Civil War still divides Americans
April 12th, 2011
06:00 AM ET
12 years ago

Civil War still divides Americans

Washington (CNN) - It has been 150 years since the Civil War began with the first shots at Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861, and in some respects views of the Confederacy and the role that slavery played in the events of 1861 still divide the public, according to a new national poll.

In the CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Tuesday, roughly one in four Americans said they sympathize more with the Confederacy than the Union, a figure that rises to nearly four in ten among white Southerners.

When asked the reason behind the Civil War, whether it was fought over slavery or states' rights, 52 percent of all Americans said the leaders of the Confederacy seceded to keep slavery legal in their state, but a sizeable 42 percent minority said slavery was not the main reason why those states seceded.

"The results of that question show that there are still racial, political and geographic divisions over the Civil War that still exist a century and a half later," CNN Polling Director Holland Keating said.

When broken down by political party, most Democrats said southern states seceded over slavery, independents were split and most Republicans said slavery was not the main reason that Confederate states left the Union.

Republicans were also most likely to say they admired the leaders of the southern states during the Civil War, with eight in 10 Republicans expressing admiration for the leaders in the South, virtually identical to the 79 percent of Republicans who admired the northern leaders during the Civil War.

The survey polled 824 adults via telephone between April 9 and April 10. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

–CNN Associate Producer Gabriella Schwarz contributed to this report

Filed under: CNN poll • Polls
soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. T'sah from Virginia

    I guess it's the same reason why WARS are still in the Middle East – One side NEVER gives up!!! So are we any different?? Ours is "subtle" and on the rise – in the Middle East, it's in the forefront!!!

    Off to work – have a nice day!!!

    April 12, 2011 06:38 am at 6:38 am |
  2. Namemc

    Am i in the twillight zone? What has taken over this country? A few short years ago I would have argued that america was way smarter than this. Where did all the good people go? I am truly ashamed to be a southern white man these days. God help us

    April 12, 2011 06:43 am at 6:43 am |
  3. Dave

    It's amazing how people try to revise history. You can debate it all day long, but the fact remains that if southern states didn't engage in slavery, the Civil War would not have happened. That is a fact and any sixth grader can tell you that.

    April 12, 2011 06:52 am at 6:52 am |
  4. cocoamac

    There is no debate here. No slavery, no Civil War, period. "States rights" didn't go away with the end of the CW. It's still a major issue but it's no longer anything that's going to start a war because there is no longer a particular aspect that drives an entire regions economy that we need to get rid of. Maybe if we decide to outlaw corn the midwest might rise up and secede.

    April 12, 2011 07:01 am at 7:01 am |
  5. Think123

    Only because some people refuse to move on, they want to carry that chip on their shoulder for their entire lives. Time to move on folks and live life.

    April 12, 2011 07:05 am at 7:05 am |
  6. thomas

    I hope we dont suffer another Gettysburg .

    April 12, 2011 07:10 am at 7:10 am |
  7. mary

    Having moved to Oklahoma from the pacific northwest 3 years ago to be near my southern relatives -I can tell you without hesitation that racism is still alive and well here. Most here call themselves Christians and would'nt admit to being raciest but we have been privy to many racial slurs and coments. As far as the popularity of President Obama in my family-it's as though an African American dared to rise above his station in life..And thats putting it as politically correct as I can. So your poll numbers concerning the Civil War don't surprise me...My husband and I have said many times that the people here haven't gotten over loosing the Civil War and that attitude has passed down through the generations. I'm ashamed to say my grandpa was a member of the KKK -of course a lot of white men were in those days–The up-side for us is we are now selling out and going back to the northwest.

    April 12, 2011 07:11 am at 7:11 am |
  8. Bruce

    All anyone has to do is look at the real history. It was states right that angered many sotherners along with the economic tension between north and south. Slavery was an issue but it did not come into prominence until the Civil War had already started. So this "poll" is meaningless. All this poll suggests is that there are a lot of illiterate people in this country who didn't study history in class when they were kids or bother to really research the reasons. It will never change as long as history is not considered a main subject in classrooms. What a shame.

    April 12, 2011 07:18 am at 7:18 am |
  9. george

    When these old racist whites die off, we will finally see a change in America..Right now, I realize that you cant change an old bigot's way of thinking...They will just have to perish so that the new generation will dominate policy...Right now its just to many racist that is part of a single race and dont make sound judgments base on talent or character because unfortunately they are racist...So it does not surprise me when I see 4 in 10 white southerners who sympathizes with the South's oppresive ideals...To be honest, I view them as no different than a German who admires a Nazi leader or their regime..
    So what do you expect from a race of people who at least half of their population base is probably racist...You might not agree but I believe it to be true...You have people that are racist, denying that racism even exist...The Civil War is nothing but a stupid part of the country, trying to oppress human beings and they lost the war rightfully so...A regime of hate always falters a some point....So all these people that died trying to protect slavery...In my opinion they died for nothing because slavery does not exist...I will not admire leaders who commited treason to this country....They are nothing but traitors with army stripes and should not be heralded because they did nothing heroic...All they did was die tragically...

