THE SOUTHERN SIDE OF THE CIVIL WAR:
FACTS YOUR HISTORY TEACHER MAY NOT HAVE MENTIONED
ABOUT THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES
Michael T. Griffith
@All Rights Reserved
Soon after I began to study the Civil War, I realized that much of what I had been taught about it in school was either wrong or incomplete. It has been said that history is written by the victors. This is especially true when it comes to the Civil War. The Southern viewpoint is rarely presented fairly in our public schools and textbooks today. I believe it is important that we as Americans know the whole truth about the Civil War. The purpose of this article is to present the Southern side of the story.
The following basic facts are
undisputed: The seven states of the
The version of the Civil War that is taught in nearly all textbooks goes something like this:
“The only reason the South
wanted to leave the
We will consider twelve issues relating to the Civil War:
· Why Did the South Secede?
· Did the South Have the Right to Secede?
· What Caused the War?
· Who Started the War?
· The Emancipation Proclamation
· Republicans, the North, and Racism
· Was the War Fought Over Slavery?
· Did the South Control the Federal Government Until 1860?
· The Reconstruction Era
· The True Nature of the War
· What If the South Had Been Allowed to Go in Peace?
Why Did the South Secede?
Before we examine why the
South seceded, perhaps we should first consider why a majority of Northern
leaders opposed secession to the point of using force against the South. In
other words, why did Lincoln and most other Republican leaders refuse to allow
the South to go in peace? Did they
oppose secession because of slavery? No,
they did not. In fact, most people aren’t aware that, even as president,
Most Republicans who opposed
secession said they opposed it because they believed it was unconstitutional. In
their view, no state had the right to leave the
Not only did most Republicans
deny there was a constitutional right of secession, they also denied there was
a natural right of secession. Southern leaders argued there was both a
constitutional right and a natural right to peacefully separate from the Union.
They maintained that, in accordance with the principles of the American
Revolution, the citizens of a state were the ultimate sovereign and therefore
had the God-given right to peacefully and democratically withdraw their state
There is considerable
evidence that many Republican leaders opposed secession and eventually
supported waging war on the South in large part because of economic considerations.
Numerous Republicans, including
Nevertheless, despite their
support for protectionist policies, even many Republicans favored allowing the
South to go in peace during the first few months following the secession of the
Once the Confederacy’s
free-trade, low-tariff policy was announced, powerful Northern financial
interests began to strongly oppose peaceful coexistence with the Confederacy. Leading
Northern moneymen started sending public letters to
Without the strong support
from the Wall Street class and the merchants and men of commerce, especially in
Most of the merchants were
not for provoking war, and many admitted that the government had no right to
coerce a state to remain in the Union. Either the
By the end of March, the whole Northern world had changed, with the businessmen and newspapers leading the way. Whenever the historian reads Northern newspapers and articles that favor secession, or just tolerate it as a constitutional right, it is important to look at the date on the article. For by late March the business circles saw clearly that slavery was a nonissue for them—the tariff was the issue. . . .
In early March, even before
On 18 March 1861, the Philadelphia Press demanded war: “Blockade Southern Ports,” said the Press. If not, “a series of custom houses will be required on the vast inland border from the Atlantic to West Texas. Worse still, with no protective tariff, European goods will under-price Northern goods in Southern markets. . . .”
The economic editor of the New York Times changed his tune in late March. For months he had written that secession would not injure Northern commerce and prosperity. . . . But on 22-23 March 1861, he reversed himself with a vengeance: “At once shut down every Southern port, destroy its commerce and bring utter ruin on the Confederate States”. . . .
Perhaps the most intriguing
development occurred in late March when the two tariffs stood side by side. Over
a hundred leading commercial importers in
At the very end of March, at
the very time
Rather than lower the high federal tariff and embrace free trade, most Republican leaders decided they could not allow the South to go in peace. It seems apparent that economic concerns played a major role, if not the decisive role, in their decision to violently oppose secession.
Now that we have considered
why Republican leaders opposed secession, let’s discuss why the South seceded. Nearly
all textbooks give the impression that the South withdrew from the
As mentioned previously, even
as president, Lincoln supported a proposed constitutional amendment, known as
the Corwin Amendment, that would have made the federal government’s protection
of slavery explicit and permanent. The Constitution already protected
slavery, and in that day it was widely understood that the only way the federal
government could act against slavery would be by a constitutional amendment,
which had to be approved by three-fourths of the states. The Corwin Amendment
would have made it impossible to abolish slavery even by another constitutional
amendment. Furthermore, in the years leading up to the Civil War,
Most Southern leaders who advocated secession in order to protect slavery did so because they feared that Republican leaders would try to abolish slavery by unconstitutional means and that Southern slaveholders would not receive any compensation for their slaves. Southern spokesmen felt this would be unfair, since Northern slaveholders had been able to receive various forms of compensation for their slaves when most Northern states had abolished slavery several decades earlier. They knew that emancipation without compensation would do great damage to the Southern economy.
Critics note that many Southern statesmen voiced the view that slavery was a “positive good.” Yet, even the “positive good” advocates acknowledged that slavery had its evils and abuses. In fact, most Southerners rejected the arguments of the extreme defenders of slavery (John Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, Third Edition, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1975, p. 363). There were plenty of Southerners who were willing to see slavery abolished in a fair, gradual manner, as had been done in most Northern states. After all, 69-75 percent of Southern families did not own slaves. However, few Southerners believed the Republicans were interested in a fair, gradual emancipation program. The more extreme Republicans, who were known as “Radical Republicans,” certainly were not interested in such a program.
Few people today understand
why the South distrusted the Republican Party. Not only was the Republican
Party a new party, it was also the first purely regional (or sectional) party
in the country’s history. Republican leaders frequently gave inflammatory
anti-Southern speeches, some of which included egregious falsehoods and even
threats (Susan-Mary Grant, North Over South: Northern Nationalism and
American Identity in the Antebellum Era,
Southerners were alarmed when dozens of Republican congressmen endorsed an advertisement for Hinton Helper’s book The Impending Crisis of the South, which spoke approvingly of a potential slave revolt that would kill untold numbers of Southern citizens in a “barbarous massacre.” The Republican Party even distributed an abridged edition of the book as a campaign document, and Republican editors added captions like “The Stupid Masses of the South” and “Revolution . . . Violently If We Must.”
Southerners also noticed that the Republicans broke the long-established tradition of having a sectionally balanced presidential ticket. For decades, the major political parties had almost always nominated tickets that consisted of one candidate from the North and one from the South. If nothing else, the major parties had always nominated tickets that appealed to more than just one part of the country. Each of the three other parties in the 1860 election nominated sectionally diverse tickets, but not the Republican Party.
Another reason that
Southerners were worried about the Republicans was that the party’s leaders
made it clear they would push for several policies that the South believed were
harmful and unconstitutional, such as a high protectionist tariff that favored
Northern commerce, federal spending on “internal improvements,” and a
significant expansion of the size and power of the federal government. Many
Southerners feared that Republican leaders were determined to subjugate and
exploit the South by any means. With these facts in mind, perhaps it is not
hard to understand why the election of
One factor that led many Southern
citizens to support secession was the fear that some abolitionists were
determined to carry out armed attempts to incite slave insurrections in the
Southern states. This fear became widespread when a violent Northern
abolitionist named John Brown led an armed raid on the arsenal at Harper’s
A solid majority of Northern citizens condemned Brown’s actions, but a vocal minority did not. When Brown was put on trial after his capture, some predominantly Republican towns in the North held public meetings to glorify him and to defend his conduct. When Brown was executed, numerous abolitionist churches across the North rang their bells and held memorial ceremonies in Brown’s honor. Most Americans, in all parts of the country, disapproved of what Brown had done. However, Southerners understandably were alarmed by the support that was expressed for Brown by a vocal and influential minority in the North. They were also disturbed by the fact that virtually nothing was done to Brown’s Northern backers. They were also troubled when it was discovered that one of John Brown’s maps indicated that raids were planned against other Southern cities as well.
The impact of Brown’s raid cannot be overstated. As a result of the raid, many Southerners began to fear that Northern abolitionists were going to carry out more armed attempts to incite slave insurrections in the South and that Republican politicians would do little if anything to prevent or punish such efforts. Brown’s attack caused a good number of Southern citizens who had previously opposed secession to change their minds. These fears may have been unfounded, and it is true that some pro-secession advocates fabricated reports of abolitionist activity in the South. However, the fact that almost nothing was done to Brown’s Northern backers understandably caused alarm in the South.
As stated above, slavery was
not the only factor that led to secession, although it was clearly the main
reason that the Deep South seceded. If one reads the Declarations of Causes of
Secession and the Ordinances of Secession that were issued by the first seven
states of the Confederacy, one finds that there were several reasons these
states wanted to be independent, and that some of the reasons had nothing to do
with slavery. For example, the Florida, Georgia, and Texas declarations of
causes of secession included economic complaints. The
The majority section may legislate imperiously and ruinously to the interests of the minority section not only without injury but to great benefit and advantage of their own section. In proof of this we need only refer to the fishing bounties, the monopoly of the coast navigation which is possessed almost exclusively by the Northern States and in one word the bounties to every employment of northern labor and capital. Such a government must in the nature of things and the universal principles of human nature and human conduct very soon lead, as it has done, to a grinding and degrading despotism.
They [the Northern states] have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.
The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial, and manufacturing interests of the North began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests. Even the owners of fishing smacks sought and obtained bounties for pursuing their own business (which yet continue), and $500,000 [about $8.5 million in today’s dollars] is now paid them annually out of the Treasury. The navigating interests begged for protection against foreign shipbuilders and against competition in the coasting trade. Congress granted both requests, and by prohibitory acts gave an absolute monopoly of this business to each of their interests, which they enjoy without diminution to this day. Not content with these great and unjust advantages, they have sought to throw the legitimate burden of their business as much as possible upon the public; they have succeeded in throwing the cost of light-houses, buoys, and the maintenance of their seamen upon the Treasury, and the Government now pays above $2,000,000 annually [about $34 million today] for the support of these objects. These interests, in connection with the commercial and manufacturing classes, have also succeeded, by means of subventions to mail steamers and the reduction in postage, in relieving their business from the payment of about $7,000,000 annually [about $119 million today], throwing it upon the public Treasury under the name of postal deficiency. The manufacturing interests entered into the same struggle early, and have clamored steadily for Government bounties and special favors.
Eleven years earlier, Senator
John Calhoun of
Had this destruction [of the balance between the Northern and Southern states] been the operation of time without the interference of government, the South would have had no reason to complain; but such was not the fact. It was caused by the legislation of this government, which was appointed as the common agent of all and charged with the protection of the interests and security of all.
The legislation by which it has been effected may be classed under three heads: The first is that series of acts by which the South has been excluded from the common territory belonging to all the States as members of the federal Union--which have had the effect of extending vastly the portion allotted to the Northern section, and restricting within narrow limits the portion left the South. The next consists in adopting a system of revenue and disbursements by which an undue proportion of the burden of taxation has been imposed upon the South, and an undue proportion of its proceeds appropriated to the North. And the last is a system of political measures by which the original character of the government has been radically changed. . . .
I have not included the
territory recently acquired by the treaty with
The next is the system of revenue and disbursements which has been adopted by the government. It is well known that the government has derived its revenue mainly from duties on imports. I shall not undertake to show that such duties must necessarily fall mainly on the exporting States, and that the South, as the great exporting portion of the Union, has in reality paid vastly more than her due proportion of the revenue; because I deem it unnecessary, as the subject has on so many occasions been fully discussed. Nor shall I, for the same reason, undertake to show that a far greater portion of the revenue has been disbursed in the North, than its due share; and that the joint effect of these causes has been to transfer a vast amount from South to North, which, under an equal system of revenue and disbursements, would not have been lost to her. If to this be added that many of the duties were imposed, not for revenue but for protection--that is, intended to put money, not in the Treasury, but directly into the pocket of the manufacturers--some conception may be formed of the immense amount which in the long course of sixty years has been transferred from South to North. (Calhoun, speech to the U.S. Senate on the Henry Clay compromise measures, March 4, 1850)
The South’s long-standing
opposition to the federal tariff was a factor that led to secession, second in
importance only to slavery. The South’s concern over the tariff was nothing new.
South Carolina and the federal government nearly went to war over the tariff in
1832-1833. In the session of Congress before
The South had valid complaints about the tariff. Adams discusses the effects of the tariff on the Southern states:
The high tariff in the North compelled the Southern states to pay tribute to the North, either in taxes to fatten Republican coffers or in the inflated prices that had to be paid for Northern goods. Besides being unfair, this violated the uniformity command of the Constitution by having the South pay an undue proportion of the national revenue, which was expended more in the North than in the South. . . . (When In the Course of Human Events, p. 26)
Economist Frank Taussig, one of the foremost authorities on the tariff, acknowledged that the tariff fell “with particular weight” on the South:
The Southern members, who
were almost to a man supporters of
Steven Weisman, in his study of the role that taxation has played in American history, notes that Northern economic exploitation of the South, particularly in the form of the tariff, was a major concern to Southerners:
The tariff would effectively raise prices on clothing, farm equipment and many other everyday necessities. Farmers in the South . . . squeezed by these high prices and struggling to sell their own farm products abroad, protested the high tariff. . . .
These were some of the
factors that thrust
The new [Confederate] president, Jefferson Davis, had been a hero of the Mexican War, a former Secretary of War to President Franklin Pierce, and a respected champion of the South as senator from Mississippi. He was a vigorous exponent of the view that the war was, at its core, not a fight to preserve slavery but a struggle to overthrow an exploitative economic system headquartered in the North.
There was a great deal of
evidence to support
From the perspective of the South, the North’s economy rested on a kind of state capitalism of trade barriers, government-sponsored railroads, coddling of trusts, suppression of labor and public investment in canals, roads and other infrastructures. Southern slave owners sought . . . to secure free trade, overseas markets and cheaper imports. Southern resentment of the tariff system propelled the Democratic Party to define itself as the main challenger to the primacy of the industrialist and capitalist overlords of the system. (The Great Tax Wars: Lincoln to Wilson--The Fierce Battles Over Money and Power that Transformed the Nation, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 21-22, 52)
Weisman notes that even when
Weisman also points out that the Confederate Constitution’s prohibition against protective tariffs and government favoritism toward particular businesses was based on the South’s desire to avoid the Union practice of favoring certain industries. Under the Confederate Constitution, says Weisman,
State legislatures were given the right to overrule . . . [officials of the national Confederate government] on certain issues, and taxes and tariffs “designed to promote or foster any branch of industry” were barred, as were public expenditures to benefit a particular section of the populace. These clauses were a residue of the South’s desire to avoid the Union practice of showering largesse on certain industries. (The Great Tax Wars, p. 65)
Jeffrey R. Hummel, a professor of economics and history, notes the negative impact of the tariff on the Southern states and concedes that Southern complaints about the tariff were justified:
Despite a steady decline in import duties, tariffs fell disproportionately on Southerners, reducing their income from cotton production by at least 10 percent just before the Civil War. . . .
At least with respect to the tariff’s adverse impact, Southerners were not only absolutely correct but displayed a sophisticated understanding of economics. . . . The tariff was inefficient; it not only redistributed wealth from farmers and planters to manufacturers and laborers but overall made the country poorer. (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, Chicago: Open Court, 1996, pp. 39-40, 73)
Economists Mark Thornton and Robert Ekelund explain why the tariff was such an important issue to the South:
The South was basically an agrarian economy. This input-producing region’s major crops were tobacco, rice, and cotton, with much of the latter intended for export or for the textile mills of the North. Southerners had to earn their revenue to buy finished goods from the North and from abroad through the export of raw materials. Since tariffs on finished goods, such as textiles and luxuries, and on capital goods, such as machinery, raised the prices paid by Southerners, they believed correctly that the “terms of trade” were set against them by high protectionist tariffs. Thus, from the earliest days of the nation, the tariff issue was paramount to Southerners. (Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation: The Economics of the Civil War, Wilmington, Delaware: Scholarly Resources Inc., 2004, p. 16)
Civil War scholar Webb
Garrison, a former associate dean of
Long before Charlestonians began taking over forts, the U.S. Customs Service and the tariff system had angered the South. Tariffs on imported goods served to protect the industrialized North and boosted the cost of manufactured goods in the agricultural South.
Such sectional differences
had surfaced while the
When the seceded states
merged to form the Confederate States of
Historians William and Bruce Catton summarized the economic case that Southern leaders put forth in favor of secession:
On the economic front, long-standing Southern grievances against Northern financial and commercial exploitation, Northern high-tariff policies, Northern monopoly of the coastwise trade, and similar items, were contrasted to the bright future that awaited an independent South, secure and prosperous on a foundation of cotton, free trade, and an inexhaustible European market with no Northern middlemen to siphon off the profits. (Two Roads to Sumter: Abraham Lincoln, Jefferson Davis, and the March to Civil War, Edison, New Jersey: Castle Books, 2004, reprint of original edition, p. 251)
A major point of contention
between the North and the South was the issue of the size and power of the
federal government as defined by the Constitution. As mentioned earlier,
Republican leaders supported a loose reading of the Constitution and wanted to
expand the size and scope of the federal government, even if that meant giving
the government powers that were not authorized by the Constitution. Among other
things, they advocated government subsidies for certain big businesses, federal
control of the banking system, a high protectionist tariff, and massive public
works projects (called “internal improvements”). Most Southern statesmen
opposed these policies and instead favored a strict reading of the Constitution.
They believed the federal government should perform only those functions that
were expressly delegated to it by the Constitution. From the earliest days of
the republic, Southern and Northern leaders frequently battled over this issue.
A recent study that abundantly documents this fact is John Ferling’s book Adams
Four of the eleven Southern
states did not join in the first wave of secession and did not secede over
slavery. Those four states—Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and
Virginia—only seceded months later when Lincoln made it clear he was going to
launch an invasion. In fact, those states initially voted against
secession by fairly sizable majorities. However, they believed the
Virtually no history
textbooks mention the fact that each Confederate state retained the right to
abolish slavery within its borders, and that the Confederate Constitution
permitted the admission of
All states reserved the
right to abolish slavery in their domains, and new states could be admitted
without slavery if two-thirds of the existing states agreed—the idea being that
the tier of
Before we move on to the
issue of the right of secession, it should be noted that Southern fears about
Republican policies were soon proven valid. When the Republicans gained control
of the federal government, they started
Tariffs were the centerpiece of Republican policy. They . . . implemented the Morrill Tariff Bill in 1862, which raised the level of the tax on imports from roughly 20 percent to 50 percent, where it remained for the rest of the century. . . .
Banking, particularly in the
South, was harmed as a result of the war. The imperfect system of free banking
and state-chartered banking was replaced with a system of national banks. As
Robert Sharkey noted, “the seeds of decay had been planted. The National
Banking System, with its yet unsuspected exploitative potentialities, had been
established.” As a result, big business had better access to the money market,
and small business was virtually shut out. Sharkey lamented, “Is it any wonder
that the true advocates of free non-corporate enterprise such as Henry Carey
screamed so unrestrainedly at what they called the ‘money monopolists’ of
The defeat of the Confederacy was an ideological downfall for the cause of anti-Federalist, Jeffersonian, and Jacksonian traditions of small, limited government. . . . (Tariffs, Blockades, and Inflation, pp. 87, 89, 98-99)
Ekelund comments on the Republicans’ big-government policies in an article he wrote for the Ludwig Von Mises Institute’s website:
The Republican Party that emerged in the 1850s was an amalgamation of historical influences, third parties, and interest groups. One group that entered the Republican Party was the Free Soil Party, whose primary platform was free land and subsidies for farmers. In contrast, most Democrats favored selling off the public lands to finance government expenditures, keep tariff rates low, and prevent deficit spending. . . .
The ambitious economic agenda of the Republican Party had its roots in the economic platforms of Federalist icon Alexander Hamilton and Whig leader Henry Clay. They advocated protective tariffs for industry, a national bank, and plenty of public works and patronage. The flurry of new laws, regulations, and bureaucracies created by Lincoln and the Republican Party during the early 1860s foreshadowed Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal" for the volume, scope and questionable constitutionality of its legislative output.
In fact, the term "New
Deal" was actually coined in March of 1865 by a newspaper editor in
Protectionism was a high priority of the early Republican Party. They quickly enacted the Morrill Tariff, which raised tariff rates to extremely high levels, and their extreme protectionism continued throughout the era of Republican dominance.
There is really little debate that these Republicans were the primary proponents of protectionism, particularly in the areas of steel and textiles. . . .
In the area of deficit spending and the national debt, the early Republicans . . . produced large deficits and national debt. Pre-Civil War Democrats had worked effectively to eliminate the national debt and to close the national banks. (“The Awful Truth About Republicans,” Ludwig Von Mises Institute, March 25, 2004, http://www.mises.org/story/1476)
Ekelund goes on to discuss some of the harmful results of the Republicans’ banking and monetary policies:
In their early years they [the Republicans] nationalized money and banking, a policy that helped big-city banks at the expense of the common citizen, particularly in the South and West. As Robert Sharkey noted:
“As the National Banking System took shape after the war, it was apparent that human ingenuity would have had difficulty contriving a more perfect engine for class and sectional exploitation: Creditors finally obtaining the upper hand as opposed to debtors, and the developed East holding the whip over the undeveloped West and South. This tipping of the class and sectional balance of power was, in my opinion, the momentous change over the twenty-three-year period, 1850-1873.” ["Commercial Banking," in Economic Change in the Civil War Era: Proceedings of a Conference on American Economic Institutional Change, 1850-1873, and the Impact of the Civil War, Greenville, Delaware: Eleutherian Mills-Hagley Foundation, 1965, p. 27, original emphasis.]
Looking at the consequences of this legislation, leading monetary economists concluded:
“The provision of the Acts of 1863 and 1865 that established the national banking system were designed to remedy two perceived defects of the antebellum state banking system. . . . Unfortunately, the remedies did not work as intended by the architects of the national banking system. Instead, the system was characterized by monetary and cyclical instability, four banking panics, frequent stock market crashes, and other financial disturbances." [Michael D. Bordo, Peter Rappoport, and Anna J. Schwartz, "Money versus Credit Rationing: Evidence for the National Banking Era, 1880-1914," in Strategic Factors in Nineteenth Century American Economic Growth, edited by Claudia Goldin and Hugh Rockoff, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, pp. 189-223.] (Ekelund, “The Awful Truth About Republicans”)
Did the South Have the Right to Secede?
