A Conversation for The Beginning of the American Civil War
Another American Perspective, (Acutely Southern)
RedoubtSouth Started conversation May 27, 2008
In America, you will find many opinions for the root cause of the Civil War. In fact, it is still a hotly debated subject that often involves the hurling of insults in place of cannon shot. (Yes, I did note the views of a fellow countryman of mine here ('An American Perspective'), and found his logic nearly as insulting as the insults themselves.)
I must disagree that slavery was a main cause or that the South had any of a number of the advantages that he noted. For the latter, Southerners of the day were not better educated and the fact that the Confederacy built the CSS Virginia on the hull of the sunken USS Merrimack is not withstanding when you consider that the North sallied forth with the USS Monitor at the very same time. The Monitor was well superior in both the naval technology she applied and firepower she could have brought to bear. It was only through the shortsighted application of her gunnery that the battle between the two ended in a draw.
As for slavery... it was and is an evil institution that was carried on in the American South because the large plantation owners were quite happy with the profit margins it maintained. In truth, very few Southerners of the day had ever seen a slave, much less owned one. The Confederacy was mainly rural, mainly agricultural with cotton, rice and tobacco as its domestic products. Having slaves to plant, maintain and harvest these crops kept the South and the plantation owners competitive in the marketplace. And since politics then worked like they so often do today, Southern legislators were most actively representative of those with the most money to put in their coffers.
The opening of the actual shooting war occurred when several batteries in Charleston (SC) harbor opened fire on the federal installation, Fort Sumter. But leading up to this was no great debate over slavery. It was, in truth, more about trade tariffs and then, Lincoln's call to raise an army of 75,000 volunteers to march South. From there, statehouses across the South began deliberating secession and one by one, they declared independence from the union.
As for arms and munitions, there were and still are several sources in the South for iron ore but it is of generally poor quality and the refining technology of the era could not produce enough casting-quality metal for items such as cannons, musketry and swords to keep up with demand. One thing it was well suited for however, was the railroads. Track iron was used as both girding and armor for Southern ironclad warships.
Now, I do expect that someone will come along and take exception to some of my points though, I will have to admit that I find myself in a rather strange environment for such and will, of course, withhold fire in deference to my gracious hosts here at the BBC.
Another American Perspective, (Acutely Southern)
J Posted May 27, 2008
Well, as the author of this entry, I do feel a need to defend its points. I can tell you're an intelligent person though, so I'll also withhold some of my fire as well
I've heard people make the argument that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, but that argument never has held water to me. The Republican Party was formed out of opposition to the expansion of slavery throughout the western territories. The entire point of the Republican party was forming a party with a coherent position on the issue of slavery, because Northern Democrats and Whigs were divided on the subject.
Southern politicians threatened that if a Republican President was elected, they would push for secession. They clearly seceded because of the anti-slavery platform of the Republican party. I understand that there were other issues at play - tariffs, competing economic systems and the issue of states' rights were certainly important.
I will admit that it is possible that a war could have been fought over these issues - as seen in the near misses of the Nullification crisis and when several New England states considered secession during the war of 1812 because of the trade embargo. However, if that was the case, it would stand to reason that the states would react once an unfavorable law was passed or something of that nature. Lincoln was the first avowedly anti-slavery President, but he was not the first President to favor the economic system which the south deplored. If secession was truly about economic issues, the south should have, and would have, seceded earlier.
The secession of the southern states was clearly sparked by the threat of a limitation on slavery. Several states mentioned slavery in their ordinances of secession. Virginia said:
"Federal Government having perverted said powers [Constitutional powers] not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States..."
None of the ordinances mentioned anything relating to economics. If slavery sparked the secession of the southern states, as I believe it did, can anyone possibly argue that slavery caused the secession, but not the war?
I do think that it is true that most of the soldiers on each side were not fighting for their own slaves or for the freedom of slaves.
As you pointed out, very few southerners owned slaves. On the other hand, there was probably an element of the American dream... it's the same reason many poor people don't want rich people taxed at exorbitant rates - they don't want to be taxed heavily when they're rich someday. Southerners didn't want slavery abolished because they wanted the option of having slaves when they had the means someday. Southerners also really didn't know what they would do with the slaves once they were freed. Having blacks living alongside whites was obviously inconceivable. If that was the alternative, they didn't want to disrupt the status quo. There was also an element of fear that the Yankees would disrupt the southern way of life.
It doesn't really matter that most southerners didn't own slaves. They still preferred to have the system of slavery in place, for obvious reasons. If I was a southern demagogue, the best way to whip the southern masses into a frenzy wouldn't be to yell, "They're going to raise export tariffs!" The best way would be to say, "They're going to free these darkies, who're going to rape your wives!"
Northerners weren't fighting for the freedom of southern slaves. I'm from Ohio, so if I was serving in the Union army in 1861, and you'd asked me why I was fighting, I'd have probably said, "The south seceded, this is a union and they don't get to do that."
Also, Lincoln didn't call up those 75,000 volunteers until after Fort Sumter, I believe. (and a quick google search seems to confirm this) South Carolina and several other states actually seceded well before Lincoln even took office.
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