“People don’t realize, you know, the Civil War, you think about it, why? People don’t ask that question. But why was there the Civil War. Why would that one not have been worked out?” President Donald Trump, May 1, 2017
In his May 3 LVN column, Chuck Muth vented his anger at Southern states who are removing monuments to southern leaders of the Civil War. He went on a rampage against those he accuses of wanting to “erase history” and “whitewash ...any...reminders of the Confederacy.” He apparently has a problem differentiating between erasing history and refusing to venerate those who committed treason.
The leaders of the Confederate States of America (CSA) were traitors to the United States of America (USA). Honoring their treason with statues, flags, school names and mascots that honor the Confederacy, pays tribute to those who wanted to break up the USA. Should we be teaching our children that destroying America is an honorable activity?
Muth also says, “You can’t erase history by simply pretending it never happened and removing all references to it.” Again, refusing to honor treason is not the same as removing all references to what happened. Pre-World War II Germany and Austria gave birth to one of the most hate-filled political movements of all time – the Nazis. After Hitler was defeated, Germany and Austria passed laws outlawing any public display of Nazi symbols, flags, slogans, and anything else promoting Nazi beliefs. Neither country is trying to erase history; they just don’t want to honor this evil philosophy.
Part of the underlying problem with these monuments, etc., is that we’re still arguing over the basic causes of the Civil War. The Confederacy itself was established in February 1861. The first shots of the war were fired on April 12, 1861, at Fort Sumter, S.C.
Fort Sumter was an American military fort. Confederate troops had put it under siege, and the situation was becoming desperate. The Confederates wouldn’t let the supply ships pass. When the American troops refused to evacuate, the Confederates began shooting. The North did not start the war; the South did.
How did the South feel about this? ‘Everyone “seemed to be perfectly frantic with delight... I never in my life witnessed such excitement.” “War! War! War! Was on placards all about [sic].”’ (“For Cause & Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War”, 1997, p. 17). The South was not a reluctant participant in the Civil War; they were ecstatic.
So President Trump wonders, why was there the Civil War? Why was the South so enthusiastic about an undertaking that would result in over 750,000 deaths? For those who care to do a bit of research, the answer has always been clear.
Alexander Stephens was vice-president of the CSA. On March 21, 1861, he gave a speech known as the Cornerstone Speech, outlining the reasons for secession. He said, “The new [CSA] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This [idea of equality] was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundation¬s are laid, its cornerston¬e rests, 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 normal condition. This, our new government¬, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” To summarize, the Confederacy was founded on slavery.
The Confederate constitution made the laws regarding slavery permanent, referring to “slaves and other property,” guaranteeing that slaves would never be valued as human beings but only as property.
The South Carolina “Causes of Secession” document itemized the complaints against the “non-slaveholding states,” including “they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery... They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes;” and many other grievances, basically reinforcing the fact that one of the main reasons for secession was to preserve slavery.
There are many more primary sources along the same lines. When teaching about the horrors of the Civil War, we must also teach the foundational cause of the war – slavery. Honoring those who were so determined to maintain this “peculiar institution” is morally wrong. Trump and Muth seem ignorant of these basic facts. Perhaps someone can explain it to them.
Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.