I believe the evidence is clear that the South had the right to secede. None other than Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general of the Union army for much of the Civil War and later a president of the United States, admitted he believed that if any of the original thirteen states had wanted to secede in the early days of the Union, it was unlikely the other states would have challenged that state’s “right” to do so. Grant also conceded that he believed the founding fathers would have sanctioned the right of secession rather than see a war “between brothers.” Said Grant,
If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination might have been regretted. . . .
If they [the founding fathers] had foreseen it, the probabilities are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States to withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers. (The Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses S. Grant, Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Konecky & Konecky, 1992, reprint of original edition, pp. 130-131)
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of
When the Constitution was adopted by the votes of States at Philadelphia, and accepted by the votes of States in popular conventions, it is safe to say there was no man in this country, from Washington and Hamilton on the one side to George Clinton and George Mason on the other, who regarded our system of Government, when first adopted, as anything but an experiment entered upon by the States, and from which each and every State had the right to peaceably withdraw, a right which was very likely to be exercised. (Henry Cabot Lodge, Daniel Webster, Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1899, p. 176)
Union general Thomas Ewing acknowledged that the founding fathers did not address the issue of secession in the Constitution--he believed the war settled the question:
North . . . recognizes the fact that the proximate cause of the war was the
constitutional question of the right of secession -- a question which, until it
was settled by the war, had neither a right side nor a wrong side to it. Our
forefathers in framing the Constitution purposely left the question unsettled;
to have settled it distinctly in the Constitution would have been to prevent
the formation of the
British historian Goldwin Smith
argued that the history of the
who have looked into the history can doubt that the Union originally was, and
was generally taken by the parties to it to be, a compact; dissoluble, perhaps
most of them would have said, at pleasure, dissoluble certainly on breach of
the articles of
There is nothing in the
Constitution that prohibits a state from peacefully and democratically
separating from the Union. The Constitution doesn’t say that ratification is
irrevocable. Nor does it give the citizens of a majority of states any right to
prevent the citizens of a minority of states from withdrawing their states from
the Union. Nor does it say that the
The powers not delegated to the
The Constitution does not
give the federal government the power to force a state to remain in the
This view is strengthened by
the fact that several of the states specified in their constitution or in their
ratification ordinance that they should retain all rights and powers that were
not expressly granted to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution. For
We, the delegates of the people of the state of
That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it
shall become necessary to their happiness. That the rights of the states
respectively to nominate and appoint all state officers, and every other power,
jurisdiction, and right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly
delegated to the Congress of the United States, or to the departments of
government thereof, remain to the people of the several states, or their
respective state governments, to whom they may have granted the same; and that
those clauses in the Constitution which declare that Congress shall not have or
exercise certain powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers
not given by the said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed as
exceptions to certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater
caution. . . . The
. . . all powers not expressly delegated by the aforesaid Constitution are
reserved to the several states, to be by them exercised. (
The people of this
commonwealth have the sole and exclusive right of governing themselves as a
free, sovereign, and independent State, and do, and forever hereafter shall,
exercise and enjoy every power, jurisdiction, and right which is not, or may
not hereafter be, by them expressly delegated to the United States of America
in Congress assembled. (Constitution of the
We, the delegates of the people of the state of
That the powers of government may be reassumed by the people whensoever it
shall become necessary to their happiness; that every power, jurisdiction, and
right, which is not by the said Constitution clearly delegated to the Congress
of the United States, or the departments of the government thereof, remains to
the people of the several states, or to their respective state governments, to
whom they may have granted the same; and that those clauses in the said
Constitution, which declare that Congress shall not have or exercise certain
powers, do not imply that Congress is entitled to any powers not given by the
said Constitution; but such clauses are to be construed either as exceptions to
certain specified powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution. (
In Convention of the people of the state of
This Convention doth also declare, that no section or paragraph of the said
Constitution warrants a construction that the states do not retain every power
not expressly relinquished by them, and vested in the general government of the
We the Delegates of the people of Virginia . . . declare and make known that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power not granted thereby remains with them and at their will: that therefore no right of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified, by the Congress, by the Senate or House of Representatives acting in any capacity, by the President or any department or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the Constitution for those purposes. . . .
That each state in the union shall respectively retain every power,
jurisdiction and right, which is not by this constitution delegated to the
Congress of the United States, or to the departments of the Federal Government.
If the founding fathers had
intended ratification to be irrevocable, surely they would have said so at
least once in the Constitution. If they had intended the federal government to
have the power to use force to compel a state to remain in the
Critics of the Confederacy maintain that certain clauses in the Constitution prohibit secession, even though not one of those clauses mentions the subject. They point out, for example, that the Constitution prohibits states from entering into treaties with foreign powers. They place particular emphasis on the Supremacy Clause, which reads as follows:
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding. (Article 6, Paragraph 2)
However, it goes without saying that this clause and the clauses regarding state relations with foreign governments only apply to states that are in the Union. Again, there is simply nothing in the Constitution that prohibits the citizens of a state from democratically revoking their state’s ratification of the Constitution. The explanations of the Supremacy Clause that are given in the Federalist Papers do not say the clause prohibits secession or makes ratification irrevocable.
Imagine the following scenario: Suppose you joined an association. The association’s constitution said that when you became a member, you agreed to be bound by the association’s constitution and by all association rules that did not violate that constitution. But, the constitution did not say you could never leave the association. Nor did it say your membership was irrevocable or permanent. Nor did it say you needed the permission of other members before you could leave. It did not even say the association itself was permanent. After belonging to the association for a time, you decided you no longer wanted to be a member. You were willing to pay your share of the association’s debt and wanted to maintain good relations with it. How would you feel if the association attempted to force you to remain a member against your will, with the argument, "Sorry, you can't leave the association because then you'll no longer be bound by our constitution and rules"? Most people would view that argument as specious and unfair, if not dictatorial.
Lincoln and previous nationalists, such as Joseph Story, John Marshall, and Daniel Webster, argued that the Constitution was ratified by “We the people” acting as “one people,” i.e., by the people acting as a whole, and that therefore no state or group of states could leave the Union. But the Constitution was not ratified in this manner. In the original understanding of the sovereignty of the people, the people were sovereign only as citizens of their respective states, not as a whole. This original understanding of the people’s sovereignty can be seen in the fact that the Constitution was ratified by the people in their capacity as citizens of their respective states. It was not ratified by the people acting as “one people.” The ratification decision of one state’s citizens was not binding on the citizens of other states. The citizens of each state were free to accept or reject the Constitution, regardless of the decision of the citizens in other states. Founding father James Madison, often called “the father of the Constitution,” repeatedly explained that the people were sovereign, not as one mass, but as citizens of the various states:
. . . this assent and ratification is to be given by the people, not as individuals composing one entire nation, but as composing the distinct and independent States to which they respectively belong. (Federalist Paper Number 39)
Give me leave to say something of the nature of the government. . . .
Who are the parties to it? The people--not the people as composing one great body, but the people as composing thirteen sovereignties.
it, as the gentleman asserts, a consolidated government, the assent of a
majority of the people would be sufficient for its establishment: and as a
majority have adopted it already, the remaining States would be bound by the
act of the majority, even if they unanimously reprobated it. (Speech to the
In his old age,
It is fortunate when disputed theories, can be decided by undisputed facts. And here the undisputed fact is, that the Constitution was made by the people, but as embodied into the several States, who were parties to it; and therefore made by the States in their highest authoritative capacity. (Letter from James Madison to Daniel Webster, March 15, 1833)
In his highly acclaimed book
on the formation of the federal Union, E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the
In an ultimate sense, the Constitution confirmed the proposition that original power resided in the people—not, however, in the people as a whole, but in them in their capacity as people of the several states. In 1787 the people were so divided because, having created or acquiesced in the creation of state governments, they were bound by prior contracts. They could create more local or more general governments, but only by agreeing, in their capacity as people of the several states, to relocate power previously lodged with the state governments. All powers not thus relocated, and not reserved by the people in explicit state constitutional limitations, remained in the state governments. In short, national or local governments, being the creatures of the states, could exercise only those powers explicitly or implicitly given them by the states; each state government could exercise all powers unless it was forbidden from doing so by the people of the state. But in the Constitution the states went a step further, and expressly denied to themselves the exercise of certain powers, such as those of interfering with the obligations of private contracts, passing ex post facto laws, and refusing to honor the laws of other states. This is the essence of the American federal system. . . .
There was . . . one cardinal
In other words, “the people” were not, in any part of the multilevel government, allowed to act as the whole people. Instead, for purposes of expressing their will they were separated from themselves both in space and in time. This was accomplished by separating the people, both in space and in time, from those they elected. . . .
The division of every voter into many artificial parts of himself was one of three aspects of the genius of the American constitutional system. (E Pluribus Unum: The Formation of the American Republic 1776-1790, Second Edition, Indianapolis, Indiana: Liberty Press, 1979, pp. 312, 314, 315)
This original understanding of the people’s sovereignty can also be seen in the system that the founding fathers established for the election of the president, namely, the Electoral College. “We the people” elect the president as citizens of our respective states, but not as one people. We vote in our respective states, and the candidate who wins in our state receives our state’s Electoral College votes. Thus, a president can be elected without a majority of the nationwide popular vote as long as he has won in enough states to give him a majority in the Electoral College. The last thing the framers wanted was pure majority rule. They understood that a purely majority-rule system often results in a tyranny of the majority.
Since the citizens of each
state were the ultimate sovereign in deciding whether or not their state would
join the Union, the citizens of each state should have been the ultimate sovereign
in deciding whether or not their state would remain in the Union. The federal
government was supposed to be the servant of the people, not their master. It
was never intended that the citizens in a majority of states could employ the
federal government as an instrument of violence to force the citizens in a
minority of states to keep their states in the
As part of his denial of the
right of secession,
Our States have neither more
nor less power than that reserved to them in the Union by the Constitution, no
one of them ever having been a State out of the
There is so much error and
sophistry packed into these statements that it is hard to know where to begin. It
is difficult to imagine what founding documents
It is also hard to imagine
In framing his argument that
the states were never sovereign “out of the Union,”
The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite. (Federalist Paper Number 45)
In the same treatise,
The State government will have the advantage of the Federal government, whether we compare them in respect to the immediate dependence of the one on the other; to the weight of personal influence which each side will possess; to the powers respectively vested in them. . . . (Federalist Paper Number 45)
The first question [how a state could secede without approval from the other states] is answered at once by recurring to the absolute necessity of the case; to the great principle of self-preservation; to the transcendent law of nature and of nature's God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed. (Federalist Paper Number 43)
This is important because the
Articles of Confederation expressly stated that the union they were creating
was “perpetual” and that that union could only be altered by the
approval of all the states. Now, if the natural right of self-preservation
allowed a state to peacefully leave the "perpetual" union of the
Articles of Confederation without the consent of the other states, then logic
demands that this natural right would also permit a state to peacefully leave
It is true that
Applying a like view of the subject to the case of the U. S. it results, that the compact being among individuals as embodied into States, no State can at pleasure release itself therefrom, and set up for itself. The compact can only be dissolved by the consent of the other parties, or by usurpations or abuses of power justly having that effect." (Letter from James Madison to Nicholas P. Trist, February 15, 1830, emphasis added)
The constitution of the
When the Constitution was
being debated in the states,
On the other hand, should an unwarrantable measure of the federal government be unpopular in particular States, which would seldom fail to be the case, or even a warrantable measure be so, which may sometimes be the case, the means of opposition to it are powerful and at hand. The disquietude of the people; their repugnance and, perhaps, refusal to co-operate with the officers of the Union; the frowns of the executive magistracy of the State; the embarrassments created by legislative devices, which would often be added on such occasions, would oppose, in any State, difficulties not to be despised; would form, in a large State, very serious impediments; and where the sentiments of several adjoining States happened to be in unison, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.
But ambitious encroachments
of the federal government, on the authority of the State governments, would not
excite the opposition of a single State, or of a few States only. They would be
signals of general alarm. Every government would espouse the common cause. A
correspondence would be opened. Plans of resistance would be concerted.
One spirit would animate and conduct the whole. The same combinations, in
short, would result from an apprehension of the federal, as was produced by the
dread of a foreign, yoke [i.e., the colonists’ fear of British oppression]; and
unless the projected innovations should be voluntarily renounced, the same
appeal to a trial of force would be made in the one case as was made in the
other. But what degree of madness could ever drive the federal government
to such an extremity? In the contest
In April 1830,
The great early American
constitutional scholar William Rawle said a state had the right to secede. Rawle
was a contemporary of founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and
was appointed by George Washington as the first U.S. Attorney for Pennsylvania.
Rawle’s book A View of the Constitution of the United States was used as
a legal textbook at a number of universities, including West Point,
It depends on the state
itself to retain or abolish the principle of representation, because it depends
on itself whether it will continue a member of the
This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original composition of the general government, which, though not expressed, was mutually understood. . . . (A View of the Constitution of the United States, 2nd Edition, 1829, Vol. 4, p. 571)
Another early American legal
giant, George Tucker, also said a state had the right to secede. Like Rawle,
Tucker was a contemporary of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and
corresponded with the former. Tucker came to be known as the “American Blackstone.” Tucker was a professor of
law at the
The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through which the united republics communicate with foreign nations and with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary: its councils, its engagements, its authority are theirs, modified, and united. Its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign, still independent, and still capable, should the situation require, to resume the exercise of its functions as such in the most unlimited extent. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, Volume 1, Philadelphia: William Birch and Abraham Small, 1803, Appendix: Note D, Section 3:IV)
George Washington’s Secretary
of State, Timothy Pickering of
The Federalists are dissatisfied, because they see the public morals debased by the corrupt and corrupting system of our rulers. Men are tempted to become apostates, not to Federalism merely, but to virtue and to religion and to good government. . . . the principles of our revolution point to the remedy--a separation. That this can be accomplished, and without spilling one drop of blood, I have little doubt. . . . The people of the East cannot reconcile their habits, views, and interests with those of the South and West. The latter are beginning to rule with a rod of iron. . . .
A Northern confederacy would unite congenial characters, and present a fairer prospect of public happiness; while the Southern States, having a similarity of habits, might be left "to manage their own affairs in their own way." If a separation were to take place, our mutual wants would render a friendly and commercial intercourse inevitable. . . . (Letter from Timothy Pickering to George Cabot, January 29, 1804, emphasis added)
Thomas Jefferson, the author
of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United
States, said in a letter to William Crawford in 1816 that if a state wanted to
leave the Union, he would not hesitate to say “Let us separate,” even if he did
not agree with the reasons the state wanted to leave (Letter from Thomas
Jefferson to William Crawford, June 20, 1816). Critics point out that in one
Concurring in the doctrines that the separate States have a right to interpose in cases of palpable infraction of the constitution by the government of the United States, and that the alien and sedition acts presented a case of such infraction, Mr. Jefferson considered them as absolutely null and void, and thought the State legislatures competent, not only to declare, but to make them so, to resist their execution within their respective borders by physical force, and to secede from the Union, rather than to submit to them, if attempted to be carried into execution by force. (Southern Historical Society Papers, Volume 1, 1876, p. 10)
The founding fathers specifically rejected the idea that the federal government could use force against a state to compel obedience. The only two situations in which the framers permitted the general government to use force against a state, or even in a state, were (1) if the state were invaded or (2) if the state's legislature or governor requested federal assistance to deal with domestic violence. Constitutional scholar and former law professor John Remington Graham discusses this point:
It is an historical fact that, on two occasions during their deliberations, the framers in the Philadelphia Convention voted to deny Congress the power of calling forth military forces of the Union to compel obedience of a state, and on two further occasions they voted to deny Congress the power of sending the Federal army or navy into the territory of any state, except as allowed under Article IV, Section 4 of the United States Constitution--to repel a foreign invasion or at the request of its legislature or governor to deal with domestic violence. (A Constitutional History of Secession, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2002, p. 287)
In commenting on Article IV, Section 4, George Tucker noted that it was a protection against the federal government using the pretext of providing “protection” as an excuse for unjustified intervention:
It may not he amiss further to observe, that every pretext for intermeddling with the domestic concerns of any state, under color of protecting it against domestic violence is taken away, by that part of the provision which renders an application from the legislative, or executive authority of the state endangered, necessary to be made to the federal government, before it is interference can be at all proper. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal Government of the United States, Volume 1, Appendix: Note D, Section 17:6)
As mentioned earlier, President James Buchanan, in his last annual message to Congress, warned that the federal government had no constitutional right to use force to keep a state in the Union nor to compel a seceded state to rejoin the Union. Buchanan noted that James Madison argued at the constitutional convention that a government based on the idea that force could be used against the states would be “fallacious.” Said Buchanan,
The question fairly stated
is: Has the Constitution delegated to Congress the power to coerce a state into
submission which is attempting to withdraw or has actually withdrawn from the
confederacy? [Note: It was common to refer to the
It appears from the proceedings of that body that on the 31st of May, 1787, the clause “authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent state” came up for consideration. Mr. Madison opposed it in a brief but powerful speech, from which I shall extract but a single sentence. He observed:
“The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
Upon his motion the clause was unanimously postponed and was never, I believe, again presented. Soon afterward, on the 8th of June, 1787, when incidentally adverting to the subject, he said: “Any government for the United States formed on the supposed practicability of using force against the unconstitutional proceedings of the states would prove as visionary and fallacious as the government of Congress,” evidently meaning the then existing Congress of the old Confederation.
Without descending to particulars, it may be safely asserted that the power to make war against a state is at variance with the whole spirit and intent of the Constitution. . . .
The fact is that our
President Buchanan was correct. On May 31, 1787, during the debates on the Constitution, the founding fathers considered a clause "authorizing an exertion of the force of the whole against a delinquent state.” The clause was not approved. Madison himself spoke against it. Here is the relevant extract from the Journal of the Federal Convention:
clause of the sixth Resolution, authorizing an exertion of the force of the
whole against a delinquent State, came next into consideration.
Mr. MADISON observed, that the more he reflected on the use of force, the more he doubted the practicability, the justice and the efficacy of it, when applied to people collectively, individually. Any union of the States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment; and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound. (Journal of the Federal Convention, Vol. 1, May 31, 1787)
A few days later, on June 8,
In order to believe that the
framers intended the federal government to have the right to compel a state to
remain in the Union, one would have to ignore the fact that the framers
rejected the idea of allowing the federal government to use force against a
state. One would also have to believe that the founders gave the federal
government a right that they did not believe the British government possessed. George
Washington and many other Patriots believed the British were “unjust invaders”
for attempting to force the colonies to remain under British control against
their will, and they resented being called “rebels” and “traitors” for wanting
independence (see, for example,
The general [British general Thomas Gage], further emulating his ministerial masters, by a proclamation bearing date on the 12th day of June, after venting the grossest falsehoods and calumnies against the good people of these colonies, proceeds to “declare them all, either by name or description, to be rebels and traitors, to supersede the course of the common law, and instead thereof to publish and order the use and exercise of the law martial." ("A Declaration by the Representatives of the United Colonies of North-America, Now Met in Congress at Philadelphia, Setting Forth the Causes and Necessity of Their Taking Up Arms," July 6, 1775)
Continental Army surgeon James Thacher did not like the label of "rebels" either--he complained of being “stigmatized” as “rebels” by the enemy:
The great majority of the people are happily united in the resolution to oppose, to the uttermost, the wicked attempts of the English cabinet. This class of people have assumed the appellation of Whigs; but by our enemies are stigmatized by the name of Rebels. (Journal of James Thacher, 1775)
Our Patriot forefathers also had a lot to say about the colonies’ natural right to self-government and independence. Samuel Adams talked about natural rights and the fact that every natural right not expressly surrendered remains with the people:
All men have a right to remain in a state of nature as long as they please; and in case of intolerable oppression, civil or religious, to leave the society they belong to, and enter into another.
When men enter into society, it is by voluntary consent; and they have a right to demand and insist upon the performance of such conditions and previous limitations as form an equitable original compact.
Every natural right not expressly given up, or, from the nature of a social compact, necessarily ceded, remains."
All positive and civil laws should conform, as far as possible, to the law of natural reason and equity." ("The Rights of the Colonists," November 1772)
If men, through fear, fraud, or mistake, should in terms renounce or give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the grand end of society would absolutely vacate such renunciation." (“The Rights of the Colonists”)
that is right or natural pleads for separation. . . . A government of
our own is our natural right. (Common Sense,
Richard Henry Lee:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved. (Resolution of Richard Henry Lee, Journals of the Continental Congress, June 7, 1776)
The Sons of Liberty of Connecticut adopted a resolution that said the people had the right to reassume the authority they had delegated:
Resolved. 1st. That every form of government rightfully founded, originates from the consent of the people.
2d. That the boundaries set by the people in all constitutions are the only limits within which any officer can lawfully exercise authority.
