AUTHORS NOTE: This may contain things that offend some. Therefore if you are one of those who are easily offended, I suggest you stop reading now and go find something else to do. However, if you continue to read, know this; everything found between quotation marks are not my words, they are direct quotes from others who were alive at the time the events I am writing about took place – they are their words, not mine.
The period of American History that spans the years 1860-1865 goes by many names; The Civil War, The War of Northern Aggression, America’s Second War for Independence, and The War Between the States being but a few of them. The fact that this period of our history goes by so many names shows me that there are a lot of differing beliefs as to what caused this war, and what it was fought over.
It is not my intent to provide a name for this period of our history; rather what I intend to do is provide facts that may help you draw your own conclusions as to why those years saw the bloodiest fighting Americans have ever seen on our own soil. The loss of life for that four year period still surpasses any loss of life suffered by U.S. fighting men in any war since.
For instance, the Vietnam Conflict lasted much longer than the American Civil War, yet it resulted in only 58,000 deaths among our fighting men and women. On the other hand, the Civil War lasted 4 short years and the death toll ranges anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000 people; depending upon where you get your statistics from.
My question is why would so many people, who had once united together to defeat a common enemy, turn upon each other and kill so many in such vast numbers? If you are a product of the public school system, as I was, then you most likely believe that the Civil War was fought to end the practice of slavery in America. Unfortunately, the facts prove that this is/was not the case; at least not in the beginning of the war.
I think we can all agree that the concept of holding another human being in bondage to serve another is both sinful and abhorrent. Nevertheless, when the Civil War broke out slavery was firmly entrenched in America, and not only that, it was legal under our system of government. The drafters of the Constitution treated the issue of slavery much the same way that politicians today act towards Social Security; regarding it as political suicide to even hint at abolishing either.
So when the Constitution was adopted in 1789 slavery was perfectly legal, and it was practiced both in the North and the South; with Rhode Island being the primary hub for the importation of slaves into America. Years after the Constitution went into effect the Supreme Court would hand down a decision which basically said that slavery was legal and that slaves had no rights under the Constitution. (Dred Scott v Sanford)
Abraham Lincoln was elected president in the election of 1860, but he wasn’t sworn in until March 4, 1861. By the time Lincoln had taken his oath of office 8 States had seceded from the Union; with Virginia seceding after Lincoln called upon her to provide troops to put down the insurrection in the States that had already seceded.
It might be of interest to you that before Lincoln officially took office he had already issued a proclamation to those States remaining in the Union asking that they provide 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion in the Cotton States. Lincoln sent that message out on April 15, 1861, almost a month before he was sworn in. Under what authority did he do so; for at the time he was only the President-elect; James Buchanan was technically still the President of the United States. So, even before he officially assumed the duties of President it was clear to those in the South that he intended to use force against them to bind them to the Union against their will.
The question we must now address is, did the South secede to protect slavery, and did Lincoln call for all those volunteers so that he could end slavery; for that is what most people I encounter believe this war was fought over.
When Lincoln was finally sworn in he followed the time honored tradition of delivering an inaugural address. In it Lincoln states, “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” Therefore, it seems that Lincoln was under the assumption that the Southern States were seceding because they felt that he posed a threat to the institution of slavery, and that he was attempting to reassure them that he had no intentions of abolishing slavery in the South.
Not only did Lincoln declare he had no intention of interfering with slavery where it already existed, he stated his support for a constitutional amendment which would make slavery a permanent institution in America, “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
The Amendment Lincoln refers to is the proposed Corwin Amendment, which states, “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”
Not only did Congress seek to avoid conflict over the issue of slavery by proposing the Corwin Amendment, they had sought to seek to avoid secession entirely a year before with the passage of the Crittendon Resolutions. The Crittendon Resolutions were a series of resolutions which outlined the government’s stance on slavery and the extent of its jurisdiction over the States where slavery was practiced. The second of these resolutions states, “Congress shall have no power to abolish slavery in places under its exclusive jurisdiction, and situate within the limits of States that permit the holding of slaves.”
Neither the Crittendon Resolutions nor the proposed Corwin Amendment stopped the Southern States from seceding; which shows me that there was more than slavery behind their decision to sever the bonds which had held them to the Union.
Two years into the war Lincoln would remain steadfast in his stance that the war was not about ending slavery, it was about preserving the Union. In a letter written to Horace Greeley Lincoln would state, “I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be “the Union as it was.” If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. 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.”
January of the following year Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation; yet if you to read it carefully you would see that it did not free any slaves in Northern States, nor did it free any slaves in Union held territory in the South; it only freed the slaves in those areas that were still in rebellion against the North.
