Awhile back I submitted a letter to the editor containing my thoughts regarding all the recent fuss over the Confederate Battle Flag. I don’t read the paper as I feel it is a waste of money but apparently some guy in town took offense to what I said and wrote a lengthy letter rebutting what I had said. I won’t copy his entire letter verbatim but I will quote one line from it to give you a general idea of his tone and beliefs. In his letter he writes, “This fact, along with Lincoln’s subsequent actions to end both slavery and the Confederate cancer, should be taken into consideration before you assemble your Mount Rushmore demolition team.” His reference being my suggestion that the Lincoln Monument and his image on Mt. Rushmore be demolished.
Let me begin by saying I almost feel pity upon the position that Abraham Lincoln found himself in upon being sworn in as president. Here was a man who was at the right place at a critical time in our nation’s history who faced the momentous decision of allowing a portion of the Union to separate and form its own country, or use force to comply it to remain a part of the Union.
The Civil War, or as I prefer to call it, The War of Northern Aggression, (or at least the War for Southern Independence), happened a century and a half ago, yet the wounds left by that bloody conflict have never entirely healed. The Confederate Battle Flag, be it right or wrong, is a symbol of those in the South, and people of like minds, who believe that the states had, and still retain, the right to secede from a voluntary pact between them and form their own system of government. This is the foundation upon which our Declaration of Independence rests.
There are some who claim that since the Articles of Confederation created a perpetual union that any Constitution carried that union forward perpetually. Then there are those who feel that it did not, that the Constitution superseded the Articles of Confederation and replaced it in its entirety. In either case the name Civil War is incorrect in that, more often than not, in a Civil War one group tries to wrest power from the other group and assume it themselves. In this case all the South wanted was to form their own country and leave the North be.
There are those also who believe the Civil War to have been fought entirely over the issue of slavery, and therefore any symbol of the Confederacy is a symbol promoting slavery. This is because people are not aware of all the circumstances leading up to this conflict. I blame this on our school systems for not teaching us the whole truth about that period of American History.
If you believe, as many people seem to, that the Civil War was fought entirely over the issue of slavery than you must accept the fact that our nation’s founders sowed the seeds for the Civil War even before the Constitution was written.
At the time the Civil War was fought slavery existed, of that there can be no denial. I am not supporting the practice, I am only admitting that the practice of owning slaves was present during that period of our nation’s history. It was wrong, but it is an undeniable fact.
But slavery has existed for thousands of years. Both the Old and New Testaments talk of slaves. Every major civilization and empire have at one time or another practiced slavery. Again, not condoning the practice, just saying that the South was alone in the practice.
Most people, those who only know what they learned in school, believe that the South alone was responsible for slavery in the United States. That is a myth that they want you to believe to distract you from the real reason why the South seceded, which I will get to later. The truth is that the North was just as implicated in the slave trade as were the Southerners who purchased slaves to work their fields.
The truth about slaves is that many, if not all, of the slaves that were brought into the United States were caught and captured in the interior of Africa by other African kingdoms such as the Oyo and the Ashanti Empires. These Africans were capturing other Africans and then selling them into bondage to white slave traders. There’s something else you may not have been taught in school either, a good number, more than half actually, of these slave traders were from the North. James DeWolf of Rhode Island was one of the largest slave traders in the U.S. at the time. Also, the Brown family of Providence R.I. were big slave traders, giving large sums of the money they acquired through the importation of slavery to what would become Brown University. Add that to the fact that there were those in the North who owned slaves and the idea that the Civil War was an ideological war fought between the North to free the slaves, and the South who wished to retain them, lacks sufficient evidence to stand muster. Not saying it did not play a part in the conflict, but it was not the only cause.
If slavery had been the only issue giving rise to the Civil War the fault lies with our founders for incorporating it into the Constitution. They could have easily inserted a clause prohibiting slavery, but they didn’t. In fact to get the Southern States to accept the Constitution they included the 3/5′s clause which gave them representation in Congress for the slaves they owned.