3d. That whenever those bounds are exceeded, the people have a right to reassume the exercise of that authority which by nature they had before they delegated it to individuals. (Connecticut Resolutions on the Stamp Act, December 10, 1765, emphasis added)
John Adams, a key figure in
the American Revolution who later became our second president, echoed these
thoughts. He taught that the ultimate powers of government belonged to the
citizens of the colonies, that the powers with which parliament and even the
king ruled were in reality delegated powers that belonged to the citizens of
each colony, and that those citizens had the right to resume those powers
whenever they felt they were being misused badly enough. In fact,
These principles are nothing
more or less than the right of secession--one could also call this right the
right of separation or the right of independence, as the Patriots usually did. Adams
expressed these principles in his famous exchange with a Tory pen-named Massachusettensis
Historian Page Smith discussed Adams’ famous 1775 exchanges with the Tory Massachusettensis in his biography of Adams. Smith noted that the Tory correctly accused the Whig colonists, i.e., the Patriots, of believing that kings, not just legislatures or other elected bodies, but even kings,
. . . are but the ministers of the people; that their authority is delegated to them by the people, for their good, and they have a right to resume it, and place it in other hands, or keep it themselves, whenever it is made use of to oppress them. (John Adams, Volume 1: 1735-1784, Norwalk, CT: The Easton Press, 1962, Collector’s Edition, 190-191, emphasis added)
Smith then pointed out that
To this charge
Smith observed that Adams
went on to assert that even Parliament had no authority over the colonies
except to regulate their trade, and that even this authority was based solely
on the consent of the colonies. Said
Parliament has no authority over them [the colonies], excepting to regulate their trade, and this not by any principle of common law, but merely by the consent of the colonies, founded on the obvious necessity . . . of the case. (John Adams, p. 191)
What most textbooks omit or skillfully obscure about the argument over taxation without representation is that the Patriots did not--I repeat, did not--think the answer was representation in Parliament. No, instead, they argued that that the colonies should be allowed to tax and govern themselves. Why? Because, as the Patriots pointed out--in fact, as Adams pointed out in his exchanges with Massachusettensis--even if the colonies were granted proportional representation in Parliament, they would still not have enough votes to prevent taxes from being imposed on them against their will. So the answer, said the Patriots, was for Parliament to allow the colonies to tax and govern themselves, as had been the case for many years until Parliament began imposing taxes on them. Adams put it this way:
The patriots of this Province desire nothing new; they wish only to keep their old privileges. For 150 years they had been allowed to tax themselves and govern their internal concerns as they thought best. Parliament governed their trade as they thought fit. This plan they wish may continue forever. (John Adams, p. 193)
The Patriots began to
consider separating from
There was a time when even Massachusetts Federalists said that nullification and secession were not treason but were actions that a state had the right to take if it believed it needed to do so. Historian James Banner points out the following:
The Federalist theory of interposition, so widely held
after 1808, was rooted in the premise that the nation was a collection of
“several independent confederated republics,” a “league” of equal and sovereign
states which had surrendered only a portion of their authority to the central
government under the Constitution. In constitutional arguments sharply
reminiscent of the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, which they had only a few
years earlier rejected, Federalists declared that the Constitution was
variously a “treaty,” “contract,” or “association.” Each state was a free
republic “united by a solemn compact under a federal government of limited
powers.” These sovereign republics, and not the people, had been represented at
Federalists concluded from these propositions that since the states had negotiated the Constitution, the states alone could determine when a national law violated the compact, when its obligations under the Constitution ceased, and when to denounce it. From this it irresistibly followed that if a state nullified a law, interposed its authority between the people and the national administration, or in the extremity seceded, it would not commit treason. The state would merely assume to itself its full sovereign powers as a republic, a remedy “prescribed by the law of nations." (To the Hartford Convention: The Federalists and the Origin of Party Politics in Massachusetts, 1789-1815, New York: Alfred Knopf, 1970, p. 118)
In discussing the arguments in the rising calls for secession made by Massachusetts Federalists as their opposition to the War of 1812 mounted, Banner paraphrases and quotes those arguments:
Because, it was said, the Constitution was “a treaty of alliance and confederation” and the government an association of states, then it followed “that whenever its provisions are violated, or its original principles departed from by a majority of the states or of their people, it is no longer an effective instrument, but that any state is at liberty by the spirit of that contract to withdraw itself from the union." (To the Hartford Convention, p. 301)
The principle of peaceful
separation was as American as apple pie. But
My residence is in the North, but I have never seen the day, and I never shall, when I will refuse justice as readily to the South as to the North. . . .
Sir, if there is, as I contend, the right of secession, then, whenever a State exercises that right, this Government has no laws in that State to execute, nor has it any property in any such state that can be protected by the power of this Government. In attempting, however, to substitute the smooth phrases “executing the laws” and “protecting public property” for coercion, for civil war, we have an important concession: that is, that this Government dare not go before the people with a plain avowal of its real purposes and of their consequences. No, sir; the policy is to inveigle the people of the North into civil war, by masking the designs in smooth and ambiguous terms. (Congressional Globe, Second Session, Thirty-Sixth Congress, p. 1347, in Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, pp. 216-217)
In addition, the South had no
desire to overthrow the federal government. The South seceded in a peaceful,
democratic manner, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Southern
citizens. The Southern states used the same process to secede that the original
thirteen states used to ratify the U.S. Constitution, i.e., by voting in
special conventions comprised of delegates who were elected by the people. The
one exception was
Furthermore, most Southerners believed secession would be peaceful. In fact, it is revealing that the early correspondence of the first Confederate Secretary of War, Leroy Walker, "clearly indicates he did not expect war" (Rembert Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, Louisiana State University Press, 1944, p. 106). As late as March 21, 1861, Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens believed it was more likely that war would be avoided:
The prospect of war is, at
least, not so threatening as it has been. The idea of coercion, shadowed forth
in President Lincoln's inaugural, seems not to be followed up thus far so
vigorously as was expected.
On the basis of the natural
right of self-government alone, as expressed in the Declaration of
Independence, the South had the right to leave the
The driving, core principle
behind the American Revolution was that the colonies had the natural right to
be independent if they so desired. The founding fathers said over and over
again that the colonies had a natural, God-given right to release themselves
from British authority. They resented the fact that the British refused to
recognize this right and that the British forced them to fight for their
independence. Senator Jefferson Davis of
Now, sir, we are confusing
language very much. Men speak of revolution; and when they say revolution they
mean blood. Our fathers meant nothing of the sort. When they spoke of
revolution they meant an unalienable right. When they declared as an
unalienable right the power of the people to abrogate and modify their form of
government whenever it did not answer the ends for which it was established,
they did not mean that they were to sustain that by brute force. They meant
that it was a right; and force could only be invoked when that right was
wrongfully denied. Great Britain denied the right in the case of the colonies,
and therefore our revolution for independence was bloody. If
If the Declaration of Independence be true (and who here gainsays it?), every community may dissolve its connection with any other community previously made, and have no other obligation than that which results from the breach of an alliance between States. Is it to be supposed; could any man . . . come to the conclusion that the men who fought the battles of the Revolution . . . in order that they might possess those unalienable rights which they had declared—terminated their great efforts by transmitting posterity to a condition in which they could only gain those rights by force? If so, the blood of the Revolution was shed in vain. . . . (Speech in the U.S. Senate, January 10, 1861, in The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp. 531-532)
John O’Sullivan, the editor
of the influential United States Magazine and the man who coined the
famous phrase “Manifest Destiny” because he believed God wanted
Lysander Spooner, though a harsh critic of slavery, disputed the Republican claim
that secession was treason, and he argued that the North’s use of force to keep
the South in the
question of treason is distinct from that of slavery; and is the same that it
would have been, if
The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simply this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.
No principle, that is possible to be named, can be more self-evidently false than this; or more self-evidently fatal to all political freedom. Yet it triumphed in the field, and is now assumed to be established. If it really be established, the number of slaves, instead of having been diminished by the war, has been greatly increased; for a man, thus subjected to a government that he does not want, is a slave. And there is no difference, in principle--but only in degree--between political and chattel slavery. . . .
The North has thus virtually said to the world: It was all very well to prate of consent, so long as the objects to be accomplished were to liberate ourselves from our connection with England, and also to coax a scattered and jealous people into a great national union; but now that those purposes have been accomplished, and the power of the North has become consolidated, it is sufficient for us --- as for all governments--simply to say: Our power is our right.
In proportion to her wealth and population, the North has probably expended more money and blood to maintain her power over an unwilling people, than any other government ever did. And in her estimation, it is apparently the chief glory of her success, and an adequate compensation for all her own losses, and an ample justification for all her devastation and carnage of the South, that all pretense of any necessity for consent to the perpetuity or power of government, is (as she thinks) forever expunged from the minds of the people. In short, the North exults beyond measure in the proof she has given, that a government, professedly resting on consent, will expend more life and treasure in crushing dissent, than any government, openly founded on force, has ever done.
And she claims that she has done all this in behalf of liberty! In behalf of free government! In behalf of the principle that government should rest on consent! (No Treason, Boston, 1867, Number 1, Introductory and Chapter I)
What Caused the War?
One can justifiably say that
the Civil War was fought because
The Confederacy did not want
war. One of the first things Jefferson Davis did after assuming office as
president of the Confederacy was to send a peace delegation to
“Why,” one may ask, “did Confederates sometimes refer to themselves as ‘rebels’?” Actually, many Confederates resented that term (see, for example, Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp. 282-284). Those Confederates who described themselves as “rebels” did so in sarcastic defiance and only in the sense that they were “rebelling” against being invaded and subjugated. Lincoln, on the other hand, labeled Confederates as “rebels” in order to reinforce his claim that the South was trying to destroy democratic government.
It should be pointed out that
many Northern citizens opposed the war and believed the South should be allowed
to leave in peace. Dozens of Northern newspapers expressed the view that the
Southern states had the right to peacefully leave the
Who Started the War?
The standard textbook answer
to this question is that the South obviously started the war because it “fired
the first shot” by attacking
The Confederates only
attacked the fort after they learned that
In his inaugural speech,
given weeks before the attack on
Jefferson Davis argued that
the attack on
The attempt to represent us
as the aggressors in the conflict which ensued is as unfounded as the
complaint made by the wolf against the lamb in the familiar fable. He who makes
the assault is not necessarily he that strikes the first blow or fires the
first gun. To have awaited further strengthening of their position by land and
naval forces, with hostile purpose now declared, for the sake of having them
“fire the first gun” would have been as unwise as it would be to hesitate to
strike down the arm of the assailant, who levels a deadly weapon at one’s
breast, until he has actually fired. After the assault was made by the hostile
descent of the fleet, the reduction of
However, it must be acknowledged that attacking Fort Sumter was a gigantic blunder that forced Lincoln’s hand, that made it impossible for Lincoln to continue to allow the status quo to continue, and that inflamed public opinion in the North.
Lincoln desired peace, and he knew all he had to do was evacuate Fort Sumter, as his own Secretary of State had been promising would be done for weeks, but Lincoln had to tread carefully because of the Radical Republicans and Northern public opinion. There is evidence that Lincoln may have been willing to simply allow the status quo to continue and even to allow the Confederacy to continue to exist without formally recognizing it as a nation. But Jefferson Davis forced Lincoln’s hand when he cut off the food supply to the Fort Sumter garrison and then bombarded the fort when Lincoln tried to ship food to the garrison.
When the Confederacy was told the fort was going to be evacuated, Confederate forces stopped building up the defenses around the harbor and celebrated. Across the harbor, Major Anderson was grateful the fort would be evacuated and that therefore North and South would separate peacefully:
Confidently, he [Seward]
told Supreme Court Justice John Campbell that
Most Southerners believed
that as the pressure for aggression mounted,
Some Northern leaders who
wanted peace urged that
Before the Confederacy was
You say that the fort was
garrisoned for our protection, and is held for the same purposes for which it
has ever been held since its construction. Are you not aware, that to hold, in
the territory of a foreign power, a fortress against her will, avowedly for the
purpose of protecting her citizens, is perhaps the highest insult which one
government can offer to another? But
Republicans protested loudly
over the fact that several Southern states seized numerous federal
Admittedly, the pre-secession seizures, though few in number, were unwise and legally problematic. However, let’s keep in mind that these seizures posed no threat to the federal government, that they were bloodless, and that the Confederacy offered to pay compensation for all federal installations in the South. The seizures certainly did not provide any credible justification for a federal invasion, and they were hardly what one could call “aggression” in any meaningful sense of the word. Additionally, it needs to be emphasized that the Republicans would have been just as determined to invade the South even if no federal installations had been seized. After all, some Republicans began voicing dire threats against the seceded states before any federal installations were seized. The seizures merely provided Republicans with another excuse to refuse to allow the South to go in peace.
The Emancipation Proclamation
Everyone can agree that slavery needed to be abolished. However, the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, left over 400,000 slaves in bondage. Let us take a moment to consider the purpose, nature, and legality of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The proclamation was a war measure, as the document itself states. The Radical Republicans hoped the proclamation would produce a massive slave revolts in the South, even if this resulted in the deaths of thousands of women and children on plantations and farms.
When it was issued, the
proclamation did not free a single slave in any of the four Union slave states.
The proclamation excluded the slaves in those areas. The proclamation only applied
to slaves in the Confederate states, where
The Emancipation Proclamation asserted freedom for slaves in those areas that were not under control of the federal government and left slavery untouched in areas where federal control was effective. It seemed a halting measure of dubious effect and shaky legality, and the Confederates denounced it as a call for a slave revolt. (In Blum and Catton, Edmund Morgan, Arthur Schlesinger, Kenneth Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward, editors, The National Experience: A History of the United States, Second Edition, New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968, p. 360)
Lerone Bennett claims that Lincoln only issued the proclamation under intense
pressure from the Radical Republicans, who were threatening to cut off funds to
the army if emancipation wasn’t made a war objective, and that Lincoln only
began to seriously consider the Radicals’ demands after Union forces suffered
several defeats (Bennett, Forced Into Glory: Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream,
Chicago: Johnson Publishing Company, 2000, pp. 23-24, 415-420, 498-504; see
also Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, pp. 139,
148-149, 200-202). Bennett also argues that
But Bennett’s arguments collapse upon close examination. Lincoln personally detested slavery, and about halfway into the war began to use the war as a means to end slavery in the Southern territories under federal control. Also, there is good evidence that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in good faith. There is also evidence that Lincoln believed God wanted him to issue the proclamation (see, for example, Stephen Mansfield, Lincoln’s Battle with God: A President’s Struggle with Faith and What It Meant for America, Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2012, pp. 164-170).
The proclamation provided no compensation for slaveholders, even though Lincoln himself had said this should be done, and even though most slaveholders treated their slaves humanely (as even many abolitionists had once been willing to admit). However, any suggestion of compensated emancipation would have been met with fierce resistance even by conservative Republicans and pro-war Northern Democrats. The Radical Republicans certainly were not about to support such a plan.
At a time when Northern citizens were under rationing and were seeing tens of thousands of their sons killed and wounded in the war, most Northerners were not in the mood to remember that several Northern states had reaped fantastic profits from the slave trade, and that when most Northern states had abolished slavery they had done so gradually and in a manner that enabled Northern slaveholders to recover the cost of their slaves.
If the Southern states were
still actually in the Union, as
Of course, the Southern
states had in fact left the
It should be pointed out that
American leaders reacted angrily when the British tried to incite a slave
revolt in the American colonies during the Revolutionary War. This was a
serious threat, since slaves were held in each of the thirteen colonies at the
time. The British offered freedom to American slaves who would fight in the
British army, and they encouraged slaves to sabotage the colonial war effort. Not
surprisingly, tens of thousands of slaves flocked to British army encampments. Fortunately,
however, not enough slaves fought for the British to turn the tide against the
Patriots. At the end of the war, at least 15,000 former slaves accompanied
British troops as they evacuated
Many Southern heritage defenders argue that the Emancipation Proclamation “did not free a single slave.” In one respect, this is true. At the time it was issued, the proclamation did not free any slaves, since it only applied to Confederate territory. However, as the war continued, thousands of slaves did in fact achieve freedom because of the proclamation. Prior to the issuance of the proclamation, numerous Union commanders refused to help or harbor runaway slaves. This refusal largely vanished after the proclamation took effect.
Republicans, the North, and Racism
(NOTE: In this section it will be necessary to quote some offensive words and statements from the Civil War era. I apologize to those readers who are offended by them.)
The same Republican-controlled Congress that eventually made forceful emancipation a secondary goal of the war and that imposed oppressive Reconstruction rule on the South after the war, also sanctioned the federal government’s terrible mistreatment of the American Indians. Historian C. Vann Woodward put it this way:
The same Congress that devised Radical Reconstruction . . . approved strict segregation and inequality for the Indian of the West. (In Blum and Catton et al, editors, The National Experience, p. 416)
With the Republicans firmly
in control of the federal government, the Union army began a series of brutal
campaigns against the American Indians a few months after the Confederate
commanding general, Robert E. Lee, surrendered at
Under Republican rule, the federal government ordered forced relocations, engaged in shameful treaty violations, and authorized merciless attacks in which thousands of Indians, including many women and children, were killed. Generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, fresh from having ravaged the South, were responsible for many of those attacks. The general who ordered the first post-war campaign against the Indians was Ulysses S. Grant. Much of the worst mistreatment of the Indians occurred when Grant was president (1868-1876). Republicans occupied the White House for all but seven of the thirty-one years from 1861 to 1892 (three of those seven years were under Lincoln’s vice president, Andrew Johnson, and the remaining four years did not come until 1884-1888). The Republicans controlled Congress for the majority of that period as well, especially from 1861 to 1874. Woodward described the federal treatment of the Indians from the beginning of the Civil War until 1890:
Indian war broke out in
Hardly had peace been restored to the Southwest in the fall of 1865 when Indian war broke out in the Northwest. The bloody Sioux War of 1865-67 was brought on by many forces, but it was triggered by the demands of minors who had invaded the Sioux country. . . .
The Chivington and Fetterman massacres, together with scores of minor battles and endless shooting scrapes, prompted the federal government to review its Indian policy in 1867. . . .
The new policy meant that
the Indians were to abandon their way of life, submit to segregation in small
out-of-the-way reservations on land spurned by the white man, and accept
government tutelage in learning “to walk the white man’s road.” The Black Hills
section of the
But many Indians refused to
renounce their way of life and enter meekly into the reservations. When they
took the warpath in the summer of 1868, General Sherman unleashed his troopers
and launched a decade of remorseless war against them. “I will urge General
Sheridan to push his measures for the utter destruction and subjugation of all
who are outside [the reservations] in a hostile attitude,”
By the end of 1874 all
seemed calm. Then in 1875, when government authorities permitted tens of
thousands of gold-prospectors to crowd into the
I agree with Thomas DiLorenzo’s point that the Republicans’ treatment of the Indians raises questions about their professed concern for social justice:
Before being elected
president, and while still commander of the U.S. Army, Ulysses S. Grant gave
General Sherman the assignment, in July of 1865, of conducting a campaign of
ethnic genocide against the Plains Indians to make way for the
government-subsidized railroads. “We are not going to let a few thieving,
ragged Indians check and stop the progress of the railroads,”
The eradication of the Plains Indians was yet another subsidy to the railroad industry, albeit an indirect one. Rather than paying for rights of way across Indian lands, as James J. Hill’s nonsubsidized Great Northern Railroad did, the government-subsidized Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads got the government to either kill or place on reservations every last Indian by 1890.
Sherman and Sheridan purposely planned their raids during the winter months when they knew entire families would be together. They killed all the animals as well as the people, ensuring that any survivors would not survive for very long. . . .
The fact that the war
against the Plains Indians began just three months after Lee’s surrender calls
into question yet again the notion that racial injustices in the South were the
primary motivation for Northerners’ willingness to wage such a long and
destructive war. No political party purporting to be sensitive to racial
injustice could possibly have even contemplated doing to the Indians what the
Both the Southern Confederates and the Indians stood in the way of the Whig/Republican dream of a North American economic empire, complete with a subsidized transcontinental railroad, a nationalized banking system, and protectionist tariffs. Consequently, both groups were conquered and subjugated by the most violent means. (The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War, Paperback Edition, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003, pp. 220-223)
Another example of Republican hypocrisy was the Republican Party’s platform for the 1868 presidential election. Ulysses S. Grant ran for president on this platform, and won handily. The platform stated that the Southern states should be forced to allow blacks to vote but that the Northern states should be allowed to decide this issue for themselves. The Republicans took this position even though every Northern state that had voted on amendments for black voting rights in the preceding three years had soundly defeated those amendments. Republican leaders knew that racism was so widespread in the North that they would lose the election if they advocated forcing the Northern states to allow blacks to vote. Many Republicans themselves were not enthusiastic about voting rights for Northern blacks anyway.
If the Republicans’ primary concern had been to ensure that blacks were allowed to vote, they would have insisted on black voting rights in all regions of the country. If they had done so, at least their position would have been consistent and morally defensible. But they did not do this. Furthermore, subsequent events suggest that the Republicans enforced black voting rights in the South primarily to expand their political power into that region. Once they achieved that power, they shamelessly plundered Southern taxpayers of all races. When the Republicans felt they no longer needed to maintain their power in the South, most of them seemed to lose interest in voting rights for African Americans.
Many Republican leaders,
including some of the Radicals, held racist views. Thaddeus Stevens, the leader
of the Radicals in the House, not only opposed racial integration but believed
blacks were less intelligent than whites. In the words of friendly biographer
Fawn Brodie, Stevens “insisted that he had never held to the doctrine of Negro
equality” (Fawn Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens: Scourge of the South, New
York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1959, p. 193; Hummel, Emancipating Slaves,
Enslaving Free Men, p. 300). Incidentally, Stevens also believed the
Constitution was “a worthless bit of old parchment” (Brodie, Thaddeus
Stevens, p. 292). Another powerful Radical in the House, George Julian,
lectured his fellow Republicans about their racism, saying, “The real trouble
is that we hate the negro. It is not his ignorance that offends us, but his
color. . . .” (Kenneth Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877,
Vintage Books Edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1965, p. 102). Benjamin Wade, a
leading Radical in the Senate, was overheard “railing about too many 'nigger'
cooks in the capital” and complaining that he had eaten so many meals “cooked
by Niggers” that he could “smell and taste the Nigger all over” (Klingaman, Abraham
Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 53). In the 1860 election
campaign, numerous Republican leaders championed their party as the true “White
Man’s Party” that would keep the western territories safe for white labor
(McPherson, Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, New York:
Alfred A. Knopf, 1982, p. 123).
The North has nothing to do with the Negroes. I have no more concern for them than I have for the Hottentots. . . . They are not of our race. (In Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 295)
Lincoln himself held racist
views, although those views did not prevent him from strongly pushing for the nationwide
abolition of slavery toward the end of the war. As a politician in
I will say, then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black races; that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying them to hold office, or having them to marry white people. I will say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which, I suppose, will forever forbid the two races living together upon terms of social and political equality, and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior and inferior, that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position being assigned to the white man. (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, New York: The Library of America, 1989, edited by Don Fehrenbacher, p. 751)
To be fair, it should be
To understand something of the nature of that problem we must look at the position of the American Negro in the 1860s. . . . Throughout the nation there were 488,000 free Negroes. . . . Most free Negroes—258,000—lived in the South. . . .
“Free people of color” were welcome in few places. In the North they were almost universally segregated, excluded from public life, and their children barred from white public schools. In those areas where separate Negro schools were provided they were inadequately financed and instruction was poor. . . .
The situation of the black American when the war ended was ambiguous. . . . Northerners as a whole, willing to concede freedom, were hostile to equality. Many of them dreaded an incursion of black folk after the war—especially among lower paid workers who feared Negro competition and some not so poorly paid who resented possible Negro entry into their crafts. The use of Negroes as strikebreakers during the war and their employment in areas where whites were out of work resulted in agitation and riots and intensified anti-Negro feeling.
