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Austin Cline

Was the Civil War About Slavery?

By July 30, 2004

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There is a common myth that circulates in some places that the American Civil War wasn't really about slavery - instead, it was about Northern aggression, taxes, tariffs, that sort of thing. Is there any truth to this? Well, it's true that there were a number of other issues involved by denying that slavery was the root issue requires denying reality.

Charles Oliver, writing for Reason, reviews Charles Adams‘ book When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession:

Openly partisan to the South, Adams believes that the Civil War truly was one of Northern aggression. He believes that the Southern states had the right to secede and he believes that the war's true legacy is the centralization of power in Washington and the deification of the "tyrant" Abraham Lincoln. To this end, he collects all the damaging evidence he can find against Lincoln and the North. And he omits things that might tarnish his image of the South as a small-government wonderland.
Thus, we hear of Lincoln's use of federal troops to make sure that Maryland didn't secede. We don't learn that Confederate troops occupied eastern Tennessee to keep it from splitting from the rest of the state. Adams tells us of Union Gen. William Sherman's actions against civilians, which he persuasively argues were war crimes. But he doesn't tell us of Confederate troops capturing free blacks in Pennsylvania and sending them south to slavery. Nor does he mention the Confederate policy of killing captured black Union soldiers. He tells us that Lincoln suspended habeas corpus; he doesn't mention that the Confederacy did also.
Before and during the war, almost every Southern political leader explicitly said the Southern states seceded to protect slavery. Perhaps the most famous statement came from Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens. In 1861, in Savannah, Georgia, Stephens bluntly declared that slavery was "the immediate cause of the late rupture and the present revolution." He said the United States had been founded on the false belief that all men are created equal. The Confederacy, in contrast, had been "founded upon exactly the opposite idea; 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 moral condition."
Well, Adams says in effect, Stephens was lying. Southern leaders knew that people couldn't be roused to fight over something so unappealing as tariffs. So they whipped up a fear that slavery was at stake. "Men will not willingly, and with zeal, die for an economic purpose, but they will die for some 'cause' that has a noble purpose," writes Adams, neglecting to lay out precisely why slavery was so noble. Indeed, Adams' thesis is a completely unsatisfying one. Even if true, he can't answer an important question: Given that most Southerners didn't own slaves, why was this a more attractive issue for raising fighting passions than tariffs? Why would so many die with "zeal" for a "noble" purpose from which they were excluded? After all, less than one third of Southerners owned slaves.

Why do people try to deny the importance of slavery to the Civil War? In the past, it might have been racism in many cases — but probably not as often now. More common motives might be to whitewash the South (if South was defending something less immoral than slavery, then they don’t look so bad) or perhaps to vindicate the South’s alleged motives. In this case, the cause of “states’ rights” is often invoked as the reason the South seceded and went to war. Arguing that as the “real” cause can allow a person to argue that states’ rights should be considered more important that they currently are. By framing the North as the “anti-states’ rights villains,” not only does the South look better but the causes of states’ rights does as well.

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Comments
December 29, 2009 at 2:03 pm
(1) homegrown says:

The Civil War was a conflict over state versus federal rights, slavery was an issue, but a secondary issue.

February 19, 2011 at 7:30 pm
(2) John says:

I’m a Southerner, and have mixed feelings about the Confederacy. The common Southern man who went to fight was typically fighting to protect his family, and that’s noble. But when you read the declarations of secession (GA, TX, SC, MS), what the Southern politicians unanimously agreed on was that the “beneficent and patriarchal institution of slavery” was being threatened by “pernicious ideas of racial equality” and so to protect their investments those states seceded.

That seems pretty obvious.

The South fought to perpetuate human slavery, and that is grossly shameful.

May 31, 2011 at 9:47 am
(3) scott says:

Was slavery wrong? Absolutely – it is undefendable. However, there are a couple of things that need to be added to the article and arguement – more of the truth. The demand for for the commodities the south grew (mainly cotton and tobacco) were in high demand so the southern states allocated more land for that purpose. The southern states started selling their product to Europe for higher prices. The price was too high for the northern states and that’s where most people lived and it was putting the northern states in an economic bind. Congress then passes a HUGE tariff on exports that raised the price where it was no longer economical so they stopped buying. That now left the southern states in dire straits and the price dropped dramatically and the northern states could pretty much set their price. The southern states bullied the north by raisinf the prices and now the northern states refused to buy at the original prices. There was discussion that the southern farmers would go bankrupt so they decided to secede and remove the tariff altogether and sell their product to whomever they wished. It was ALL economics. Napolean is often quoted that true history is never realized as the winners write the history we read. Was slavery used as a calling card by the south? Perhaps. Was the end result of the end of slavery worth the outcome? I say yes because of how inhumane it was. That being said, slavery was not the real reason for the secession.The 1st state that seceded was SC on 12/20/1860 and the last was Tenn on 6/8/1861. The 1st shots fired was on 4/12/1861 yet the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves didn’t happen until 1/1/1863. It could be argued that is was a calling cry from the Union as well. All in all, slavery ended which was much needed but the truth would be nice.

May 31, 2011 at 11:35 am
(4) Austin Cline says:

Was slavery used as a calling card by the south? Perhaps.

No “perhaps” about it; slavery was the expressed reason for secession in every state. It was also the reason for what was arguably the real start of the Civil War: Bloody Kansas.

That being said, slavery was not the real reason for the secession.

It was according to the secession statements and constitutions of the states the seceded. They were more honest about their reasons than their apologists are today because they didn’t recognize the immorality of their system and believed that they would sin; today, their apologists struggle to find some basis for arguing that the secessionist cause was noble rather than an atrocity.

yet the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves didn’t happen until 1/1/1863.

Irrelevant. No one claims that the sole Union motivation was emancipation; what’s claimed is that a primary secessionist motivation was slavery.

December 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm
(5) Austin Cline says:

The Civil War was a conflict over state versus federal rights, slavery was an issue, but a secondary issue.

Only if you ignore what was written by the slavers who started the civil war. It was only a “states’ rights” issue insofar as they wanted the states to have a right to enslave human beings.

Maybe you should consider directly and substantively engaging the ideas and facts presented above instead of merely gainsaying it all.

January 25, 2010 at 8:51 pm
(6) Ron Jones says:

Every so often, some statist pops up crowing about how The War was a ‘noble struggle to end slavery,’ and was, therefore worth the unconstitutional war of genocide against a peaceful foreign nation that cost the blood of nearly 700,000 men, women, and children.

And while

The official reason for the war that was given by both Lincoln and the U.S. Congress was “to save the union.” But Lincoln inherited no “perpetual union.” The union of the founding fathers was a voluntary compact of the states.

The Southern states seceded, and fear that the north would free the slaves without recompense was certainly a part of the reason. In seceding, they had to know that slavery as an institution was doomed, as any slave who wanted to be free needed but to escape across the border into the United States.

But “preserving the union” (and the chief source of revenue for the US government) was the reason Lincoln maneuvered the South into firing upon Fort Sumter.

At its heart, the war was fought to repudiate the idea of limited government as constituted by the founding fathers….Surrender at Appomattox led, to a domestic empire of taxes and corporate welfare. Followed inevitably by a foreign empire just a few decades later.

We had George Bush, because we idolized Abraham Lincoln.

The South was right in 1861, because the colonies were right in 1776.

April 28, 2010 at 6:32 pm
(7) Daria says:

Whatever to the above comment. You are disillusioned. The North was and still is more rich than the South ever was, before and after the war. That’s why the North won! The North didn’t need the South to survive financially. The South were a bunch of cotton growers, whereas the North was producing metal goods and lots of other stuff. Is it so hard for you to believe that Abe really wanted to see black people free? And of course welfare funding had to be created after slavery was ended. Racism still exists, and people need to be taken care of because of it. Keep dreaming, but that’s all your comment is, a dream.

May 3, 2010 at 2:13 am
(8) Josh says:

Daria, you are correct that the North was indeed wealthy but the South was producing 3/4ths of the worlds cotton. There were more millionaires in Mississippi than anywhere else in America. The South and North both had heaping portions of wealth. I’d say the biggest reason why the North won was because they had almost 3 times the amount of soldiers of the South. If you are going to flame someone you should have a little more than some knowledge of a subject.