On top of that, Jefferson, even though he himself owned slaves, was against the practice. When Thomas Jefferson was tasked to produce a draft of what would become our Declaration of Independence he wrote his thoughts, culled from his own ideas and things he had read, and produced a draft copy to which he presented the committee who had been tasked to produce a document for the entire assembly of delegates. The copy we now know and revere is far from the document Jefferson wrote originally. Small changes were made in some spots, wording or phrasing, and in others entire sections were deleted.
In Jefferson’s original draft of the document he blamed England for the suffering of the slaves in America, “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce.”
Everything I’ve ever read about Jefferson has stated that although yes, he owned slaves, he was not the whip bearing soulless taskmaster that most slaveholders are made out to be. He abhorred the practice of slavery and twice wrote legislation which would have banned the importation of slaves into Virginia and then later ban the practice of slavery in the Northwest territories. But Jefferson also felt it was not within the purview, or powers, of the federal government to act upon the issue, it must occur at the state levels.
Jefferson also felt that the negroe race and the whites could never live side by side as there were not only distinct differences between the two but that lasting hatred would linger over the blacks having been held as slaves and would eventually lead to war between the two, “…. It will probably be asked, Why not retain and incorporate the blacks into the state, and thus save the expense of supplying, by importation of white settlers, the vacancies they will leave? Deep rooted prejudices entertained by the whites; ten thousand recollections, by the blacks, of the injuries they have sustained; new provocations; the real distinctions which nature has made; and many other circumstances, will divide us into parties, and produce convulsions, which will probably never end but in the extermination of the one or the other race.”
This may sound like a radical, or even racist idea and further support your beliefs that the South was racist and deserved to lose the Civil War. But wait a moment before you jump to that conclusion. On June 26, 1857, after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Dred Scott case, Abraham Lincoln delivered a speech in Springfield Illinois wherein he stated, “I have said that the separation of the races is the only perfect preventive of amalgamation. I have no right to say all the members of the Republican party are in favor of this, nor to say that as a party they are in favor of it. There is nothing in their platform directly on the subject. But I can say a very large proportion of its members are for it, and that the chief plank in their platform ―opposition to the spread of slavery ―is most favorable to that separation.
Such separation, is ever effected at all, must be effected by colonization; and no political party, as such, is now doing anything directly for colonization. Party operations at present only favor or retard colonization incidentally. The enterprise is a difficult one; but ‘when there is a will there is a way;’ and what colonization needs most is a hearty will. Will springs from the two elements of moral sense and self-interest. Let us be brought to believe it is morally right, and, at the same time, favorable to, or, at least, not against, our interest, to transfer the African to his native clime, and we shall find a way to do it, however great the task may be.” Right up to the day before he put his signature on the Emancipation Proclamation Lincoln was working on ways of colonizing freed blacks outside the United States.
All this probably new information for most, but it is part of our history, the part that has been avoided, or revised to distort your views on both slavery, and the South itself. Lincoln may have detested slavery, but it was not his primary concern for undertaking a bloody four year war to end. In an 1862 letter to Horace Greeley, Lincoln writes, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause.”
The practice of slavery may, or may not have been a leading cause of the war between the states, but it was a part of it. As the nation was expanding the issue of whether slavery would be allowed in the new territories, or later states, came into play. Some in the North simply did not want to see the practice of slavery spread because they opposed slavery as an crime against man. Yet there were others who did not want to see it spread because it would give slave owning states a larger representation in the House due to the 3/5′s Clause in the Constitution. They wanted the power to remain in the North with the Southern States helpless against the laws government could enact which affected them directly.
Thus we come to tariffs. In 1828 Congress passed a protective tariff designed to tax heavily imported British goods to protect industries in the North. However this came as a double assault upon the South, since they suddenly had to pay higher prices for the imported goods they relied upon, and also their sales of goods to Britain suffered because England suddenly found itself unable to pay for the cotton it imported from the Southern States.
South Carolina called this tariff the Tariff of Abominations and fought to have it repealed. Not only was the South being hit with a double punch of higher prices for the goods they imported and a loss of exports, but the money being collected from these tariffs was being spent primarily on infrastructure improvements in the North; specifically rain lines and canals. Between 1830-1850 it is estimated that 30,000 miles of railroad track was laid, mostly in the North, with rail lines getting massive government subsidies to fund their expansion. The South felt like it was being taxed unequally and not on the receiving end of any of the revenue being funneled into the government treasury.
