Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Civil War was about slavery

Duh! Of course it was about slavery! Didn't anyone bother to read Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address? Charles Oliver at Reason Magazine wrote an article with greater detail than I can write here explaining that the Civil War was about slavery.

Unfortunately, people never let the obvious stand in the way of their politics. So subsequently, we have a strange alliance of political bedfellows revising history and telling us that the Civil War was not really about slavery.

And strangely enough, my little remark about the Civil War and slavery in my post about Bush's inaugural address inspired several readers with their own blogs to post about the Civil War and slavery: some links to posts by Old Blind Dog, Stephen VanDyke aka Hammer of Truth and dadahead (by the way, Dadaism and modern art are leftist movements based on the left's hatred of achievement and Western culture). Also, "ranger" at ess.r.squared sent me an email about the topic.

It's easy enough to explain why leftists want to revise history. I previously explained in my post the liberal mind that leftists hate America. Leftists want to believe that America is an evil country. Slavery, of course, was evil. But if we fought a Civil War to end slavery, and hundreds of thousands died fighting that war, this eradicates any collective guilt we might otherwise have. Leftists would rather believe that the Civil War was a fight about tariffs, turning a noble cause into a greedy war about nothing but money and allowing leftists to wallow in guilt about being American.

Paleo-conservative southerners also want to revise Civil War history. These types want to revel in the supposed "glory" of the Old South, and there's nothing glorious about a Confederacy that existed for nothing except slavery. So they made up the story that the South was about noble things like states' rights. Yet, in fact, the Confederacy was about nothing but slavery. The "states' rights" argument is bogus. The only "right" that was at issue was the "right" to own slaves, which is a right that no state should be allowed to have.

The South didn't have any problem with its rights being trampled. In fact, the opposite was true. The South had disproportionate political power on account of the less populated southern states having equal representation in the Senate, and also on account of its slaves counting for three-fifths of a person for purposes of federal representation when they shouldn't have counted at all because they were not citizens and couldn't vote.

The real history of the Civil War is that people in the North got fed up with allowing the barbaric practice of slavery to continue. The Republican Party was formed to be an anti-slavery party. The South seceded because with the election of Republican Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, they saw that slave states would no longer be admitted to the Union and eventually there would be overwhelming political support to abolish the practice entirely.

Much of the "evidence" that the Civil War was not about slavery is based on out of context statements by Lincoln and other anti-slavery advocates that might seem "racist" by today's standards. But that has nothing to do with the fact that there was unanimous agreement that using human beings for slave labor was an immoral and barbaric practice that needed to be stopped.


Anonymouse said...

What leftist do you know that minimizes the importance of slavery as a basis for the Civil War?

They may couch it in terms of industrialization and protecting northern capitalists, but I've never heard anyone on the left minimize the importance of slavery.

Old Blind Dog said...

My reply is here.

Bowly said...

While slavery was a factor, it would be just as revisionist to say tariffs were not a factor. The Confederate constitution laid it out: "nor shall any duties or taxes on importations from foreign nations be laid to promote or foster any branch of industry"

mikeca said...

The question is, if slavery had not existed in the US, would we have had the Civil War anyway?

Sure there were other issues, but slavery was the issue that each side felt their position was non-negotiable.

Publicola said...

LG, LG, LG.... I'm about as unreconstructed as you can get, but I'm neither an "america hating leftist" or a "paleo-conservative". I'd very much like to see where you get the idea that the alleged revisionism concerning the Confederacy & slavery is coming from either of those groups & its centered around the idea that slavery wasn't the main reason for the aggression of lincoln & the feds.

The revisionism that I'm aware of came in stages - first the feds saying that they had fought for abolition, then the southern democrats saying that slavery was a non issue (circa early 1900's) then back to the "it was albout aout freeing the slaves" thing which we're currently mired in.

As I said before slavery was a ig issue for some southern states, but not for the feds until much later. The only noble cause involved was the confederacy's - & that was because they sought to become (& in fact were - albeit briefly) a free & independent nation.

Let me try to be clear - Lincoln didn't care about anything more than keeping his nation together. There are several in context quotes which support this & almost all the talk about it being a war for abolition occurred well into the war.