May 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm
(9) Dan says:

Let’s go back to history here and look at some real facts. The Emancipation Proclamation was not issued until 1863. Britain outlawed slavery in 1833, they were wlso an ali to the south. So the purpose was not to end slavery but to help themselves win. Anyone dissagree? I’ll be happy to prove you wrong.

May 11, 2010 at 5:43 pm
(10) Clambelly says:

Please, let’s stop this war of semantics. All you southern apologists who insist that the war wasn’t about slavery but states’ rights. Sure, there were the right of states’ vs federal dictates that benefited the north in particular. Sure, northern industrialists spearheaded an aggressive campaign against southern land owners. But let’s not forget that the major states’ “right” was the right to own slaves. There’s nothing you can say that can ever make slavery a practice that can be forgiven or excused. I don’t care what the north did or didn’t do to the south, and I don’t care about evidence of the carpetbaggers who continued to rape the south. All that was unfortunate, and just another example of how evil, opportunistic men will screw the next guy given the chance. I’m not excusing the behavior of those who plundered the south after the war, but neither will I ever learn to sit still and listen to an argument about how the war was not about slavery. The states’ right that southerners so vehemently employ to make their argument about the acceptability of the south versus the north was a “right” alright. It was the “right” to own slaves. Listen to this, and listen good: ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL. YOU MAY NOT HAVE THE RIGHT TO OWN ANYONE, AND THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN; THE AMOUNT OF MELANIN CONTAINED IN THEIR SUBCUTANEOUS LEVEL OF SKIN MEANS LESS THAN NOTHING IN THE MEASURE OF A MAN (OR WOMAN). SORRY, BUT THAT’S HOW IT GOES. GO FIND ANOTHER CAUSE CELEBRE. YOU MAY NOT HAVE THE ARGUMENT ABOUT THE SOUTH’S PATRIOTIC POSITION AS LONG AS IT WAS PREDICATED ON THE RIGHT TO OWN SLAVES. If you don’t like what I just said, prove me wrong. All these nonsensical arguments that love to enumerate all the reasons the Civil War was supposedly REALLY fought mean nothing if you don’t go to the bottom line. The bottom line is that no human may own another. Don’t even make an argument because I’m not listening. We’re all very aware, or should be, that only 38% of southerners owned slaves. Still, it was the backbone of its economy. The reasoning that those plantations could not afford to be operated had they had to pay workers holds no water. If you can’t afford to govern thousands of acres, then DON’T. It pisses me off no end to hear about Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, who agreed with one another a century prior to the Civil War that slavery was wrong, and that there should be no slavery. Yet, they decided that they couldn’t AFFORD to free their slaves. And the audacity of Jefferson, genius and statesman that he was, to write a sentence that has become the very essence of his Declaration of Independence, “All Men Are Created Equal…” is a joke. He did not practice what he preached. He owned and operated over 3,000 of the most beautiful acres in north-central Virginia and decided that he could not continue to run Monticello if he freed the slaves, so he conveniently omitted the issue from his “desktop.” This country has a lot of terrible history to go along with its most honorable mission statement. Start with the murder of native people and their food supply. Carry it through to the slavery issue and the continued murder of native Americans even after the Civil War. Add to that the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War, while no attempt was made to round up German Americans. Let’s face it, folks…Jackie Robinson didn’t get to play major league baseball until as recently as 1947. I love the south. I was born and raised there, but don’t, PLEASE don’t ever try to make a case for slavery or say that it was “just one of the issues” over which the Civil War was fought. States rights is a buzzword, just like “natural flavorings” on a food product label means MSG. Let’s admit the horrors in our history. It’s the only way we can move past them. Want this country to truly be the greatest success story in world history? Then you can’t deny its history for your own convenience or to paint a prettier picture. Don’t say things like “Slavery was an unfortunate thing” or “It would have been better not to have slavery in our history, but that’s just how it is.” It doesn’t address the issue with the importance it deserves. If you don’t want people to present the north’s mission as wonderful, altruistic and angelic, then stop denying the fact that the southern white man’s economy was based on the ownership and dehumanization of other human beings. And don’t cite the fact that even when they were freed, many slaves elected to remain on the land to which they had been bound. If slavery was all you had known you too might be afraid to leave. It’s not as though treatment of blacks was a day at the beach in the north either, but “ownership” of humans far surpasses hatred of humans on the man’s-inhumanity-to-man index.

October 28, 2010 at 6:11 pm
(11) Phil says:

Let’s see: Bible verse – Exodus 21: 7 “If a man sells his daughter…”

or Hey how ’bout Leviticus 25:44 “..you may purchase male or female slaves..”

“..also you may purchase the children of … foreigners…”

Now that would be okay. I’d really like a few Canadians to clean my house and tend my lawn(s)… Not really. It’s like having more than one wife… way too much trouble….

The fact is that you don’t know what slavery was about. What it wasn’t about was cause for seceding… It would have collapsed on it’s own… but, no! Lincoln had to show that the Federal Government trumpted States Rights.

Remember, my friend. The winner always write history.

May 17, 2010 at 3:47 pm
(12) exm5fe03 says:

If it wasn’t about slavery, how can you explain Jim Crow?

May 29, 2010 at 10:05 pm
(13) malcom x says:

Slavery was not the primary reason for the civil war. The south had the one commodity that everyone in the world wanted, COTTON. Look at the climates of the New England area compared to Britain, there practically the same. The British didnt want tea, wheat, or your so called precious metals, they wanted COTTON. Just like the thirteen colonies wanted “no taxation without representation” from the brits, the south felt the same way towards the north. The slaves were not emancipated till the end of the war because the whole English navy was sitting off the coast of New England ready to open up a can of whoop ass on the Union. Abe had one option, to make the war about slavery because the English had already abolished slavery a 100 years earlier and Abe knew that the English could not interfere if that was the case.

May 29, 2010 at 11:30 pm
(14) Austin Cline says:

Slavery was not the primary reason for the civil war.

It was the primary reason for secession, as admitted by the people who seceded. Secession, in turn, was what led to the Civil War.

Just like the thirteen colonies wanted “no taxation without representation” from the brits, the south felt the same way towards the north.

Except for the little fact that white southerners had plenty of representation — indeed, they arguably had more than they deserved because non-voting slaves counted towards population totals. The only people without representation were the human beings held in brutal slavery by those whites.

The slaves were not emancipated till the end of the war because the whole English navy was sitting off the coast of New England ready to open up a can of whoop ass on the Union

England stayed out because they weren’t sure who would win. Had the South done a bit better, England would have come in to help them; because they did so badly, England didn’t want to back the losing side. The idea that they would have come in to prevent emancipation is absurd — especially given the fact that they had already emancipated all slaves under their authority.

I’ll never understand apologists for slavery and civil war. I don’t think I want to, either.

November 29, 2011 at 9:41 pm
(15) Steven says:

I’m not going to take time to dissect your entire argument, but I do want to touch on that last bit. The South nearly won the war. No one can deny that. In fact, they won more battles than the North. The South had far better generals, better trained soldiers, and more motivation to fight. The North was very literally one battle away from losing. England fully supported the South… until Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation. The Crown could no longer support the South because that meant they were clearly opposing the abolition of slavery, which Englishmen were large proponents for. The Emancipation Proclamation was a political move to re-energize the apathetic Union troops and to keep England out of the war.

June 1, 2010 at 9:56 am
(16) Anonymous says:

Slavery was the root cause of the Civil War, but there is much more to the story than this that should be mentioned. The North had established factories based on (heavily polluting) coal as an energy source, and they produced mainly manufactured goods such as steel. The South was a sparsely populated place that grew cotton and other agricultural goods. If you remember, there were no tractors during that time and farming is extremely labor intensive. Any actions that outlawed slavery meant that a state would lose a tremendous amount of economic potential.
When the North threatened to end slavery or prevent other states from employing slaves, they were effectively destroying the labor supply for the area. While this might seem acceptable, most parts of the country started as farming communities, and for them to grow, they needed cheap labor. This is no different than the USA telling other countries not to use coal or not to burn their forests because such actions are damaging to the environment, even though these actions are exactly how USA became an economic powerhouse.
Slavery was a means to an end (economic power), and the North wanted to eliminate it on their own terms, having participated in it for years. It was only an issue because it would have destroyed the South economically, but it, COUPLED WITH the fact that the South was losing power over their ability to control their own economic destiny (most of the population was in the North, so they had more “representation”). The very principles that the country were founded on (i.e., the idea of being represented regarding economic matters) was being taken away. Slavery just happened to be the most important economic issue at the time.
Rather than harping on what caused the Civil War, we should learn from it. We should see that the USA pulls the same stunts the South did a long time ago by not signing treaties, not mandating pollution controls, etc. Of course, other countries do the same to the USA. Whether or not these actions are moral or immoral will be left up to future generations to decide, just like the current article is discussing.

