A century and a half ago, brother took up arms against brother. It was the bloodiest conflict in our nation’s history. According to the Military History Institute, there were more than 623,000 casualties.
This year, all across the North and South, there will be events commemorating the war’s sesquicentennial. Here in Macon, we have four new interpretive markers to join the one in front of City Hall dealing with the great war.
Before I make you cuss, I think the commemoration of the Civil War, the War for Southern Independence, the War Between the States or whatever you choose to call it, is fitting. It is history, but when we talk about the Civil War, let’s be honest.
Of all the causes cited for the great conflict -- state’s rights, tariffs, taxes, secession as a right, you name it -- we can’t ignore, like some people try to do, the core issue that brought the North and South to blows. It was slavery.
You could call it the health-care debate of the 19th century. The seven 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, both vying to be the senator from Illinois, centered around the question of slavery. Can you imagine 10,000 to 15,000 people listening to a debate designed to last a minimum of three hours without a public address system or seats?
Please, do not take my word for it. Read the historical record. A good place to start is the South Carolina document giving that state’s reasons for leaving the Union.
I will only use snippets here, but I encourage you to read every word for the full context at: http://sunsite.utk.edu/civil-war/reasons.html
“But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations (to return fugitive slaves), and the laws of the general government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.”
In Milledgeville, our state’s lawmakers came together and wrote this passage: “The party of Lincoln, called the Republican Party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. ...
“While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding states of the original thirteen.”
In Mississippi, they wrote: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery -- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the Earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”
Again, I’m all for honoring the brave men who, in primitive fashion, stood and fired muskets at each other. But, quite frankly, the fact that most of these men didn’t own slaves is immaterial to the cause of the conflict. The confederate states’ documents tell us the reasons for the war.
So, let’s honor history by not distorting it. In the words of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it ...”
History is history, and there is no use trying to change it. Let’s attempt to understand it.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Charles E. Richardson is The Macon Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.