The Lost Cause of the Confederacy, or simply the Lost Cause, is an ideological movement that describes the Confederate cause as a heroic one against great odds despite its defeat. The ideology endorses the alleged virtues of the antebellum South, viewing the American Civil War as an honorable struggle for the Southern way of life while minimizing or denying the central role of slavery.
The Lost Cause ideology synthesized numerous ideas. Lost Cause supporters argued that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War, and claimed that few scholars saw it as such before the 1950s. In order to reach this conclusion, they ignored the declarations of secession by the seceding states, the declarations of congressmen who left Congress to join the Confederacy, and the treatment of slavery in the Confederate constitution. They also denied or minimized the wartime writings and speeches of Confederate leaders in favor of postwar views. (See Cornerstone Speech.) Supporters often stressed the idea of secession as a defense against a Northern threat to their way of life and said that the threat violated the states’ rights guaranteed by the Constitution. They believed any state had the right to secede, a point strongly denied by the North. The Lost Cause portrayed the South as more adherent to Christian values than the allegedly greedy North. It portrayed slavery as more benevolent than cruel, alleging that it taught Christianity and “civilization.” Stories of “happy slaves” were often used as propaganda in an effort to defend slavery. These stories would be used to explain slavery to Northerners. Many times they also portrayed slave owners being kind to their slaves. In explaining Confederate defeat, the Lost Cause said that the main factor was not qualitative inferiority in leadership or fighting ability but the massive quantitative superiority of the Yankee industrial machine. At the peak of troop strength in 1863, Union soldiers outnumbered Confederate soldiers by over two to one, and financially the Union had three times the bank deposits of the Confederacy.Critics of the ideology have stated that white supremacy is a key characteristic of the Lost Cause narrative. Supporters typically portray the Confederacy’s cause as noble and its leadership as exemplars of old-fashioned chivalry and honor, defeated by the Union armies through numerical and industrial force that overwhelmed the South’s superior military skill and courage. Proponents of the Lost Cause movement also condemned the Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, claiming that it had been a deliberate attempt by Northern politicians and speculators to destroy the traditional Southern way of life. In recent decades Lost Cause themes have been widely promoted by the Neo-Confederate movement in books and op-eds, and especially in one of the movement’s magazines, the Southern Partisan. The Lost Cause theme has been a major element in defining gender roles in the white South, in terms of honor, tradition, and family roles. The Lost Cause has inspired many prominent Southern memorials and even religious attitudes.