I’m used to arguing with people over slavery being the sole cause of the Civil War; it is what they were taught in schools and I can, at least, understand why they are so vehement in their beliefs. However, the other day I read an article that left me flabbergasted; and then the comments following it showed that there were many who supported the claims made by the author.
The basic premise of this article was that if Robert E. Lee had not accepted command of the Confederate Army the Civil War would not have happened and all those people would not have died.
First off, Lee did not immediately accept the position of Commander of the Confederate Army; he was assigned command of the Army of Northern Virginia. Virginia, if you were not aware of this, did not secede from the Union until Abraham Lincoln called out for volunteers to suppress the rebellion in those States which had already seceded.
Secondly, using the same logic, the American Revolution would not have happened, and 25,000 men would not have died had George Washington not accepted the position of Commander of the Continental Army.
If you want my honest opinion, the Civil War was all but inevitable from the moment the Constitution was ratified. Was slavery an issue? Of course it was. Was it the cause of the Civil War? No, it was only one of many causes which led the Southern States to secede and form their own Union.
The Civil War began when Lincoln attempted to enforce the laws of the North upon the newly created Confederacy. The Civil War began when Lincoln raised an army to invade the Confederacy and force their return to the Union.
From almost the very beginning our nation was already divided. There was the primarily industrial North and the agrarian South. As our nation grew in size the influx of immigrants came to live primarily in the North; in the major industrial centers where all the jobs were. With this increase in population came an increase in representation in Congress.
The two regions had distinct views on the balance of power between the State and federal governments. The North was more inclined to allow the federal government to exercise more power and use taxes collected upon internal improvements in their region. The South was more about State’s rights and limited federal power over the lives of the people. This schism, if you wish to call it that, can be traced all the way back to the epic battles in Washington’s Cabinet between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, and the formation of the first political parties; the Federalist Party and the Democratic-Republican Party.
At the time of the Civil War there was no income tax like we know today. Most of the revenue collected by government came from tariffs; which were borne primarily by the South. As the population of the North continued to grow, the power held by the Republicans, (the newest incarnation of the Federalists), also increased. When the government attempted to halt the expansion of slavery into newly created States it did so, not to prevent the atrocity that was slavery, but to diminish the power held by the Southern Democrats.
At the same time the tariffs which the South was paying was being spent on improvements in the North, while nary a penny was being spent on improving the infrastructure of the South. One would do well to research the period of American History prior to the Civil War; particularly the Nullification Crisis, if one wishes to understand a major cause which ultimately led the Southern States to secede from the Union.
The Civil War was a war fought over the question of whether the Union was indeed perpetual, or whether a State had the right to secede from it when if felt that remaining in it was harmful to its existence and its people.
The question of secession did not arise for the first time in Charleston, South Carolina in 1860, it was first broached in the early 1800’s in, of all places, Salem, Massachusetts. No less than four serious attempts at secession were introduced by New England Federalists in response to actions taken by the Jefferson and Madison administrations. The Louisiana Purchase, the Embargo of 1807, and the War of 1812 were all justifications used by these early secessionist movements.
So it was not only the South that felt that secession was an inherent right of the states, it was also a belief held by those in the North as well.
The problem with explaining the true causes of the Civil War to people today in 2017 is that they view it from a 21st century mindset. Today people view the relationship between State and Federal government as one, the federal, being superior to the other, and they view themselves as, not being citizens of their State, but as United States citizens.
In 1860, particularly in the South, the people viewed their States as their country; with their State belonging to a Union of other sovereign entities. Looking at it with this perspective may explain why Lee, when accepting command of the forces of Virginia, made the following statement, “Profoundly impressed with the solemnity of the occasion, for which I must say I was not prepared, I accept the position assigned me by your partiality.
