By Nathan McDermott and Andrew Kaczynski, August 22, 2017
(CNN) Maine Gov. Paul LePage defended monuments to the Confederacy in a radio interview on Tuesday, claiming that 7,600 Mainers fought for the South and that the war was initially about land, not slavery.
Two Civil War historians contacted by told CNN disputed LePage's assertions.
"What was the war? If you really truly read and study the Civil War, it was turned into a battle for the slaves, but initially — I mean, 7,600 Mainers fought for the Confederacy," LePage, a Republican, said in an interview with Maine radio station WVOM. "And they fought because they were concerned about — they were farmers — and they were concerned about their land. Their property. It was a property rights issue as it began. The President of the United States, who was a very brilliant politician, really made it about slavery to a great degree."
Slaves were considered property up to and during the Civil War.
LePage also said that removing confederate monuments could lead to the removal of history books and monuments to the Oklahoma City bombing and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The Sun Journal first reported LePage's comments.
Jamie Kingman Rice, the director of Library Service at the Maine Historical Society, told CNN that LePage's 7,600 figure "is not a number that is known to the research community."
David Blight, Civil War historian and professor at Yale, told CNN in an interview that it was doubtful more than a handful of Mainers fought for the Confederacy. The state of Maine was one of the strongest supporters of the Union.
Blight also took issue with LePage's claim that the Civil War was initially a conflict over land.
"That's patented nonsense. It's appalling degree of ignorance and misinformation by a governor of a New England state, or any state for that matter," he said.
Blight reiterated that the war was fought over slavery and its expansion into new territories.
"This war was rooted in the problem racial slavery and its expansion, and the ways in which that issue tore apart the American political system and then tore apart the Union," Blight said. "And to say that the war was only in the interest of farmers worried about their property rights is beyond ridiculous in the 21st century."
Matthew Karp, a Civil War historian at Princeton University, told CNN "the idea that Maine was a Confederate hotbed is pretty ludicrous."
"I have no idea what LePage is talking about," Karp said. "In the 1860 Presidential election, the southern Democratic candidate John C. Breckinridge couldn't even get 7600 votes in Maine. Lincoln won over 62% of the vote (his fourth highest mark in the country) and Maine furnished over 70,000 troops for the Union, including over 9,000 who died during the Civil War."
Karp also said there was no doubt that property rights played an important role in the cause of the Civil War, but that slaves were the property at issue.
"As lots of historians have pointed out recently, the property value of the South's slaves was somewhere around $3 billion -- more than all the banks, factories, and railroads in the North combined," he said. "Slaveholders believed their right to human property was enshrined in the Constitution, while Lincoln and the Republicans did not -- a major reason that so many slave-holding leaders embraced secession after Lincoln was elected."