So if slavery was not the reason why the war was fought, what was the reason? It is at this point that many will point to tariffs, or States rights violations by the North; but it is my opinion that those are not the reasons the war was fought; it was fought over something much simpler. It is my opinion that the war was fought over the question of whether the States must forever be bound to a system of government in which the people living within those States had given their consent to be governed by; meaning the war was fought over the question of whether or not a State had the right to secede from a voluntary compact between the other States.
To answer whether a State held the right to secede we must go back to the very beginning when the Constitution was being argued among the various State Ratifying Assemblies. Up until that time the Constitution held no authority, created no power; it wasn’t until it had been agreed to by the assemblies of at least 9 States that the Constitution was given life and the government it outlined given any authority.
Therefore, when each State issued its declaration of ratification it was, in effect, outlining the terms by which each State agreed to accept the system of government outlined by the proposed Constitution. Three of the States which agreed to accept the Constitution outlined terms by which they could revoke their consent and resume their original status as free and independent States. One of those States was Virginia, who said, “We the Delegates of the People of Virginia duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the General Assembly and now met in Convention having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us to decide thereon Do in the name and in behalf of the People of Virginia declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution being derived from the People of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression…”
That is very similar, in principle, to what is found in the Declaration of Independence, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
As each State held the belief that they were sovereign and independent, and that they were agreeing to a system of government on behalf of the people living only within the borders of their State, they also believed that they did not require the consent of the other States to withdraw from this voluntary agreement; and they certainly did not require permission from the government created by their consent.
Yet the Declaration of Independence says something else of interest as well, “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
Did the Southern States act rashly and secede without due cause, or had there been a long train of abuses which left them no choice but to resume their status free of the jurisdiction of a government they had taken part in consenting to?
To answer that we must first look at how the North and South viewed the purpose of government. The Northerners, who began as Federalists and then later Republicans, felt that the Constitution should be loosely interpreted and that the government should be allowed to use its power of taxation and coercion to benefit business and industry; which happened to be primarily located in the Northern States. The South, on the other hand, believed that the Constitution should be strictly interpreted; meaning that only those powers specifically mentioned should be exercised by the government.
From the moment our government went into effect conflicts arose between Northern and Southern political ideologies; primarily in the epic battles between Jefferson and Hamilton in George Washington’s cabinet. But it wasn’t until John Adams became president that actual legislative authority caused the two sides to openly oppose each other.
In 1789 President Adams signed a series of bills which came to be known as the Alien and Sedition Acts. Thomas Jefferson was acting Vice-President at the time due to the fact that the President could belong to one party while the VP could belong to another. Jefferson took such offense at the signing of these bills that he wrote the Kentucky Resolutions in secret in opposition to them.
In his resolutions Jefferson wrote, “Resolved, That the several States composing, the United States of America, are not united on the principle of unlimited submission to their general government; but that, by a compact under the style and title of a Constitution for the United States, and of amendments thereto, they constituted a general government for special purposes — delegated to that government certain definite powers, reserving, each State to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self-government; and that whensoever the general government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
This was an affirmation that the creators of a system of government could declare actions taken by that government null and void if they violated the specific powers given government by the Constitution. More importantly, it was an affirmation of the belief that those who had created a system of government were superior to the government itself.
It is truly a sad commentary on our public schools that if someone mentions secession, the only instance people can provide where that was discussed, or acted upon, was the Civil War. Yet by the time John Adams was in his final year of being President the Northern belief that government should benefit business and industry had become pretty much entrenched, and accepted by the people of the North.
This was evident when, after it became clear that Jefferson might become the next president, an editorial was submitted to a Philadelphia newspaper which stated, “Their [the Federalists’] despondency approaches to the melancholy of despair; at a party meeting held last night, it was suggested that Mr. Jay should immediately call the old legislature of this state together, and that they should invest him with the power of chusing the Electors of President and Vice-President, in order to prevent the effects of the recent change in the peoples minds’ from taking effect. Whether this will be attempted by Mr. Jay or not is uncertain. But when it was urged that it might lead to civil war, if the obvious temper of the public were opposed, a person present observed, that a civil war would be preferable to having Jefferson for President. This expression hurt one or two, but there were many more who warmly supported him, and seemed to think that a contest at arms would be desirable. From such politicians good Lord deliver us. It might suit the abandoned politics of Hamilton and Pickering, but I do not think that our federal youth would be found very forward to resist the spirit which is now so determined here and as far as I see every where else in the Union.”