I would have much preferred had your choice fallen on an abler man. Trusting in Almighty God, an approving conscience, and the aid of my fellow-citizens, I devote myself to the service of my native State, in whose behalf alone will I ever again draw my sword.” When Lee spoke of his fellow citizens he was not speaking of citizenship like we would today; he was speaking of his fellow residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Virginia had not yet left the Union when the attack upon Fort Sumter occurred; the opening salvo of the Civil War; that occurred days later. The Virginia legislature did not formally decide to secede from the Union until after Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of War, Simon Cameron, sent a message to Virginia Governor John Letcher; calling for Virginia to provide troops to suppress the rebellion in those States which had already seceded.
In response, Governor Letcher sent the following to Lincoln’s Secretary of War, “In reply to this communication, I have only to say that the militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such use or purpose as they have in view. Your object is to subjugate the Southern States, and a requisition made upon me for such an object — an object, in my judgment, not within the purview of the Constitution or the act of 1795 — will not be complied with. You have chosen to inaugurate civil war, and having done so, we will meet it in a spirit as determined as the Administration has exhibited towards the South.”
The South never sought war with those in the North; only to be let be; to live their lives as a free and independent nation. In an address to his Congress on April 29, 1861, Confederate President Jefferson Davis stated, “We feel that our cause is just and holy; we protest solemnly in the face of mankind that we desire peace at any sacrifice save that of honor and independence; we seek no conquest, no aggrandizement, no concession of any kind from the States with which we were lately confederated; all we ask is to be let alone; that those who never held power over us shall not now attempt our subjugation by arms. This we will, this we must, resist to the direst extremity. The moment that this pretension is abandoned the sword will drop from our grasp, and we shall be ready to enter into treaties of amity and commerce that cannot but be mutually beneficial. So long as this pretension is maintained, with a firm reliance on that Divine Power which covers with its protection the just cause, we will continue to struggle for our inherent right to freedom, independence, and self-government.”
To say that the Civil War was fought solely over slavery, or the even more ridiculous idea that it was fought because Lee accepted command of the Confederate Army, only shows that people have not been taught the truth regarding this period of American History.
I did not learn these things in school, I had to dig through page after page of books, and internet websites to slowly uncover the truth. The difference between me and many others in this country is that my mind sought only the truth; while many cling to the lies they have been taught as though they were a life raft in the middle of the ocean.
Prior to Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Major General Patrick Cleburne, CSA, stated, “Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late… It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects for derision… It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”
No, the Civil War was not fought over slavery, nor was if fought because Lee accepted command of the Confederate Army. The Civil War was fought because a portion of the United States decided to exercise their right as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. 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.”
The outcome of the Civil War; the fact that the South lost does not diminish the justness of their cause no more than a 200 lb bully beating a 100 lb boy for his lunch money justifies his actions.
But the sad truth is that history books are written by the victors, and those history books tend to be biased against those who lose conflicts. While I blame our educators for continuing the lies regarding the reason for which Americans fought Americans during the Civil War, I do not hold the fully to blame. It is my honest belief that most of them do not know the truth themselves; and therefore they are only repeating what they have been taught.
I do, however, hold people accountable for examining all the facts regarding this period of American History, and for either choosing to accept the inevitable conclusion the facts demand, or in continuing to believe the lies they have been taught.
That, after all, is what thinking is all about; the examination of facts and the formation of opinions based upon those facts. But if you only choose to examine one side of the story, the opinions you form will be biased and based upon one side’s version of the story.
Just as in a court of law the prosecution and defense are given equal time to prove their case, the jury of public opinion should not render any verdict on the justness of the Civil War until they have heard ALL THE FACTS.
I rest my case…
January 23, 2017
~ The Author ~
Neal Ross, Student of history, politics, patriot and staunch supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Send all comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you liked Neal’s latest column, maybe you’ll like his latest booklet: The Civil War: (The Truth You Have Not Been Told) AND don’t forget to pick up your copy of ROSS: Unmasked – An Angry American Speaks Out – and stay tuned – Neal has a new, greatly expanded book coming soon dealing with the harsh truths about the so-called American Civil War of 1861-1865. Life continues to expand for this prolific writer and guardian of TRUE American history.