Sociologist James Loewen has written several good and accessible books about American history (one about textbooks, one about historical monuments). One of the main issues he confronts is about the true cause of the Civil War: slavery or something else (like states’ rights)? Loewen explains again why we can be sure slavery was the main issue:
“One hundred and fifty years ago Christmas Eve day, everyone knew why South Carolina was seceding because they said so — it’s a wonderful document,” said James Loewen, a sociologist and co-editor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader.
Four days after South Carolina seceded on Dec. 20, 1860, the state adopted a second document titled “Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” Loewen considers the record, central to his new collection, one of the five most important documents in the history of the country, launching as it did a seminal chapter in America’s ongoing struggle to define itself.
“So why does nobody ever read it?” he asked. “Everybody knew [secession was] about slavery. This document is all about slavery.”
Seems like a fairly cut and dry issue to me. This may become a more public issue as we near the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.
But historical events are often open to interpretation. In the same article, noted Civil War scholar James McPherson says, “Probably 90 percent, maybe 95 percent of serious historians of the Civil War would agree on the broad questions of what the war was about and what brought it about and what caused it.”
So how could we get to a point where most or all Americans would acknowledge slavery as the primary cause of the Civil War?