Steve Wilkins, Michele Bachmann's Confederate historian

Steve Wilkins is a good Confederate but a bad historian.

Steve Wilkins is a good Confederate but a bad historian.

Michele Bachmann has a troubled past when it comes to race relations, particularly as it relates to her understanding of slavery.

Bachmann doesn't seem to know what is was like, or how it ended. Sometimes she forgets it existed at all.

How did this happen?

It probably doesn't hurt to take a closer look at Bachmann's favorite Civil War-era historian, a man called Steve Wilkins. Bachmann's appreciation for Wilkins, and the disturbing history he writes, was once promoted on her own campaign website, and was dug back up last week in Ryan Lizza's profile of Bachmann in the New Yorker.

Meet Steve Wilkins, Michele Bachmann's Confederate historian.

First, Lizza's discovery. As he tracked back through Bachmann's campaign site, Lizza found Bachmann's "Michele's Must Read List," a short selection of history books that she held dear. Among them: "The Federalist Papers," "The Declaration of Independence," and "John Adams," by David McCullough, with Bachmann exhibiting a real zest for Revolutionary-era American history.

As for the 19th century, she turned to a curious little biography from 1997, "Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee," or, in Bachmann's shorthand, simply, "Robert E. Lee." Here's some proof, via the Wayback Machine. (Click to enlarge.)

The insight that the book's author, J. Steven Wilkins, brings to American history is essentially this: Slavery wasn't so bad. Here's a passage from "Robert E. Lee" where he examines the relationship between black and white Southerners:

The two races whose lives were intertwined in the Old South were more intimate and dependent upon each other than any two races in any country in the world. This mutual dependence produced an intimacy and trust between the white and black races that has seldom if ever existed anywhere in history.

You see, everybody? Slavery was about love, "intimacy and trust." As in, the slave owners loved having slaves, and loved having "intimacy" with slave women. And, sure, they trusted slaves, but not enough to put down the whips and chains, or pay them, or let them leave the plantation and do what they want.

But this is only one part of the strange, troubled career of Steve Wilkins, who is also a pastor at the Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. 


Wilkins was a founding member of the League of the South, a neo-Confederate group made up of pseudointellectuals who never really recovered from losing the Civil War. Wilkins has since moved on, but the League of the South is still going strong. Its mission statement, as espoused on its website, is simple:

The League of the South is a Southern Nationalist organization whose ultimate goal is a free and independent Southern republic.
For his role in founding the League of the South, Wilkins has run up a pretty decent dossier with the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based nonprofit that pursues all things hate-based in America. SPLC describes Wilkins as "perhaps the leading theological thinker of the neo-Confederate right," which is sort of like being the sharpest of all the butter knives.

It turns out, the Robert E. Lee book that informed Bachmann's thinking of slavery and the Civil War is not even his worst offense as a historian, philosophically or ethically. Wilkins also co-wrote a book called, "Southern Slavery As It Was," a dark little venture that seeks to spin the Antebellum South as a peaceful place living right in line with God's will.

As Wilkins writes, modern America -- especially the North -- has slavery all wrong, thanks to the "abolitionist propaganda" that informs all of our history books. Setting about to correct the record, Wilkins considers such things as "The Strength of the Slave Family," as in this passage:

One could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery. It was certainly stronger under the southern slave system that it is today under our modern destructive welfare state.
If that sounds familiar, it should. The passage is pretty close to the controversial paragraph in the FAMiLY LEADER's insane pro-marriage pledge that Bachmann signed back in June.

"Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA's first African-American President."
If Bachmann claimed she didn't agree with that part -- later redacted from the pledge, though long after she'd signed it -- it would actually put her out of step with her favorite slavery-era historian.

Wilkins isn't writing much history anymore, perhaps because it was later found that "Southern Slavery As It Was" had plagiarized at least 22 passages from another book.

As for Bachmann, all things lead to one question. It may be truly misguided, indeed downright hateful, for people like Steve Wilkins to wax romantic about the days when their Grandpappies owned black people from birth to death. Consider it a bit of blood shame, an attempt to spruce up the ol' family tree.

But if Michele Bachmann, whose family lived in Wisconsin, then South Dakota, then Iowa, where she was born, and now Minnesota -- a Northerner through and through -- if she embraces this view of slavery, the Confederacy and the Civil War... well, what do you call that?