The Magazine

Lott, Bellesiles, and more.

Dec 23, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 15
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The 1948 Democratic convention, the Dixiecrats complained, had "called for a civil-rights law that would eliminate segregation of every kind from all American life, prohibit all forms of discrimination in private employment, in public and private instruction and administration and treatment of students; in the operation of public and private health facilities; in all transportation, and require equal access to all places of public accommodation for persons of all races, colors, creeds and national origin.

"This infamous and iniquitous program calls for the reorganization of the civil rights section of the Department of Justice with a substantial increase in a bureaucratic staff to be devoted exclusively to the enforcement of the civil rights program; the establishment within the FBI of a special unit of investigators and a police state in a totalitarian, centralized, bureaucratic government.

"This convention hypocritically denounced totalitarianism abroad but unblushingly proposed and approved it at home. This convention would strengthen the grip of a police state upon a liberty-loving people by the imposition of penalties upon local public officers who failed or refused to act in accordance with its ideas in suppressing mob violence."

To translate: The liberty to lynch was under attack, and the Dixiecrats were riding to the defense. So okay, maybe there was a "defense issue" in their platform, after all.

Shot Down

MICHAEL BELLESILES is no longer the winner of the prestigious Bancroft prize. After insisting that accusations of fraud in his work were a garden-variety scholarly dispute, Columbia University has finally rescinded the award given to Bellesiles for his now discredited 2000 book, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture." What's more, Columbia is asking for the return of the $4,000 in prize money.

"Arming America," for the uninitiated, argued that before the Civil War, Americans didn't really own many guns, and if they did, the guns were probably broken, and if the guns weren't broken, the owners probably didn't know how to use them anyway. By implication, the idea that firearms were widely owned in early America was a concoction of modern day gun-rights ideologues. The problem with this argument was that Bellesiles lacked evidence. He misrepresented sources, distorted data, and cited historical documents that no one could prove existed. After his employer, Emory University, investigated the claims against him, Bellesiles resigned his tenured professorship.

The retraction of the Bancroft brings to a close the last interesting controversy of the Bellesiles affair. Although some of the Bancroft jurors had been loath to reconsider their decision (how do you like the book now, Arthur Goren, Jan Ellen Lewis, and Mary P. Ryan?), this latest decision puts to rest any doubts about the academic consensus on whether "Arming America" ever deserved to be called "a myth-busting tour de force" or a "classic work of significant scholarship with inescapable policy implications," as Bellesiles's now much-embarrassed champions once claimed.