By Jo Becker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 26, 2005
When John G. Roberts Jr. prepared to ghostwrite an article for President Ronald Reagan a little over two decades ago, his pen took a Civil War reenactment detour.
The article, which was to appear in the scholarly National Forum journal, was called "The Presidency: Roles and Responsibilities." Roberts was writing by hand a section on how the congressional appropriations process had evolved.
A fastidious editor of other people's copy as well as his own, Roberts began with the words "Until about the time of the Civil War." Then, the Indiana native scratched out the words "Civil War" and replaced them with "War Between the States."
The handwritten document is one of tens of thousands of pages of Roberts files released over the past several weeks from his 1982-1986 tenure as an associate counsel to the president.
While it is true that the Civil War is also known as the War Between the States, the Encyclopedia Americana notes that the term is used mainly by southerners. Sam McSeveney, a history professor emeritus at Vanderbilt University who specialized in the Civil War, said that Roberts's choice of words was significant.
"Many people who are sympathetic to the Confederate position are more comfortable with the idea of a 'War Between the States,' " McSeveney explained. "People opposed to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s would undoubtedly be more comfortable with the words he chose."
John M. Coski, the historian and library director of the Museum of the Confederacy in Richmond, said the term was commonplace in the South until the 1960s or early 1970s. He said some people use "War Between the States" out of habit, others think it quaint or iconoclastic, and still others use it because they believe the Confederacy was right to secede.
"You can't always draw the inference that someone who uses the term does so with an ideological intent, but at the same time you can't be blind to the fact that some people do," Coski said.
Reagan used the phrase "War Between the States" in at least a few speeches he gave in the South. But in the end, someone must have had second thoughts about using it with this more national audience. When the article was published in August 1984 under Reagan's name, it employed the more generally accepted "Civil War" terminology.