THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF THE CIVIL WAR:
FACTS YOUR HISTORY TEACHER MAY NOT HAVE MENTIONED
ABOUT THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Soon after I began to study the Civil War, I realized that much of what I had been taught about it in school was either wrong or incomplete. It has been said that history is written by the victors. This is especially true when it comes to the Civil War. The Southern viewpoint is rarely presented fairly in our public schools and textbooks today. I believe it is important that we as Americans know the whole truth about the Civil War. The purpose of this article is to present the Southern side of the story.
The following basic facts are undisputed:
The seven states of the
The version of the Civil War that’s taught in nearly all textbooks goes something like this: “The only reason the South wanted to leave the
We will consider twelve issues relating to
the Civil War: Why Did the South Secede?
Did the South Have the Right to Secede?
What Caused the War? Who Started
the War? The Emancipation Proclamation.
Republicans, the North, and Racism. Was
the War Fought Over Slavery? What
Why Did the South Secede?
Before we examine why the South seceded,
perhaps we should first consider why a majority of Northern leaders opposed
secession to the point of using force against the South. In other words, why did Lincoln and most other
Republican leaders refuse to allow the South to go in peace? Did they oppose secession because of
slavery? No, they did not. In fact, most people aren’t aware that, even as president,
Most Republicans who opposed secession
said they opposed it because they believed it was unconstitutional. In their view, no state had the right to
There is considerable evidence that many
Republican leaders opposed secession and eventually supported waging war on the
South in large part because of economic considerations. Numerous Republicans, including
Without the strong support from the Wall
Street class and the merchants and men of commerce, especially in
Most of the merchants were not for
provoking war, and many admitted that the government had no right to coerce a
state to remain in the
By the end of March, the whole Northern world had changed, with the businessmen and newspapers leading the way. Whenever the historian reads Northern newspapers and articles that favor secession, or just tolerate it as a constitutional right, it is important to look at the date on the article. For by late March the business circles saw clearly that slavery was a nonissue for them—the tariff was the issue. . . .
In early March, even before
On 18 March 1861, the Philadelphia
Press demanded war: “Blockade Southern Ports,” said the
Press. If not, “a series of custom houses will be required on the vast inland
border from the Atlantic to
The economic editor of the New York Times changed his tune in late March. For months he had written that secession would not injure Northern commerce and prosperity. . . . But on 22-23 March 1861, he reversed himself with a vengeance: “At once shut down every Southern port, destroy its commerce and bring utter ruin on the Confederate States”. . . .
Perhaps the most intriguing development
occurred in late March when the two tariffs stood side by side. Over a hundred leading commercial importers
At the very end of March, at the very
Rather than lower the high federal tariff and embrace free trade, most Republican leaders decided they could not allow the South to go in peace. It seems apparent that economic concerns played a major role, if not the decisive role, in their decision to violently oppose secession.
Now that we’ve considered why Republican leaders opposed secession, let’s discuss why the South
Nearly all textbooks give the impression that the South withdrew from
As mentioned previously, even as
Most Southern leaders who advocated secession in order to protect slavery did so because they feared that Republican leaders would try to abolish slavery by unconstitutional means and that Southern slaveholders would not receive any compensation for their slaves. Southern spokesmen felt this would be unfair, since Northern slaveholders had been able to receive various forms of compensation for their slaves when most Northern states had abolished slavery several decades earlier. They knew that emancipation without compensation would do great damage to the Southern economy.
Critics note that many Southern statesmen voiced the view that slavery was a “positive good.” Yet, even the “positive good” advocates acknowledged that slavery had its evils and abuses. In fact, most Southerners rejected the arguments of the extreme defenders of slavery (John Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, Third Edition, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, p. 363). There were plenty of Southerners who were willing to see slavery abolished in a fair, gradual manner, as had been done in most Northern states. After all, 69-75 percent of Southern families did not own slaves. However, few Southerners believed the Republicans were interested in a fair, gradual emancipation program. The more extreme Republicans, who were known as “Radical Republicans,” certainly weren’t interested in such a program.
Few people today understand why the South
distrusted the Republican Party. Not
only was the Republican Party a new party, it was also the first purely
regional (or sectional) party in the country’s history. Republican leaders frequently
gave inflammatory anti-Southern speeches, some of which included egregious falsehoods
and even threats (Susan-Mary Grant, North
Over South: Northern Nationalism and American Identity in the Antebellum Era,
Southerners were alarmed when dozens of Republican congressmen endorsed an advertisement for Hinton Helper’s book The Impending Crisis of the South, which spoke approvingly of a potential slave revolt that would kill untold numbers of Southern citizens in a “barbarous massacre.” The Republican Party even distributed an abridged edition of the book as a campaign document, and Republican editors added captions like “The Stupid Masses of the South” and “Revolution . . . Violently If We Must.”
Southerners also noticed that the
Republicans broke the long-established tradition of having a sectionally
balanced presidential ticket. For
decades, the major political parties had almost always nominated tickets that
consisted of one candidate from the North and one from the South. If nothing else, the major parties had always
nominated tickets that appealed to more than just one part of the country. Each of the three other parties in the 1860
election nominated sectionally diverse tickets, but not the Republican
Party. Another reason that Southerners
were worried about the Republicans was that the party’s leaders made it clear
they would push for several policies that
the South believed were harmful and unconstitutional, such as a high
protectionist tariff that favored Northern commerce, federal spending on “internal improvements,”
and a significant expansion of the size
and power of the federal government.
Many Southerners feared that Republican leaders were determined to
subjugate and exploit the South by any means.
With these facts in mind, perhaps it’s not
hard to understand why the election of
One factor that led many Southern citizens
to support secession was the fear that some abolitionists were determined to
carry out armed attempts to incite slave insurrections in the Southern
states. This fear became widespread when
a violent Northern abolitionist named John Brown led an armed raid on the
arsenal at Harper’s Ferry,
A solid majority of Northern citizens condemned Brown’s actions, but a vocal minority did not. When Brown was put on trial after his capture, some predominantly Republican towns in the North held public meetings to glorify him and to defend his conduct. When Brown was executed, numerous abolitionist churches across the North rang their bells and held memorial ceremonies in Brown’s honor. Most Americans, in all parts of the country, disapproved of what Brown had done. However, Southerners understandably were alarmed by the support that was expressed for Brown by a vocal and influential minority in the North. They were also disturbed by the fact that virtually nothing was done to Brown’s Northern backers. As a result of Brown’s raid, many Southerners began to fear that Northern abolitionists were going to carry out more armed attempts to incite slave insurrections in the South. Brown’s attack caused a good number of Southern citizens who had previously opposed secession to change their minds.
As stated above, slavery was not the only
factor that led to secession. If one
reads the Declarations of Causes of Secession and the Ordinances of Secession
that were issued by the first seven states of the Confederacy, one finds that
there were several reasons these states wanted to be independent, and that some
of the reasons had nothing to do with slavery.
For example, the Georgia and Texas Declarations of Causes of Secession
included economic complaints, in addition to concerns relating to slavery. The
They [the Northern states] have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 [about $8.5 million in today’s dollars] is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade. Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day. Not content with these great and unjust advantages, they have sought to throw the legitimate burden of their business as much as possible upon the public; they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually [about $34 million today] for the support of these objects. These interests, in connection with the commercial and manufacturing classes, have also succeeded, by means of subventions to mail steamers and the reduction in postage, in relieving their business from the payment of about $7,000,000 annually [about $119 million today], throwing it upon the public Treasury under the name of postal deficiency. The manufacturing interests entered into the same struggle early, and have clamored steadily for Government bounties and special favors.
Eleven years earlier, Senator John Calhoun
Had this destruction [of the balance between the Northern and Southern states] been the operation of time without the interference of government, the South would have had no reason to complain; but such was not the fact. It was caused by the legislation of this government, which was appointed as the common agent of all and charged with the protection of the interests and security of all.
The legislation by which it has been effected may be classed under three heads: The first is that series of acts by which the South has been excluded from the common territory belonging to all the States as members of the federal Union--which have had the effect of extending vastly the portion allotted to the Northern section, and restricting within narrow limits the portion left the South. The next consists in adopting a system of revenue and disbursements by which an undue proportion of the burden of taxation has been imposed upon the South, and an undue proportion of its proceeds appropriated to the North. And the last is a system of political measures by which the original character of the government has been radically changed. . . .
I have not included the territory
recently acquired by the treaty with
The next is the system of revenue and disbursements which has been adopted by the government. It is well known that the government has derived its revenue mainly from duties on imports. I shall not undertake to show that such duties must necessarily fall mainly on the exporting States, and that the South, as the great exporting portion of the Union, has in reality paid vastly more than her due proportion of the revenue; because I deem it unnecessary, as the subject has on so many occasions been fully discussed. Nor shall I, for the same reason, undertake to show that a far greater portion of the revenue has been disbursed in the North, than its due share; and that the joint effect of these causes has been to transfer a vast amount from South to North, which, under an equal system of revenue and disbursements, would not have been lost to her. If to this be added that many of the duties were imposed, not for revenue but for protection--that is, intended to put money, not in the Treasury, but directly into the pocket of the manufacturers--some conception may be formed of the immense amount which in the long course of sixty years has been transferred from South to North. (Calhoun, speech to the U.S. Senate on the Henry Clay compromise measures, March 4, 1850)
The South’s long-standing opposition to the federal tariff was a factor that led to
secession. The South’s concern over the tariff
was nothing new.
The South had valid complaints about the
The high tariff in the North compelled the Southern states to pay tribute to the North, either in taxes to fatten Republican coffers or in the inflated prices that had to be paid for Northern goods. Besides being unfair, this violated the uniformity command of the Constitution by having the South pay an undue proportion of the national revenue, which was expended more in the North than in the South. . . . (When In the Course of Human Events, p. 26)
Economist Frank Taussig, one of the foremost authorities on the tariff, acknowledged that the tariff fell “with particular weight” on the South:
The Southern members, who were almost to
a man supporters of
Steven Weisman, in his study of the role that taxation has played in American history, notes that Northern economic exploitation of the South, particularly in the form of the tariff, was a major concern to Southerners:
The tariff would effectively raise prices on clothing, farm equipment and many other everyday necessities. Farmers in the South . . . squeezed by these high prices and struggling to sell their own farm products abroad, protested the high tariff. . . .
These were some of the factors that
The new [Confederate] president,
Jefferson Davis, had been a hero of the Mexican War, a former Secretary of War
to President Franklin Pierce, and a respected champion of the South as senator
There was a great deal of evidence to
From the perspective of the South, the North’s economy rested on a kind of state capitalism of trade barriers, government-sponsored railroads, coddling of trusts, suppression of labor and public investment in canals, roads and other infrastructures. Southern slave owners sought . . . to secure free trade, overseas markets and cheaper imports. Southern resentment of the tariff system propelled the Democratic Party to define itself as the main challenger to the primacy of the industrialist and capitalist overlords of the system. (The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln to Wilson--The Fierce Battles Over Money and Power that Transformed the Nation, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 21-22, 52)
Weisman notes that even when
Weisman also points out that the Confederate Constitution’s prohibition against protective tariffs and government favoritism toward particular businesses was based on the South’s desire to avoid the Union practice of favoring certain industries. Under the Confederate Constitution, says Weisman,
State legislatures were given the right to overrule . . . [officials of the national Confederate government] on certain issues, and taxes and tariffs “designed to promote or foster any branch of industry” were barred, as were public expenditures to benefit a particular section of the populace. These clauses were a residue of the South’s desire to avoid the Union practice of showering largesse on certain industries. (The Great Tax Wars, p. 65)
Jeffrey R. Hummel, a professor of economics and history, notes the negative impact of the tariff on the Southern states and concedes that Southern complaints about the tariff were justified:
Despite a steady decline in import duties, tariffs fell disproportionately on Southerners, reducing their income from cotton production by at least 10 percent just before the Civil War. . . .
At least with respect to the tariff’s adverse impact, Southerners were not only absolutely correct but displayed a sophisticated understanding of economics. . . . The tariff was inefficient; it not only redistributed wealth from farmers and planters to manufacturers and laborers but overall made the country poorer. (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, Chicago: Open Court, 1996, pp. 39-40, 73)
Economists Mark Thornton and Robert Ekelund explain why the tariff was such an important issue to the South:
The South was basically an agrarian economy. This input-producing region’s major crops were tobacco, rice, and cotton, with much of the latter intended for export or for the textile mills of the North. Southerners had to earn their revenue to buy finished goods from the North and from abroad through the export of raw materials. Since tariffs on finished goods, such as textiles and luxuries, and on capital goods, such as machinery, raised the prices paid by Southerners, they believed correctly that the “terms of trade” were set against them by high protectionist tariffs. Thus, from the earliest days of the nation, the tariff issue was paramount to Southerners. (Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2004, p. 16)
Civil War scholar Webb Garrison, a former
associate dean of
Long before Charlestonians began taking over forts, the U.S. Customs Service and the tariff system had angered the South. Tariffs on imported goods served to protect the industrialized North and boosted the cost of manufactured goods in the agricultural South.
Such sectional differences had surfaced
When the seceded states merged to form
the Confederate States of
Historians William and Bruce Catton summarized the economic case that Southern leaders put forth in favor of secession:
On the economic front, long-standing Southern grievances against Northern financial and commercial exploitation, Northern high-tariff policies, Northern monopoly of the coastwise trade, and similar items, were contrasted to the bright future that awaited an independent South, secure and prosperous on a foundation of cotton, free trade, and an inexhaustible European market with no Northern middlemen to siphon off the profits. (Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and the March to Civil War, Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 2004, reprint of original edition, p. 251)
A major point of contention between the
North and the South was the issue of the size and power of the federal
government as defined by the Constitution.
As mentioned earlier, Republican leaders supported a loose reading of
the Constitution and wanted to expand the size and scope of the federal
government, even if that meant giving the government powers that were not
authorized by the Constitution. Among
other things, they advocated government subsidies for certain big businesses,
federal control of the banking system, a high protectionist tariff, and massive
public works projects (called “internal improvements”). Most Southern statesmen opposed these
policies and instead favored a strict reading of the Constitution. They believed the federal government should
perform only those functions that were expressly delegated to it by the
Constitution. From the earliest days of
the republic, Southern and Northern leaders frequently battled over this
issue. A recent study that abundantly
documents this fact is John Ferling’s book Adams
Four of the eleven Southern states did not
join in the first wave of secession and did not secede over slavery. Those four states—Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia—only seceded months later
when Lincoln made it clear he was going
to launch an invasion. In fact, those
states initially voted against secession by fairly sizable
majorities. However, they believed the
Virtually no history textbooks mention the
fact that each Confederate state retained the right to abolish slavery within
its borders, and that the Confederate Constitution permitted the admission of
All states reserved the right to abolish
slavery in their domains, and new states could be admitted without slavery if
two-thirds of the existing states agreed—the idea being that the tier of
Before we move on to the issue of the
right of secession, it should be noted that Southern fears about Republican
policies were soon proven valid. When
the Republicans gained control of the federal government, they started
Tariffs were the centerpiece of Republican policy. They . . . implemented the Morrill Tariff Bill in 1862, which raised the level of the tax on imports from roughly 20 percent to 50 percent, where it remained for the rest of the century. . . .
Banking, particularly in the South, was
harmed as a result of the war. The
imperfect system of free banking and state-chartered banking was replaced with
a system of national banks. As Robert
Sharkey noted, “the
seeds of decay had been planted. The National Banking System, with its yet
unsuspected exploitative potentialities, had been established.” As a result,
big business had better access to the money market, and small business was
virtually shut out. Sharkey lamented, “Is it any wonder that the true advocates of free non-corporate
enterprise such as Henry Carey screamed so unrestrainedly at what they called
The defeat of the Confederacy was an ideological downfall for the cause of anti-Federalist, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian traditions of small, limited government. . . . (Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation, pp. 87, 89, 98-99)
Ekelund comments on the Republicans’ big-government policies in an article he wrote for the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s website:
The Republican Party that emerged in the 1850s was an amalgamation of historical influences, third parties, and interest groups. One group that entered the Republican Party was the Free Soil Party, whose primary platform was free land and subsidies for farmers. In contrast, most Democrats favored selling off the public lands to finance government expenditures, keep tariff rates low, and prevent deficit spending. . . .
The ambitious economic agenda of the Republican Party had its roots in the economic platforms of Federalist icon Alexander Hamilton and Whig leader Henry Clay. They advocated protective tariffs for industry, a national bank, and plenty of public works and patronage. The flurry of new laws, regulations, and bureaucracies created by Lincoln and the Republican Party during the early 1860s foreshadowed Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" for the volume, scope and questionable constitutionality of its legislative output.
In fact, the term "New Deal"
was actually coined in March of 1865 by a newspaper editor in
Protectionism was a high priority of the early Republican Party. They quickly enacted the Morrill Tariff, which raised tariff rates to extremely high levels, and their extreme protectionism continued throughout the era of Republican dominance.
There is really little debate that these Republicans were the primary proponents of protectionism, particularly in the areas of steel and textiles. . . .
In the area of deficit spending and the national debt, the early Republicans . . . produced large deficits and national debt. Pre-Civil War Democrats had worked effectively to eliminate the national debt and to close the national banks. (“The Awful Truth About Republicans,” Ludwig Von Mises Institute, March 25, 2004, http://www.mises.org/story/1476)
Ekelund goes on to discuss some of the harmful results of the Republicans’ banking and monetary policies:
In their early years they [the Republicans] nationalized money and banking, a policy that helped big-city banks at the expense of the common citizen, particularly in the South and West. As Robert Sharkey noted:
“As the National Banking System took shape after the war, it was apparent that human ingenuity would have had difficulty contriving a more perfect engine for class and sectional exploitation: Creditors finally obtaining the upper hand as opposed to debtors, and the developed East holding the whip over the undeveloped West and South. This tipping of the class and sectional balance of power was, in my opinion, the momentous change over the twenty-three-year period, 1850-1873.” ["Commercial Banking," in Economic Change in the Civil War Era: Proceedings of a Conference on American Economic Institutional Change, 1850-1873, and the Impact of the Civil War, Greenville, Delaware: Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, 1965, p. 27, original emphasis.]
Looking at the consequences of this legislation, leading monetary economists concluded:
“The provision of the Acts of 1863 and 1865 that established the national banking system were designed to remedy two perceived defects of the antebellum state banking system. . . . Unfortunately, the remedies did not work as intended by the architects of the national banking system. Instead, the system was characterized by monetary and cyclical instability, four banking panics, frequent stock market crashes, and other financial disturbances." [Michael D. Bordo, Peter Rappoport, and Anna J. Schwartz, "Money versus Credit Rationing: Evidence for the National Banking Era, 1880-1914," in Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic Growth, edited by Claudia Goldin and Hugh Rockoff, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 189-223.] (Ekelund, “The Awful Truth About Republicans”)
Did the South Have the Right to Secede?