June 1, 2010 at 1:33 pm
(17) Austin Cline says:

If you remember, there were no tractors during that time and farming is extremely labor intensive.

It’s cotton farming that’s labor intensive, and it was especially labor intensive for the South because there was no incentive to improve. There were plenty of farms around the nation that got by without slaves. Unless you can argue that slavery was necessary for a farm to be economically viable, such that without slavery the agricultural industry would have fallen apart, then you don’t really have a point here.

Any actions that outlawed slavery meant that a state would lose a tremendous amount of economic potential.

No. Outlawing slavery would have undermined the profits of cotton farmers — profits built on the ability of those farmers to force labor from human beings who were not compensated for that labor. That’s what slavery is, remember. Thus the only “economic potential” lost is the potential extracted from the brutal, immoral system of slavery.

And that’s why even the so-called “economic” explanations for the Civil War ultimately come back to slavery.

When the North threatened to end slavery or prevent other states from employing slaves, they were effectively destroying the labor supply for the area.

That’s not true.

First, it’s not even a little true when it comes to preventing slavery from starting in a new area because such areas either have no labor supply to destroy (not enough people) or already have a labor supply: human beings who have to be paid.

Second, it’s not true even in areas where slavery already existed. What, do you think that abolishing slavery would cause all those human beings to just evaporate? They still existed and obviously would continue to be a supply of labor. Abolishing slavery doesn’t destroy “the labor supply,” it only destroys the supply of slave labor. The labor supply of free human beings who have to be paid would continue to exist.

While this might seem acceptable, most parts of the country started as farming communities, and for them to grow, they needed cheap labor.

All industries want “cheap labor,” because the cheaper the labor the more profits that the owners can have. Do note, though, that lots of farms got by just fine with merely “cheap labor,” as opposed to slave labor.

Slavery was a means to an end (economic power)

Did the ends justify the means?

It was only an issue because it would have destroyed the South economically,

And we know this because every other society that eliminated slavery was also destroyed economically. Oh, wait, that didn’t happen did it?

but it, COUPLED WITH the fact that the South was losing power over their ability to control their own economic destiny (most of the population was in the North, so they had more “representation”).

You’re forgetting the fact that the Senate doesn’t depend on population and no laws can be passed without the approval of the Senate.

The very principles that the country were founded on (i.e., the idea of being represented regarding economic matters) was being taken away.

You’re trying to claim that the South was having its representation taken away, which isn’t even vaguely true (at least, it wasn’t true until they seceded, which means that their only genuine loss of representation was entirely at their own hands). The actual situation you’re describing is a decrease is relative representative power — i.e., fewer political representatives relative to other regions.

One region having fewer or greater numbers of representatives relative to other regions does not in any way, shape, or form constitute a loss of “the very principles that the country were founded on.” Quite the contrary: the principles this country were founded upon require that regions where there are fewer people will have fewer representatives in the House of Representatives. That’s how the rules were set up and they were set up this way because that’s the only way to ensure fair and appropriate representation.

If a region with fewer people has as many representatives as one with more people, then it’s actually the people in the second region which are — as individuals — losing political power because they have fewer representatives per person. If a region with fewer people has fewer representatives than one with more people, then the political power of individuals can remain roughly equal.

To complain that it amounts to “taxation without representation” for a less-populated religion to have fewer representatives than a more-populated region is akin to complaining that up is down and black is white. It’s a complaint about something which is exactly the opposite of reality.

What’s more, the situation is revealed to be far, far worse when we remember that in the South, large numbers of people were being denied any political representation at all. Remember the slaves? Those were actual human beings who had no representation at any level of any government. If a person claims to be genuinely concerned about principles of “representation” in this context, they have to be equally concerned with the fact that black slaves lacked any representation at all. A person who ignores this in favor of only being concerned with the ability of whites to be represented at the expense of blacks is being disingenuous and pushing apologetics for White Supremacism.

Ending slavery was a step towards ensuring that blacks would have representation. So basically you’re complaining that it was a violation of the principles this country was founded upon to give political representation to blacks because that was achieved by Northerners using their political power to deny whites the ability to economically exploit blacks as slaves and that, in turn, entailed taking away the ability of those white citizens to have political representation in economic matters. Even though white citizens were never in any danger of losing political representation in economic matters — at most, all that was happening is that some regions were losing power relative to other regions in one part of one of the three branches of government.

Mere words are inadequate to fully express just how absurd such a complaint is.

June 4, 2010 at 10:20 am
(18) moniqua farland says:

The Civil War was most based on the slave issue. There were many people who escaped slavery and saved other slaves by risking their live. I will write more about slavery soon.

June 4, 2010 at 11:47 am
(19) MONIQUA FARLAND says:

Before on my last message i said i would put more information about slaves up. So here you go. Civil War

The Civil War was mainly about slavery. There were 3,500,000 slaves in 1860. They were able to be bought, sold, and given away as a gift. Some slaves got beaten. If they didn’t do what their boss told them to do, they would threaten the slave by saying that they were going to sell the slaves family. If the owner wanted to, he or she could sell a slaves family.
Most slaves worked threw the whole day. Some of them lived in huts. There was ten or twelve slaves in one hut. Slaves could not earn freedom. For some states, they did not have slavery. Some states could pick if they wanted salves or not.
At first in America, there were twenty slaves, then about fifteen million slaves arrived. Some people owned at least twenty slaves. For some states, there were two black slaves for one white person. The slaves had to have permission by their owner to get married and have kids. If a slave worked in a house they lived in the house.
For a slave, the food depended on where they lived. Every Saturday the men had 2 pounds of bacon, one peck and half of a cornmeal. The women had a half pound of meat, and a peck of a meal. The kids had one half peck each. This meal was meant to last a week. If they ever ran out of their meal, then they had to wait till the end of the week for another meal.
Most slaves clothes were torn and tattered. When slaves ran away, all they had was the clothes they were wearing.
Slaves could find freedom with the Underground Railroad. 100,000 used the Underground Railroad for freedom. In case if slaves tried to escape while being transported, they had to were chains. Slaves who traveled, had to wear tags. On wagons, there were compartments to help slaves escape. Slaves hid in swampy, wooded areas.
Harriet Tubman, ran away from slavery and saved others, by risking her life. William Still, helped slaves escape. Daniel Hise, hid runaways slaves in his house. Levi Coffin, let runaway slaves rest in his home. If anyone found out, that people were helping slaves by giving them food shelter and other things, they would be put in prison for six months and they would have to pay a $1000 fine. This is all i have so far about the slaves. Hope you learned something. :D

May 31, 2011 at 10:47 am
(20) scott says:

Now, it’s time for you to learn something, Monica. Please read with as much zeal and with an open mind as I read yours. I will preface this by stating that slavery can not be defended and the outcome of the war did result in the abolishment of slavery which was a great thing but it was NOT what started the war. Here it is in a nutshell and is factual and can be researched:

1) south began selling commodities to Europe for higher prices putting the industrialized north in a weak bargaining position and a huge economic strain on the north;
2)They cried foul and Congress passed HUGE tariff raising price for Europe so they stopped buying leaving the northern states as the only buyers.
3) the north, bargaining from a power position now, refused to buy at the old original prices now putting a huge economic strain on the south.
4) the affected southern states saw secession as their best option so they took it less they go bankrupt. They stated the Feds had no right to do that and the states should have that power.
5) The 1st state to secede was SC in Dec, 1860, the last was Tenn in 1861, the 1st shots were on April 12, 1861 yet the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t go into effect until Jan 1863. That was more than half way into the war. Slavery was never brought up until later.

It never was about slavery in the beginning – just economics – pure and simple. Did the south and north use it as a calling cry? Maybe. This article states that the south did but wouldn’t the north do the same? Napolean is often quoted as true history is never realized as it is written by the winners. As often as the south is deemed as racists and the north never is, don’t you find it odd that when one is deemed stupid or uneducated in sh*ts or movies you nearly always hear only 2 accents: ebonics or a southern twang?

May 31, 2011 at 11:37 am
(21) Austin Cline says:

It never was about slavery in the beginning – just economics – pure and simple.