Such sentiment, however, was
by no means confined to workingmen. Between 1865 and 1867 voters in
Historian James McPherson:
African-American scholars John Franklin and Alfred Moss:
There can be no doubt that
many blacks were sorely mistreated in the North and West. Observers like Fanny
Kemble and Frederick L. Olmsted mentioned incidents in their writings. Kemble
said of Northern blacks, “They are not slaves indeed, but they are pariahs,
debarred from every fellowship save with their own despised race. . . . All
hands are extended to thrust them out, all fingers point at their dusky skin,
all tongues . . . have learned to turn the very name of their race into an
insult and a reproach.” Olmsted seems to have believed the
Historian Michael F. Holt:
Many Northern whites also wanted to keep slaves out of the West in order to keep blacks out. The North was a pervasively racist society where free blacks suffered social, economic, and political discrimination; some midwestern states, indeed, legally banned the entry of blacks within their borders. Bigots, they sought to bar African-American slaves from the West. [David] Wilmot himself proudly and repeatedly called his measure [to bar slavery from new western territories] the “White Man’s Proviso.” (The Fate of Their Country: Politicians, Slavery Extension, and the Coming of the Civil War, New York: Hill and Wang, 2004, p. 27)
Historian C. Vann Woodward:
For all that, the Northern
Negro was made painfully and constantly aware that he lived in a society
dedicated to the doctrine of white supremacy and Negro inferiority. The major
political parties, whatever their position on slavery, vied with each other in
their devotion to this doctrine, and extremely few politicians of importance
dared question them. Their constituencies firmly believed that the Negroes were
incapable of being assimilated politically, socially, or physically into white
society. They made sure in numerous ways that the Negro understood his “place”
and that he was severely confined to it. One of these ways was segregation, and
with the backing of legal and extra-legal codes the system permeated all
aspects of Negro life in the
Leon F. Litwak, in his authoritative account, North of Slavery, describes the system in full development. “In virtually every phase of existence,” he writes, “Negroes found themselves systematically separated from whites. They were either excluded from railway cars, omnibuses, stagecoaches, and steamboats or assigned to special “Jim Crow” sections; they sat, when permitted, in secluded and remote corners of theaters and lecture halls; they could not enter most hotels, restaurants, and resorts, except as servants; they prayed in “Negro pews” in the white churches, and if partaking of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, they waited until the whites had been served the bread and wine. Moreover, they were often educated in segregated schools, nursed in segregated hospitals, and buried in segregated cemeteries.”
In very few instances were
Negroes and other opponents of segregation able to make any progress against
the system. Railroads in
Generally speaking, the
farther west the Negro went in the
Racial discrimination in
political and civil rights was the rule in the
By the eve of the Civil War the North had sharply defined its position on white supremacy, Negro subordination, and racial segregation. The political party that took control of the federal government at that time was in accord with this position, and Abraham Lincoln as its foremost spokesman was on record with repeated endorsements. . . .
It is clear that when its
victory was complete and the time came, the North was not in the best possible
position to instruct the South, either by precedent and example, or by force of
conviction, on the implementation of what eventually became one of the
professed war aims of the Union cause—racial equality. (Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow,
Historian David R. Roediger:
Historians have noticed the rise in racism in the urban North before the Civil War—a racism expressed in attacks on vestigial Black civil rights, in physical attacks on Blacks by white crowds, in the growth of racist invective, in color bars in employment and in the huge popularity of minstrel shows. . . .
We have seen the extent to
which triumphant republicanism proved compatible with the casting of Blacks as
“anti-citizens” to be excluded from civic affairs. For example, anyone the
color of Crispus Attacks, the martyr of
. . . the most common role for Black Philadelphians in antebellum Christmas maskings was as victims of blackfaced mobs [i.e., mobs of white people who had blackened their faces or wearing black masks]. . . . In 1834, blacked-up Philadelphians attacked Blacks in a major race riot not connected to Christmas maskings. In 1840, Blacks celebrating the Christmas season as part of the street processions were set upon by attackers in blackface. . . . But even when not celebrating on the streets, Blacks could not avoid attacks from those dressed as Jim Crow or Aunt Sally. Christmas racial clashes, initiated by blackface mobs, took place regularly between 1837 and 1848, with the last erupting into full-scale riot. Some of the violence involved white and Black gangs, but on other occasions, blacked-up mobs attacked African-Americans who were in church. . . .
The movement of “contraband”
Historian Joanne Pope Melish:
The emancipation of slaves in New England, beginning around 1780, was a gradual process, whether by post nati statute, as in Rhode Island and Connecticut, or by effect, as in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, where ambiguous judicial decisions and constitutional interpretations discouraged slaveholding without clearly outlawing it. . . . The emancipation process took place during the post-Revolutionary period of social and economic uncertainty that interrogated the stability of social identity and the meaning of citizenship for whites as well as people of color [blacks]. . . .
Even more problematic was the promise implicit in antislavery rhetoric that abolition, by ending “the problem”—the sin of slavery and the troublesome presence of slaves—would result in the eventual absence of people of color themselves. In other words, whites anticipated that free people of color would, by some undefined moment (always imminent), have disappeared.
New England whites employed
an array of strategies to effect the removal promised by antislavery rhetoric
and to efface [erase] people of color and their history in New England. Some of
these efforts were symbolic: representing people of color as ridiculous or
dangerous “strangers” in anecdotes, cartoons, and broadsides; emphasizing
slavery and “race” as “southern problems”; characterizing New England slavery
as brief and mild, or even denying its having existed; inventing games and
instructional problems in which the object was to make “the negroes” disappear;
digging up the corpses of people of color. Other efforts aimed to eliminate the
presence of living people of color: conducting official roundups and
“warnings-out”; rioting in and vandalizing black neighborhoods. Finally, some
efforts involved both symbolic and physical elements, such as the American
Colonization Society’s campaign to demonize free people of color and raise
funds to ship them to
[Ralph Waldo] Emerson’s
perceptive if simplistic observation about abolitionists of the 1850s applies
as well to eighteenth-century antislavery activists: “The abolitionist wishes
to abolish slavery, but because he wishes to abolish the black man.” Many
whites had imagined that gradual emancipation would ultimately restore
The hardening ideology of “race”—innate, permanent difference, located within the body as part of each person’s essential nature—effectively contained and managed people of color, as had the old institution of slavery. . . .
As sectional controversy
intensified, the mystique of a historically free, white
But the issue of the
extension of slavery racialized the question of the nature of the model
society, and “what New England is now” comprised not only judgments about the
superiority of small-town commerce and free labor over large-scale,
slave-dependent agriculture in the present but also assumptions about the
development of New England in the past as a region that was historically
“white” as well as “free.” In this context, efforts to remove free people of
The moral authority asserted
by the idea of a free, white New England also served to rationalize the
ambitions of many New Englanders and, ultimately, northerners—both
intellectuals and entrepreneurs—to dominate the South commercially and
culturally. . . . As Emerson said in support of the confiscation of
southerners’ property at the end of the war, “You at once open the whole South
to the enterprise and genius of new men of all nations, and extend New
When radical abolitionists—advocating immediate, uncompensated emancipation—began to gain adherents in the mid-1830s, they vilified the colonizationist argument, but their own position rested on quite similar assumptions about the superiority of Yankee blood and culture. The observation of Theodore Parker, leading Boston preacher and committed abolitionist, that “the Anglo-Saxon people . . . is the best specimen of mankind which has ever attained great power in the world”—although made later, in 1857—is quite typical of the thinking prevalent among New England abolitionists.
The few abolitionists who
The growing enmity on the
part of whites was clearly reflected in their public language; the use of the
word “nigger” in particular seemed to operate as a kind of coagulate of the
resentments that had been growing in white communities in tandem with the size
and visibility of the population of free people of color. People of color
themselves understood clearly how the term served to enact the embodiment of
innate, permanent inferiority. Hosea Easton described the process in his 1837 Treatise
on the Intellectual Character, and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored
People of the
“Negro or nigger, is . . . employed to impose contempt upon them as an inferior race, and also to express their deformity of person. Nigger lips, nigger shins, nigger heels, are phrases universally common among the juvenile class of society, and full well understood by them. . . . Children in infancy receive oral instruction from the nurse. The first lessons given are, . . . go to sleep, if you don’t the old nigger will carry you off; don’t you cry—Hark; the old nigger’s coming—how ugly you are, you are worse than a little nigger. . . . to inspire their half-grown misses and masters to improvement, they are told that if they do this or that, . . . they will be poor or ignorant as a nigger, or that they will be black as a nigger; or have no more credit than a nigger.”
In an explicit reference to
the scurrilous, lampooning broadsides then circulating widely in the streets of
A New England identity
remained somewhat appealing because for over half a century the idea of
But the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 stripped away even the legal convention of “freedom” and overshadowed the few formal advances, laying bare the reality of northern “racial” thinking and practices. Martin Delany spoke for a growing number of distinctly disenchanted northern people of color in 1852 when he stated baldly that the “free” states were nothing of the kind. . . .
What Harriet Wilson
published in 1859 was a remarkably clear-eyed assessment of the racialized
structure of New England life which had developed in the more than half a
century following the first steps toward emancipation of
The engagement of New
England in the Civil War can be read, as Lewis Simpson suggests, as a
nationalist and culturally imperialist enterprise fueled at least in
substantial part by the “racial” essentialism on the one hand and the mythology
of “freedom” on the other which
Ultimately, of course, the Civil War ended American slavery finally and completely, but northern people of color were not thereby released from racial thinking and practices whose origins were lost in a largely suppressed history of northern slavery and gradual emancipation. . . .
Long after the war ended,
the presence of people of color in
Historian Merton Dillon:
The ending of slavery in the North had not been accompanied by change in the racial attitudes that for so long had supported it. If anything, prejudice increased as the numbers of free Blacks grew and as the insecurities resulting from rapid economic and social change were felt throughout white society. Prejudice was not expressed in verbal slurs and social slights alone. Far more serious was the fact that custom barred most Blacks from economic and educational opportunity. Although striking examples can be cited of Blacks who overcame all such obstacles, the majority were shut out by prejudice from sharing in the profits and advantages of the growing American economy. . . .
Most Northerners still preferred that Blacks remain in the South and not attempt to settle in Northern white communities. In 1845—after more than a decade of intense abolitionist agitation—an Illinois state legislative committee asserted that “by nature, education, and association, it is believed that the negro is inferior to the white man, physically, morally, and intellectually: whether this be true to the fullest extent matters not, when we take into consideration the fact that such is the opinion of the vast majority of our citizens.” (The Abolitionists: The Growth of a Dissenting Minority, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1974, pp. 20-21, 74)
In the first half of the
nineteenth century, state legislatures in
City officials [in
Washington. D.C.] restricted Negro immigrants to the malaria-ridden lowlands
known as “
In early March ,
Congress took up a bill to abolish slavery in the
Passage of the Confiscation Act did not resolve the debate over emancipation in Congress. The bill itself freed no slaves. . . . At the same time, however, prejudice against Negroes was rising among white northerners. Some whites blamed Negroes for causing the war. . . . Other whites, particularly Irish immigrants living in Northern cities, feared that freed slaves might migrate north and compete with them as a source of cheap labor.
“There is but one thing, sir, that we want here,” announced an Ohioan to a visiting journalist, “and that is to get rid of the niggers.” A lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society reported that denunciations of Negroes “were never more common in my hearing. Many Republicans unite with Democrats in cursing the ‘niggers,’ and in declaring that the slaves, if possibly emancipated by the war, must be removed from the country”. . . .
When several state
governments found it necessary to institute conscription in the summer of 1862,
anti-Negro riots broke out among . . . communities in
Midwestern opponents of the
proclamation [the Emancipation Proclamation] raised the specter of several
million free Negroes fleeing
In the summer of 1863,
Late in the afternoon, a mob
set fire to the Colored Orphan Asylum at
Racial prejudice grew stronger in the riot’s aftermath. Fearful of renewed trouble, employers refused to hire Negroes; New Yorkers who befriended Negroes found themselves threatened by white laborers. Eventually one-third of the city’s black population left to seek better opportunities elsewhere. (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 54, 91, 117-118, 132, 164-165, 246-247, 262-264)
When it came to the issue of using blacks as soldiers in the Union army, most Northern whites either opposed the measure or favored it primarily because they wanted to save the lives of as many white soldiers as possible. Klingaman:
“Certainly we hope we may
never have to confess to the world that the
Vice President Hamlin
probably reflected northerners’ opinion . . . when he told a rally in
Several Northern states
rejected the Fifteenth Amendment, which was designed to guarantee voting rights
for African Americans and for other minorities. The amendment was submitted to
the states for ratification in February 1869. The Northern states of
To judge from some books on
the Civil War, one would never guess that slavery started in the North and that
it existed there for decades. In fact, slavery survived in two Northern states
until the middle of the Civil War. Slavery continued in two other Northern states
until the Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery several months after the war. One
rarely reads about the conditions of Northern slavery. One excellent study on
the subject is James and Lois Horton’s fascinating book In Hope Of
* Northern whites violently overreacted to rumors of slave conspiracies, and reacted even more harshly to actual slave revolts. In some cases, numerous slaves were tortured and then killed, and parts of their bodies were put on display as a warning to other slaves.
* Northern masters generally opposed allowing their slaves to learn to read and write, for fear this would make them harder to control and even dangerous. Slave revolts intensified Northern opposition to slave literacy.
* Northern governments enacted and enforced fugitive slave laws, i.e., they forced the return of runaway slaves. One Northern government even signed a fugitive slave treaty with local Indians in order to prevent slaves from running away to live among those Indians.
* Northern masters tended to
discourage slave marriages and apparently were not overly concerned about
keeping slave families intact. (This is in contrast to Southern masters, who
encouraged slave marriages and who usually strove to keep slave families intact.
Even James McPherson admits that 66-80 percent of Southern slave marriages were
not broken up. Data from the
* After most Northern states abolished slavery, ex-slaves actually found themselves shut out from nearly all skilled labor jobs in the North, whereas in the South free blacks and slaves alike had more access to such jobs.
* When most Northern states abolished slavery, racial prejudice against Northern blacks actually became worse, for a number of reasons, such as perceived labor competition and the fact that the social contact that had been required by the reality of slavery was no longer necessary.
* Northern society was
dominated by a wealthy elite. (Interestingly, the Hortons observe that
* Northern governments passed numerous “black laws” that discriminated against blacks. Some of these laws prohibited interracial marriage and imposed stiff penalties for violators.
* Runaway slaves were a constant problem. Northern newspapers routinely carried notices of masters looking for runaways.
* Some Northern governments passed laws to encourage the African slave trade. (In fact, several Northern states made huge fortunes from the slave trade.)
* In most cases, Northern emancipation was gradual and included generous clauses that allowed Northern masters to recoup most or all of the cost of their slaves.
* In Northern areas where slavery was more economically viable, there was stronger opposition to emancipation. This opposition was overcome by the very gradual nature of the emancipation programs and by the fact that they allowed slaveholders to largely recover the cost of their slaves, if not make a small profit.
The Hortons also document some interesting facts about the British and American approaches to slaves and slavery during the Revolutionary War. Students of the Civil War will see some interesting parallels between the Civil War and the Revolutionary War with regard to these issues. For example:
* Shortly after the Continental Army was formed, slaves and free blacks were barred from serving in it. Lord Dunmore, on the other hand, offered freedom to slaves who would serve the British cause.
* Most blacks in the American army were used in menial labor positions, not as combat troops.
* Although the commanding general of the Continental Army issued an order allowing for the enlistment of free blacks in December 1775, colonial governments and the Continental Congress were slow to approve this change.
* The Americans considered it
insulting for the British to use their own slaves against them. Lord Dunmore
made note that the use of black soldiers was sure to anger and distress the
American “rebels.” The Hortons add, “For many Americans such behavior [the
British use of American slaves as soldiers] confirmed their belief that
* As many as 100,000 slaves ran away from their masters during the Revolutionary War and flocked to British lines. Thousands of them fought for the British.
* At least 15,000 ex-slaves evacuated with the British army.
* British abolitionist politicians noted the inconsistency in the American position of “yelping” for liberty while upholding slavery. Samuel Johnson said, “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Another British critic said, “If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his frightened slaves.”
Was the War Fought Over Slavery?
Initially, the war was fought
over Southern independence, not over slavery, but as the war dragged on,
slavery became a major reason the war was being waged. Lincoln said repeatedly
the war was not being fought over slavery. In August 1862, over a year after
the war started, Lincoln wrote an open letter to a prominent Republican
abolitionist, Horace Greeley, in which he said he did not agree with those who
would only “save the Union” if they could destroy slavery at the same time. Lincoln
added that if he could “save the
If there be those who would
not save the
My paramount objective is to
If I could save the
In July 1861, after the First
Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) had been fought, the U.S. Congress passed a
resolution, by an overwhelming majority, that declared the war was not being
fought to disturb slavery, nor to subjugate the South, but only to “maintain
Later on, about halfway
through the war, the Radicals and other Republicans succeeded in making the
uncompensated abolition of Southern slavery a secondary goal of the war.
Also, as the war progressed, Lincoln began to use the war to abolish slavery in
the areas of the South that were under federal control. However, the primary
purpose of the federal invasion was always to destroy Southern independence and
to force the seceded states back into the
Historian Jeff Riggenbach has published an insightful overview of American history that includes a refreshingly candid, sensible analysis of the causes of the Civil War. Among other things, Riggenbach says,
Gore Vidal presents it in
Vidal might well have found inspiration for such a view of the war in the writings of Charles Beard and William Appleman Williams. For, as Beard wrote in 1927 in Volume II of The Rise of American Civilization,
"Since the abolition of slavery never appeared in the platform of any great political party, since the only appeal ever made to the electorate on that issue was scornfully repulsed, since the spokesman of the Republicans emphatically declared that his party never intended to interfere with slavery in the states in any shape or form, it seems reasonable to assume that the institution of slavery was not the fundamental issue during the epoch preceding the bombardment of Fort Sumter."
Williams agreed. In his Contours of American History (1961), he wrote that “neither Lincoln nor the majority of northerners entered the war in an abolitionist frame of mind or entertaining abolitionist objectives.” Williams is even more explicit in his 1976 book
[Jeffrey R.] Hummel’s view of the Civil War is remarkably like Vidal’s. “Historians and buffs debate the fundamental causes of the American Civil War almost as hotly today as the combatants did then,” he writes. “We can simplify our understanding of the Civil War’s causes, however, if we follow the advice of one eminent historian, Eric Foner, and ask two separate questions. Why did the southern states want to leave the
In fact, as Hummel points out, one of the most prominent leaders of the abolitionist movement, William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the weekly abolitionist paper The Liberator and one of the organizers of the leading abolitionist organization, the American Anti-Slavery Society, was an enthusiastic proponent of secession – for the North. Garrison and his followers “felt that this best hastened the destruction of slavery by allowing the
In effect, Lincoln refused to allow, first the lower South, then the entire Confederacy, to go in peace because he was committed to a conception of the United States as a perpetual nation, with whose central government the component states had no right to end their association – he was committed, not to a voluntary Union, but to a compulsory one. (“An Introduction to Revisionism,” LewRockwell, http://lewrockwell.com/riggenbach/riggenbach3-4.html)
The war itself really had
nothing directly to do with slavery, at least initially. It is true that
disputes over slavery were the most important factors behind the first wave of
secession, but secession and the war were two separate events. Additionally,
four of the Southern states did not secede over slavery. Secession was a
peaceful, democratic process. The seceded states posed no threat to the federal
government, and they had no intention of trying to overthrow the federal
government. The Confederate states wanted to live in peace with the North and
offered to pay their share of the national debt and to pay compensation for all
federal forts in the South. If
Some will make the argument
that had it not been for slavery there would have been no war, and that
therefore slavery caused the war or that the war was fought over slavery. It is
probably true that there would have been no war if there had been no slavery. However,
even this is not certain. After all,
We must distinguish between
factors and causes. Slavery was one of several factors that led to the war, but
the cause of the conflict was the Republicans’ refusal to allow the South to
leave in peace. The role that slavery played as a factor that led to the war
was similar to the role that oil played as a factor that led to the first Gulf
War in 1991. If there had been no Kuwaiti oil fields,
If the Southern states had
not seceded, there would have been no war—and slavery would have continued. If
the Southern states had surrendered when
The reaction of the Northern
abolitionists to the proposal of fellow abolitionist Moncure Conway is further
proof the war was not fought over slavery. Nearly all the abolitionists
supported the Radicals. Conway, on the other hand, was a pacifist. Yet, at
The cries of protest on this
side of the
As one reads the speeches and
letters of Confederate leaders during the war, it becomes apparent that they
certainly did not believe their main reason for fighting was to preserve slavery.
For example, beginning in late 1862, James Phelan, Joseph Bradford, and Reuben
Davis wrote to Jefferson Davis to express concern that some opponents were
claiming the war "was for the defense of the institution of slavery"
(Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 479-480, 765). They called those
who were making this claim "demagogues.” Cooper notes that when two
Northerners visited Jefferson Davis during the war,
Jefferson Davis said
repeatedly that the South was fighting for the same “sacred right of
self-government” that the revolutionary fathers had fought for. In his first
message to Congress [the Confederate Congress] after the fall of
To most Southerners, independence was more important than was the continuation of slavery. This is not surprising, since less than 10 percent of Southern citizens actually held title to slaves, and since 69-75 percent of Southern families were not slaveholders (John Niven, The Coming of the Civil War: 1837-1861, Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990, p. 34; Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 389; see also the 1860 Census). Historian Mark Smith provides additional perspective on the number of slaveholders in relation to the South’s white population of about 8 million:
Half of the South’s 385,000 slaveholders (out of . . . a total white population of about 8 million in 1860) owned one to five slaves, about 38 percent belonged to the middling ranks, and 12 percent owned 20 or more bondpeople. . . . Census data suggest that only 13,000 masters owned more than fifty slaves in 1860, and 75 percent of white families owned no slaves whatsoever. . . . (Mark H. Smith, Debating Slavery: Economy and Society in the Antebellum American South, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p. 15)
Early in the war, James
Alcorn, a powerful planter-politician from
Jefferson Davis summarily
General Lee added his prestige to the proposal: “We must decide whether slavery shall be extinguished by our enemies and the slaves used against us, or use them ourselves at the risk of the effects which may be produced upon our social institutions,” he warned. “My own opinion is that we should employ them without delay. . . . The best means of securing the efficiency and fidelity of this auxiliary force would be to accompany the measure with a well-digested plan of gradual and general emancipation.” In March of 1865, the Confederate Congress narrowly authorized the recruitment of 300,000 slaves, while the Davis Administration promised full emancipation to the British and French governments in exchange for diplomatic recognition. (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, pp. 280-281)
A Confederate soldier who was captured early in the war expressed the South’s reason for fighting in simple yet eloquent terms. He wore a ragged homemade uniform, and like most other Southerners he did not own any slaves. When Union soldiers asked him why he was fighting for the Confederacy, he replied, “I am fighting because you’re down here” (McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 311, emphasis added).
