Virginia’s role in Civil War was not about slavery

April 19, 2010

To the Editor:

Recently hostile liberals, from former Gov. Doug Wilder to President Barack Obama, have pilloried Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for declaring April as Confederate History Month in Virginia.

McDonnell, attempting to pacify his critics, apologized and issued an amendment inferring slavery was the cause of the war. But was it really?

Several years ago, Oxford University Press published a study entitled "Confederate Emancipation – Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War." Apparently, military units of freed slaves were already training in Richmond as the war neared its end. The significance of this is easy to see. In the final analysis, when the South had to choose between the "peculiar institution," and its economic and political liberties, it chose the latter.

I heard a commentator on television last week ask, "Didn’t the Confederacy

[Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, et al] give countenance to the enslavement of more than four million Africans?"

People like this make it difficult to combat the specious history that created good guys and bad guys in a war in which slavery was not an issue until after almost two years of unimaginable slaughter: only at that point did emancipation become a war measure, limited only under areas of Confederate control to create unrest in the South.

A Northern historian, T. Harry Williams, wrote in his well-researched work, Lincoln and the Radicals, "The Emancipation Proclamation was not the famous human rights document it was held up to be-so celebrated and monumentalized by later generations."

The War Between the States was a national tragedy not because of slavery (another national tragedy dating back to 1619, not 1861) but because it destroyed the constitutional scheme of limited Federal power. Defacto slavery in America was largely preserved through the violent manner in which slavery was officially abolished.

No other country (notably the vast slave-holding empire of Brazil, which abolished slavery peaceably in 1870) ever experienced such a cataclysmic war, ostensibly in the name of abolition.

Perhaps the Proclamation for 2010 Confederate History Month in Virginia may lead us to something better than the comic strip version of history presented by the media and many ideological historians today.

Richard T. Hines
Sons of Confederate Veterans
Alexandria, Va.