It was about slavery through and through. It was about slavery in Bloody Kansas and it was about slavery in the statements of secession.

Maybe that’s why apologists like you never cite those statements and the new southern constitutions

June 4, 2010 at 9:35 pm
(22) John Hanks says:

The stupid Dred Scott decision enslaved the North to the South Politically it enflamed the North so that they realized that slavery could be used to enslave the North too by forcing the North to allow Southern slave owners to search their property.

June 13, 2010 at 5:38 pm
(23) R Mohr says:

If the war was not for Keeping People as slave?? The southern White wanted to keep slavery and the denial of basic human rights for Black people til 1960. So why are you lying about it. The primary reason was for money!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

July 7, 2010 at 1:50 am
(24) bret says:

Don’t you dare say only whites owned slaves. I won’t stand for a misrepresentation of history. http://www.issues-views.com/index.php/sect/1006/article/1091
Also note, that free black men served along with slaves and whites in the southern army, and were paid better there than they were in the Northern army. Also, when the north captured a black person, most of the time they forced them to work in army work camps for little to no money, and then sometimes even took the women and children away from the men without warning. I will be the first to admit that white southern slave owners committed some terrible acts, but I will not allow glorification of a disgusting group of hypocrites that the north was full of. Remember to note that the emancipation proclamation only freed slaves in the rebelling southern states, the northern states still allowed it. Also compare the major generals, R.E. Lee, and U.S. Grant. Grant owned slaves throughout the whole war, while Lee freed his.

August 1, 2010 at 10:09 am
(25) Mike says:

The war was more about money than anything else. The Northern factory owners pressured Lincoln to not let the South go in 1861, because they were getting cotton from the South. The southern plantation owners felt that their economic way of life was under threat because of the slavery issue.

Two of my ancestors owned slaves, but one of them was also a Unionist and assisted the Union during the war. Other ancestors fought for the Confederacy.

Only 25% of the Southern people owned slaves. Most people were poor, and were looked down on by the plantation owners. The poor people had no real stake in that war, but they were not told that they were going to fight for the economic well being of the plantation owners. The reason that the other 75% fought for the South was a desire to fight for their homes, and families against an invading foe. That reason was noble. As the war progressed, the poor Southern people realized that they were giving their all for the rich plantation owners that did not give a flying d@# about them or their families. The poor people were also impressed into the Southern army by groups that would take you at the barrel of a gun. There is a great book called “Rich Man’s War” that talks about this very subject. The Southern soldiers and sailors were brave men that, for the most part, did not have a stake in slavery. They fought for their families, and each other. That reason is honorable.

August 1, 2010 at 10:45 am
(26) Austin Cline says:

The southern plantation owners felt that their economic way of life was under threat because of the slavery issue.

It would be more accurate to say: the southern plantation owners feared that they wouldn’t make as much money if they couldn’t own other human beings.

Only 25% of the Southern people owned slaves.

So? The reasons for secession were spelled out very clearly by the states and the Confederate government. Slavery was their primary concern. The fact that only a minority of people actually owned slaves doesn’t change this, especially since a majority seem to have believed that they had a right to own slaves. That white supremacy is something that has continued, in various forms, right through today.

The reason that the other 75% fought for the South was a desire to fight for their homes, and families against an invading foe. That reason was noble.

So, you believe it is “noble” to fight to preserve chattel slavery. That’s what they were fighting for, after all, because it was the primary if not the sole reason for their government seceding and going to war.

The Southern soldiers and sailors were brave men that, for the most part, did not have a stake in slavery. They fought for their families, and each other. That reason is honorable.

The average German soldier didn’t have a stake in concentration camps, but that doesn’t mean it was “noble” for them to fight to preserve the Nazi government.

May 3, 2011 at 6:17 am
(27) Gy says:

“The average German soldier didn’t have a stake in concentration camps, but that doesn’t mean it was “noble” for them to fight to preserve the Nazi government.”

If anything you should compare the Northens soldiers to Nazi. Who invaded who,boy?

September 23, 2010 at 4:39 pm
(28) Dr H says:

Been having a similar discussion on another list, and chancing on this one couldn’t resist throwing in my $0.02.

What I’ve seen isn’t so much people denying the importance of slavery as an important cause of the Civil War, although there is /some/ of that. The position I’ve more often come across is a reaction to the simplistic proclamation, “the Civil War was fought to free the slaves!” While not in the same category as myths like “George Washington never told a lie,” that position still oversimplifies by omission right up to the brink of falsehood.

The Civil War was about a lot of things; slavery was one of them. But it’s not like Honest Abe jumped out of bed one morning and self-righteously decided to start a war to free the slaves. Indeed, he didn’t get around to -officially- freeing the slaves until the war was half-over. Instead, he waited for a politically expedient and militarily strategic moment to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

Coincidence? Hardly.

The end of slavery was one result of the war. But the war was neight wholely nor specifically fought to achieve that one end alone.

September 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm
(29) Austin Cline says:

The end of slavery was one result of the war. But the war was neight wholely nor specifically fought to achieve that one end alone.

That is true — the war was fought to preserve slavery. And that side lost. This is what the statement “the war was fought over slavery” means. The South feared that the North would force and end to slavery and seceded as a sort of preemptive strike in order to keep it.

And we all know how well preemptive wars go.

October 11, 2010 at 12:50 am
(30) Erik says:

In seeking a broader understanding of the Civil War, I started with the idea of Conscription, which was first used in the United States for the Civil War, I find myself on this web blog.

I find it highly interesting that the Civil War, being publicly was “fought to free the slaves” from the South, is also the first time we as a people used another form of slavery to fight its battles!

It makes about as much sense as saying, we enslaved a nation to end slavery, and even made an amendment to ensure it doesn’t happen again, while continuing its practices until 1973, when we went to an all volunteer army, and the means to the ends was finally realized. -But even today our youth must register with the “selective service” just in case one day we are needed to return to the fields.

Time for ‘we the people’ to start using the vast resource the internet is to do some homework. Something just doesn’t add up.

November 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm
(31) Lee says:
December 11, 2010 at 2:03 pm
(32) Abe says:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause. I shall try to correct errors when shown to be errors; and I shall adopt new views so fast as they shall appear to be true views.

I have here stated my purpose according to my view of official duty; and I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men every where could be free.

Yours,
A. Lincoln.

December 22, 2010 at 7:27 pm
(33) Chewbacca says:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

There it is, right out of old Abe’s mouth. He would preserve the union even if it meant not freeing any slaves. Doesn’t sound like slavery was on the top of his list of importance to me. And remember Abe said it and he doesn’t lie because he is Honest Abe. At the end of the day all wars are about money, and anyone that doesn’t believe that is in denial !!!

December 22, 2010 at 8:26 pm
(34) Austin Cline says:

Doesn’t sound like slavery was on the top of his list of importance to me.

Doesn’t matter because he didn’t precipitate the war. The war was caused by the southern states seceding and they made it unambiguously clear that they seceded in order to preserve slavery. Ergo, the civil war was ultimately over slavery.

At the end of the day all wars are about money, and anyone that doesn’t believe that is in denial !!!

Anyone with the least bit of familiarity with American society of that era knows that slavery was an important economic institution.

January 1, 2011 at 1:17 pm
(35) Chewbacca says:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.

I think you missed my point Austin. Lincoln himself stated that he would end the war even if it didn’t end slavery. Meaning that he was only interested in saving the union. It really isn’t that hard to decipher.

January 1, 2011 at 5:15 pm
(36) Austin Cline says:

I got your point; it was an irrelevant point. Secession occurred to protect slavery. The war was to end secession. The war only occurred because of slavery.

January 2, 2011 at 12:37 pm
(37) Chewbacca says:

You got my irrelevant point ? Then you made my irrelevant point relevant again.

Austin says “The war was to end secession”.

That’s the same thing that Abe said and the same thing that I was pointing out. Why secession occurred is not relevant. We are not talking about why secession occurred, we are talking about why the Civil War took place. Secession occurred for more than just slavery. Yes, slavery was one factor, but one of many.

Since as you say, the war was to end secession. And secession was to protect slavery. I can then point out that, protection of slavery was to protect profits. Protection of profits was to protect a standard of living. So I can then say that the civil war was to protect an expected standard of living. How far back on the tree do we have to go to justify our position ? Your view is just the politically correct view and the doesn’t make it any more right.

