Yes, there were other issues that helped exacerbate the American Civil war. Yes, most white southerners were not slave holders. Yes, the war aims of Abraham Lincoln were based (originally) on keeping the American union together, not abolition. Yes, the northern trade unions feared the glut of labor that emancipation would bring. Yes, as with all wars and especially civil wars, it was complicated and people (on both sides) had their own reasons for believing that civil war was necessary, but there is no doubt caused by anything in the historical record that contradicts the fact that the PRINCIPLE issue was SLAVERY. The economics were between industry and agriculture as they say, but they leave out that the agriculture was wholly dependent on slave labor. The State's right issue was something that few people at the time thought much about except for ONE issue – slavery. Slavery was the one and only "right" that was in true contention. A quick comparison between the U.S. Constitution and that of the Confederate States of America  will quickly confirm.




Slavery map


It was the westward expansion of the American nation that was the straw that broke the camel's back. The slaveholders were fully aware of the growing abolitionist movement and when the slave states realized they would soon loose enough votes so that their "property" could simply be taken by passage of law, they knew the only hope to keep their "peculiar institution" would be secession. Jefferson Davis unequivocally stated in 1861 that the cause of his state's secession was that "she had heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races." He "was the champion of a slave society and embodied the values of the planter class, and thus was chosen Confederate President by acclamation". Other Confederate leaders also emphasized that slavery was the cause for secession.


As for who attacked who first, well from the United Sates point of view there was only ONE nation with several of its states in rebellion. A peaceful means was sought to bring the slave states back in to the fold, but once the shots were fired at Fort Sumter by General Beauregard, there was no turning back. At that point Federal forces entered states that were not recognized as independent either in the United States or by any foreign government, so the term invasion is inaccurate, as you cannot invade your own country. Regardless of the language, it changes nothing regarding the source of strife.


As for the bravery of those who fought the war on both sides there can be no doubt. We are talking about the bloodiest conflict our nation has seen right up to this date. The courage it took to make Pickett's charge alone will be the stuff of legend until the end of time. But most of them were fooled into it, in the same way that men of every generation have been fooled in to marching off to war. For example the vast majority of the Wehrmacht was not composed of Nazis, none of them knew about the death camps and few would have sacrificed themselves had they known the depth of the depravity they were part of. Few owned slaves, but they were fed on "southern pride" and racism and the constant drumbeat of "having their rights taken" never questioning the FACT that the only right at issue was slavery.


There is a movement in this country to whitewash the Civil War, to claim it was not really about slavery, to try and take the onus off of the institution and essentially whitewash both its ugly reality and claim that it was little different than what happened to other groups, in other times and places. The beginnings of this "romanticized" version of events, when terms like "our noble cause" were coined goes back to Reconstruction, when the Klu Klux Klan rose from the ashes of the Confederacy. It spread the fallacy that somehow the combatants on both sides were "equals", when to any objective observer there was most definitely a "right" and a "wrong". To honor the "Bonnie Blue Flag" and the "Stars & Bars" and the "Battle flag" as symbols of some idealized "Southern way of life" that by magical means was divorced from the economic foundation of slavery.


It has been reborn every few generations, most infamously in the 1920's when the Klan had a resurgence and even popular entertainment fed in to it (think D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation) Old veterans of the so called "war of Northern aggression" were honored, not simply based on the actual bravery (which cannot be denied) but for the stand they took to "defend southern rights"or, slavery.


The modern slant attempts to take advantage of the fact that for most people that era is an obscure subject that may have gotten one semester in high school which covered basic events with little objective analysis and even less "blame" placed. This general ignorance of slavery as the cause of the Civil War is a fertile field for apologists to skew the horror that was perpetrated for hundreds of years and ended only after the country was forced to intercede militarily.


The ultimate goal of this wrongly-revisionist history is to remove any argument for reparations, end programs and roll back laws instituted to bring equality like the Voting Rights Act. That is not to say that any particular individual espousing these views has such nefarious intent, as many are simply victims of the void in their knowledge of actual history and been spoon-fed a diet of lies which was easily digested because of "southern pride".


