The Washington Post reports that, under new state guidelines, schools in Texas should teach that slavery was a “side issue” to “state’s rights” in the Civil War. Ironically, the essential Sam Wineburg’s tweet brought this article to my attention. No need to bury the lede:
Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.
And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by “sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery” — written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.
Slavery was a “side issue to the Civil War,” said Pat Hardy, a Republican board member, when the board adopted the standards in 2010. “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”
While the nuances of the Civil War and the crisis leading up to it are beyond my expertise it is infuriating that in 2015 politicians can force historians (and schools and students) to re-evaluate parts of the past that simply are not disputed. In a time when the Common Core, the College Board, the AP U.S. History and AP World tests are all focusing more and more on historical thinking skills, politicians are creating “debates” where there are none.
A quick read of “Confederate States of America – A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union” from March of 1861 makes it CRYSTAL CLEAR of why Texas seceded – the federal government’s treatment of slavery and, ironically, the failure of the federal government to protect borders from “Indian savages” and “banditti from the neighboring territory of Mexico”. While the Declaration doesn’t quite reach Jeffersonian heights in its prose, the text does make clear that Texas seceded because slavery.
In describing how it joined the Union in the beginning:
She was received [into the United States] as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
Texan concerns over the actions of Northern states:
The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions
And a pretty blunt statement of white supremacy:
That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator…
The list goes on and on. Maybe if we just threw out all of the textbooks and had students read the documents, we would not have to “teach the controversy.” Orwell’s observation that political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind” couldn’t capture Texas better today.