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Revisiting the Past : Part 2 – The Road to War : Causes
By Bob Hubbard
(Drawing upon the works of Thomas DiLorenzo, David M. Dodge and others)
(first published on 08-19-2004. Posted to Consider, Reconsider by authors permission)

A large number of people believe that the American Civil War was fought over the concept of slavery. While this despised institution was a core reason, the full scope is not as simple as it would seem. The simplistic argument is that the North fought to “Free the Slaves” and to “Preserve the Union” and that the South fought “For their Rights” and to continue to keep men in bondage.

A complete examination of the reasons is beyond the scope of this simple document. I will attempt to examine a few key arguments that I have found.

They are:
2- Economic Conflicts
3- Political Power

The first question is “Regardless of the reason, did the South have a legal right to secede?”

The answer to that question is yes. Please see my previous article “Revisiting the Past – An examination of the concept of Secession”.

1: Slavery
A complete examination of the institution of slavery in the United States is well beyond this article. Within this piece I will concern my self with 2 areas of research. They are “The North fought to free the slaves” and “The South fought to keep them in bondage”. I will not discuss the issue of if it was right or wrong. By today’s more enlightened standards, we find the concept of human bondage to be an evil. The viewpoint changes’ depending on where one is in history and geography.

Let us first turn to the belief that the North fought to free the slaves. While it was true that there were those fighting on the Union side who fought for that reason, the facts do not bear out that conclusion. To dispute this fallacy, we must look at several facts.

A- Lincolns own position, statements and proclamations concerning slavery.
* First Inaugural Address Washington, D.C. March 4, 1861

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

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. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

* In an August 22, 1862, letter to New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley he explained to the world what the war was about:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, 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.”

B- The U.S. Congress’s statements
* On March 2, 1861, the U.S. Senate passed a proposed Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution (which passed the House of Representatives on February 28) that would have prohibited the federal government from ever interfering with slavery in the Southern states. (See U.S. House of Representatives, 106th Congress, 2nd Session, The Constitution of the United States of America: Unratified Amendments, Document No. 106-214, presented by Congressman Henry Hyde (Washington, D.C. U.S. Government Printing Office, January 31, 2000). The proposed amendment read as follows:

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 State.

* On July 22, 1861, the US Congress issued a “Joint Resolution on the War” that echoed Lincoln’s reasons for the invasion of the Southern states:
Resolved: . . . That this war is not being prosecuted upon 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, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality and rights of the several states unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

By “the established institutions of those states” the Congress was referring to slavery. As with Lincoln, destroying the secession movement took precedence over doing anything about slavery.

Now, one might argue that they saw “Gettysburg” (The Turner movie, not the town) and remember the line “This is an Army to set men free” or something similar spoken by Jeff Daniels. While it makes a nice Hollywood moment, it was incidental to the Official purpose of the war – to preserve the Union, and not the main mission.

To further identify and explode a few myths, I turn to Thomas Dilorenzo, author of “The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War” and a professor of economics at Loyola College in Baltimore. Professor Dilorenzo states:

Myth #1: Lincoln invaded the South to free the slaves.
Ending slavery and racial injustice is not why the North invaded. As Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley on Aug. 22, 1862: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and it is not either to save or destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it”

Congress announced to the world on July 22, 1861, that the purpose of the war was not “interfering with the rights or established institutions of those states” (i.e., slavery), but to preserve the Union “with the rights of the several states unimpaired.” At the time of Fort Sumter (April 12, 1861) only the seven states of the deep South had seceded. There were more slaves in the Union than out of it, and Lincoln had no plans to free any of them.
The North invaded to regain lost federal tax revenue by keeping the Union intact by force of arms. In his First Inaugural Lincoln promised to invade any state that failed to collect “the duties and imposts,” and he kept his promise. On April 19, 1861, the reason Lincoln gave for his naval blockade of the Southern ports was that “the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed” in the states that had seceded. [[[[[[We will return to this later]]]]]]

Myth #6: War was necessary to end slavery.
During the 19th century, dozens of countries, including the British and Spanish empires, ended slavery peacefully through compensated emancipation. Among such countries were Argentina, Colombia, Chile, all of Central America, Mexico, Bolivia, Uruguay, the French and Danish colonies, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. (Lincoln did propose compensated emancipation for the border states, but coupled his proposal with deportation of any freed slaves. He failed to see it through, however). Only in America was war associated with emancipation

Ok, so we have examined and determined that the North did not invade to free the slaves. Did the South secede in order to protect the institution of slavery?

