This is an anniversary we should remember but not celebrate. As you are now aware, it is the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. I have always thought that was an odd name to give a war because there was nothing “civil” about it.
It was a horrible time. It was a time of father against son and brother against brother. It not only divided a nation but destroyed families and created deep wounds in our national fabric that haven’t healed yet. And it was all over slavery.
Slavery—1. System based on enslaved labor. The practice of, or a system based on, using the enforced labor of other people. 2. Condition of being enslaved laborer. The state or condition of being held in involuntary servitude as the property of somebody else. 3. Hard work. Very hard work, especially for low pay and under bad conditions. 4. State of being dominated. A state of being completely dominated by another.
The institution of slavery is nothing new. Everyone who reads the Bible (or has seen the movie The Ten Commandments) knows that it is an institution thousands of years old. Everyone remembers the story of when the Jews were slaves to the Egyptians. It was not a pleasant time for them. They sacrificed everything to gain their freedom. Fast forward a couple thousand years and we have Africans kidnapped and brought to this country to serve as slaves on plantations working in the fields and running their masters’ homes.
Today, many spin masters want you to believe the war was not over slavery but “state’s rights” or constitutional principles. They make it look like such a romantic time with southern Belles in hoop skirts sipping lemonade and mint juleps on large verandas shaded by stately old oak trees draped with Spanish moss. The idea of a southern gentleman continues with images of men neatly dressed and assisting women through doors or into chairs. We see in our mind’s eye richly dressed couples waltzing across a ball room to lilting music. What we don’t see in this picture are the many slaves preparing the meals; planting, tending, and harvesting the crops; and attending to the children and every need or whim of the masters. We also don’t see those southern gentlemen beating and selling their slaves—or worse.
As quoted in the Declaration of the Causes of Secession—“(Northerners) have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery….We, therefore, the people of South Carolina…have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and other States of North America dissolved.”
Also, just in case there is any doubt, Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, said, “Our new government is founded upon…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.”
No one could have foreseen the horrors and the hundreds of thousands of deaths this war would bring. The war was even a form of entertainment to many as they gathered on hilltops and picnicked while watching the battles.
It worries me today that many seem to want to return to those days. But there is nothing glamorous or romantic about holding a group of people in contempt and viewing them as less than human. The slavery chapter brought pain, suffering, and disgrace to this nation. I fear if we look closely at our society’s fabric today we will see similar rips and tears.
A dirty little secret that many think or whisper but don’t dare speak out loud is that same feeling of contempt is still brewing underneath the surface of society today. There are some who still feel those of another race or religion are not welcome. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that all men (and women) are created equal. Furthermore, the Constitution says:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
It says We the People of the United States…meaning all people not everyone except the Catholics, or Jews, or Methodists, or Mexicans, or Chinese, or Africans, etc.
When are we going to learn to live together and respect each other? We have so much to learn from people with different backgrounds. I am happy to say I have friends from many different countries and have proudly encouraged them to attain their American citizenship and have rejoiced with them after successfully completing their long journey to citizenship. The one fact that constantly amazes me is how much we are alike in spite of our differences. We feel pain, sorrow, joy, and laughter over the same things. And, we all bleed red when cut.
Hold that image of red blood in your mind. The fields and rivers ran red with blood during the Civil War on our own native land. Over the next four years there will be many reminders of significant battles of the War between the States. Communities will be planning various celebrations, festivals, and other observances of events from that time. The only event we should celebrate will be April 9, 2015 marking the end of the Civil War when Gen. Lee surrendered his troops at the Court House of Appomattox.
Don’t fall for the romantic notion of the times. Let us never forget how awful that war was and vow to resolve our differences now before the current conflicts escalate to a point of no return.
- Jeff Schweitzer: Slavery and the Civil War: Not What You Think (huffingtonpost.com)
- The Civil War At 150: Distorting The Past & Unable To Cope With The Present (themoderatevoice.com)
- Forging a more perfect, just union (washingtonpolicywatch.org)