I believe the evidence is clear that the South had the right to secede. None other than Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union army for much of the Civil War and later a president of the United States, admitted he believed that if any of the original thirteen states had wanted to secede in the early days of the Union, it was unlikely the other states would have challenged that state’s “right” to do so. Grant also conceded that he believed the founding fathers would have sanctioned the right of secession rather than see a war “between brothers.” Said Grant,
If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination might have been regretted. . . .
If they [the founding fathers] had foreseen it, the probabilities are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States to withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers. (The Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses S. Grant, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Konecky & Konecky, 1992, reprint of original edition, pp. 130-131)
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of
When the Constitution was adopted by the votes of States at Philadelphia, and accepted by the votes of States in popular conventions, it is safe to say there was no man in this country, from Washington and Hamilton on the one side to George Clinton and George Mason on the other, who regarded our system of Government, when first adopted, as anything but an experiment entered upon by the States, and from which each and every State had the right to peaceably withdraw, a right which was very likely to be exercised. (Henry Cabot Lodge, Daniel Webster, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1899, p. 176)
Union general Thomas Ewing acknowledged that the founding fathers did not address the issue of secession in the Constitution--he believed the war settled the question:
The North . . .
recognizes the fact that the proximate cause of the war was the constitutional
question of the right of secession -- a question which, until it was settled by
the war, had neither a right side nor a wrong side to it. Our forefathers in framing the Constitution
purposely left the question unsettled; to have settled it distinctly in the
Constitution would have been to prevent the formation of the
British historian Goldwin Smith argued that
the history of the
Few who have
looked into the history can doubt that the Union originally was, and was generally
taken by the parties to it to be, a compact; dissoluble, perhaps most of them
would have said, at pleasure, dissoluble certainly on breach of the articles of
There is nothing in the Constitution that
prohibits a state from peacefully and democratically separating from the
not delegated to the
The Constitution does not give the federal
government the power to force a state to remain in the
This view is strengthened by the fact that
several of the states specified in their constitution or in their ratification
ordinance that they should retain all rights and powers that were not expressly
granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution. For example,
delegates of the people of the state of
powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become
necessary to their happiness. That the rights of the states respectively to
nominate and appoint all state officers, and every other power, jurisdiction,
and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the
Congress of the United States, or to the departments of government thereof,
remain to the people of the several states, or their respective state
governments, to whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in
the Constitution which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain
powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the
said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed as exceptions to
certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution. . . . The
. . . all
powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are reserved to
the several states, to be by them exercised. (
The people of this commonwealth have the sole
and exclusive right of governing themselves as a free, sovereign, and
independent State, and do, and forever hereafter shall, exercise and enjoy
every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, or may not hereafter be, by
them expressly delegated to the United States of America in Congress assembled.
(Constitution of the
delegates of the people of the state of
powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it shall become
necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and right, which
is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress of the United
States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to the people of
the several states, or to their respective state governments, to whom they may
have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said Constitution, which
declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain powers, do not imply
that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the said Constitution; but
such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to certain specified
powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution. (
Convention of the people of the state of
Convention doth also declare, that no section or paragraph of the said
Constitution warrants a construction that the states do not retain every power
not expressly relinquished by them, and vested in the general government of the
We the Delegates of the people of Virginia . . . declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes. . . .
state in the union shall respectively retain every power, jurisdiction and
right, which is not by this constitution delegated to the Congress of the
United States, or to the departments of the Foederal Government. (
If the founding fathers had intended
ratification to be irrevocable, surely they would have said so at least once in
the Constitution. If they had intended
the federal government to have the power to use force to compel a state to
remain in the
Critics of the Confederacy maintain that certain clauses in the Constitution prohibit secession, even though not one of those clauses mentions the subject. They point out, for example, that the Constitution prohibits states from entering into treaties with foreign powers. They place particular emphasis on the Supremacy Clause, which reads as follows:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. (Article 6, Paragraph 2)
However, it goes without saying that this
clause and the clauses regarding state relations with foreign governments only
apply to states that are in the
Imagine the following scenario: Suppose you joined an association. The association’s constitution said that when you became a member, you agreed to be bound by the association’s constitution and by all association rules that did not violate that constitution. But, the constitution did not say you could never leave the association. Nor did it say your membership was irrevocable or permanent. Nor did it say you needed the permission of other members before you could leave. It didn’t even say the association itself was permanent. After belonging to the association for a time, you decided you no longer wanted to be a member. You were willing to pay your share of the association’s debt and wanted to maintain good relations with it. How would you feel if the association attempted to force you to remain a member against your will, with the argument, "Sorry, you can't leave the association because then you'll no longer be bound by our constitution and rules"? Most people would view that argument as specious and unfair, if not dictatorial.
Lincoln and previous nationalists, such as Joseph Story, John Marshall, and Daniel Webster, argued that the Constitution was ratified by “We the people” acting as “one people,” i.e., by the people acting as a whole, and that therefore no state or group of states could leave the Union. But the Constitution was not ratified in this manner. In the original understanding of the sovereignty of the people, the people were sovereign only as citizens of their respective states, not as a whole. This original understanding of the people’s sovereignty can be seen in the fact that the Constitution was ratified by the people in their capacity as citizens of their respective states. It was not ratified by the people acting as “one people.” The ratification decision of one state’s citizens was not binding on the citizens of other states. The citizens of each state were free to accept or reject the Constitution, regardless of the decision of the citizens in other states. Founding father James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution,” repeatedly explained that the people were sovereign, not as one mass, but as citizens of the various states:
. . . this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. (Federalist Paper Number 39)
In arguing for
Give me leave to say something of the nature of the government. . . .
Who are the parties to it? The people--not the people as composing one great body, but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties.
Were it, as the
gentleman asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of a majority of the
people would be sufficient for its establishment: and as a majority have
adopted it already, the remaining States would be bound by the act of the
majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it. (Speech to the Convention of
In his old age,
It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as embodied into the several States, who were parties to it; and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity. (Letter from James Madison to Daniel Webster, March 15, 1833)
In his highly acclaimed book on the
formation of the federal Union, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the
In an ultimate sense, the Constitution confirmed the proposition that original power resided in the people—not, however, in the people as a whole, but in them in their capacity as people of the several states. In 1787 the people were so divided because, having created or acquiesced in the creation of state governments, they were bound by prior contracts. They could create more local or more general governments, but only by agreeing, in their capacity as people of the several states, to relocate power previously lodged with the state governments. All powers not thus relocated, and not reserved by the people in explicit state constitutional limitations, remained in the state governments. In short, national or local governments, being the creatures of the states, could exercise only those powers explicitly or implicitly given them by the states; each state government could exercise all powers unless it was forbidden from doing so by the people of the state. But in the Constitution the states went a step further, and expressly denied to themselves the exercise of certain powers, such as those of interfering with the obligations of private contracts, passing ex post facto laws, and refusing to honor the laws of other states. This is the essence of the American federal system. . . .
There was . . . one cardinal difference
In other words, “the people” were not, in any part of the multilevel government, allowed to act as the whole people. Instead, for purposes of expressing their will they were separated from themselves both in space and in time. This was accomplished by separating the people, both in space and in time, from those they elected. . . .
The division of every voter into many artificial parts of himself was one of three aspects of the genius of the American constitutional system. (E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic 1776-1790, Second Edition, Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Press, 1979, pp. 312, 314, 315)
This original understanding of the people’s sovereignty can also be seen in the system that the founding fathers established for the election of the president, namely, the Electoral College. “We the people” elect the president as citizens of our respective states, but not as one people. We vote in our respective states, and the candidate who wins in our state receives our state’s Electoral College votes. Thus, a president can be elected without a majority of the nationwide popular vote as long as he has won in enough states to give him a majority in the Electoral College. The last thing the framers wanted was pure majority rule. They understood that a purely majority-rule system often results in a tyranny of the majority.
Since the citizens of each state were the
ultimate sovereign in deciding whether or not their state would join the Union,
the citizens of each state should have been the ultimate sovereign in deciding
whether or not their state would remain in the
As part of his denial of the right of
Our States have neither more nor less
power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no one of
them ever having been a State out of the
There is so much error and sophistry
packed into these statements that it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s difficult to imagine
what founding documents
It’s also hard to imagine how
In framing his argument that the states
were never sovereign “out of the Union,”
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. (Federalist Paper Number 45)
In the same treatise,
The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them. . . . (Federalist Paper Number 45)
The first question [how a state could secede without approval from the other states] is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature's God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed. (Federalist Paper Number 43)
This is important because the Articles of
Confederation expressly stated that the union they were creating was “perpetual” and that
that union could only be altered by the approval of all the states. Now, if the natural right of
self-preservation allowed a state to peacefully leave the "perpetual"
union of the Articles of Confederation without the consent of the other states,
then logic demands that this natural right would also permit a state to
peacefully leave the federal
It’s true that
Applying a like view of the subject to the case of the U. S. it results, that the compact being among individuals as embodied into States, no State can at pleasure release itself therefrom, and set up for itself. The compact can only be dissolved by the consent of the other parties, or by usurpations or abuses of power justly having that effect." (Letter from James Madison to Nicholas P. Trist, February 15, 1830, emphasis added)
The constitution of the
When the Constitution was being debated in
On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
But ambitious encroachments of the
federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not excite
the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be signals
of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A
correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted.
One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in
short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the
dread of a foreign, yoke [i.e., the colonists’ fear of British oppression]; and unless the
projected innovations should be
voluntarily renounced, the same appeal to a trial of force would be made in
the one case as was made in the other.
But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government to
such an extremity? In the contest with
In April 1830,
The great early American constitutional
scholar William Rawle said a state had the right to secede. Rawle was a contemporary of founding fathers
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and was appointed by George Washington as
the first U.S. Attorney for
It depends on the state itself to retain
or abolish the principle of representation, because it depends on itself
whether it will continue a member of the
This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original composition of the general government, which, though not expressed, was mutually understood. . . . (A View of the Constitution of the United States, 2nd Edition, 1829, Vol. 4, p. 571)
Another early American legal giant, George
Tucker, also said a state had the right to secede. Like Rawle, Tucker was a contemporary of
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and corresponded with the former. Tucker came to be known as the “American Blackstone.” Tucker
was a professor of law at the
The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations and with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary: its councils, its engagements, its authority are theirs, modified, and united. Its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign, still independent, and still capable, should the situation require, to resume the exercise of its functions as such in the most unlimited extent. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, Volume 1, Philadelphia: William Birch and Abraham Small, 1803, Appendix: Note D, Section 3:IV)
George Washington’s Secretary of State, Timothy Pickering of
The Federalists are dissatisfied, because they see the public morals debased by the corrupt and corrupting system of our rulers. Men are tempted to become apostates, not to Federalism merely, but to virtue and to religion and to good government. . . . the principles of our revolution point to the remedy--a separation. That this can be accomplished, and without spilling one drop of blood, I have little doubt. . . . The people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West. The latter are beginning to rule with a rod of iron. . . .
A Northern confederacy would unite congenial characters, and present a fairer prospect of public happiness; while the Southern States, having a similarity of habits, might be left "to manage their own affairs in their own way." If a separation were to take place, our mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable. . . . (Letter from Timothy Pickering to George Cabot, January 29, 1804, emphasis added)
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the
Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, said
in a letter to William Crawford in 1816 that if a state wanted to leave the
Union, he would not hesitate to say “Let us separate,” even if he didn’t agree with the reasons the state wanted to leave (Letter
from Thomas Jefferson to William Crawford, June 20, 1816). Critics point out that in one case
Concurring in the doctrines that the separate States have a right to interpose in cases of palpable infraction of the constitution by the government of the United States, and that the alien and sedition acts presented a case of such infraction, Mr. Jefferson considered them as absolutely null and void, and thought the State legislatures competent, not only to declare, but to make them so, to resist their execution within their respective borders by physical force, and to secede from the Union, rather than to submit to them, if attempted to be carried into execution by force. (Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 1, 1876, p. 10)
The founding fathers specifically rejected the idea that the federal government could use force against a state to compel obedience. The only two situations in which the framers permitted the general government to use force against a state, or even in a state, were (1) if the state were invaded or (2) if the state's legislature or governor requested federal assistance to deal with domestic violence. Constitutional scholar and former law professor John Remington Graham discusses this point:
It is an historical fact that, on two occasions during their deliberations, the framers in the Philadelphia Convention voted to deny Congress the power of calling forth military forces of the Union to compel obedience of a state, and on two further occasions they voted to deny Congress the power of sending the Federal army or navy into the territory of any state, except as allowed under Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution--to repel a foreign invasion or at the request of its legislature or governor to deal with domestic violence. (A Constitutional History of Secession, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2002, p. 287)
In commenting on Article IV, Section 4, George Tucker noted that it was a protection against the federal government using the pretext of providing “protection” as an excuse for unjustified intervention:
It may not he amiss further to observe, that every pretext for intermeddling with the domestic concerns of any state, under color of protecting it against domestic violence is taken away, by that part of the provision which renders an application from the legislative, or executive authority of the state endangered, necessary to be made to the federal government, before it's interference can be at all proper. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, Volume 1, Appendix: Note D, Section 17:6)
As mentioned earlier, President James Buchanan,
in his last annual message to Congress, warned that the federal government had
no constitutional right to use force to keep a state in the Union nor to compel
a seceded state to rejoin the
The question fairly stated is: Has the
Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a state into submission
which is attempting to withdraw or has actually withdrawn from the confederacy?
[Note: It was common to refer to the
It appears from the proceedings of that body that on the 31st of May, 1787, the clause “authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent state” came up for consideration. Mr. Madison opposed it in a brief but powerful speech, from which I shall extract but a single sentence. He observed:
“The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
Upon his motion the clause was unanimously postponed and was never, I believe, again presented. Soon afterward, on the 8th of June, 1787, when incidentally adverting to the subject, he said: “Any government for the United States formed on the supposed practicability of using force against the unconstitutional proceedings of the states would prove as visionary and fallacious as the government of Congress,” evidently meaning the then existing Congress of the old Confederation.
Without descending to particulars, it may be safely asserted that the power to make war against a state is at variance with the whole spirit and intent of the Constitution. . . .
The fact is that our
President Buchanan was correct. On May 31, 1787, during the debates on the Constitution, the founding fathers considered a clause "authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent state.” The clause was not approved. Madison himself spoke against it. Here is the relevant extract from the Journal of the Federal Convention:
The last clause of the
sixth Resolution, authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a
delinquent State, came next into consideration.
A few days later, on June 8,
In order to believe that the framers
intended the federal government to have the right to compel a state to remain
in the Union, one would have to ignore the fact that the framers rejected the
idea of allowing the federal government to use force against a state. One would also have to believe that the
founders gave the federal government a right that they didn’t believe the British government possessed. George Washington and many other Patriots
believed the British were “unjust invaders” for attempting
to force the colonies to remain under British control against their will, and
they resented being called “rebels” and “traitors” for wanting
independence (see, for example,
The general [British general Thomas Gage], further emulating his ministerial masters, by a proclamation bearing date on the 12th day of June, after venting the grossest falsehoods and calumnies against the good people of these colonies, proceeds to “declare them all, either by name or description, to be rebels and traitors, to supersede the course of the common law, and instead thereof to publish and order the use and exercise of the law martial." ("A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in Congress at Philadelphia, Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms," July 6, 1775)
Continental Army surgeon James Thacher didn't like the label of "rebels" either--he complained of being “stigmatized” as “rebels” by the enemy:
The great majority of the people are happily united in the resolution to oppose, to the uttermost, the wicked attempts of the English cabinet. This class of people have assumed the appellation of Whigs; but by our enemies are stigmatized by the name of Rebels. (Journal of James Thacher, 1775)
Our Patriot forefathers also had a lot to say about the colonies’ natural right to self-government and independence. Samuel Adams talked about natural rights and the fact that every natural right not expressly surrendered remains with the people:
All men have a right to remain in a state of nature as long as they please; and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another.
When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.
Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains."
All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity." ("The Rights of the Colonists," November 1772)
If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation." (“The Rights of the Colonists”)
that is right or natural pleads for separation. . . . A government of our own is our natural
right. (Common Sense,
Richard Henry Lee:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. (Resolution of Richard Henry Lee, Journals of the Continental Congress, June 7, 1776)
The Sons of Liberty of Connecticut adopted a resolution that said the people had the right to reassume the authority they had delegated:
Resolved. 1st. That every form of government rightfully founded, originates from the consent of the people.
2d. That the boundaries set by the people in all constitutions are the only limits within which any officer can lawfully exercise authority.
3d. That whenever those bounds are exceeded, the people have a right to reassume the exercise of that authority which by nature they had before they delegated it to individuals. (Connecticut Resolutions on the Stamp Act, December 10, 1765, emphasis added)
There was a time when even Massachusetts Federalists said that nullification and secession were not treason but were actions that a state had the right to take if it believed it needed to do so. Historian James Banner points out the following:
The Federalist theory of interposition, so widely held after 1808, was
rooted in the premise that the nation was a collection of “several independent confederated republics,” a “league” of equal and
sovereign states which had surrendered
only a portion of their authority to the central government under the
Constitution. In constitutional
arguments sharply reminiscent of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which
they had only a few years earlier rejected, Federalists declared that the Constitution
was variously a “treaty,” “contract,” or “association.” Each state
was a free republic “united by a solemn compact under
a federal government of limited powers.” These sovereign republics, and not the
people, had been represented at
Federalists concluded from these propositions that since the states had negotiated the Constitution, the states alone could determine when a national law violated the compact, when its obligations under the Constitution ceased, and when to denounce it. From this it irresistibly followed that if a state nullified a law, interposed its authority between the people and the national administration, or in the extremity seceded, it would not commit treason. The state would merely assume to itself its full sovereign powers as a republic, a remedy “prescribed by the law of nations." (To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origin of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1970, p. 118)
In discussing the arguments in the rising calls for secession made by Massachusetts Federalists as their opposition to the War of 1812 mounted, Banner paraphrases and quotes those arguments:
Because, it was said, the Constitution was “a treaty of alliance and confederation” and the government an association of states, then it followed “that whenever its provisions are violated, or its original principles departed from by a majority of the states or of their people, it is no longer an effective instrument, but that any state is at liberty by the spirit of that contract to withdraw itself from the union." (To the Hartford Convention, p. 301)
The principle of peaceful separation was
as American as apple pie. But
My residence is in the North, but I have never seen the day, and I never shall, when I will refuse justice as readily to the South as to the North. . . .