I have empathy for the sons & daughters of the South, as it must be a difficult thing to have to come to grips with the knowledge that your ancestors were responsible for defending one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity ever perpetrated. I think it is little different than what German citizens have gone through in the process of coming to terms with the past of their national atrocities. But that sympathy should never be reason to allow facts to be buried and ultimate judgment to be affected. For as bad as being a descendant of one of the perpetrators must be, being a descendant of one of its victims is far, far worse. This is especially true because they are still being victimized in countless ways.


This false foundation is being used to once again raise the issue of "state's rights" the same cover that allowed Jim Crow laws to flourish and our country to institute its unique brand of apartheid. For many on the far-right there is a desire to return to some mythical golden years with the basic time frame being the period right after WWII. They see that era as a time when the United Sates of America was powerful on the world stage, the economy was strong and "Christian family values" were the norm. What they refuse to see, is that this too is a fiction. That although that period may have been great for many straight, Anglo-Saxon males, it came at a high cost for everyone else. Segregation still ruled the South, women were "kept in their place", gays could only survive buried in the "closet", Jews were blamed for the world's ills, and "strange fruit" hung from southern trees.


We must confront at every turn the efforts to drag our nation backwards, to eliminate hard won rights, to create a new theocratic oligarchy that has its roots in antebellum America. We fought that war in 1860, again in the 1960's and there are many who itch for a rematch.


I stand by my premise that without slavery there would have never been a civil war, therefore slavery was the fundamental cause. Even the Founders knew when they made the unholy compromise within the Constitution that it was unfinished business which would have to be addressed later.


I just wish we COULD put the Civil War and its cause behind us, but many conversations of late have proven that many still want to rewrite history in a way that makes it a bit more antiseptic. It wasn't. It was filthy, disgusting & evil and there is no way to make it otherwise. Maybe one day we can all simply agree on that and move on. Until then I am doomed to rehash the same facts over and over and try my best to keep new generations from thinking their gran daddy's fought for a noble cause.



Confederate currency


Here are a few quotes from some of the Ordinances of Secession:


[Copied by Justin Sanders from the Official Records, Ser IV, vol 1, pp. 81-85.]
The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.....The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose.


[Copied by Justin Sanders from "Journal of the State Convention", (Jackson, MS: E. Barksdale, State Printer, 1861), pp. 86-88]
A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

".....Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin...."


South Carolina

[Copied by Justin Sanders from J.A. May & J.R. Faunt, *South Carolina Secedes* (U. of S. Car. Pr, 1960), pp. 76-81.]
Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union
The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation. ....."





And finally The Cornerstone speech:

"... allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science. It has been so even amongst us. Many who hear me, perhaps, can recollect well, that this truth was not generally admitted, even within their day. The errors of the past generation still clung to many as late as twenty years ago. Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics. Their conclusions are right if their premises were. They assume that the negro is equal, and hence conclude that he is entitled to equal privileges and rights with the white man. If their premises were correct, their conclusions would be logical and just but their premise being wrong, their whole argument fails. I recollect once of having heard a gentleman from one of the northern States, of great power and ability, announce in the House of Representatives, with imposing effect, that we of the South would be compelled, ultimately, to yield upon this subject of slavery, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics, as it was in physics or mechanics. That the principle would ultimately prevail. That we, in maintaining slavery as it exists with us, were warring against a principle, a principle founded in nature, the principle of the equality of men. The reply I made to him was, that upon his own grounds, we should, ultimately, succeed, and that he and his associates, in this crusade against our institutions, would ultimately fail. The truth announced, that it was as impossible to war successfully against a principle in politics as it was in physics and mechanics, I admitted; but told him that it was he, and those acting with him, who were warring against a principle. They were attempting to make things equal which the Creator had made unequal."


Alexander Hamilton Stephens

Alexander H. Stephens, Vice President, Confederate States of America



Originally published February 18, 2013



Jose Rosa

Jose Rosa

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