Ken Plum: The Lost Cause and The Big Lie
Events of the last several years have brought to the nation’s attention the corrosiveness to our society of the Lost Cause movement to justify the South’s position on the Civil War. With the defeat of the South, the freeing of the slaves, and Reconstruction to bring the Southern states back into the Union, the awfulness that the institution of slavery had been to the morals of owners and the health and welfare of enslaved people along with devastation and loss of life and property to defend it created a stench in our history that would not go away. Defenders of the Old South and its ways along with defenders of the Confederacy and its causes sprang into action through art, writings, and political action creating myths that asserted the rightness of the Southern way of living and its economic and political positions. Their efforts became known as the “Lost Cause,” and the poisonous effects of their work still haunt us today.
The main thrust of the Lost Cause that began in the late 1800s was to convince the public that the Southern way of life was wonderful and that states’ rights should be preserved. They argued that slavery was good for the economy and for the enslaved. Former Confederate General Jubal Early who became head of the Southern Historical Society wrote, “The conditions of domestic slavery, as it existed in the South, had not only resulted in a great improvement in the moral and physical condition of the negro race, but had furnished a class of laborers as happy and contented as any in the world.”
The most visible examples of the Lost Cause movement may have been the thousands of statues and memorials that were erected throughout the South to glorify the heroics of the Confederacy and that are now being dealt with for the false narrative they represent. The most impactful part of the Lost Cause movement may have been the Jim Crow laws that segregated the races and supported white supremacy.
Only in recent years have the harsh realities brought about by the myths of the Lost Cause been recognized. Of great concern to me is that I see creeping into our society over the past several months a movement that I believe could rival the Lost Cause if it is left unchecked. That movement is the Big Lie that attempts to convince people that the last presidential election was stolen and that the results of the past election should be overturned. The votes of the election have been counted and recounted, the challenges to the integrity of elections in many states have been heard and dismissed for lack of evidence of fraud, and yet there is a steady drum beat from supporters of the former president that he did not lose the election.
The divisiveness of the Lost Cause that has endured for so long based on a series of lies informs us that we as citizens must stand up against the Big Lie—call it out for what it is—and elected officials at all levels of government must stand up to show that we will not be misled by myths.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.