150 Years Later: Remembering the American Civil War

NEW YORK, N.Y. – March 29, 2011 – As we approach the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, a dark yet formative period in U.S. history, The Harris Poll asked Americans to think about appropriate ways to remember this time, as well as what they think about the legacy of the conflict.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,566 adults surveyed online between January 17 and 24, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

Some states, particularly those in the South, have announced plans to remember and commemorate national as well as specific local events surrounding the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. When asked, however, a majority of Americans say that a parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy (68%), and parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy are not appropriate (58%) ways to remember the Civil War. In addition, majorities say that flying the Confederate flag (61%) or designating a Confederate History Month (53%) are also not appropriate. Americans who live in states which were neither formed nor recognized during the Civil War are most critical of these ideas (between 59% and 74% say each is not appropriate), yet adults who live in states which were part of the Confederacy are opposed to them as well (between 51% and 69% say each is not appropriate). However, White adults living in the former Confederacy have a different mind regarding flying the Confederate flag and designating a Confederate History Month-at least half say each is appropriate (51% and 57%, respectively). Most Americans, including those in the South and the former Confederacy (91% for all) say that reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is, on the other hand, appropriate.

The Legacy of the War

Although today there are various and even stark regional differences within the United States, over eight in ten Americans (82%) agree that the country has benefitted from remaining unified, with six in ten strongly agreeing (63%). The more education one has the more likely they are to agree, with three quarters of those with a high school diploma or less saying so (74%) compared to 87% who attended some college, 88% who graduated from college and 91% who have a post-graduate education. Further, only about a quarter say that the North would be better off today if the country had split (27%) while 45% say it would be worse off-29% are not at all sure. Opinions on the South’s ability to have thrived as an independent nation emphasize the feelings that the U.S. has benefitted from remaining unified-over half of Americans say that if the country had split the South would be worse off today (57%). Notably, White adults in the former Confederacy agree-over half say both the North and South would be worse off today, if the country had split (52% and 51%, respectively).

To this day there are conflicting accounts of the War, which is somewhat underscored by the different names used to refer to it-most say the American Civil War, yet some call it the War between the States and others still refer to the War of Northern Aggression. Given the disparate perspectives, this Harris Poll sought to learn what Americans think each side was fighting for in the 1860s. Seven in ten Americans say that the North was fighting to preserve the Union (69%) while significantly fewer say it was fighting to abolish slavery (31%). There is less of a consensus about what the South was fighting for-54% say the South was fighting for states’ rights and 46% say it was to preserve slavery.

So What?

Remembering such a complicated and nuanced period in history is equally important as it is complex. True understanding requires significant education, perspective and sensitivity. It may not be appropriate to celebrate or commemorate each piece of this history, but it is important to be knowledgeable about events and their surrounding circumstances so that learning and growth is possible.

 

TABLE 1A

APPROPRIATE WAYS TO REMEMBER THE CIVIL WAR

The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War is approaching. Some states are planning events and demonstrations in remembrance. To what extent do you agree that each of the following is an appropriate way to remember the American Civil War?

Base: All adults

 

Appropriate

Not appropriate

%

%

A parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy

32

68

Flying the Confederate flag

39

61

Reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

91

9

Designating a Confederate History Month

47

53

Parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy

42

58

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 1B

APPROPRIATE WAYS TO REMEMBER THE CIVIL WAR

The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War is approaching. Some states are planning events and demonstrations in remembrance. To what extent do you agree that each of the following is an appropriate way to remember the American Civil War?

Summary of those saying appropriate

Base: All adults

 

TOTAL

Region

Civil War Affiliation

White Confed-erates

East

Midwest

South

West

Union

Confed-eracy

Non-state

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

A parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy

32

36

38

31

25

35

31

26

35

Flying the Confederate flag

39

44

36

43

32

39

42

33

51

Reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

91

90

92

91

91

92

91

87

91

Designating a Confederate History Month

47

52

44

49

43

48

49

41

57

Parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy

42

45

44

43

35

43

42

37

45

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 1C

APPROPRIATE WAYS TO REMEMBER THE CIVIL WAR

The 150th anniversary of the American Civil War is approaching. Some states are planning events and demonstrations in remembrance. To what extent do you agree that each of the following is an appropriate way to remember the American Civil War?

Summary of those saying not appropriate

Base: All adults

 

TOTAL

Civil War Affiliation

White Confed-erates

Union

Confed-eracy

Non-state

%

%

%

%

%

A parade with a mock-swearing in of Jefferson Davis as President of the Confederacy

68

65

69

74

65

Flying the Confederate flag

61

61

58

67

49

Reading President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address

9

8

9

13

9

Designating a Confederate History Month

53

52

51

59

43

Parades and events to celebrate secession and the Confederacy

58

57

58

63

55

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 2

AGREEMENT ON WHETHER THE U.S. HAS BENEFITTED FROM REMAINING UNIFIED

To what extent do you agree that the United States has benefitted from remaining unified?

Base: All adults

 

TOTAL

Education

White Confed-erates

H.S. or less

Some college

College grad

Post grad

%

%

%

%

%

%

Agree (NET)

82

74

87

88

91

81

Strongly agree

63

54

66

70

78

59

Somewhat agree

19

20

21

18

12

22

Disagree (NET)

7

8

6

8

7

8

Somewhat disagree

4

4

3

5

2

5

Strongly disagree

3

3

3

3

6

3

Not at all sure

11

18

8

4

2

11

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

 

TABLE 3A

IF THE COUNTRY HAD SPLIT WOULD THE REGIONS BE BETTER OFF

To what extent do you believe that each region would be better off today if the country had split?

Base: All adults

 

Better off (NET)

Much better off

Somewhat better off

Worse off (NET)

Somewhat worse off

Much worse off

Not at all sure

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The North

27

12

15

45

17

27

29

The South

17

9

8

57

15

42

26

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 3B

IF THE COUNTRY HAD SPLIT WOULD THE REGIONS BE BETTER OFF

To what extent do you believe that each region would be better off today if the country had split?

Summary of those saying worse off

Base: All adults

 

Total

White Confed-erates

%

%

The North

45

52

The South

57

51

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4

WHAT WAS THE NORTH FIGHTING FOR

Do you think that in the Civil War the North was mainly fighting to abolish slavery or to preserve the Union?

Base: All adults

 

Total

White Confed-erates

%

%

Mainly fighting to abolish slavery

31

29

Mainly fighting to preserve the Union

69

71

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5

WHAT WAS THE SOUTH FIGHTING FOR

Do you think that in the Civil War the South was mainly fighting to preserve slavery or for states’ rights?

Base: All adults

 

Total

White Confed-erates

%

%

Mainly fighting to preserve slavery

46

33

Mainly fighting for states’ rights

54

67

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between January 17 to 24, 2011 among 2,566 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

 

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

 

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J39369

Q830, 835, 840, 845, 850

The Harris Poll® #42, March 29, 2011

By Samantha Braverman, Senior Project Researcher, Harris Interactive