Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Was Slavery the Cause of the Civil War?

 

The great American tragedy is raising its ugly head once more, as it does occasionally. People on both sides are viciously accused by people on opposite sides, sometimes justly, sometimes not, as America divides along fault lines remarkably similar to the one that ruptured in 1861. My contention is that the horrible war could only be justified by the victorious side by making it a moral war. Was it?

In GFHandle’s piece, “Should We Honor Lee?,” several of us discussed that question, i.e., whether slavery was the cause. I contend that, in fact, the American Civil War was a cultural war, a refight of the English Civil War of the 1630s. Members of each side fled England to escape the other during the seventeenth century, one side to Massachusetts to seed northern culture, the other to Virginia to seed southern culture — and maintained both their cultures and their animosities to such an extent that they would fight again in the 1860s.

During the discussion, I promised a longer piece defending my assertion that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. As promised, here it is, but focused on America, not the English antecedents to that war. Though discussed on the other thread, I also don’t get into the fact here that the reason the slave-owning plantation elite in the South opposed secession (a fact generally ignored by slavery-as-cause advocates) was because that would end the Fugitive Slave Laws, without which slavery would certainly die on its own. There was nothing moral about the anti-secession position of the plantation elite. They simply recognized that Union protected slavery so they supported Union in order to protect their livelihood.


Over two centuries had passed since Puritans and Cavaliers had fled each other – Puritans to Massachusetts and Cavaliers (along with Borderers) to Virginia – around the time of the English Civil War. A century and three-quarters had passed since that first civil war had culminated in the Glorious Revolution – glorious because it was relatively peaceful, revolutionary because it made the Rights of Man, not those of king or tyrant, the ruling principles of government. Nine decades had passed since those principles had united Puritans, Cavaliers, and Borderers in a fight for freedom on a new continent. And now, a second Puritan-Cavalier war had just ended, like the first, in total victory for the educated mercantilist Puritan side over the hierarchical agricultural descendants of Cavaliers and Borderers.

While the founding generation still led the nation, revolutionary fervor kept the Enlightenment ideals of the Glorious and American Revolutions burning strong both north and south. But with the second and third generations, ancient prejudices began to reassert themselves. Authoritarianism within the ruling classes strengthened in each section and set the two parts against each other. In terms of geography, the Puritan North gravitated more towards Hamilton’s Federalist Party, while the Borderer South gravitated towards Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party. In terms of class, the rulers, north and south, gravitated towards Hamiltonian Whigs; while shippers, workers, and free farmers, north and south, gravitated towards the Jeffersonian Democrats.

Party names would change, but the Hamilton-Jefferson split would define American politics throughout the nineteenth century. The Hamiltonian parties (Federalist, then Whig, then Republican) would support the authoritarian ideals of a strong centralized government dedicated to a mercantilist/corporatist state. The Jeffersonian parties (Democratic-Republican, then shortened first to Republican and then to Democratic) would support the libertarian ideals of a weak decentralized government dedicated to the protection of rights.

However, as the parties could not survive as purely sectional parties, each nurtured strong constituencies in both sections in order to remain viable national parties. Federalist-Whigs were strongest in the North, but had solid southern support. Democrats were strongest in the South, but had solid northern support. Liberty-loving New England shippers and upcountry small farmers, for example, went Democratic, partially balancing the strength of puritan industrialists, who sought government protection of their interests. Liberty-loving small farmers in the South likewise went Democratic, partially balancing the same Federalist-Whig desire for control among the slaveholding elite.

Neither party, however, was uniform in beliefs throughout the nation. Democrats of the North supported, along with their southern brethren, states’ rights, small decentralized non-obtrusive government, and super-low or non-existent taxes. But, fearing the competition of slave labor, they opposed it’s spread to territories; while southern Democrats, though generally non-slaveholders, supported its expansion as a psychological bulwark against the puritan oppression they could almost feel breathing down their necks. (However, they stopped supporting slavery in the territories when they migrated, say, to California, and had the chance to farm without competition from slave labor.)

Southern Whigs shared with northern Whigs an ideology of support for government-business collusion and authority, but they wanted power firmly in the hands of state governments dominated by themselves, large slaveholders. They saw the strong centralized national government of northern Whigs as a threat to their feudalistic fiefdoms.

