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Lessons from the Civil War

Re "The Way We Weren't" [April 18]: There probably will never be acknowledgment of the role slavery played, because it would stain the hands of some iconic figures, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and, yes, Ulysses S. Grant, whose defenders simply can't accept that such paragons could breed, work or trade human beings as if they were cattle. As a descendant of the bred, worked and traded, I have learned to compartmentalize American history. I therefore say to those who would deny slavery's importance: The historic flaw of slavery does not diminish but accentuates the greatness of our relatively young country. In 235 years, we have gone from slaveholding President George Washington to African-American President Barack Obama, who incidentally carried the former Confederate states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia.

David L. Evans, CAMBRIDGE, MASS.

If this magnanimous cause to free a race of people from bondage was so important to the U.S. government that it threatened the existence of our young country, why was the government still making a concerted effort to eliminate outright an entire race of people--Native Americans--for generations after the end of the Civil War? Even today it can be argued that through neglect, there is some legacy remaining of this policy.

David White, JACKSONVILLE, FLA.

Thank you for David Von Drehle's insightful article. I was disappointed, though, by his failure to draw a more explicit connection to the contemporary Tea Party, birther and antigovernment movements. The dotted line from the Lost Cause apologists for the Confederacy to the "take my country back" fanatics of today is direct and insidious.

Gary R. Howard, SEATTLE

Of course slavery is immoral and despicable, and of course preserving slavery motivated Southern states to secede from the Union. Yet there also can be no doubt that Southern states believed the Constitution conferred the right of secession. Abundant constitutional scholarship supports the reasonableness of such a view at that time. But Von Drehle comes no closer than a dismissive mention of "states' rights" to the question of the legality of secession and the illegality of a war to stop it. Surely Von Drehle cannot be surprised that so many doubt the nobility of the motives of the Northern states and the legality and morality of their armed and economic devastation of the South.

John D. Wells, CHASSELL, MICH.

I was dismayed to see no mention of Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is unimaginable to think of any serious article on slavery and the Civil War without any reference to the small book that started the big war.

Maharaj Mukherjee, POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y.

Von Drehle's report on Civil War revisionism was eye-opening and well written. Especially smart was the focus on Northern collusion in supporting and profiting from slavery. The time-bending photos were terrific! One omission: W.E.B. DuBois wrote an important corrective to the Lost Cause view, titled Black Reconstruction in America, in 1935--two decades before C. Vann Woodward published The Strange Career of Jim Crow--but as a black scholar, he was ignored.

Steve McGlamery, BLACKSBURG, VA.

The Budget Battle

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