A century and a half after the war ended, Americans still fundamentally disagree about slavery’s role in the Civil War and what to teach schoolchildren about it, according to a new McClatchy-Marist Poll.
Fifty-four percent of respondents think slavery was the main reason for the Civil War. A sizable minority, 41 percent, do not think slavery was the main reason, the national survey found.
Echoing that divide, they also are split over what to teach children. A majority, 54 percent, believe schools should teach that slavery was the main reason for the war; 38 percent think they should not teach that.
How Americans view this, particularly in the wake of bipartisan movements to take down Confederate flags after a horrific mass murder inside a historically black church in South Carolina, underscores how much these basic opinions of slavery and race still split the country.
“These are not issues that America has apparently come to grips with in overwhelming numbers,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in New York, which conducts the poll. “This is still, to some degree, a nation divided.”
Faced with questions about the role of slavery, Americans don’t just divide overall. They view it differently based on where they live, what political party they like and, of course, their race.
Rodney Fox, 31, a postal carrier from Boise, Idaho, who describes himself as a Democrat, is among those who thinks slavery was the main cause of the Civil War and that it should be taught that way in textbooks.
He said he felt like his school in Washington state “breezed” by the issue when he was growing up. Fox added that many aspects of America’s history with Native Americans is also missing from textbooks.
“We cherry-pick and shape what we want to put in our textbooks to show how we want to be perceived to our children,” he said.
In each geographic region but the South, poll respondents say slavery was the main reason for the war:
Source: Tribune News Service | Samantha Ehlinger