In 1854, the Whig Party imploded. The northern remnants combined with disaffected antislavery Democrats, antislavery but anti-black Free Soilers, and anti-Catholic/anti-immigrant Know-Nothings from the North to form the Republican Party. These reincarnated Whigs were now stronger than ever in the North, but they were no longer a national party. Anti-southernism was almost one of the new Republican Party’s founding tenants. Southern Whigs could in no way join the new party and still call themselves Southerners, so they joined either a new party for southern Whigs – the Constitutional Union party – or switched to the Democrats.

Democrats also split into northern and southern factions. That was the opening the Republicans needed. Despite winning less than 40 percent of the national popular vote and being absent from the ballot throughout much of the South, the new Republicans were able to take the presidential election in an electoral landslide against two regional Democratic parties and the Constitutional Union Party.The five Gulf States, plus South Carolina and Georgia, reacted to having an anti-Southern party lead the Union by voting to leave it. The more populous and prosperous Upper South also voted on secession, but all chose to remain in the Union.

At first, northern mercantilists were giddy with the possibilities. With half the obstructionist southern states departed, crony capitalists in favor of government-business collusion were in firm control of the national government. Right off the bat, Congress passed sky-high tariffs, the centerpiece of an activist agenda that would protect northern industries and finance the public works they were certain national greatness depended on.

Euphoria was short-lived, however, killed by a shocking realization. The Confederacy’s constitution made the new nation a virtual free trade zone. Economics would dictate that Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans would replace Boston, New York, and Philadelphia as gateways to the continent. This would not only cripple the northern economy but make the fine new tariffs almost worthless. Mercantilist puritans had at last securely grasped the ring of political power, but at the cost of economic power.

And then came war. Modern historical understanding makes slavery the cause of the war. It was not. You could make a case that slavery caused secession, at least in the Deep South. Slavery-as-the-cause advocates, though, conveniently forget that secession is not war; causing one does not equal causing the other. Slavery-as-the-cause advocates also ignore the fact that the Upper South chose against secession so neither slavery nor tariffs were the cause of secession, or of war, in the Upper South. Secession there came later, and clearly for a different reason.

The South had no interest in making war on the North. If there was to be war, the North would have to wage it against the South. Yes, the Southern attack on Fort Sumter was the technical beginning, but only because the North wanted war. If it had not, that nearly bloodless battle would not have been enough. A peacemaker like, say, Martin Van Buren, would have found a way to peace, even after the attack. Debaters, lawyers, and war-makers use events that are technically true in order to win their case, and getting the other side to fire the first shot is a key technicality often used by war-makers. But simply being right on technicalities is not enough to justify war. That war was impossible unless, for whatever reason, the North wanted war.

In 1861, though the North wanted war, it had no desire to make war over slavery. So slavery can hardly be called the cause of war for the North, either. The North made war for something else. You could call that something else Unionism. Unionism was certainly supported by more people than abolitionism – but not by enough people, at first, to push the nation to war. The upsurge in Unionist sentiment strong enough to lead to war followed straight on the heels of the realization of what a free trade South would mean to northern industry. A simplified version of the cause of war, then, would look like this:

First, the Deep South seceded over slavery.

Then the North made war over free vs. protected trade.

Then the Upper South seceded over states’ rights.

This sequence of events is hard to deny. Rather than even try, modern historians prefer to ignore it. They take simplification one step beyond reason and say slavery caused the war. History, though, shows that the North made war on the South, and not over slavery. Lincoln’s dilemma at the beginning of his term was how to preserve his agenda in the face of a free trade South. His solution was a war that would, as a side effect, destroy slavery. But, as we are now seeing once again, it didn’t destroy it cleanly and left multiple legacies that America is still struggling with.

One of those legacies is that the war is still being fought, and war always involves a search for good guys and bad guys. Proponents of the Northern Explanation make the North good and the South bad; proponents of the Southern Explanation make the South good and the North bad, or at least mitigate southern culpability. They are both wrong. There are no good guys in this story. It was a struggle between warmongers in the North and slave drivers in the South, each side intent on preserving personal power and wealth, with the common man serving once again as cannon fodder.

