In March 1865, with the Civil War's final days in view, President Abraham Lincoln said plainly in his Second Inaugural Address that "all knew" that slavery "was somehow the cause of the war." Today, as the nation commemorates the war's sesquicentennial, the war's fundamental cause—slavery—is obscured in mythmaking and selective memory. It's time we get it right. Only by facing the past honestly can we as a nation progress toward a more perfect union. To that end, we need a clear understanding of the core issue, an understanding that goes beyond hackneyed myths and cloying appeals to regional vanities.
John Gripentrog teaches history at Mars Hill College in North Carolina. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006.