Sir, if there is, as I contend, the right of secession, then, whenever a State exercises that right, this Government has no laws in that State to execute, nor has it any property in any such state that can be protected by the power of this Government. In attempting, however, to substitute the smooth phrases “executing the laws” and “protecting public property” for coercion, for civil war, we have an important concession: that is, that this Government dare not go before the people with a plain avowal of its real purposes and of their consequences. No, sir; the policy is to inveigle the people of the North into civil war, by masking the designs in smooth and ambiguous terms. (Congressional Globe, Second Session, Thirty-Sixth Congress, p. 1347, in Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, pp. 216-217)
In addition, the South had no desire to overthrow
the federal government. The South
seceded in a peaceful, democratic manner, with the support of the overwhelming
majority of Southern citizens. The
Southern states used the same process to secede that the original thirteen
states used to ratify the U.S. Constitution, i.e., by voting in special
conventions comprised of delegates who were elected by the people. The one exception was
Furthermore, most Southerners believed secession would be peaceful. In fact, it’s revealing that the early correspondence of the first Confederate Secretary of War, Leroy Walker, "clearly indicates he did not expect war" (Rembert Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, Louisiana State University Press, 1944, p. 106). As late as March 21, 1861, Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens believed it was more likely that war would be avoided:
The prospect of war is, at least, not so
threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion, shadowed forth in President
Lincoln's inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so vigorously as was
On the basis of the natural right of
self-government alone, as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the
South had the right to leave the
The driving, core principle behind the
American Revolution was that the colonies had the natural right to be
independent if they so desired. The
founding fathers said over and over again that the colonies had a natural,
God-given right to release themselves from British authority. They resented the fact that the British
refused to recognize this right and that the British forced them to fight for
their independence. Senator Jefferson
Now, sir, we are confusing language very
much. Men speak of revolution; and when
they say revolution they mean blood. Our
fathers meant nothing of the sort. When
they spoke of revolution they meant an unalienable right. When they declared as an unalienable right
the power of the people to abrogate and modify their form of government
whenever it did not answer the ends for which it was established, they did not
mean that they were to sustain that by brute force. They meant that it was a right; and force
could only be invoked when that right was wrongfully denied.
If the Declaration of Independence be true (and who here gainsays it?), every community may dissolve its connection with any other community previously made, and have no other obligation than that which results from the breach of an alliance between States. Is it to be supposed; could any man . . . come to the conclusion that the men who fought the battles of the Revolution . . . in order that they might possess those unalienable rights which they had declared—terminated their great efforts by transmitting posterity to a condition in which they could only gain those rights by force? If so, the blood of the Revolution was shed in vain. . . . (Speech in the U.S. Senate, January 10, 1861, in The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp. 531-532)
John O’Sullivan, the editor of the influential United States Magazine and the
man who coined the famous phrase “Manifest Destiny” because he believed God wanted
Northern abolitionist Lysander Spooner,
though a harsh critic of slavery, disputed the Republican claim that secession
was treason, and he argued that the North’s use of force to keep the South in the
The question of
treason is distinct from that of slavery; and is the same that it would have
The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.
No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom. Yet it triumphed in the field, and is now assumed to be established. If it really be established, the number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased; for a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle--but only in degree--between political and chattel slavery. . . .
The North has thus virtually said to the world: It was all very well to prate of consent, so long as the objects to be accomplished were to liberate ourselves from our connection with England, and also to coax a scattered and jealous people into a great national union; but now that those purposes have been accomplished, and the power of the North has become consolidated, it is sufficient for us --- as for all governments--simply to say: Our power is our right.
In proportion to her wealth and population, the North has probably expended more money and blood to maintain her power over an unwilling people, than any other government ever did. And in her estimation, it is apparently the chief glory of her success, and an adequate compensation for all her own losses, and an ample justification for all her devastation and carnage of the South, that all pretence of any necessity for consent to the perpetuity or power of government, is (as she thinks) forever expunged from the minds of the people. In short, the North exults beyond measure in the proof she has given, that a government, professedly resting on consent, will expend more life and treasure in crushing dissent, than any government, openly founded on force, has ever done.
And she claims that she has done all this in behalf of liberty! In behalf of free government! In behalf of the principle that government should rest on consent! (No Treason, Boston, 1867, Number 1, Introductory and Chapter I)
What Caused the War?
The Civil War was fought because
The Confederacy did not want war. One of the first things Jefferson Davis did
after assuming office as president of the Confederacy was to send a peace
“Why,” one may
ask, “did Confederates sometimes refer
to themselves as ‘rebels’?” Actually, many Confederates resented that
term (see, for example, Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the
Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp. 282-284). Those Confederates who described themselves
did so in sarcastic defiance and only in the sense that they were “rebelling” against being invaded and subjugated.
It should be pointed out that many
Northern citizens opposed the war and believed the South should be allowed to
leave in peace. Dozens of Northern
newspapers expressed the view that the Southern states had the right to
peacefully leave the
Who Started the War?
The standard textbook answer to this
question is that the South obviously started the war because it “fired the first shot” by attacking
In his inaugural speech, given weeks
before the attack on
Jefferson Davis argued that the attack on
The attempt to represent us as the aggressors
in the conflict which ensued is as unfounded as the complaint made by the wolf
against the lamb in the familiar fable.
He who makes the assault is not necessarily he that strikes the first
blow or fires the first gun. To have
awaited further strengthening of their position by land and naval forces, with
hostile purpose now declared, for the sake of having them “fire the first gun” would
have been as unwise as it would be to
hesitate to strike down the arm of the assailant, who levels a deadly weapon at
until he has actually fired. After the assault was made by the hostile
descent of the fleet, the reduction of
If Lincoln had desired peace, he knew all he had to do was evacuate Fort Sumter, as his own Secretary of State had been promising would be done for weeks. When the Confederacy was told the fort was going to be evacuated, Confederate forces stopped building up the defenses around the harbor and celebrated. Across the harbor, Major Anderson was grateful the fort would be evacuated and that therefore North and South would separate peacefully:
Confidently, he [Seward] told Supreme
Court Justice John Campbell that
As the pressure for aggression mounted,
Some Northern leaders who wanted peace
Before the Confederacy was established,
You say that the fort was garrisoned for
our protection, and is held for the same purposes for which it has ever been
held since its construction. Are you not
aware, that to hold, in the territory of a foreign power, a fortress against her
will, avowedly for the purpose of protecting her citizens, is perhaps the
highest insult which one government can offer to another? But
Republicans protested loudly over the fact
that several Southern states seized numerous federal installations before
Admittedly, the pre-secession seizures, though few in number, were unwise and legally problematic. However, let’s keep in mind that these seizures posed no threat to the federal government, that they were bloodless, and that the Confederacy offered to pay compensation for all federal installations in the South. The seizures certainly didn’t provide any credible justification for a federal invasion, and they were hardly what one could call “aggression” in any meaningful sense of the word. Additionally, it needs to be emphasized that the Republicans would have been just as determined to invade the South even if no federal installations had been seized. After all, some Republicans began voicing dire threats against the seceded states before any federal installations were seized. The seizures merely provided Republicans with another excuse to refuse to allow the South to go in peace.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Everyone can agree that slavery needed to be abolished. However, the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, left over 400,000 slaves in bondage. Let’s take a moment to consider the purpose, nature, and legality of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The proclamation was a war measure, as the document itself states. The Radical Republicans hoped the proclamation would produce a slave revolt in the South, even if this resulted in the deaths of thousands of women and children on plantations and farms. (Perhaps it’s an indication of how most slaves were treated that no such revolt ever occurred, even though many plantations and farms were being run by women and children at the time, since most of the men were engaged in the war effort.)
When it was issued, the proclamation did
not free a single slave in any of the four Union slave states nor in any of the
regions of the South that were then under federal control. The proclamation excluded the slaves in those
areas. The proclamation only applied to
slaves in the Confederate states, where
The Emancipation Proclamation asserted freedom for slaves in those areas that were not under control of the federal government and left slavery untouched in areas where federal control was effective. It seemed a halting measure of dubious effect and shaky legality, and the Confederates denounced it as a call for a slave revolt. (In Blum and Catton, Edmund Morgan, Arthur Schlesinger, Kenneth Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward, editors, The National Experience: A History of the United States, Second Edition, New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968, p. 360)
African-American scholar Lerone Bennett
presents evidence that Lincoln only issued the proclamation under intense
pressure from the Radical Republicans, who were threatening to cut off funds to
the army if emancipation wasn’t made a war objective, and that Lincoln only began to seriously consider the Radicals’ demands after Union
forces suffered several defeats
(Bennett, Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 2000, pp.
23-24, 415-420, 498-504; see also Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to
Emancipation, pp. 139, 148-149, 200-202).
Bennett also shows that
The proclamation provided no compensation for slaveholders, even though Lincoln himself had said this should be done, and even though most slaveholders treated their slaves humanely (as even many abolitionists had once been willing to admit). Few Northern abolitionists had ever supported compensated emancipation. The Radical Republicans certainly weren’t about to support such a plan. They didn’t seem to care that several Northern states had reaped fantastic profits from the slave trade. Nor did they seem to care that when most Northern states had abolished slavery they had done so gradually and in a manner that enabled Northern slaveholders to recover the cost of their slaves.
If the Southern states were still actually
in the Union, as
Of course, the Southern states had in fact
It should be pointed out that American
leaders reacted angrily when the British tried to incite a slave revolt in the
American colonies during the Revolutionary War.
This was a serious threat, since slaves were held in each of the thirteen
colonies at the time. The British offered
freedom to American slaves who would fight in the British army, and they
encouraged slaves to sabotage the colonial war effort. Not surprisingly, tens of thousands of slaves
flocked to British army encampments.
Fortunately, however, not enough slaves fought for the British to turn
the tide against the Patriots. At the
end of the war, at least 15,000 former slaves accompanied British troops as
If the Emancipation Proclamation had covered all slaves, if it had included compensation for slaveholders, and if it had contained guarantees against a slave revolt, it would have been on solid moral ground. It still would have been unconstitutional, but it would have been consistent, fair, and moral. However, the proclamation contained none of these things. It was intended as a war measure. It left Northern slaves in bondage. Its real purpose was to advance the effort to subjugate the South, even if that meant causing the deaths of thousands of Southern women and children in a slave revolt. The Radicals and other Republicans were using Southern slaves as pawns in their effort to conquer the South.
Many Southern heritage defenders argue that the Emancipation Proclamation “did not free a single slave.” In one respect, this is true. At the time it was issued, the proclamation didn’t free any slaves, since it only applied to Confederate territory. However, as the war continued, thousands of slaves did in fact achieve freedom because of the proclamation. Prior to the issuance of the proclamation, numerous Union commanders refused to help or harbor runaway slaves. This refusal largely vanished after the proclamation took effect.
Republicans, the North, and Racism
(NOTE: In this section it will be necessary to quote some offensive words and statements from the Civil War era. I apologize to those readers who are offended by them.)
The same Republican-controlled Congress that eventually made forceful emancipation a secondary goal of the war and that imposed oppressive Reconstruction rule on the South after the war, also sanctioned the federal government’s terrible mistreatment of the American Indians. Historian C. Vann Woodward put it this way:
The same Congress that devised Radical Reconstruction . . . approved strict segregation and inequality for the Indian of the West. (In Blum and Catton et al, editors, The National Experience, p. 416)
With the Republicans firmly in control of
the federal government, the Union army began a series of brutal campaigns
against the American Indians a few months after the Confederate commanding
general, Robert E. Lee, surrendered at
Indian war broke out in
Hardly had peace been restored to the Southwest in the fall of 1865 when Indian war broke out in the Northwest. The bloody Sioux War of 1865-67 was brought on by many forces, but it was triggered by the demands of minors who had invaded the Sioux country. . . .
The Chivington and Fetterman massacres, together with scores of minor battles and endless shooting scrapes, prompted the federal government to review its Indian policy in 1867. . . .
The new policy meant that the Indians
were to abandon their way of life, submit to segregation in small
out-of-the-way reservations on land spurned by the white man, and accept
government tutelage in learning “to walk the white man’s road.” The Black
Hills section of the
But many Indians refused to renounce
their way of life and enter meekly into the reservations. When they took the warpath in the summer of
1868, General Sherman unleashed his troopers and launched a decade of
remorseless war against them. “I will urge General
Sheridan to push his measures for the
utter destruction and subjugation of all who are outside [the reservations] in
a hostile attitude,”
By the end of 1874 all seemed calm. Then in 1875, when government authorities
permitted tens of thousands of gold-prospectors to crowd into the
I agree with Thomas DiLorenzo’s point that the Republicans’ treatment of the Indians raises questions about their professed concern for social justice:
Before being elected president, and while
still commander of the U.S. Army,
Ulysses S. Grant gave General Sherman the assignment, in July of 1865,
of conducting a campaign of ethnic genocide against the Plains Indians to make
way for the government-subsidized railroads.
are not going to let a few thieving,
ragged Indians check and stop the progress of the railroads,”
The eradication of the Plains Indians was yet another subsidy to the railroad industry, albeit an indirect one. Rather than paying for rights of way across Indian lands, as James J. Hill’s nonsubsidized Great Northern Railroad did, the government-subsidized Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads got the government to either kill or place on reservations every last Indian by 1890.
Sherman and Sheridan purposely planned their raids during the winter months when they knew entire families would be together. They killed all the animals as well as the people, ensuring that any survivors would not survive for very long. . . .
The fact that the war against the Plains
Indians began just three months after Lee’s surrender
calls into question yet again the notion that racial injustices in the South
were the primary motivation for Northerners’ willingness to wage such a long and destructive war.
No political party purporting to be sensitive to racial injustice could
possibly have even contemplated doing to the Indians what the
Both the Southern Confederates and the Indians stood in the way of the Whig/Republican dream of a North American economic empire, complete with a subsidized transcontinental railroad, a nationalized banking system, and protectionist tariffs. Consequently, both groups were conquered and subjugated by the most violent means. (The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, Paperback Edition, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003, pp. 220-223)
Another example of Republican hypocrisy was the Republican Party’s platform for the 1868 presidential election. Ulysses S. Grant ran for president on this platform, and won handily. The platform stated that the Southern states should be forced to allow blacks to vote but that the Northern states should be allowed to decide this issue for themselves. The Republicans took this position even though every Northern state that had voted on amendments for black voting rights in the preceding three years had soundly defeated those amendments. Republican leaders knew that racism was so widespread in the North that they would lose the election if they advocated forcing the Northern states to allow blacks to vote. Many Republicans themselves weren’t enthusiastic about voting rights for Northern blacks anyway.
If the Republicans’ primary concern had been to ensure that blacks were allowed to vote, they would have insisted on black voting rights in all regions of the country. If they had done so, at least their position would have been consistent and morally defensible. But they didn’t do this. Furthermore, subsequent events suggest that the Republicans enforced black voting rights in the South primarily to expand their political power into that region. Once they achieved that power they shamelessly plundered Southern taxpayers of all races. When the Republicans felt they no longer needed to maintain their power in the South, most of them seemed to lose interest in voting rights for African Americans.
Many Republican leaders, including some of
the Radicals, held racist views.
Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the Radicals in the House, not only
opposed racial integration but believed blacks were less intelligent than
whites. In the words of friendly
biographer Fawn Brodie, Stevens “insisted that he had never held to the doctrine of Negro equality” (Fawn Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South, New
York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1959, p. 193; Hummel, Emancipating Slaves,
Enslaving Free Men, p. 300).
Incidentally, Stevens also believed the Constitution was “a worthless bit of old parchment” (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 292).
Another powerful Radical in the House, George Julian, lectured his
fellow Republicans about their racism, saying, “The real trouble is that we hate the negro.
It is not his ignorance that offends us, but his color. . . .” (Kenneth Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction,
1865-1877, Vintage Books Edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1965, p.
102). Benjamin Wade, a leading Radical
in the Senate, was overheard “railing about too many 'nigger'
cooks in the capital” and complaining that he had eaten so many meals “cooked by Niggers” that he could “smell and taste the Nigger all
over” (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and
the Road to Emancipation, p. 53). In
the 1860 election campaign, numerous Republican leaders championed their party
as the true “White
Man’s Party” that would keep the western
territories safe for white labor (McPherson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War
and Reconstruction, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982, p. 123).
The North has nothing to do with the Negroes. I have no more concern for them than I have for the Hottentots. . . . They are not of our race. (In Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 295)
Lincoln himself held racist views. As a politician in
I will say, then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry white people. I will say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which, I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man. (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, New York: The Library of America, 1989, edited by Don Fehrenbacher, p. 751)
To be fair, it should be noted that
To understand something of the nature of that problem we must look at the position of the American Negro in the 1860s. . . . Throughout the nation there were 488,000 free Negroes. . . . Most free Negroes—258,000—lived in the South. . . .
“Free people of color” were welcome in few places. In the North they were almost universally segregated, excluded from public life, and their children barred from white public schools. In those areas where separate Negro schools were provided they were inadequately financed and instruction was poor. . . .
The situation of the black American when the war ended was ambiguous. . . . Northerners as a whole, willing to concede freedom, were hostile to equality. Many of them dreaded an incursion of black folk after the war—especially among lower paid workers who feared Negro competition and some not so poorly paid who resented possible Negro entry into their crafts. The use of Negroes as strikebreakers during the war and their employment in areas where whites were out of work resulted in agitation and riots and intensified anti-Negro feeling.
Such sentiment, however, was by no means
confined to workingmen. Between 1865 and
1867 voters in
Historian James McPherson:
African-American scholars John Franklin and Alfred Moss:
There can be no doubt that many blacks
were sorely mistreated in the North and West. Observers like Fanny Kemble and
Frederick L. Olmsted mentioned incidents in their writings. Kemble said of Northern
are not slaves indeed, but they are
pariahs, debarred from every fellowship save with their own despised race. . .
. All hands are extended to thrust them out, all fingers point at their dusky
skin, all tongues . . . have learned to turn the very name of their race into
an insult and a reproach.”
Olmsted seems to have believed the
Historian Michael F. Holt:
Many Northern whites also wanted to keep slaves out of the West in order to keep blacks out. The North was a pervasively racist society where free blacks suffered social, economic, and political discrimination; some midwestern states, indeed, legally banned the entry of blacks within their borders. Bigots, they sought to bar African-American slaves from the West. [David] Wilmot himself proudly and repeatedly called his measure [to bar slavery from new western territories] the “White Man’s Proviso.” (The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War, New York: Hill and Wang, 2004, p. 27)
Historian David R. Roediger:
Historians have noticed the rise in racism in the urban North before the Civil War—a racism expressed in attacks on vestigial Black civil rights, in physical attacks on Blacks by white crowds, in the growth of racist invective, in color bars in employment and in the huge popularity of minstrel shows. . . .
We have seen the extent to which
triumphant republicanism proved compatible with the casting of Blacks as “anticitizens” to be excluded
from civic affairs. For example, anyone the color of Crispus
Attacks, the martyr of
. . . the most common role for Black Philadelphians in antebellum Christmas maskings was as victims of blackfaced mobs [i.e., mobs of white people who had blackened their faces or wearing black masks]. . . . In 1834, blacked-up Philadelphians attacked Blacks in a major race riot not connected to Christmas maskings. In 1840, Blacks celebrating the Christmas season as part of the street processions were set upon by attackers in blackface. . . . But even when not celebrating on the streets, Blacks could not avoid attacks from those dressed as Jim Crow or Aunt Sally. Christmas racial clashes, initiated by blackface mobs, took place regularly between 1837 and 1848, with the last erupting into full-scale riot. Some of the violence involved white and Black gangs, but on other occasions, blacked-up mobs attacked African-Americans who were in church. . . .
