There is a new film, starring Matthew McConaughey, making the rounds through the theaters entitled Free State of Jones, about a poor Mississippi farmer who becomes a leader of a group out rebels who fight against the Confederacy and injustice. I have yet to see the film, only the trailer, so I can’t opine on the movie itself, but I would like to make a few comments on interviews with both McConaughey and director Gary Ross regarding the film.
The Civil War, or War of Northern Aggression as I prefer to call it, was a crucial turning point in our nation’s history and a point of intense interest for me. Yet I’m not surprised to not have heard about Newton Knight, (McConaughey’s character), or the events in Jones County Mississippi during the Civil War. Much of the history of that bloody conflict is probably lost forever, while parts remain hidden amongst family archives and stories passed down from generation to generation.
From what I can gather after seeing the trailer for that movie, the basic storyline is that Knight/McConaughey is a Confederate soldier who deserts after his son/younger brother (?) is killed in battle. He is then hunted by the Confederacy and eventually becomes the leader of a group of both poor farmers and slaves and ex-slaves who fights against injustice both during and after the end of the Civil War in the period known as Reconstruction.
The film is based on actual events; Newton Knight did exist and did lead a rebellion, of sorts, against the Confederacy. However I have trepidations about the accuracy of the film after seeing interviews with McConaughey and director Gary Ross, who is also known for Big, Seabiscuit, and The Hunger Games. After all, this is Hollywood and it is known to have a left leaning take on history. It is also known to embellish the facts a little.
Take for instance the miniseries The Sons of Liberty. I bought the DVD after it came out and was sorely disappointed in the portrayals of Sam Adams and Paul Revere. Although the producers openly admit that their series was only ‘loosely’ based on historical fact, the majority of the people who watch shows like this don’t read the background on the actual events and therefore take what they see on the screen to be pure unadulterated fact.
The same goes for the Spielberg film Lincoln; it is rife with inaccuracies and outright distortion of fact. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a wartime decision to try and start a slave uprising in the South to weaken the Confederacy by causing slave owners to leave the battlefields to protect their homesteads. But Spielberg makes it sound like Lincoln issued it for humanitarian reasons. Spielberg conveniently forgot to mention that Lincoln’s own words declared that he believed blacks to be inferior to whites and that they should never be allowed to intermarry. He also forgot to mention that Lincoln was a strong proponent of relocating all the freed slaves to land outside the continental US; a process known as colonization.
So with Hollywood’s record of twisting the truth around I’m somewhat hesitant to take this new film as historical fact. That’s not to say I won’t see it, but I will see it with a mind open to the fact that it might not be 100% accurate.
My biggest concern is that, in an interview with CBS News, director Gary Ross makes the statement that the Civil War was all about slavery and nothing else; Not State’s Rights or tariffs, but slavery and slavery alone.
Am I saying slavery was not a leading cause of the rift that developed between the industrialized North and the Agricultural South? No, I’m not. Am I saying that many of the Declarations of Secession clearly mention that the government’s interference in the institution of slavery was the reason they chose to secede? No, I’m not.
People view the Civil War from a very limited perspective; one side fought to free the slaves and the other fought to keep them. There was far more to it than that, and despite what Gary Ross says, the facts regarding that conflict support the fact that the South was in the right to secede and that the North, or more accurately, the government IN the North was the aggressor in that war. The Civil War was fought for one reason and one reason only; to force the South into adhering to the Union.
Was slavery an abomination? Yes it was, I won’t deny that. But it was also permitted by the Constitution. During the convention which produced the Constitution there were those from the North who wanted to see language introduced which would ban slavery. However there were those who knew that if they did they would never obtain sufficient support for the document from the South; so it was never included. In fact slaves were considered when determining representation in the House.
Either Ross doesn’t know, or conveniently forgets that a Constitutional Amendment had already passed both Houses of Congress, ready to be submitted to the States for ratification. This amendment, if ratified, would have made slavery a permanent institution in America. Abraham Lincoln supported this measure, hoping if passed it would prevent any further escalation of tensions between the North and the South.
If the South’s ONLY reason for fighting the Civil War was to keep their slaves, why would they risk so many lives if the chance to keep their slaves could be accomplished simply by ratifying this Corwin Amendment? Why risk war when a peaceful means of keeping their slaves was ready for their approval?
