Since most modern historians agree that the South seceded to protect slavery they conclude that the Civil War was “all about” slavery. The inference, however, overlooks the possibility that the Southern states could have been allowed to depart in peace. Within the lifetimes of most readers, for example, the Soviet Union peacefully disintegrated into its constituent countries as did Czechoslovakia.
Even though it was partly motivated to defend slavery, one secession example from American history demonstrates that such action need not have led to war. Moreover, it questions the underlying assumption that the immorality of slavery alone was sufficiently repellant to Northerners that they would fight secessionists for trying to protect it.
In 1846 about one third of the District of Columbia seceded. Originally the District was a ten-mile-by-ten-mile square. About a third of the one hundred square miles were southwest of the Potomac River in what was originally—and presently—Virginia…
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