The prolific French writer, historian, and philosopher Voltaire said, “History is a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”. This statement could not be more profound. I refer to history as His-Story.
If you are not aware, we are about to enter into five years of untruths, unreal assessments, and in some cases out and out lies, as we mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This was a critical point in time because a divided nation faced a crisis. It 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.
There is no question this was a significant event in the country’s history. However, we should be candid about its causes and not allow the distortions of contemporary politics or long-standing myths to cloud our understanding of why the nation fell apart. There will be a lot of misinformation that will surely come, as both sides of the debate relive this chapter of American history. So be prepared for the revisionists to create many illusions pertaining to the facts as they relate to the realities of Civil War history.
It’s already begun with a surge of activity, especially among conservatives, to adjust the story to reflect contemporary political positions. One prominent effort occurred in Texas when the state school board revised social studies standards to increase study of Confederate leaders and reduce emphasis on the Founding Fathers’ commitment to separation of church and state. Some wanted to stop referring to the slave trade and substitute a euphemistic phrase, the “Atlantic triangular trade.” Thankfully, after opposition, that idea was dropped.
There was a case in Virginia where the Department of Education conceded its error in allowing a misleading textbook to be used in classrooms. They, against opposition, allowed the history book to continue to be used and the offending passage remained. Even after admitting that the inaccurate passage was “outside of accepted Civil War scholarship.” The disputed passage was a gross falsehood that says two battalions of African American soldiers fought for the Confederacy under famed Gen. Stonewall Jackson. The department would go on to say that it anticipates teachers “will have no difficulty working around one objectionable sentence”.
Also in Virginia, a few years ago, the new Governor signed a proclamation honoring the Civil War and made no mention of slavery, which again after considerable controversy he revised the proclamation. Let me add that Richmond, Virginia was the home of the Confederate capital. Sure the First Amendment protects the Confederate sympathizers’ right to write this nonsense but it is up to us to do our due diligence to understand, although we were never taught the truth, that it is untrue.
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 solders to fight. Abraham Lincoln, Honest Abe, although not a proponent of slavery, had no desire to end slavery at the onset of the war. He was for the free-labor ideology of equal opportunity and upward mobility. The issue of slavery, as he stated, “was the morality and future of the slaves and of 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 south, secessionist, saw it this way. Their leader 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.”
The Confederate vice president, Alexander Stephens said, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea… Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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.” These guys were very straightforward in their belief that the proper status of the Negro in America’s form of civilization, if free, would be the immediate cause of the rupture.
Views such as this continue today, from various quarters, because 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 free labor.” I believe it was all about states’ rights similar to today’s conservative perspective.
Let’s be clear 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 evil do so wishing the greatest crime ever inflected upon a people had 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 broken 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 back 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. I found this quote where one captured Confederate soldier, as he was being marched off to prison, was asked, “Why are you fighting?” He is said to have grunted, “Because you’re here.”
If I can remind you this sounds very similar to what the Tea Baggers and the conservatives are saying now! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…