But let's leave slavery aside for a moment - do you feel that a state may not secede from the union? would force be justified in keeping a state from seceding?

That, & not slavery was the question that prompted several southern states to leave the union. They figured *& rightly so) that the constitution was not an eternally binding commitment. In other words however they felt about slavery they took action only after the feds over stepped the bounds of the constitution.

Now slavery was an immoral practice. No one is arguing thta it was. Some southern states wanted this practice to continue & that was one of the primary reasons for their secession. But it is inaccurate to imply, as I thinky ou might be, that all who wanted a free & independent south also wanted slavery to remain as an institution.

The north - look, the abolitionist movement in the republican party was fairly weak in terms of political power int he 1850's. They grew considerably in the course of the war of northern aggression but they were not steering the entire republican party, nor were they representative of the entire northern populace.

Here's another question for you - when was the emancipation proclomation issued? How long after ft sumter? So if slavery was the main reason for the feds waging war o a free & independent nation (i.e. the confederacy) then why didn't they free the slaves at the outset of the war instead of in the middle when things weren't going their way?

To sum up the war of northern aggression was not about slavery alone. It was an issue for some southern states but not the most important one. It was not an issue for the north until much later on when it was viewed as a good subject for propaganda

Adam said...

Well said, Publicola.

To say that slavery was the sole cause of the Civil War is perhaps the most ignorant thing I've seen LG say. It's disappointing and requires that one almost completely ignore anything about the civil war outside of what public schools teach.

Also, if it was all about slaves, why did the EP *only* free slaves in states that had seceded? Why didn't it free slaves in the other slave-states that stayed in the Union? And why didn't those slave-states leave the Union?

David said...

One of the causal factors, which was closely linked to slavery, was the desire on the part of the Southern leadership to create an American aristocracy. In their view of the world, there was no place for the small, self-sufficient farmer or craftsman. This worldview was perceived as a clear threat by many in the North who were not particularly concerned, in a moral sense, with slavery. Which is not to deny that many in the North were indeed so concerned.

TWM said...

Great post, Publicola. There were several reasons for the Civil War, of which slavery is the most popularly held belief. Lincoln's driving force was to hold the Union together, but freeing an oppressed people was certainly reason enough to go to war all by itself. And it still is - hint, hint.

LG fails to see the contradiction in her post (as well as the irony), though.

On the one hand she states that "leftists" are trying to revise history, but then she fails to see that the "facts" she (not so long ago) learned in high school about the Civil War were, in fact, revised by those very same leftists in academia.

Liberals in the wonderful industry of education have for decades been revising history to suit their world view, and LG got shortchanged by them much like many of our youth today.

Steph said...

As any student of history knows, South Carolina threatened to secede before the Civil War. In particular, when the Tariff of 1828, aka the Tariff of Abominations (not entirely sure of the date), was passed. This tariff hurt the South because they liked to import stuff from foreign countries (like that Euroliberal nation, France!) to increase their social standing. Anyhow, SC threatened to secede if the tax were not repealed, and John Q, wanting to preserve his image (and reelection bid, which ultimately failed), reduced it.

In conclusion, slavery was not the only issue in which the South (SC, specifically) was willing to leave the nation over. So yes, slavery was a reason, but there were other reasons too.

dadahead said...

Libertarian Girl wishes to defend the "achievements" of Western civilization?

Does that include those of the twentieth century?

shonk said...

The most compelling argument I've read is the one Jeff Hummel advances in his book Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: that the South's primary motivation in seceding and fighting the war was maintaining the institution of slavery, but that the North's primary motivation for prosecuting the war was preserving the Union. Even aside from the fact that I think he's right, I like the argument because it rejects the intellectually lazy assumption that both sides must have been fighting about the same thing. Others may not agree, but for those that think the North's primary motivation was to end slavery, I think it's impingent upon them to explain why the Emancipation Proclamation came 2 years into the war and, even at that, freed exactly zero slaves (it explicitly and very carefully only included slaves in states that had seceded, states in which, obviously, the locals didn't recognize the EP as having any sort of legal weight).

