A recent letter challenging the historical truth of slavery being the cause of the Civil War deserves a response. Fifteen years ago, 116 South Carolina historians signed a statement clearly demonstrating that slavery was indeed the cause of the war.
The statement quoted William Preston, spokesman for South Carolina delegates, in declaring, “Slavery is our king; slavery is our Truth; slavery is our Divine Right.”
Soon after Confederate President Jefferson Davis called the work of African slaves “indispensable” to the South, Vice President Alexander Stephens added that the Confederacy was “founded upon” what he called “the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural moral condition.”
Running successfully for governor in the critical election of 1860, Francis Pickens defiantly declared, “If need be, cover the state with ruin, conflagration, and blood rather than submit.”
After the war was lost and became the Lost Cause, Davis and Stephens backed away from their original statements, casting the cause of the war in the context of “states rights.” This revisionist interpretation still misleads many South Carolinians. The historical record clearly shows that the cause for which the South seceded and fought a devastating war was slavery.
For anyone interested, the full text of the historians’ statement can be found on pp. 48-49 of my co-authored, USC Press book, “The Palmetto State.”
Jack Bass, Ph.D.