Slavery & the Civil War

What caused the American Civil War? Historians are hesitant to assign just one cause to anything. There are always many factors that come together to create an event, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a primary cause.

Where do we go to find the primary cause for the Civil War? I suggest we look carefully at the official secession declarations of the various Southern states. They went to great pains to explain why they chose secession.

I’ve read them all. Some are rather lengthy. I’m going to have to be selective in what I use from them because I’m not writing a book here today. Yet I am not taking anything out of context. You can always check on me by reading them yourself.

What we will find in these declarations is a consistent thread for the secession rationale.

Let’s begin with South Carolina, the state that led all the others into secession.

Upset that the Northern states fought against the Fugitive Slave Law, South Carolina declared that the resistance to the law was tantamount to breaking the covenant, thereby allowing the state to leave. What bothered South Carolina specifically was any attempt to abolish slavery or help runaway slaves:

They have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States.

The declaration then turned to the election of Lincoln:

A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.

He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

The quote comes from Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech, but it’s taken out of context. What Lincoln actually said was that the nation couldn’t continue half-slave, half-free, and that it would eventually go one way or the other: either all states would have slavery or none would. South Carolina left out the other half of the quote. That’s historical revisionism/falsification; it’s inherently dishonest.

While South Carolina used states’ rights in its rationale, those rights were in the defense of slavery.

Mississippi, in its secession declaration was quite bold:

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.

An economic rationale is offered, but again, it’s in the context of protecting slavery. Then there’s this startling statement:

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.

So blacks need to be slaves because they are the only ones who can stand the intense heat of the sun. To rid the nation of slavery would kill both commerce and civilization, according to the Mississippians.

Georgia, meanwhile, focused on another concern:

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. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic.

That complaint had to do with the exclusion of slavery in the territory won from Mexico in the recent war. Georgia believed it was only right that since it sent citizens to fight in that war, that any Georgia citizens should be able to move into that territory and hold slaves. The argument rests on the desire to extend slavery.

Then there is Texas, which provided the most combative of the declarations, accusing the Northern states of

an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.

Now we are being told that God has ordained African slavery. Texas’s explanation continues along this same line:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Rightfully regarded as inferior? They can be tolerated only as slaves?

The servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations.

Using Christian faith as the basis for treating other human beings as less than human is abominable.

Those are the “official” declarations. We also have testimony from Alexander H. Stephens, the vice-president of the Confederacy, in his infamous “Cornerstone” speech delivered on 21 March 1861, in which he noted,

The prevailing ideas entertained by him [Jefferson] 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.

He got his history correct on that point, but he went on to say,

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.

Superior race? A hint of things to come in the twentieth century? And as with the Texas declaration, Stephens brings God in on his side:

Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system. . . .

By experience we know that it is best, not only for the superior, but for the inferior race, that it should be so. It is, indeed, in conformity with the ordinance of the Creator. It is not for us to inquire into the wisdom of His ordinances, or to question them. For His own purposes, He has made one race to differ from another, as He has made “one star to differ from another star in glory.”

Now, some argue that the common Southern soldier participating in the war was not doing so to defend slavery but his homeland. There is some truth there, but it’s also pretty well established by the evidence that even those who didn’t have slaves (the vast majority of Southerners) nevertheless supported the social system of slavery that existed.

For many of the poorer Southern whites, they liked having at least one segment of the population on a lower social rung than theirs.

Ulysses Grant, in his memoirs, shared his thoughts when Lee surrendered at Appomattox:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long & valiantly, & had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, & one for which there was the least excuse [emphasis mine].

It was an awful cause for which to fight. All the talk of states’ rights, tariffs, commerce, etc., cannot conceal the obvious truth: slavery was at the heart of secession. Without the existence of slavery in the mix of causes, there would have been no civil war.

Today’s post is an attempt to provide the evidence for slavery as the primary reason for the Civil War. I’ve added what I believe are appropriate comments about that evidence. I can do no less. I can do no more. The decision whether to accept this evidence rests with those who read what I have written.

On Flags, Confederate & American

On the Confederate flag flap, I’m going to probably confound some people with my comments. I am in complete agreement with removing the flag wherever it is an official symbol of a state government. At the same time, I’m profoundly concerned about the precedent this will set as the more radical portion of our political class attempts to extend their reach into other areas. Those views may sound contradictory initially, but if you stay with me, you’ll understand why I take the position I do.