Read that again, the person submitting this felt that civil war was preferable to life under a Thomas Jefferson administration. You have to remember, this was only 11 years after this system of government went into effect, and already the divisions between the two political ideologies were so intense that some preferred war over submitting to the policies of someone they disagreed with politically. Not much has changed, has it?
Of course that was only public sentiment; what about what Congress felt about the election of someone who might undermine all the work they’d done to implement a Hamiltonian system of government? Well, let’s see.
In 1794, only five years after our system of government went into effect, John Taylor was serving as a Senator for the State of Virginia. One day Taylor was approached by Senator Rufus King, who served as a Senator for the State of New York, and asked if Taylor would mind a word in private.
The two men entered a committee room where they were joined by Oliver Ellsworth, a Senator for the State of Connecticut. King then dropped a bombshell on Taylor by saying that he felt that it was entirely impossible for the two segments of the Union to coexist peacefully side by side, and he preferred a peaceful separation over a violent one. King told Taylor that the Southern States always clogged and counteracted every operation of the government; meaning every attempt by representatives from the North to utilize government to benefit their interests.
Although separation or armed revolution against the government did not take place until the Civil War, this shows that the concept of a separation, or division of the Union; either peacefully or through violence, was not something that had not been discussed prior to it actually happening in 1860 when South Carolina declared that it had seceded from the Union.
Although there is not a word mentioned in the Constitution regarding the Executives authority to do so, Lincoln felt it was his constitutional duty to hold the Union together; even if it meant going to war to do so. Sure, the Constitution does mention that it is within the power of government to put down insurrections; which it did when Washington led troops into Pennsylvania to put down the Whiskey Rebellion, but the South was not in a state of insurrection, it was withdrawing its consent to the authority held by the federal government and peacefully separating from the Union.
In his Inaugural Address as the newly elected President of the Confederate State of America, Jefferson Davis said, “We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms.”
I don’t know, maybe I’m just stupid, but that does not sound like the South wanted to fight a war against the North, nor topple its system of government. It seems to me like they wanted the same thing I do today; for their government to leave them alone, and if it can’t do that, then to revoke or rescind our consent to its authority over our lives.
Is that honestly too much to ask, or do people believe that tyrants have the authority to use force to compel obedience to them; even though the system was created by the consent of the people?
Towards the end of the Civil War Abraham Lincoln delivered a short speech to the members of the 164th Ohio Regiment, in which he said, “Soldiers — You are about to return to your homes and your friends, after having, as I learn, performed in camp a comparatively short term of duty in this great contest. I am greatly obliged to you, and to all who have come forward at the call of their country. I wish it might be more generally and universally understood what the country is now engaged in.
There is more involved in this contest than is realized by every one. There is involved in this struggle the question whether your children and my children shall enjoy the privileges we have enjoyed. I say this in order to impress upon you, if you are not already so impressed, that no small matter should divert us from our great purpose.”
The first part of that speech I take issue with is when Lincoln says, “I wish it might be more generally and universally understood what the country is now engaged in.” I know exactly what Lincoln was engaged in; subjugation of a part of the Union that had chosen to sever its political bonds with its system of government – which is exactly what the War for Independence was about.
My next, and biggest, gripe about Lincoln’s speech comes when he says, “We have, as all will agree, a free Government, where every man has a right to be equal with every other man. In this great struggle, this form of Government and every form of human right is endangered if our enemies succeed.”
How did the South seceding threaten the government which would have remained in the North had they won the Civil War? The government under Lincoln would not have been abolished had the South won; so what in God’s name was Lincoln talking about?
Let me tell you what Lincoln was talking about; he was talking about the Treasury of the United States Government drying up; that’s what he was talking about. For years the government had been enacting protectionist tariffs, (much like Trump is talking about today), to protect Northern business interests against foreign competition. Unfortunately, the South relied upon commerce with foreign countries, so these tariffs hit them the hardest.
The imposition of these tariffs almost boiled over in 1832 when South Carolina threatened to do what, years earlier Jefferson had spoken of in his Kentucky Resolutions; declare an act, or tax in this case, to be null and void. One has to remember that the impetus which eventually led to the American Revolution was a tax; the Stamp Act tax in particular; which was pretty successfully nullified by patriots when they threatened tax collectors, confiscated the stamped papers, and burnt down tax offices…not to mention threatened and chased the King’s governors out of their homes. So opposition to unjust and unfair taxes is an essential part of our history, and one which South Carolina threatened against a government it felt was oppressing them unjustly by these tariffs.
