Some people have taken the stance that the War for Southern Independence was based solely on slavery. This could not be further from the truth, as we will attempt to explain in this article.
Firstly, let me address the war as it was titled. A civil war is defined as any war wherein both parties are fighting for control of the same government. The southern states were not fighting to take over the U.S. Government, and the United States were not fighting for control of the Confederate States.
It is not debatable that the owning of any other individual is deplorable. It is also not debatable that slavery was the common practice of its time worldwide. Once again it is not debatable that in war, its victors write history. Would you write kindly of someone if it were to make you look bad?
Let us first address slavery within the United States prior
to the Civil War. As we know from
history, the United States and the original colonies played an important part
in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. The Desire
was the first slave ship to be equipped in America in 1637, only seventeen
years after the Pilgrims landed in Salem, Massachusetts. The people of Massachusetts were so eager,
in their colonial times, to join the slave trade that they began to capture and
enslave Native Americans. In 1646 they
passed a law by which Indians could be seized, held as slaves, and exported for
There were so many US slavers (slave ships) active in Zanzibar that the local population thought that Great Britain was a subdivision of Massachusetts. In 1849, Zachary Taylor acknowledged that the African slave trade was still being carried on. [Virginia’s Attitude Towards Slavery and Secession (L.H. Jenkins, Inc., Richmond, Virginia: 1915), page 39] The flag of the United States flew over slave ships quite often, even during the War for Southern Independence.
Contrarily, by an act of the General Assembly of the state of Virginia (later a state of the C.S.A.), while Patrick Henry was governor, the state outlawed the slave trade in Virginia. This was done on October 5, 1778 and was entitled “An act for preventing the further importation of slaves”. The law not only prevented importation of slaves, but also stated any slave brought into the state contrary to this law would be then and forevermore free. This law was the FIRST of its kind in the entire civilized world prohibiting the slave trade. That had tried many times before to this; the British government overruled them by the royal governor. Thomas Jefferson, a southerner, stated this to be one of the reasons the people of Virginia felt compelled to secede from Britain. James Madison went on to say that the king had refused permission to be excluded, by law, of the slave trade.
Let us know address factors that were tied closely to the war. In the north, people were not farmers like they were mainly in the south. The north was industrial, while the south was agricultural. Some northern states did slowly end slavery, however no law was ever passed that immediately granted freedom to a person already in slavery. A person born after a certain date when they reached a certain age would gain their freedom. Persons born before that would forever remain in slavery under the laws that were passed. Usually, before a slave would reach that age, they would be sold to southern owners in attempts to remove them from the northern states altogether. The slaves became almost worthless to the industrial north and rather then lose an investment property they were sold before becoming free. Analyzing the census records of northern states for persons of color backs this up. The increase between 1850 ad 1860 in the north for black persons was 1.7% while In the south during this same period was 23%
In Illinois, during the early decades of statehood, the number of slaves dwindled before dropping to zero; nevertheless, anti-Black sentiment remained strong in the state, and laws made it difficult for Black people to enter or live in Illinois. Both Indiana (1816) and Illinois (1818) abolished slavery by their constitutions. And both followed the Ohio policy of trying to prevent black immigration by passing laws requiring blacks who moved into the state to produce legal documents verifying that they were free and posting bond to guarantee their good behavior. The bond requirements ranged as high as $1,000, which was prohibitive for a black American in those days. Anti-immigration legislation passed in Illinois in 1819, 1829, and 1853. In Indiana, such laws were enacted in 1831 and 1852. Michigan Territory passed such a law in 1827; Iowa Territory passed one in 1839 and Iowa enacted another in 1851 after it became a state. Oregon Territory passed such a law in 1849. Blacks who violated the law faced punishments that included advertisement and sale at public auction (Illinois, 1853). These laws prohibited free persons of color from even living in many states in the north.
While it is true that slavery resulted in profit for the south, the same is true for the north. The Nightingale continued to bring slaves to the north during the Civil War and famed black historian W.E.B. DuBois stated that between 1860 and 1865 more than 1,200 slaves were brought into the New World under the United States flag. This was during a time when slave trade had become illegal in the United States. It is also to note that no slave ship ever flew the flag of the Confederate States.
