August 26, 2005

The term "the War Between the States."

Supreme Court nominee John Roberts used it in a draft of an article he wrote for President Reagan to be published in a scholarly journal:
A fastidious editor of other people's copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words "Until about the time of the Civil War." Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words "Civil War" and replaced them with "War Between the States."
What significance should we give to this? Do you think it wasn't worth writing an article in the Washington Post about? Or do you think it really reveals something about the mind we're being asked to trust for decades?

If it reveals something, what does it reveal? I note that it is certainly possible for a person in the 1980s to be interested in the federalism revival and the respect for state autonomy that it expresses, without having any enthusiasm for slavery, segregation, and other retrograde practices that the Civil War calls to mind.


Meade said...

I note that it is certainly possible for a person in the 1980s to be interested in the federalism revival and the respect for state autonomy that it expresses, without having any enthusiasm for slavery, segregation, and other retrograde practices that the Civil War calls to mind.

Don't you mean "the Civil War Between the States" ?

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it depends on what he was writing about. If the article was about conflicts between the states, then I think "War Between the States" makes sense to highlight the idea that in the Civil War, the states were fighting each other. If the article was about national internal conflict, I think that "Civil War" would make more sense to highlight that the nation was in a civil war.

Depends on content, I guess.

Simon said...

I hate the term "the war between the states". At best, it is a cumbersome euphemism. But at worst, I would be concerned that language can shape people's perceptions.

A civil war takes place in one STATE and in one NATION (see Bobbit, Shield of Achilles). "The war between the states" seems to allow the idea that the polities in the civil war were separate entities, something the term civil war specifically denies.

It just seems to be an attempt to say "look, the confederacy was defeated, but that doens't mean they were wrong".

John Thacker said...

Don't know what it says about Judge Roberts, but all the publicity should remind people once again to never make any sort of joke in a memo.

About the term, there's an interesting Wikipedia article about it. Apparently the official US Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington National Cemetary uses the term. It was commonly used in the US between 1900 and 1940.

It's much less offensive than, say "War of Southern Independence," or the truly upsetting (except when said tongue-in-cheek) "War of Northern Agression."

Art said...

For what it's worth, the monument in memory of confederate soldiers in front of the state capitol in Austin, Texas doesn't reference a name for the war but says the soldiers..."died for state rights guaranteed under the constitution."

I'll have to go to the capitol here in Madison to find out what Hans Christian Heg died for.

Henry said...

Until about the time of //
the war between the states.

You see, the sentence balances this way. And both the first half and the last half are in iambs. Maybe he was editing for form. The 'of' doesn't quite work, though.

Justin said...

Technically, the South seceded and had formed their own country. Therefore, if you have that mentality, it really was a War Between the Union and the Confederacy. Or, you could short-hand it for the war between the states. Either way - assuming you take the position that the southern states had legally seceded - it wouldn't necessarily be a civil war anymore, for the southern states were their own nation.

Ann Althouse said...

Justin: But the Union's position was that succession was not authorized under the Constitution.

Karl said...

"Technically, the South seceded and had formed their own country."

There's nothing technical about such a formulation. In fact, by their nature and existence the Southern States were bound by the Constitution and had no right to succeed.

Will Baude has an excellent discussion of the law involved here, with reference to the recent Canadian court decision ruling against the legality of Quebecois succession.

David G. Kern said...

This just shows he is a good writer.

"Un-til / uh-bout / the time / of the / war buh/tween tha / states."

He writes in iambs. It is so much better than "Until about the time of the Civil War," which ends on a down beat.

Meade said...

Pedantic, I know, but others may also appreciate my 8th grade history teacher who taught us this handy word usage phrase: In 1861, counties, in succession, voted for or against secession.

perletwo said...

I think it might say more about the intended audience than it does about the author.

This was being written in 1983/84 for August '84 publication in an academic journal. If memory serves, wasn't the political correctness movement just approaching full flower in academic circles around that time? It wasn't talked about much yet, but I believe it was happening, and euphemisms from the cliche to the bizarre were abounding in academic writings to avoid offending this or that group.