Liberal history is generally quite cynical (and rightly so!) about the causes of war, often finding economic motivations. But they make exceptions. War conducted by fellow liberals for liberal agendas, i.e., for centralized government and governmental solutions, is generally given a noble veneer. The only way to make the Civil War noble is to make slavery the cause. It’s a tough trick, though, that can only be accomplished by tying war and secession into a single indivisible lump. But it’s only a trick. War and secession are not the same, and the cause of one is not automatically the cause of the other.

If, for simplicity’s sake, you insist on a single cause for the war, there actually is one, an exceedingly common one. The Civil War was a war about money and power. The ruling northern elite wanted tariffs for the sake of money and power. The ruling southern elite wanted slavery for the sake of money and power. Once secession had been effected, that desire by the two power elites left no solution short of war.

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  1. Stina Member

    Very interesting. Thanks ?

    • #1
    • August 20, 2017, at 3:34 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  2. MarciN Member

    I’m sure the factors you’ve so well described were the reason the war started and kept going for the first six months.

    However, I think as it went on, it became increasingly about slavery. I think what happened was that a lot of the Union Army volunteers signed up to free the slaves. I think Lincoln’s putting the Emancipation Proclamation in a desk drawer for two years was not because he was ambivalent about slavery. He was an abolitionist himself. It was because he had said repeatedly that he would honor the Constitution and allow slave owners to keep the slaves. His ambivalence was about the law and the Constitution and his promise to protect it and the country.

    As the war progressed, I think the abolitionist soldiers, the men who died to end slavery in the South, inspired Lincoln, probably Grant too, and the rest of the Union war effort.

    That’s why people are so confused as to whether it was about abolition or secession.

    Like all relationships among human beings, it evolved as events transpired.

    Some historian with the reputation of Goodwin or Catton or McPherson needs to address the role of the abolitionists in the Civil War. As long as the black community believes the Civil War was not about slavery and helping them be free of it, as long as they believe that it was all about money, we’ll continue to experience racial strife. And the black community will continue to tell their children that the white people never lifted a finger to help them.

    And worst of all, some of the greatest sacrifices in human history that have been made on behalf of other people will be lost forever.

    • #2
    • August 20, 2017, at 4:06 PM PDT
    • 15 likes
  3. Columbo Member

    Very well researched and explained. Thank you.

    However, it does present a problem. With this portrayal and the facts of history, it makes it so much harder to continue the meme that the Confederate Flag = Nazi Flag. And that is a problem because the Left and Trump’s haters on the right just won’t let go of their meme. To this day still, the know-it-all elitist carpetbaggers trying to control the people of the South. Sad.

    • #3
    • August 20, 2017, at 4:31 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Kay of MT Member

    That’s about the way my grandmother explained it to me. Both sides for their own reasons and purpose. Her maternal grandparents died in the war and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins as well. One aunt lost 3 of her 5 children. Memorials are not the problem here, telling the truth about the war is.

    • #4
    • August 20, 2017, at 4:39 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  5. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    A heavy topic like this needs a dose of humor:

    • #5
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:34 PM PDT
    • 10 likes
  6. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Columbo (View Comment):
    However, it does present a problem. With this portrayal and the facts of history, it makes it so much harder to continue the meme that the Confederate Flag = Nazi Flag. And that is a problem because the Left and Trump’s haters on the right just won’t let go of their meme.

    The pictures and video of marchers carrying Confederate flags side-by-side with Nazi flags don’t exactly help refute this meme.

    The fact of the matter is that white nationalists and racists do embrace the Confederate flag as a symbol, and I believe there’s also a fairly clear history of the flag being used as a symbol of opposition to desegregation in the 50’s & 60’s. So it’s not just a meme invented by “the Left and Trump’s haters on the right.”

    • #6
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:41 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think as it went on, it became increasingly about slavery.

    That is certainly true. By the end, in fact, it was almost all about slavery.

    MarciN (View Comment):
    I think the abolitionist soldiers, the men who died to end slavery in the South, inspired Lincoln, probably Grant too, and the rest of the Union war effort.

    I haven’t really considered that, but also certainly true. Grant and especially Lincoln are two of my favorite men ever. As men. As presidents? Not so much.

    MarciN (View Comment):
    As long as the black community believes the Civil War was not about slavery and helping them be free of it, as long as they believe that it was all about money, we’ll continue to experience racial strife. And the black community will continue to tell their children that the white people never lifted a finger to help them.