There was much more to the original 7 States reasons for secession than slavery. They felt that their association with the North, or more accurately, the interference and oppression they suffered under by the government located across the Potomac in the North, was justification enough for them to sever all ties which bound them to the Union. Just as Jefferson said in the Declaration of Independence, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
That is the bedrock principle upon which this nation was founded, and the government which was later created by that nation had no authority to use force to compel allegiance to it, or the Union. It’s quite possible that had Abraham Lincoln not raised an Army to force the original 7 seceded Southern States into adherence to the Union that Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee might not have seceded and joined the Confederacy. Then again maybe they would also have grown tired of the belligerency of the federal government and chose to join the Confederacy. We’ll never know, as Lincoln did raise an army and the Confederacy went from 7 States to 11.
I’m not against Hollywood making movies such as this; as long as they are true to the facts. Gary Ross, the director of this film, openly admits that he did not know much regarding this period of American History, particularly the atrocity that was Reconstruction. Yet Ross did say one thing that I agree with, “When you get disconnected from your history, you don’t know where you come from.”
You see, that is quite similar to a quote found on the back cover of my short booklet on the Civil War, which states, “A nation that is ignorant of its past is a nation that is ripe for deception and manipulation. Therefore, it is not what happened, but rather what people believe happened which determines the present actions of a nation.”
Newton Knight may have deserted the Confederacy and may have felt the practice of conscription, or the draft as we know it today, was unfair and unjust. He may have been right, but had Lincoln not raised an army against the South there may not have been a need for conscription in the first place. Had Lincoln let the South go in peace they may have been able to coexist side by side as neighboring nations; just like the US and Canada do today. But Lincoln chose war to force obedience to his will, and the South, whether or not you agree with their practice of the institution of slavery, was just in leaving the Union.
You see, Hollywood likes to portray the South as the bad guys when it comes to slavery, but that is only telling half the story. Were Hollywood to tell the whole story they would see that Northern ship owners were the ones bringing these slaves to America, shipping them by train to Southern Slave Markets to be sold into bondage. They would see the immense profits being made by some in the North by trading slaves. But that would diminish the moral high ground people grant the North in their fight to defeat the evil South.
I’m all for Hollywood making historical films, especially when it brings little known stories to the public’s attention. But they should stick to the facts, keep them accurate, and more importantly, tell the whole story. Otherwise they are guilty of inserting their own biases and promoting their own agenda’s, and the gullible public which flocks to the theaters to see their films leave with a distorted version of the truth.
But then again that’s what’s been going on since the end of the Civil War. History books have been written to denigrate and slander the brave men and women of the Confederate States of America. Politicians and the media are doing all they can to remove all that remains of the pride and heritage of the Confederacy, and to add insult to injury, Hollywood is making movies which do not tell the whole story behind this most crucial period of American History.
It saddens me to see so many people falling for the lies about this period of our country’s history and tying the Confederate Battle Flag, or support for the Confederate Cause solely to slavery. Yet that is what most people believe, and if this film is not accurate it will only reinforce those beliefs.
The Civil War, for all intents and purposes, was a war for independence. It matters not if slavery was the only issue, or just one of many; the fact is that the South felt that their existing government had become oppressive and that they were left with no other recourse except to secede and form their own system of governance; just as the Declaration of Independence says is the right and duty of all men.
The truth regarding this period of our country’s history has been distorted and twisted to make the South out to be evil and in the wrong, when the reality is that the government was in the wrong in forcing the South into adherence to the Union.
But then again, the truth no longer matters to most people these days. If they cared about the truth the reasons the South seceded from the Union would be trivial in comparison to the reasons they would rise up against the government they suffer under today.
But then again, that’s been their goal the entire time; to make people ignorant of the past and ripe for deception and manipulation; and in that they’ve been very successful. You may fall for this deception and these half-truths, I choose not to. My heart will always lay with the South and the cause for which they fought. It matters not that they lost, theirs was a just cause and despite what you may have heard, good does not always prevail. In this instance, the North’s victory was not good, it was bad, and we have suffered the consequences of it for over 150 years now with an ever expanding and controlling centralized tyrannical government.
Long live the spirit which caused the brave men and women of the South to fight for their liberty; may it once again beat in the heart of every true American!