Dictionary.com defines civil war as “a war between political factions or regions within the same country”. That does not accurately describe the conflict that began here in 1861. The southern states seceded, which by definition is “to withdraw formally from an alliance, federation, or association, as from a political union”. The southern states did exactly that, thereby forming a new country called The Confederate States of America. Therefore, that conflict was actually an international conflict between two distinct countries.
There is a significant difference between a national and a federal form of government. When the colonies declared their independence from England, they established a federal form of government under the Articles of Confederation. Each state was considered sovereign and independent, and merely a joint member under the Articles. Very similar to the way we imagine the United States to be a member of the United Nations, while retaining our independence and unique identity. One important distinction of a federal form of government is that states can make their own laws which differ significantly from the laws of other states. This explains why you can gamble in Nevada, but not in Utah.
Originally, the federal United States was referred to in the plural, as in THESE United States. When the Constitution was ratified, the United States adopted a more national flavor with a stronger, more centralized government. Eventually this national aspect of government was considered predominate, and people now refer to THE United States. Singular. It is incorrectly assumed by most Americans that any federal law supersedes any state law. The Tenth Amendment clearly refutes this fallacy.
History alleges that the southern states never really left the union. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase ruled in Texas v White (1869) that “the Constitution, in all its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union composed of indestructible States.” The court further held that the Constitution did not permit states to unilaterally secede from the United States. “Our conclusion therefore is that Texas continued to be a State, and a State of the Union, notwithstanding the transactions to which we have referred.” How can the government insist that the southern states never left the union, and simultaneously claim that the southern states were “readmitted” via the Reconstruction Acts? If the south never left, it would be unnecessary to readmit them. Finally, it wouldn’t have been necessary for Robert E. Lee to “surrender unconditionally” unless the south was considered a conquered foreign power.
George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Even worse, people with an agenda are actively revising history to suggest things that are not true. This is why numerous monuments related to “The War for Southern Independence” are being dismantled and removed from public display.
Most people are guilty of tunnel vision, focusing on one single aspect of “the truth”, and willfully ignoring any information that mitigates their argument. Consider the parable of the blind wise men who examine an elephant for the first time. Each man gives a different description of the animal based on the body part he had touched, but all of them are making decisions with woefully incomplete information.
In much the same way, nearly everyone has an incomplete understanding of “The War of Northern Aggression”. The national government was taxing agriculture (southern cotton) and investing in industry (in the north). The southern states were already struggling financially, so they were not inclined to spend their money improving life in the north. The original motivation for southern secession was “states rights”. Slavery only became an issue later in the conflict. To insist that slavery was the only reason for the conflict demonstrates a deplorable lack of understanding. And to insist that members of the Confederacy were only interested in slavery is incredibly biased and short-sighted.
Allow me to set the record straight. Slavery is an evil, despicable practice which should never have happened anywhere. However, it did not originate in the southern states. It is justified in the Bible, and the great pyramids in Egypt were built with slave labor. The Founding Fathers attempted to eliminate slavery when they drafted the Constitution, but they were unable to complete the task. The Constitution is often condemned because blacks were considered “three-fifths” of a person. It’s not as if blacks were suddenly reduced to sixty percent of their previous status. And while it is admittedly still a tragedy, it should be understood that blacks were now considered sixty percent more human than they were before. It is unfair to blame the Founders for slavery simply because they were unable to solve the problem immediately.
There is historical evidence to suggest that Thomas Jefferson married Sally Hemmings, his former slave, and had four children with her. The descendants of Thomas Jefferson adamantly reject this suggestion, considering it tantamount to slander. I think Jefferson was a great man. Wouldn’t he seem even more deserving of praise if he “put his money where his mouth is” and demonstrated good race relations by setting an example? During my first job after college I eagerly tried to date a gorgeous black girl who worked at the same company. She was stunning, and she took my breath away. She refused to date me, however. Not because of race, but because her white friend was hoping for a relationship with me, and she didn’t want to betray that friendship.
Do black lives matter? Absolutely! I think that ALL lives matter. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to reduce the ignorance that is inherent in the xenophobia that subsets of the population feel toward groups different from themselves. This kind of fear stems from an almost universal lack of self-confidence. People ask,”can’t we all just get along?” Apparently not. But tearing down confederate statues and vandalizing the Alamo will never lead to mutual respect. I doubt that I will live long enough to see the day that people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.