Past is Prologue

Clint Schemmer writes about history, heritage preservation and the American Civil War.  On Facebook: Past is Prologue  On Twitter: @prologuepast  ContactEmail Clint or call 540/374-5424.

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States’ rights and Civil War memory

Just before the lunch break, the conference chairman, professor James O. Horton rebutted those today — and they are outspoken — who contend that, as he put it, the Civil War “was not about slavery; it was about states’ rights.”

Their notion is, he said, that the war erupted over Southern states’ insistence that their laws couldn’t not, under the U.S. Constitution, be overridden by the federal government.

“If you can find me an example of a Confederate leader or hero,” Dr. Horton said. “who would say ‘I am opposed to the Fugitive Slave Law because it overrides the personal liberties laws passed by the states’… You find me a single person who says that, and I’ll take the states’ rights argument very seriously.”

After the break, he added to the thread as he introduced the next panel of presenters.

Dr. Horton acknowledged that interpreting the War Between the States is complex, saying, “The [Civil War] memory is difficult. This was not a simple time with a simple strategy.”

He noted that there were slaves in Northern states, but then declared: “The Civil War was almost all surrounding the issue of slavery and race.”

Horton recalled a talk he gave in Harper’s Ferry some years ago, in which he quoted Confederate leader after Confederate leader who said, in so many words, that the conflict was centered on the issue of bondage.

Then he quoted Confederate hero John Singleton Mosby, the “Gray Ghost” of Warrenton, writing about the secession convention of South Carolina–which plainly references slavery as a cause of its actions”

“Don’t you think South Carolina should know why it seceded?” Mosby wrote.

Horton urged people interested in the war’s causes to examine the records of the often-vigorous debates that went on in states as they decided whether they should secede or not.

Otherwise, confusion may continue, he said, with many Americans vague on what happened, and why.

“People remember that there was a Civil War,” Horton said. “But I don’t think many people understand the complexity, the reasons, and so on.”