To judge from their own letters, most Union soldiers did not believe the war was being fought over slavery and did not really care about the fate of the slaves. As McPherson observes, Bell Wiley studied the attitudes of Union soldiers on emancipation and concluded that barely one in ten “had any real interest in emancipation per se” (For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 117). Based on his own analysis of a representative sampling of the letters of federal troops, McPherson concludes that probably less than one in ten Union soldiers fought solely for the abolition of slavery; such soldiers, he says, were “rare indeed” (For Cause and Comrades, p. 117). He adds that for the first half of the war, only thirty percent of the men in blue viewed the abolition of slavery as a necessary part of the primary goal of preserving the Union (For Cause and Comrades, pp. 117-118). The percentage rose substantially later in the war, but it is unclear by exactly how much. McPherson also points out that “few Union soldiers professed to fight for racial equality” (For Cause and Comrades, p. 117). Thus, it is not surprising that many if not most of the Union soldiers who linked emancipation with preserving the Union did so only because they saw it as a military measure—i.e., as something that would weaken the Confederate war effort---and not because they cared about the slaves themselves. McPherson explains,
The attitudes of a good many
soldiers on the matter were more pragmatic than altruistic. They understood
that every slave laborer who emancipated himself by coming into Union lines
weakened the Confederate war effort. It also strengthened the Union army. “I
don’t care a damn for the darkies,” wrote an
The second factor that converted many soldiers to emancipation was a growing conviction that it really did hurt the enemy and help their own side. “I have always until lately been opposed to Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation,” wrote a private in the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, a distiller by trade, in May 1863, “but I have lately been convinced that it was just the thing that was needed to weaken the strength of the rebels. . . .” (For Cause and Comrades, pp. 119, 125)
What Happened at
The question that really should be asked is, Why did thousands of Confederate prisoners die of starvation, disease, and exposure in Northern prison camps when the Union army could have easily given them adequate food, housing, and medical care?
Yes, thousands of Union
prisoners died of starvation, disease, and exposure at the Confederate prison
One of the most balanced
treatments of the issue of
The Andersonville prison,
until the soldiers built huts for themselves, was but a stockaded enclosure of
sixteen and a half acres in southwestern Georgia. Mosquito-infested tents;
myriads of maggots; pollution and filth due to lack of sanitation; soldiers
dying by thousands; men desperately attempting to tunnel their way to freedom;
prison mates turning on their fellows whom they suspected of treachery or
theft; unbaked rations; inadequate hospital facilities; escaping men hunted
down by bloodhounds—such are the details that come down to us from
incontrovertible sources. The causes of such conditions are to be found in the
sheer inability of officers in charge to cope with the immense number of
prisoners pouring in on them before preparations could be made to receive them,
the insurmountable difficulties in obtaining supplies and equipment, and the
poverty of the Confederacy in material resources. Union prisoners at
The sickening story of
Even McPherson agrees that Confederate authorities did not deliberately mistreat Union prisoners:
Few if any historians would now contend that the Confederacy deliberately mistreated prisoners. Rather, they would concur with contemporary opinions—held by some northerners as well as southerners—that a deficiency of resources and the deterioration of the southern economy were mainly responsible for the sufferings of Union prisoners. The South could not feet its own soldiers and civilians; how could it feed enemy prisoners? (The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 800)
At least some Union generals
knew that the Confederates did not even have enough food and medicine for their
own soldiers. It is revealing that General Dan Sickles told
Apart from the objections which exist to the policy of retaliation, it is at least doubtful whether it would inure to the benefit of our men, for the reason that the enemy are reported to be without the means to supply clothing, medicines and other medical supplies even to their own troops. (Official Records, Series 2, Volume 7, p. 575)
Union soldier Edward Boate
was a prisoner at
You rulers who make the charge
that the rebels intentionally killed off our men, when I can honestly swear
they were doing everything in their power to sustain us, do not lay this
flattering unction to your souls. You abandoned your brave men in the hour of
their cruelest need. They fought for the
Much could be said about the
thousands of Confederate prisoners who died in Union prison camps and about the
horrible conditions in many of those camps. The
The worst Union prison was
In January 1865,
Rebel prisoners in our hands are to be subjected to a treatment finding its parallels only in the conduct of savage tribes and resulting in the death of multitudes by the slow but designed process of starvation and by mortal diseases occasioned by insufficient and unhealthy food and wanton exposure of their persons to the inclemency of the weather. (Congressional Globe, 38th Congress, 2nd session, January 24, 1865, p. 381)
Senate Resolution 97 was approved by the U.S. Senate on January 31, 1865. This meant that the abuse of Confederate prisoners was endorsed by the U.S. Senate. The mistreatment of Confederate prisoners had already been going on well before Senate Resolution 97 was passed, but the resolution’s passage gave the mistreatment the Senate’s stamp of approval. Fortunately, the resolution was almost immediately made irrelevant when prisoner exchanges were finally resumed a short time later. Still, it is sickening that the U.S. Senate officially endorsed the cruel treatment of Confederate prisoners.
The tragedy at Andersonville
never would have happened if the
I suspect the real reason
Lincoln and Grant refused to continue prisoner exchanges was that they wanted
to deprive the Confederate army of manpower, even though they knew the
Confederacy was in no position to properly care for the thousands of Union
prisoners in its prison camps. In fact, in August 1864 Grant said exchanging
prisoners would help the Confederacy more than the
I find it somewhat hard to believe
that men like Lincoln and Grant refused to resume prisoner exchanges because of
the Confederate policy on black Union prisoners. Lincoln doggedly opposed using
blacks as soldiers until Union casualties began to mount and the Radicals
forced his hand. When
Still more unmistakable
Ignoring this testimony and
pleas from major leaders, including some Union officers, a military court
sentenced Sergeant Walker to death. Although
Grant’s concern for humanity
was nowhere to be seen when he bombed the civilian population of
It is true that when the
Confederacy offered to include black prisoners in the exchanges, Lincoln and
Grant accepted the offer. But this did not occur until late January 1865, when
it seemed clear in the North that the
After the war, Lincoln’s assistant Secretary of War, Charles Dana, blamed Grant for the breakdown in prisoner exchanges, saying "the evidence proves that it was not the Confederates who insisted on keeping our prisoners in distress, want and disease, but the commander of our armies" (in Lynn Tyler, A Confederate Catechism, Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company, 2000, reprint, p. 36, quoting from "Treatment of Prisoners During the War Between the States," Southern Historical Papers, Vol. 1, pp. 112-327). Dana told the New York Sun that “the fact is unquestionable that while the Confederates desired to exchange prisoners, to send our men home, and to get back their own men, General Grant steadily and strenuously resisted such an exchange” (Mildred Rutherford, Truths of History, Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company, reprint of original 1920 edition, p. 21).
Why did the Confederacy initially decline to include black Union prisoners in prisoner exchanges? A key point to remember is that the Confederacy was willing to exchange black Union prisoners who had been legally free when they enlisted, but they did not believe they should have to return prisoners who were runaway or captured slaves. From the Confederate viewpoint, since those slaves had either run away or had been stolen, they had no right to be soldiers in the federal forces that were invading the South. I can certainly sympathize with those runaway slaves who joined the Union army in the hope of securing freedom for themselves and for their fellow slaves. I can also understand why the Confederates felt the way they did on the matter.
Critics point out that when
Union forces began using slaves as soldiers, Confederate leaders announced that
those soldiers and their white officers would be prosecuted for slave
insurrection and executed. These critics never mention that the Confederates’
reaction to the use of slave soldiers against them was essentially identical to
the American Patriots’ reaction to the British use of runaway slaves as
soldiers during the Revolutionary War. American Patriot leaders, including
George Washington, were alarmed and resentful when they learned that the British
were offering freedom to American slaves who would fight in the British army. In
fact, the colonial legislature of
At the start of the Civil
War, the Union general in command of the Army of the Potomac, with no objection
To most Southern citizens,
No such right is acknowledged as a law of war by writers who admit any limitation. (In Robert Durden, The Black and the Gray: The Confederate Debate on Emancipation, Louisiana Paperback Edition, Baton Rouge: LSU Press, 2000, reprint of 1972 edition, p. 27)
One of the reasons that
Whereas George the Third,
King of Great-Britain, in violation of the Principles of the British
Constitution; and of the Laws of Justice and Humanity, hath by an Accumulation
of Oppressions unparalleled in History . . . hath excited the Savages of the
country to carry on a war against us; as also the Negroes to imbrue their Hands
in the blood of their masters, in a manner unpracticed by civilized nations.
(“Provincial Conference of Committees of Committees of the
Another fact that critics rarely mention is that Confederate forces rarely carried out the execution threat (Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, p. 418; Randall and Donald, The Civil War and Reconstruction, pp. 393-395). Indeed, a credible case can be made that the number of Southern slaves killed by Union troops was considerably larger than the number of black Union soldiers executed by Confederate troops. And, just to provide some historical perspective, it should be kept in mind that the number of slaves who died on Northern slave ships during the American involvement in the overseas slave trade was far greater than the total number of slaves who died in combat during the Civil War.
All this being said, Confederate leaders would have done themselves a huge favor in the eyes of history if they had agreed to include black soldiers who were former slaves in the prisoner exchanges from the outset, instead of waiting until a few months before the war ended to include them.
Did the South Control the Federal Government Until 1860?
The claim is frequently made that the South controlled the federal government until the 1860 election, and that therefore the South showed a lack of tolerance and fairness when it seceded in response to Lincoln’s victory. However, anyone who is familiar with American history knows that the South did not control the federal government until 1860. Many Northern politicians and writers trumpeted this myth for political and propaganda purposes. A major component of this myth was that the alleged “Slave Power” in the South was behind the South’s supposed domination of the federal government. Some Northern leaders even claimed there was a “Slave Power conspiracy” to impose slavery on the entire country. When the war ended, Radical Republicans issued dire warnings about the need to crush this supposed Slave Power in order to justify their subjugation and looting of the defeated South.
For one thing, wealthy
Southern plantation owners, i.e., the men who allegedly comprised the supposed
Slave Power, did not dictate Southern politics. Moreover, they were by no means
uniform in their political beliefs. In fact, many affluent planters were Whigs
(Frank Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, LSU Press Edition, LSU
Press, 1982, pp. 141-142; Arthur Schlesinger, The Age of Jackson,
Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945, p. 453; McPherson, The Battle Cry
of Freedom, p. 242). And, as mentioned earlier, some of the wealthiest
slaveholders opposed secession. In
Nor is it to be inferred that a plantation “aristocracy” somehow controlled the political destinies of the region, for the current of democracy had eroded the powers of the gentry until “whatever influence the planters exercised over the political action of the common people was of a personal and local nature” [quoting Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, p. 139]. (The Civil War and Reconstruction, pp. 40-41)
Even in the very conservative
Deep South state of
White manhood suffrage had existed since 1832, and the sovereign voters required wooing and intermingling from their prospective officeholders. . . .
This was emphatically not a
political world in which rich planters controlled candidates and elections
while sipping sherry and juleps in elegant drawing rooms. Energetic campaigning
Historian Francis Butler Simkins called attention to the democratic reforms that the South began to adopt in the early 1800s:
Facts prove that the states
of the Old South, through a series of progressive reforms, conformed to the
contemporary definition of democracy as “an equal division of political rights,
not of property.” They cast aside the Colonial heritage of suffrage
restrictions, property qualifications for officeholding, and unequal
apportionment of legislative representation. Kentucky,
These restrictions, however,
were not more comprehensive than those prevailing in
If the South truly “controlled” the federal government until 1860, one can only wonder why the federal tariff was never as low as the South wanted it to be, why Congress gave the Northern states a legal monopoly in the lucrative shipbuilding business and why this monopoly was never repealed, why it took ten years for Texas to be admitted as a state, why Cuba was never annexed, how the Missouri Compromise became law in 1820, how the Tariff of Abominations passed Congress in 1828, how the Force Bill passed Congress in 1833, how the tariff act of 1842 passed Congress, how the John Calhoun resolutions of 1847-1848 were all defeated, how the Wilmot Proviso passed the House of Representatives twice, how the Compromise of 1850 was enacted, why Kansas wasn’t admitted as a slave state, why the Missouri Compromise line wasn’t extended to the west coast, and how the draconian Morrill Tariff passed the House in 1860. Some critics claim that Southern congressmen supported the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, but in point of fact most Southern congressmen voted against it (see Taussig, The Tariff History of the United States, pp. 61-62).
It is true that there were periods when the South had more influence on federal policy than did the North, but there were also periods when this was not the case. At no time did the South control the federal government in terms of doing whatever it wanted. Cooper notes that “after mid-1854 no chance remained for a congressional majority on any initiative marked as a southern measure” (Jefferson Davis, American, p. 284). The South was usually able to block or modify unwanted bills in the Senate, but not always, and the South was frequently unable to defeat unwanted bills in the House. As early as 1819 “the North had built up a decisive majority in the House of Representatives” (Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 281). Historian John Niven notes that the South continued to lose ground in the House from 1830 to 1840:
The House of Representatives,
whose membership was based on the census returns for each state, reflected this
growing disparity [between the populations of the North and the South]. Even
counting three-fifths of the slave population (as the federal Constitution
provided), free states increased their majority from twenty-three seats in 1830
to twenty-nine seats in 1840. The disparity expressed in total seats was 149
representatives from the
As for the presidency, Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, William Harrison, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan were all Northern politicians. And who were the Southern presidents? They were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk, and Zachary Taylor. So the South by no means enjoyed exclusive control of the White House prior to the war. Furthermore, the “Southern” presidents did not automatically take the South’s side on all issues, just as the “Northern” presidents did not automatically take the North’s side on all issues. For example, President Taylor sided with Northern politicians on crucial aspects of the Compromise of 1850 and also supported the Wilmot Proviso, even though he himself was a slaveholder.
When the South did exercise
considerable influence on federal policy, it used that influence toward efforts
to reduce taxes, to limit the growth of the federal government, to curb or
eliminate harmful protectionist trade policies, to impose fiscal responsibility
on federal spending, to abolish the corrupt United States Bank, to preserve our
free banking system, to prohibit the use of tax dollars for wasteful corporate
welfare schemes, to expand the land area of the United States by acquiring new
territory, to preserve the sovereignty of the states, and to enforce a strict
interpretation of the Constitution. Under Southern leadership,
I am not saying that Southern
politicians did no wrong. For example, the Southern-inspired 1836-1844 gag rule
in the House of Representatives preventing debate on petitions to abolish
slavery in the
All Americans should be
grateful that most Northern politicians did not get their way during crucial
times in the decades leading up to the Civil War. If the Northern Federalists,
followed by the Northern Whigs, had been in control of the government during
certain key periods before the war,
How would things have been
different if the Northern Whigs had had their way?
With regard to domestic policy, if the Northern Whigs had had their way, the tariff would have been even higher than it was, the federal government would have grown significantly, federal spending would have increased markedly, corporate welfare would have exploded, and our system of free banking would have been destroyed much sooner (the Republicans destroyed it during the Civil War).
If the Northern Federalists
had been in power in the early 1800s, the
In addition, if the
Federalist-dominated New England states had had their way, the War of 1812 with
New Englanders refused to cooperate with the war effort. . . . New Englanders carried on a lucrative, though illegal, commerce with the enemy. When the U.S. Treasury appealed for loans to finance the war, wealthy northern merchants failed to respond. (Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 254)
Historian Kenneth Stampp:
New England Federalists
throughout the war regarded the . . . politicians in
contested federal calls on the state militias. . . . Federalists discouraged
voluntary enlistments. . . . Federalists resisted tax measures and boycotted
government loans. . . . Meanwhile, New Englanders defiantly continued to trade
Historian Forrest McDonald:
New Englanders protested
loudly and refused to cooperate in the prosecution of the war. With
congressional authorization, Madison issued a call for 100,000 militiamen, but
those in New England refused to hear the call, and the governor of
Massachusetts intervened to prevent their being forced into service. . . . Similarly,
bankers in the region refused to subscribe to loans to the
But the Yankees went beyond
resistance into activities that were literally treasonable, even by the
Constitution’s restricted definition of that crime. Through well-established
What was more important in dividing
Americans in their attitudes toward the war was a British blockade, imposed
partially by the end of 1812 and made total by the middle of 1813—except for
When the Northern Federalists gained control of the federal government in 1796, they tried to use their newly found power to silence political opponents. In 1798 they passed the infamous Sedition Act, which made it illegal to “falsely” criticize a federal official:
The Federalists did not rely solely on the army to crush political dissent. During the summer of 1798, the party’s majority in Congress passed a group of bills known collectively as the Alien and Sedition Acts. This legislation authorized the use of federal courts and the powers of the presidency to silence [political opponents]. . . . The acts were born of fear and vindictiveness, and in their efforts to punish the followers of Jefferson, the Federalists created the nation’s first major crisis over civil liberties. . . .
The Sedition Law struck at
the heart of free political exchange. It defined criticism of the
Historian Edmund Morgan wrote
that the Sedition Act “was one of the most repressive measures ever directed
against political activity in the United States” (in Blum and Catton et al,
editors, The National Experience, p. 162). Legal scholar John Remington
Graham observes that the Sedition Act “broadly criminalized libel against
public officers of the
As if freedom of the press
had not become part of constitutional heritage in the
Historian John Garraty:
Finally, there was the Sedition Act. Its first section, making it a crime “to impede the operation of any law” or attempt to instigate a riot or insurrection, was reasonable enough; but the act also made it illegal to publish, or even to utter, any “false, scandalous and malicious” criticism of high government officials.
Although based on English precedents . . . this proviso rested, as James Madison said, on “the exploded doctrine” that government officials “are the masters and not the servants of the people.” To criticize a king is to try to undermine the respect of his subjects. . . . To criticize an elected official in a republic is to express dissatisfaction with the way one’s agent is performing his assigned task, certainly no threat to the state itself. The fundamental difference between these two modes of thought escaped the Federalists of 1798.
This, of course, is mere theory. Far worse was the Federalists’ practice under the Sedition Act. As the election of 1800 approached, they made a systematic attempt to silence the leading . . . [opposition] newspapers of the country. Twenty-five persons were prosecuted and ten convicted, all in patently unfair trials. In typical cases, editor Thomas Cooper was sentenced to six months in jailed and fined $400 [a substantial amount of money at the time], editor Charles Hall got three months and a $200 fine, editor James Callender got nine months and a $200 fine. (John Garraty, The American Nation, Volume 1: A History of the United States to 1877, p. 155)
Founding fathers Thomas
Jefferson and James Madison rightly viewed the Sedition Act as a dangerous step
toward a police state. In response to this threat to free speech and liberty,
Jefferson authored the Kentucky Resolutions, while
In the summer of 1798 a Federalist
Congress passed, and President Adams signed, a series of acts designed to
strengthen the government’s hand and to silence domestic critics. . . . The
most controversial measure was the Sedition Act. . . . For a period of two
years it was declared unlawful for anyone to “write, print, utter, or publish”
anything “false, scandalous and malicious” against those in federal office. It
was further declared seditious to bring Congress or the president “into
contempt or disrepute” or to “excite against them . . . the hatred of the good
people of the
Dominated by Federalist
legislators, all of the Northern states denounced the
In a 1799 letter to
Historian Frank Owsley
pointed out that
Under the Sedition Act men
had been prosecuted for criticizing the President or members of Congress or
judges and had been sent to prison in violation of the Constitutional guarantee
of freedom of speech. Opinion had been suppressed, meetings broken up,
arbitrary arrests made, men held without trial, in fact, the whole body of
personal liberties had been brushed aside by the Federalist or centralizing
party. . . . Jefferson and Madison, supported by the state-rights apostle of
Virginia, John Taylor of Caroline, and . . . John Randolph, proclaimed that the
federal government had thus shown itself to be an unsafe protector of liberty. So
When Northern Federalists
sought to block the admission of
Six years later the
territorial legislature of
In a letter to William
The battle over
The Missouri Compromise,
passed in 1820, limited the extension of slavery to a small section of the
territories of the Louisiana Purchase. The compromise prohibited slavery in the
Louisiana Purchase north of the southern border of
In 1856 the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Roger Taney, ruled in the Dred Scott decision that Congress did not have the right to ban slavery in the territories and that therefore the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. However, the Republicans made it clear that if they gained control of Congress, they would attempt to ban slavery in all the territories, even though the Supreme Court had just ruled that Congress had no right to ban slavery in any territory. Most Southern leaders viewed the Republican position as unfair and lawless. Under Republican territorial policy, founding fathers like George Washington and James Madison, both of whom were slaveholders, would have been barred from settling in the territories unless they came there without their slaves.
The Southern position was that each territory had the right to abolish or legalize slavery when it applied for statehood, but that until then slaveholders should have equal access to the territories. Southern leaders argued that since the territories were supposed to be the common possession of all citizens, it was unfair to ban slaveholders from them, especially since slaveholders had played an important role in winning the Mexican War, which resulted in the acquisition of the territories granted in the Mexican Cession.
Most Southern leaders viewed equal access to the territories as a matter of honor and principle, as well as a matter of law. They knew that relatively few slaveholders had relocated into those territories where slavery was legal. They also knew that very few slaveholders had moved into the territories even after the Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that Congress could not prohibit slavery in any of the territories. However, Southern statesmen felt it was wrong in principle to treat slaveholders as second-class citizens by denying them equal access to the territories. They knew that Northern wage slavery was not banned from the territories. They knew that Northern factory owners who cruelly abused their workers enjoyed full access to the territories and were free to bring their inhumane sweatshops with them. They knew that most slaveholders treated their slaves better than many Northern factory owners treated their workers. So most Southern leaders felt it was unfair and insulting to deny slaveholders equal access to the territories.
