Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

By Steve Hansen
Columnist 

Our history should not be denied

 

August 23, 2017 | View PDF



If I were African-American, I would think slavery was the only significant issue of the Civil War, because everyday experience would demonstrate that the racism that began with slavery is alive and well in the U.S.A.

Honoring the Confederacy would only be honoring racism, if I were African-American.

Being white, and therefore not a daily victim of racism, at least in the U.S.A., I am able to take a broader view of the Civil War.

I can see there were other issues besides slavery, chief among them the sovereignty of the individual states.

The Civil War forced hard decisions on both sides.

Robert E. Lee was in line to command the Union Army but refused, deciding with some reluctance that his loyalty to Virginia was stronger.

Lee was a slave owner, but there is evidence he intended to free his slaves after the war.

In the North, slavery was wrong, of course, but even in the South I think seeds had been planted that would have ended slavery.

Some speculative historians believe the South would have outlawed slavery as early as 1890 had the Confederacy prevailed.

The North was becoming industrial. The South was chiefly agricultural.

Even now, agricultural interests, especially in border states, favor a free flow of immigrants, legal or otherwise, from Central America, because they provide the low-cost workforce needed to bring in harvests and leave thin profits for farmers.

That’s why slavery, as wrong as it was and is, was thought necessary for the agricultural South.

The South wanted to leave the Union. The North wanted to keep the country together.

While president, Abraham Lincoln once wrote, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it.”

In that same letter, he added, “(I) intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere could be free.”

The Civil War was bloody, and soldiers on both sides showed full measures of honor, loyalty, courage, dedication to duty and perseverance.

The overwhelming majority of Confederate soldiers did not own slaves and were not fighting for slavery, most historians agree. They were fighting to preserve traditions and their homelands.

The Confederacy is a part of our history — a sad, brave part of our past.

To ban reminders of the Confederacy is to deny a major element in what makes our country great now. The South’s spirit of independence strongly informs American life today, even as we reject slavery and racism.

If we are now going to take down statues of Robert E. Lee, we should also stop honoring George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, both slave owners, even though they were cornerstones among our Founding Fathers.

For that matter, we should be reconsidering honors for many other civic and military leaders, since systemic racism was a part of American culture, north and south, until the 1960s.

Yes, racism is evil. We should be sensitive to minority communities who rightly take offense to symbols that seem to condone the Confederacy’s advocacy of slavery.

On the other hand, we should not deny our history.

We should teach our children that slavery is immoral and racism is wrong, both scientifically and morally, but we should also teach them what it once cost to keep our nation unified.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

stevenmhansen

@plateautel.net

 

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