Civil War

It always annoys me when people claim that slavery wasn't the primary (or even a primary) reason for the Civil War. Here's some backup for my position.

Alterdestiny: Book Review: Bruce Levine, Confederate Emancipation: Southern Plans to Free and Arm Slaves during the Civil War
While some Confederate officers suggested freeing slaves in exchange for military service as early as the end of 1863, they were few and were silenced by the Davis administration and top military brass. The Richmond Examiner suggested that the idea was "opposite to all the sentiments and principles which have heretofore governed the Southern people (p.2). President Pro Tempore of the Confederate Senate Robert M.T. Hunter of Virginia put it best when he said, "What did we go to war for, if not to protect our property (2)." And Tennessee's Henry Foote said, "If this Government is to destroy slavery, why fight for it? (3)"

This is what I don't get about Confederate apologists. The Confederates themselves said they went to war to protect slavery. After the war, they changed their story. But all you have to do is read what they said before and during the war to see exactly why they went. At least Hunter and Foote were honest, which is more than you can say about Confederate apologists today.

Anyway, as the Confederates became more desperate, they turned to arming slaves. Robert E. Lee called for it in February 1865 and in March, Jefferson Davis signed into law a bill inducting hundreds of thousands of slaves into the army. Interestingly, the slaves had to come voluntarily and could not be drafted. The reason--the Confederate Congress would not pass a bill that provided for enforced emancipation. They wouldn't take anyone who's master had not explicitly freed them. Until the very end, the Confederacy would not free slaves. How anyone can question the notion that the Civil War was about slavery is beyond me.

Some slaves did put on the Confederate uniform. And nearly all of them defected to the Union at first opportunity. In addition, thousands of slaves flocked to Union armies to free their people. What's great about this story is that slaveholders believed their own rhetoric about their slaves being loyal. They were shocked that their benevolent treatment of slaves did not ensure loyalty. After all, what's a few whippings and a little rape? They simply could not believe that African-Americans found the closest Union soldiers and put themselves under their care. They actually expected that the slaves would fight for the Confederacy proudly. So why not give them guns? They won't turn them against us!


Anonymous Turtle Bro said...

Racism was hardly absent in the Union, of course -- I don't know the veracity of the claim, but I've heard it suggested that people in Union territory were more likely to be pro-emancipation in general but discriminatory upon encountering African-Americans while Confederate territory residents were more likely to be the opposite, supporting slavery but finding that Af-Ams they personally knew were somehow different and better than others.

Again, I don't know if that's true.

More to the point, though, there's just enough that went on to let people claim (dishonestly) that slavery wasn't the immediate cause. The direct cause was the Confederacy attacking Fort Sumter, of course, which should put to rest any idea that the Union started the war.

You really can make a reasonable argument that the political causes stemmed immediately from the issues of nullification (can states declare a federal law null and void within that state? Apparently, legal precedent at the time would have said yes) and secession from the US. And that's how people try to characterize the war as being over states' rights. But the reason *why* those issues came up is very, very directly from slavery; they were nothing more than proxy issues for the slavery issue.

So yes, to characterize it as anything but a war over slavery is wrong at best and misleading at worst.

4/11/2007 6:55 PM  

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