A Failure to Communicate: The Case of Helga Ross

Over the last few weeks I’ve raised questions about various assertions I encounter as I tiptoe through the internet to sample historical understandings about the American Civil War.  I’ve asked for examples of historians who claim that slavery was the sole cause of the Civil War (I guess I need to remind some people that “principal” or “primary” does not mean “sole”).  I’ve wondered why some people insist on misrepresenting the claims of scholars as a prelude to their own tale of a not-so-bad slavery that did not cause the Civil War.  And I’ve offered my own brief observation:

So I see the presence of slavery as necessary but by no means sufficient in constructing an explanation of how and why secession and war came.  Moreover, the presence of slavery by itself did not cause secession and war.

I would think that would be clear to most people, but apparently Helga Ross remains confused.  What a surprise.

Challenged to prove that a scholar believes that slavery was the sole cause of the war, Ms. Ross resorts to the standard approach of clipping and pasting as a substitute for actual thinking.  Yet what did James McPherson say?

By this point, 98 percent of historians agree that slavery was the principal reason of the secession. Without slavery there wouldn’t have been a war.

Again, “principal” isn’t “sole,” but some people don’t get that; moreover, the secession resolutions of the Deep South States do cite the defense of slavery as the primary cause for their departure.  Virginia isn’t the Deep South; the war had commenced before Virginia seceded.  Someone needs to learn something about geography and chronology, but perhaps I’m asking too much of Ms. Ross.  Indeed.

The following exchange suggest that even when she cites other sites as a substitute for actually thinking on her own, Ms. Ross struggles.  She proudly snips the following claim as clear proof that she must be right and I must be “doubly wrong”:

Saying slavery caused the Civil War is somewhat akin to saying the invention of the printing press caused the Enlightenment. While the two are inextricably tied together, and one probably would not have happened without the other, the invention of the printing press was not the only element that contributed to The Enlightenment.

I’m at a loss to see how this proves anything.  Please reread what I said:

So I see the presence of slavery as necessary but by no means sufficient in constructing an explanation of how and why secession and war came.  Moreover, the presence of slavery by itself did not cause secession and war.

Seems to me these statements have much in common.  Substitute “printing press” for “slavery” and “The Enlightenment” for “secession and war” and they are almost identical.  That said, what did Ms. Ross leave out?  Let’s reproduce the entire first paragraph:

It is true that the single, simple answer to the question “What caused the Civil War?” is slavery, but the causes of The Civil War are by no means simple, and saying slavery caused the Civil War is somewhat akin to saying the invention of the printing press caused the Enlightenment. While the two are inextricably tied together, and one probably would not have happened without the other, the invention of the printing press was not the only element that contributed to The Enlightenment.

Why do you think Ms. Ross altered the sentence and quoted it selectively?  And in citing this website as expressing her thinking, is she not in fact conceding that she (and not me) is saying that slavery caused the Civil War?

Well, I’ll be …

See what I mean about her inability to follow her own train of thought or to comprehend what she cites?  What a shame.

What I see is that Ms. Ross simply cannot bring herself to document what she claims I believe, that she can’t follow her own line of argument, and that she’s apparently incapable of independent thought, having reduced herself to citing websites that don’t always support whatever point she’s trying to make.

Not that any of this will change.  But this little exercise in explicating the tactics of someone who claims others believe something as a point of departure to offer some other argument suggests that perhaps Ms. Ross should entrust someone else with making arguments that seem a little too difficult for her to handle, especially as she’s never grasped the issue in the first place.

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2 thoughts on “A Failure to Communicate: The Case of Helga Ross

  1. Jeff Davis August 2, 2011 / 1:22 pm

    I tend to agree with Grant, ‘take slavery out of the equation and there is not secession/civil war’ [loosely quoted. That said, when you take slavery out of the equation there is still “the rest of the equation”, and what that is seems to be the missing piece in what you’ve been driving at lately.

    One could argue economics, and that would lead back to slavery [slavery as property = slavery as an investment, no different than real estate].

    One could argue principle, and that too would lead back to slavery as the main principle was the desire of the southerners to be left alone, to have the northerners keep to their Constitutional responsibilities like returning runaway slaves, and to keep the abolitionists at least from agitating in the south.

    But I think that “rest of the equation” was purely political, and it had to do with expansion. While the slave interests in the south favored admitting new states as slave territory, there was also much talk about annexing Cuba and Mexico, ostensibly as slave holding possessions that would become the farms to raise the high labor-requiring crops that brought in wealth. Yes, that had to do with slavery.

    But in the north, the concept of expansion was focused on the west, and the concept that the west was the golden land of opportunity, wealth, resources, and most of all, land that would become homes to millions of people migrating and immigrating to the region from the US and the rest of the world. [Cue Emma Lazarus in 1883]

    Gold, copper, silver, timber to be taken from the ground, and the vast prairies to become the enormous breadbasket where wheat and corn would grow for a thousand miles, and where the cattle to go with those crops would be raised. The vision that was required by this was inspired, of course, by Lewis and Clark, and then revisited by men like Fremont. A lesser version of Manifest Destiny, tolerant of slavery where it existed, firmly opposed to it in the western territories. Railroads and steel, coal, and tall buildings for those who invested wisely, and room for all to farm, or ranch or build small towns that would become large cities. The test migration came in the 1815-1820 years when New England and northeastern US farmers fled failing farms by moving west to Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, and began raising wheat. [cue Jared Diamond and wheat, and westward spread of cultures]. It was a natural fit.

    No slavery desired. Northern people were far to busy to deal with slavery. Slavery slowed you down, required a double investment [the slave and the land] and was not really efficient.

    The west was, among other things, where the first measure of a man was his survival, followed in due course by his success at establishing himself in some enterprise that would both favor his continued survival and allow his wealth to grow. The west was also the place for a fresh start, whether for the easterner who lost his business in hard economic times, or the German family fleeing from Frederick the Great’s, Napolean’s and subsequent European wars.

    I think that was the rest of the equation.

  2. Brooks D. Simpson August 7, 2011 / 11:10 am

    Ms. Ross (who lurks when she does not post) notes that her followers did not reply to this post (I guess Mr. Davis doesn’t count). I note that she does not counter it or defend her distortion of my position. Then again, how could she? 🙂

    But it seems that what is posted here is the main stimulus for current discussions in her group (this post was not cited in her group until recently). Glad to be of service.

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