The movement of “contraband” exslaves into
Historian Joanne Pope Melish:
The emancipation of slaves in New England, beginning around 1780, was a gradual process, whether by post nati statute, as in Rhode Island and Connecticut, or by effect, as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where ambiguous judicial decisions and constitutional interpretations discouraged slaveholding without clearly outlawing it. . . . The emancipation process took place during the post-Revolutionary period of social and economic uncertainty that interrogated the stability of social identity and the meaning of citizenship for whites as well as people of color [blacks]. . . .
Even more problematic was the promise implicit in antislavery rhetoric that abolition, by ending “the problem”—the sin of slavery and the troublesome presence of slaves—would result in the eventual absence of people of color themselves. In other words, whites anticipated that free people of color would, by some undefined moment (always imminent), have disappeared.
New England whites employed an array of
strategies to effect the removal promised by antislavery rhetoric and to efface
[erase] people of color and their history in
[Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s perceptive if
simplistic observation about abolitionists of the 1850s applies as well to eighteenth-century antislavery
abolitionist wishes to abolish slavery,
but because he wishes to abolish the black man.” Many whites had imagined that gradual
emancipation would ultimately restore
The hardening ideology of “race”—innate, permanent difference, located within the body as part of each person’s essential nature—effectively contained and managed people of color, as had the old institution of slavery. . . .
As sectional controversy intensified, the
mystique of a historically free, white
But the issue of the extension of slavery
racialized the question of the nature of the model society, and “what New England is now”
comprised not only judgments about the
superiority of small-town commerce and free labor over large-scale,
slave-dependent agriculture in the present but also assumptions about the
development of New England in the past as a region that was historically “white” as well as “free.” In this
context, efforts to remove free people of color from
The moral authority asserted by the idea
of a free, white New England also served to rationalize the ambitions of many
New Englanders and, ultimately, northerners—both
intellectuals and entrepreneurs—to dominate the South commercially and culturally. . . .
As Emerson said in support of the confiscation of southerners’ property at the end of
the war, “You at once open the whole South to the
enterprise and genius of new men of all
nations, and extend New England from
When radical abolitionists—advocating immediate, uncompensated emancipation—began to gain adherents in the mid-1830s, they vilified the colonizationist argument, but their own position rested on quite similar assumptions about the superiority of Yankee blood and culture. The observation of Theodore Parker, leading Boston preacher and committed abolitionist, that “the Anglo-Saxon people . . . is the best specimen of mankind which has ever attained great power in the world”—although made later, in 1857—is quite typical of the thinking prevalent among New England abolitionists.
The few abolitionists who acknowledged
The growing enmity on the part of whites
was clearly reflected in their public language; the use of the word “nigger” in particular
seemed to operate as a kind of coagulate of the resentments that had been growing in white communities in tandem
with the size and visibility of the population of free people of color. People of color themselves understood clearly
how the term served to enact the embodiment of innate, permanent
inferiority. Hosea Easton described the
process in his 1837 Treatise on the Intellectual Character, and Civil and
Political Condition of the Colored People of the
“Negro or nigger, is . . . employed to impose contempt upon them as an inferior race, and also to express their deformity of person. Nigger lips, nigger shins, nigger heels, are phrases universally common among the juvenile class of society, and full well understood by them. . . . Children in infancy receive oral instruction from the nurse. The first lessons given are, . . . go to sleep, if you don’t the old nigger will carry you off; don’t you cry—Hark; the old nigger’s coming—how ugly you are, you are worse than a little nigger. . . . to inspire their half-grown misses and masters to improvement, they are told that if they do this or that, . . . they will be poor or ignorant as a nigger, or that they will be black as a nigger; or have no more credit than a nigger.”
In an explicit reference to the
scurrilous, lampooning broadsides then circulating widely in the streets of
A New England identity remained somewhat
appealing because for over half a century the idea of
But the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 stripped away even the legal convention of “freedom” and overshadowed the few formal advances, laying bare the reality of northern “racial” thinking and practices. Martin Delany spoke for a growing number of distinctly disenchanted northern people of color in 1852 when he stated baldly that the “free” states were nothing of the kind. . . .
What Harriet Wilson published in 1859 was
a remarkably clear-eyed assessment of the racialized structure of New England
life which had developed in the more than half a century following the first
steps toward emancipation of
The engagement of New England in the
Civil War can be read, as Lewis Simpson suggests, as a nationalist and
culturally imperialist enterprise fueled at least in substantial part by the “racial” essentialism on
the one hand and the mythology of “freedom” on the other
Ultimately, of course, the Civil War ended American slavery finally and completely, but northern people of color were not thereby released from racial thinking and practices whose origins were lost in a largely suppressed history of northern slavery and gradual emancipation. . . .
Long after the war ended, the presence of
people of color in
Historian Merton Dillon:
The ending of slavery in the North had not been accompanied by change in the racial attitudes that for so long had supported it. If anything, prejudice increased as the numbers of free Blacks grew and as the insecurities resulting from rapid economic and social change were felt throughout white society. Prejudice was not expressed in verbal slurs and social slights alone. Far more serious was the fact that custom barred most Blacks from economic and educational opportunity. Although striking examples can be cited of Blacks who overcame all such obstacles, the majority were shut out by prejudice from sharing in the profits and advantages of the growing American economy. . . .
Most Northerners still preferred that Blacks remain in the South and not attempt to settle in Northern white communities. In 1845—after more than a decade of intense abolitionist agitation—an Illinois state legislative committee asserted that “by nature, education, and association, it is believed that the negro is inferior to the white man, physically, morally, and intellectually: whether this be true to the fullest extent matters not, when we take into consideration the fact that such is the opinion of the vast majority of our citizens.” (The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1974, pp. 20-21, 74)
In the first half of the nineteenth
century, state legislatures in
City officials [in Washington. D.C.]
restricted Negro immigrants to the malaria-ridden lowlands known as “
In early March , Congress took up a
bill to abolish slavery in the
Passage of the Confiscation Act did not resolve the debate over emancipation in Congress. The bill itself freed no slaves. . . . At the same time, however, prejudice against Negroes was rising among white northerners. Some whites blamed Negroes for causing the war. . . . Other whites, particularly Irish immigrants living in Northern cities, feared that freed slaves might migrate north and compete with them as a source of cheap labor.
“There is but one thing, sir, that we want here,” announced an Ohioan to a visiting journalist, “and that is to get rid of the niggers.” A lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society reported that denunciations of Negroes “were never more common in my hearing. Many Republicans unite with Democrats in cursing the ‘niggers,’ and in declaring that the slaves, if possibly emancipated by the war, must be removed from the country”. . . .
When several state governments found it
necessary to institute conscription in the summer of 1862, anti-Negro riots
broke out among . . . communities in
Midwestern opponents of the proclamation
[the Emancipation Proclamation] raised the specter of several million free
In the summer of 1863,
Late in the afternoon, a mob set fire to
the Colored Orphan Asylum at
Racial prejudice grew stronger in the riot’s aftermath. Fearful of renewed trouble, employers refused to hire Negroes; New Yorkers who befriended Negroes found themselves threatened by white laborers. Eventually one-third of the city’s black population left to seek better opportunities elsewhere. (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 54, 91, 117-118, 132, 164-165, 246-247, 262-264)
When it came to the issue of using blacks as soldiers in the Union army, most Northern whites either opposed the measure or favored it primarily because they wanted to save the lives of as many white soldiers as possible. Klingaman:
“Certainly we hope we may never have to confess to the world that
Vice President Hamlin probably reflected
opinion . . . when he told a rally in
Several Northern states rejected the
Fifteenth Amendment, which was designed to guarantee voting rights for African
Americans and for other minorities. The
amendment was submitted to the states for ratification in February 1869. The Northern states of
To judge from some books on the Civil War,
one would never guess that slavery started in the North and that it existed
there for decades. In fact, slavery
survived in two Northern states until the middle of the Civil War. Slavery continued in two other Northern
states until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery several months after
the war. One rarely reads about the
conditions of Northern slavery. One
excellent study on the subject is James and Lois Horton’s fascinating book In Hope Of
* Northern whites violently overreacted to rumors of slave conspiracies, and reacted even more harshly to actual slave revolts. In some cases, numerous slaves were tortured and then killed, and parts of their bodies were put on display as a warning to other slaves.
* Northern masters generally opposed allowing their slaves to learn to read and write, for fear this would make them harder to control and even dangerous. Slave revolts intensified Northern opposition to slave literacy.
* Northern governments enacted and enforced fugitive slave laws, i.e., they forced the return of runaway slaves. One Northern government even signed a fugitive slave treaty with local Indians in order to prevent slaves from running away to live among those Indians.
* Northern masters tended to discourage
slave marriages and apparently weren’t overly concerned about keeping slave families intact.
(This is in contrast to Southern masters, who encouraged slave marriages
and who usually strove to keep slave families intact. Even James McPherson admits that 66-80
percent of slave marriages were not broken up. Data from the
* After most Northern states abolished slavery, ex-slaves actually found themselves shut out from nearly all skilled labor jobs in the North, whereas in the South free blacks and slaves alike had more access to such jobs.
* When most Northern states abolished slavery, racial prejudice against Northern blacks actually became worse, for a number of reasons, such as perceived labor competition and the fact that the social contact that had been required by the reality of slavery was no longer necessary.
* Northern society was dominated by a
wealthy elite. (Interestingly, the
Hortons observe that throughout
* Northern governments passed numerous “black laws” that discriminated against blacks. Some of these laws prohibited interracial marriage and imposed stiff penalties for violators.
* Runaway slaves were a constant problem. Northern newspapers routinely carried notices of masters looking for runaways.
* Some Northern governments passed laws to encourage the African slave trade. (In fact, several Northern states made huge fortunes from the slave trade.)
* In most cases, Northern emancipation was gradual and included generous clauses that allowed Northern masters to recoup most or all of the cost of their slaves.
* In Northern areas where slavery was more economically viable, there was stronger opposition to emancipation. This opposition was overcome by the very gradual nature of the emancipation programs and by the fact that they allowed slaveholders to largely recover the cost of their slaves, if not make a small profit.
The Hortons also document some interesting facts about the British and American approaches to slaves and slavery during the Revolutionary War. Students of the Civil War will see some interesting parallels between the Civil War and the Revolutionary War with regard to these issues. For example:
* Shortly after the Continental Army was formed, slaves and free blacks were barred from serving in it. Lord Dunmore, on the other hand, offered freedom to slaves who would serve the British cause.
* Most blacks in the American army were used in menial labor positions, not as combat troops.
* Although the commanding general of the Continental Army issued an order allowing for the enlistment of free blacks in December 1775, colonial governments and the Continental Congress were slow to approve this change.
* The Americans considered it insulting
for the British to use their own slaves against them. Lord Dunmore made note that the use of black
soldiers was sure to anger and distress the American “rebels.” The Hortons
many Americans such behavior [the
British use of American slaves as soldiers] confirmed their belief that
* As many as 100,000 slaves ran away from their masters during the Revolutionary War and flocked to British lines. Thousands of them fought for the British.
* At least 15,000 ex-slaves evacuated with the British army.
* British abolitionist politicians noted the inconsistency in the American position of “yelping” for liberty while upholding slavery. Samuel Johnson said, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Another British critic said, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his frightened slaves.”
Was the War Fought Over Slavery?
The war was fought over Southern
independence, not over slavery.
If there be those who would not save the
My paramount objective is to save the
If I could save the
In July 1861, after the First Battle of
Manassas (Bull Run) had been fought, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution, by
an overwhelming majority, that declared the war was not being fought to disturb
slavery, nor to subjugate the South, but only to “maintain the
The war itself really had nothing directly
to do with slavery. It’s true that disputes over slavery were the most important
factors behind the first wave of secession, but secession and the war were two
separate events. Additionally, four of
the Southern states did not secede over slavery. Secession was a peaceful, democratic process. The seceded states posed no threat to the
federal government, and they had no intention of trying to overthrow the
federal government. The Confederate
states wanted to live in peace with the North and offered to pay their share of
the national debt and to pay compensation for all federal forts in the
Some will make the argument that had it
not been for slavery there would have been no war and that therefore slavery
caused the war or that the war was fought over slavery. This is not a logical argument. It’s probably true that there would have been no war if there had been no slavery. However, even this is not certain. After all,
We must distinguish between factors and
causes. Slavery was one of several
factors that led to the war, but the cause of the conflict was the Republicans’ refusal to allow the South to leave in peace. The role that slavery played as a factor that
led to the war was similar to the role that oil played as a factor that led to
the first Gulf War in 1991. If there had
been no Kuwaiti oil fields,
If the Southern states had not seceded,
there would have been no war--and slavery would have continued. If the Southern states had surrendered when
The reaction of the Northern abolitionists
to the proposal of fellow abolitionist Moncure Conway is further proof the war
was not fought over slavery. Nearly all
the abolitionists supported the Radicals.
The cries of protest on this side of the
As one reads the speeches and letters of
Confederate leaders during the war, it becomes apparent that they certainly
didn't believe their main reason for fighting was to preserve slavery. For example, beginning in late 1862, James
Phelan, Joseph Bradford, and Reuben Davis wrote to Jefferson Davis to express
concern that some opponents were claiming the war "was for the defense of
the institution of slavery" (Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp.
479-480, 765). They called those who were making this claim
"demagogues." Cooper notes
that when two Northerners visited Jefferson Davis during the war,
Jefferson Davis said repeatedly that the
South was fighting for the same “sacred right of self-government” that the revolutionary fathers had fought for. In his first
message to Congress [the Confederate Congress] after the fall of
To most Southerners, independence was more
important than was the continuation of slavery.
This is not surprising, since less than 10 percent of Southern citizens
actually held title to slaves, and since 69-75 percent of Southern families
were not slaveholders (John Niven, The Coming of the Civil War: 1837-1861,
Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990, p. 34; Divine et al,
editors, America Past and Present, p. 389; see also the 1860
Census). Early in the war, James Alcorn,
a powerful planter-politician from
Jefferson Davis summarily rejected
General Lee added his prestige to the proposal: “We must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced upon our social institutions,” he warned. “My own opinion is that we should employ them without delay. . . . The best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and general emancipation.” In March of 1865, the Confederate Congress narrowly authorized the recruitment of 300,000 slaves, while the Davis Administration promised full emancipation to the British and French governments in exchange for diplomatic recognition. (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, pp. 280-281)
A Confederate soldier who was captured early in the war expressed the South’s reason for fighting in simple yet eloquent terms. He wore a ragged homemade uniform, and like most other Southerners he didn’t own any slaves. When Union soldiers asked him why he was fighting for the Confederacy, he replied, “I’m fighting because you’re down here” (McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 311, emphasis added).
To judge from their own letters, most
Union soldiers didn’t believe the war was being
fought over slavery and didn’t really care about the fate of
the slaves. As McPherson observes, Bell
Wiley studied the attitudes of Union soldiers on emancipation and concluded
that barely one in ten “had any real interest in emancipation per se” (For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil
War, New York: Oxford University
Press, 1997, p. 117). Based on his own
analysis of a representative sampling of the letters of federal troops,
McPherson concludes that probably less than one in ten Union soldiers fought
solely for the abolition of slavery; such soldiers, he says, were “rare indeed” (For Cause and Comrades, p. 117). He
adds that for the first half of the war, only thirty percent of the men in blue
viewed the abolition of slavery as a necessary part of the primary goal of
The attitudes of a good many soldiers on
the matter were more pragmatic than altruistic.
They understood that every slave laborer who emancipated himself by
coming into Union lines weakened the Confederate war effort. It also strengthened the Union army. “I don’t care a damn for the darkies,” wrote an
The second factor that converted many soldiers to emancipation was a growing conviction that it really did hurt the enemy and help their own side. “I have always until lately been opposed to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation,” wrote a private in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, a distiller by trade, in May 1863, “but I have lately been convinced that it was just the thing that was needed to weaken the strength of the rebels. . . .” (For Cause and Comrades, pp. 119, 125)
What Happened at
The question that really should be asked is, Why did thousands of Confederate prisoners die of starvation, disease, and exposure in Northern prison camps when the Union army could have easily given them adequate food, housing, and medical care?
Yes, thousands of Union prisoners died of
starvation, disease, and exposure at the Confederate prison camp at
One of the most balanced treatments of the
The Andersonville prison, until the
soldiers built huts for themselves, was but a stockaded enclosure of sixteen
and a half acres in southwestern
The sickening story of
Even McPherson agrees that Confederate authorities did not deliberately mistreat Union prisoners:
Few if any historians would now contend that the Confederacy deliberately mistreated prisoners. Rather, they would concur with contemporary opinions—held by some northerners as well as southerners—that a deficiency of resources and the deterioration of the southern economy were mainly responsible for the sufferings of Union prisoners. The South could not feet its own soldiers and civilians; how could it feed enemy prisoners? (The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 800)
At least some Union generals knew that the
Confederates didn’t even have enough food and medicine for their own soldiers. It’s revealing that General Dan Sickles told
Apart from the objections which exist to the policy of retaliation, it is at least doubtful whether it would inure to the benefit of our men, for the reason that the enemy are reported to be without the means to supply clothing, medicines and other medical supplies even to their own troops. (Official Records, Series 2, Volume 7, p. 575)
Union soldier Edward Boate was a prisoner
You rulers who make the charge that the
rebels intentionally killed off our men, when I can honestly swear they were
doing everything in their power to sustain us, do not lay this flattering
unction to your souls. You abandoned your brave men in the hour of their cruelest
need. They fought for the
Much could be said about the thousands of
Confederate prisoners who died in Union prison camps and about the horrible
conditions in many of those camps. The
The worst Union prison was in
In January 1865,
Rebel prisoners in our hands are to be subjected to a treatment finding its parallels only in the conduct of savage tribes and resulting in the death of multitudes by the slow but designed process of starvation and by mortal diseases occasioned by insufficient and unhealthy food and wanton exposure of their persons to the inclemency of the weather. (Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 2nd session, January 24, 1865, p. 381)
Senate Resolution 97 was approved by the U.S. Senate on January 31, 1865. This meant that the abuse of Confederate prisoners was endorsed by the U.S. Senate. The mistreatment of Confederate prisoners had already been going on well before Senate Resolution 97 was passed, but the resolution’s passage gave the mistreatment the Senate’s stamp of approval. Fortunately, the resolution was almost immediately made irrelevant when prisoner exchanges were finally resumed a short time later. Still, it’s sickening that the U.S. Senate officially endorsed the cruel treatment of Confederate prisoners.
The tragedy at Andersonville never would
have happened if the
I suspect the real reason Lincoln and
Grant refused to continue prisoner exchanges was that they wanted to deprive
the Confederate army of manpower, even though they knew the Confederacy was in
no position to properly care for the thousands of Union prisoners in its prison
camps. In fact, in August 1864 Grant
said exchanging prisoners would help the Confederacy more than the
I find it somewhat hard to believe that
men like Lincoln and Grant refused to resume prisoner exchanges because of the
Confederate policy on black Union prisoners.