If I eat cheeseburgers for 30 years and then die of a heart attack. Why did I die ? I say a heart attack. In your argument, it would be cheeseburgers. That is flawed logic !!!

January 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm
(38) Austin Cline says:

That’s the same thing that Abe said and the same thing that I was pointing out. Why secession occurred is not relevant.

Why secession occurred is the cause of the Civil War. The cause of secession is the cause of the entire conflagration.

You make a grave error in treating Lincoln’s attitudes as the “cause” and the “reason.” That’s like saying the “cause” of WWII was the desire to stop Nazi Germany, not the Nazi’s desire for domination and conquest – a position any scholar would laugh at.

Since as you say, the war was to end secession. And secession was to protect slavery. I can then point out that, protection of slavery was to protect profits.

That’s not all it was, as demonstrated by the fact that white supremacy was such an integral part of slavery. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been blacks alone who were enslaved.

If I eat cheeseburgers for 30 years and then die of a heart attack. Why did I die ? I say a heart attack. In your argument, it would be cheeseburgers. That is flawed logic !!!

If cheeseburgers are the sole cause of your heart attack, then you died because you ate cheeseburgers.

January 12, 2011 at 4:56 am
(39) Mike says:

Austin,

My question – Southern states had to know that they were essentially killing slavery as an institution by seceding, because it meant that any slave could cross the border and no longer become a slave(because they no longer have the right to cross the border and retrieve their “property”).

Doesn’t this strike you as odd, or was it just something they didn’t think of when they seceded solely for slavery?

IMO – The events leading up to the Civil War were two-fold. Slavery, of course, was key.

But the true heart of it was the shift from a collection of states united by a common Constitution and Bill of Rights, to a central government that dictated to that collection. This was not the intention of the founding fathers, and I believe that while the intentions were noble, our ancestors messed up the translation and we have the mess of that government now.

I believe it IS possible to say that the Civil War started because of both slavery AND state rights. It’s not a versus.

And trust me, slavery is abhorrent, and I’m far from apologist. But looking realistically at our country at that time, not very many of our countrymen had very great morals as it applied to fellow human beings. I think that’s what many “apologists” try to get across. Yes, the South had slavery, but, at least by our standards, the majority of Americans in the 1860s were racists, even Lincoln.

January 12, 2011 at 6:30 am
(40) Austin Cline says:

Doesn’t this strike you as odd, or was it just something they didn’t think of when they seceded solely for slavery?

No, I don’t think they expected to have a problem policing their borders.

But the true heart of it was the shift from a collection of states united by a common Constitution and Bill of Rights, to a central government that dictated to that collection. This was not the intention of the founding fathers

That shift occurred when the Articles of Confederation were dropped in favor of a Constitution, and thus was precisely what the “founding fathers” intended.

I believe it IS possible to say that the Civil War started because of both slavery AND state rights. It’s not a versus.

Of course it’s possible: it’s was about the states having a “right” to permit the ownership of other human beings.

Then again, there is the little fact that states don’t have rights. For someone who is trying to promote the Constitution, you should recognize the fact that only people have rights. Governments, in contrast, have authority and power. The mere mention of “states rights” is a complete reversal of some of the most basic principles that the Constitution establishes.

States don’t have rights. Governments don’t have rights. Only people have rights – and one of those rights is the right to not be owned by other people. Harping on about “states rights” in the context of states trying to have the “right” to enslave human beings is Orwellian at best.

And trust me, slavery is abhorrent, and I’m far from apologist. But looking realistically at our country at that time, not very many of our countrymen had very great morals as it applied to fellow human beings. I think that’s what many “apologists” try to get across. Yes, the South had slavery, but, at least by our standards, the majority of Americans in the 1860s were racists, even Lincoln.

That is true… and it’s completely irrelevant. The South seceded in order to preserve the ability to own other human beings and for no other purpose. The southern states made it abundantly clear in all their seceding documents that owning slaves was vital and, what’s more, that they felt they were fulfilling the Will of God in doing so. The fact that white people in the north were racists doesn’t even remotely affect any of this.

January 27, 2011 at 9:12 pm
(41) Chewbacca says:

You make a grave error in treating Lincoln’s attitudes as the “cause” and the “reason.” That’s like saying the “cause” of WWII was the desire to stop Nazi Germany, not the Nazi’s desire for domination and conquest – a position any scholar would laugh at.

Two totally different scenarios. Slavery was normal back then in the north and the south and an established practice. The Nazi’s desire to dominate the world was not normal at all. Your argument is as thin as rice paper.

BTW, how could any error made on a subject 150 years old be considered GRAVE ? None of this shit matters anymore !!!

If cheeseburgers are the sole cause of your heart attack, then you died because you ate cheeseburgers.

So when someone at my funeral asks what I died of, is the answer cheeseburgers or heart attack ? What does the death certificate say, cheeseburgers or heart attack ? Or more precisely Myocardial infarction.

The direct cause of the Civil War was secession.
The indirect cause of the Civil War was slavery.
The direct cause of secession was slavery.
The indirect cause of secession was profit.
The direct cause of slavery was profit.
The indirect cause of slavery was greed.

You’re putting the cart before the horse. Your logic is too wrapped up in your emotions on the subject, therefore it is flawed. You are trying to make this about right and wrong. Right and wrong has nothing to do with this discussion……

Greed—–>Profit—–> Slavery—–>Secession—–>Civil War

Of course there are many other things that factor in. But I guess that we will have to agree to disagree. That in no means that your assumptions are correct though.

January 28, 2011 at 7:21 am
(42) Austin Cline says:

Two totally different scenarios.

And every war is different, but the fact remains that you’re confusing the cause with the reason – you’re confusing the immediate goals of those reacting to the ultimate causes of those who started the conflict.

Lincoln didn’t start the conflict, the South did. It’s the reasons why the South started the conflict which are the reasons for the war, not Lincoln’s political goals in his reaction which were the reasons for the war.

Slavery was normal back then in the north and the south and an established practice.

Uh, no. Slavery was not “normal” in the north. It was illegal in the north.

So when someone at my funeral asks what I died of, is the answer cheeseburgers or heart attack ?

That’s a different question. What you “died of” is a heart attack. The answer to the question “why did he die” though lies in why you had a heart attack: genetic defect, injury, cheeseburgers, etc.

Your logic is too wrapped up in your emotions on the subject, therefore it is flawed.

That’s right, psychologize the disagreement instead of responding substantively to the issues. It’s easier to imagine that people who disagree with you suffer from some sort of defect that doesn’t apply to you than to engage their ideas directly.

Greed—>Profit—> Slavery—>Secession—>Civil War

Well, by that “logic” we can just trace ever conflict back to “human weakness” or “human fallibility” and completely ignore things like slavery as a cause of wars. Sadly, ignoring the necessary and fundamental role of slavery in causing the Civil War would also prevent us from understanding not only the conflict itself, but also how it occurred and the aftermath. So your “logic” is a means to undermine understanding and excuse the people who are responsible.

Let’s extend it and apply the same “logic” to World War II – it’s just “human weakness” that caused it. We don’t need to learn about Nazism at all to understand it, right? sheesh.

June 1, 2011 at 9:49 am
(43) scott says:

Austin,

You stated: Uh, no. Slavery was not “normal” in the north. It was illegal in the north.

Not true. As I mentioned earlier, Maryland, Deleware, and New Jersey all had slaves at the time of secession in 1860. In 1860, 25% of all slaves were in the north – 1 million of 4 million. While it may not have been as ‘normal’ as it was in the south, it was most certainly not illegal in ll northern states. The tariff on exports was more of an immediate reason than slavery. You state no govt has rights but authority and power – semantics man. The states were having their authority taken away from them.

February 23, 2011 at 3:44 pm
(44) Sam says:

Blah!!!!!! stupid south!!1

April 26, 2011 at 5:03 pm
(45) Southerngirl says:

Can anyone blame the real persons responsible? THE SPANISH or even their own africian kinsmen. They heaped all these people upon “the” land and we kicked the spanish rearends out, they didn’t leave with all their belongings. Then we put the “savages” to work in our fields, with our families and at our expense. And again with no graditude. JUST like today with generational welfare. Take care of me!
Yes, in this war, human rights were addressed and taken care of. However, you pompous yankees with all your retoric about being the better side, what did you do for the INDIAN? The American Indian. Feel good about your reservations? Feel like a winner now! Crap all Crap

April 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm
(46) Southerngirl says:

Who are the North to speak of great crimes against the blacks. We didn’t take their horses, run them off their land, kill their families and corral them into places that could not sustain them. We provided what we could with what the Spanish left us with. Yeah, they had to work, bet that concept is looked at differently now when an honest person needs assistance they can’t cause it’s all gone. Bet you wish they were working and paying taxes now! Slavery in fact is wrong, but the North never came an rescued them all and put them to work, blacks still suffered for years.

