The following was written as a letter to the editors at The Philadelphia Inquirer in response to several letters (See fifth letter down.) in the past week or so protesting commemorations of The Civil War as “glorifications” of slavery (i.e. commemorations in the southern U.S.).
I really do not understand all the sudden angst over observances related to the American Civil War. I do not understand the insistence on framing the war totally within the context of slavery. Anyone, who has taken the time to study the development of the American experiment through the 18th and 19th centuries and the origins of the hostilities that broke out in 1861, recognizes that slavery was not the only issue that defined the war.
The American republic had many more issues before it than the horrors of slavery. The questions of states rights, the strength of a centralized federal government, the interests of agrarian vs. industrialized economies, even the success of a Lincoln-led administration were all factors of immense national interest at stake. As such, both the North and the South had legitimate vital interests in the conflict that went beyond the insidious practice of slavery.
Slavery as the only issue related to the war does not explain Lincoln’s own admission that he would have resolved the conflict – if he could – without freeing a single slave. It also does not account for the fact that hundreds of thousands of poor, non-slave owning Southerners fought willingly against the overwhelming advantages of the North. The fact is that hundreds of thousands died in that war with no stake on the issue of slavery. Many of them unemployed immigrants fighting for the North just for money to survive in a new world.
There is no reason to restrict “glorification” of a preeminent event in American history solely to the issue of slavery. To do so dismisses so much more that can be learned about how the United States stayed a united nation and the experiment continued on its epic journey.
All the angst seems motivated by the fact that the wrong people – Southerners – might want to commemorate an event that was also crucial to the history and development of that region. Not to mention the fact that hundreds of thousands died there also, many of them dirt-poor farmers who did not own and could not afford slaves.
This is so much more about Liberal guilt over American history than it is any attempt to put that event into its proper historical context.