The Civil War is the most important war in our nation’s history. It literally changed the geopolitical landscape of the country. The ramifications of the war caused major effects that can still be seen and felt today. From the end of slavery to the beginning of modern warfare, the Civil War has continued to matter almost a century and a half later. It is more than a little problematic that a large segment of our population is learning about it incorrectly.
The Civil War was fought over slavery. No serious historian debates that.
The war came on the heels of heated conflict and debates about slavery and its expansion into the western territories. The southern states started to secede immediately after Abraham Lincoln and his "Anti-Slavery" platform won the election.
But perhaps the most damning piece of evidence in the case of whether or not the Civil War was about slavery is the fact the seceding states said it was. In the Declaration of Causes of Seceding States, the southern states list their reasons for wanting to break away from the union. The word slavery appears almost 40 times always in the same context.
Georgia - “The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.”
Mississippi - “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world.”
South Carolina - “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.”
Texas - “They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races…”
Nobody at the time ever really debated the cause of the Civil War. As a matter of fact, this “Lost Cause” or “War of Northern Aggression” way of looking at the war came years later. And that’s, unfortunately, the lens through which many teachers are teaching their students. They tell their students that the Civil War was about “states rights” or that slavery was "only one of the reasons" for the war. Both of these ideas are of course gross misrepresentations of the truth.
The civil war was indeed fought over “states rights”… the right to have slaves.
As far as whether or not slavery was only one of the causes of the war, former Confederate commander John S. Mosby said it best: "I've always understood that we went to war on account of the thing we quarreled with the North about. I've never heard of any other cause than slavery."
Former civil war veterans aren’t around anymore to set us straight. It has become easier for revisionist history to take hold; however, we have too many written primary sources to let that happen.
It’s easy to understand the desire of teachers to soften the causes of the Civil War. It may be hard to tell children the country they live in, not too long ago, fought a whole war over slavery…especially if the state you live in was on the wrong side of the war. We owe it to our students to give them the honest, cold, hard truth. The cause of the Civil War was slavery.