There were two major Southern positions on what should be done to provide slaveholders full access to the territories. One position, advocated by Senator Albert Brown, was that federal legislation should mandate the protection of slavery in each territory until the territory became a state. The other position, advanced by men like Jefferson Davis, James Orr, and Alexander Stephens, was that the people of each territory should be able to decide whether or not to allow slaveholders to travel or settle among them with their slaves (Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 327-329). The Republicans, on the other hand, argued that under no circumstances should any new territory be allowed to permit slavery, even though the territory could choose to abolish slavery when it became a state.
It is often overlooked that
the main dispute over slavery between Northern and Southern leaders involved
the extension of slavery into the territories, not the continuation of slavery
where it already existed. Most Republicans were not opposed to the continuation
of slavery in those states where it was already established. Indeed, as
mentioned earlier, the majority of the men in
If the Republicans had been
willing to compromise to a relatively small degree on the extension of slavery,
the Deep South states may very well have rejoined the Union soon after they
seceded (in fact, they may not have seceded at all if the Republicans had not
insisted on banning slavery in all the territories). Shortly after
That Crittenden's scheme had
wide and enthusiastic public support there could be no question. John A. Dix,
Edward Everett, and Robert Winthrop no sooner saw it than they wrote
approbatory [approving] letters. Martin Van Buren declared that the amendments
[proposed in Crittenden's plan] would certainly be ratified by three-fourths of
the States. The Senator received hundreds of assurances from all over the North
Early in January, Crittenden rose in the Senate to make the remarkable proposal that his compromise should be submitted to the people of the entire nation for their solemn judgment, as expressed by a popular vote. . . . The proposal inspired widespread enthusiasm. . . . Because of Republican obstruction, interposing delay after delay, it never came to a vote in the Senate. . . . (The Emergence of Lincoln, pp. 392-393, 401-402)
Historian David Potter says the following about the defeat of the Crittenden Compromise:
What do we mean,
specifically, by saying that the Republican party rejected compromise? Certain
facts are reasonably familiar in this connection, and may be briefly recalled.
In December, 1860, at the time when a number of secession conventions had been
called in the Southern states but before any ordinances of secession had been
adopted, various political leaders brought forward proposals to give assurances
to the Southerners. The most prominent of these was the plan by Senator John J.
It is important to understand that most Republicans wanted to ban slavery from the territories primarily because they wanted to reserve the territories for white workers. When they were Whigs or Free Soilers in 1846-1849, most Republican politicians, including Lincoln, supported the Wilmot Proviso, which at one point would have banned free blacks from moving into the territories, in addition to banning slavery there (Divine et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 413). Also, as mentioned previously, in the 1860 election campaign many Republican candidates championed their party as the true “White Man’s Party” that would reserve the territories for white labor. Wilmot himself proudly called his proposal the “White Man’s Proviso” (Holt, The Fate of Their Country, p. 27). Lincoln’s attitude on this issue reflected the thinking of most Republicans:
Now irrespective of the moral aspect of this question as to whether there is a right or wrong in enslaving a negro, I am still in favor of our new Territories being in such a condition that white men may find a home—may find some spot where they can better their condition—where they can settle upon new soil and better their condition in life. I am in favor of this not merely (I must say it here as I have elsewhere) for our own people who are born amongst us, but as an outlet for free white people everywhere, the world over. . . . (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, New York: The Library of America, 1989, edited by Don Fehrenbacher, p. 807)
Textbooks and virtually all
history books summarily dismiss the Supreme Court’s position on the Missouri
Compromise in the 1857 Dred Scott ruling. However, the court’s position
on this issue is by no means untenable. Critics of the decision note that the
congress of the Articles of Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, which
banned slavery in what was then the Northwest Territory (and permitted it in
the territorial lands south of the
On a side note, Chief Justice Taney’s reputation has been unfairly brutalized over the Dred Scott decision. Taney’s position on the Missouri Compromise was and is credible and defensible, and if he had stopped there he would have been on solid ground. But, tragically and mistakenly, Taney also ruled in Dred Scott that the Constitution barred blacks from federal citizenship, and that the sublime statement in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” did not apply to blacks. Civil rights advocates were justifiably outraged by these arguments.
However, before we judge Taney too harshly, a few things should be said in his defense. Although he argued that the Constitution did not permit blacks to be federal citizens, he added that they could receive state citizenship. He made it clear that the court’s ruling did not prevent states from conferring full citizenship on slaves, and that the court’s decision only involved federal citizenship. As for Taney’s mistaken belief that blacks were not included in the phrase “all men are created equal,” even many Northerners shared this view at the time, including Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois. Lincoln himself did not believe the phrase referred to inherent equality but only to legal equality in certain respects, and more than once he called the Declaration of Independence "the white-man's charter of freedom" (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Writings 1832-1858, pp. 269, 477; see also Bennett, Forced Into Glory, pp. 303-304).
Taney hinted that he realized that the denial of federal citizenship to slaves was unjust but that he felt bound by the Constitution to reach the decision that he reached. He pointed out that it was not the place of judges to rule on the basis of justice or injustice in deciding the legality of laws, but on the basis of the text of the Constitution and the original intent of its authors. Said Taney,
It is not the province of the court to decide upon the justice or injustice, the policy or impolicy, of these laws. The decision of that question belonged to the political or law-making power; to those who formed the sovereignty and framed the constitution. The duty of the court is, to interpret the instrument they have framed, with the best lights we can obtain on the subject, and to administer it as we find it, according to its true intent and meaning when it was adopted.
The change in public opinion and feeling in relation to the African race, which has taken place since the adoption of the Constitution, cannot change its construction and meaning, and it must be construed and administered now according to its true meaning and intention when it was formed and adopted.
It should also be pointed out
that Taney had no love for slavery. In fact, Taney disliked slavery and had
long since freed his own slaves. Very few textbooks mention these facts. To his
credit, McPherson mentions them in his book The Battle Cry of Freedom. McPherson
also notes that Taney was “committed to liberating American enterprise from the
shackles of special privilege,” that as President Jackson’s Secretary of the
Treasury he helped destroy the Second Bank of the
On the other hand, it must be admitted that some Southern leaders were guilty of making a mountain out of a molehill on the issue of slavery in the territories. They knew that Southern slaveholders had displayed virtually no interest in moving to the territories. They also knew that there was no chance that any territory would vote to legalize slavery once it became a state in the Union. The issue of slavery expansion into the territories was a phantom issue that elements on both sides dishonestly exploited.
Actually, the violence in “Bleeding Kansas” was not appreciably more severe than was common in newly opened frontier communities, and a lot of it involved land claims and other disputes having no bearing upon slavery. But newspapers in the Northeast carried sensational stories almost daily and portrayed the actions as representing unmitigated proslavery aggression. (States’ Rights and the Union, p. 171)
Historian Thomas Woods:
It was fairly clear that
slavery would not take root in
A recent study concluded
that of the 157 violent deaths that occurred during
Any response to the charge that the South controlled the federal government before the war wouldn’t be complete without an examination of the Brooks-Sumner incident. The incident is often cited as an example of the South’s alleged intolerance and barbarism even in the halls of Congress. On May 22, 1856, Representative Preston Brooks of South Carolina walked onto the floor of the Senate carrying a cane. Brooks was looking for Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts. Sumner, a Radical Republican, had crudely insulted Brooks’s aged uncle, Senator Andrew Butler, in a Senate speech two days earlier. Brooks saw Sumner sitting at his desk on the Senate floor. He approached Sumner, told him his speech was insulting, and without warning proceeded to strike him several times with the cane. Sumner struggled to rise from his desk, but collapsed as Brooks continued to strike him.
The nature of the injuries
that Sumner suffered is still debated, but there is evidence they may have been
serious. Over the next several months, Sumner did return to the Senate two or
three times to cast votes on key issues, but some of his wounds became infected
and he suffered painful headaches. He then went on an extended trip to
Shortly after the attack,
Northern congressmen tried to expel Brooks from the House, but they failed to
achieve the two-thirds majority required for expulsion. Northern politicians
were outraged that Southern representatives wouldn’t vote to expel Brooks. Not
all Southern congressmen necessarily condoned Brooks’s assault, but most of
them believed that Sumner had behaved in a rudely provocative manner and that
therefore Brooks’s conduct did not warrant expulsion. I can’t condone Brooks’s
behavior. By any reasonable measurement, his use of force was unacceptable. I
suspect I would have voted to expel him from the House, or at least to censure
him (he was in fact censured). However, I agree with Lloyd Paul Stryker that
the attack “was provoked if any ever was” (Andrew Johnson, p. 51). Senator
The way in which events in
Many Southerners believed that Brooks’s act was unwise because it played into the hands of the abolitionists, although there were few who felt that it was not justified. His Southern colleagues prevented his expulsion from Congress by refusing the necessary two-thirds majority, and when he resigned voluntarily he was re-elected with only six votes cast against him. Enthusiastic friends presented him with suitably inscribed canes and wrote exultant editorials. Brooks did not like these vulgar manifestations of approval. He was a courtly gentleman far removed from the ruffian depicted in the abolitionist propaganda. To him the chastisement of Sumner was an unpleasant duty under a code of honor which required that the slanderer of a helpless kinsman should not go unpunished. (A History of the South, p. 200)
Historian Lyon G. Tyler, son of President John Tyler, pointed out that when one Northern congressman attacked another Northern congressman in an earlier incident similar to the Brooks-Sumner affair, neither offender was expelled and both were reelected:
The remarkable point is that
The Reconstruction Era
Time only allows me to provide a limited sketch of the “Reconstruction” program that the Republicans imposed on the South after the war. I do not deny that some good things were accomplished during Reconstruction. Nor do I deny that Reconstruction, as bad as it was, could have been worse. However, most textbooks only talk about the good aspects of Reconstruction, while they ignore or minimize the negative aspects. The unjust, illegal aspects of Reconstruction merit discussion.
If Abraham Lincoln had lived, Reconstruction probably would have been much milder and much shorter in duration. Lincoln’s policies were reasonable and mild, much to the consternation of the Radical Republicans. Few of our modern history books discuss just how bitterly the Radicals hated Lincoln and his forgiving approach to Reconstruction.
Reconstruction began in 1865 under Lincoln and officially ended in 1877. After Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, President Andrew Johnson largely followed Lincoln’s mild reunification policies. However, the Radicals took control of Reconstruction in 1867 and imposed harsh terms. This was Radical Reconstruction.
The Radicals illegally placed
the South under military rule. They divided the South into five military
districts, each governed by a Union army general. They nullified the recent
Southern elections and refused to allow Southern congressmen to take their
seats in Congress, even though these men had been elected in elections that
were just as valid as any election that had been held in the North. Not content
with their political subjugation of the South, the Radicals and other
Republicans allowed the Southern states to be looted and exploited for years by
Northern business interests and by corrupt Reconstruction governments. The
Radicals did these things over the strenuous objections of
The Radicals also shamelessly
During the worst period of Reconstruction, Southerners who voiced objections to Republican policy could be jailed, and even executed, without indictment or trial. Southern newspapers that criticized Reconstruction ran the real risk of being shut down, and some newspapers were closed down for this reason. Federal troops were stationed all over the South, and in some cases their conduct was disgraceful and abusive. Many Republican operatives and other Northerners who came to the South poisoned race relations by inciting former slaves to hate and persecute Southern whites.
The Republicans made it illegal for males who had served in the Confederate army or in the Confederate government to vote or hold public office. Ex-Confederates could only vote if they were willing to lie by taking the “ironclad oath.” The oath disqualified any man who had served in the Confederacy or who had even “aided” the Confederacy. Of course, this excluded a large majority of Southern men. To their credit, some Southern black leaders opposed denying former Confederates the right to vote, but their efforts were unsuccessful. New Southern legislatures and governors were chosen in elections in which most former Confederates were barred from voting. These corrupt Reconstruction state governments imposed oppressive taxes on their citizens and also stole or wasted a staggering amount of taxpayer money. Historian Albert B. Moore noted the vindictive, unjust nature of Reconstruction:
The war set the stage for a
complete reconstruction of the South. Furious hatred, politics, economic
considerations, and a curious conviction that God had joined a righteous North
to use it as an instrument for the purging of the wicked South gave a keen edge
to the old reconstruction urge. The victories of bullets and bayonets were
followed by the equally victorious attack of tongues and press. Ministers
mounted their pulpits on Easter Sunday, the day following President Lincoln’s
tragic death, and assured their sad auditors that God’s will had been done,
that the President had been removed because his heart was too merciful to
punish the South as God required. An eminent
Many unfriendly writers invaded the South, found what they wanted, and wrote books, articles, and editorials that strengthened the conviction that the South must be torn to pieces and made anew. Books, journals, and newspapers stimulated the impulse to be vigilant and stern, to repress and purge. . . .
The repudiation of its debts impoverished the South and destroyed its financial relationships. While the South lost its debts, it had to pay its full share of the northern debts which amounted to about four-fifths of the total northern war expenses. The money for this debt was spent in the North for its upbuilding. It paid also its share of the $20,000,000 returned by the Federal treasury to the northern states for direct taxes collected from them during the war, and of extravagant pensions to Union soldiers. Professor James L. Sellers estimates that the Sound paid in these ways an indemnity of at least a billion dollars to the North. . . .
It would be safe to say that the people of the North never understood how the South suffered during the Radical regime. The Radicals who controlled most of the organs of public opinion were in no attitude of mind to listen to southern complaints, and most people were too busy with the pursuit of alluring business opportunities that unfolded before them to think much of what was going on down South. . . .
The South staggered out of the Reconstruction, which ended officially in 1877, embittered, impoverished, encumbered with debt, and discredited by Radical propaganda. . . . The tax load had been devastating. The lands of thousands upon thousands had been sold for taxes. Huge state and local debts, much of which was fraudulent, had been piled up. So many bonds, legal and illegal, had been sold that public credit was destroyed. (In Gerald Grob and George Billias, editors, Interpretations of American History, Volume 2, New York: The Free Press, 1967, pp. 33-35, 37-38, original emphasis)
Hummel notes the heavy tax burden that was imposed on the South after the war:
. . . the war-ravaged South
suffered under some of the heaviest state and local taxation in proportion to
Economist Thomas DiLorenzo discusses some of the ways in which Republicans and Northern business interests exploited the South during Reconstruction:
What did the Republican Party do with its monopolistic political power? First, it plundered Southern taxpayers by greatly expanding state and local governmental budgets. Little of this governmental expansion benefited the general public; the main beneficiaries were the thousands of “carpetbaggers” (and a few “scalawags”) who populated the newly bloated governmental bureaucracies and who benefited from government contracts. . . .
The biggest item on the agenda of the Republicans was government subsidies to the corporations that bankrolled the Republican Party. The Confederate Constitution outlawed such corporate welfare, but with the defeat of the Confederate armies there was no longer any opposition to it.
From 1866 to 1872 the eleven southern states amassed nearly $132 million in state debt for railroad subsidies alone. In countless instances bonds were issued but were backed by no property of any value. In many states bonds were sold before work began on railroads, and “dishonest promoters sold these bonds for what they could get and never built the roads.” [Quoting E. M. Coulter, The South during Reconstruction, LSU Press, p. 150]. . . .
The federal government established a “Land Commission” that was ostensibly set up to buy property and turn it into homesteads for ex-slaves. Instead, most of the land was handed out to those with good connections to the Republican Party. . . . Many recipients of land grants were paid “front men” for mining and timber companies.
Many of the Republican Party operatives who dominated Southern legislatures during Reconstruction literally sold their votes for cash on a daily basis: The going rate was just under $300 per vote. . . . The expansion of government provided myriad opportunities for bribery, and Republican Party opportunists took great advantage of them. . . .
The historian E. Merton Coulter catalogued myriad ways in which Republican Party operatives figured out how to loot Southern taxpayers:
* By 1870 the cost of
printing alone to the government of
* Before the war a session
* Taxes on property were
increased by intolerable amounts so that the governmental agents could then
confiscate the property for “unpaid taxes”. . . . By 1872 property taxes in the
South were, on average, about four times what they were in 1860. In
The tax collectors stole much
of this money. More than half a million dollars in taxes collected in 1872 were
never turned in to the
Although the South was
economically destitute, a punitive five cents per pound federal tax was placed
on cotton, making it difficult, if not impossible, for many cotton growers to
stay in business. A military order stated that anyone who had sold cotton to
the Confederate government must give up his cotton to the
In order to keep this
corrupt system running, the Republican-controlled governments subsidized
pro-Republican newspapers to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars annually
and, in some cases, granted them legal monopolies in the newspaper business in
particular towns. In effect, the Republicans were extending
Steven Weisman discusses some of the ways that the Republicans punished and exploited the South during Reconstruction:
The election in the fall of
1866 cemented the control of Congress by radical Republicans, emboldening them
not only in their punitive approach to the South but also in their drive for
high tariffs and muscular government on behalf of business. Among the harshest
of the Reconstruction Era steps directed at the South was the invalidation of
the entire Confederate debt. Congress also ruled out any possibility of
slaveholders being compensated for the loss of their slaves. Beyond the total
destruction of vast swathes of Confederate farmlands and cities, these steps
wiped out billions of dollars of assets held by the South’s aristocracy. By
contrast, in the North, everything possible was done to redeem the
As noted, Northern business interests took full advantage of the South’s subjugation during Reconstruction. African-American scholars Franklin and Moss note that “Northern financiers and industrialists took advantage of the opportunity to impose their economic control on the South, and much of it endured for generations” (From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, p. 264). Kenneth Davis concedes that Southern railroad companies were "burdened for decades by unfair rates and restrictive tariffs set by Northerners, who controlled the vast majority of railways and the legislatures that set rates" (Don't Know Much About the Civil War, pp. 425-426).
“But,” some will ask, “wasn’t slavery abolished under Reconstruction?” Yes, slavery was abolished during the Johnson phase of Reconstruction when the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865. We can all agree that slavery was wrong and that it needed to be abolished. But it was abolished in a way that was unfair and that caused enormous damage to the Southern economy. Under the Thirteenth Amendment, Southern slaveholders received no compensation for their slaves. The abolition of slavery without compensation cost the South about two billion dollars in capital, and it reduced real estate values by at least that amount. In terms of modern monetary value, this represented a total loss of over sixty billion dollars.
Southern slaveholders should have been able to recover the cost of their slaves, just as Northern slaveholders had been able to do decades earlier. Most Southern slaveholders treated their slaves humanely. Many of these men believed they had a Christian duty to properly and respectfully care for their slaves. One doesn’t have to condone human bondage to acknowledge that in most cases Southern slavery was administered humanely. This isn’t the place for an extended discussion on Southern slavery, but the following facts should be noted:
* When the Works Progress Administration interviewed thousands of ex-slaves in the 1930s, most of those who commented on how they were treated said their masters were good men.
* Southern slaves had a life expectancy that was comparable to urban populations and higher than in some European nations. In fact, slaves had a longer life expectancy than did Northern factory workers.
* The diet and housing of slaves were comparable to, if not usually better than, the diet and housing of Northern factory workers. According to the 1860 Census, there were 5.2 persons per house among slave households on large plantations, whereas there were 5.3 persons per house among free households. In the vast majority of cases, a slave family lived in a house, not in a dormitory with other families.
* In many cases slaves received a greater share of the product of their labor than did many Northern factory workers.
* Most slaves marriages were not
broken up. McPherson, a pro-Northern historian, acknowledges that 66-80 percent
of slave marriages remained intact. An interesting statistic is that nearly 40
percent of the marriages performed in Southern Episcopal churches between 1800
and 1860 were slave marriages. On average, only one out of every twenty-two
slaveholders sold a slave in a year, and about one-third of those cases
occurred in the sale of estates of masters who had died. The records from the
* Most slave overseers were black.
* The suicide rate among slaves was much lower than the suicide rate among whites.
* Hundreds of thousands of slaves, if not millions, were converted to Christianity under slavery.
* Even in the 1850s some slaves were able to buy their freedom, partly because they were permitted to earn money.
For documentation of the above facts, see Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman, Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery, Norton Edition with Afterword, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1989, pp. 38-157; McPherson, Ordeal By Fire, pp. 34-36; Walter Kennedy, Myths of American Slavery, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 2003, pp. 101-139; John J. Dwyer, editor, The War Between the States: America’s Uncivil War, Denton, Texas: Bluebonnett Press, 2005, pp. 67-86; and Eugene D. Genovese, Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, Vintage Books Edition, New York: Vintage Books, 1974, pp. 325-565.
Granted, no matter how humanely slavery was administered, it was still wrong. The point is that most Southern slaveholders did not deserve to lose their slaves without at least some compensation, and that this unfair policy did great damage to the South’s economy.
Textbooks note the fact that Radical Reconstruction included civil rights reforms that enabled former slaves to vote. However, they almost never mention information that sheds important light on those reforms. If the Republicans had enacted and implemented these reforms in a legal, ethical manner, and if their motives for doing so had been noble, they would deserve nothing but praise. But such was not the case. Most Republican leaders supported the imposition of these reforms because they wanted to control and exploit the Southern states, not because they really cared about the fate of the ex-slaves. Republican operatives manipulated, and sometimes even coerced, ex-slaves to vote Republican so the Republican Party could take over Southern state governments.
Many Republican operatives
who came to the South during Reconstruction did all they could to poison race
relations between ex-slaves and Southern whites. Once the Republicans took
control of Southern state governments, they proceeded to engage in large-scale
corruption and oppression, which harmed blacks and whites alike. A respected
moderate Southern leader in
Great resources were expended on registering the adult male ex-slaves to vote, while a law denying the franchise to anyone involved in the late “rebellion” disenfranchised [took away the right to vote from] most Southern white men. So rigorous were the restrictions placed on white Southern males that anyone who even organized contributions of food and clothing for family and friends in the Confederate army was disenfranchised, as were all those who purchased bonds from the Confederate government. Even if one did not participate in the war effort, voter registration required one to publicly proclaim that one’s sympathies were with the Federal armies during the war. . . .
The federally funded “Union Leagues” were run by Republican Party operatives and administered voter registration of the ex-slaves. This, too, was a dramatic change in the nation’s political life, for tax dollars taken from taxpayers of all political parties were being used to register only Republican voters. The ex-slaves were promised many things, including the property of white Southerners, if they registered and voted Republican and, at times, were threatened or intimidated if they dared to register Democrat. All of this was funded with federal tax dollars. . . . For years, these men, along with government bureaucrats associated with the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” promised blacks that if they voted Republican they would be given the property of the white population (and, of course, they never were).
