The Civil War, the War of Northern aggression, The War for Southern Independence, or “The Recent Unpleasantness”-whatever you call it, the armed struggle that rent our country from 1861-1865 is the fulcrum of our history. It dealt with a matter-slavery-that the Founding Fathers overlooked in order to form a country. The War was the coming out party of the industrial might that by the 20th century made the USA a world power. The struggle captivates us as does no other episode in our national history.
However, as we approach the sesquicentiennial of the Civil War one I imagine we will once again become immersed in the question that fascinated the Old Country Doctor-what was the cause of the war? States Rights? Tariffs? What?
Shoot, even WaPo columnists are jumping on the bandwagon to discuss the matter.
Let’s not kid ourselves. It comes down one word-Slavery.
As you know, I was raised a small town southern kid-in old Manassas, VA. I also attended a private kindergarten (not part of public school then) where we began each day with The Pledge (said to the American flag), the Lord’s Prayer, and then we sang “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny” while facing a picture of Robert E. Lee. I have pictures of me at the age of 21 months attending the 100th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas. I have tramped the battlefields, read the books. I have relatives deep in my bloodline that fought in the war-some for the North, some for the South.
So I have some familiarity with the history of the era…and I have yet to find any fact that makes a compelling case for anything other than slavery as the igniting factor of the war.
One can argue State’s Rights as the cause, tariff policies that militated against the South as the reason, even a fundamental disagreement over what the constitution allowed a state to do-like secede.
However, one can even set aside the quotes from Alexander Stephens and Jefferson Davis and realize that the cause is slavery. If you remove slavery from the equation….none of these items-which did have an impact-would have started a war.
An economic system based on involuntary servitude undergirds all reasons for starting hostilities. It’s the proximate cause of the struggle. Slavery ignites all that happens.
We are going to see and hear lots of articles and media pieces about this turning point in American history over the next four years. While we remember the courage, bravery, and sacrifice, we must also remember some basic facts about the war.
As Mr. Dionne writes:
We can take pride in our struggles to overcome the legacies of slavery and segregation. But we should not sanitize how contested and bloody the road to justice has been. We will dishonor the Civil War if we refuse to face up to the reason it was fought.