The Real Cause of America's Civil War

By Eric Olson

May 20, 2011 Updated May 20, 2011 at 3:26 PM EDT

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--There’s something interesting here in little Waterloo Indiana…a statue of a civil war soldier, its features marred by age, marking the grave of a young man who never grew old. He died on a civil war battlefield, just like several other young men buried nearby. This could be a scene in any town anywhere in America, and these graves are especially poignant now on the 150th anniversary of the start of America’s Civil War, because the old debate over what caused the war has been resurrected. It’s a debate that matters because it’s the cause these young men died for, along with 360,000 others like them. It would be nice to think they died for something noble.

In the South they’re marking the anniversary with reenactments of the firing on Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, and social events called secession balls, the women in flowing silk gowns…the men in confederate uniform. Historians tell us the Civil War was fought over slavery. Abraham Lincoln claimed it was, and so did the vice president of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens. In a speech in Georgia in 1861 he said ‘our new (confederate) government is founded upon…the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery…is his natural and normal condition.” Protecting slavery was the reason the South seceded, Stephens claimed, and slavery provoked the war.

“The issue of slavery gave the North the moral ground above anything else,” says Huntington, Indiana historian Gib Young. “And I admire the southern soldier greatly, I really do. But the moral high ground belonged to the Union. ‘As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free’, the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The South has nothing like that, Dixie’s a wonderful song but it isn’t the battle hymn.”

Most slaves were owned by a handful of wealthy southern plantation owners who convinced fellow southerners the war was over states rights. The only right involved was one man’s right to own another man as a piece of property…of one man’s right to own a woman as a piece of property. It’s right to honor our ancestors but wrong to gloss over their mistakes. The men who lie in cemeteries like this died so other men could be free. To claim anything else demeans their deaths. Eric Olson reporting, out in Your Country.

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