This led to the Nullification Crisis. These tariffs went into effect under the administration of John Quincy Adams, a Northerner. Upon the election of Andrew Jackson, a Southerner, the South had hopes that he would do something to alleviate the suffering imposed by these tariffs, however he did nothing and let them remain in place.
This led to a rift between President Jackson and his Vice President John Calhoun who considered abandoning his position as Vice President to run for Senate. Calhoun was a leading proponent of the belief that States had the right to nullify laws enacted by Congress which were unconstitutional.
In order to ease tensions between the North and the South the Congress passed and Andrew Jackson signed the tariff of 1832 which eased, somewhat, the cost of imported goods into the South, but not by much. For instance, under the tariff of 1828 the increase on the price of imported goods was as high as 45%, while under the tariff of 1832 it went down to 35%.
This still didn’t appease South Carolina and on July 14, 1832 they adopted the Ordinance of Nullification which declared the tariffs unconstitutional within the borders of South Carolina. In March of 1833 the United States Congress passed two bills; the Force Bill which would allow the US government the use of military force within the borders of South Carolina to enforce the existing tariff, and then it also passed the Compromise Tariff which would reduce the tariff to more reasonable levels. South Carolina agreed to the Compromise Tariff, but stood its ground on the concept of nullification by nullifying the Force Bill in their state assembly.
It seemed that the crisis had been defused and all could go back to normal, but that was not to be. As the tariff rates imposed by the Compromise Tariff began reaching levels not seen since 1816 the Whig Party and the industrial interests in the North began complaining that they could not compete with the price of foreign goods entering the United States from abroad. So in 1842 the Congress passed a new tariff, known as the Black Tariff which instituted a good by good rate upon all goods entering the U.S. from abroad, and also doing away with credit payments for tariffs and demanding cash at the dockside for all goods purchased from foreign venders.
This remained in effect until 1845 when the Walker Tariff was passed which lowered rates and led to a period of increase in trade between England and the U.S. Tariff rates were lowered even further by the Tariff of 1857 which was proposed by Robert Hunter of Virginia in response to a budget surplus held by the U.S. government.
However this tariff did not last long. As economies began to become intertwined in what we now call a global economy, what happened in one country would affect people in other countries. Thus it was when the Panic of 1857 struck in England which affected trade in the U.S. This gave protectionists in the North fuel to push forward for higher tariffs upon imported goods, which led to the Morrill Tariff in 1861.
By then though it had been too late, as on December 26, 1860 South Carolina had seceded from the Union. Before I go into the subject of secession I want you to read the opening paragraph from South Carolina’s Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union. Here is what the opening of that document says, “The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.”
Does that not sound strikingly similar to this, “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.”?
The second quote is from our Declaration of Independence and is basically the same principle upon which South Carolina based its declaration of Secession. That “…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” That is exactly what South Carolina did, and was soon followed by more of the States in the South, and thus began the Civil War.
Although in its Declaration of Secession South Carolina repeatedly mentioned slavery the main reason was that they felt the government under the Constitution, not so much the Northern States, but the Federal Government itself had violated the terms of the compact which bound the Union together, i.e. the Constitution. They therefore felt it was entirely within their right to separate from the Union.
This is stated thusly in South Carolina’s declaration of secession, “By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.
Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.
We hold that the Government thus established is subject to the two great principles asserted in the Declaration of Independence; and we hold further, that the mode of its formation subjects it to a third fundamental principle, namely: the law of compact. We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other…”
Slavery and tariffs may have been kindling to the fire which led to the secession of South Carolina and ten other Southern States, but the heart of the matter, the question which requires more attention is this; was the Union created by the Constitution perpetual, or did the States have the right to leave it should they find that their remaining in the Union is not in their best interests. That is the question that should be considered above all others, not the subject of whether slavery was cruel and inhumane, or whether the tariffs were severe and unfairly imposed.
