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The Real Reason the South Left the Union

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Tragic recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia raise new questions about an old debate. Why did Southern states leave the Union in the first place, resulting in a war that killed more than 700,000 Americans?

Mississippi, the 2nd of 11 states that ultimately seceded from the federal government, gave a clear explanation in its 1861 declaration of secession: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery—the greatest material interest of the world,” the delegates affirmed.

They saw slavery as essential to their survival, claiming that, “none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun … and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.” While individuals who fought for the Confederacy may have been decent and even noble, no one should pretend the Confederate cause was honorable.

As the great Mississippian and Nobel Prize-winner William Faulkner famously declared, “The past is never dead. It’s not even passed.”

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