    I don’t think we need to be afraid of true history . (Which is not to say I’m claiming my version of history is anything more than my version. My version is just another version to consider.) However, there are plenty of inspiring lessons to be taught. The abolitionist movement was grand and noble, at least before the war. (Once the war started, many – with a few exceptions like Lysander Spooner – abandoned their anti-war beliefs for the “greater” cause. War can do that to people.) Do you know the story of the part played by Jury Nullification? That’s one of the great doctrines of English Common Law. Juries have the power (whether they have the right or obligation is disputed, but they certainly have the power) to judge the law rather than the facts of the case. After the draconian new Fugitive Slave Laws of 1850, juries in the North, especially Massachusetts, refused to convict people who were clearly guilty of breaking those laws, thus effectively nullifying them. This infuriated the South, and may even be the key domino on the road to war. If the federal government had only let nullification run its course, either with or without secession, we quite possibly would have had a relatively peaceful end to slavery, and what a difference that would have made to our history. Anyway, Marci, those white juries are heroes you can point to even if the war itself (IMO) is problematic.

    MarciN (View Comment):And worst of all, some of the greatest sacrifices in human history that have been made on behalf of other people will be lost forever.

    I don’t think the sacrifices need to be lost. Once the war had started, those who gave their lives to make all people free can always be honored.

    We can also honor Lincoln, who was one of the most sublime, maybe THE most sublime president ever, and that’s saying something. But again, as a man, not as a president. Maybe one of these days I’ll have a chance to explain “my” Lincoln.

    • #7
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:44 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Don’t any of you miss Joseph’s little contribution in #5!

    • #8
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:50 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  9. MarciN Member

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    But again, as a man, not as a president. Maybe one of these days I’ll have a chance to explain “my” Lincoln.

    I would love to read it. :)

    • #9
    • August 20, 2017, at 5:55 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Can you provide links to primary sources that support your reading of the history here? The primary sources I have read seem to indicate that slavery was the over riding concern for those concerned.

    e.g. Abraham Lincoln’s letter to Sen (later CSA V.P.) Alexander Stephens:

    You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.

    Stephens offered a response in his famous Cornerstone Speech while V.P.:

    The new Constitution has put at rest forever all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institutions—African slavery as it exists among us—the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson, in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old Constitution were, that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with; but the general opinion of the men of that day was, that, somehow or other, in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away… Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the idea of a Government built upon it—when the “storm came and the wind blew, it fell.

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science.

    So it seems odd to me to lay the fundamental division outside of the concept of slavery, and even odder to place the CSA as the inheritors of Jefferson’s ideals. The Cornerstone Speech does, however, lend a lot of credence to the South’s aversion to tariffs as an important economic factor in the organization of their union and the division . What I don’t have evidence for is your reading of the Northern reaction.

    • #10
    • August 20, 2017, at 6:22 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  11. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Columbo (View Comment):
    Very well researched and explained. Thank you.

    However, it does present a problem. With this portrayal and the facts of history, it makes it so much harder to continue the meme that the Confederate Flag = Nazi Flag. And that is a problem because the Left and Trump’s haters on the right just won’t let go of their meme. To this day still, the know-it-all elitist carpetbaggers trying to control the people of the South. Sad.

    Nothing posted here has much bearing on the fact that today the CSA Battle Flag has been coopted by wannabe Nazi’s for their current purposes.

    • #11
    • August 20, 2017, at 6:25 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  12. GrannyDude Member

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    That is certainly true. By the end, in fact, it was almost all about slavery.

    Yes.

    The other things are fascinating, though. It makes sense to me, not just because you laid it out nicely and logically, but because it sounds so much like the way human beings get into things. They are hardly ever clear at the start. Even WW2—the other “good war”—wasn’t about the Holocaust…until it was.

    And at the same time, we have a vested and perhaps not wholly illegitimate interest in emphasizing the noblest aspects of our enterprises. There is a value in emphasizing the anti-slavery element in the war because, in fact, slavery did end. And it really needed to end: it had gone on long enough.

    Besides which, if it didn’t…then every drop of blood drawn by the sword represented a pointless sacrifice for something that might just as easily have been let go.

    Lincoln so clearly saw it as a kind of purgatorial national suffering that the country had to go through, like a cleansing fire.