Still more unmistakable evidence of
Ignoring this testimony and pleas from
major leaders, including some Union officers, a military court sentenced
Sergeant Walker to death. Although
Grant’s concern for humanity was nowhere to be seen when he bombed the civilian population of
It’s true that when the Confederacy offered to include black prisoners in the exchanges, Lincoln
and Grant accepted the offer. But this
until late January 1865, when it seemed
After the war, Lincoln’s assistant Secretary of War, Charles Dana, blamed Grant for the breakdown in prisoner exchanges, saying "the evidence proves that it was not the Confederates who insisted on keeping our prisoners in distress, want and disease, but the commander of our armies" (in Lynn Tyler, A Confederate Catechism, Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company, 2000, reprint, p. 36, quoting from "Treatment of Prisoners During the War Between the States," Southern Historical Papers, Vol. 1, pp. 112-327). Dana told the New York Sun that “the fact is unquestionable that while the Confederates desired to exchange prisoners, to send our men home, and to get back their own men, General Grant steadily and strenuously resisted such an exchange” (Mildred Rutherford, Truths of History, Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company, reprint of original 1920 edition, p. 21).
Why did the Confederacy initially decline to include black Union prisoners in prisoner exchanges? Confederate leaders considered the Union army’s use of former Southern slaves as a federally sanctioned slave revolt. The Confederacy was willing to exchange black Union prisoners who had been legally free when they enlisted, but they did not believe they should have to return prisoners who were runaway or captured slaves. From the Confederate viewpoint, since those slaves had either run away or had been stolen, they had no right to be soldiers in the federal forces that were invading the South. I can certainly sympathize with those runaway slaves who joined the Union army in the hope of securing freedom for themselves and for their fellow slaves. But I can also understand why the Confederates felt the way they did on the matter.
Critics point out that when Union forces
began using slaves as soldiers, Confederate leaders announced that those
soldiers and their white officers would be prosecuted for slave insurrection
and executed. These critics never
mention that the Confederates’ reaction to the use of slave soldiers against them was essentially identical to the American
reaction to the British use of runaway
slaves as soldiers during the Revolutionary War. American Patriot leaders, including George
Washington, were alarmed and resentful when they learned that the British were
offering freedom to American slaves who would fight in the British army. In fact, the colonial legislature of
At the start of the Civil War, the Union
general in command of the Army of the Potomac, with no objection from
To most Southern citizens, the
No such right is acknowledged as a law of war by writers who admit any limitation. (In Robert Durden, The Black and the Gray: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation, Louisiana Paperback Edition, Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2000, reprint of 1972 edition, p. 27)
One of the reasons that
Whereas George the Third, King of
Great-Britain, in violation of the Principles of the British Constitution; and
of the Laws of Justice and Humanity, hath by an Accumulation of Oppressions
unparalleled in History . . . hath excited the Savages of the country to carry
on a war against us; as also the Negroes to imbrue their Hands in the blood of
their masters, in a manner unpracticed by civilized nations. (“Provincial Conference of
Committees of Committees of the
Another fact that critics rarely mention is that Confederate forces rarely carried out the execution threat (Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, p. 418; Randall and Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, pp. 393-395). Indeed, a credible case can be made that the number of Southern slaves killed by Union troops was considerably larger than the number of black Union soldiers executed by Confederate troops. And, just to provide some historical perspective, it should be kept in mind that the number of slaves who died on Northern slave ships during the the American involvement in the overseas slave trade was greater than the total number of slaves who died in combat during the Civil War.
Did the South Control the Federal Government Until 1860?
The claim is frequently made that the South controlled the federal government until the 1860 election, and that therefore the South showed a lack of tolerance and fairness when it seceded in response to Lincoln’s victory. However, anyone who is familiar with American history knows that the South did not control the federal government until 1860. Many Northern politicians and writers trumpeted this myth for political and propaganda purposes. A major component of this myth was that the alleged “Slave Power” in the South was behind the South’s supposed domination of the federal government. Some Northern leaders even claimed there was a “Slave Power conspiracy” to impose slavery on the entire country. When the war ended, Radical Republicans issued dire warnings about the need to crush this supposed Slave Power in order to justify their subjugation and looting of the defeated South.
For one thing, wealthy Southern plantation
owners, i.e., the men who allegedly comprised the supposed Slave Power, did not
dictate Southern politics. Moreover,
they were by no means uniform in their political beliefs. In fact, many affluent planters were Whigs
(Frank Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, LSU Press Edition, LSU
Press, 1982, pp. 141-142; Arthur Schlesinger, The Age of Jackson, Boston:
Little, Brown and Company, 1945, p. 453; McPherson, The Battle Cry of
Freedom, p. 242). And, as mentioned
earlier, some of the wealthiest slaveholders opposed secession. In
Nor is it to be inferred that a plantation “aristocracy” somehow controlled the political destinies of the region, for the current of democracy had eroded the powers of the gentry until “whatever influence the planters exercised over the political action of the common people was of a personal and local nature” [quoting Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, p. 139]. (The Civil War and Reconstruction, pp. 40-41)
Even in the very conservative Deep South
White manhood suffrage had existed since 1832, and the sovereign voters required wooing and intermingling from their prospective officeholders. . . .
This was emphatically not a political
world in which rich planters controlled candidates and elections while sipping
sherry and juleps in elegant drawing rooms.
Energetic campaigning antedated
Historian Francis Butler Simkins called attention to the democratic reforms that the South began to adopt in the early 1800s:
Facts prove that the states of the Old
South, through a series of progressive reforms, conformed to the contemporary
definition of democracy as “an equal division of political
rights, not of property.”
They cast aside the Colonial heritage of suffrage restrictions, property
qualifications for officeholding, and unequal apportionment of legislative
These restrictions, however, were not
more comprehensive than those prevailing in
If the South truly “controlled” the federal government until 1860, one can only wonder why the federal tariff was never as low as the South wanted it to be, why Congress gave the Northern states a legal monopoly in the lucrative shipbuilding business and why this monopoly was never repealed, why it took ten years for Texas to be admitted as a state, why Cuba was never annexed, how the Missouri Compromise became law in 1820, how the Tariff of Abominations passed Congress in 1828, how the Force Bill passed Congress in 1833, how the tariff act of 1842 passed Congress, how the John Calhoun resolutions of 1847-1848 were all defeated, how the Wilmot Proviso passed the House of Representatives twice, how the Compromise of 1850 was enacted, why Kansas wasn’t admitted as a slave state, why the Missouri Compromise line wasn’t extended to the west coast, and how the draconian Morrill Tariff passed the House in 1860. Some critics claim that Southern congressmen supported the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, but in point of fact most Southern congressmen voted against it (see Taussig, The Tariff History of the United States, pp. 61-62).
It’s true that there were periods when the South had more influence on federal policy than did the North, but there were also periods when this was not the case. At no time did the South control the federal government in terms of doing whatever it wanted. Cooper notes that “after mid-1854 no chance remained for a congressional majority on any initiative marked as a southern measure” (Jefferson Davis, American, p. 284). The South was usually able to block or modify unwanted bills in the Senate, but not always, and the South was frequently unable to defeat unwanted bills in the House. As early as 1819 “the North had built up a decisive majority in the House of Representatives” (Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 281). Historian John Niven notes that the South continued to lose ground in the House from 1830 to 1840:
The House of Representatives, whose
membership was based on the census returns for each state, reflected this
growing disparity [between the populations of the North and the South]. Even counting three-fifths of the slave population
(as the federal Constitution provided), free states increased their majority
from twenty-three seats in 1830 to twenty-nine seats in 1840. The disparity expressed in total seats was
149 representatives from the
As for the presidency, Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Harrison, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan were all Northern politicians. And who were the Southern presidents? They were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor. So the South by no means enjoyed exclusive control of the White House prior to the war. Furthermore, the “Southern” presidents didn’t automatically take the South’s side on all issues, just as the “Northern” presidents didn’t automatically take the North’s side on all issues. For example, President Taylor sided with Northern politicians on crucial aspects of the Compromise of 1850 and also supported the Wilmot Proviso, even though he himself was a slaveholder.
When the South did exercise considerable
influence on federal policy, it used that influence toward efforts to reduce
taxes, to limit the growth of the federal government, to curb or eliminate harmful
protectionist trade policies, to impose fiscal responsibility on federal
spending, to abolish the corrupt United States Bank, to preserve our free
banking system, to prohibit the use of tax dollars for wasteful corporate
welfare schemes, to expand the land area of the United States by acquiring new
territory, to preserve the sovereignty of the states, and to enforce a strict
interpretation of the Constitution.
Under Southern leadership,
I’m not saying that Southern politicians did no wrong. For
example, the Southern-inspired 1836-1844 gag rule in the House of Representatives
preventing debate on petitions to abolish slavery in the
All Americans should be grateful that most
Northern politicians did not get their way during crucial times in the decades
leading up to the Civil War. If the
Northern Federalists, followed by the Northern Whigs, had been in control of
the government during certain key periods before the war,
If the Northern Federalists had been in
power in the early 1800s, the
In addition, if the Federalist-dominated
New England states had had their way, the War of 1812 with
New Englanders refused to cooperate with the war effort. . . . New Englanders carried on a lucrative, though illegal, commerce with the enemy. When the U.S. Treasury appealed for loans to finance the war, wealthy northern merchants failed to respond. (Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 254)
Historian Kenneth Stampp:
New England Federalists throughout the
war regarded the . . . politicians in
Federalist governors contested federal
calls on the state militias. . . .
Federalists discouraged voluntary enlistments. . . . Federalists resisted tax measures and
boycotted government loans. . . .
Meanwhile, New Englanders defiantly continued to trade with
Historian Forrest McDonald:
New Englanders protested loudly and
refused to cooperate in the prosecution of the war. With congressional authorization, Madison
issued a call for 100,000 militiamen, but those in New England refused to hear
the call, and the governor of Massachusetts intervened to prevent their being
forced into service. . . . Similarly,
bankers in the region refused to subscribe to loans to the
But the Yankees went beyond resistance
into activities that were literally treasonable, even by the Constitution’s restricted definition
of that crime. Through well-established connections in
What was more important in dividing
Americans in their attitudes toward the war was a British blockade, imposed
partially by the end of 1812 and made total by the middle of 1813—except for
When the Northern Federalists gained control of the federal government in 1796, they tried to use their newly found power to silence political opponents. In 1798 they passed the infamous Sedition Act, which made it illegal to “falsely” criticize a federal official:
The Federalists did not rely solely on the army to crush political dissent. During the summer of 1798, the party’s majority in Congress passed a group of bills known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. This legislation authorized the use of federal courts and the powers of the presidency to silence [political opponents]. . . . The acts were born of fear and vindictiveness, and in their efforts to punish the followers of Jefferson, the Federalists created the nation’s first major crisis over civil liberties. . . .
The Sedition Law struck at the heart of
free political exchange. It defined
criticism of the
Historian Edmund Morgan wrote that the
Sedition Act “was
one of the most repressive measures ever directed against political activity in the United States” (in Blum and Catton et
al, editors, The National Experience,
p. 162). Legal scholar John Remington
Graham observes that the Sedition Act “broadly
criminalized libel against public officers of the
As if freedom of the press had not become
part of constitutional heritage in the
Historian John Garraty:
Finally, there was the Sedition Act. Its first section, making it a crime “to impede the operation of any law” or attempt to instigate a riot or insurrection, was reasonable enough; but the act also made it illegal to publish, or even to utter, any “false, scandalous and malicious” criticism of high government officials.
Although based on English precedents . . . this proviso rested, as James Madison said, on “the exploded doctrine” that government officials “are the masters and not the servants of the people.” To criticize a king is to try to undermine the respect of his subjects. . . . To criticize an elected official in a republic is to express dissatisfaction with the way one’s agent is performing his assigned task, certainly no threat to the state itself. The fundamental difference between these two modes of thought escaped the Federalists of 1798.
This, of course, is mere theory. Far worse was the Federalists’ practice under the Sedition Act. As the election of 1800 approached, they made a systematic attempt to silence the leading . . . [opposition] newspapers of the country. Twenty-five persons were prosecuted and ten convicted, all in patently unfair trials. In typical cases, editor Thomas Cooper was sentenced to six months in jailed and fined $400 [a substantial amount of money at the time], editor Charles Hall got three months and a $200 fine, editor James Callender got nine months and a $200 fine. (John Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, p. 155)
Founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and
James Madison rightly viewed the Sedition Act as a dangerous step toward a
police state. In response to this threat
to free speech and liberty, Jefferson authored the Kentucky Resolutions, while
In the summer of 1798 a Federalist
Congress passed, and President Adams signed, a series of acts designed to
strengthen the government’s hand and to silence domestic
critics. . . . The most controversial
measure was the Sedition Act. . . . For
a period of two years it was declared unlawful for anyone to “write, print, utter, or publish” anything “false, scandalous and malicious”
against those in federal office. It was further declared seditious to bring
Congress or the president “into contempt or disrepute” or to
against them . . . the hatred of the good people of the
Dominated by Federalist legislators, all
of the Northern states denounced the
In a 1799 letter to
Historian Frank Owsley pointed out that
Under the Sedition Act men had been
prosecuted for criticizing the President or members of Congress or judges and
had been sent to prison in violation of the Constitutional guarantee of freedom
of speech. Opinion had been suppressed,
meetings broken up, arbitrary arrests made, men held without trial, in fact,
the whole body of personal liberties had been brushed aside by the Federalist
or centralizing party. . . . Jefferson
and Madison, supported by the state-rights apostle of Virginia, John Taylor of
Caroline, and . . . John Randolph, proclaimed that the federal government had
thus shown itself to be an unsafe protector of liberty. So
When Northern Federalists sought to block
the admission of
Six years later the territorial
In a letter to William Pinckney,
The battle over
The Missouri Compromise, passed in 1820,
limited the extension of slavery to a small section of the territories of the
In 1856 the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, ruled in the Dred Scott decision that Congress did not have the right to ban slavery in the territories and that therefore the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. However, the Republicans made it clear that if they gained control of Congress, they would attempt to ban slavery in all the territories, even though the Supreme Court had just ruled that Congress had no right to ban slavery in any territory. Most Southern leaders viewed the Republican position as unfair and lawless. Under Republican territorial policy, founding fathers like George Washington and James Madison, both of whom were slaveholders, would have been barred from settling in the territories unless they came there without their slaves.
The Southern position was that each territory had the right to abolish or legalize slavery when it applied for statehood, but that until then slaveholders should have equal access to the territories. Southern leaders argued that since the territories were supposed to be the common possession of all citizens, it was unfair to ban slaveholders from them, especially since slaveholders had played an important role in winning the Mexican War, which resulted in the acquisition of the territories granted in the Mexican Cession.
Most Southern leaders viewed equal access to the territories as a matter of honor and principle, as well as a matter of law. They knew that relatively few slaveholders had relocated into those territories where slavery was legal. They also knew that very few slaveholders had moved into the territories even after the Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that Congress could not prohibit slavery in any of the territories. However, Southern statesmen felt it was wrong in principle to treat slaveholders as second-class citizens by denying them equal access to the territories. They knew that Northern wage slavery wasn’t banned from the territories. They knew that Northern factory owners who cruelly abused their workers enjoyed full access to the territories and were free to bring their inhumane sweatshops with them. They knew that most slaveholders treated their slaves better than many Northern factory owners treated their workers. So most Southern leaders felt it was unfair and insulting to deny slaveholders equal access to the territories.
There were two major Southern positions on what should be done to provide slaveholders full access to the territories. One position, advocated by Senator Albert Brown, was that federal legislation should mandate the protection of slavery in each territory until the territory became a state. The other position, advanced by men like Jefferson Davis, James Orr, and Alexander Stephens, was that the people of each territory should be able to decide whether or not to allow slaveholders to travel or settle among them with their slaves (Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 327-329). The Republicans, on the other hand, argued that under no circumstances should any new territory be allowed to permit slavery, even though the territory could choose to abolish slavery when it became a state.
It’s often overlooked that the main dispute over slavery between Northern and Southern leaders
involved the extension of slavery into the territories, not the continuation of
slavery where it already existed. Most
Republicans were not opposed to the continuation of slavery in those states where
it was already established. Indeed, as
mentioned earlier, the majority of the men in
If the Republicans had been willing to compromise
to a relatively small degree on the extension of slavery, the Deep South states
may very well have rejoined the Union soon after they seceded (in fact, they
may not have seceded at all if the Republicans had not insisted on banning
slavery in all the territories). Shortly
That Crittenden's scheme had wide and
enthusiastic public support there could be no question. John A. Dix, Edward
Everett, and Robert Winthrop no sooner saw it than they wrote approbatory
[approving] letters. Martin Van Buren declared that the amendments [proposed in
Crittenden's plan] would certainly be ratified by three-fourths of the States.
The Senator received hundreds of assurances from all over the North and the
Early in January, Crittenden rose in the Senate to make the remarkable proposal that his compromise should be submitted to the people of the entire nation for their solemn judgment, as expressed by a popular vote. . . . The proposal inspired widespread enthusiasm. . . . Because of Republican obstruction, interposing delay after delay, it never came to a vote in the Senate. . . . (The Emergence of Lincoln, pp. 392-393, 401-402)
Historian David Potter says the following about the defeat of the Crittenden Compromise:
What do we mean, specifically, by saying
that the Republican party rejected compromise? Certain facts are reasonably
familiar in this connection, and may be briefly recalled. In December, 1860, at
the time when a number of secession conventions had been called in the Southern
states but before any ordinances of secession had been adopted, various
political leaders brought forward proposals to give assurances to the
Southerners. The most prominent of these was the plan by Senator John J.
It’s important to understand that most Republicans wanted to ban slavery from the
territories primarily because they wanted to reserve the territories for white
workers. When they were Whigs or Free
Soilers in 1846-1849, most Republican politicians, including Lincoln, supported
the Wilmot Proviso, which at one point would have banned free blacks
from moving into the territories, in addition to banning slavery there (Divine
et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 413). Also, as mentioned previously, in the 1860
election campaign many Republican candidates championed their party as the true
Party” that would reserve the territories
for white labor. Wilmot himself proudly
called his proposal the “White Man’s Proviso” (Holt, The
Fate of Their Country, p. 27).
Now irrespective of the moral aspect of this question as to whether there is a right or wrong in enslaving a negro, I am still in favor of our new Territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home—may find some spot where they can better their condition—where they can settle upon new soil and better their condition in life. I am in favor of this not merely (I must say it here as I have elsewhere) for our own people who are born amongst us, but as an outlet for free white people everywhere, the world over. . . . (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, New York: The Library of America, 1989, edited by Don Fehrenbacher, p. 807)
Textbooks and virtually all history books
summarily dismiss the Supreme Court’s position on the Missouri Compromise in the 1857 Dred Scott ruling. However, the court’s position on this issue
is by no means untenable. Critics of the decision note that the
congress of the Articles of Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, which
banned slavery in what was then the Northwest Territory (and permitted it in
the territorial lands south of the
On an aside note, Chief Justice Taney’s reputation has been unfairly brutalized over the Dred Scott decision. Taney’s position on the Missouri Compromise was and is credible and defensible, and if he had stopped there he would have been on solid ground. But, tragically and mistakenly, Taney also ruled in Dred Scott that the Constitution barred blacks from federal citizenship, and that the sublime statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” did not apply to blacks. Civil rights advocates were justifiably outraged by these arguments.
