Southern Propaganda

In the Mathew Reeves article “Reinterpreting Manassas,” he discusses the portrayal of African Americans at historic battlefields from the Civil War. Reeves brought up an interesting point in his article, how do you persuade the yeomen (the majority of the southern population) to secede and possibly take up arms against the North? He pointed out that southern elites were concerned that the yeomen would not support their decision.[1] As a means to help persuade the yeomen the slaveholders began to run a propaganda ads in local newspapers. These ads often cautioned non-slave holders about the horrors they would ultimately face if slaves were freed.[2] This information piqued my curiosity and diving further in to the matter I found an excellent article by James Oliver Horton, titled “Confronting Slavery and Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Horton gives specific examples of the propaganda used by the southern elites.

Leaving no doubt that slavery was the cause of the war Horton examines just how the southern elite convinced the poor white farmers of the South to not only secede but also enter a civil war. Horton claims that, “by 1861 only about one third of southern families in the 11 seceding states held slaves, and the non-slaveholders always posed a potential problem for Confederacy unity.”[3]

One action taken was to run propaganda ads in newspapers across the South. Many newspapers published articles regarding the abolitionists’ intentions to remove slavery from the South when Lincoln became president.[4] To counterattack the abolition movement the South began writing articles that demanded the everlasting sanctity of slavery. Newspapers ran sentiments such as, “ ‘[t]he existence of slavery is at stake,’ ” and “ ‘We have dissolved the late Union, chiefly because of the [N]egro quarrel,’ ” the rhetoric quickly became irrefutable.[5]

A southern slaveholder and secessionist, Jabez Lamar Monroe Curry, spoke to the yeomen declaring that institution of slavery made all whites privileged, without the it the poor whites would be no better than the blacks.[6] A Kentucky newspaper appropriately named, the Kentucky Statesmen, claimed, “pro-slavery men” were “true Southern men.”[7] The Louisville Daily hit nail on the head when it stated, “Do they wish to send their children to schools in which the [N]egro children of the vicinity are taught? DO they wish to give the [N]egro the right to appear in the witness box to testify against them?” they drove the nail home with the last statement, “AMALGAMATE TOGETHER THE TWO RACES IN VIOLATION OF GOD’S WILL.”[8] The eloquence used by the media and by southern elites proved very

affective. One white farmer spoke freely about his thoughts on emancipating slaves, “ ‘you Yanks want us to marry our daughters to niggers.’ ”[9] At the end of the day non-slaveholders ultimately sided with the elite slaveholders due to the fear of losing social status and intermingling of the races.

*I tried to locate the actual newspapers and speeches where of the propaganda but unfortunately either due to my lack of Internet and database browsing skills or simply the lack of information on the Internet, I was unable to locate them.


[1] Mathew Reeves, “Reinterpreting Manassas: The Nineteenth-Century African American Community at Manassas National Battlefield Park,” Historical Archaeology 37, no. 3 (2003), 126 http://www.jstor.org/stable/25617085 (accessed June 26, 2012).

[2] Reeves, 126.

[3] James Oliver Horton, “Confronting Slavery and the Revealing the ‘Lost Cause,’” Cultural Resource Management 21, no. 4 (1998), 15 crm.cr.nps.gov/archive/21-4/21-4-5.pdf (accessed June 26, 2012).

[4] Horton, 15.

[5] Horton, 15.

[6] Horton, 16.

[7] Horton, 16.

[8] Horton, 16.

[9] Horton, 16.

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5 comments
  1. chrisrivera1985 said:

    This is a really interesting post. I think if the war was a cause I truly believed in, and I was tasked with convincing others to join that cause, I would certainly use propaganda. I’ve always been interested in catalysts for wars like the Gulf of Tonkin an Pearl Harbor. Certainly the retreat from Fort Sumter would have been great propaganda for inspiring those around to join the cause against the Union. I also like your post because it seems the social structure of the South is really interesting and complex. I really think the South can be viewed as ‘keeping up the Joneses and this translated into convincing some to fight in the war.

  2. chrisrivera1985 said:

    I forgot to comment on the picture you posted. That is just crazy….I think if there isn’t already a term coined as such you can call that Confederate Exceptionalism. But I’m sure some historian has already thought of that.

  3. chrisrivera1985 said:

    That link I posted is from a class doing the same thing as us. They are P.h.D. students.

  4. Kristen Epps said:

    What you say just before footnote #5 is a great quote that proves slavery was a significant reason for why the South went to war!

    Also, if you wouldn’t mind, can you send me that Horton article as a PDF? He’s one of the editors of that collection we’ve read selections from, but I don’t know if that particular article appears in the anthology. I will pass it on to the rest of the class.

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