    Ours is an ungrateful time.

    • #12
    • August 20, 2017, at 6:26 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  13. Columbo Member

    Jamie Lockett (View Comment):

    Columbo (View Comment):
    Very well researched and explained. Thank you.

    However, it does present a problem. With this portrayal and the facts of history, it makes it so much harder to continue the meme that the Confederate Flag = Nazi Flag. And that is a problem because the Left and Trump’s haters on the right just won’t let go of their meme. To this day still, the know-it-all elitist carpetbaggers trying to control the people of the South. Sad.

    Nothing posted here has much bearing on the fact that today the CSA Battle Flag has been coopted by wannabe Nazi’s for their current purposes.

    Other than, just because “unthinking” people do stupid things, “thinking” people shouldn’t fall for the brainless deception.

    • #13
    • August 20, 2017, at 6:40 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  14. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Also, my understanding of the tariff situation in the mid 1800s was that South Carolina attempted secession over tariffs under Jackson in 1833. When no states joined South Carolina’s attempt to nullify federal law the matter was dropped – it seems odd that tariffs would become an overriding justification for secession not even 30 years later. Further the Tariff Act of 1857 was in operation for most of the lead up to secession, and was known for its lowering of Tariff’s and strong support in the South. The Morrill Tariff Act was a plank in the Republican Party Platform and was debated some in South Carolina and Georgia prior to secession, however, slavery was the overwhelming reason outlined in their declarations of secession. As for the northern members of the CSA my knowledge is thinner, however, Virginia specifically was in favor of higher tariffs as protection for its nascent industrial base: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/49050/pdf

    • #14
    • August 20, 2017, at 7:01 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  15. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Matty Van: You could make a case that slavery caused secession, at least in the Deep South. Slavery-as-the-cause advocates, though, conveniently forget that secession is not war; causing one does not equal causing the other.

    This seems to me the lynchpin of your whole argument: that while slavery may have caused secession, it did not cause the war.

    This in turn rests on an unspoken assumption: that states have a right to secede. This is a central point of contention of the war itself, and all the arguments about it ever since.

    From the Confederate perspective, it was the “War Between the States” and the “War of Northern Aggression,” and the central question is: after the first batch of Southern states seceded, what caused the Northern states to start the war by invading them? I agree the answer was not (at least initially) slavery, certainly the answer you’ll find in the rhetoric of Lincoln and other Northern leaders was “to preserve the Union.” Because from the Union perspective, the federal Union was indissoluble, and the Confederate leaders were “rebels” in the sense of rebelling against the legitimate, established law of the land.

    Matty Van: Yes, the Southern attack on Fort Sumter was the technical beginning, but only because the North wanted war.

    While it was certainly a good P.R. move on Lincoln’s part to wait for the South to fire the first shots, if I’m correct about the Union perspective as outlined above the technical beginning of the war was the declaration of secession itself. It’s pretty much universally considered a causa belli to set up a new government within the territory of an existing government and unilaterally declare you will not recognize the authority of that existing government.

    From that perspective, secession caused the war, therefore if slavery caused secession, it also (by definition) caused the war.

    • #15
    • August 20, 2017, at 7:37 PM PDT
    • 12 likes
  16. Hoyacon Member

    What Joseph said above, better than I could.

    I’m wondering if discussing the distinction between slavery causing secession and slavery causing the war leads to one of those arguments where neither side is really able to comprehend the other’s position.

    That said, I enjoyed the post. My own view, simplified, is that the nullification of the Missouri Compromise, and the enactment of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, driven by popular sovereignty, slavery-related considerations, set the course for war through the creation of the Republican party. Ergo, slavery was the cause of war.

    • #16
    • August 20, 2017, at 8:09 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  17. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Jamie,

    This was written some years ago. I’ll try to look up some sources.

    As for the declarations of Alexander Stevens, these are often used to show that slavery caused secession. But I’m pretty sure that Stevens, like most of the slave-owning aristocracy, was against secession. It was the big slave owners, precisely because they were big slave owners, who opposed secession since Union protected slavery.

    Why should it be odd that slavery was not the fundamental division? Not too many people in the North really cared and not too many people in the South had slaves.

