With the sesquicentennial commemoration of the Civil War upon us, a firm understanding what was at the root of the war between the states is key, and the National Park Service has provided that primer in an award-winning publication, Slavery: Cause and Catalyst of the Civil War.
Just 26 pages long, the booklet shouldn't be viewed as a thorough accounting of causes of the Civil War, the war itself, and its outcome, but rather as a foundational piece that addresses the underpinning of what launched the war between the states.
The booklet gets right to the point in the second paragraph, which is taken from a speech Alexander H. Stephens, the vice president of the Confederate States of America, gave in March 1861 in Savannah, Georgia.
The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists among us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the 'rock upon which the old union would split.' HJe was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.
But, the publication notes, other issues were at play, too. Some soldiers on both sides of the conflict feared for their way of life, and some on the North believed it was vital to preserve the Union, the booklet notes.
In addressing the issue of slavery and its role in the Civil War, the booklet provides a brief overview of slavery in the United States, noting that the first slaves arrived in 1619 in present-day Virginia aboard a Dutch ship. Other sections of the booklet delve into the economic role of slavery; how the drafters of the Constitution approached the issue of slavery; states rights; how the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which let each territory in the expanding nation decide whether to allow slavery, led to the birth of the Republican Party, and; the election of President Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation.
The booklet received top honors for "interpretive media--small book" from the National Association of Interpretation diring its national workshop late last year.
"This publication plays and important role in the National Park Service telling the story of slavery and its role in the beginning of the Civil War, especially as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the conflict," said Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis. "It is an honor to have the importance of the book and the hard work of our Southeast Region interpretive staff honored by the National Association for Interpretation."
The booklet grew from a site bulletin created by the Southeast Region's Divisions of Interpretation and Education and Cultural Resources.
The book is a great companion to another Park Service publication, the Guidebook to African American History in the National Parks. Released to coincide with the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C., this 68-page book ($7.95) traces African American history in the parks from Adams National Historical Park to The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
With content developed with the assistance of Park Service historians and interpreters, the softcover book does not attempt to be exhaustive in its approach to this integral aspect of U.S. of history. Indeed, each unit of the National Park System with African-American ties of some sort gets just one page of text with some accompanying photos.
But the text provides intriguing insights and, hopefully, will encourage readers to explore further on their own.
Both books can be purchased in Park Service museum stores throughout the National Park System or online at this site.