No legislation was ever passed prior to the war to end slavery, nor were there any attempts to do so. The “Emancipation Proclamation” did not end slavery as many think; this was not done until the 13th Amendment after the end of the war. In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation mentioned only ending slavery in states who were against the Union. This was on January 1, 1863— well into the war. Since these states were not part of the Union it, in fact, had no bearing on the Confederate States of America. There was no previous mention of freeing the slaves of the north or the south. Many northerners still held slaves during the war.
It is also to note there were almost several different 13th
Amendments. One would have expressly
protected slavery. The Corwin Amendment
is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution passed by the 36th
Congress on March 2, 1861 and submitted to the state legislatures for
ratification. It stated “no amendment
shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the
power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions
thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said
Out-going President James Buchanan, a Democrat, endorsed the Corwin Amendment by taking the unprecedented step of signing it. His signature on the Congressional joint resolution was unnecessary, as the Supreme Court, in Hollingsworth v. Virginia (1798), ruled that the President has no formal role in the constitutional amendment process.
Abraham Lincoln, in his first inaugural address, said of the Corwin Amendment:
I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service.... holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.
Just weeks prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, Lincoln sent a letter to each state's governor transmitting the proposed amendment, noting that Buchanan had approved it.
If all that the southern states wanted was to retain slavery, they very easily could have rejoined the Union and ratify the amendment.
It is also to note that the “Constitution of the Confederate States of America” in Article I, Section 9, declared the importation of slaves to be illegal.
"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause." –Abraham Lincoln, in letter to Horace Greeley dated August 22, 1862 just months before the Emancipation Proclamation.
If the war was not about slavery then what WAS it about?
Lincoln, in 1848 before the U.S. House of Representatives in a speech about the war with Mexico, stated “Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable and most sacred right - a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize, and make their own, of so many of the territory as they inhabit.” From this we know that secession was a right held by states; a right believed by many founding fathers as well.
Though Lincoln argued that the founding fathers’ phrase “All men are created equal” applied to blacks and whites alike, this did not mean he thought they should have the same social and political rights. His views became clear during an 1858 series of debates with his opponent in the Illinois race for U.S. Senate, Stephen Douglas, who had accused him of supporting “negro equality.” In their fourth debate, at Charleston, Illinois, on September 18, 1858, Lincoln made his position clear. “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,” he began, going on to say that he opposed blacks having the right to vote, to serve on juries, to hold office and to intermarry with whites. What he did believe was that, like all men, blacks had the right to improve their condition in society and to enjoy the fruits of their labor. In this way they were equal to white men, and for this reason slavery was inherently unjust.
For much of his career, Lincoln believed that colonization—or the idea that a majority of the African-American population should leave the United States and settle in Africa or Central America—was the best way to confront the problem of slavery. His two great political heroes, Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson, had both favored colonization; both were slave owners who took issue with aspects of slavery but saw no way that blacks and whites could live together peaceably. Lincoln first publicly advocated for colonization in 1852, and in 1854 said that his first instinct would be “to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia” (the African state founded by the American Colonization Society in 1821).
Nearly a decade later, even as he edited the draft of the
preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in August of 1862, Lincoln hosted a
delegation of freed slaves at the White House in the hopes of getting their
support on a plan for colonization in Central America. Given the “differences”
between the two races and the hostile attitudes of whites towards blacks,
Lincoln argued, it would be “better for us both, therefore, to be separated.”
Lincoln’s support of colonization provoked great anger among black leaders and
abolitionists, who argued that African-Americans were as much natives of the
country as whites, and thus deserved the same rights. After he issued the
preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lincoln never again publicly mentioned
colonization, and a mention of it in an earlier draft was deleted by the time
the final proclamation was issued in January 1863.
As much as he hated the institution of slavery, Lincoln didn’t see the Civil War as a struggle to free the nation’s 4 million slaves from bondage. Emancipation, when it came, would have to be gradual, and the important thing to do was to prevent the Southern rebellion from severing the Union permanently in two. But as the Civil War entered its second summer in 1862, thousands of slaves had fled Southern plantations to Union lines, and the federal government didn’t have a clear policy on how to deal with them. Emancipation, Lincoln saw, would further undermine the Confederacy while providing the Union with a new source of manpower to crush the rebellion.