When our Founders wrote the Constitution they never clearly stated whether the Union was to be perpetual or if a state, or group of states, could separate and form their own country. Patrick Henry addressed that issue prior to the ratification of the Constitution, “The fate … of America may depend on this. … Have they made a proposal of a compact between the states? If they had, this would be a confederation. It is otherwise most clearly a consolidated government. The question turns, sir, on that poor little thing—the expression, We, the people, instead of the states, of America.”
When the New York assembly was considering the Constitution certain anti-Federalists proposed that language be inserted into the Constitution providing for the state of New York to remove itself from the Union after a specified amount of time, to which both Madison and Hamilton rejected. Hamilton himself went so far as to say, “… the Constitution requires an adoption in toto, and for ever …”
Yet the subject of secession continued to pop up every now and then prior to the Civil War. After President Thomas Jefferson sidetracked Congress and made the Louisiana Purchase Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts considered secession and the formation of a separate New England confederation.
Even abolitionists in the North, (those who proposed the emancipation of slaves) argued for secession. In 1844 the prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison proposed secession as a means of dividing the North from the slave holding South.
Many Northerners at the outbreak of the war between the states wrote to their respective papers saying why not let the South go in peace? Yet Lincoln declared in his first Inaugural Address that “…in contemplation of universal law, and of the Constitution, the Union of these States is perpetual.” So, by his decision he would chose to use force to compel the Southern States to remain in the Union. That is the most important issue of the Civil War, whether the federal government had the right to use force against the states, thereby obliterating States Rights entirely, or whether the States retained all the sovereignty not specifically granted the government by the Constitution. Sure slavery and tariffs were things that led to that horrific war, but they were not the issue of utmost importance, States Rights were.
Everything Abraham Lincoln did from that point forward regarding slavery was a political move, even his support of the 13th Amendment which forever abolished slavery. The 13th Amendment made it through the Senate during Lincolns first term as President, yet he waited until his second term to throw his support behind it. Why did he wait if his goal was the abolition of slavery?
For one thing, although there was a strong abolitionist movement in the North, many people felt that the war being fought was not over the issue of emancipation of the slaves, but rather the retention of the Union as a complete entity. Therefore any sudden changes in his position would have caused him to lose support among the voters and reduce his chances of re-election. Secondly, Lincoln knew that there was not enough support in the House to pass it during his first term. Even after his re-election he had his Secretary of State Seward bribe certain lame duck Democrats with positions in his administration for their support of passage of the proposed 13th Amendment.
Although that is politics at its purest form, it shows that above all Lincoln was a strategist, playing his cards carefully when they were beneficial to him. Even his Emancipation Proclamation was flawed in that it only freed slaves in areas where the North had no control and authority to free them, while leaving slaves in border states and the North in bondage.
Sure slavery was a part of the causes which led to the Civil War, but it was not the issue at hand. The issue at hand was whether the individual states, be they in the North, or in the South, had the right to nullify acts of the federal government, or if they felt the federal government had violated the Constitution if they had the right to separate from the Union. THAT is what the Civil War was all about, not slavery. And that is what the Confederate Flag stands for, States Rights over complete supremacy of the federal government.
You might find it interesting that Robert E. Lee, commanding general of the Confederate Army freed his slaves long before Ulysses S. Grant, commanding general of the Union Army did. What does that tell you about which side was pro slavery?
There is a saying which states history is written by the victors. That is true in that what you are taught about the war between the states is from the side of the victors, and when I say victors I do not mean the Northern States, I mean the federal government. It forever settled the question of whether a state has the right to separate from the Union, which is the basic premise contained within our nation’s founding document the Declaration of Independence.
Through the omission of crucial facts, half truths, and outright lies we have been led to believe that the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery and that any symbol pertaining to the Confederacy therefore stands for the support of slavery and racism. That is a lie that only can be defeated by the acceptance of truth, which far too many people in this country are unwilling to seek.
I may have been born in California 100 yrs after the Civil War but my heart and my allegiance lies with the South and their belief that States Rights still exist within the body and context of the Constitution and the 10th Amendment. It matters little to me that our government decided for itself to strip the states of their remaining vestiges of sovereignty, or that the overwhelming majority of people believe the Confederate Flag stands for racism and slavery, I know in my heart what it stands for, and that is where my loyalty lies.