Breaking Glass

Gone With the Wind

This year marks the 150th anniversary of Appomattox.  In recent times, academics studying the Civil War have reached a striking degree of consensus about how that war should be understood, and its practical implications today.  Sadly, that consensus has one enormous omission.

Overwhelmingly, scholars agree that the war was about the defense and preservation of slavery, so that any and all rival interpretations—such as states’ rights or conflicts over the tariff—are dismissed as diversions.  This was no mere War Between the States, but a naked struggle between good against evil.  If that’s true, that is a potent statement for today’s politics of commemoration.  States and cities will come under enormous and increasing pressure to remove any memories of soldiers or politicians who fought only for such unspeakable oppression.  Who can defend the defenders of slavery?

So absolute has this view become that the most visible historians openly mock any rival theories.  You believe in the states’ rights argument, they ask?  Then name just one states’ rights issue unrelated to slavery that sparked the war.  And explain, please, if it believed so passionately in local rights, why the Confederacy became such an aggressively centralized and interventionist state, far more so than the North?  In reality, the war began and ended as a conflict over...

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