A Look at What “They” Said it Was About

National Cival War Museum, Harrisburg PA

One hundred fifty years ago, yesterday, South Carolina declared War on the United States of America.  Other states soon followed and since that time we have argued about why.

No.  Rather I should say that since Lee surrendered, and after reconstruction was bartered away, we have done our best to forget or change what was.  I have had many a discussion, to put it politely, on this subject and I thought today I would take a moment to do what I have striven to do in my personal readings, but rarely do when blowing hot air myself; I’m going right to the originals.

National flag of the C.S.A.

South Carolina did not just shoot, they explained:

“And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act…

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.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety… The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.” printed 1860

For the protection of "property"

This speaks for itself.  Lets look at Georgia.

“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…policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. 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…The Presidential election of 1852 resulted in the total overthrow of the advocates of restriction and their party friends. Immediately after this result the anti-slavery portion of the defeated party resolved to unite all the elements in the North opposed to slavery an to stake their future political fortunes upon their hostility to slavery everywhere. This is the party two whom the people of the North have committed the Government. They raised their standard in 1856 and were barely defeated. They entered the Presidential contest again in 1860 and succeeded.

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its leaders and applauded by its followers.

With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers.

The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.” printed 1861

States Rights

Mississipi got right to the point:

A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

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.” printed 1861

Skeletons from our national closet

That is what they officially said it was about then.  Why is there question about it now?

The answer to that question tells us much about why things are the way they are now.

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18 Comments

Filed under history

18 responses to “A Look at What “They” Said it Was About

  1. Hiram Knickerbocker

    Not to be nitpicky, but Harrisburg does not have an “H” at the end, Pittsburgh is the only odd city with that habit.

    Great piece though!

  2. Hiram, I have no idea what you are talking about, whatever do you mean?
    gotta love the digital world.

  3. Unclelooney

    You will never convince the neo Confederates.
    Post this on a history message board. The sophistry that it will provoke will test patience much stronger than mine. I bet you didn’t know that “60 to 100,000” black troops fought for the seccessionist cause as well.
    Many Tin Tin will post a treatise on the merits of Union blue vs. Reb Butternut LOL

  4. My good uncle, Oh this is an old fight for me and I am well aware of the ire it provokes… as do your numbers as they usually come from neo confederate leaning sources. Truth is no on claims anywhere near 100,000 black confederate troops. Official paperwork only finds 30-40 (NOT thousand) soldiers listed on record as “non-white”. Of course many may have been conscripted or forced to serve and considering the SOuth’s viewpoint of course records of black people would not be kept in the same way as whites.
    But the biggest misnomer here is “fought”. One thing we know the Confederacy did not do is arm black men. Of course there may have been some outliers, but not in enough numbers to even be worth a mention.

    • Unclelooney

      Brohammas,
      It appears that you did not notice the sarcasm in my first post.
      The 60 to 100,000 number is often repeated in the blogosphere and among fans of the Washington Times.
      The Black Confederate myth was invented in the 70’s
      by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the head of which, thought that they should have their own “mythology” to counter the popularity of the mini series, ROOTS.

      • Mr. Looney, I have long lobbied for keyboard manufacturers to install a “sarcasm” key right between the Ctrl and Shift keys. It would surely make me feel less stupid. This is somewhat similar to how madras was a conspiracy to combat the popularity of the bengal stripe…
        In fact there may be some sinister connection between madras and elite southern University undergrads…hmmmm?

  5. On the Other hand, as any Denzel Washington fan will tell you, the North actually raised regiments and while underpaying them, sent them gun in hand to die. they did so with pride.

  6. As they did in every war since, even when we as a country did not treat them in a manner worth defending.

  7. RyanP

    Good article. I always enjoy your posts.
    I know what I am about to comment has been played and trivialized over and over but it is important to remember, if not reiterate, that the essence of the schism that resulted in the Civil War was the role the Federal government plays compared to that of the individual states and the disproportionate political leverage the North had versus the South. The antebellum economic situation increasingly drove a wedge between the North and South and IMO it boiled down to one thing: property rights and its use to drive the economic engine. In the North, the means of driving their Industrial economic engine was steam with ever-enlargening immigrant labor while the Agricultural economic engine of the South was enslaved muscle. The South was an import-oriented economy despite their large cotton exports (with England primarily); as the Northern manufacturing sector grew, politicians sought to raise tariffs on imports to twist the Southern arm to reduce their imports from foreign, competing manufacturing nations (see “Tariff of Abominations” of the 1820s and the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s). Due to the population distribution and demographic composition therein, the Northern politicians typically prevailed leaving Southern politicians feeling alienated. Essentially, a climate of ever growing economic competition and disparity, disproportionate political representation, and Northern “free-soil” ideology (embodied within the Missouri Compromise) caused the inevitable succession. My point is, it wasn’t just slavery for blatant and disgusting moral travesty that is is/was; it was philosophical disparity about property rights and its role in economic viability. For the South, property rights as a means to make a living meant the promulgation of slavery; the threat to them was an ever-empowered political North whose ideology was to ultimately legislate “free-soil” doctrine into the South. This is what caused the rank and file Southern soldier to take up arms: to protect one’s rights (property) and the realization of those rights to make a living. Most Southern families didn’t own slaves (only about 24% did) but the threat to the “Southern way of life” was enough propaganda to enlist the ranks to defend. I hypothesize that the call to arms (figuratively) to the rank and file Southern soldier was driven from the large planters (the wealthiest 1% of the South who owned ~98% of the slave “property”) through a viral, word-of-mouth propaganda wave decades in the making. If that is true, wouldn’t that be ironic?