    As for placing the CSA as the inheritors of Jefferson’s ideals, I don’t think I do that. It was a mixed bag. The North was obviously far better than the South on the issue of individual rights. The South was quite a bit better than the North on free trade. Both sections supported states’ rights but southern support was contradictory since they oppossed the rights of states in the North to pass state laws diluting the Fugitive Slave acts. The Democratic Party (until 1896) was basically Jeffersonian, but the northern part more so than the warloving southern part. (Hey, they couldn’t help it. War was in their blood!)

    Yes, Pres. Jackson smashed the anti tariff movement by threatening an invasion of S.C. They didn’t want to mess with him, though S.C. actually did get a lowering of tariffs out of it. It was, IMO, the failure of tariffs to get a secession that moved John Calhoun to switch tactics. He was the one who decided slavery rather than tariffs should be the primary tactical issue, and that slavery would no longer be an evil necessity but a positive good. But the real battles for the subsequent 30 years were over tariffs. I think you got your dates wrong on the Morrill Tariff, unless there was an earlier one. The major Morill Tariff was finally passed a few days before the end of Buchanan’s term in 1861 because the anti-tariff votes of the seven Deep South states were no longer in previously well balance congress.

    • #17
    • August 20, 2017, at 8:39 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  18. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    This seems to me the lynchpin of your whole argument: that while slavery may have caused secession, it did not cause the war.

    This in turn rests on an unspoken assumption: that states have a right to secede. This is a central point of contention of the war itself, and all the arguments about it ever since.

    Opinion was not uniform. Presidents Jackson and Taylor both believed secession was illegal, as did Daniel Webster. But clearly the majority view was that secession was legal, and an important check on the federal government. If not for the Battle of New Orleans, New England likely would have seceded in 1815 over a war they opposed. Abolitionists supported secession of the North in order to make the Fugitive Slave Laws inoperative. It’s hard to imagine that the South would have invaded the North if that had come to pass. Lincoln himself eloquently defended the right to secession as a congressman. In fact, Lincoln’s even more eloquent First Inagural was basically a case against himself. Even so, in that same Inaugural, he offered the South a deal. They could be free and independent with one stipulation. They had to allow the USA to continue collecting tariffs in southern ports. (Jamie, are you reading?). In any case, there was not much support for holding the nation together militarily until important northern port cities and industrial centers began to contemplate what a free trade CSA would do to them. New York even threatened to secede itself and become a free trade port so that it could compete with the CSA.

    One more thing, Joseph. EVEN IF secession is illegal, is that a good enough reason to go to war? Personally, I would say no. The USSR allowed numerous illegal secessions after 1991, and I think they were right to do so.

    • #18
    • August 20, 2017, at 8:58 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  19. OccupantCDN Coolidge

    The industrial revolution is generally dated as starting in 1760 in England… The first attempt to abolish slavery was started in 1784 and was finally successful in 1833.I think even the supporters of slavery realize that its evil, but justify it. Industrialization undermines that justification and it quickly collapses once people realize they can get by just fine without it.

    • #19
    • August 20, 2017, at 9:01 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. Valiuth Member
    Valiuth Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Secession meant war. It could only have meant war because it was illegal. In the case of illegal action force by the government is appropriate to bring the lawless back into compliance. Given the scale of the lawlessness the force could only have been on the scale of war. Had the Union left the secession unchallenged it would have meant the end of all constitutional order and the end of the nation. If the primary cause of of Deep Southern succession was fear over the loss of slavery than I do not see how you can claim the war was not caused by slavery. The moment those southern states seceded they for all practical effects declared war.

    I also see no clear evidence provided that this was what anyone in the north was thinking.

    The Confederacy’s constitution made the new nation a virtual free trade zone. Economics would dictate that Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, and New Orleans would replace Boston, New York, and Philadelphia as gateways to the continent. This would not only cripple the northern economy but make the fine new tariffs almost worthless. Mercantilist puritans had at last securely grasped the ring of political power, but at the cost of economic power.

    Also considering that the South was an extraction economy based on slavery. I don’t think any amount of free trade would have caused their cities to replace the industrial cities of the north that were filled with both capital and innovation as the dominant economic cities on the continent. The South had one economic good cotton, the monopoly over which it would lose anyway in the coming decades thanks to English production in India. The northern cities were the trade centers because they produced the trade goods.

