Bill Talks with Heather Cox Richardson About ‘How the South Won the Civil War’

Historians in the News
tags: Civil War, Confederacy

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Moyers on Democracy. If you want to understand this moment in American politics, here’s a suggestion for you: It’s the must-read book of the year — HOW THE SOUTH WON THE CIVIL WAR, by the historian Heather Cox Richardson. Yes, the Civil War brought an end to the slave order of the South and the rule of the plantation oligarchs who embodied white supremacy. But the Northern victory was short-lived. Slave states soon stripped Black people of their hard-won rights, white supremacy not only rose again to rule the South but spread West across the Mississippi to create new hierarchies of inequality. That’s the story Heather Cox Richardson tells in HOW THE SOUTH WON THE CIVIL WAR, with echoes resounding every day in the current wild and fierce campaign for the presidency. Here to talk with her about America’s ongoing battle between oligarchy and democracy is Bill Moyers.

BILL MOYERSHeather Cox Richardson, thank you for joining me.

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: Oh, it’s a pleasure to be here.

BILL MOYERSWill you take us on that long but vivid arc of how we got from Abraham Lincoln, describing the end of the Civil War as “a new birth of freedom,” to Donald Trump describing America as “a land of carnage, a nightmare.” From Lincoln to Donald Trump in 2016, what happened?

HEATHER COX RICHARDSON: If you think about the Civil War as a war between two different ideologies, two different concepts of what America is supposed to be, is it supposed to be a place where a few wealthy men direct the labor and the lives of the people below them, the women and people of color below them, the way the Confederacy argued? Is that America? Or is America what Lincoln and his ilk in the Republican Party in the North defined the democracy as during the Civil War? Is it a place where all men are equal before the law and should have equal access to resources? And of course, I use the word man there, but that’s because that’s the language that Lincoln used. But the principle is expandable of course. It looked by 1865 as if that latter ideology, that of the Republicans and that of the idea of equality had triumphed. And certainly, the Republicans and Northerners who had fought for the United States government in that war believed that they had redefined America to mean equality before the law. They really believed that was the case. And that they had defeated what they called the “slave power,” the oligarchs who had gone ahead and taken over the system in the 1850s. After the Civil War, Easterners moved West across the Mississippi in really large numbers after 1865.

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