    Good article. I always enjoy your posts.
    I know what I am about to comment has been played and trivialized over and over but it is important to remember, if not reiterate, that the essence of the schism that resulted in the Civil War was the role the Federal government played compared to that of the individual states and the disproportionate political leverage the North had versus the South.

    The antebellum economic situation increasingly drove a wedge between the North and South and IMO it boiled down to one thing: property rights and its use to drive the economic engine. In the North, the means of driving their Industrial economic engine was steam with ever-enlarging immigrant labor while the Agricultural economic engine of the South was enslaved muscle. The South was an import-oriented economy despite their large cotton exports (with England primarily); as the Northern manufacturing sector grew, politicians sought to raise tariffs on imports to twist the Southern arm to reduce their imports from foreign, competing manufacturing nations (see “Tariff of Abominations” of the 1820s and the Nullification Crisis of the 1830s). Due to the population distribution and demographic composition therein, the Northern politicians typically prevailed leaving Southern politicians feeling alienated. Essentially, a climate of ever growing economic competition and disparity, disproportionate political representation, and Northern “free-soil” ideology (embodied within the Missouri Compromise) caused the inevitable secession. My point is, it wasn’t just slavery for the blatant and disgusting moral travesty that is is/was; it was philosophical disparity about property rights and its role in economic viability. For the South, property rights as a means to make a living meant the promulgation of slavery; the threat to them was an ever-empowered political North whose ideology was to ultimately legislate “free-soil” doctrine into the South. This is what caused the rank and file Southern soldier to take up arms: to protect one’s rights (property) and the realization of those rights to make a living. Most Southern families didn’t own slaves (only about 24% did) but the threat to the “Southern way of life” was enough propaganda to enlist the ranks to defend. I hypothesize that the call to arms (figuratively) to the rank and file Southern soldier was driven from the large planters (the wealthiest 1% of the South who owned ~98% of the slave “property”) through a viral, word-of-mouth propaganda wave decades in the making. If that were true, wouldn’t that be ironic?

    However, the reason I think it is important to consider the essence of my argument of property rights and the political role the Federal government versus State autonomy is because it could happen again… Sure, not with slavery but property in general and who has “right” to property. Most people who so-called “own” property, if threatened by an outside entity to take it away without choice or recompense, will take up arms to defend. Is that not a parallel (albeit stretched) to consider when understanding the schism of secession?

    Sorry if this was off-topic but I thought I would add some more color, if not a different perspective to this well-written, thoughtful article.

  8. RyanP

    Oh, and as far as the Northern black soldier topic is concerned… My take is that it was a stunt of the North. The North had nearly four times the number of combat aged men than the South with HUGE resources (compared to the South) to arm and support them. The Northern regimens didn’t need or even want black soldiers and in fact did as much as they could to keep their enlistment from happening. I know it is a gross hyperbole but IMO, the North was hardly more egalitarian than the South.

  9. Ryan:
    1)welcome
    2)Thats possibly the world’s, or at least this blog’s, longest comment ever, and all of it to say I am right. You may have intended to say it was just property rights but you cannot dissasociate WHAT “property” was in question. No one was afraid the feds were trying to outlaw the cotton gin or the paddle wheeled river boat. Charleston and Savannah could have industrialized, but they invested in a system dependant upon slave labor.
    You cannot, nor should we, remove the human element. SLAVES WERE PEOPLE. It was wrong, deep down everyone knew it, and it caused a war because so many were too greedy to do the right thing (emancipation).
    3)The north was not realy better, but some people were. NYC had a riot over a draft because the white people didn’t want to go fight a war to free black people. The black troops were enlisted in large part because people like Fredrick Douglass campained tirelessly to make it happen. There was surely some PR involved but it happened none-the-less. While the north should not claim individual moral superiority, they did have John Brown, Emerson, and a whole host of vocal and busy abolishionists. People knew slavery was wrong… even Washington and Jefferson wrote it was wrong… but the Confederacy declared war to keep doing it.
    4)remember when that kid stole my Sweet-tarts?
    5)5-5-I forget what 5 was for (name the song)