I must deal first with the history and the constitutional issues. When the Southern states seceded from the Union, they did so on the basis of believing that the nation was merely a compact agreed upon by the states, and that any state was free to leave at any time for whatever reason.

That view, while earnestly held by Southerners at the time, is not accurate historically. The switch from the Articles of Confederation—which was in the nature of a treaty-like compact—to the Constitution was also a switch in the status of the nation-state relationship.

ConstitutionThe Constitution begins with the words “We the People,” not “We the States.” In fact, that is one big reason why Patrick Henry and other opponents of ratification argued against its adoption. They realized it was a change in status. State governments did not create this nation; rather, state conventions called particularly for the purpose of considering ratification made that decision.

As Lincoln observed later, the only way for a state to secede constitutionally was to once again become part of a convention that then sent out to the states a proposal for a state or states to withdraw from the Union. If ratified by conventions of the people in the various states, then they could leave peacefully.

That’s not what the Southern states did. They simply declared they were out.

As for the reasons for secession, those can be found very easily in the written declarations made by a number of those states. If you read them carefully, you will find that the overwhelming reason was concern over whether the federal government would end slavery.

What about states’ rights? Wasn’t that the key issue? Again, if you read those declarations, you will see that states’ rights was invoked for one purpose and one purpose only: to protect and propagate slavery.

Alexander StephensFurther proof is found in the famous/infamous “Cornerstone” speech by Alexander Stephens, the vice president of the Confederacy, in which he says the Founders were wrong about one major point: the equality of the races. Stephens makes it clear in this speech that the Confederacy was founded on a different idea: the inferiority of Africans, their God-given place in society as slaves, and the superiority of the white race.

Again, if you doubt this, check it out for yourself.

Slavery, then, is at the root of the secession and the setting up of the Confederate government.

The Southerners also used the example of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 as the precedent for what they were doing. However, there are huge differences in the historical context of that document and what was transpiring in America in 1860-1861.

If the South could prove they were denied basic rights, as the colonies explained in 1776, no problem. However, let’s consider the following questions:

  • First, did the Southern states lose representation in Congress? Answer: not at all. In fact, if they had not seceded, they still would have had a majority in the Congress. The only thing going against them was a Republican president, but he could not rule arbitrarily without Congress.
  • Second, did the Southern states lose self-government within their own states? Again, not at all. They maintained their own legislatures and could make their own laws.
  • Third, was any federal law passed that interfered with slavery in the states? Hardly. The entire history of the 1850s—from the Kansas-Nebraska Act to the Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court—had favored the Southern view.
  • Fourth, did federal armed forces invade any state? What armed forces? The federal government had very little in the way of an armed force. The small contingent at Ft. Sumter in Charleston harbor was no threat. By the way, that fort had been ceded to the federal government by South Carolina. To suddenly declare that it was the state’s fort was more than dubious.

Therefore, I see no constitutional basis for the secession. I view it as a revolt against the legitimate authority of the United States government, one that Lincoln, as president, had every right to put down.

Consequently, I have no love for a symbol of a government that illegitimately rebelled against proper authority. Remove the flag, by all means.

Stars & StripesYet there are those concerns I mentioned at the beginning. Where will this lead? Already we are hearing voices saying all monuments from that era should be destroyed. One voice even questioned whether the Jefferson Memorial should be torn down. Another has concluded that the American flag itself should be shunned because America is the land of the “oppressor.”

That conveniently ignores that human societies throughout history have had slavery and that we, as a counterpoint to all that history, dared to challenge it—in a government symbolized by the Stars and Stripes. Thousands died en route to outlawing slavery. The government system that was established also eventually led to the elimination of segregation, that odious holdover from slavery days.

America is not the oppressor the radical Left seeks to portray. It is a nation that has had to struggle with the missteps and sins of the past and has overcome them (despite silly charges today of “white privilege” and “microaggressions”).

It is a nation that was born in the hope of justice for all, and which has achieved it to a greater degree than most others. The Left has an insatiable desire to destroy the good that has come down to us from the Founders, and it has an agenda to wipe out all trace of our heritage, based as it was on Biblical concepts of law and a Biblical view of morality.

So, yes, I applaud efforts to relegate the Confederate flag to museums, but not for the reasons some do. The South today is not overwhelmingly racist. Southerners who are nostalgic about their heritage are not full of hate. I see far more hatred and intolerance emanating from the Left than from any other source.