In July 1862 the president presented his draft of the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Secretary of State William Seward urged him to wait until things were going better for the Union on the field of battle, or emancipation might look like the last gasp of a nation on the brink of defeat. Lincoln agreed and returned to edit the draft over the summer. On September 17 the bloody Battle of Antietam gave Lincoln the opportunity he needed. He issued the preliminary proclamation to his cabinet on September 22, and it was published the following day. As a cheering crowd gathered at the White House, Lincoln addressed them from a balcony: “I can only trust in God I have made no mistake … It is now for the country and the world to pass judgment on it.”
The north instead simply could not have possible have survived without the protective tariffs on the south. The shift of so much land and effort into cotton-growing meant that the people of the South relied on the West for much of their food and livestock, and on the North Atlantic states for most of their clothing and machinery. In turn, they provided more than two-thirds of the entire nation's exports, which brought in the specie that allowed commerce and growth in all sections.
Since this "triangle trade" involved a domestic leg, foreign vessels were excluded from it (under the 1817 law), except a few English ones that could substitute a Canadian port for a Northern U.S. one. And since the U.S. government subsidized it, it was going to continue to be the only game in town.
Robert Greenhalgh Albion, in his laudatory history of the Port of New York, openly boasts of this selfish monopoly. "By creating a three-cornered trade in the 'cotton triangle,' New York dragged the commerce between the southern ports and Europe out of its normal course some two hundred miles to collect a heavy toll upon it. This trade might perfectly well have taken the form of direct shuttles between Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or New Orleans on the one hand and Liverpool or Havre on the other, leaving New York far to one side had it not interfered in this way. To clinch this abnormal arrangement, moreover, New York developed the coastal packet lines without which it would have been extremely difficult to make the east-bound trips of the ocean packets profitable."
Even when the Southern cotton bound for Europe didn't put in at the wharves of Sandy Hook or the East River, unloading and reloading, the combined income from interests, commissions, freight, insurance, and other profits took perhaps 40 cents into New York of every dollar paid for southern cotton.
The record shows that ports with moderate quantities of outbound freight couldn't keep up with the New York competition. Remember, this is a triangle trade. Boston started a packet line in 1833 that, to secure outbound cargo, detoured to Charleston for cotton. But about the only other local commodity it could find to move to Europe was Bostonians. Since most passengers en route to England found little attraction in a layover in South Carolina, the lines failed.
As for the cotton ports themselves, they did not crave enough imports to justify packet lines until 1851, when New Orleans hosted one sailing to Liverpool. Yet New York by the mid-1850s could claim sixteen lines to Liverpool, three to London, three to Havre, two to Antwerp, and one each to Glasgow, Rotterdam, and Marseilles. Subsidized, it must be remembered, by the federal post office patronage boondoggle.
U.S. foreign trade rose in value from $134 million in 1830 to $318 million in 1850. It would triple again in the 1850s. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of those imports entered through the port of New York. Which meant that any trading the South did, had to go through New York. Trade from Charleston and Savannah during this period was stagnant. The total shipping entered from foreign countries in 1851 in the port of Charleston was 92,000 tons, in the port of New York, 1,448,000. You'd find relatively little tariff money coming in from Charleston. According to a Treasury report, the net revenue of all the ports of South Carolina during 1859 was a mere $234,237; during 1860 it was $309,222. Secession cut the income to the North; greed ensued.
Slavery, state's rights, tariffs, etc. were the issues that brought about secession, not the war. There is no constitutional concept of a perpetual or indissoluble union. The Constitution was a contract between the member states, which retained the right to withdraw at their discretion. A state that could voluntarily accede could voluntarily secede. We know the 10th Amendment: " The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." Secession is not mentioned in the Constitution, so it was not a Federal issue. By ignoring the 10th Amendment (ratified in 1791), thereby ignoring the right of the people to secede, Lincoln is responsible for the needless deaths of over 600,000 American lives.
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