Ask Northerners the cause of the war, and the answer often is a single word: slavery. In many places in the South, the answers can vary: states' rights, freedom, political and economic power.
As students across the region begin springtime Civil War lessons, historians say the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president offers an unprecedented opportunity to break through stereotypes and view the era in broader ways....
There is little disagreement among professional historians that the South's effort to maintain the institution of slavery was the central reason that 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and civil war erupted. Today's textbooks have largely caught up with this view. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the classroom.
Even from this journalistic account, it seems pretty clear that the misleading equation of slavery with race or racism is behind the "stereotypes." It's also clear that no one seems to take seriously that slavery violates the central American founding principle of equality. Affirming human equality is the common cause behind a war to prevent secession that became a war to free the slaves. That was Lincoln's explanation, from the First Inaugural through his Second Inaugural. Equality is a principle of limited government, whose protection of liberty allows the fulfillment of human happiness. Ending slavery is the minimal condition for self-government.
While the journalist recounts a clever Simpsons episode, no where does she see fit to quote the 16th president of the United States in the year of the Bicentennial of his birth. But that can be a story for another time.