    So basically I agree with @josephstanko. Your arguments can only hold water if one can believe that secession is not an act of war. Yet in all cases of unilateral secession it has always been an act of war, and will continue to be. The South had it wanted to secede legally and peacefully should have attempted to do so through a constitutional process.

    • #20
    • August 20, 2017, at 9:06 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  21. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Secession meant war. It could only have meant war because it was illegal.

    See Post 18.

    Valiuth (View Comment):

    Also considering that the South was an extraction economy based on slavery. I don’t think any amount of free trade would have caused their cities to replace the industrial cities of the north that were filled with both capital and innovation as the dominant economic cities on the continent.

    Makes sense. But it doesn’t actually matter what you or I think. Newspapers throughout the North, reflecting the general sentiment, said “Let the South go. We can still do business with them and carry one as before.” That is, until industrialists began raising the warning that a free trade South would destroy the governmental and industrial finances in the North. Then newspapers turned a sudden about face and began trumpeting the need for military intervention. We’re they right or you on the viability of southern ports as ports of trade? It doesn’t actually matter. All that matters is that’s what they believed.

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Yet in all cases of unilateral secession it has always been an act of war, and will continue to be.

    How about secessions from the USSR?Werent those illegal? How about Slovakia seceding from the Czech Republic? As a thought experiment, imagine Quebec seceded from Canada. Should Canada invade?

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    The South had it wanted to secede legally and peacefully should have attempted to do so through a constitutional process.

    It actually did. Constitutional processes for secession had been established by and during the Glorious Revolution. The American Colonies went through the same processes for its secession (We call it the Revolution, but it was actually a secession. We only wanted to seperate from the central government, not overthrow it.) New England in 1815 was going through the same processes. The key step in the well understood (in those days) process was the convening of a non-governmental assembly of representatives of the people to discuss and possibly delcare the secession.

    • #21
    • August 20, 2017, at 9:34 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  22. formerlawprof Coolidge

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    Do you know the story of the part played by Jury Nullification? . . . This infuriated the South, and may even be the key domino on the road to war. If the federal government had only let nullification run its course, either with or without secession, we quite possibly would have had a relatively peaceful end to slavery, and what a difference that would have made to our history.

    An interesting point within a fascinating take on the Civil War that I must say I have never heard, @mattyvan.

    There is no doubt, of course, that jury nullification of the Fugitive Slave law was an irritant to the owners. But I wonder if historical statistical records would show that even the Fugitive Slave laws themselves had such an existential impact on the survival of slavery. (Did enough slaves escape bondage and make it to the North to make return a fundamental issue?) My suspicion is that the end of the slave trade was always the main threat to slavery, and would always have eventually led to its demise.

    But your comments about the jury nullification sub-plot are worthy of further study and further comment. The conflicting views that leading Abolitionists expressed on the subject form an important chapter in the intellectual history of the United States, in particular with respect to the rule of law and the role of civil disobedience.

    Some Abolitionists–and I regret that I don’t have access to all the materials I once had, and that my memory has let me down as to specific names–eagerly wished to serve on such juries or to be appointed as Commissioners. One–could it have been Sumner?–said, in effect, “I want to serve as often as I can, and to vote to refuse to return as many as I can, until they drag me out of the courtroom and replace me with someone else.”

    Others, just as notable, preferred to work to abolish all such laws at the federal level, despite (or perhaps precisely because) the Supreme Court had upheld the federal law in the more-dubious-and-more-important-than Dred Scott-case-of Prigg v. Pennsylvania in 1842.

    Finally, although the moral value of the civil disobedience at work in the fugitive slave cases is clear, here is something I wrote after the O.J. Simpson case, showing again how so many doors can swing both ways:

    “We may justly celebrate the great victory of Peter Zenger, but which day on the calendar do we set aside to honor the juries that freed the killers of Emmett Till, Viola Liuzzo, Herbert Lee, and Medgar Evers, or the stalwarts from Simi Valley who failed to see any excess force on the infamous Rodney King videotape?”
    Lord Brougham, the Dream Team, and Jury Nullification of the Third Kind, 67 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1075, 1090 (1996).

    How come everything is so hard?

    • #22
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:09 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  23. Jamie Lockett Inactive

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    I think you got your dates wrong on the Morrill Tariff, unless there was an earlier one. The major Morill Tariff was finally passed a few days before the end of Buchanan’s term in 1861 because the anti-tariff votes of the seven Deep South states were no longer in previously well balance congress.

