COMMENTARY: Sins of the past

Kwabena Boateng

This April marks the 150th anniversary of the United States Civil War. After four years of tumult and destruction, the Union defeated the Confederate separatists. From the bloodshed and chaos, the termination of institutionalized slavery incurred, one, if not the only, positive result of the conflict.

There are some people, however, who would like to blot out the relevance of this sinister practice in the precipitation of the Civil War.

Instead of slavery, these revisionists advance economic disputes coupled with state rights as the main rationales for Confederate secession. Yet, this explanation fails to recognize the central aspect of the state rights debate and Confederate economic concerns: the same slavery factor they are attempting to discount.

The plantation system, reliant on a grossly inhumane use of labor, formed the economic foundations of the Confederate states. This system faced an unfavorable future, particularly with the growth of abolitionism and the increasing imbalance in the ratio of “free” states to slave-holding states. Fearing the imminent demise of slavery and, as a result, their prosperity, the Confederate states sought separation to preserve the right to possess slaves – a fact that is clearly voiced by the Confederates.

In their “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession,” Mississippi, the second state to secede, explicitly relates its desire to secede to slavery, stating: “Our position [to secede] is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery – the greatest material interest of the world.” Left between submitting “to the mandates of abolition or a dissolution of the Union,” Mississippi chose the latter, thereby preserving its state’s right to maintain the material interests gained from slavery.

South Carolina, the first state to secede and the stage for the opening shots of the war, attributed their separation mainly to “an increasing hostility to the institution of slavery.” The ultimate form of hostility, according to their “Declaration of Immediate Causes,” emerged in the “election of a man [Abraham Lincoln] whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” No mention of tariffs, limits on trade, or other reasons revisionists propose exist in either document. Furthermore, the mention of economic causes incorporates the centrality of slavery to the Confederate economy.

While it would be negligent to omit the influence of tariffs and other factors in the decision of the Confederates, it is an egregious blunder to discount the integration of slavery with the core causations of the Civil War. One would have to be willfully ignorant to give minimal credence to the overwhelming part the contention of slavery played in splitting the United States of 1861.

So, why then do people attempt to remove or lessen the influence of slavery in the Civil War? People grumble about how race is over-emphasized in contemporary issues. But if race is to be eliminated as a talking point through the establishment of a “post-racial” society, then the American people must examine and deal with its racial history instead of trying to whitewash it for comfort’s sake.

Kwabena Boateng

Fort Mitchell junior

This commentary doesn’t necessarily represent the views of the Herald or the university.