Missionaries and many other
people assisted the ex-slaves in integrating into society, but the primary
concern of the Party of Lincoln was to get them registered to vote Republican,
not to educate them, feed them, or help them find employment. The result was
that by 1868 ten of the fourteen southern
If Northerners in general and the Republican Party in particular wanted blacks to be given the vote because of their concern for social equality, then one has to wonder why voters in Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, and Kansas refused to extend the right to vote to blacks in 1867 and 1868. . . . (The Real Lincoln, pp. 208-210, original emphasis)
Congressman Lawrence Patton McDonald discussed some of the illegal measures and negative consequences of the Radicals’ reconstruction program:
After a brief period of
vacillation, Andrew Johnson, who succeeded
The Radical Republicans succeeded in getting their reconstruction programs enacted into law; and then, to make their principal features permanently binding, they proposed the Fourteenth Amendment. Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress did not vote for the resolution proposing the Fourteenth Amendment, as must be done under the Constitution for legal passage of such a resolution. The Radical Republican majority resolved that the resolution did pass, and submitted it to the states for ratification. Three-fourths of the states did not ratify the proposed amendment, as required by the Constitution; but the Radical Republican majority in Congress had the Secretary of State proclaim it ratified anyway—on July 20, 1868. By then, the Radical Republicans controlled not only Congress but also the executive branch. They had the judicial branch thoroughly intimidated, and their cohorts controlled many state governments in the North. . . .
Two hundred years of slavery created relationships that would have been slow to change for the better under the best of circumstances. Negroes were freed under the worst of circumstances—suddenly, by a storm of violence. And they were started, unprepared, on the long road toward the responsibilities as well as the blessings of freedom, amidst a volcano of hatreds which the violence had caused. Conceivably, the road would have been smoother and the trip faster, if the freed blacks could have lived amidst the whites who were hailed as their liberators [i.e., Northern whites], with no outsiders around to agitate mutual hatreds, resentments, and fears. Unfortunately, it was the other way around.
The military power that destroyed white supremacy in the South established black supremacy. Under the protection of this invading military force, white outsiders manipulated and used southern Negroes, but did not educate them, or even permit them to learn much about the burdens and responsibilities that freedom itself imposes. When northern military rule was withdrawn in 1877, and white supremacy was again established in the South, southern blacks and whites were in even worse condition (socially and economically) to establish a harmonious society than they would have been in if left alone at the end of the Civil War. (Lawrence Patton McDonald, We Hold These Truths: A Reverent Review of the U.S. Constitution, Seal Beach, California: ’76 Press, 1976, pp. 55-56, 92)
Civil rights could and should have been advanced through legal, ethical means. Yes, this would have taken longer, but it would have preserved the constitutional republic that our founding fathers gave us, and all Americans would have been better off in the long run. Instead, in the name of imposing civil rights on the South, the Republicans subverted the rule of law, permitted Republican operatives to engage in astonishing corruption, looted the South for years, poisoned race relations, illegally and unethically amended the Constitution, further destroyed the balance of power between the states and the federal government, and empowered the federal government to perform functions that the founding fathers did not want it to perform.
The Radicals claimed that
drastic measures against the South, including the imposition of military rule,
were necessary because of Southern black codes and because of alleged
lawlessness in the region. Historian
William Dunning of
As a justification for
military rule, it was declared . . . that “no legal state governments or
adequate protection for life or property” existed in the “rebel states”
enumerated. Thus the organizations which Lincoln and Johnson had with so much
care nurtured into vigorous life were formally pronounced by Congress destitute
of legality as state governments and “subject to the paramount authority of the
The reasoning by which the policy of Congress was justified in the North was regarded in the South as founded on falsehood and malice. So far as the “black codes” were concerned, it was pointed out that they could not be alleged as evidences of a tendency to restore slavery or introduce peonage, since the offensive acts had in many of the states been repealed by the legislatures themselves, and in all had been duly superseded by the civil rights act. (Reconstruction, Political and Economic 1865-1877, Harper Torchbook Edition, New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1962, pp. 93-94, 110)
Thomas E. Woods says the following about the black codes:
These codes curtailed black
liberty in various degrees and the Radicals described them as a continuation of
slavery. But the codes were essentially based on Northern vagrancy laws and
other restrictive legislation that was still on the books when the
Reconstruction Acts were drawn up. Historian Ralph Selph Henry contends that
“there was hardly a feature of the apprenticeship and vagrancy acts of
“In the northeast, as well
Two modern scholars, H. A. Scott Trask and Carey Roberts, contend that the black codes have been misunderstood in their intent and exaggerated in their impact:
“Most granted, or recognized, important legal rights for the freedmen, such as the right to hold property, to marry, to make contracts, to sue, and to testify in court. Many mandated penalties for vagrancy, but the intention there was not to bind them to the land in a state of perpetual serfdom, as was charged by the Northern Radicals, but to end what had become an intolerable situation—the wandering across the South of large numbers of freedmen who were without food, money, jobs, or homes. Such a situation was leading to crime, fear, and violence.”
The sense of moral
righteousness that dominated fashionable Northern opinion often blinded
Northerners to their own problems. The Chicago Tribune protested the
black codes of
Historian John Blum, though critical of certain aspects of the black codes, says the provisions against vagrancy were required by conditions at the time:
The moderates as well as the Radicals objected . . . to the “black codes” that the former Confederate states adopted. These codes represented the initial Southern effort to regulate the economic and social lives of the freed slaves. Many of the Negroes, without experience with freedom, drifted aimlessly about the country, expecting charity and avoiding work, sometimes stealing or carousing. The “black codes” were designed to discourage vagrancy and to minimize race friction. (In Blum and Catton et al, editors, The National Experience, p. 377)
Historian John Garraty concludes that when viewed in historical perspective, even the most restrictive of the black codes were a marked improvement over slavery:
. . . the so-called Black Codes enacted by Southern governments to control former slaves alarmed the North. These varied in severity from state to state. When seen in historical perspective, even the strictest codes represented a considerable improvement over slavery. Most permitted blacks to sue and to testify in court, at least in cases involving members of their own race. Blacks were allowed to own certain kinds of property; marriages were made legal; other rights were guaranteed. (The American Nation, Volume 2: A History of the United States Since 1865, Eighth Edition, New York: HarperCollins, 1995, p. 434)
Nevertheless, it must admitted that Southern leaders showed bad judgment in formulating the black codes. The codes were too severe and could and should have been milder. In addition, the black codes, perhaps justifiably, enraged many Northerners, even some Northerners who supported quick and mild reunification. The black codes also gave the Radical Republicans a powerful excuse for imposing their harsh version of Reconstruction.
I would like to conclude this
discussion on Reconstruction by quoting a substantial portion of President
Johnson’s veto of the first Radical Reconstruction Act. Before doing so, I
should point out that the Radicals tried to remove Johnson from office because
he opposed their Reconstruction program, even though he had staunchly supported
the war and had opposed secession. When
When the Radicals realized
Johnson was not going to cooperate with them, they turned on him with a
vengeance. They impeached him in the House and then put him on trial in the
Senate, on the basis of utterly frivolous charges--they fell just one vote
short of the two-thirds majority required for conviction. Amazingly, a few
Radicals even tried to frame Johnson for
I have examined the bill "to provide for the more efficient government of the rebel States" with the care and the anxiety which its transcendent importance is calculated to awaken. I am unable to give it my assent for reasons so grave that I hope a statement of them may have some influence on the minds of the patriotic and enlightened men with whom the decision must ultimately rest. The bill places all the people of the ten States therein named under the absolute domination of military rulers. . . .
The bill . . . would seem to show upon its face that the establishment of peace and good order is not its real object. The fifth section declares that the preceding sections shall cease to operate in any State where certain events shall have happened. . . . All these conditions must be fulfilled before the people of any of these States can be relieved from the bondage of military domination; but when they are fulfilled, then immediately the pains and penalties of the bill are to cease, no matter whether there be peace and order or not, and without any reference to the security of life or property. The excuse given for the bill in the preamble is admitted by the bill itself not to be real. The military rule which it establishes is plainly to be used, not for any purpose of order or for the prevention of crime, but solely as a means of coercing the people into the adoption of principles and measures to which it is known that they are opposed, and upon which they have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment.
I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority, in palpable conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution, and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic have shed so much blood and expended so much treasure.
The ten States named in the bill are divided into five districts. For each district an officer of the Army, not below the rank of a brigadier-general, is to be appointed to rule over the people; and he is to be supported with an efficient military force to enable him to perform his duties and enforce his authority. Those duties and that authority, as defined by the third section of the bill, are "to protect all persons in their rights of person and property, to suppress insurrection, disorder, and violence, and to punish or cause to be punished all disturbers of the public peace or criminals."
The power thus given to the commanding officer over all the people of each district is that of an absolute monarch. His mere will is to take the place of all law. The law of the States is now the only rule applicable to the subjects placed under his control, and that is completely displaced by the clause which declares all interference of State authority to be null and void. He alone is permitted to determine what are rights of person or property, and he may protect them in such way as in his discretion may seem proper. It places at his free disposal all the lands and goods in his district, and he may distribute them without let or hindrance to whom he pleases. Being bound by no State law, and there being no other law to regulate the subject, he may make a criminal code of his own; and he can make it as bloody as any recorded in history, or he can reserve the privilege of acting upon the impulse of his private passions in each case that arises. He is bound by no rules of evidence; there is, indeed, no provision by which he is authorized or required to take any evidence at all. Everything is a crime which he chooses to call so, and all persons are condemned whom he pronounces to be guilty. He is not bound to keep and record or make any report of his proceedings. He may arrest his victims wherever he finds them, without warrant, accusation, or proof of probable cause. If he gives them a trial before he inflicts the punishment, he gives it of his grace and mercy, not because he is commanded so to do. It is plain that the authority here given to the military officer amounts to absolute despotism. But to make it still more unendurable, the bill provides that it may be delegated to as many subordinates as he chooses to appoint, for it declares that he shall "punish or cause to be punished."
Such a power has not been
wielded by any monarch in
I come now to a question
which is, if possible still more important. Have we the power to establish and
carry into execution a measure like this? I answer, Certainly not, if we derive
our authority from the Constitution and if we are bound by the limitations
which it imposes. This proposition is perfectly clear, that no branch of the
Federal Government--executive, legislative, or judicial--can have any just
powers except those which it derives through and exercises under the organic
law of the
I need not say to the representatives of the American people that their Constitution forbids the exercise of judicial power in any way but one--that is, by the ordained and established courts. It is equally well known that in all criminal cases a trial by jury is made indispensable by the express words of that instrument. . . .
An act of Congress is proposed which, if carried out, would deny a trial by the lawful courts and juries to 9,000,000 American citizens and to their posterity for an indefinite period. It seems to be scarcely possible that anyone should seriously believe this consistent with a Constitution which declares in simple, plain, and unambiguous language that all persons shall have that right and that no person shall ever in any case be deprived of it. The Constitution also forbids the arrest of the citizen without judicial warrant, founded on probable cause. This bill authorizes an arrest without warrant, at the pleasure of a military commander. The Constitution declares that "no person shall be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on presentment by a grand jury". . . .
The United States are bound to guarantee to each State a republican form of government. Can it be pretended that this obligation is not palpably broken if we carry out a measure like this, which wipes away every vestige of republican government in ten States and puts the life, property, liberty, and honor of all the people in each of them under the domination of a single person clothed with unlimited authority?. . .
It is a part of our public
history which can never be forgotten that both houses of Congress, in July
1861, declared in the form of a solemn resolution that the war was and should
be carried on for no purpose of subjugation. . . . This resolution was adopted
and sent forth to the world unanimously by the Senate and with only two
dissenting voices in the House. It was accepted by the friends of the
The True Nature of the War
In reality, the Civil War was
not a civil war. In a civil war, two or more factions fight for control of the
national government. But the South was not trying to overthrow the national
government, nor was it trying to achieve exclusive control of the government. The
South merely wanted to leave the federal government in peace and was willing to
pay its share of the national debt and to pay compensation for federal
installations in the Southern states. The Confederacy tried to establish
peaceful relations with the federal government, but
The Civil War was a war of
aggression against the South. Republican leaders and their wealthy Northern
backers used the force of the federal government to destroy Southern
independence. Some of these men despised the South. Radical Republicans saw in
secession an excuse to subjugate and exploit the Southern states. Northern
business leaders who favored protectionism feared that their financial empires
would be threatened if the Confederate states were able to trade directly with
other nations with the much lower Confederate tariff. The Republicans were not
about to lower the tariff, since they were committed to drastically raising it
(which they did soon after the South seceded). Rather than fairly compete with
the low Confederate tariff by lowering the federal tariff, the Republicans and
many Northern moneymen opted to destroy the Confederacy by force. As discussed
earlier, Charles Adams demonstrates that after the Confederacy announced its
low tariff, influential Northern business interests began to strongly oppose
peaceful separation, and more Northerners began to adopt a hardline stance on
Northern industrial and
financial leaders wished to destroy the influence of the agrarian South in
Weisman, after opining that “the great economic changes and tensions of the era” were a major cause of the war, takes note of the relevant conclusions of historians Charles and Mary Beard in their widely acclaimed book The Rise of American Civilization:
In their seminal work The Rise of American Civilization, Charles and Mary Beard argued that the Civil War constituted a second American Revolution, with the manufacturing base of the North solidifying control over the rest of the country, crushing the South militarily and wielding the economic power to take control of the West. For the Beards, the regressive tariff system was the core of this system of control, because tariffs helped to build up industry at the cost of those in the farm sector, placing the burden of government on the consuming masses rather than the capitalist and owner classes. (The Great Tax Wars, pp. 102-103)
Even Lerone Bennett, an African-American scholar who is strongly critical of the Confederacy, agrees that the Northern industrialists supported the war for monetary gain, had no interest in emancipation, and used blacks as pawns:
There was finally—and conclusively—the game plan of the Northern industrialists, who were fighting not for Black freedom or, to tell the truth, White freedom, but for the freedom to exploit and develop the American market. Everything indeed suggests that Ralph J. Bunche was correct when he said that the freeing of the slaves was “only an incident in the violent clash of interests between the industrial North and the agricultural South—a conflict that was resolved in favor of the industrial North. In this struggle the Negro was an innocent pawn.” (Forced Into Glory, pp. 547-548)
Lysander Spooner, though an ardent abolitionist, harbored no illusions about why the Republicans invaded the South. Spooner was so radical in his opposition to slavery that he participated in a plan to free John Brown, the violent abolitionist who murdered proslavery settlers in Kansas and who tried to incite slave revolts throughout the South with his raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia. Yet, in spite of his passionate opposition to slavery, Spooner was sharply critical of the Republicans. He opposed their use of force against the South. He blamed the war on the Republicans and called the war evil. He also opposed Radical Reconstruction. He argued that Northern industrialists and merchants supported the war and Radical Reconstruction in order to maintain the North’s economic dominance:
And it was to enforce this price in the future --- that is, to monopolize the Southern markets, to maintain their industrial and commercial control over the South --- that these Northern manufacturers and merchants lent some of the profits of their former monopolies for the war, in order to secure to themselves the same, or greater, monopolies in the future. These --- and not any love of liberty or justice --- were the motives on which the money for the war was lent by the North. In short, the North said to the slave-holders: If you will not pay us our price (give us control of your markets) for our assistance against your slaves, we will secure the same price (keep control of your markets) by helping your slaves against you, and using them as our tools for maintaining dominion over you; for the control of your markets we will have, whether the tools we use for that purpose be black or white, and be the cost, in blood and money, what it may.
On this principle, and from this motive, and not from any love of liberty, or justice, the money was lent in enormous amounts, and at enormous rates of interest. And it was only by means of these loans that the objects of the war were accomplished.
And now these lenders of blood-money demand their pay; and the government, so called, becomes their tool, their servile, slavish, villainous tool, to extort it from the labor of the enslaved people both of the North and South. It is to be extorted by every form of direct, and indirect, and unequal taxation. Not only the nominal debt and interest --- enormous as the latter was --- are to be paid in full; but these holders of the debt are to be paid still further --- and perhaps doubly, triply, or quadruply paid --- by such tariffs on imports as will enable our home manufacturers to realize enormous prices for their commodities; also by such monopolies in banking as will enable them to keep control of, and thus enslave and plunder, the industry and trade of the great body of the Northern people themselves. In short, the industrial and commercial slavery of the great body of the people, North and South, black and white, is the price which these lenders of blood money demand, and insist upon, and are determined to secure, in return for the money lent for the war.
This program having been fully arranged and systematized, they put their sword into the hands of the chief murderer of the war, and charge him to carry their scheme into effect. And now he, speaking as their organ, says, "Let us have peace."
The meaning of this is: Submit quietly to all the robbery and slavery we have arranged for you, and you can have "peace." But in case you resist, the same lenders of blood-money, who furnished the means to subdue the South, will furnish the means again to subdue you.
These are the terms on which alone this government, or, with few exceptions, any other, ever gives "peace" to its people.
The whole affair, on the part of those who furnished the money, has been, and now is, a deliberate scheme of robbery and murder; not merely to monopolize the markets of the South, but also to monopolize the currency, and thus control the industry and trade, and thus plunder and enslave the laborers, of both North and South. And Congress and the president are today the merest tools for these purposes. They are obliged to be, for they know that their own power, as rulers, so-called, is at an end, the moment their credit with the blood-money loan-mongers fails. They are like a bankrupt in the hands of an extortioner. They dare not say nay to any demand made upon them. And to hide at once, if possible, both their servility and crimes, they attempt to divert public attention, by crying out that they have "Abolished Slavery!" That they have "Saved the Country!" That they have "Preserved our Glorious Union!" and that, in now paying the "National Debt," as they call it (as if the people themselves, all of them who are to be taxed for its payment, had really and voluntarily joined in contracting it), they are simply "Maintaining the National Honor!"
By "maintaining the national honor," they mean simply that they themselves, open robbers and murderers, assume to be the nation, and will keep faith with those who lend them the money necessary to enable them to crush the great body of the people under their feet; and will faithfully appropriate, from the proceeds of their future robberies and murders, enough to pay all their loans, principal and interest.
The pretense that the "abolition of slavery" was either a motive or justification for the war, is a fraud of the same character with that of "maintaining the national honor." Who, but such usurpers, robbers, and murderers as they, ever established slavery? Or what government, except one resting upon the sword, like the one we now have, was ever capable of maintaining slavery? And why did these men abolish slavery? Not from any love of liberty in general --- not as an act of justice to the black man himself, but only "as a war measure," and because they wanted his assistance, and that of his friends, in carrying on the war they had undertaken for maintaining and intensifying that political, commercial, and industrial slavery, to which they have subjected the great body of the people, both black and white. And yet these imposters now cry out that they have abolished the chattel slavery of the black man --- although that was not the motive of the war --- as if they thought they could thereby conceal, atone for, or justify that other slavery which they were fighting to perpetuate, and to render more rigorous and inexorable than it ever was before. . . .
Still another of the frauds of these men is, that they are now establishing, and that the war was designed to establish, "a government of consent." The only idea they have ever manifested as to what is a government of consent, is this --- that it is one to which everybody must consent, or be shot. This idea was the dominant one on which the war was carried on; and it is the dominant one, now that we have got what is called "peace."
Their pretenses that they
have "Saved the Country," and "Preserved our Glorious
Union," are frauds like all the rest of their pretenses. By them they mean
simply that they have subjugated, and maintained their power over, an unwilling
people. This they call "Saving the Country"; as if an enslaved and
subjugated people --- or as if any people kept in subjection by the sword (as
it is intended that all of us shall be hereafter) --- could be said to have any
country. This, too, they call "Preserving our Glorious Union"; as if
there could be said to be any
Many Republican leaders,
while claiming they were “saving the
In her book Copperheads: The Rise and Fall of Lincoln's
Opponents in the North (Oxford University Press, 2006),
* On many occasions Union troops home on leave would vandalize Democratic newspapers and businesses, and also would attack Democrats.
* Union soldiers broke up some Democratic rallies.
* Many Union troops wrote letters home that threatened violence against people who would not vote Republican.
* Some Republicans claimed that even discouraging someone from enlisting—not urging them to dodge the draft, but just urging them not to volunteer—was a crime.
* In many areas in the North, Republicans violently attacked Democrats.
* Northern Democrats were persecuted so severely and violently in some communities that they organized into mutual protection groups to defend themselves.
* Some Northern state governments took actions similar to those that
* The Union army and Northern officials made it very hard for Union soldiers who were Democrats to vote.
* In some areas of the North, differences of opinion about the war became so intense that small battles were fought between Democrats and Republicans.
Weber's book is a powerful indictment of the Republicans' suppression of civil rights and due process during the war. Her book also helps us to understand that a substantial number of Northern citizens (probably at least 30 percent) recognized that the Republicans were shredding the Constitution in their quest to "maintain the
Some Union generals waged a shameful form of “total war” against the South, causing the deaths of some 50,000 Southern civilians and wiping out whole towns in the process. They hired thousands of unscrupulous mercenaries, including many criminals fresh from European jails. They violated just about every rule of civilized warfare known to man. They used tactics that today would justify prosecution for war crimes. Many Union generals, including George McClellan, objected to this cruel form of warfare, and at least one general, Don C. Buell, resigned from the army in protest.
On the other hand, most Confederate
generals refused to use the brutal tactics that some Union generals were using.
At one point, some Confederate officials urged Jefferson Davis to order
Confederate forces to employ the barbaric tactics that were being used by Union
generals like William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, but
After the war, most Republican leaders continued to violate the Constitution. They imposed a clearly illegal military rule on the Southern states and proceeded to plunder those states for years. The Radicals and their supporters in the federal army accused and jailed Jefferson Davis on the absurd charge that he was involved in the conspiracy that killed Lincoln. They based this charge on evidence that was later found to be fraudulent. They tried to remove President Johnson from office for opposing their illegal plans to ravage the South and for daring to defy their attempt to prevent him from replacing Edwin Stanton as Secretary of War. Can you imagine the outcry that would arise today if Congress tried to force the president to retain a cabinet member against his will? The Radicals also sought to remove Johnson because he had attacked them in his campaign speeches: Incredibly, one of the charges on which the Radicals impeached Johnson in the House was that his speeches in the 1866 election campaign allegedly constituted “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The Radicals came close to establishing a military dictatorship in the name of “reconstructing” the defeated Southern states. The Radicals passed a bill that said the military did not have to obey the president’s orders unless the commanding general of the Army approved those orders (McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union, p. 213). The bill also made it a crime for any officer to obey orders except those that came from the commanding general (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 298). Just imagine what most Americans would think if Congress even considered such a law in our day—it would be denounced as a dangerous step toward military dictatorship.
