia, more than one hundred in Georgia (where they were supported by state funds), and ninety in Arkansas. The southern schools focused on classical and humanistic learning and represented many different religions. Most of the agitation for free public schooling was based on the fact that private academies did not attract poor settlers who could not pay fees.
What many agitators of the public school movement did not consider was that Horace Mann was successful because he was working in the industrial north, which was far different than the agricultural south that preferred the traditional forms of schooling. The “Civil War” led to the ruin of the south, and its private academy system. State controlled systems, for black and white children, now became the norm throughout the South. During the reconstruction years, one historian notes, that southern state treasuries were robbed “of more than three hundred million and did nothing for education, either state or private, beyond repeated discussions of the advisability of mixing white and negro children in the public schools.” This would be the death of quality education, not just in the south, but in America. The new goal of education in America was not to produce citizens nor good men; instead, the goal became to produce graduates, workers, and consumers.
Many Americans, southerners in particular, were opposed to the public school movement early on. Robert Lewis Dabney was one such southerner. Dabney was a theologian and Southern Presbyterian who accurately predicted many of the problems we are facing with public schools today. For example, he advocated homeschooling far before it became a popular alternative to public schools. Before compulsory education laws were issued nationwide, he predicted that mandatory and government-funded education would lead to more crime and lower academic achievement. Consider the following quote by Dabney on the poor track record of government education:
“The northern states of the union had previously to the war all adopted the system of universal state schools, and the southern states had not. In 1850, the former had thirteen and a half millions of people and twenty three thousand six hundred and sixty four (23,664) criminal convictions. The South (without state schools) had nine and a half millions, and two thousand nine hundred and twenty one (2,921) criminal convictions—that is to say, after allowing for the difference in population, the ‘educated’ masses were something more than six times more criminal as the ‘uneducated.’ That same year, the North was supporting 114,000 paupers and the South 20,500. The ‘unintelligent’ South was something more than four times as well qualified to provide for its own subsistence than the ‘intelligent North’! But Massachusetts is the native home of the public school in America…in the South, state schoolhouses were unknown, and consequently jails and penitentiaries were on the most confined and humble scale. The North is studded over with grand and costly public school houses and her jails are even more palatial in extent and more numerous than they.”
Anyone with experience in the public schools would have a tough time disproving Dabney’s prophecies. Another historian has even stated that Dabney predicted the recent emergence of Goals and Outcome Based Education when he declared that government education “would inevitably lead to an unholy alliance between unions interested in power, textbook manufacturers desirous of a monopoly share of the industry at taxpayer expense, and special interest groups hoping to foist their intellectual anarchy on the children of the nation.” Probably the worst part of all this change is that the spiritual element has been completely removed from schools, seemingly with malice. If we are “one nation, under God” then why is it wrong to pray or practice religion in schools? The fact is, in Dabney’s day, it was both patriotic and common sense to blend faith and education. Moral and social learning went hand-in-hand, and many parents did not really consider education without Christian influences. Human beings are, by nature, spiritual beings. In my opinion, the north and big government may have succeeded in making public schools and minds more secular, but as long as parents are able to direct their children’s lives I have FAITH the south will remain as spiritual as ever.
Michael Martin is a teacher and historian residing in Charleston, South Carolina. He is the author of Southern Grit: Sensing the Siege of Petersburg and his work has been published on The Abbeville Institute, The Imaginative Conservative, and Dixie Heritage. His goal is to shatter the paradigm of centralization and show the world what the Southern Tradition has to offer.