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150 years later, Civil War still a delicate subject for schools

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Recent polling suggests that Americans remain divided in their views of issues tied to the Civil War. The very idea of designating a Confederate History Month, for instance, which Gov. McDonnell’s two Democratic predecessors declined to do, split those surveyed. Just more than half of U.S. adults said they oppose such a remembrance, according to the poll by Harris Interactive.

Meanwhile, 54 percent of respondents said they believe the South was mainly fighting to preserve slavery, compared with 46 percent who believe the South was mainly fighting for states’ rights. (The poll did not offer further alternatives.)

Slavery’s Role

To be sure, the nation has come a long way. For decades, historians say, slavery had been largely removed from the public conversation about the war and its origins, as had such topics as the role of African-Americans in fighting for the Union. Today, they get much more attention in schools, museums, and planned commemorations of the anniversary.

Most mainstream historians now agree that slavery was the leading reason driving the conflict.

“Slavery is the major cause of the Civil War,” said James I. Robertson, a Civil War historian at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg. “There are people ... who will argue to the sky that slavery was just a byproduct, but without slavery, there was no cause for the North and the South to start killing each other.”

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