Roberts may have meant it to fit in with that mentality, or he may have meant it as a Reaganesque genial poke at that mentality.

But then, I'm a Southern-American (altho' not a Civil War buff), so what do I know? [/sarcasm]

Ann Althouse said...

lmeade: Thanks. I had a feeling I was getting that wrong.

FZ said...

Karl, your comment 'In fact, by their nature and existence the Southern States were bound by the Constitution and had no right to succeed" reminded me very much of a line from Ben Franklin in 1776...."A rebellion is always legal in the first person, such as "our rebellion." It is only in the third person - "their rebellion" - that it becomes illegal." I'll have to hunt down that DVD and pop it in again. Great musical, if not overly accurate, historically speaking.

In general, the impression I get is another round of 'quote cherry picking'. Consider that the source of the quote is of a draft copy and not the final edition, nor is any specific context for the quote provided. I'd be willing to wager a small sum that the surrounding passages in the draft would reveal a relevance to the specific use of the phrase beyond a simple 'nod to the south', or any other more insidious connotations.

Scipio said...

Wow. Words cannot express the absolute mneh I feel about this. Just further evidence that things that matter on the Coasts do not matter in the rest of America.

Growing up as I did in Wisconsin and then Michigan, I was taught that the terms "Civil War" and "The War Between the States" were synonymous. Now that I live in Mississippi, where neither of the two are acceptable terms to a not-inconsiderable number of people (who do indeed refer to a war of Southern independence or a war of Northern aggression), I understand the regional limitations of the discourse, but I fail to identify the offense committed.

There is more than one right way to express an idea, and there is certainly historical support for the notion that the Civil War was indeed The War Between the States, considering the vast number of militia and draftees organized by state and even ethnic enclaves within the states.

Robert said...

Since we're haggling over exactly how to divide that hair, neither Civil War nor War Between the States is grammatically accurate. It wasn't a Civil War at all, as the South was not attempting to conquer the national government. And "between" implies two parties. So you'd need to go to War Among the States to be correct (although that doesn't really flow off the tongue either). I was born in Illinois but grew up in Tennessee and went to college in Indiana so I got full exposure to both sets of biases regarding the terminology. Probably the most historically accurate reference would be the War for (or, if you prefer, against) Seccession, but I'm not holding my breath for that to catch on!

Jeffrey Boulier said...

My favorite euphemism for the event that occured from 1861-1865 is "That Late Unpleasantness".

Sloanasaurus said...

Perhaps the article reasd too much into this. If my audience was an intellectual one, I would perhaps use "War between the States" rather than "Civil War." It just seems more formal. Moreover, if you are with history buffs, you can't just say "Civil War," (someone might think you are talking about the English Civil War). You would have to say United States Civil War or American Civil War. However saying American Civil war may seem to matter-of-fact. Thus, "War Between the States," is better because there are no other conflicts in the world also called that.

Robert said...

"Civil War" implies that two sides are fighting for control of the entire territory, but the South didn't want to run the North, they just wanted to leave. "Civil War," from Roman times, implies a class-based conflict, but we had two sets of elites and two sets of common folk, not class vs. class. The conflict was geographic and political, not religious or economic.

So we could call it the "War of Secession", but that runs into the problem that the war established through force of arms that there was no right to secede, and so it wasn't secession, it was rebellion. We could go with "Southern Rebellion" but a rebellion is generally a small-scale insurrection - once you have two huge armies in the field, its a WAR, not a wimpy rebellion.

Leaving us with the eloquently descriptive "War Between The States", which is accurate, doesn't glorify the rebels or undermine the legitimacy of the Federal state, and has a certain antiquarian feel that I find appealing.

Dirty Harry said...

What if he had written:

"The war to keep the coloreds in their rightful place."

Now that would be something!

Karl said...

FZ, that is a great reference.

But, I still think the post linked in my previous comment is on to something when it questions the mentality that is involved in secession...

