Did slavery cause Civil War? Many Americans don’t think so
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54% say slavery was main reason; 41% say it wasn’t. In the South, majority believe it wasn’t main reason. Region, race, politics affect views of Civil War.
A century and a half after the war ended, Americans still fundamentally disagree about slavery’s role in the Civil War and what to teach schoolchildren about it, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
Some 54 percent of respondents think slavery was the main reason for the Civil War. A sizable minority, 41 percent, do not think slavery was the main reason, the national survey found.
Echoing that divide, they also are split over what to teach children. A majority, 54 percent, believe schools should teach that slavery was the main reason for the war; 38 percent think they should not teach that.
Faced with questions about the role of slavery, Americans don’t just divide overall. They view it differently based on where they live, what political party they like and, of course, their race.
Rodney Fox, 31, a postal carrier from Boise, Idaho, who describes himself as a Democrat, is among those who thinks slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and that it should be taught that way in textbooks.
He said he felt like his school in Washington state “breezed” by the issue when he was growing up. Fox added that many aspects of America’s history with Native Americans is also missing from textbooks.
“We cherry-pick and shape what we want to put in our textbooks to show how we want to be perceived to our children,” he said.
In each geographic region but the South, poll respondents say slavery was the main reason for the war:
▪ By a large percentage, respondents in the West say slavery was the main reason, 67-27 percent.
▪ In the Midwest, 56-39 percent say slavery was the main reason.
▪ In the Northeast, 50-43 percent say slavery was the main reason.
But the response changes for Southerners, who say slavery wasn’t the main reason for the Civil War, 49-45 percent.
People of different party affiliations also responded differently to the question.
Democrats by 62-33 percent say slavery was the main reason for the war. Independents nearly reflected the national average, 53-43 percent. Republicans were more divided, 49-45 percent, that slavery was the main reason.
And a majority of tea party supporters do not think slavery was the main reason for the Civil War. Of those who said they support the tea party movement, 52 percent said slavery was not the main reason for the Civil War and 43 percent said it was.
“That’s a fairly sizable group of people who don’t think slavery was the primary reason,” Miringoff said.
Retired teacher Tom Laney, 63, of Odessa, Texas, is among those who say slavery was not the main reason for the Civil War. Laney is a tea party supporter.
“Slavery was a reality, both in the North and the South. But states’ rights, the right to secede, was the reason for the Civil War,” Laney said. “And the North’s reason was really economic. They couldn’t afford to lose the Southern states.”
Schools should not teach students that slavery was the reason for the war, Laney said. He said teaching the war that way is “a falsehood.”
“Rewriting of history is all too common nowadays in our school history textbooks and I’m totally opposed,” he said.
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