Just a couple of years before the Nullification Crisis, Senator Thomas Hart Benton delivered a speech in which he said, “I feel for the sad changes, which have taken place in the South, during the last fifty years. Before the Revolution, it was the seat of wealth, as well as hospitality. Money, and all it commanded, abounded there. But how is it now? All this is reversed. Wealth has fled from the South, and settled in regions north of the Potomac; and this in the face of the fact, that the South, in four staples alone, has exported produce, since the Revolution, to the value of eight hundred millions, of dollars; and the North has exported comparatively nothing….Under Federal legislation, the exports of the South have been the basis of the Federal revenue….Virginia, the two Carolinas, and Georgia, may be said to defray three-fourths, of the annual expense of supporting the Federal Government; and of this great sum, annually furnished by them, nothing, or next to nothing is returned to them, in the shape of government expenditures. That expenditure flows in an opposite direction—it flows northwardly, in one uniform, uninterrupted, and perennial stream. This is the reason why wealth disappears from the South and rises up in the North…taking from the South, and returning nothing to it.”
I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I were living in a State, and if I were being asked to cover 3/4 of the cost of the operation of a government, and I wasn’t seeing a penny of that money in my State, I’d be pretty upset too.
Maybe that’s what concerned Lincoln more than whether or not slavery ended or continued, the fact that if the South was allowed to leave the Union the funding for the federal government would dwindle to almost nothing.
This sentiment was echoed by many editorials in Northern newspapers. One such editorial, published in the New York Evening Post, states, “… either the (federal) revenue from duties (protective tariff) must be collected in the ports of the rebel states or the ports be closed to importations from abroad… If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe…”
I think I have laid out a pretty sound argument that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War; although it might have been among the issues which led the Southern States to secede. The real issue, and cause of that war, was Lincoln’s steadfast refusal to accept that the creators of this system of government had the right to revoke their consent for it and resume their status as free and independent States.
When Lincoln finally did issue his Emancipation Proclamation there was rioting in the streets of New York when the people felt that the focus of the war had shifted from preserving the Union to freeing the slaves.
Even Union General George McClellan had this to say about fighting to end slavery, “Help me dodge the n*gger, we want nothing to do with him. I am fighting to preserve the integrity of the Union, and the power of the government, and no other issue. To gain that end we cannot afford to mix up the negro question, it must be incidental and subsidiary.” (Remember what I said at the very beginning, if it falls between quotation marks it is the words of the person who spoke them, not me. So don’t get all butthurt at me)
Those on the South knew what they were fighting for, and what they were fighting against. Lincoln fought to preserve the Union, AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, the federal authority over all the States. The South fought for freedom and independence from a system they believed had become tyrannical and oppressive.
Even before the outbreak of the Civil War, South Carolina Senator John Calhoun warned, “If they (the North) prevail, the whole character of the Government will be changed, and instead of a federal republic, the common agent of sovereign and independent States, we shall have a central despotism, with the notion of States forever abolished, deriving its powers from the will, and shaping its policy according to the wishes, of a numerical majority of the people; we shall have, in other words, a supreme, irresponsible democracy. The Government does not now recognize itself as an ordinance of God, and when all the checks and balances of the Constitution are gone, we may easily figure to ourselves the career and the destiny of this godless monster of democratic absolutism. The progress of regulated liberty on this continent will be arrested, anarchy will soon succeed, and the end will be a military despotism, which preserves order by the sacrifice of the last vestige of liberty.” (Boy that sounds awful similar to the state of affairs today, doesn’t it?)
Two quotes by Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson describe what the South was fighting for, and neither of them mention the preservation of the institution of slavery. The first quote states, “If the Republicans lose their little war they’re voted out in the next election and they return to their homes in New York or Massachusetts or Illinois fat with their war profits. If we lose, we lose our country, we lose our independence, we lose it all.” The second amplifies that when Jackson says, “If the North triumphs, it is not alone the destruction of our property; it is the prelude to anarchy, infidelity, the ultimate loss of free and responsible government on this continent. It is the triumph of commerce – the banks, factories.”
What Jackson was saying is that if the North won, the Jeffersonian belief in limited government would die and the Hamiltonian belief that government should be used to benefit commerce and the banks would prevail. So actually the Civil War dates back to at least 1789 when the Constitution went into effect; it just took 70 some odd years for the first shots to be fired.
People are more than entitled to their opinions on things; even the Civil War. All I ask is that you be honest and either provide factual evidence to back up your position, or have the integrity to admit that you were wrong, and to change your opinion so that it conforms to the facts.
If you cannot do that, then I’m ashamed to be an acquaintance of yours…
Oh, and I didn’t even begin to discuss Lincoln’s war crimes as president. Maybe later…