    My recollection is that the Morrill Tariff was a major plank in the Republican Party Platform and that even though it wasn’t passed until March of 1861 it was heavily debated before that and came up during the Georgia and S.C. conventions.

    • #23
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:18 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  24. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Jamie, that all sounds right to me. Didn’t know it was debated at the SC and Georgia conventions, but that certainly makes sense.

    • #24
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  25. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    The American Colonies went through the same processes for its secession (We call it the Revolution, but it was actually a secession. We only wanted to seperate from the central government, not overthrow it.)

    Clearly there’s a parallel between the Revolution and the Civil War, so let’s take a closer look at the Declaration:

    a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation

    This suggests it’s not just something you do on a whim, one at least needs a reason for the separation. If you compare it to a marriage, sometimes a divorce may be justified, but unlike our modern notion of “no fault” divorce, there ought to at least be some serious grounds for it. Furthermore:

    Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

    That seems like a pretty high bar. How exactly had the North been trying to reduce the South to “absolute despotism?” They lost one election, so they take their marbles and go home? Boo-frickin’-hoo, cry me a river. They’re as whiny as the “Resistance” to Trump, they don’t get their way and they throw a hissy fit. As you said Lincoln only got 40% of the popular vote, they could have just waited 4 years, found a candidate to re-unite the Democratic party, trounced Lincoln, and retaken the White House. They risked starting a war over that?

    And that’s the best possible interpretation of their motives. The alternative explanation is that their real motivation was preserving slavery, in which case far from seceding in order to free themselves from despotism, they were doing the opposite: breaking up the Union (and risking civil war) in order to perpetuate a system that imposed an absolute despotism on blacks. It’s a diabolical inversion of the moral justification of the American Revolution.

    • #25
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:40 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  26. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    formerlawprof (View Comment)

    How come everything is so hard?

    LOL!

    And some great info there Formerprof. Would love to read more.

    EDIT @formerlawprof, Not to put any pressure on you, but may I suggest a Ricochet article on Jury Nullification?

    • #26
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:41 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Matty Van (View Comment):
    How about secessions from the USSR?Werent those illegal?

    I’m more interested in the moral case for secession rather than the legality. Most of the Soviet Republics had been independent nations in the past that were annexed and conquered by Russia. Returning to the analogy to marriage, it’s a bit like comparing a child bride kidnapped and forced to marry an ISIS fighter with a man who decides to leave his wife of 30 years and their children so that he can run off with his young, hot secretary. Technically you could call both cases “divorce,” but the moral justifications are starkly different.

    • #27
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:49 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  28. Matty Van Member
    Matty Van

    Joseph, I actually agree with just about everything you write in #25, even your evil “alternative explanation.” Many or most of the southern fireeaters dreamed of the “Golden Circle,” a medieval empire straight out of Ivanhoe, their favorite book, replete with knights and lords and servants. The Golden Circle would include the Deep South, Mexico, Central America, and then up to the Caribbean Islands culminating in Cuba. Secession, for them, was only the beginning.

    EDIT Just read your post 26. Great metaphor on marriage!

    • #28
    • August 20, 2017, at 10:51 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  29. MarciN Member

    In his First Inaugural, Lincoln used divorce as an analogy:

    Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

    I think this may actually be one reason why keeping the union together sounds so weak to us today as a reason for the Civil War. In the mid-nineteenth century, divorce was not legal except under extreme “just cause” circumstances. It sounds ridiculous today. The idea of a union formed “in perpetuity” has gone away.

    That said, the other way Congress could have viewed the situation was that the marriage was always one of convenience–for the purposes of waging the Revolutionary War only. There was nothing else holding the colonies together. I’m not sure why they didn’t take that view. It seems logical to me.

    • #29
    • August 20, 2017, at 11:35 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  30. Blue State Curmudgeon Inactive

    Yes, the civil war was about money and power which were manifested in the issue of slavery. The nullification crisis of 1824 was also about money and power but it didn’t result in a civil war. I think we ought to apply Occam’s Razor when looking at the cause of the war.

    • #30
    • August 21, 2017, at 4:17 AM PDT
    • 6 likes

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