Stop Denying It: the Civil War Was About Slavery

As anniversary approaches, EJ Dionne says we too often skirt slavery issue
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 27, 2010 9:38 AM CST
Stop Denying It: the Civil War Was About Slavery
Portrait of fugitive slaves who were emancipated upon reaching the North, sitting outside a house, possible in Freedman's Village in Arlington, Virginia, mid 1860s.   (Getty Images)

We’re approaching the 150th anniversary of the Civil War’s beginning, and at a time like this, we can’t afford to forget its real cause. “There remains enormous denial over the fact that the central cause of the war was our national disagreement about race and slavery, not states' rights or anything else,” writes EJ Dionne for the Washington Post. To wit, the Confederacy's vice president said in a key 1861 speech that the “proper status of the Negro in our form of civilization" was "the immediate cause of the late rupture. Our new government's ... cornerstone rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man."

Dionne goes on to list other supporting examples; for instance, South Carolina's declaration on the cause of secession contained the words slaves, slavery, or slaveholding 18 times. It was only after the war that the root cause got twisted, when the Confederacy's leaders began reframing their failed effort as being about state sovereignty. As acclaimed Civil War historian James McPherson wrote, admitting that the Confederacy "launched a war that killed 620,000 Americans in a vain attempt to keep 4 million people in slavery would not confer honor on their lost cause." There remains “too much evasion of how integral race, racism, and racial conflict are to our national story,” Dionne notes. To honor the Civil War, we need to stop denying the real reason why it was fought.
(Read more E.J. Dionne stories.)

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