A recent letter writer asserted that slavery did not cause the Civil War and called upon people to read more history. I took his advice and read histories of South Carolina and Beaufort County, works written by four eminent historians.
Both books quote from numerous documents of the period leading up to war. The record is clear: Slavery was the principal issue.
In a conference of Southern Rights associations, for example, the Beaufort contingent wrote that it was time "to unite in a slaveholding Confederacy, maintaining as a fundamental principle, the perpetual recognition of that institution."
The first book asks, "What was it that gave the Beaufort District its early and ardent attachment to radical states' rights and even secession? The answer was slavery. Behind all the constitutional rhetoric over nullification and states' rights was the deep and abiding fear that loss of local political control would eventually lead to the abolition of slavery ..."
One may also draw this conclusion from the congressional voting record, which shows that mountainous, non-slave-dependent Southern districts favored remaining in the Union.
Many conservatives would like to hold up "states' rights" as a tenet of their philosophy dating back to the American Revolution, hence so many letters denying the role of slavery in causing the Civil War. However, "states' rights" was only a legal justification for preserving slavery and later for preserving segregation. They should consider placing their philosophy on a better foundation.
Thomas D. Wilson