However, before we judge Taney too
harshly, a few things should be said in his defense. Although he argued that the Constitution did
not permit blacks to be federal citizens, he added that they could receive
state citizenship. He made it clear that
ruling did not prevent states
from conferring full citizenship on slaves, and that the court’s decision only involved federal citizenship. As for Taney’s mistaken
belief that blacks were not included in the phrase “all men are created
equal,” even many Northerners shared this view at the time, including Senator Stephen Douglas of
Taney hinted that he realized that the denial of federal citizenship to slaves was unjust but that he felt bound by the Constitution to reach the decision that he reached. He pointed out that it was not the place of judges to rule on the basis of justice or injustice in deciding the legality of laws, but on the basis of the text of the Constitution and the original intent of its authors. Said Taney,
It is not the province of the court to decide upon the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy, of these laws. The decision of that question belonged to the political or law-making power; to those who formed the sovereignty and framed the constitution. The duty of the court is, to interpret the instrument they have framed, with the best lights we can obtain on the subject, and to administer it as we find it, according to its true intent and meaning when it was adopted.
The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race, which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution, cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.
It should also be pointed out that Taney
had no love for slavery. In fact, Taney
disliked slavery and had long since freed his own slaves. Very few textbooks mention these facts. To his credit, McPherson mentions them in his
book The Battle Cry of Freedom.
McPherson also notes that Taney was “committed to liberating American enterprise from the shackles of special privilege,” that as President
Jackson’s Secretary of the Treasury he
helped destroy the Second Bank of the
Actually, the violence in “Bleeding Kansas” was not appreciably more severe than was common in newly opened frontier communities, and a lot of it involved land claims and other disputes having no bearing upon slavery. But newspapers in the Northeast carried sensational stories almost daily and portrayed the actions as representing unmitigated proslavery aggression. (States’ Rights and the Union, p. 171)
Historian Thomas Woods:
It was fairly clear that slavery would
not take root in
A recent study concluded that of the 157
violent deaths that occurred during
Any response to the charge that the South
controlled the federal government before the war wouldn’t be complete without an examination of the Brooks-Sumner incident. The incident is often cited as an example of
alleged intolerance and barbarism even
in the halls of Congress. On May 22,
1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina walked onto the floor of
the Senate carrying a cane. Brooks was
looking for Senator Charles Sumner of
Shortly after the attack, Northern
congressmen tried to expel Brooks from the House, but they failed to achieve
the two-thirds majority required for expulsion.
Northern politicians were outraged that Southern representatives wouldn’t vote to expel Brooks. Not all
Southern congressmen necessarily condoned Brooks’s assault, but most of them believed that Sumner had behaved in a rudely
provocative manner and that therefore Brooks’s conduct did not warrant expulsion. I can’t condone Brooks’s
behavior. By any reasonable measurement, his use of
force was unacceptable. I suspect I
would have voted to expel him from the House, or at least to censure him (he
was in fact censured). However, I agree
with Lloyd Paul Stryker that the attack “was provoked if any ever was” (Andrew Johnson, p. 51). Senator Douglas of
The way in which events in
Many Southerners believed that Brooks’s act was unwise because it played into the hands of the abolitionists, although there were few who felt that it was not justified. His Southern colleagues prevented his expulsion from Congress by refusing the necessary two-thirds majority, and when he resigned voluntarily he was re-elected with only six votes cast against him. Enthusiastic friends presented him with suitably inscribed canes and wrote exultant editorials. Brooks did not like these vulgar manifestations of approval. He was a courtly gentleman far removed from the ruffian depicted in the abolitionist propaganda. To him the chastisement of Sumner was an unpleasant duty under a code of honor which required that the slanderer of a helpless kinsman should not go unpunished. (A History of the South, p. 200)
Historian Lyon G. Tyler, son of President John Tyler, pointed out that when one Northern congressman attacked another Northern congressman in an earlier incident similar to the Brooks-Sumner affair, neither offender was expelled and both were reelected:
The remarkable point is that
The Reconstruction Era
Time only allows me to provide a limited sketch of the “Reconstruction” program that the Republicans imposed on the South after the war. I don’t deny that some good things were accomplished during Reconstruction. Nor do I deny that Reconstruction, as bad as it was, could have been worse. However, most textbooks only talk about the good aspects of Reconstruction, while they ignore or minimize the negative aspects. The unjust, illegal aspects of Reconstruction merit discussion.
Reconstruction began in 1865 and
officially ended in 1877. The Radicals
took substantial control of Reconstruction in 1867. Reconstruction was bad enough from the
outset, but it became much worse under Radical influence. The Radicals illegally placed the South under
military rule. They divided the South
into five military districts, each governed by a Union army general. They nullified the recent Southern elections
and refused to allow Southern congressmen to take their seats in Congress, even
though these men had been elected in elections that were just as valid as any
election that had been held in the North.
Not content with their political subjugation of the South, the Radicals
and other Republicans allowed the Southern states to be looted and exploited
for years by Northern business interests and by corrupt Reconstruction
governments. The Radicals did these things over the strenuous objections of
The Radicals also shamelessly contradicted
During the worst period of Reconstruction, Southerners who voiced objections to Republican policy could be jailed, and even executed, without indictment or trial. Southern newspapers that criticized Reconstruction ran the real risk of being shut down, and some newspapers were closed down for this reason. Federal troops were stationed all over the South, and in some cases their conduct was disgraceful and abusive. Many Republican operatives and other Northerners who came to the South poisoned race relations by inciting former slaves to hate and persecute Southern whites. The Republicans made it illegal for males who had served in the Confederate army or in the Confederate government to vote or hold public office. Ex-Confederates could only vote if they were willing to lie by taking the “ironclad oath.” The oath disqualified any man who had served in the Confederacy or who had even “aided” the Confederacy. Of course, this excluded a large majority of Southern men. To their credit, some Southern black leaders opposed denying former Confederates the right to vote, but their efforts were unsuccessful. New Southern legislatures and governors were chosen in elections in which most former Confederates were barred from voting. These corrupt Reconstruction state governments imposed oppressive taxes on their citizens and also stole or wasted a staggering amount of taxpayer money. Historian Albert B. Moore noted the vindictive, unjust nature of Reconstruction:
The war set the stage for a complete
reconstruction of the South. Furious
hatred, politics, economic considerations, and a curious conviction that God
had joined a righteous North to use it as an instrument for the purging of the
wicked South gave a keen edge to the old reconstruction urge. The victories of bullets and bayonets were
followed by the equally victorious attack of tongues and press. Ministers mounted their pulpits on Easter
Sunday, the day following President Lincoln’s
tragic death, and assured their sad auditors that God’s will had been done, that the President had been removed because his
heart was too merciful to punish the South as God required. An eminent
Many unfriendly writers invaded the South, found what they wanted, and wrote books, articles, and editorials that strengthened the conviction that the South must be torn to pieces and made anew. Books, journals, and newspapers stimulated the impulse to be vigilant and stern, to repress and purge. . . .
The repudiation of its debts impoverished the South and destroyed its financial relationships. While the South lost its debts, it had to pay its full share of the northern debts which amounted to about four-fifths of the total northern war expenses. The money for this debt was spent in the North for its upbuilding. It paid also its share of the $20,000,000 returned by the Federal treasury to the northern states for direct taxes collected from them during the war, and of extravagant pensions to Union soldiers. Professor James L. Sellers estimates that the Sound paid in these ways an indemnity of at least a billion dollars to the North. . . .
It would be safe to say that the people of the North never understood how the South suffered during the Radical regime. The Radicals who controlled most of the organs of public opinion were in no attitude of mind to listen to southern complaints, and most people were too busy with the pursuit of alluring business opportunities that unfolded before them to think much of what was going on down South. . . .
The South staggered out of the Reconstruction, which ended officially in 1877, embittered, impoverished, encumbered with debt, and discredited by Radical propaganda. . . . The tax load had been devastating. The lands of thousands upon thousands had been sold for taxes. Huge state and local debts, much of which was fraudulent, had been piled up. So many bonds, legal and illegal, had been sold that public credit was destroyed. (In Gerald Grob and George Billias, editors, Interpretations of American History, Volume 2, New York: The Free Press, 1967, pp. 33-35, 37-38, original emphasis)
Hummel notes the heavy tax burden that was imposed on the South after the war:
. . . the war-ravaged South suffered
under some of the heaviest state and local taxation in proportion to wealth in
Economist Thomas DiLorenzo discusses some of the ways in which Republicans and Northern business interests exploited the South during Reconstruction:
What did the Republican Party do with its monopolistic political power? First, it plundered Southern taxpayers by greatly expanding state and local governmental budgets. Little of this governmental expansion benefited the general public; the main beneficiaries were the thousands of “carpetbaggers” (and a few “scalawags”) who populated the newly bloated governmental bureaucracies and who benefited from government contracts. . . .
The biggest item on the agenda of the Republicans was government subsidies to the corporations that bankrolled the Republican Party. The Confederate Constitution outlawed such corporate welfare, but with the defeat of the Confederate armies there was no longer any opposition to it.
From 1866 to 1872 the eleven southern states amassed nearly $132 million in state debt for railroad subsidies alone. In countless instances bonds were issued but were backed by no property of any value. In many states bonds were sold before work began on railroads, and “dishonest promoters sold these bonds for what they could get and never built the roads.” [Quoting E. M. Coulter, The South during Reconstruction, LSU Press, p. 150]. . . .
The federal government established a “Land Commission” that was ostensibly set up to buy property and turn it into homesteads for ex-slaves. Instead, most of the land was handed out to those with good connections to the Republican Party. . . . Many recipients of land grants were paid “front men” for mining and timber companies.
Many of the Republican Party operatives who dominated Southern legislatures during Reconstruction literally sold their votes for cash on a daily basis: The going rate was just under $300 per vote. . . . The expansion of government provided myriad opportunities for bribery, and Republican Party opportunists took great advantage of them. . . .
The historian E. Merton Coulter catalogued myriad ways in which Republican Party operatives figured out how to loot Southern taxpayers:
* By 1870 the cost of printing alone to
the government of
* Before the war a session of the
* Taxes on property were increased by intolerable amounts so that
the governmental agents could then confiscate the property for “unpaid taxes”. . . . By 1872
property taxes in the South were, on average, about four times what they were
in 1860. In
The tax collectors stole much of this
money. More than half a million dollars
in taxes collected in 1872 were never turned in to the
Although the South was economically
destitute, a punitive five cents per pound federal tax was placed on cotton,
making it difficult, if not impossible, for many cotton growers to stay in
business. A military order stated that
anyone who had sold cotton to the Confederate government must give up his
cotton to the
In order to keep this corrupt system
running, the Republican-controlled governments subsidized pro-Republican newspapers
to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars annually and, in some cases,
granted them legal monopolies in the newspaper business in particular
towns. In effect, the Republicans were
Steven Weisman discusses some of the ways that the Republicans punished and exploited the South during Reconstruction:
The election in the fall of 1866 cemented
the control of Congress by radical Republicans, emboldening them not only in
their punitive approach to the South but also in their drive for high tariffs
and muscular government on behalf of business.
Among the harshest of the Reconstruction Era steps directed at the South
was the invalidation of the entire Confederate debt. Congress also ruled out any possibility of
slaveholders being compensated for the loss of their slaves. Beyond the total destruction of vast swathes
of Confederate farmlands and cities, these steps wiped out billions of dollars
of assets held by the South’s aristocracy. By contrast, in the North, everything
possible was done to redeem the
As noted, Northern business interests took full advantage of the South’s subjugation during Reconstruction. African-American scholars Franklin and Moss note that “Northern financiers and industrialists took advantage of the opportunity to impose their economic control on the South, and much of it endured for generations” (From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, p. 264). Kenneth Davis concedes that Southern railroad companies were "burdened for decades by unfair rates and restrictive tariffs set by Northerners, who controlled the vast majority of railways and the legislatures that set rates" (Don't Know Much About the Civil War, pp. 425-426).
“But,” some will ask, “wasn’t slavery abolished under Reconstruction?” Yes, slavery was abolished during the Johnson phase of Reconstruction when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865. We can all agree that slavery was wrong and that it needed to be abolished. But it was abolished in a way that was unfair and that caused enormous damage to the Southern economy. Under the Thirteenth Amendment, Southern slaveholders received no compensation for their slaves. The abolition of slavery without compensation cost the South about two billion dollars in capital, and it reduced real estate values by at least that amount. In terms of modern monetary value, this represented a total loss of over sixty billion dollars.
Southern slaveholders should have been able to recover the cost of their slaves, just as Northern slaveholders had been able to do decades earlier. Most Southern slaveholders treated their slaves humanely. Many of these men believed they had a Christian duty to properly and respectfully care for their slaves. One doesn’t have to condone human bondage to acknowledge that in most cases Southern slavery was administered humanely. This isn’t the place for an extended discussion on Southern slavery, but the following facts should be noted:
* When the Works Progress Administration interviewed thousands of ex-slaves in the 1930s, most of those who commented on how they were treated said their masters were good men.
* Southern slaves had a life expectancy that was comparable to urban populations and higher than in some European nations. In fact, slaves had a longer life expectancy than did Northern factory workers.
* The diet and housing of slaves were comparable to, if not usually better than, the diet and housing of Northern factory workers. According to the 1860 Census, there were 5.2 persons per house among slave households on large plantations, whereas there were 5.3 persons per house among free households. In the vast majority of cases, a slave family lived in a house, not in a dormitory with other families.
* In many cases slaves received a greater share of the product of their labor than did many Northern factory workers.
* Most slaves marriages were not
broken up. McPherson, a pro-Northern
historian, acknowledges that 66-80 percent of slave marriages remained
intact. An interesting statistic is that
nearly 40 percent of the marriages performed in Southern Episcopal churches
between 1800 and 1860 were slave marriages.
On average, only one out of every twenty-two slaveholders sold a slave
in a year, and about one-third of those cases occurred in the sale of estates
of masters who had died. The records
* Most slave overseers were black.
* The suicide rate among slaves was much lower than the suicide rate among whites.
* Hundreds of thousands of slaves, if not millions, were converted to Christianity under slavery.
* Even in the 1850s some slaves were able to buy their freedom, partly because they were permitted to earn money.
For documentation of the above facts, see Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, Norton Edition with Afterword, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989, pp. 38-157; McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, pp. 34-36; Walter Kennedy, Myths of American Slavery, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2003, pp. 101-139; John J. Dwyer, editor, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War, Denton, Texas: Bluebonnett Press, 2005, pp. 67-86; Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Vintage Books Edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1974, pp. 325-565.
Granted, no matter how humanely slavery was administered, it was still wrong. The point is that most Southern slaveholders did not deserve to lose their slaves without compensation, and that this unfair policy did great damage to the South’s economy.
Textbooks note the fact that Radical
Reconstruction included civil rights reforms that enabled former slaves to
vote. However, they almost never mention
information that sheds important light on those reforms. If the Republicans had enacted and
implemented these reforms in a legal, ethical manner, and if their motives for
doing so had been noble, they would deserve nothing but praise. But such was not the case. Most Republican leaders supported the
imposition of these reforms because they wanted to control and exploit the
Southern states, not because they really cared about the fate of the
ex-slaves. Republican operatives
manipulated, and sometimes even coerced, ex-slaves to vote Republican so the
Republican Party could take over Southern state governments. Many Republican operatives who came to the
South during Reconstruction did all they could to poison race relations between
ex-slaves and Southern whites. Once the
Republicans took control of Southern state governments, they proceeded to
engage in large-scale corruption and oppression, which harmed blacks and whites
alike. A respected moderate Southern
Great resources were expended on registering the adult male ex-slaves to vote, while a law denying the franchise to anyone involved in the late “rebellion” disenfranchised [took away the right to vote from] most Southern white men. So rigorous were the restrictions placed on white Southern males that anyone who even organized contributions of food and clothing for family and friends in the Confederate army was disenfranchised, as were all those who purchased bonds from the Confederate government. Even if one did not participate in the war effort, voter registration required one to publicly proclaim that one’s sympathies were with the Federal armies during the war. . . .
The federally funded “Union Leagues” were run by Republican Party operatives and administered voter registration of the ex-slaves. This, too, was a dramatic change in the nation’s political life, for tax dollars taken from taxpayers of all political parties were being used to register only Republican voters. The ex-slaves were promised many things, including the property of white Southerners, if they registered and voted Republican and, at times, were threatened or intimidated if they dared to register Democrat. All of this was funded with federal tax dollars. . . . For years, these men, along with government bureaucrats associated with the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” promised blacks that if they voted Republican they would be given the property of the white population (and, of course, they never were).
Missionaries and many other people
assisted the ex-slaves in integrating into society, but the primary concern of
the Party of Lincoln was to get them registered to vote Republican, not to
educate them, feed them, or help them find employment. The result was that by 1868 ten of the
If Northerners in general and the Republican Party in particular wanted blacks to be given the vote because of their concern for social equality, then one has to wonder why voters in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Kansas refused to extend the right to vote to blacks in 1867 and 1868. . . . (The Real Lincoln, pp. 208-210, original emphasis)
Congressman Lawrence Patton McDonald discussed some of the illegal measures and negative consequences of the Radicals’ reconstruction program:
After a brief period of vacillation,
Andrew Johnson, who succeeded
The Radical Republicans succeeded in getting their reconstruction programs enacted into law; and then, to make their principal features permanently binding, they proposed the Fourteenth Amendment. Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress did not vote for the resolution proposing the Fourteenth Amendment, as must be done under the Constitution for legal passage of such a resolution. The Radical Republican majority resolved that the resolution did pass, and submitted it to the states for ratification. Three-fourths of the states did not ratify the proposed amendment, as required by the Constitution; but the Radical Republican majority in Congress had the Secretary of State proclaim it ratified anyway—on July 20, 1868. By then, the Radical Republicans controlled not only Congress but also the executive branch. They had the judicial branch thoroughly intimidated, and their cohorts controlled many state governments in the North. . . .
Two hundred years of slavery created relationships that would have been slow to change for the better under the best of circumstances. Negroes were freed under the worst of circumstances—suddenly, by a storm of violence. And they were started, unprepared, on the long road toward the responsibilities as well as the blessings of freedom, amidst a volcano of hatreds which the violence had caused. Conceivably, the road would have been smoother and the trip faster, if the freed blacks could have lived amidst the whites who were hailed as their liberators [i.e., Northern whites], with no outsiders around to agitate mutual hatreds, resentments, and fears. Unfortunately, it was the other way around.