May 28, 2011 at 11:17 am
(47) Joe Smith says:

Not sure why the same people thought it was ok to imprison Indians in reservations. Yeah it was about slavery not money obviously.

July 8, 2011 at 6:17 am
(48) Kenric L. Ashe says:

“There is a common myth …” Wow, that’s quite a biased way to start a debate. Why do people try to deny the importance of slavery to the Civil War? I for one am not one of those people, but conversely, why do some people believe the north was so righteous? They certainly didn’t have any problem buying up all the slave-produced products … until the prices got too high. I agree that the states’ rights issue was used to demonize the north, but the issue of slavery was an attempt to demonize the south. Why do some people try to deny the importance of ECONOMICS on both sides to the Civil War? Money is how politicians get elected, so it’s only natural that it’s always their primary motivation.

July 8, 2011 at 8:10 am
(49) Austin Cline says:

Wow, that’s quite a biased way to start a debate.

What debate? The primary reason for secession was slavery. Secession was the reason for the Civil War starting. Ergo, slavery was the primary reason for the Civil War. This doesn’t mean that there weren’t other issues involved as well, but it does mean that whining about “states rights” and “economics” is little more than a red herring.

There isn’t any more of a debate about that than there is a debate about the reality of evolution. There are, however, some people who are in denial for religious and/or political reasons who try to pretend that there is some sort of legitimate dispute or disagreement about the subject.

why do some people believe the north was so righteous?

Cite someone. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who disagrees that the north had plenty of its own failings, like for example extensive racism and White Supremacism. That doesn’t change the fact, though, that they had grown enough morally to at least ban slavery – a not-insignificant improvement which the south not only failed to achieve, but in fact actively opposed, even to the point of starting a war over it. However many problems there were in the north, they at least didn’t initiate a war to defend ownership of other human beings.

They certainly didn’t have any problem buying up all the slave-produced products … until the prices got too high.

Can you establish a causal link between price changes and the Civil War? If not, what you say is irrelevant at best.

I agree that the states’ rights issue was used to demonize the north, but the issue of slavery was an attempt to demonize the south.

Yeah, it’s just so wrong to criticize people for presuming to own other human beings.

Why do some people try to deny the importance of ECONOMICS on both sides to the Civil War?

Perhaps because the reasons given by the southern states for secession all centered around slavery and not at all around things like prices?

Money is how politicians get elected, so it’s only natural that it’s always their primary motivation.

Yeah, we can see that even today as politicians keep demonstrating that economic issues like abortion, gay rights, and science denial are their primary motiv…. oh, wait….

July 9, 2011 at 1:34 pm
(50) Jamieson says:

To any who say the civil war was not about slavery, allow me to quote the “Cornerstone Speech” made by the Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens. The speech was made to outline the Confederacy’s changes to the constitution.

“But not to be tedious in enumerating the numerous changes for the better, allow me to allude to one other though last, not least. The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.”

This is the Vice President, clearly stating that the cause of the secession and the follwing war was in fact, over slavery.

October 9, 2011 at 8:48 pm
(51) Clarke Kallinen says:

If the Civil War was about slavery, then a million white men lost their lives because of slavery. In other words: whites paid a bigger price than blacks for the institution of slavery. Talk about politically incorrect! Of course you’re not allowed to say any such thing — never mind that it’s true.

October 9, 2011 at 9:03 pm
(52) Austin Cline says:

If the Civil War was about slavery, then a million white men lost their lives because of slavery.

Most of which were defending slavery and white supremacism.

In other words: whites paid a bigger price than blacks for the institution of slavery.

Only because they were defending it.

Talk about politically incorrect! Of course you’re not allowed to say any such thing — never mind that it’s true.

Indeed, whites in the south don’t want to hear about the fact that the Confederacy existed to protect and promote a grotesque human evil and that it wasn’t the least bit “noble.” Never mind that it’s true. That might explain the lengths people will go to rationalize it – better to live in a fantasy world where the Confederacy was decent and civilized rather than admit the truth.

October 28, 2011 at 3:58 am
(53) krissmith777 says:

It would be more accurate to say that the Civil War was not ALL about slavery. The secession of the states of South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas occurred because they thought Lincoln was too anti-Slavery, but that by itself would not have inherently lead to war.

Fort Sumter was fired upon because the Union army refused to leave, so from the Confederate point of view, the Federals would have been invading.

Lincoln said time and again that his main aim was to preserve the Union, so the issue with him was whether the states had a right to secede (technically they may have, though one could also argue that Lincoln also had a right to say “Oh, no you don’t.”)

We also need to remember that the states of Virginia, Arkansas and North Carolina didn’t secede over slavery. The first two seceded because of Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to avenge Sumter. Virginia actually voted just days before by a 2:1 margin to NOT secede. North Carolina seceded simply to avoid fighting the south.

I would argue that Slavery caused a domino effect that brought about the war, since it was the reason that the LOWER south seceded, and Lincoln fought the war to bring them back into the Union.

November 29, 2011 at 9:34 pm
(54) Steven says:

In my opinion, declaring slavery to be the definitive cause of the Civil War is a bit trite. Slavery was just a platform that represented the real issues the South fought against. They seceded from the Union to preserve their ‘way of life.’ They saw nothing in the Constitution that said they couldn’t own slaves, and that’s because there really wasn’t anything that prohibited it. The rise of industrialism in the North was one of the factors that led to the rapid growth of sectionalism in the half century prior to the Civil War. The South continued to operate a more merchant based economy. They relied on agricultural exports to sustain the life they had become accustomed to. As the government moved away from this, the South was essentially left behind. Fifty years of increasing tension had come and gone before the Civil War eventually broke out. I believe the true cause of the Civil War was states’ rights and not slavery.

November 30, 2011 at 11:50 am
(55) Austin Cline says:

In my opinion, declaring slavery to be the definitive cause of the Civil War is a bit trite.

So, it’s “overused” and “lacking originality”? Those are hardly legitimate criticisms if the position is well-supported by the historical evidence.

Slavery was just a platform that represented the real issues the South fought against.

They why did the southern leaders consistently present slavery as the real and most important issue? If you’re going to assert that you know the “real issues” better than those who were personally responsible for secession and fighting the civil war, you’d better be able to muster up lots of strong historical evidence.

They seceded from the Union to preserve their ‘way of life.’

A way of life that was utterly dependent on slavery.

I believe the true cause of the Civil War was states’ rights and not slavery.

But you present absolutely no evidence for this. What’s more, what little argument you do offer actually points in the opposite direction – in the south, the “way of life” was not “states’ rights” nor was it somehow dependent upon “states rights.” Everything comes back to slavery; the only point that “states’ rights” enters the picture is when people try to rationalize secession and civil war without defending the institution of slavery.

I’m not going to take time to dissect your entire argument

You don’t address any of the arguments at all.

The Crown could no longer support the South because that meant they were clearly opposing the abolition of slavery, which Englishmen were large proponents for.

That would always have been the case because southern leaders defended secession and war on the need to preserve slavery.

The Emancipation Proclamation was a political move to re-energize the apathetic Union troops and to keep England out of the war.

Of course it was political, but that doesn’t change the fact that the South seceded specifically to preserve slavery and they even said so, repeatedly. Your implicit insistence that you somehow know their motives and goals better than they do, without presenting a shred of evidence to back that up, is not merely unconvincing but absurd.

December 2, 2011 at 11:01 am
(56) Jeremy says:

Basic logical truth: if a implies b, and b implies c, then a MUST imply c. There is abundant historical evidence in the secessionist’s own statements and the new constitutions of confederate states that the secession occurred to preserve slavery. It is a fact that the secession lead directly to war. Thus the protection of slavery lead to the secession (a implies b) and the secession lead to war (b implies c) so the ultimate cause of the war was indeed slavery (thus a implies c) Stop saying it was economics when the economy was based on slave labor.

