November 21, 2010

Research War’s Causes

Sunday, November 21, 2010 (EST)

Research War’s Causes

Thursday, November 18, 2010

To the Editor:

In "Propaganda or History," Tuesday, Nov. 4, the letter writer expresses a concern the "true history" of the Civil War is not being told because of the "long-standing Northern propaganda claim that the war was fought to end slavery." These arguments are part of a long tradition of southern historians to develop their own distinctive history, downplaying slavery as a cause for the Civil War, and overlooking the need to justify the morality of slavery.

The causes of the Civil War have been the source of academic and public debate for the last 150 years. The election of Abraham Lincoln and the sequence of events that followed sparked the passions and combustible political material that led to war. The unwillingness of non-slave holding states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act, the prospect of limitations on the expansion of slavery in the west, increased resistance of slaves, and the feared loss of slaves as personal property were central to those favoring secession.

The 150th Anniversary of the Civil War is another opportunity to explore and discover a richer meaning of the history of that period. This is opportunity to explore attitudes, moral and personal connections of people during that period regarding slavery and the aftermath of race relations in America.

There are many scholarly books and wonderful web sites with digital copies or transcripts of primary source materials. African American organizations and groups have been actively involved at state and county levels documenting the valuation and sale of slaves, reports of missing slaves, ads offering bounties for their return, and wills that divided slave families among heirs. Other documents that provide context include Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address, a last minute plea to avert secession and likely war, the South Carolina Declaration of Causes justifying secession, the Constitution of the Confederacy dated March 11, 1861 ensuring the rights to own slaves shall not be impaired, and the western region split over slavery and the issue of secession resulting in the creation of West Virginia

Inviting visitors to be historians can demystify older versions of Civil War history and enrich our personal understanding. The Civil War’s ultimate meaning is that it transformed the United States and ever so slowly, America began to uncover and embrace the contribution, achievements and struggle of African Americans.

Dave Cavanaugh

Maddy McCoy
Fairfax County, Virginia
Slavery Inventory Database

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