Finkenbine battles misconceptions about ‘economic’ cause of Civil War

Slavery remains at the root of racial issues in America, according to UDM history professor Dr. Roy Finkenbine.

Finkenbine, director of the university’s Black Abolitionist Archives and a nationally recognized expert on slavery, delivered a Lunch and Learn talk Oct. 23, titled “Much Apu About Nothing: Sesquicentennial Reflections on the Causes of the Civil War.”

Addressing a diverse crowd of about 60, Finkenbine began with a video clip from “The Simpsons” in which the character Apu is taking his citizenship test.

The examiner asks Apu the cause of the American Civil War.

Apu comes up with numerous causes for the Civil War, until the examiner gets frustrated and tells him, “Just say slavery.”

“The joke out of that is really what I’m arguing in my presentation,” said Finkenbine.

In the actual U.S. citizenship test for immigration, a question does ask about the cause of the Civil War, and it accepts slavery or state rights as a correct answers.

Why would the U.S. citizenship test accept two completely different answers for one simple question?

“In a 2011 poll, 48 percent of Americans say that it (the Civil War) was about state rights, that it was a constitutional issue. Only 38 percent say it was slavery,” said Finkenbine.

According to Finkenbine, there’s a lot of misinformation when it comes to issues behind the Civil War.

In his presentation he listed the causes that have been suggested by historians and politicians, as well as ordinary people.

The explanations include the moral issue of slavery, economics, cultural differences between the North and South, non-effective leadership and constitutional states right.

Each of those ties back to slavery, said Finkenbine.

“For example, what made the North and South economically different?” he asked. “The North had industrial and agricultural economic system, and the South had slavery.”

He described slavery as the cornerstone of the formation of the confederacy in 1861, referencing speeches and editorials that specifically stated that the Civil War was over slavery.

“The South argued the position that served interests in slavery the best, and sometimes argued against state rights and sometimes argued for state rights,” said Finkenbine.

Finkenbine said many race issues today – the Confederate flag issue in Charleston, S.C. – can be traced back to slavery.

“Until we come to grips with how slavery made our country what it is, we’re never going to be able to deal with issues of race – even in 2015,” said Finkenbine.