It's a tragic story, really.People in one region of the country began protesting the regime. The political unrest had been simmering for years and finally boiled over. The government hesitated to do anything at first, not really knowing how to respond. Finally, government troops clashed with the opposition, which had armed itself.Thus began, on April 12, 1861, at a coastal fortification called Fort Sumter located in the harbor near Charleston, S.C., the War for Southern Independence, or, if you prefer, the War of Northern Aggression or the War of Rebellion.Ironically, the Battle of Fort Sumter lasted 34 hours with the only casualty being a horse, though two federal soldiers were killed on April 14, 1861, when a cannon exploded prematurely during the surrender ceremony. That certainly did not foreshadow what would follow with more than 620,000 combatants killed along with somewhere between 50,000 and 2 million civilians (depending on the source) during the next four years of fierce fighting.This week we mark the first of what certainly will be four years of sesquicentennials of important events at places that will forever be burned into the American conscience: Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, Appomattox.Thanks to the poor history education taught in schools today, it might not be clear why this is important. However, the war and its aftermath affect our lives every day.In fact, the core issue in the War for Southern Independence began long before that war and continues today. That issue is federal power. It is the issue that spawned the creation of our first political parties. It is the argument that began at the nation's founding between Alexander Hamilton, who argued for a powerful central government, and James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who said most power should reside with the states.Madison and Jefferson won the first round, but the Hamilton disciples certainly are winning the war.After its victory over the rebels — using tactics such as intentionally targeting civilians — the federal government began a dismantling of the brilliant federal system created by Madison in a process that continues to this day.The idea of state sovereignty, one of those all-important “separation of powers” and “checks and balances” written into our Constitution to protect against tyranny, is barely more than an academic exercise among legal scholars that has little relevance in the real world.If you had suggested things such as universal health care, Social Security or Medicare to a denizen of 1850s America, he would have called you plumb crazy. About the only contact the average American had with the federal government in 1860 was the post office. Most Americans were happy with that.Unfortunately, thanks to government-sanctioned textbooks toeing the government line and used by generations of government schoolteachers most likely trained in government universities with college textbooks written by liberal authors infatuated with a race-based view of history, the false narrative created by President Abraham Lincoln for political purposes, that the war was about slavery, is the one taught in schools today.It is difficult to accept this false dogma of history. When Lincoln died on April 15, 1865, the U.S. was still a slave-owning nation. How can anyone claim that a war between two slave-owning factions was actually a war to free slaves? In fact, Lincoln, the Great Emancipator, purposely chose not to abolish slavery. That is not the behavior of someone concerned with emancipation.Contemporaries saw through this façade.“The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states,” Charles Dickens reportedly said in 1862.“Slavery is no more the cause of this war than gold is the cause of robbery,” New Jersey Gov. Joel Parker said in 1863.New Jersey, by the way, was a Union state. Parker was a pro-war Democrat who opposed the Confederacy but also was an outspoken critic of the civil rights abuses committed by Lincoln in his prosecution of the war.Most Americans in the late 18th and early 19th centuries understood the causes of the War for Southern Independence were complex, spanning economic, cultural and political differences.Today, however, Americans are unnaturally obsessed with race, and the false belief that slavery was the cause of the war resonates with them, especially among those who wrongly believe racism is rampant in our society.No, the real issue is about the power of the federal government and its relationship with the states. Indeed, this conflict between a strong federal government and a strong federalist system with most power belonging to the states could be considered the narrative of America's political history. It has permeated nearly every important public policy debate, from the Alien and Sedition Acts (1798) to the Affordable Care Act (2010).As we mark the sesquicentennial of the outbreak of hostilities between the United States and the Confederate States, it would seem to be an apt time to take stock of how far astray we have wandered from the federalist vision of the Founders. I suspect even Lincoln, who believed he had the right to use federal troops against the American people, would be appalled by how far we have come in terms of federal power.While we can never hope to return to the idyllic antebellum years when the federal government was small and most people were free of government interference, it is certainly not too late to stop this mindless march toward socialism, the obliteration of state sovereignty and the idea that the federal government has the authority to legislate even the most minute details of our daily lives.If we don't, we are likely to end up on the trash heap of history, just the latest in a long string of once-great states that collapsed when they failed to honor their own values.This is the lesson we should learn from the tragedy of that awful war.Thomas J. Lucente Jr. blogs at thinkfree.freedomblogging.com.