    April 12, 2011 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  10. Henry

    This is not surprising. It kind of goes along with this hatred these Republicans feel for our President. It is completely racial hidden by conservatism. Well, racism and modern conservatism do go hand in hand, don't they.

    April 12, 2011 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  11. WTH?

    I've enjoyed CNN's exploration of the current attitudes and opinions surrounding the Civil War. I thought John Blake's article was very well prepared and I admire the integrity your network has shown during your coverage of this topic.

    April 12, 2011 08:07 am at 8:07 am |
  12. Norris Singletary

    Even though President Lincoln was just trying to save the union from eradicating, slavery was injected later on during the war as an issue. It started out over what was known as "states rights", (even though slavery was at the fore front of the debate) with new states joining the union, the north wanted to regulate them coming in as "slave states", which would ultimately offset the balance of power. Up to a certain point the North was practically losing the war. Out of desperation, President Lincoln sought to add slavery as an issue in order to insure victory by offering emancipation to the the slaves. But he made it clear that his cause was to preserve the union. He personally stated that, "If I could save the union without freeing one slave, I would".

    April 12, 2011 08:22 am at 8:22 am |
  13. leapfrog

    Every time I see a Tea Party activist, I imagine them clad in butternut gray and waving a rebel flag, and yelling the old battle cry: "The South Will Rise Again." The Civil War is still being fought – maybe not on the battlefield – and sadly because of democratic apathy, it can still be lost.

    April 12, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  14. Sebastian Kent

    This is simply disguisting. Americans as a whole. lack integrity when this type of revisionist history [with the under lying theme of – Slavery wasn`t so bad] is tolerated.

    We lack principles so why should I live by any. Maybe I should just rape, pillage, and plunder like a pirate. It seems to me that 4 in 10 white southerners support that mindset for themselves. so why shouldn`t I?

    April 12, 2011 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  15. Rudy NYC

    Let's suppose that you and your family have owned a unit in a luxury co-op for a couple of generations. The board passes a controversial rule banning owners from having cats and dogs.

    You are quite understandbly outraged and upset at the idea of having to let go of your beloved pets or having to move elsewhere.
    Your family has owned units in the co-op since its' inception. Pets are a part of your family, and always will be. A legal battle is enjoined.

    You argue that your right to live as you choose within your unit is being infringed upon. You argue that your pets are peaceful and do not bother anyone else's pets. The board argues that the issue is not about rights, but about the pets themselves. They argue that pets create odors, invite pests, amongst other problems.

    I ask you. Is this legal issue about someone's personal freedoms, or is it about prohibiting pets?

    April 12, 2011 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  16. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    We need to learn the lessons. The biggest is that if there is a problem, we must talk it out first before violence.

    April 12, 2011 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  17. mike

    Lets be honest the republicans and southern states are trying to paint themselves as people that had nothing to do with slavery but that is a complete forest and everyone knows it actions speak louder than words lets look at there past were do all the hate groups come from the KKK wasn't started up in the north was it and how come most people that think that Obama isn't a united states citizen come from the south look who is agreeing with Donald Trump they hate anyone from the north and why is that the world is changing and they are in the back of the bus and they hate it but the reality is that they are who they are and they will never change

    April 12, 2011 08:33 am at 8:33 am |
  18. klp

    Considering that the fugitive slave act forced non-slave states to look for runaway slaves and the supreme court told a slave living in New York that God had designed hiim to be a slave, I believe that the southern slant on the civil war has always been a little less than honest.

    April 12, 2011 08:44 am at 8:44 am |
  19. snafu

    When the confederacy advanced into northern states, blacks were seized and returned to the south as slaves. A simple fact that is historic and many people to this day deny that' slavery was the main cause of the civil war.

    April 12, 2011 08:47 am at 8:47 am |
  20. informed voter

    It is sadly obvious that many of my fellow countrymen do not understand the facts with regard to the national disgrace that was our nation's history of slavery, bigotry and sexism. The Civil War was indeed a referendum on slavery. The "rights" that the southern states were fighting for, and the reason they seceded, was the right to own slaves, period. Unfortunately, there are those who seek to rewrite history and claim "things weren't so bad." It is also clear there are many angry Americans who can't stand the fact that we have elected our first mixed race president. So sad that this great nation can't seem to progress out of the 19th century.

    April 12, 2011 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  21. jim

    now it's US corporate slavery.

    April 12, 2011 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  22. Pops

    The civil war was primarily about states rights. Confederate generals discharged their slaves before Union generals did. In those times, sadly, slavery was not a big enough issue to start a civil war. Look it how much struggle for equality occured after the war and to this day. To fight against slavery is honorable and just, unfortunately mainstream historians would have you believe that was the sole reason was fought.

    April 12, 2011 08:51 am at 8:51 am |
  23. brad

    When it come down to it most ppl have loyalty to there native state first goverment second...if louisiana left the union tomorrow I'd leave with her without a second thought...I believe the state's should have more rights in governing themselve's

    April 12, 2011 09:11 am at 9:11 am |
  24. Obama 2012

    Of course. That is what divides us into Democrats and Republicans.

    April 12, 2011 09:18 am at 9:18 am |