Column about Civil War was inaccurate

By Sydney Johnson

In his column about the Confederate battle flag ("Nazis have a heritage, too," Monday), Leonard Pitts provides a wonderful display of the ignorance, intolerance and inflammatory rhetoric that he rails against. Pitts says he approaches writing his column as an attempt "to persuade persuadable minds" in "a time when critical thinking is a lost art and ignorance is ascendant." Is the use of inflammatory words and phrases, such as "this American swastika," "hissy fits," and "tantrums" the way "to persuade persuadable minds?"

Pitts gets right to the point of arguing that the "Civil War" was all about slavery. In a few paragraphs, he makes broad attacks that, of course, cannot be adequately answered in a short column. But, start with the fact that he bases his argument on the positions of only two leaders of the "so-called Confederate States of America." Many other leaders opposed slavery but favored secession. And, some prominent pro-slavery Southern leaders opposed secession because they thought the institution of slavery could best be preserved in the Union.

And, it takes two sides to fight a war. Why no statements of Union leaders in Pitts’ column? President Abraham Lincoln said on many occasions that the war was being waged to preserve the Union, not to abolish slavery. In 1861, after most Southern states had left the union, the Congress of the United States passed a resolution clearly stating the same thing. The original 13th Amendment to the Constitution (which, according to historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, originated with Abraham Lincoln) passed by Congress would have forever prevented Congress from interfering with slavery. It was ratified by three states, all of them northern or border states, before war broke out and ended the ratification process.

The complex causes of the war have been debated by historians for nearly 150 years, and slavery was but one of many factors. The issue of slavery revolved around its extension into the territories. And the ugly truth – to put it bluntly – is that white people outside the slave states did not want black people living among them. For example, in the decade or so before secession, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and the territories of Michigan, Iowa, and Oregon had laws or provisions in their constitutions forbidding even free blacks from entering their boundaries. These laws, letters of Union soldiers, draft riots in New York and other evidence of Northern racism undisputed by historians should be enough to refute the idea that more than a million Northerners entered the bloodiest conflict in American history for the abolition of slavery.

Pitts’ column is hypocritical and dishonors the memory of those who fought valiantly for a variety of causes they believed to be right, including the not insignificant number of black Southerners who supported them and sometimes fought alongside them.

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