Civil war was about slavery
To the editor:
In response to the letter titled “Systemic racism is a fact” (July 29): I mostly agree with what Alma Marin wrote. It is not an accusation of racism against individual Americans to acknowledge that there exist institutions that disproportionately disadvantage Black people in the US. On the contrary, it is a recognition of observable reality. To paraphrase Alma, voter suppression, inequality in sentencing, and disparities in healthcare are just the tip of the iceberg.
I differ, however, on the central cause of the Civil War. Historians agree: The central cause of the Civil War was slavery. To be clear, no historical event has just one cause. However, arguments that center on states’ rights instead of slavery are misinformed at best and a form of historical negation at worst. The State of Mississippi said in its secession declaration, “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world.” To quote Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse: “Southern states insisted that northern ones be forced to back slavery by the Fugitive Slave Act. When it came to states’ rights to opt out of slavery, they were against it.”
On the other hand, arguments that trace secession back to tariffs and taxes are a remnant of attempts to whitewash the history of the Civil War. It is worth noting that the Tariff of 1857 was passed with support from Southerners and Northerners alike and remained in place until early 1861. Additionally, conflicts arising from taxation in the early 1800s (such as the Nullification Controversy) did not produce rebellion among the southern states in the same way that the threat of the end of slavery did. Slavery was the central cause of the Civil War.
All that said, Alma’s larger point is correct. The Civil War did not bring about an end to race-based inequality in the United States. Indeed, it was in the 100 years following the Civil War that states put up barriers to prevent Black people from voting, getting a quality education, and accessing equal justice. Many of these systems are still in place today. We see them in the closure of polling places in majority-Black communities, the continuation of de-facto segregation in the American public school system, and the sentencing disparities that Alma mentioned. It is on us to change the systems that continue to split our society along racial lines. I share Alma’s sentiment that a better future is possible and hope that the citizens of New Ulm will rise to the occasion and help bring about that future.
Rodrigo Tojo Garcia