Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One: The Civil War Was a Battle for States’ Rights

BY Candace Keener / POSTED May 13, 2009
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There’s been a glaring omission from the SYMHC blog topics in the past few weeks. Let’s deduce what it is. For one, Jane and I blog regularly about history, politics and history-in-the-making. Secondly, I have a strong affinity for Thomas Jefferson. And thirdly, HowStuffWorks.com is headquartered in Atlanta. Haven’t guessed the hot topic yet? It’s the Georgia Senate Resolution 632 — a resolution that “[a]ffirm[s] states’ rights based on Jeffersonian principles; and for other purposes.”

So why the sound of silence? Well, from what I’ve observed on other news sites and blogs, it’s nearly impossible to discuss the resolution and get intelligent feedback. “Forget Iran, we may need to nuke Georgia!” is just one of many hot-headed responses to news of the resolution, which, I’ll admit, is quite radical.

However, some recent comments about the latest SYMHC podcast on the Battle of Gettysburg have provided a timely entree into the topic. To paraphrase the sentiments of some concerned listeners, it’s inaccurate to portray the Civil War as strictly a battle over slavery — it was a fight for states’ rights.

This is a difficult point of view to discuss. Slavery is wrong, and it’s expressly forbidden by the Constitution. Calling the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression is a stretch, in my opinion. But I’m not convinced that it’s radical to claim that the Civil War was waged by Southern states to preserve their rights. That seems like a valid argument.

Yet, it’s an argument that hinges on an abominable institution. States’ rights are important, yes, but not when exercising those rights means perpetuating slavery. Does that diminish the conviction with which the South entered and fought in the Civil War? It puts it in perspective. Should our Southern ancestors be lauded for struggling to maintain their Constitutionally granted rights (acknowledging that the 10th Amendment, which protects states’ rights, came well before the 13th Amendment, which bans slavery)?

Exercise your 1st Amendment rights in the comments section below.

More background:
Slavery
Confederate States of America
Civil War
How the Battle of Gettysburg Worked

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