Or, just imagine what most
Americans today would think if the Secretary of Defense refused to step down
when suspended by the President but instead barricaded himself in his office,
issued an order for the arrest of the man appointed to replace him, and asked
friendly members of Congress to intervene. And imagine what most Americans
would think if the commanding general of the Army then stationed troops around
the Pentagon in order to keep the Secretary of Defense in power against the
President’s express wishes. Impossible?
Couldn’t happen in
Meanwhile, General Grant in
effect placed the army in direct opposition to the President by publicly
throwing his support behind
During this same period,
Grant told President Johnson that he would only obey his orders if they were
written. This was serious insubordination. “Since when,” asked Stryker, “had a
general the right to tell the President of the United States that he would
disobey his commands unless they were in writing?” (Andrew Johnson, p.
There were other Radical abuses. In January 1868, the Radicals and most of their fellow Republicans passed a bill, over Johnson’s veto, that transferred all of Johnson’s authority in Reconstruction to General Grant. The Radicals also worked to deny President Johnson his constitutional authority to appoint justices to the Supreme Court by amending the Judiciary Act so the president could not fill vacancies that might occur on the high court (McDonald, States’ Rights and the Union, p. 211). After Edwin Stanton barricaded himself in his office and asked the Radicals for help, two Radicals, Senator Zachary Chandler and Representative John Logan, personally led a company of one hundred men to guard the War Department building (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 335).
When even the Lincoln-packed Supreme Court tried to curb Radical lawlessness, the Radicals reacted with outrage. In the Ex Parte Milligan case, the high court finally gathered enough courage to conclude that it was illegal to impose military rule on civilians in non-combat areas where civil courts were still in operation (which was what the Republicans had been doing, in the North, for much of the war). The Radicals were furious with this ruling, partly because it implied they had committed judicial murder, since several civilians had been sentenced to death by federal military courts. Then, in Ex Parte McCardle, the Supreme Court upheld the right of habeas corpus and reaffirmed the principle that civilians couldn’t be tried in military courts when civil courts were available. The Radicals were so angered by this decision that they introduced bills in Congress that would have (1) abolished the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in all habeas corpus cases, (2) ended all judicial review of acts of Congress, and (3) prohibited the high court from reviewing cases that involved “political questions,” including the Reconstruction Act. This was an open attack on basic American concepts of government, justice, and due process. For example, if the Supreme Court were denied jurisdiction in habeas corpus cases, it would be unable to protect citizens against unlawful arrest and imprisonment. That was exactly what the Radicals wanted. Forrest McDonald observes,
That decision [Ex Parte McCardle] elicited the most outraged Radical response yet. Three drastic bills were introduced in Congress: to abolish the Court’s jurisdiction in all habeas corpus cases; to abolish entirely judicial review of acts of Congress; and to deny the Court power to review “political questions,” including cases arising under the Reconstruction Act. Loud protests against the measures were heard throughout the country, and none was passed. Had they been enacted, the Court would have been destroyed as an arbiter of the Constitution. (States’ Rights and the Union, p. 218)
Gideon Welles, a cabinet member under both Lincoln and Johnson, viewed the Radicals with disdain and distrust.
“Hate, revenge, and persecution enter largely into their composition,” wrote Gideon Welles. “These fanatics want a God to punish, not to love, those who do not agree with them”. . . .
Four fifths of the radicals, he wrote, “are small party men . . . without any knowledge of the science of government or of our Constitution. With them all, the great, overpowering purpose and aim are office and patronage. Most of their legislation relates to office and their highest conception of legislative duty has in view place and how to get it”. . . .
“These Radical patriots are swindling the country while imposing on its credulity,” wrote Welles. “The granting of acts of incorporation, bounties, special privileges, favors, and profligate legislation of every description is shocking.” (Stampp in Grob and Billias, editors, Interpretations of American History, Volume 2, pp. 58-59, 60)
Northern Democrat W. C. Prime, who strongly opposed secession, said the Radical Republicans wanted war in order to achieve political power. He argued that the Radicals prevented the federal army from winning the war quickly because they wanted to prolong the war until they were in a position to subjugate the South after the fighting ended. Said Prime,
The history of the war is inextricably involved in the history of party politics. No one can understand the former without knowledge of the latter. . . .
Congress, at the moment of McClellan’s arrival in Washington, as if to instruct him in his duty, expressed the unanimous sentiment of the North in a resolution which declared “. . . this war is not waged, on our part, in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States [the Southern states], but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”
McClellan accepted this instruction. It expressed his own views. . . .
But if this purpose were achieved in this way, the Southern States . . . would reappear in future elections as a solid South against the machine politicians who had gained power in 1860. If the white vote could be suppressed and the slaves be freed with the immediate right of suffrage, their vote might be controlled and a solid South secured for those who had given them the right of voting. . . .
Various schemes were devised to accomplish the desired end. For a time efforts were made to induce the North to adopt a policy which Mr. Chase [Salmon P. Chase] formulated in an interview with Mr. Wade of the Senate and Mr. Ashley of the House, December 11, 1861 [both of whom were Radicals].
Mr. Chase said that a State attempting to secede, the State government being placed in hostility to the Federal government, “the State organization was forfeited, and it lapsed into the condition of a Territory”; that “we could organize territorial courts, and, as soon as it became necessary, a territorial government”; that “those States [the Southern states] could not properly be considered as States in the Union, but must be readmitted from time to time as Congress should provide.” Mr. Wade and Mr. Ashley were understood to concur in this doctrine; and, as a matter of fact, it was given out as sound doctrine and was widely advocated in newspapers and at war meetings engineered by politicians in various parts of the North.
Mr. Chase was too good a lawyer not to recognize the absurdity of the doctrine as American law. . . .
There was a body of noble,
conservative, and patriotic men in the old Republican party strong enough to
interpose many obstacles in the way of the radicals. The latter adopted the
customary tactics of unscrupulous partisans in this country, and visited on all
who opposed them storms of foul epithets and charges. . . .Mr. Lincoln was
alternately praised and vilified. But no one of the radical coalition was his
friend or desired his continuance at the head of the party. Some old Democratic
politicians, recognizing good prospects of its success, joined the radical
party. Congress in time yielded to its control. A committee called The
Committee on the Conduct of the War was created, to be the machine of partisan
politics, in control of the most unscrupulous leaders of the combination, who
used it to good effect in the deception of the confiding people of the country.
(“Biographical Sketch,” in W. C. Prime, editor, McClellan’s Own Story: The
War for the Union,
General George McClellan, the
commander of the Army of the Potomac and the Democratic Party’s presidential
candidate in 1864, said the Radicals’ real goal wasn’t the restoration of the
The real object of the
radical leaders was not the restoration of the Union, but the permanent
ascendancy of their party, and to this they were ready to sacrifice the
When it became clear to the
Radicals that McClellan would have no part in their plans to ravage the South,
they turned on him with a vengeance. McClellan said the Radicals “directed all
their efforts to prevent my achieving success” (McClellan’s Own Story,
p. 159). McClellan also said that Edwin Stanton became Secretary of War after
the Radical Republicans and a group of
I am not arguing that all the
Radicals were corrupt or that everything they believed was wrong. Although I
share the view that many of the Radicals were more interested in power than in
civil rights, I also believe that some of them were sincere. Many of the
Radicals deserve credit for eventually forcing
In a very real sense, the
Civil War was not North vs. South; rather, it was Republican leaders and
powerful Northern business interests vs. the rest of the country. Although the
vast majority of Southerners supported the Confederacy, at least 40 percent of
Northerners did not support the Republicans and wanted to halt or even abandon
the federal invasion of the South. Before the war, dozens of Northern
newspapers voiced the view that the South should be allowed to depart in peace.
During the war, so many Northern citizens opposed
A good indication of
just about any point in the war, it is probable that a majority of Americans
opposed the use of force to hold the
of the many untold stories of the Civil War is the fact that many Indians,
Hispanics, and African Americans supported and even fought for the Confederacy.
The five tribes of the
Thousands of Hispanics served
as soldiers in the Confederate army, and some even served as commissioned
officers. In his book Hispanic Confederates (Clearfield
Company, 1999), John O’Donnell-Rosales identifies over 5,000 Hispanic
Confederate soldiers by name and unit. The Confederate commissioner to northern
There is evidence that thousands of African Americans fought for the Confederacy. I discuss some of this evidence in my article “Black Confederates, Political Correctness, and a Virginia Textbook.” Here is a small sampling of that evidence:
* The chief inspector of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, Dr. Lewis Steiner, reported that he saw about 3,000 well-armed black Confederate soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s army and that those soldiers were "manifestly an integral portion of the Southern Confederate Army.” Said Steiner,
September 10--At four o'clock this morning the rebel army began to move from
our town, Jackson's force taking the advance. The movement continued until
eight o'clock P.M., occupying sixteen hours. The most liberal calculations
could not give them more than 64,000 men. Over 3,000 negroes must be included
in this number. These were clad in all kinds of uniforms, not only in cast-off
* In a Union army battle report, General David Stuart complained about the deadly effectiveness of the black Confederate soldiers whom his troops had encountered. The “armed negroes,” he said, did “serious execution upon our men” (Report of Brig. Gen. David Stuart, U. S. Army, commanding Fourth Brigade and Second Division, of operations December 26, 1862 - January 3, 1863, in Official Records, Volume XVII, in Two Parts. 1886/1887, Chap. 29, Part I - Reports, pp. 635-636).
* Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest had slaves serving in units under his command. He offered them freedom in exchange for their service. After the war, he said of them, “These boys stayed with me . . . and better Confederates did not live” (Cincinnati Commercial, August 28, 1868; cf. Richard Rollins, Black Southerners in Gray, Redondo Beach, California: Rank and File Publications, 1994).
* After the Battle of Gettysburg, Union forces took seven black Confederate soldiers as prisoners, as was noted in the New York Herald, which said, “. . . reported among the rebel prisoners were seven blacks in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers” (New York Herald, July 11, 1863).
* None other than African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass complained that there were “many” blacks in the Confederate army who were armed and “ready to shoot down” Union soldiers. He added that this was "pretty well established":
It is now pretty well established, that there are at the present moment many colored men in the Confederate army doing duty not only as cooks, servants and laborers, but as real soldiers, having muskets on their shoulders, and bullets in their pockets, ready to shoot down loyal troops, and do all that soldiers may. . . . (Douglass' Monthly, September 1861, online copy available at http://radicaljournal.com/essays/fighting_rebels.html)
* During the Battle of Chickamauga, slaves serving Confederate soldiers armed themselves and asked permission to join the fight—and when they received that permission they fought commendably. Their commander, Captain J. B. Briggs, later noted that these men “filled a portion of the line of advance as well as any company of the regiment” (J. H. Segars and Charles Barrow, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies: A Collection of Historical Accounts, Atlanta, GA: Southern Lion Books, 2001, p. 141).
* There are numerous accounts of slaves
assisting Confederate soldiers in battle and helping them to escape capture
afterward (see, for example, Francis Springer, War for What?,
As strange as it may seem to most people in our day, many Southern slaves and free blacks felt loyalty to the South and viewed Union troops as invaders. Says Cisco,
In the July 1919 issue of The Journal of Negro History, Charles S. Wesley discussed the issue of blacks in the Confederate army:
The loyalty of the slave in guarding home and family during his master’s absence has long been eloquently orated. The Negroes’ loyalty extended itself even to service in the Confederate army. Believing their land invaded by hostile foes, slaves eagerly offered themselves for service in actual warfare. . . .
At the outbreak of the war, an observer in
Two weeks after the firing on
Civil War author Francis Springer noted two other accounts of free blacks showing support for the Confederacy:
Daily Express of April 26, 1861, had it that 300 free Negroes about to
leave the city to work on fortifications, assembled at the courthouse to hear a
speech by ex-mayor John Dodson. Charles Tinsley, one of the free Negroes, said,
“We are willing to aid
Springer also discussed an incident in which a group of slaves who had been forced to serve in the Union army volunteered to fight for the Confederacy after they were captured by Confederate forces:
Some Union Negro troops, captured by General
Forrest on his last
As mentioned above, there are many accounts of slaves coming to the aid of Confederate soldiers during and after combat. Perhaps this is an indication that Confederate officers usually tried to properly care for the slaves who were working in their units. General Braxton Bragg, commander of the Confederate Army of Tennessee, issued a written order that “All employees of this army, black as well as white, shall receive the same rations, quarters, and medical treatment.”
In late April 1862, General John B. Magruder of
the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia learned that Secretary of War George
Randolph had received complaints about how slaves were being treated in his
unit. Magruder wrote to
Sir, I have learned that complaints have been made to you of the treatment of the slaves employed in this army.
It is quite true that much hardship has been endured by the negroes in the recent prosecution of the defensive works on our lines; but this has been unavoidable, owing to the constant and long-continued wet weather. Every precaution has been adopted to secure their health and safety as far as circumstances would allow. The soldiers, however, have been more exposed and have suffered far more than the slaves. The latter [the slaves] have always slept under cover and have had fires to make them comfortable, while the men have been working in the rain, have stood in the trenches and rifle pits in mud and water almost knee-deep, without shelter, fire, or sufficient food. There has been sickness among the soldiers and the slaves, but far more among the former than the latter. (Letter from General John B. Magruder to Secretary of War George Randolph, April 29, 1862, in Segars and Barrow, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies, p. 44)
Another untold story of the Civil War is the
brutal way that many Union forces treated Southern slaves. One Union unit,
commanded by Colonel John Turchin, moved into
While northern soldiers had
no love for slavery, most of them had no love for slaves either. . . . While
some Yanks treated contrabands with a degree of equity and benevolence, the
more typical response was indifference, contempt, and cruelty. Soon after
Union forces captured
The case of the Union army’s treatment of the
In his book War Crimes Against Southern Civilians (Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2007), Walter Brian Cisco presents numerous accounts of Southern slaves and free blacks being robbed, abused, raped, and even murdered by federal troops (pp. 169-186). What follows is a small sampling of the cases that Cisco documents:
Robbery was common, as was sexual abuse of black
women by Yankee soldiers. A
Textbooks note that approximately 150,000 slaves
served in the Union army, but they rarely inform the reader that thousands of
those men were forced to serve. Union army records and other sources document
that thousands of slaves were abducted and then forced into federal military
service; some were taken from their plantations during Union raids, while
others were seized in areas that were occupied by federal forces. General John
Logan told General Grant, “A major of colored troops is here capturing negroes,
with or without their consent.” General Lovell Rousseau informed General G. H.
Thomas that “officers in command of colored troops are in constant habit of
pressing [i.e., forcing] all able-bodied slaves into the military service of
the U.S.” Even in the Union slave state of Kentucky, federal gunboats raided
plantations, “carrying off slaves to help build military railroads,
fortifications, and wagon roads” (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to
Emancipation, p. 161). In May 1862, federal troops in
The scenes of today . . . have been distressing.
. . . Some 500 men were hurried . . . from Ladies and
The next day Pierce wrote to General Hunter to tell him about the consequences of his order. He said slaves were taken suddenly and were not allowed to go home before leaving. He added that some of the slaves wailed and screamed and that others fled into the woods but were pursued by soldiers:
The colored people became suspicious of the presence of the companies of soldiers detailed for the service. . . . They were taken from the fields without being allowed to go to their homes even to get a jacket. . . . There was sadness in all. As those on this plantation were called in from the fields, the soldiers, under orders, and while on the steps of my headquarters, loaded their guns, so that the negroes might see what would take place in case they attempted to get away. . . .
On some plantations the wailing and screaming were loud and the women threw themselves in despair on the ground. On some plantations the people took to the woods and were hunted up by the soldiers. (Keys, The Uncivil War, pp. 21-22)
Cisco discusses cases of slaves being forced into
federal military service in
When Federals came through the neighborhoods of
“I won’t trust niggers to fight yet,” wrote
William T. Sherman in the spring of 1864, “but don’t object to the government
taking them from the enemy, and making such use of them as experience may
suggest.” In Union-occupied
The conscription of slaves by federal forces
continued even after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. For example,
several months after the proclamation was issued, General Innis Palmer wanted
to provide “laborers” for federal troops at
. . . the negroes will not go voluntarily, so I am obliged to force them. I have sent seventy-one and will send this afternoon about 150. I expect to get a large lot tomorrow. . . The matter of collecting the colored men for laborers has been one of some difficulty, but I hope to send up a respectable force. . . . They will not go willingly. . . . They must be forced to go. . . . I am aware that this may be considered a harsh measure, but . . . we must not stop at trifles. (Keys, The Uncivil War, p. 106)
Southern family journals and letters contain numerous accounts of Union soldiers forcefully removing slaves from their homes, even when the slaves made it clear they did not want to leave (see, for example, Henry Steele Commager, editor, The Civil War Archive: The History of the Civil War in Documents, New York: Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2000, pp. 333-336, 675-677).
I am not suggesting that all slaves remained loyal to their masters or to the South during the war. Many thousands of Southern slaves did in fact flock to Union lines, just as thousands of American slaves flocked to British lines during the Revolutionary War. But many if not most Southern slaves remained loyal, and quite of few of them viewed Union troops as invaders.
What If the South Had Been Allowed to Go in Peace?
Did the world end when
I think both the
Some critics have suggested
that if the Confederacy had survived, World War II may have had a different
outcome. But the fact that
If the South had been permitted to go in peace, slavery would have died a natural death in a matter of a few decades, if not sooner. Before the war, even some Northern politicians, such as William Seward, said slavery was a dying institution. The percentage of Southern whites who belonged to slaveholding families dropped by 5 percent from 1850-1860 (Divine et al, editor, America Past and Present, p. 389). Historian Allan Nevins noted that by the 1850s "slavery was dying all around the edges of its domain" (The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume 2, p. 469). Although slavery was still economically profitable, its days were numbered. Interestingly, some of the most vocal Northern abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, welcomed the South’s secession because they believed Southern slavery would die out more quickly if the South were no longer part of the Union. Historians Randall and Donald, after noting the Confederacy’s move toward officially using slaves as soldiers and the support of key Confederate leaders for granting freedom to slaves and their families for faithful military service, acknowledged that the Confederacy may very well have abolished slavery even if it had survived the war:
On November 7, 1864, President Davis went so far as to approve the employment of slave-soldiers as preferable to subjugation, and on February 11, 1865, the Confederate House of Representatives voted that if the President should not be able to raise sufficient troops otherwise, he was authorized to call for additional levies “from such classes . . . irrespective of color . . . as the . . . authorities . . . may determine”. . . . There was no mistaking the meaning of this action. The fundamental social concept of slavery was slipping; an opening wedge for emancipation had been inserted. Lee’s opinion agreed with that of the President and Congress. On January 11, 1865, he wrote advising the enlistment of slaves as soldiers and the granting of “immediate freedom to all who enlist, and freedom at the end of the war to the families of those who discharge their duties faithfully. . . .” This fact, together with other indications, suggests that, even if the Confederacy had survived the war, there was a strong possibility that slavery would be voluntarily abandoned in the South. (The Civil War and Reconstruction, p. 522)
If the South had been allowed to leave in peace, over 600,000 soldiers (over half of them from the North) would have been spared death. Over 50,000 Southern civilians likewise would have been spared death. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers would not have been wounded for life. Millions of families would have been spared sorrow and anguish over their dead and wounded loved ones. Billions of dollars in property damage would have been avoided. And, race relations would not have suffered the poisoning that they experienced during and after the war.
“But,” some will ask,
What would the South be like today if the Confederacy had survived? No one can say with certainty, but it is likely that taxes of all kinds would be much lower. Citizens would have much less government interference in their lives. Parents would have more control over their children’s education and over their local schools. Southern schools would most likely allow voluntary prayer, moral instruction, nativity plays at Christmas time, and formal Bible reading (as our schools used to do until the 1960s, when the Supreme Court suddenly decided these things were somehow “unconstitutional”). There would be tough anti-pornography laws, and those laws would be enforced. The lives of unborn children would be protected by law. There would be no question that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. And, a state government could place a Ten Commandments monument in front of a state judicial building without having to worry about a federal judge ordering its removal on the basis of an erroneous interpretation of the Constitution.
I also think that if the
South had been allowed to go in peace, it may have eventually rejoined the
Union. But, if not, I do not think it would have been the end of the world if
the South had remained independent. England and
Some people think it is unpatriotic or divisive
to defend the Southern side of the Civil War. As a retired U.S. Army veteran
and a flag-waving patriot, I reject that view. Confederate citizens were Americans
too. They were citizens of the “Confederate States of
It is time for the demonization and smearing of the Confederacy to stop. Compared with other nations of its day, the Confederacy was one of the most democratic countries in the world. Even during the war, the Confederacy held elections and had a vibrant free press. In fact, on balance, the Confederacy was more democratic than some nations in our day. Confederate citizens enjoyed every right that we now enjoy, if not more. The Confederacy sought peace with the federal government and only fought because it was invaded. The Confederate Constitution was patterned after the U.S. Constitution and contained improvements that even some Northern commentators acknowledged were praiseworthy. (An excellent study of the Confederate Constitution is Marshall DeRosa’s book The Confederate Constitution of 1861: An Inquiry into American Constitutionalism, University of Missouri Press, 1991.)
Yes, the Confederacy permitted slavery, but it
left the door open for the admission of
I agree with the sentiments that former
Confederate army officer
Does the propriety of discussing the causes of the War Between the States belong exclusively to Northern writers and speakers? Did the South, when she laid down her arms, surrender the right to state in self-justification her reasons for taking them up? If not, I fail to see how it can be improper, when perpetuating the memory of the Confederate dead, at least to attempt to correct false and injurious representations of their aims and deeds and to hand down their achievements to posterity as worthy of honorable remembrance. (The Men in Gray, pp. 11-12)
I also agree with James Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy and Assistant Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan:
. . . to tar the sacrifices of the Confederate soldier as simple acts of racism, and reduce the battle flag under which he fought to nothing more than the symbol of a racist heritage, is one of the great blasphemies of our modern age. (Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, New York: Broadway Books, 2004, p. 225)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael T. Griffith holds a
Master’s degree in Theology, a Graduate Certificate in Ancient and Classical
History, a Bachelor of Science degree in Liberal Arts, and two Associate in
Applied Science degrees. He also holds an Advanced Certificate in Civil War
Studies and a Certificate in Civil War Studies. He is a two-time graduate of
the Defense Language Institute in