The Civil War Ended Slavery

The Civil War Ended Slavery

The Civil War Ended Slavery

The decision by the University of Oregon and Oregon State University to stop calling sporting events between the two schools the “Civil War” appears based upon an ahistorical understanding of the real Civil War and its role in ending slavery in the United States. It’s not important what the schools call the games; it’s very important that these taxpayer-funded institutions of higher learning not encourage a misunderstanding of history.

OSU President Ed Ray explained the decision was made because the name “represents a connection to a war fought to perpetuate slavery.” This is the equivalent of calling World War II “a war to perpetuate Nazi death camps.” It’s a critical fact that, in both wars, the sides defending slavery and death camps lost. Ray’s description is a misreading of history and is also a disservice to the Union war dead, especially the roughly 40,000 African Americans who died in the Civil War for the cause of freedom. They, surely, did not die to perpetuate slavery.

In fact, slavery, that awful stain imprinted on the American founding, would have persisted longer, perhaps much longer, if the Civil War had not happened. In the run up to the wa, many northern voters came to oppose the expansion of slavery westward. Southern states understood that a westward expansion adding only free and no slave states would eventually render the institution vulnerable to erasure via constitutional amendment.

In 1860, the new Republican party nominated and the nation elected Abraham Lincoln on a platform opposing western expansion of slavery but not advocating for abolition of slavery where it already existed. After Lincoln’s election, Southern states began to secede. Lincoln and other Republicans pleaded with the South to stay in the union, including by moving through Congress a constitutional amendment that would have forbidden the amendment of that document to interfere with slavery. The South rejected the overture and the nation plunged into four years of civil war.

The war provided to Lincoln the political will and the legal justification for moving forcefully against slavery. In September 1862, Lincoln, relying on his authority as commander in chief of a country at war, issued the Emancipation Proclamation which outlawed slavery in Confederate-held areas. The Proclamation left untouched slavery in Union border states, as those areas were not at war with the United States. For the vast bulk of slaves throughout the Confederacy, freedom would be delayed until Union troops controlled the area in which they lived, and thus could enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Without the Civil War, there would have been no Emancipation Proclamation.

Juneteenth, a holiday celebrated this year with renewed vigor, commemorates June 19, 1865, the date Union General Gordon Granger arrived with 2,000 federal troops in Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed all slaves in that state freed. The largest Confederate army had surrendered to Union troops in Virginia on April 9, but Texas was remote enough, and some elements of the Confederate army continued to resist Union action there, that it wasn’t until Juneteenth that the Union had sufficient control of the state to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation. Juneteenth would not exist if not for the Civil War.

If the South had not seceded, or if the Union had allowed it to go, there would have been no Civil War, and slavery would have endured. Before the war, the U.S. lacked the political will and legal justification to outlaw slavery in the South. The war provided those elements, and, eventually, the presence of Union troops in the South to force, literally at the point of a bayonet, the emancipation of nearly all of the 3.9 million slaves in the Confederate states. Soon after the war, the U.S. did what it promised to never do before the war: outlaw slavery in all the states via constitutional amendment. But for the Civil War, slavery would have endured.

As Americans continue to examine our painful history of slavery and other forms of legal discrimination and subjugation of African Americans, it is a disservice to describe the war that supplied freedom to nearly four million people as “a war to perpetuate slavery.”

Jeff Eager

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What I do:EagerLaw PC – A business and real property law firm in Bend, Oregon.Insite LGA Corp. – A campaign consulting, strategic communications and local government monitoring firm.

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Jeff started EagerLaw PC to help Oregon entrepreneurs succeed in business. Jeff worked in Washington, D.C. for Oregon Congressman Greg Walden, served as Mayor of the City of Bend, and has been practicing law in Oregon for over a decade. Jeff believes strongly in entrepreneurship and enjoys making the legal side of business transparent and easy for his clients.


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