'We the local majority (de facto, a national minority), by being oppressed by a national majority hereby gain the right to oppress a local minority (those who do not wish to secede).'

Third person or first, it doesn't seem very logical in the abstract.

Ann Althouse said...

Bob: "War Between the States" is the perfect example of when it IS grammatically correct to use "between" to talk about more than two things. "War Among the States" would signify the states all fighting each other. Here, there were two groups, one side against the other. "Between" is correct.

Charles said...

Maybe the context would help: who was the audience? If they were Southerners, then maybe that would make more sense as a term.

Alternately, who cares? Maybe the Wapo could find some real news to cover instead of making imaginary mountains out of scratchings that don't matter. Are there some kindergarten drawings of Roberts' that could be analyzed for his feelings on potential possible future historic cases?

Pastor_Jeff said...

I think it reveals that people are desperate to find anything to write about Roberts.

"Many people who are sympathetic to the Confederate position are more comfortable with the idea of a 'War Between the States,'" McSeveney explained. "People opposed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s would undoubtedly be more comfortable with the words he chose."

He uses words that racists use! In fact, many racists are also named Roberts! And don't forget that picture of the pie! Not married until he was 40, eh? Male "friends"? We all know what that means - nudge, nudge.

I don't really have strong feelings about Roberts one way or the other. If it weren't so pathetic, the media's desperation to validate their existence by discovering some bombshell would be amusing.

Anyone with political aspirations knows they have to be careful not to say or do anything potentially damaging. The media assume anyone who wants high office is suspect, so now it's a game to find the evidence that fits the crime. They're left with sorting through ancient documents that could be interpreted in a dozen different ways. Meh.

Matt said...

Well, and one could certainly say that "civil war" is itself effectively an oxymoron--warfare is at least arguably the ultimate breakdown of civility. A civil resolution of a dispute involves sitting down and talking it through. War--not so much.

Pogo said...

That this quote should serve as the basis for an article in anything but a MoveOn piece is pathetic. Is August really that slow in the newsroom?

Why not just apply a 'Bible Code' or 'DaVinci Code' process, and use, say, every sixth letter in Robert's writings (six being an evil number, of course)? His KKKonservatism Revealed!

Why, I'll bet Roberts has hidden messages even in his soundbites. Perhaps his White House announcement, played backwards, says "I bury Paul" or maybe "a serviceable villian".
Ooooh; shivers.

Sigivald said...

Matt: One could argue that, if one forgot that "civil" also means "of the city" (and by extension the State, much like politics is not literally of the population anymore).

Thus the original use of "civil war", that of Rome (Caesar vs. Sulla, wasn't it?).

Bob: Huh? There were "two parties" involved. Even if one supposed that the Confederacy wasn't a "real" country for whatever reason of federal law (an argument I've always found unconvincing - a State exists when it actually does exist, even if someone else says it's illegal and eventually conquers it), it was certainly a party; otherwise who was fighting the Union?

Eddie said...

Really, I think it's just a matter of word choice. In all honesty, he probably wrote it so quick, then changed it so quick, he likely doesn't remember doing it.

No, it's not significant. Conservatives probably won't think much of it, and liberals may view it as very significant.

SippicanCottage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steven said...

One can make the argument that the post-Civil War actions of the United States established the legality of secession. After all, the victorious Union divided the defeated states into Federally-administered territories, forced them to rewrite their pre-war constitutions, and made them go through re-admission by Congress, rather than treat them as unseceeded states that simply had contained rebels.

In any case, the "War Between the States" seems to capture the character of the war more accurately than "Civil War", especially when things like Kentucky's declaration of neutrality and West Virginia seeing a need to seceded from its state to stay in the Union are factored in.

Dave Schuler said...

“War Between the States” is, obviously, a Southernism although not, as has been pointed out, quite as strident a Southernism as other terms used to describe the conflict. Roberts is definitely a Northerner by background and education so the use of the term does seem peculiar to me—perhaps he was attempting to curry favor some how.

