No other region of the country feels the weight of Civil War history as much as the South does. Our region is defined in part by that war, defeat and its aftermath, and we have embraced that history in a multitude of ways. And now, with the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, we need to admit that we have gotten a good bit of that history wrong.
Most of us have heard from our youth on up that the origins of the war did not lie in slavery but in the South’s defense of states’ rights against the federal government. It’s a comforting idea. It lets us untether the indisputable valor of our ancestors who took up arms for the Confederacy from the repugnance of fighting for slavery.
But secession documents that enshrine the primacy of slavery to the antebellum Southern way of life blow that idea out of the water. Indeed, as historian David Von Drehle points out in a recent essay for Time magazine, the principals of the time were well aware of what was driving them to battle: slavery.
In the years since the war, the South has worked hard to airbrush this reality away, and in doing so has done itself a great harm. It has damaged its religion.
The South is a land of strong Christian aspirations, and much of its past and culture deals with the pursuit of a godly life. That pursuit, however, is undermined when it is touched by the struggle to reconcile the irreconcilable. One simply cannot in one breath gloss over the suffering of fellow humans or bury it under Lost Cause mythology and then in the next breath preach Christian morality. Trying to do so leads to a moral and intellectual incoherence that makes it frighteningly easy to nod one’s head at injustice.
To read the complete editorial, visit www.macon.com.