A Time for Honesty About Slavery

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Photograph by Peter Hapak for TIME

Slavery, as many have noted, was America's original sin. The Framers made an ugly compromise to ratify the Constitution, many of them knowing that the seed of disunion had been planted even as the Republic was born. Lincoln regarded the Declaration, not the Constitution, as the moral template for America, and even though he was not an extreme abolitionist, he saw "all men are created equal" as the vision statement for the nation. He knew and wrote that the Civil War would not have happened except for slavery.

On the 150th anniversary of the war, David Von Drehle's powerful cover story makes clear that "forgetting was the price of reconciliation." The war was so painful — as many as 1 in 5 young men in the country were wounded or killed — that both sides went into denial in their own ways. It was easier for survivors, and later for entire schools of historians, to frame the war in terms of a conflict over trade or states' rights than to face the terrible legacy of slavery on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. Even 150 years after the war started, it is necessary to examine the truth about the dreadful institution that caused it and the effect the war continues to have today.

To mark the anniversary, we are publishing two books: an unabridged electronic version of David's cover story called Why They Fought, available exclusively on Amazon.com as a Kindle Single, and a commemorative hardcover called The Civil War: An Illustrated History. It's a richly illustrated chronicle of the entire sweep of the conflict, including rare pictures, informative maps and an insightful introduction by renowned historical novelist Jeff Shaara. It's available wherever books are sold and at time.com/civilwarbook

Richard Stengel, MANAGING EDITOR