Again, I can’t believe that a professionally-trained PhD-bearing historian asked this, but here it goes:
Why insist that slavery was the only cause of the war?
I don’t know of any reputable historian who believes this, or who adopts such a simplistic (simple-minded?) framing of the issue. And, of course, we call this “begging the question,” because it assumes something not in evidence, and it can easily be answered by the usual desire to see history as an expression of one’s personal views and nothing more.
Here’s my question: Why ask such a stupid question?
After all, it’s evidently poorly-framed, and attempting to answer bad questions leads to worse arguments.
Now, it is apparent that some people need to believe this notion, whether it’s this old retired professor or a certain Canadian poet who we’ve encountered here. Given that it’s such a warped understanding of the scholarly debate, we can only speculate as to why some people present the argument this way. I venture that it’s another example of constructing something somewhere between an Other and a strawman (or strawperson): it seems to me to be important to some people to assert that some people believe this in order to “prove” them wrong.
I’ve always agreed with Ulysses S. Grant’s observation that if one removed slavery from the equation, there would have been no secession, no civil war. So I see the presence of slavery as necessary but by no means sufficient in constructing an explanation of how and why secession and war came. Moreover, the presence of slavery by itself did not cause secession and war. And no one believes that … so why claim that “they” do?
Whatever the reason, those discussions are not ones about history or scholarship. Nor is it likely that those people who make these claims will forward evidence demonstrating that their targets actually believe what the questioners say they believe. That both sources cited above have in the past demonstrated that they are smug and condescending only adds to the fun. That one actually has an advanced degree is incredible.
One of the best ways to guarantee a fruitful historical discussion is to ask the right question. It’s also an essential part of good research and can lead to advancements in historical understanding. Asking the wrong question or a poorly-framed one (let alone these loaded statements) is to provide fodder for flame wars. But then the questioners don’t seek understanding in the first place, do they?