The military power that destroyed white supremacy in the South established black supremacy. Under the protection of this invading military force, white outsiders manipulated and used southern Negroes, but did not educate them, or even permit them to learn much about the burdens and responsibilities that freedom itself imposes. When northern military rule was withdrawn in 1877, and white supremacy was again established in the South, southern blacks and whites were in even worse condition (socially and economically) to establish a harmonious society than they would have been in if left alone at the end of the Civil War. (Lawrence Patton McDonald, We Hold These Truths: A Reverent Review of the U.S. Constitution, Seal Beach, California: ’76 Press, 1976, pp. 55-56, 92)
Civil rights could and should have been
advanced through legal, ethical means.
Yes, this would have taken longer, but it would have preserved the
constitutional republic that our founding fathers gave us, and all Americans
would have been better off in the long run.
Instead, in the name of imposing civil rights on the South, the
Republicans subverted the rule of law, permitted Republican operatives to
engage in astonishing corruption, looted the South for years, poisoned race
relations, illegally and unethically amended the Constitution, further
destroyed the balance of power between the states and the federal government,
and empowered the federal government to perform functions that the founding
fathers did not want it to perform. The Radicals claimed that drastic measures
against the South, including the imposition of military rule, were necessary
because of Southern black codes and because of alleged lawlessness in the
region. Historian William Dunning of
As a justification for military rule, it
was declared . . . that “no legal state governments or
adequate protection for life or property” existed in the “rebel states” enumerated.
Thus the organizations which Lincoln and Johnson had with so much care
nurtured into vigorous life were formally pronounced by Congress destitute of
legality as state governments and “subject to
the paramount authority of the
The reasoning by which the policy of Congress was justified in the North was regarded in the South as founded on falsehood and malice. So far as the “black codes” were concerned, it was pointed out that they could not be alleged as evidences of a tendency to restore slavery or introduce peonage, since the offensive acts had in many of the states been repealed by the legislatures themselves, and in all had been duly superseded by the civil rights act. (Reconstruction, Political and Economic 1865-1877, Harper Torchbook Edition, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962, pp. 93-94, 110)
Thomas E. Woods says the following about the black codes:
These codes curtailed black liberty in
various degrees and the Radicals described them as a continuation of
slavery. But the codes were essentially
based on Northern vagrancy laws and other restrictive legislation that was
still on the books when the Reconstruction Acts were drawn up. Historian Ralph Selph Henry contends that “there was hardly a feature
of the apprenticeship and vagrancy acts
In the northeast, as well as in
Two modern scholars, H. A. Scott Trask and Carey Roberts, contend that the black codes have been misunderstood in their intent and exaggerated in their impact:
“Most granted, or recognized, important legal rights for the freedmen, such as the right to hold property, to marry, to make contracts, to sue, and to testify in court. Many mandated penalties for vagrancy, but the intention there was not to bind them to the land in a state of perpetual serfdom, as was charged by the Northern Radicals, but to end what had become an intolerable situation—the wandering across the South of large numbers of freedmen who were without food, money, jobs, or homes. Such a situation was leading to crime, fear, and violence.”
The sense of moral righteousness that
dominated fashionable Northern opinion often blinded Northerners to their own
problems. The Chicago Tribune
protested the black codes of
Historian John Blum, though critical of certain aspects of the black codes, says the provisions against vagrancy were required by conditions at the time:
The moderates as well as the Radicals objected . . . to the “black codes” that the former Confederate states adopted. These codes represented the initial Southern effort to regulate the economic and social lives of the freed slaves. Many of the Negroes, without experience with freedom, drifted aimlessly about the country, expecting charity and avoiding work, sometimes stealing or carousing. The “black codes” were designed to discourage vagrancy and to minimize race friction. (In Blum and Catton et al, editors, The National Experience, p. 377)
Historian John Garraty concludes that when viewed in historical perspective, even the most restrictive of the black codes were a marked improvement over slavery:
. . . the so-called Black Codes enacted by Southern governments to control former slaves alarmed the North. These varied in severity from state to state. When seen in historical perspective, even the strictest codes represented a considerable improvement over slavery. Most permitted blacks to sue and to testify in court, at least in cases involving members of their own race. Blacks were allowed to own certain kinds of property; marriages were made legal; other rights were guaranteed. (The American Nation, Volume 2: A History of the United States Since 1865, Eighth Edition, New York: HarperCollins, 1995, p. 434)
I would like to conclude this discussion
on Reconstruction by quoting a substantial portion of President Johnson’s veto of the first Radical Reconstruction Act. Before doing so, I should point out that the
Radicals tried to remove Johnson from office because he opposed their
Reconstruction program, even though he had staunchly supported the war and had
opposed secession. When
I have examined the bill "to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States" with the care and the anxiety which its transcendent importance is calculated to awaken. I am unable to give it my assent for reasons so grave that I hope a statement of them may have some influence on the minds of the patriotic and enlightened men with whom the decision must ultimately rest. The bill places all the people of the ten States therein named under the absolute domination of military rulers. . . .
The bill . . . would seem to show upon its face that the establishment of peace and good order is not its real object. The fifth section declares that the preceding sections shall cease to operate in any State where certain events shall have happened. . . . All these conditions must be fulfilled before the people of any of these States can be relieved from the bondage of military domination; but when they are fulfilled, then immediately the pains and penalties of the bill are to cease, no matter whether there be peace and order or not, and without any reference to the security of life or property. The excuse given for the bill in the preamble is admitted by the bill itself not to be real. The military rule which it establishes is plainly to be used, not for any purpose of order or for the prevention of crime, but solely as a means of coercing the people into the adoption of principles and measures to which it is known that they are opposed, and upon which they have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment.
I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority, in palpable conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic have shed so much blood and expended so much treasure.
The ten States named in the bill are divided into five districts. For each district an officer of the Army, not below the rank of a brigadier-general, is to be appointed to rule over the people; and he is to be supported with an efficient military force to enable him to perform his duties and enforce his authority. Those duties and that authority, as defined by the third section of the bill, are "to protect all persons in their rights of person and property, to suppress insurrection, disorder, and violence, and to punish or cause to be punished all disturbers of the public peace or criminals."
The power thus given to the commanding officer over all the people of each district is that of an absolute monarch. His mere will is to take the place of all law. The law of the States is now the only rule applicable to the subjects placed under his control, and that is completely displaced by the clause which declares all interference of State authority to be null and void. He alone is permitted to determine what are rights of person or property, and he may protect them in such way as in his discretion may seem proper. It places at his free disposal all the lands and goods in his district, and he may distribute them without let or hindrance to whom he pleases. Being bound by no State law, and there being no other law to regulate the subject, he may make a criminal code of his own; and he can make it as bloody as any recorded in history, or he can reserve the privilege of acting upon the impulse of his private passions in each case that arises. He is bound by no rules of evidence; there is, indeed, no provision by which he is authorized or required to take any evidence at all. Everything is a crime which he chooses to call so, and all persons are condemned whom he pronounces to be guilty. He is not bound to keep and record or make any report of his proceedings. He may arrest his victims wherever he finds them, without warrant, accusation, or proof of probable cause. If he gives them a trial before he inflicts the punishment, he gives it of his grace and mercy, not because he is commanded so to do. It is plain that the authority here given to the military officer amounts to absolute despotism. But to make it still more unendurable, the bill provides that it may be delegated to as many subordinates as he chooses to appoint, for it declares that he shall "punish or cause to be punished."
Such a power has not been wielded by any
I come now to a question which is, if
possible still more important. Have we the power to establish and carry into
execution a measure like this? I answer, Certainly not, if we derive our
authority from the Constitution and if we are bound by the limitations which it
imposes. This proposition is perfectly
clear, that no branch of the Federal Government--executive, legislative, or
judicial--can have any just powers except those which it derives through and
exercises under the organic law of the
I need not say to the representatives of the American people that their Constitution forbids the exercise of judicial power in any way but one--that is, by the ordained and established courts. It is equally well known that in all criminal cases a trial by jury is made indispensable by the express words of that instrument. . . .
An act of Congress is proposed which, if carried out, would deny a trial by the lawful courts and juries to 9,000,000 American citizens and to their posterity for an indefinite period. It seems to be scarcely possible that anyone should seriously believe this consistent with a Constitution which declares in simple, plain, and unambiguous language that all persons shall have that right and that no person shall ever in any case be deprived of it. The Constitution also forbids the arrest of the citizen without judicial warrant, founded on probable cause. This bill authorizes an arrest without warrant, at the pleasure of a military commander. The Constitution declares that "no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on presentment by a grand jury". . . .
The United States are bound to guarantee to each State a republican form of government. Can it be pretended that this obligation is not palpably broken if we carry out a measure like this, which wipes away every vestige of republican government in ten States and puts the life, property, liberty, and honor of all the people in each of them under the domination of a single person clothed with unlimited authority?. . .
It is a part of our public history which
can never be forgotten that both houses of Congress, in July 1861, declared in
the form of a solemn resolution that the war was and should be carried on for
no purpose of subjugation. . . . This
resolution was adopted and sent forth to the world unanimously by the Senate
and with only two dissenting voices in the House. It was accepted by the
friends of the
The True Nature of the War
In reality, the Civil War was not a civil
war. In a civil war, two or more
factions fight for control of the national government. But the South was not trying to overthrow the
national government, nor was it trying to achieve exclusive control of the
government. The South merely wanted to
leave the federal government in peace and was willing to pay its share of the
national debt and to pay compensation for federal installations in the Southern
states. The Confederacy tried to
establish peaceful relations with the federal government, but
The Civil War was a war of aggression
against the South. Republican leaders
and their wealthy Northern backers used the force of the federal government to
destroy Southern independence. Some of
these men despised the South. Radical
Republicans saw in secession an excuse to subjugate and exploit the Southern
states. Northern business leaders who
favored protectionism feared that their financial empires would be threatened
if the Confederate states were able to trade directly with other nations with
the much lower Confederate tariff. The
Republicans weren’t about to lower the tariff, since they were committed to drastically raising it (which they did soon after
the South seceded). Rather than fairly
compete with the low Confederate tariff by lowering the federal tariff, the
Republicans and many Northern moneymen opted to destroy the Confederacy by
force. As discussed earlier, Charles
Adams demonstrates that after the Confederacy announced its low tariff,
influential Northern business interests began to strongly oppose peaceful
Northern industrial and financial leaders
wished to destroy the influence of the agrarian South in
Weisman, after opining that “the great economic changes and tensions of the era” were a major cause of the war, takes note of the relevant conclusions of historians Charles and Mary Beard in their widely acclaimed book The Rise of American Civilization:
In their seminal work The Rise of American Civilization, Charles and Mary Beard argued that the Civil War constituted a second American Revolution, with the manufacturing base of the North solidifying control over the rest of the country, crushing the South militarily and wielding the economic power to take control of the West. For the Beards, the regressive tariff system was the core of this system of control, because tariffs helped to build up industry at the cost of those in the farm sector, placing the burden of government on the consuming masses rather than the capitalist and owner classes. (The Great Tax Wars, pp. 102-103)
Even Lerone Bennett, an African-American scholar who is strongly critical of the Confederacy, agrees that the Northern industrialists supported the war for monetary gain, had no interest in emancipation, and used blacks as pawns:
There was finally—and conclusively—the game plan of the Northern industrialists, who were fighting not for Black freedom or, to tell the truth, White freedom, but for the freedom to exploit and develop the American market. Everything indeed suggests that Ralph J. Bunche was correct when he said that the freeing of the slaves was “only an incident in the violent clash of interests between the industrial North and the agricultural South—a conflict that was resolved in favor of the industrial North. In this struggle the Negro was an innocent pawn.” (Forced Into Glory, pp. 547-548)
Lysander Spooner, though an ardent abolitionist, harbored no illusions about why the Republicans invaded the South. Spooner was so radical in his opposition to slavery that he participated in a plan to free John Brown, the violent abolitionist who murdered proslavery settlers in Kansas and who tried to incite slave revolts throughout the South with his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Yet, in spite of his passionate opposition to slavery, Spooner was sharply critical of the Republicans. He opposed their use of force against the South. He blamed the war on the Republicans and called the war evil. He also opposed Radical Reconstruction. He argued that Northern industrialists and merchants supported the war and Radical Reconstruction in order to maintain the North’s economic dominance:
And it was to enforce this price in the future --- that is, to monopolize the Southern markets, to maintain their industrial and commercial control over the South --- that these Northern manufacturers and merchants lent some of the profits of their former monopolies for the war, in order to secure to themselves the same, or greater, monopolies in the future. These --- and not any love of liberty or justice --- were the motives on which the money for the war was lent by the North. In short, the North said to the slave-holders: If you will not pay us our price (give us control of your markets) for our assistance against your slaves, we will secure the same price (keep control of your markets) by helping your slaves against you, and using them as our tools for maintaining dominion over you; for the control of your markets we will have, whether the tools we use for that purpose be black or white, and be the cost, in blood and money, what it may.
On this principle, and from this motive, and not from any love of liberty, or justice, the money was lent in enormous amounts, and at enormous rates of interest. And it was only by means of these loans that the objects of the war were accomplished.
And now these lenders of blood-money demand their pay; and the government, so called, becomes their tool, their servile, slavish, villainous tool, to extort it from the labor of the enslaved people both of the North and South. It is to be extorted by every form of direct, and indirect, and unequal taxation. Not only the nominal debt and interest --- enormous as the latter was --- are to be paid in full; but these holders of the debt are to be paid still further --- and perhaps doubly, triply, or quadruply paid --- by such tariffs on imports as will enable our home manufacturers to realize enormous prices for their commodities; also by such monopolies in banking as will enable them to keep control of, and thus enslave and plunder, the industry and trade of the great body of the Northern people themselves. In short, the industrial and commercial slavery of the great body of the people, North and South, black and white, is the price which these lenders of blood money demand, and insist upon, and are determined to secure, in return for the money lent for the war.
This program having been fully arranged and systematized, they put their sword into the hands of the chief murderer of the war, and charge him to carry their scheme into effect. And now he, speaking as their organ, says, "Let us have peace."
The meaning of this is: Submit quietly to all the robbery and slavery we have arranged for you, and you can have "peace." But in case you resist, the same lenders of blood-money, who furnished the means to subdue the South, will furnish the means again to subdue you.
These are the terms on which alone this government, or, with few exceptions, any other, ever gives "peace" to its people.
The whole affair, on the part of those who furnished the money, has been, and now is, a deliberate scheme of robbery and murder; not merely to monopolize the markets of the South, but also to monopolize the currency, and thus control the industry and trade, and thus plunder and enslave the laborers, of both North and South. And Congress and the president are today the merest tools for these purposes. They are obliged to be, for they know that their own power, as rulers, so-called, is at an end, the moment their credit with the blood-money loan-mongers fails. They are like a bankrupt in the hands of an extortioner. They dare not say nay to any demand made upon them. And to hide at once, if possible, both their servility and crimes, they attempt to divert public attention, by crying out that they have "Abolished Slavery!" That they have "Saved the Country!" That they have "Preserved our Glorious Union!" and that, in now paying the "National Debt," as they call it (as if the people themselves, all of them who are to be taxed for its payment, had really and voluntarily joined in contracting it), they are simply "Maintaining the National Honor!"
By "maintaining the national honor," they mean simply that they themselves, open robbers and murderers, assume to be the nation, and will keep faith with those who lend them the money necessary to enable them to crush the great body of the people under their feet; and will faithfully appropriate, from the proceeds of their future robberies and murders, enough to pay all their loans, principal and interest.
The pretense that the "abolition of slavery" was either a motive or justification for the war, is a fraud of the same character with that of "maintaining the national honor." Who, but such usurpers, robbers, and murderers as they, ever established slavery? Or what government, except one resting upon the sword, like the one we now have, was ever capable of maintaining slavery? And why did these men abolish slavery? Not from any love of liberty in general --- not as an act of justice to the black man himself, but only "as a war measure," and because they wanted his assistance, and that of his friends, in carrying on the war they had undertaken for maintaining and intensifying that political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both black and white. And yet these imposters now cry out that they have abolished the chattel slavery of the black man --- although that was not the motive of the war --- as if they thought they could thereby conceal, atone for, or justify that other slavery which they were fighting to perpetuate, and to render more rigorous and inexorable than it ever was before. . . .
Still another of the frauds of these men is, that they are now establishing, and that the war was designed to establish, "a government of consent." The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this --- that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot. This idea was the dominant one on which the war was carried on; and it is the dominant one, now that we have got what is called "peace."
Their pretenses that they have
"Saved the Country," and "Preserved our Glorious Union,"
are frauds like all the rest of their pretenses. By them they mean simply that
they have subjugated, and maintained their power over, an unwilling people.
This they call "Saving the Country"; as if an enslaved and subjugated
people --- or as if any people kept in subjection by the sword (as it is
intended that all of us shall be hereafter) --- could be said to have any
country. This, too, they call "Preserving our Glorious Union"; as if
there could be said to be any
Many Republican leaders, while claiming
they were “saving
The Republicans and their generals waged a
shameful form of “total war” against the South, causing the deaths of some 50,000 Southern civilians and wiping out whole towns
in the process. They hired thousands of
unscrupulous mercenaries, including many criminals fresh from European
jails. They violated just about every rule
of civilized warfare known to man. They
used tactics that today would justify prosecution for war crimes. A few Union generals, including George
McClellan, objected to this cruel form of warfare, and at least one general,
Don C. Buell, resigned from the army in protest--but these men were the
exception, not the rule. On the other
hand, the vast majority of Confederate generals refused to use the brutal
tactics that so many Union generals were using.
At one point, some Confederate officials urged Jefferson Davis to order
Confederate forces to employ the barbaric tactics that were being used by Union
generals like William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, but
After the war, most Republican leaders
continued to violate the Constitution.
They imposed a clearly illegal military rule on the Southern states and
proceeded to plunder those states for years.
The Radicals and their supporters in the federal army accused and jailed
Jefferson Davis on the absurd charge that he was involved in the conspiracy
The Radicals came close to establishing a military dictatorship in the name of “reconstructing” the defeated Southern states. The Radicals passed a bill that said the military didn’t have to obey the president’s orders unless the commanding general of the Army approved those orders (McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union, p. 213). The bill also made it a crime for any officer to obey orders except those that came from the commanding general (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 298). Just imagine what most Americans would think if Congress even considered such a law in our day—it would be denounced as a dangerous step toward military dictatorship.
Or, just imagine what most Americans today
would think if the Secretary of Defense refused to step down when suspended by
the president but instead barricaded himself in his office, issued an order for
the arrest of the man appointed to replace him, and asked friendly members of
Congress to intervene. And imagine what
most Americans would think if the commanding general of the Army then stationed
troops around the Pentagon in order to keep the Secretary of Defense in power
against the president’s express wishes. Impossible?
