For the next several years our nation will observe the 150th anniversary of the the Civil War. We will remember the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, the shelling of Fort Sumter, the formation of the Confederate States of America, the many battles and the more than 600,000 who died as a result of the war (I saw recently that in terms of percentage of population, that figure today would be around 6 million), and finally we will remember the signing of the treaty to end the war at Appomattox and the assassination of the President by John Wilkes Booth.
Consider carefully the rationale given for the formation of the Confederacy by Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy, in a speech given in 1861 just before the war commenced.
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man.
I think that as we remember this war that it is essential that we as a nation acknowledge that a moral cancer was present in the very founding of the nation. Because it was deemed necessary to appease southern colonies dependent on slaves for their agrarian way of life, the Constitution was drawn up in such a way as to allow for its presence. Over time it became clear that the nation could not remain united with these two very different understandings of slavery present.
One of the reasons why it's important that we acknowledge that this was a war about slavery is that the ideas of nullification and secession and states rights have become increasingly popular. I see in the Tea Party crowds, not only those "Don't Tread on Me" flags, but Confederate Battle Flags as well. I think that these flags are, in my estimation, an affront to the nation. Not only do they represent racism and slavery, but they represent an act of treason against the nation. The shelling of Fort Sumter could easily be classified as a terrorist act on the part of the South Carolina secessionists.
I know that this posting is provocative. It's meant to be, because I think we need to keep focused on the true reasons for this war. I think we need to beware of revisionist history that excuses the moral cancer that ate away at our nation until it was impossible to stay together. I also need to say, that this critique of revisionist history, should not be taken as excusing the racism that was present in the North then and today. It doesn't excuse others who kept slaves either -- including Native Americans. It is no a justification of every act on the part of the Union Government. General Sherman was correct in his assessment -- "War is Hell" and he operated out of that understanding in ways that should give us pause.
As we start this discussion it's important that we begin by acknowledging the essential causes of this War. Were there economic issues involved? Yes, but most of those issues were tied up with slavery. Were there issues of clarification about the rights of states? Well, probably, but again the rights at stake was the preservation of and expansion of slavery in the nation.
Over time I hope to comment on these issues more fully and I invite your responses (just keep them "civil").