December 6, 2011 at 10:57 pm
(57) Tim says:

The civil war was not primarily about slavery. Get it through your head. POWER, MONEY, and GREED on both sides caused it. The North was definately more guilty of this. And now Yankees praise themselves for freeing the slaves and being the educated people, which is just not true. Yall need to get over yourselves and see the truth. I am not saying slavery is right, I am only saying it was definately not the number 1 cause. The North tried to make it seem slavery was to make the South look like the bad guy.

December 8, 2011 at 7:12 am
(58) Austin Cline says:

The civil war was not primarily about slavery.

Then you should be able to address all the evidence and counter-arguments raised above. The fact that you not only failed, but didn’t even bother to try, suggests that you can’t and know you can’t.

This raises the question of why you’d advance a position that you know you can’t defend against critiques that you are fully aware of. It’s unethical to say the least.

Get it through your head. POWER, MONEY, and GREED on both sides caused it.

Yes, the greed of white Christians who couldn’t stand the idea of no longer being allowed to own other human beings as property. The desire of white Christians who hold absolute power over the lives of blacks from Africa. The money that white Christians made from living off the slave labor of other human beings.

The North was definately more guilty of this.

As opposed to the selfless, altruistic white Christian slave owners? Don’t make me laugh.

I am not saying slavery is right

You also don’t seem to think that there is much that’s wrong with it, since you consider the non-slaveholding north less guilty than the slave-owning south.

The North tried to make it seem slavery was to make the South look like the bad guy.

No one needed to ‘make’ the south look like the bad guy – they did that to themselves by seceding in order to preserve the ability to own human beings as slaves and going to war to preserve the ability to own human beings as slaves. That’s bad and they were bad guys.

December 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm
(59) James says:

Interesting comments. One thing I’ve learned: It’s all about the money. I suspect it’s always been that way. I’m not going to argue about the Civil War, but being from the Deep South originally and then getting out, I feel I have some unique viewpoints on slavery, racism, etc. I’d like to say that slavery is not unique to what we now know as the U.S.A. Slavery was big business for thousands of years before it ever arrived on these shores. Many Americans seem to be ignorant of that fact. I think slavery in the U.S. evolved independently of slavery elsewhere and picked-up some unique qualities. The good “Christian” folk in the South used their bibles to defend their ownership of slaves, which I find abhorrent, but typically Christian. No wonder I’m an atheist! I can remember seeing the signs over the water fountain in the train station as a child just prior to the Civil Rights act of 1964 that segregated the white drinking fountains from the “colored” fountains. Not much has changed with time, if you look deep enough. I’ve held jobs in many states that bordered the South, and the way employees are treated makes me wonder if slavery was abolished at all. Indeed, the laws in these states are Machiavellian in the extreme. The owner of the means of production has every right, while the employee is lower than an insect, has no rights whatsoever and is considered a necessary nuisance in order to get the work done—indeed, an easily replaceable castaway. Some actual slaves probably had better working conditions. All of this is done with the Stars and Stripes billowing in the background and the sound of non-stop quoting of bible verses. You’re not going to get paid much, either. Any mention of a labor union will result in being fired immediately. Yet, I’ll always remember an old lady working beside me looking up and saying, “Ain’t God Great?”

December 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm
(60) morgan says:

I’ve been in Central TX for 9 yrs. and neighbors tell me 20 yrs ago there were signs at county lines saying “N*** dont let sun set on you here.” And the like. They were called sundown laws. Also, the year I moved here, a black family was burned out of the next tiny town over. So where does all this black hatred come from? I have to believe because these black folks are just free souls, considered Americans by the rest of the U.S.

December 14, 2011 at 4:32 pm
(61) Tim Lister says:

I find it interesting that defenders of the Confederacy like to bring up the Emancipation Proclamation as if it somehow proves the Union didn’t care about slavery up until that point. It was indeed a politically expedient action on Lincoln’s part, but in timing rather than content. I doubt anyone is prepared to argue that the Union would have allowed the Confederate states to keep slavery in perpetuity if they’d surrendered before the Proclamation was issued. The Proclamation simply made Lincoln’s intentions for the South immediate and legally binding, i.e. he publicly and irrecoverably committed himself and the Union as a whole to a plan for the South that they already openly supported. It was a powerful rallying point, and it worked for the same reason Stephens brought up slavery in his speech to citizens of the Confederacy. The citizens of the Union believed in continuing the Civil War because for them it was primarily a moral fight against slavery, and they believed in it just as much as most Southerners believed the Civil War was a moral fight to protect slavery. It also reassured blacks living in the Confederacy that the Union would guarantee their immediate and unconditional freedom if they prevailed against the secessionists.

December 17, 2011 at 6:03 pm
(62) John says:

No, the civil war was a war about atheism. The atheist south wanted to force the North to become atheist as well. The atheist aggressors failed, of course, to force atheism upon humanity. The war in Iraq is another example of a war caused by atheism. This is in addition to world wars one and two, and the revolutionary war, in which atheist UK tried to force its colonies to convert to atheism. You people have caused every war that has ever happened and you should be utterly ashamed of yourselves you filthy atheists.

April 19, 2012 at 12:35 pm
(63) Guy says:

Austin Cline:
“The primary reason for secession was slavery. Secession was the reason for the Civil War starting.”

Since Jeremy tried to use logic to defend this idea, I think I’ll try and use set theory to oppose it.

The cause of the Civil War (some element x) can be found in secession (set A) or slavery (set B), or both:
“x” is a subset of “A” union “B”.

Would the North have allowed the South to secede if the South’s stated reason for secession was something other than slavery:
Can the element “x” be found in the set “B” minus “A”?

If the North would still have gone to war to stop the secession, then the element “x” (cause of Civil War) can be found in set “A” (secession), not set “B” (slavery). Which would make secession the cause of the war, not slavery.

Can anyone find a logical flaw with this? And I mean logical in the formal sense, not “intuitive logic”…

April 20, 2012 at 5:55 pm
(64) Austin Cline says:

Can anyone find a logical flaw with this?

Yes: the mere fact that the North would have gone to war to preserve the Union in a hypothetical alternate universe where South seceded for some other reason means nothing for the events that actually happened in our universe.

The South seceded to preserve slavery. The South seceded for the “right” of white people to hold other human beings in bondage. The North went to war to prevent that secession from breaking up the Union.

Ergo, the war was primarily about slavery. That’s the largest, most immediate cause of the events that led to first shots being fired.

That a war likely would have happened in some completely different set of circumstances with different causes doesn’t change the actual causes in our universe.

June 13, 2012 at 2:20 am
(65) Cameralynns says:

To Austin Cline…
You have a one tract mind and not open the big picture! In your “opinion”, the sole reason the civil war started was because the “south” wanted to protect their right to have slaves? Correct?… Then Please tell me why (in your “opinion”)… they felt the NEED to protect those rights? The true reason the civil war began can be found in that answer… Please do not misconstrue this question to mean that slavery was a good thing… It is in fact an abomination to human rights. Also please note that as stated in many comments above, the North was as guilty as the South in that regard. While they made claims of outlawing slavery, they still owned them, and in the process of war, mistreated men and women of color to show and “unspoken” white supremacy. They certainly did not put their money where their mouth was. There is never only one single reason that a war begins. It does however always boil down to one common denominator… Money… or something of monotary value… such as oil.. It is true that every war is different. Our conflict today with Iraq for instance… some would say it is a war on religion… others would say it is a fight to control the oil. The truth is, both have relevance… It is important to teach all aspects of history, and not let only one be brought to the foreground. Our future generations will lose out in importants lessons. “Those who forget the past tend to make the same mistakes in the future.” We can not leave anything out, or focus on just one thing. Every element gives cause and effect.

June 13, 2012 at 9:16 am
(66) Austin Cline says:

Then Please tell me why (in your “opinion”)… they felt the NEED to protect those rights?

Because they believed that, at some unknown time in the future, someone might tell them that blacks are human beings who can’t be owned. So they wanted to create a new nation explicitly founded on the superiority of whites who have the authority to own blacks.

August 21, 2012 at 1:46 pm
(67) Russ says:

As do most people, the author refuses to separate the war from Southern secession. The later may have happened largely because of slavery, but the war happened because of Northern aggression. The South defended itself when Lincoln sent in troops and military supplies to a fort in land claimed by the Confederacy, and in response Lincoln sent invading armies to occupy the South and force it under his boot heel.