He also argues convincingly that, if ending slavery had been the Union's primary motivation, fighting a war was an unnecessary and extremely costly way of going about it (an argument supported by the fact that, of the 20-odd Western Hemisphere nations in which slavery was common practice, only two fought a war to end it: the U.S. and Haiti; in the rest of those countries, slavery ended relatively peacefully). In this context, it should also be pointed out that, prior to the war, many of the radical abolitionists (Garrison, Spooner, etc.) in the North believed that the most effective strategy for ending slavery would be for the North to secede from the South and eliminate the Fugitive Slave Act.

Jacob Lyles said...

Hey Lib Girl, read this:

'Nuff said.

Don't let DC get to you.

Jacob Lyles said...

Also, you should try reading Lincoln's first inaugural adress, which includes such inspiring abolitionist rhetoric as:

"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."

Not to mention an 1862 letter where he states:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, 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."

The Union during the War Between the States was the direct analogue of the British in the War of American Secession. Their purposes were the same: empire, domination, and power. The right to self-rulership was trampled under.

Having freed the slaves, half the nation became enslaved to a government that they did not want or choose.

Read, dammit. Try Lysander Spooner's No Treason. Lysander Spooner, an abolitionist, was ardently pro-south during the war. To quote:

"Notwithstanding all the proclamations we have made to mankind, within the last ninety years, that our government rests on consent, and that that was the rightful basis on which any government could rest, the late war has practically demonstrated that our government rests upon force --- as much so as any government that ever existed."

The only consistent abolitionists were the pro-south abolitionists. All others wanted to abolish one kind of slavery and replace it with another.

Walter E. Wallis said...

...and the Iraq war was only about WMD, too.
Remember, Lincoln had a proposal to buy all the slaves and free them, but that did not satisfy the desire to punish the South. Sometimes, people just want a war.

jeremy h. said...

I have a response to this on my blog:

"To her question, I answer in the affirmative. I did read the address. And here is a related question: Didn't you bother to read Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address?"

Brian B said...

I posted on this a while back, without taking sides, just let my readers discuss. You might find it interesting.

Smallholder said...

Please check out Brian B.'s link above for my take.

Lincoln was elected on a platform of opposing the expansion of slavery in the territories; the commentor who references Lincoln's pledge not to interfere with slavery where it existed misses the context of the times. Lincoln, and more importantly, the South, understood this to mean the gradual end of their peculiar institution.

For the tariff-mongers, I would simply point out why the tariff was more injurious to the south; their capital was so tied up in land and slaves that they could not invest in new businesses, leaving them on the short end of the industrialization stick.

As to states' rights: Bullcrap. The South was all for federal power when it came to enforcing taxes or programs they liked, like taxation for the Mexican-American War, enforcement of the Fugitive Slave law, enforcement of the Dred Scott decision, use of the Postal Service to deny abolitionists access to the mail, ectetra, ecetera.

But forget what I say - or any of the commentators. Look at the primary documents from the time period. The Confederates made NO BONES about the fact that they were fighting for slavery. Most states explicitly said so in their ordinances of secession. Links to those sites can be found on Brian B.'s sites.

Smallholder said...

For those of you who don't want to read through this Yankee's interpretation on Brian B.'s site, here is the direct link to the ordninances of secession:

State's righters, please read and explain how you can still maintain your position.

dadblameit said...