  10. Rod Johnson

    Wow! I did not consider the letters of dissenssion from the union by the states. I almost cried foul again because of those quotes! I have always thought that slavery was a gross scar across the human race and continues to reveal it ugly head in other parts of the world–and still here. I am not talking about slaving to a job. I speak of real slavery and it is not limited to Blacks.
    I at one time was proud to say my ancestors were slaves and that God had humbled my people to accept Him. The scars from slavery permeates our society and will not go away because it is built into our culture and learning systems.
    My daughter came home and told me that she felt better because she saw another girl that was Black at school. She says she is scared of Black people because all her friends are White and the Black people act scary–the ones she sees. She is talking about her extended family!
    I almost cried. I have convinced myself that the slave mentality died with the rising generation.
    We speak of slavery at home historically and extol the virtues of the pioneering Black and White civil rights fighters. But how to deal with a Black person that fears other Blacks because all of then that she sees look angry.
    How is that slavery related you say? Well, the culture we live in says it all. I am even a racist myself. Sometimes when I see a single Black woman with kids it fleets through my mind, baby’s momma drama, almost subconsciously. Well, that lady is single because her husband died in Iraq. I dismiss my prejudice because I say to my self, subconsciously, that well most of the other single Black women are baby’s mommas. When I look at a White woman single, I say to myself, her husband died overseas. No, I am wrong. He lives in the neighborhood and sells drugs and is White. I dismiss it though and say he is the exception.
    “No Rod,” you say. “That’s just you.”
    I wish it was just me. I learned a lot being a psychology major. It is most of us who think that way. I have been the token Black all my life and now my daughter is becoming one because I am spoon feeding her the same twisted culture that poison me and it all started with my ancestors being consider another man’s ass to labor in his fields.
    Other than that, life is good.

  11. Ryan, to continue on to six..
    6) As far as state vs. federal intrusion, this is a mixed bag. If you look historically at the big issues where states rights were trumpeted as being sacred and in danger, it was slavery and civil rights. In both cases there is/was solid moral cause that one would be hard pressed to claim those moral causes should be subordinate to some governmental organizational argument. If one defends a state “right” that is humanly wrong, you undermine your whole foundation.
    Sure there are issues that are local and best handled at that level and we should politically fight to govern those issues accordingly, but lets not transpose theorhetical ideas onto unjust real life instances.
    Doing so gets us foolish ideas like current officials proffering that the civil rights act was wrong because it violated some written regulation… completely ignoring that not writing the civil rights act would have been a completely inhumane endorsement of oppressing an entire population. Ideology should NEVER trump humanity. (at either end of the political spectrum)

  12. Rod,
    You just listed the biggest reason I have chosen to raise my family where we are.

  13. Unclelooney

    The South loved the Federal government when it protected slavery and big bad DC always did—until 1862. The Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches split over the issue of slavery.
    The whigs and the know nothings disolved over the issue. The Democrats split over slavery and thus could not win the 1861 election . The war was about slavery. Slavery caused seccession and seccession caused the war.

  14. RyanP

    Mr. Brohammas…
    I didn’t take the human element out of my argument and yes, my comment was intended to support your own because I feel the same way you do… However, I still content that from a symbolic interactionalist standpoint, the South did what they did to protect their property rights and through association, their ability to strive economically. Sure it was wrong that the property they were contending for was human; no one disagrees, even the very founding fathers who supported the institution by association. Ultimately my point is, history has a funny way of repeating itself… Sure it’s not a carbon copy but it certainly comes back around like long hair on guys and bell-bottoms. Most of what caused the early Colonists to fight was the same cocktail I described in my comment: right and exercise of property, disporportionate political representation, economic conflict and drift, and the local government versus a central authority. Surely you cannot dismiss such parallels and even draw some more in today’s climate; some day, big baggy dance pants and high tops will come back in style amongst the younger generations and when it does you will say – ahhh, MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice, not quite but reminiscent… Such is the rotating door of history likened to fashion trends. Slavery’s abolishment, civil rights, all of these things represent the moral high road and path and I am not suggesting they don’t have their place but they do also have their consequence and anyone would be remiss to not attempt to consider the symbolic interactionalism at play on all sides within the larger historical tapestry. While different, we are entering into a time, IMO, where the same drivers of historical schisms are ever pressing and unless people can divorce themselves from their emotional proclivity that waxes them provincial and see things more broadly and abstractly, we will repeat history.

  15. If we are to talk about modern rufts I would say the partisan nature of our govt. is moving toward North/South animosity but without one side having the corner on moral high or low ground. There is no singular issue on which the arguments hinge but rather they argue on all issues becuase they no longer care about doing whats best, they only want to beat each other….
    While being able to observe and analize objectively is needed, especially in searching for solutions, often times we gloss over things that should be felt more deeply.
    The fact that race played a central role in the civil war has direct effect on the state of race relations today. Strangely enough not so much in that slavery existed, but in how we as a culture have reacted to the issue of race post war. We have since then tried to excuse, ignore, and deny the root cause and in so doing have never addressed the damage the practice did. Jim Crow was a direct result of the abandonment of reconstruction and the consequential allowance of the defeated to try to restore the old way of life. the North did not hold up their end of the bargain when it came to black people. One need not look for history to repeat itself as we arent even done cleaning up the mess that “history” has left us with.

  16. RyanP

    Could that be really how and why history does repeat? Because it is never actually learned from, or as you state, “cleaned up” after?

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