Apparently the 150th anniversary of the Civil War is approaching, and I just read a Breakpoint article by Chuck Colson mentioning it, and then talking about how racial reconciliation is advancing in his prison ministry.
The article didn't have much to do with the civil war, per se, though. It seems people slip very quickly from the Civil War to how white people treat black people. These are two very different issues.
So, on the Civil War itself: it seems there is a lot of demonizing that still goes on. Pro-South folks think the north wanted to destroy their way of life, not just free the slaves. Pro-North folks think it was just about slavery, and why would the south be so blind as to fight to maintain such a horrible evil? Both of these tend to attribute purely malicious motives to the other.
I think the truth is that the north became intent to remove the evil of slavery, while getting pinched economically by competition from the south at the same time. Lincoln and Co. believed that slavery wouldn't be eliminated without a complete economic rearrangement in the south. He really wanted to free the slaves for moral reasons, and this also benefited the north economically.
So there are two lessons to learn.
1. For my Lincoln-hating, pro-south friends, when there are two possible ways to judge a man's motives, and you can't tell, go with the gracious one. There are lots of quotes of Lincoln's that get thrown around, both that he meant to destroy the south economically and that he was grieved at the bane of slavery. How about instead of making him a monster, we charitably say that the "uglier" quotes were a hat tip to political reality of the time, which led him to some damaging actions? Thus, the second lesson:
2. For my family and friends who assume the north was right: when you want a revolution to stop a horrible atrocity (abortion comes to mind), be careful not to force action to stop the present evil. That will cause more problems down the road. Lincoln did this, seems to me. Wilberforce worked over time to end slavery peaceably in England, giving the lie to Lincoln's necessary war. The north assumes we would still have slavery in the south if the north didn't go to war to keep the south from seceding. Why is that so? Only if you demonize the south...
Further helpful discussion on the civil war would ask: was it necessary to hold the union together once states began to secede? Why? When should states expect to exercise sovereignty as is their right, and when should they work together for the good of the union?