As a young white male, educated in a southern public school, I was always made to feel guilty about the “War Between the Sates” or “Civil War” if you prefer. I was always confounded and wondered "how could we (the Southern States) have been so wrong"? I discovered later in life that I was the victim of an education system that did not encourage individual thought, research, or tolerate a difference of opinion. Sure slavery was the number one social issue of the time in both northern and southern states. However the men that took up arms did not do so in order to preserve slavery or to dissolve slavery. Many northern people refused to fight if the issue was made a slave issue. Consider the cause of the New York riots. Read Mr. Lincoln's letters to Horace Greeley (Editor NY Times) in which he clearly states he will not make the war a slavery issue. Research the U.S. Census from 1840, 1850, 1860 and you may be surprised to discover how difficult it is to find anyone in the South owning slaves. Most southerners did not own land (they rented) and certainly could not afford slaves. It was the federal government, not the states, which levied taxes on and profited from the slave trade. Northern Abolitionists called Lincoln "a first rate second rate man" when it came to abolition. The federal government upheld the Dread Scott decision and permited run-away slaves to be returned to their masters. Perhaps the average southerner took-up arms as results of the Lincoln Administration’s attacks on civil rights? Consider Lincolns suspension of the requirement for a Writ of Habeas Corpus and due process to incarcerate citizens. It was the federal forces who used this to establish Martial Law in Baltimore, dismiss the local authorities, and arrest members of the state who might be sympathetic to succession and vote for the succession of Maryland.
We don’t teach these facts in our public schools and it is not surprising that many people don’t consider them when pondering the cause of the War that took 600,000 American lives. We are seemingly content to believe that hundreds of thousands of southern soldiers gave their lives to preserve slavery. Just ain’t so!

Bluegrass Confedrate said...

Ya hay bitch, Lib Girl, why don't you read about what .Gen. Grant of the U.S. said and I quote " Pf I thought the war was over slavery, I would resign my commision, and offer my sword to he other side.

ethnomorph said...

Some people have made some great points, but as a proud member of the far-left I'd like to add a little.
First, I don't hate America, I'm a dual-citizen of Canada and America, and consider America--faults and follies included--to be neither evil or some kind of new Jerusalem. Of course slavery was bad, but it wasn't like the mason-dixon line delineated an end to slavery.

Now the reason that slavery didn't continue, as stated on the link, is largely the non-development of large-landowner(plantation)based agrarian economy.
So here we see an economic divergence, just as there is a rise in sectionalism during the late 1820's, following the end of fervent nationalism inspired by the war of 1812. At the same time there is great expansion into the west, both playing into the hands of sectionalist politicians and exasperating their differences.
This battle of political influence becomes the central narrative of the period from the mid 1830's through the 1850's. I should add I have no paticular guilt about this as an American. As a member of a species who did cruel things like this across the world, I suppose I feel a level of shame and horror. Also, to be perfectly realistic, wars are never based on ideals. They're based on economics, politics and power, and even the few examples to the contrary barely hold up to a hard look-over. People may think or be told that there are idealistic reasons for the war they are/were in, but it happens every time. (American Revolution-motivated by want of power over politics and economics among the rich-planting class, not idealism about liberty and freedom among the common people).

Slavery acts as one facet of this struggle from the 1830's-50's. The other equally important facets include issues like tarriffs, states' rights and the economic dynamics as the North industrialized.
To say the South didn't have a problem with its rights being trampled on is to fundamentally misunderstand the issue. Its not an issue of whether it was happening, but if they thought it was happening. If you feel threatened, it doesn't matter if you actually are, you respond in the same way.
I don't have the info to get bogged down in an argument about the foundations of the republican party, but the whole "The real history of the Civil War is that people in the North got fed up with allowing the barbaric practice of slavery to continue" is a half-truth designed to mislead. You can say that the fear Lincoln would end slavery caused secession, but again this fits into the greater fears of Northern control over the South, held by both the majority white poor and the minority white, rich land and slave owning upper class.
Slavery was an important part of their economic dynamics, one that they felt was wholly threatened by the North. Their fear of no more slave states is more about political influence than it is about the righteousness of slavery. It is equally about the set of other motives (federal power etc).
As many have pointed out above me, if you look at the primary source writings of the time, the vast majority of the north (the "moral majority") was a product of the time, overtly racist and accepting of slavery. There was a vocal minority that opposed slavery, but while they certainly player more heavily into Lincoln's administration then earlier ones, they were not the factor that the south was afraid of. People weren't fed up with slavery, they were strong unionist, distrustful of secessionists and southerners, a purely geo-cultural effect. Which is my final point, and where I agree with dablameit, that there is an important geo-cultural (rising out of economic disparity in the North and South, and geographically based cultural differences and prejudic) divide that drove the common people behind their leaders (driven by economics, power and politics) during the civil war.
Slavery was important, but was in no way the central or singular conflict.

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