The prolific French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire made one of the most profound statements in the history of speech. He said, “History is a pack of tricks we play upon the dead.” In other words, rarely will you get truth; rather what you will get is what I call “His-Story.” For example, the president of the NRA once made a comment telling his troops that “Southerners refer to the Civil War as the war of northern aggression”. This seems to be an ingrained position when you consider that today there are some talking about secession.
If you are not aware, this year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, a war that has in many ways never ended. Over that time, the story has been told with many untruths, unreal assessments, and in some cases out and out lies. This was a critical point in time because such a divided nation faced an immoral crisis – itself! Just as it is today!
Everybody knows the war started in the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, when Confederate batteries fired upon federal troops occupying Fort Sumter. Union forces surrendered the next day after 34 hours of shelling; the bloodiest war in the nation’s history had begun with the question of slavery at its core. There is no question this major event in the country’s history is significant. However, we should be candid about its causes and not allow the distortions of contemporary politics or long-standing myths cloud our understanding of why the nation fell apart.
So be prepared for a lot of misinformation that will surely come, as the debates relive this chapter of American history. The Tea-Party types and the revisionists will create many illusions pertaining to the facts as they relate to the realities of Civil War history. They will talk about liberty, especially among conservatives, to adjust the story to reflect contemporary political positions. One prominent recent effort occurred in Texas a few years ago when the state school board tried to revise social studies standards to increase the study of Confederate leaders and reduce emphasis on the Founding Fathers’ commitment to separation of church and state.
There have been moves to stop referring to the slave trade and substitute a euphemistic phrase, the “Atlantic triangular trade.” Some states conceded it erred in allowing a misleading textbook to be used in classrooms. For example, a disputed passage was a gross falsehood that says two battalions of African American soldiers fought for the Confederacy under famed Gen. Stonewall Jackson. To include language implying that slaves vigorously fought for the Confederate cause.
Before I go any further, let’s be clear, the war was NOT fought to free the slaves. That narrative came much later when the North was not winning and needed a reason to allow colored soldiers to fight. Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, although not a proponent of slavery, had no desire to end slavery at the onset of the war. The issue of slavery, as he stated, “was the morality and future of the slaves and slavery.” He believed if the nation remained divided on the issue of slavery, the nation would not last. If you recall he borrowed a statement made by Jesus to support this position; “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Actually, Honest Abe was considering the option of sending the slaves back to Africa or somewhere outside of America to solve the problem. IN FACT, as an experiment, he sent thousands to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This experiment was not successful because many became ill and died causing him to reevaluate the decision. He also had another plan, which was to acquire land in South America to host this unwanted population to include other locations as well.
On the other side, the southerners, secessionist, saw it this way. Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a major slaveholder, justified secession in 1861 as an act of self-defense against the incoming Lincoln administration. Abraham Lincoln’s policy of excluding slavery from the territories, Davis said, would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless . . . thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.”
Views such as this continue today from in many quarters. Yes, one hundred-fifty year’s after the war’s end there remains enormous denial over the fact that the central cause of the war was our national disagreement about race, slavery, or more specific states’ rights. The historian Douglas Egerton says, “The South split the Democratic Party and later the country, not in the name of states’ rights but because it sought federal government guarantees that slavery would prevail… routinely shifted their ideological ground in the name of protecting unfree labor.” I believe it was all about states’ rights similar to today’s conservative perspective.
Let’s understand slavery was about one thing – economics. The institution and the economics derived from it built America, and that wealth made America a powerful force in the world as a result. Therefore, those who try to rewrite or obscure the reality of this wretched evil do so wishing the greatest crime ever inflicted upon a people never ended or that it would return. I suggest that you listen carefully to those who use the code word “States Rights” and hear what they are not saying.
The Confederacy broke up the United States and launched a war that killed 620,000 Americans in a vain attempt to keep 4 million people in slavery does not confer honor upon their lost cause. It’s been 150 years of folks, like then and now, trying to change the narrative to justify why the war was fought. Some say slavery. Some say tariffs. Others say the Constitution.
A captured Confederate soldier was asked while being marched off to prison, “Why are you fighting?” He was said to have grunted, “Because you’re here.” To him and other who share his views; we are here, and we are not going anywhere – “get over it”! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…