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An anniversary to remember

On Sunday, April 9, I opened an e-mail which reprinted an article from the GUARDIAN. It was entitled, “The American Civil War Ended Today. It should be as National Holiday.”

I was intrigued. I had visited Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia a few years ago, and I guess I heard that date but it didn’t stick with me. As I read the article I began to think that the writer was on to something. For years, many states (but not in the South) had celebrated Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Why? Why was a Lincoln Memorial created in Washington, DC in 1922? The obvious answer is because without Lincoln’s vigorous refusal to “let” the South secede from the Union and create a slave-owning republic, there would be no United States today AND slavery might have persisted for decades in that new nation, the Confederate States of America. (It took Brazil till 1888 to finally abolish slavery.). Lincoln saved the union and with the emancipation proclamation and the arming of black soldiers to fight in the Civil War set in motion an irrevocable tide that ended with the 13th Amendment.

Well, if Lincoln is to be celebrated, it seems to me (and the writer of the article) that the day the North was finally victorious in the long and very bloody Civil War should be celebrated too.

I very quickly called up my State legislator’s office and urged that she introduce a bill in Albany making that date a state holiday. I will be following up with members of Congress with the same suggestion at the federal level.

Why is it particularly appropriate at this time in American history to celebrate the victory of the Union armies in the Civil War and the abandonment of resistance to reunification and the destruction of slavery? The answer should be obvious. The reason the South seceded was because they were afraid that the election of the anti-slavery politician Abraham Lincoln was the first step towards outright abolition. I know--- I know – Lincoln promised not to touch slavery where it already existed, just to make sure it didn’t expand to a single new state or territory. But to many Southerners the handwriting was on the wall.

It was in this context before a single shot had been fired in the Civil War that Alexander Stephens, the Vice-President of the so-called Confederate States of America, let slip the truth --- here are his words:

"[O]ur new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas [as those of slavery foes]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth."

Though Lincoln argued that he was only fighting to preserve the union, he soon figured out that the only way to win the war was to make it a moral crusade against slavery and to enlist free blacks and escaped slaves in that great fight. Thus, the victory on April 9, 1865 defeated the slave power and made the passage of the 13th amendment almost inevitable.

Given that the racists in Trump-land want to cleanse the teaching of American history of any hint of the truth about slavery, the period after slavery when blacks had political rights in the South, the period from the later 1800s until the Civil Rights revolution of the 1960s –and I could go on but I hope listeners get the point – given the attempt to wash away the true history of the United States, an attempt to make April 9 a national holiday will be well worth the effort. Republicans should join Democrats in supporting such a holiday – after all, it was a Republican who fought the Civil War to preserve the union and end slavery.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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