Slavery was war's cause but Northerners were not pure

April 11, 2011

In response to Leonard Pitts, Jr.'s column ("What was Civil War about? Listen to the voices of the Confederacy," April 10), it should be noted that political motivation and post hoc justifications are often fluid, and evil, sadly, is often relative.

President Lincoln famously said he didn't care about freeing the slaves, but only about saving the Union. Despite this, Mr. Lincoln well knew that the one could not be accomplished without the other. While some of the Union side harangued about the evils of slavery, they were blind to the North's complicity, exploiting slave-grown cotton for mills with dangerous machinery often operated by children, typically white European immigrants, as young as 8 laboring for 16-hours-a-day, often 7 days a week.

Ironically, barbaric Yankee labor practices flourished while it was in the slave owners interest to keep increasingly valuable slaves healthy and humanely treated to protect what was considered their property under federal law. Yes, slavery was the reason for the war and Jefferson Davis' denial is malarkey. But neither side was morally blameless in how they ran their economies.

A century and a half later, it is good to recall that hundreds of thousands of white Americans gave their lives to eliminate slavery, and that their descendants have spent billions of dollars to right the dreadful wrongs of anti-black discrimination and some have even given their lives in the civil rights struggles.

W. Stanwood Whiting, Baltimore

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