The war was never a “civil” war because the South never wanted to take over the North. A civil war is citizens of the same country fighting each other for control. The South seceded and was a separate nation which Lincoln then fought into submission. Considered another way, it may have been a civil war if the South’s goal was to occupy the Northern states and institute its form of government over the entirety of what is now the United States. As we know, this was not their aim.

Finally, ask yourself who the Southern soldiers were. While there were many brave young men from upper class families who joined the Confederate Army and Navy as officers, the vast majority of soldiers were dirt poor who could never own a slave. Do you really think these young men were fighting to keep slavery around for the super rich, or do you think they were motivated to fight to repel the invasion of their country? Which would you fight for?

August 21, 2012 at 3:25 pm
(68) Austin Cline says:

As do most people, the author refuses to separate the war from Southern secession. The later may have happened largely because of slavery, but the war happened because of Northern aggression.

Even though the South shot first and regularly used violence to enforce its policies.

The South defended itself when Lincoln sent in troops

…to stop the secession, which he was legally authorized to do.

The war was never a “civil” war because the South never wanted to take over the North.

Irrelevant, as that’s not the definition of the term.

A civil war is citizens of the same country fighting each other for control.

No, it’s a war among the citizens. Period. And that’s what it was because the southern states had no legal authorize to leave.

Finally, ask yourself who the Southern soldiers were.

Poor men duped by rich plutocrats into fighting to defend an evil system of slavery which was designed to further enrich the plutocrats.

Not all that different from a lot of wars, sadly.

Do you really think these young men were fighting to keep slavery around for the super rich

Yes, they were, though it wasn’t explained to them in those terms. It was explained to them that they were fighting for a “way of life” and to preserve the “biblical order” of society.

Not all that different from a lot of wars, sadly.

Which would you fight for?

The North – even if I were from the South, I wouldn’t fight to defend a pseudo-nation that was based on and existed for the sole purpose of preserving slavery. That’s what makes a person evil, as does developing convoluted apologetics to justify such action.

September 5, 2012 at 8:42 pm
(69) Victoria says:

Great argument Austin. I can imagine how difficutlt it can be debating with people that refuse to hear the truth.

I used to work with a man from NC. I live in CA. I could not believe the words that came out of his mouth. I have to paraphrase as I cannot remember verbatim, but it was something like,’Slaves didn’t have it so bad, in fact, slaves had a pretty good life. Most slave owners treated them pretty well.”

I could not believe he said that. I guess that is what is taught in history classes in the South.

September 9, 2012 at 3:29 pm
(70) believer says:

“…to stop the secession, which he was legally authorized to do”

1
as with any war: poor man serves as cannonfood for the interests of those in power
2
why weren´t the secessionists allowed to secede
3
may be slavery was one trigger of that horrible war

(comparable to the assassination in sarajevo which was the trigger but not a reason of already long pending WWI)

October 3, 2012 at 1:51 pm
(71) john says:

I am an englishman and have read whith interst all of your comments. It would not suprise me to learn that our grubby little paws are in this somewhere. I was taught that we needed cheap cotten to supply our mills in northern England and were not particular how we got it. We were prepared to support theSouth and for the Northern states to be defeated. Our prize for the support of the Southern states would have been annexing of the North thereby revenging our defeat by the Continental Army in the war of independance. Its the old British tactic devide and rule.

October 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm
(72) Qhuinn says:

I as would my (slave) ancestors would Soooo disagree.

November 25, 2012 at 1:58 pm
(73) Sid says:

If the root cause of the Civil war was freedom of the slaves, then please explain why four of the slave states did not secede from the Union and why many of the slave holders who fought for the Union did not free their slaves until the passing of the 13th ammendment?

Unlike Grant, Lee freeded his slaves before the passing of the 13th ammendment.

November 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm
(74) Austin Cline says:

If the root cause of the Civil war was freedom of the slaves, then please explain why four of the slave states did not secede from the Union and why many of the slave holders who fought for the Union did not free their slaves until the passing of the 13th ammendment?

Your question implies that if the states that seceded did so in order to preserve slavery, then every state that wanted to preserve slavery would necessary agree that secession was the best way to achieve that goal. That argument does not, however, work.

Slave states that did not secede didn’t have enough votes in their legislatures to pass secession resolutions. This can happen for a variety of reasons, the simplest of which would be that not ever supporter of slavery also believed that it was necessary to secede in order to preserve slavery. There were disagreements about whether Lincoln intended to end slavery or not once taking office; many in the South feared he would and they used that fear to push for secession.

Unlike Grant, Lee freeded his slaves before the passing of the 13th ammendment.

Unlike Grant, Lee fought a war to preserve the brutal institution of slavery. Freeing your own slaves while killing hundreds of thousands to ensure that hundreds of thousands more would stay in chains doesn’t create moral balance.

And by the way, the official record of Grant freeing his only slave, a slave he got from his father-in-law, is dated 1859. This was before the Civil War and at a time when Grant was desperate for money.

December 1, 2012 at 2:51 pm
(75) Honest Abe says:

“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 or jurors of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” – Abe

http://archive.org/stream/lincolndouglasde00linc/lincolndouglasde00linc_djvu.txt

December 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm
(76) Austin Cline says:

“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…”

Yes, it would appear that he thought this at the time. His later actions would indicate that, to some extent, he changed his mind.

None of this, though, has any bearing on the South’s secession and thus the Civil War ultimately being about slavery.

December 4, 2012 at 11:49 pm
(77) Charles says:

The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union.
Lincoln stated this himself. Does not matter what the cause of the secession was. If the South had seceded for any reason there would have been war. Did not matter what the reason for secession was.

If the South had not seceded the war would not have occurred. If the South had not seceded slavery would have gone on in the South and there would have been no war.

The reason for the Southern states seceding is immaterial. If the South had seceded for any reason the North would have made war..
Saying it was about slavery is just an excuse to cover up the tyrannical acts of the North.

Not a single Northern soldier was saying to himself “I am doing this to end the evil of slavery” as he entered battle. Most Northern soldiers were drafted.

It was all about greedy Capitalists same as war has always been and always will be.

December 5, 2012 at 2:11 pm
(78) Austin Cline says:

The Civil War was fought to preserve the Union.

The union needed to be preserved because of the desire of southern states to put slavery over and above the union.

Does not matter what the cause of the secession was.

Of course it matters because without the reason for secession, there would be no secession. By definition, the reason matters.

If the South had not seceded the war would not have occurred.

If southerners hadn’t put the institution of slavery over and above liberty, democracy, and union, the war would not have occurred.

The reason for the Southern states seceding is immaterial.

The reason for secession is everything because it is the reason why the war was started.

Saying it was about slavery is just an excuse to cover up the tyrannical acts of the North.

Because there was nothing tyrannical about the institution of slavery or all the abridgments of civil rights that the South committed in order to preserve slavery.

It was all about greedy Capitalists same as war has always been and always will be.

Yeah, sure, greedy capitalists against the pure, honesty, moral southern slavers.

May 29, 2013 at 1:04 pm
(79) Guthrie says:

Austin,
Enjoyed the commentary and your dissection of the opposing views. I was somewhat surprised how emotionally charged and virulent the retorts from some posters became when the root cause of the war was logically established as slavery. I suppose its a legacy that I wouldn’t want associated with my heritage either however as a black American whose roots are in Georgia it is closely tied to my identity as well.

A couple of thoughts
1) I learned of the cotton tariffs and disputes over whether new states being added to the union would allow slavery in middle school twenty some years ago. Those issues, in a magical universe where cotton profits were not ill gotten gains from enslaving people because of pigment, are valuable insight into the mind of the Confederates.
2) I don’t believe many Black Americans care whether Lincoln, Grant or every white soldier in the union was racist and/or only fought in the civil war because they wanted to preserve the Union. You are no less evil or justified for your crimes against humanity because others aren’t saints.
3) Africans had slaves or indentured servants, sold Africans, primarily enemy combatants, to slave traders and like all other races in human history have been inhumane to each other. It wasn’t multigenerational, based off race and tied to religion and they are not Americans so I don’t see why this is relevant to a discussion about whether slavery was the cause of the Civil war.
4) The number of Africans that died in the transatlantic shipping of slaves is estimated between 1.2 million and 2.4 million and another 8.0 million are estimated to have died in the slave raids. These deaths and the deaths of those who died in the war are horrible but fail to capture the true cost of institutionalized slavery. The loss of culture, intellectual and monetary wealth which we still see the effects of today.

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