Meanwhile, General Grant in effect placed
the army in direct opposition to the President by publicly throwing his support
During this same period, Grant told
President Johnson that he would only obey his orders if they were written. This was serious insubordination. “Since when,” asked Stryker, “had a general the right to tell the President of the United States
that he would disobey his commands unless they were in writing?” (Andrew Johnson, p. 547). Since
There were other Radical abuses. In January 1868, the Radicals and most of their fellow Republicans passed a bill, over Johnson’s veto, that transferred all of Johnson’s authority in Reconstruction to General Grant. The Radicals also worked to deny President Johnson his constitutional authority to appoint justices to the Supreme Court by amending the Judiciary Act so the president couldn’t fill vacancies that might occur on the high court (McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union, p. 211). After Edwin Stanton barricaded himself in his office and asked the Radicals for help, two Radicals, Senator Zachary Chandler and Representative John Logan, personally led a company of one hundred men to guard the War Department building (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 335).
When even the Lincoln-packed Supreme Court tried to curb Radical lawlessness, the Radicals reacted with outrage. In the Ex Parte Milligan case, the high court finally gathered enough courage to conclude that it was illegal to impose military rule on civilians in non-combat areas where civil courts were still in operation (which was what the Republicans had been doing, in the North, for much of the war). The Radicals were furious with this ruling, partly because it implied they had committed judicial murder, since several civilians had been sentenced to death by federal military courts. Then, in Ex Parte McCardle, the Supreme Court upheld the right of habeas corpus and reaffirmed the principle that civilians couldn’t be tried in military courts when civil courts were available. The Radicals were so angered by this decision that they introduced bills in Congress that would have (1) abolished the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in all habeas corpus cases, (2) ended all judicial review of acts of Congress, and (3) prohibited the high court from reviewing cases that involved “political questions,” including the Reconstruction Act. This was an open attack on basic American concepts of government, justice, and due process. For example, if the Supreme Court were denied jurisdiction in habeas corpus cases, it would be unable to protect citizens against unlawful arrest and imprisonment. That was exactly what the Radicals wanted. Forrest McDonald observes,
That decision [Ex Parte McCardle] elicited the most outraged Radical response yet. Three drastic bills were introduced in Congress: to abolish the Court’s jurisdiction in all habeas corpus cases; to abolish entirely judicial review of acts of Congress; and to deny the Court power to review “political questions,” including cases arising under the Reconstruction Act. Loud protests against the measures were heard throughout the country, and none was passed. Had they been enacted, the Court would have been destroyed as an arbiter of the Constitution. (States’ Rights and the Union, p. 218)
Gideon Welles, a cabinet member under both Lincoln and Johnson, viewed the Radicals with disdain and distrust.
“Hate, revenge, and persecution enter largely into their composition,” wrote Gideon Welles. “These fanatics want a God to punish, not to love, those who do not agree with them”. . . .
Four fifths of the radicals, he wrote, “are small party men . . . without any knowledge of the science of government or of our Constitution. With them all, the great, overpowering purpose and aim are office and patronage. Most of their legislation relates to office and their highest conception of legislative duty has in view place and how to get it”. . . .
“These Radical patriots are swindling the country while imposing on its credulity,” wrote Welles. “The granting of acts of incorporation, bounties, special privileges, favors, and profligate legislation of every description is shocking.” (Stampp in Grob and Billias, editors, Interpretations of American History, Volume 2, pp. 58-59, 60)
Northern Democrat W. C. Prime, who strongly opposed secession, said the Radical Republicans wanted war in order to achieve political power. He argued that the Radicals prevented the federal army from winning the war quickly because they wanted to prolong the war until they were in a position to subjugate the South after the fighting ended. Said Prime,
The history of the war is inextricably involved in the history of party politics. No one can understand the former without knowledge of the latter. . . .
Congress, at the moment of McClellan’s arrival in Washington, as if to instruct him in his duty, expressed the unanimous sentiment of the North in a resolution which declared “. . . this war is not waged, on our part, in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States [the Southern states], but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”
McClellan accepted this instruction. It expressed his own views. . . .
But if this purpose were achieved in this way, the Southern States . . . would reappear in future elections as a solid South against the machine politicians who had gained power in 1860. If the white vote could be suppressed and the slaves be freed with the immediate right of suffrage, their vote might be controlled and a solid South secured for those who had given them the right of voting. . . .
Various schemes were devised to accomplish the desired end. For a time efforts were made to induce the North to adopt a policy which Mr. Chase [Salmon P. Chase] formulated in an interview with Mr. Wade of the Senate and Mr. Ashley of the House, December 11, 1861 [both of whom were Radicals].
Mr. Chase said that a State attempting to secede, the State government being placed in hostility to the Federal government, “the State organization was forfeited, and it lapsed into the condition of a Territory”; that “we could organize territorial courts, and, as soon as it became necessary, a territorial government”; that “those States [the Southern states] could not properly be considered as States in the Union, but must be readmitted from time to time as Congress should provide.” Mr. Wade and Mr. Ashley were understood to concur in this doctrine; and, as a matter of fact, it was given out as sound doctrine and was widely advocated in newspapers and at war meetings engineered by politicians in various parts of the North.
Mr. Chase was too good a lawyer not to recognize the absurdity of the doctrine as American law. . . .
There was a body of noble, conservative,
and patriotic men in the old Republican party strong enough to interpose many
obstacles in the way of the radicals.
The latter adopted the customary tactics of unscrupulous partisans in
this country, and visited on all who opposed them storms of foul epithets and
charges. . . .Mr. Lincoln was alternately praised and vilified. But no one of the radical coalition was his
friend or desired his continuance at the head of the party. Some old Democratic politicians, recognizing
good prospects of its success, joined the radical party. Congress in time yielded to its control. A committee called The Committee on the
Conduct of the War was created, to be the machine of partisan politics, in
control of the most unscrupulous leaders of the combination, who used it to good
effect in the deception of the confiding people of the country. (“Biographical Sketch,” in
W. C. Prime, editor, McClellan’s Own Story: The War for the Union,
General George McClellan, the commander of
the Army of the Potomac and the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in 1864, said the Radicals’ real goal wasn’t the restoration of the
The real object of the radical leaders
was not the restoration of the Union, but the permanent ascendancy of their
party, and to this they were ready to sacrifice the
When it became clear to the Radicals that
McClellan would have no part in their plans to ravage the South, they turned on
him with a vengeance. McClellan said the
all their efforts to prevent my achieving success” (McClellan’s
Own Story, p. 159). McClellan also said that Edwin Stanton became
Secretary of War after the Radical Republicans and a group of
I’m not arguing that all the Radicals were corrupt or that everything they believed was
wrong. Although I share the view that
many of the Radicals were more interested in power than in civil rights, I also
believe that some of them were sincere.
Many of the Radicals deserve credit for eventually forcing
In a very real sense, the Civil War was
not North vs. South; rather, it was Republican leaders and powerful Northern
business interests vs. the rest of the country.
Although the vast majority of Southerners supported the Confederacy, at
least 40 percent of Northerners did not support the Republicans and wanted to
halt or even abandon the federal invasion of the South. Before the war, dozens of Northern newspapers
voiced the view that the South should be allowed to depart in peace. During the war, so many Northern citizens
A good indication of
At just about any
point in the war, it’s probable that a majority of Americans
opposed the use of force to hold the
One of the many untold stories of the
Civil War is the fact that Indians, Hispanics, and African Americans supported
and even fought for the Confederacy. The
five tribes of the
Thousands of Hispanics served as soldiers
in the Confederate army, and some even served as commissioned officers. In his book Hispanic Confederates (Clearfield Company, 1999),
John O’Donnell-Rosales identifies over 5,000 Hispanic
Confederate soldiers by name and unit. The
Confederate commissioner to northern
There is evidence that thousands of African Americans fought for the Confederacy. For example, the chief inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Dr. Lewis Steiner, reported that he saw about 3,000 well-armed black Confederate soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s army and that those soldiers were "manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army." Said Steiner,
September 10--At four o'clock this morning the rebel army began to move from
our town, Jackson's force taking the advance. The movement continued
until eight o'clock P.M., occupying sixteen hours. The most liberal
calculations could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 negroes must
be included in this number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not
only in cast-off or captured
In a Union army battle report, a “General D. Stuart” complained about the deadly effectiveness of the black Confederate soldiers whom
his troops had encountered. Confederate
general Nathan Bedford Forrest had slaves and free blacks serving in units
under his command, and said of them, “These boys stayed with me . . . and better Confederates did not live.” After the
Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces took seven black Confederate soldiers as
prisoners, as was noted in a Northern newspaper at the time, which said, “. . . reported among the
rebel prisoners were seven blacks in
Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers.” None other than African-American abolitionist
Frederick Douglass complained that there were “many” blacks in the Confederate army who were armed and “ready to shoot down”
Union soldiers. During the Battle of
Chickamauga, slaves serving Confederate soldiers armed themselves and asked
permission to join the fight—and
when they received that permission they fought commendably. Their commander, Captain J. B. Briggs, later
noted that these men “filled a
portion of the line of advance as well as any company of the
regiment.” There are numerous accounts of slaves
assisting Confederate soldiers in battle and helping them to escape capture
afterward (see, for example, Francis Springer, War for What?,
In the July 1919 issue of The Journal of Negro History, Charles S. Wesley discussed the issue of blacks in the Confederate army:
The loyalty of the slave in guarding home and family during his master’s absence has long been eloquently orated. The Negroes’ loyalty extended itself even to service in the Confederate army. Believing their land invaded by hostile foes, slaves eagerly offered themselves for service in actual warfare. . . .
At the outbreak of the war, an observer in
Two weeks after the firing on
Civil War author Francis Springer noted two other accounts of free blacks showing support for the Confederacy:
The Petersburg Daily Express of April 26, 1861, had it that 300 free
Negroes about to leave the city to work on fortifications, assembled at the
courthouse to hear a speech by ex-mayor John Dodson. Charles Tinsley, one of the free Negroes,
said, “We are willing
Springer also discussed an incident in which a group of slaves who had been forced to serve in the Union army volunteered to fight for the Confederacy after they were captured by Confederate forces:
Some Union Negro troops, captured by General Forrest on his last
As mentioned above, there are many accounts of slaves coming to the aid of Confederate soldiers during and after combat. Perhaps this is an indication that Confederate officers usually tried to properly care for the slaves who were working in their units. General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, issued a written order that “All employees of this army, black as well as white, shall receive the same rations, quarters, and medical treatment.”
In late April 1862, General John B. Magruder of the Confederate Army of
Northern Virginia learned that Secretary of War George Randolph had received
complaints about how slaves were being treated in his unit. Magruder wrote to
Sir, I have learned that complaints have been made to you of the treatment of the slaves employed in this army.
It is quite true that much hardship has been endured by the negroes in the recent prosecution of the defensive works on our lines; but this has been unavoidable, owing to the constant and long-continued wet weather. Every precaution has been adopted to secure their health and safety as far as circumstances would allow. The soldiers, however, have been more exposed and have suffered far more than the slaves. The latter [the slaves] have always slept under cover and have had fires to make them comfortable, while the men have been working in the rain, have stood in the trenches and rifle pits in mud and water almost knee-deep, without shelter, fire, or sufficient food. There has been sickness among the soldiers and the slaves, but far more among the former than the latter. (Letter from General John B. Magruder to Secretary of War George Randolph, April 29, 1862, in Segars and Barrow, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies, p. 44)
Another untold story of the Civil War is the brutal way that many Union
forces treated Southern slaves. One
Union unit, commanded by Colonel John Turchin, moved into
While northern soldiers had no love for
slavery, most of them had no love for slaves either. . . . While some Yanks
treated contrabands with a degree of equity and benevolence, the more
typical response was indifference, contempt, and cruelty. Soon after Union
The case of the Union army’s
treatment of the slaves in
Textbooks note that approximately 150,000 slaves served in the Union
army, but they rarely inform the reader that thousands of those men were forced
to serve. Union army records and other
sources document that thousands of slaves were abducted and then forced into
federal military service; some were taken from their plantations during Union
raids, while others were seized in areas that were occupied by federal
forces. General John Logan told General
Grant, “A major of colored
troops is here capturing negroes, with or without their consent.” General Lovell Rousseau informed General G.
H. Thomas that “officers in command
of colored troops are in constant habit of pressing [i.e.,
forcing] all able-bodied slaves into the military service of the
The scenes of today . . . have been distressing. . . . Some 500 men were hurried . . . from Ladies
The next day Pierce wrote to General Hunter to tell him about the consequences of his order. He said slaves were taken suddenly and weren’t allowed to go home before leaving. He added that some of the slaves wailed and screamed and that others fled into the woods but were pursued by soldiers:
The colored people became suspicious of the presence of the companies of soldiers detailed for the service. . . . They were taken from the fields without being allowed to go to their homes even to get a jacket. . . . There was sadness in all. As those on this plantation were called in from the fields, the soldiers, under orders, and while on the steps of my headquarters, loaded their guns, so that the negroes might see what would take place in case they attempted to get away. . . .
On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers. (Keys, The Uncivil War, pp. 21-22)
The conscription of slaves by federal forces continued even after the
Emancipation Proclamation was signed.
For example, several months after the proclamation was issued, General
Innis Palmer wanted to provide “laborers”
for federal troops at
. . . the negroes will not go voluntarily, so I am obliged to force them. I have sent seventy-one and will send this afternoon about 150. I expect to get a large lot tomorrow. . . The matter of collecting the colored men for laborers has been one of some difficulty, but I hope to send up a respectable force. . . . They will not go willingly. . . . They must be forced to go. . . . I am aware that this may be considered a harsh measure, but . . . we must not stop at trifles. (Keys, The Uncivil War, p. 106)
Southern family journals and letters contain numerous accounts of Union soldiers forcefully removing slaves from their homes, even when the slaves made it clear they didn’t want to leave (see, for example, Henry Steele Commager, editor, The Civil War Archive: The History of the Civil War in Documents, New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2000, pp. 333-336, 675-677).
I’m not suggesting that all slaves remained loyal to their masters or to the South during the war. Many thousands of Southern slaves did in fact flock to Union lines, just as thousands of colonial slaves flocked to British lines during the Revolutionary War. But many Southern slaves remained loyal, and quite of few of them viewed Union troops as invaders.
What If the South Had Been Allowed to Go in Peace?
Did the world end when
I think both the
Some critics have suggested that if the
Confederacy had survived, World War II may have had a different outcome. But the fact that
If the South had been permitted to go in peace, slavery would have died a natural death in a matter of a few decades, if not sooner. Before the war, even some Northern politicians, such as William Seward, said slavery was a dying institution. The percentage of Southern whites who belonged to slaveholding families dropped by 5 percent from 1850-1860 (Divine et al, editor, America Past and Present, p. 389). Historian Allan Nevins noted that by the 1850s "slavery was dying all around the edges of its domain" (The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume 2, p. 469). Although slavery was still economically profitable, its days were numbered. Interestingly, some of the most vocal Northern abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, welcomed the South’s secession because they believed Southern slavery would die out more quickly if the South were no longer part of the Union. Historians Randall and Donald, after noting the Confederacy’s move toward officially using slaves as soldiers and the support of key Confederate leaders for granting freedom to slaves and their families for faithful military service, acknowledged that the Confederacy may very well have abolished slavery even if it had survived the war:
On November 7, 1864, President Davis went so far as to approve the employment of slave-soldiers as preferable to subjugation, and on February 11, 1865, the Confederate House of Representatives voted that if the President should not be able to raise sufficient troops otherwise, he was authorized to call for additional levies “from such classes . . . irrespective of color . . . as the . . . authorities . . . may determine”. . . . There was no mistaking the meaning of this action. The fundamental social concept of slavery was slipping; an opening wedge for emancipation had been inserted. Lee’s opinion agreed with that of the President and Congress. On January 11, 1865, he wrote advising the enlistment of slaves as soldiers and the granting of “immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully. . . .” This fact, together with other indications, suggests that, even if the Confederacy had survived the war, there was a strong possibility that slavery would be voluntarily abandoned in the South. (The Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 522)
If the South had been allowed to leave in peace, over 600,000 soldiers (over half of them from the North) would have been spared death. Over 50,000 Southern civilians likewise would have been spared death. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers would not have been wounded for life. Millions of families would have been spared sorrow and anguish over their dead and wounded loved ones. Billions of dollars in property damage would have been avoided. And, race relations would not have suffered the poisoning that they experienced during and after the war.
will ask, “wouldn’t the
What would the South be like today if the Confederacy had survived? No one can say with certainty, but it’s likely that taxes of all kinds would be much lower. Citizens would have much less government interference in their lives. Parents would have more control over their children’s education and over their local schools. Southern schools would most likely allow voluntary prayer, moral instruction, nativity plays at Christmas time, and formal Bible reading (as our schools used to do until the 1960s when the Supreme Court suddenly decided these things were somehow “unconstitutional”). There would be tough anti-pornography laws, and those laws would be enforced. The lives of unborn children would be protected by law. There would be no question that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. And a state government could place a Ten Commandments monument in front of a state judicial building without having to worry about a federal judge ordering its removal on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the Constitution.
However, all this being said, I think that
if the South had been allowed to go in peace, it may very well have eventually
Some people think it is unpatriotic or divisive to defend the Southern
side of the Civil War. As a retired U.S.
Army veteran and a flag-waving patriot, I reject that view. Confederate citizens were Americans
too. They were citizens of the “Confederate States of
It is time for the demonization and smearing of the Confederacy to stop. Compared with other nations of its day, the Confederacy was one of the most democratic countries in the world. Even during the war, the Confederacy held elections and had a vibrant free press. In fact, on balance, the Confederacy was more democratic than some nations in our day. Confederate citizens enjoyed every right that we now enjoy, if not more. The Confederacy sought peace with the federal government and only fought because it was invaded. The Confederate Constitution was patterned after the U.S. Constitution and contained improvements that even some Northern commentators acknowledged were praiseworthy. (An excellent study of the Confederate Constitution is Marshall DeRosa’s book The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism, University of Missouri Press, 1991.)
Yes, the Confederacy permitted slavery, but it left the door open for
the admission of
I agree with the sentiments that former Confederate army officer
Does the propriety of discussing the causes of the War Between the States belong exclusively to Northern writers and speakers? Did the South, when she laid down her arms, surrender the right to state in self-justification her reasons for taking them up? If not, I fail to see how it can be improper, when perpetuating the memory of the Confederate dead, at least to attempt to correct false and injurious representations of their aims and deeds and to hand down their achievements to posterity as worthy of honorable remembrance. (The Men in Gray, pp. 11-12)
I also agree with James Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy and Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan:
. . . to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate soldier as simple acts of racism, and reduce the battle flag under which he fought to nothing more than the symbol of a racist heritage, is one of the great blasphemies of our modern age. (Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, New York: Broadway Books, 2004, p. 225)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a Master’s degree in
Theology from The Catholic Distance University, a Bachelor’s degree in Liberal
Arts from Excelsior College, two Associate in Applied Science degrees from the
Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced Certificate of Civil War
Studies and a Certificate of Civil War Studies from Carroll College. He is a two-time graduate of the Defense
Language Institute in