I did not learn until yesterday that Richard Current died on October 26. He reached the century mark, passing on three weeks to the day after his 100th birthday, but a person’s death is always surprising. Current was part of the intellectual tradition just prior to and after the Second World War that debunked many of the myths we believe about Abraham Lincoln. At the same time he admired the 16th president a great deal. Anyone who takes on the bloviating Gore Vidal (for his terrible historical novel Lincoln) deserves a gold star. Lincoln’s Loyalists is one of the more important monographs in my understanding of the war; I had always known there were Southern dissenters against secession, but I did not know the scope and extent until reading his book. I see my copy on the shelf in front of me right now.
Not only did LL change how I think about the war, but how I spoke about it as well. Before reading Current I might have said “The South” did this or “The North” did that. “The South,” however, did not secede or fight the Civil War any more than “The North” fought to preserve it. Today when writing or discussing the war I speak of “The Confederacy,” or “the Union Army,” or “Southern Unionists,” etc. etc. It’s not a pedantic observation. Words matter. Subtlety and complexity are important if we are to understand truly. This is just one of the lessons reading Richard Current gave me.