To the Editor:
As program chairman of Alexandria’s Sesquicentennial Commemoration of the Civil War, I have planned programs for the last two years to illuminate truths about various aspects of the War, including its causes. Many authorities, including Carl Sandburg (who hailed from Illinois, Land of Lincoln) have noted that when campaigning, Lincoln said he would not interfere with slavery in the states where it existed. As President, in the spring of 1861 he called for 75,000 troops to restore the seceded states to the union. An immediate cause of the war was states’ rights, specifically their right to secede, a legal right Northern states had asserted since the 1814 Hartford Convention (Connecticut) without objection from sister states. It was only when the Union was losing the war that Lincoln, looking for another cause to encourage enlistment in the unpopular conflict, adopted ending slavery in the South as a reason for continuing the war. However, abolition proved not to be a popular recruitment tool among Northern citizens; in fact, draft and race riots ensued in many cities. It is notable that he did not try to end slavery in the four Northern slave states that remained in the Union throughout the war. The 1863 Emancipation Proclamation applied only to the seceded states and excepted those parts that the Union then controlled (listed by county). Contrary to widespread belief, Lincoln did not end slavery.
Slavery was ended by the 13th Amendment, ratified after Lincoln’s death.
A war about slavery would have little relevance to us (no one advocates restoring it), but discussion about the War Between the States still strongly resonates with 21st century Americans. Citizens are still very much concerned about protecting the rights of the states and individuals in our federal republic in which the federal government and Supreme Court dominate more and more of our lives. Our debates between the “Originalist” and “Living Constitution” proponents mirror the debates of the 19th century.
Unfortunately, the cartoon “150 Years After the Civil War Re-enactment 2015” on your April 23 Opinion page perpetuated a misunderstanding about the War. Rather than “It was about slavery”, and “states’ raaahghts!!!”, the characters might better have said “It’s about forced unity” and “It’s about free choice.” Your cartoonist’s portraying the Northern soldier as one who can spell and pronounce his words correctly with no regional accent, but Southern soldier as one who cannot spell/pronounce “rights” correctly is an unfortunate slur that reflects poorly on him rather than his target: the brave soldiers who fought to protect their natural rights, their countries (which each state was at that time), their homes and families from invaders. Even an editorial page cartoonist should not distort facts to promote his opinion. Is the spectacle of two men arguing nose to nose meant to be funny?
Ellen Latane Tabb