I grew up in a Border State and the issue continued to be something of a sensitive one. Civil War battles were fought within walking distance of my home and I had many classmates with great-great-grandfathers who had fought against each other in some of those battles. My own great-great-grandfathers fought for the Union.

I don't think we should make too much of the diction but it is peculiar.

Cicero said...

By act of secession, the Southern states put themselves outside the context in which "legality" resides.

So was it legal? No. Was it illegal? No, because they no longer were subject to the Constitution. It only became illegal -after the war- when the South was reabsorbed.

Edmund said...

Thus the original use of "civil war", that of Rome (Caesar vs. Sulla, wasn't it?).

Nope. Caesar vs. Pompey and most of the Senate. Sulla died before G. Julius Caesar became a Consul.

Squiggler said...

Perhaps it means he was educated by the same system I was where we were taught that the proper name for that war is "The War Between the States" and he remembered his 9th grade history teacher's admonitions to get it right.

Ann Althouse said...

Suiggler: I doubt if that was the case in Indiana, but even if it were, going to elite schools, as he did, would have brought home the message that that's not the way enlightened people talk. I learned "War Between the States" as I was growing up in Delaware, but I would never have been so reckless as to say that later in life, especially in law school. It would expose you to disapproval. Anyway, in law, there are many occasions to refer to the Civil War and the term Civil War is always used.

betsybounds said...

Well let's see. Doesn't it depend on context? I mean, people often complain that they are quoted out of context. What are some possible contexts to this Roberts quotation? It might be in the judicial context, in which case the possibilities are Civil as opposed to Criminal. Might we wish to refer to the Criminal War? Well, possibly, since we are always engaged in a war against crime. But do we really want to suggest that either of the 2 combatant parties were criminals? Or that the war itself was a crime--literally, not figuratively. Won't do, obviously. Well, how about the "Miss Manners" context--as in, "Keep a civil tongue in your head." In that case, it might be civil as opposed to rude. Do we want to refer, then, to the Rude War? But wait, that might mean a raw, unfinished, or clumsily done war. Well, maybe it was rude in all senses, then. Hmmm.

Do you not see how ridiculous all this gets? Well, of course you do. But that won't matter to the left, who are increasingly adept at not only splitting hairs that already exist, but also at creating hairs to split. Yikes. Sign me up for the corn-kernel search brigade, then.

Ray said...

The official government term is the War of the Rebellion

BigDirigible said...

So what's so insidious about a "nod to the South"? The South is part of the country, after all - or it is now, after having lost the war - whatever it's called.

"The war to keep the coloreds in their rightful place" wouldn't be such a good term, had Roberts used it, as it could easily be interpreted as a dig at the Democratic Party, which in those days was "The Party Dedicated to Keeping the Coloreds In Their Rightful Place." Not that Roberts was in danger of doing any such thing - I'm just playing "what if" with the press's tendency to run off the rails.

The most succinct formulation, "Warring States Period," is right out, as the Chinese have an old claim on it.

Note that even Lincoln was confused by all this terminology, and he almost dropped a major clanger when he announced a blockade of Southern ports. One "blockades" foreign ports, but one "closes" one's own ports. Fortunately, Southern sympathizers in England failed to seize on that as an implicit admission that the South was recognized by the Federals as a foreign country, which could have played hell with Palmerston's efforts to keep England out of the whole thing.

greeneyeshade said...

just to introduce a note of levity:
the old cincinnati times-star, the political organ of the taft family, had a style rule: never call the unpleasantness of 1861-65 the "civil war," always "the war between the states."
well, a times-star linotype operator noticed the forbidden phrase in the story he was setting, looked up at the slugline and saw the reporter was someone he liked. thinking to keep his friend out of trouble, he changed the phrase.
the next day's times-star included the passage _ you guessed it:
"... general franco came to power in the spanish war between the states ..."
(source: edmund c. arnold, the newspaper graphics expert, teaching my class about the need for typesetters _ this was 30 years ago, when there were still typesetters _ to "follow the copy _ out the window.")