To answer this question, we must turn to the Articles of Secession which each of the Southern States issued prior to it’s departure. This is an interesting journey, and I will apologize to the reader in advance for any wording I may quote which offends. The language is presented here unedited, as I found it.

Because each State seceded independently, each has its own declaration. I have included the reference in the notes at the end of this article which will display several of them. For this argument, I will focus on South Carolina, the first to secede.

South Carolina wrote:
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

We assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused, for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.

The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

So, South Carolina left the Union as it believed the other states had broken the compact by NOT enforcing the law. These fugitives consisted of murderers, criminals –and- escaped slaves. One can argue that it was all about the slaves, however you miss the greater picture by limiting yourself to only that portion.

But wait. We must read further.

These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.”

So, each state was equal and made it’s own policies. Slaves were recognized as property, and laws were written surrounding the institution.
South Carolina continues:

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

For twenty-five years this agitation has been steadily increasing, until it has now secured to its aid the power of the common Government. Observing the forms of the Constitution, a sectional party has found within that Article establishing the Executive Department, the means of subverting the Constitution itself. A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free,” and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.
The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.”

So, South Carolina saw that the established laws of the land were being ignored, the disruption of certain groups was allowed which was against the law, and that there was a fear that the incoming administration would be hostile towards them. They feared a loss of their political power, continued disruption of their sovereignty by an increasingly hostile Federal government, and a continued ignoring of law by those who disagreed with them.

I can only conclude that there was more to this secession than the institution of slavery, however that institution was a major catalyst in the conflict.

So, was this all? What other situations were at play here?

2: Economic and 3: Political

We must now look to the Economic and Political issues.
Between the founding of our nation and the time of the war, the northern states had grown in a different direction than the south. The north had a larger population, and more industry, while the south had a more ‘rural’ society. Large cities teeming with factories were much less common in the south than in the north. Now, unlike today, at this time the Federal government didn’t have the hundreds of taxes, user fees, etc we do today It had Tariffs.

I turn now to the U.S. Department of Interior, National Park Service

One of these quarrels was about taxes paid on goods brought into this country from foreign countries. This kind of tax is called a tariff. In 1828, Northern businessmen helped get the “Tariff Act” passed. It raised the prices of manufactured products from Europe which were sold mainly in the South.

The purpose of the law was to encourage the South to buy the North’s products. It angered the Southern people to have to pay more for the goods they wanted from Europe or pay more to get goods from the North. Either way the Southern people were forced to pay more because of the efforts of Northern businessmen. Though most of tariff laws had been changed by the time of the Civil War, the Southern people still remembered how they were treated by the Northern people.”

From “Wedges of Separation In The Civil War
In addition to this monopoly of the foreign export business, the almost complete control of banking in the North worked a hardship on the South; and heavy tribute was paid to Yankee shipping interests which enjoyed the greater share of the ocean carrying trade of the country. Southerners were therefore saying: We must free ourselves from this economic subservience. Manufacturing, banking, and international trade must be brought into Southern hands. New Orleans must supersede New York as the business hub of the nation. Look to the tariff! While the South has lacked the majority to determine the incidence of this unequal tax, yet her shoulders must bear the burden. Through the operation of unequal navigation laws passed by the Federal Congress, feudal palaces rise throughout New England and fleets of merchantmen crowd its ports. Let the South but assume her stand among the nations, and these palaces and fleets will vanish, and the seats of economic domination will be transferred to the harbors of the Chesapeake, to Charleston, Savannah, Mobile, or New Orleans. Great European liners will establish regular connection between Europe and the South, instead of having Boston, New York, or Philadelphia as the termini of the Atlantic lines.”

What we are seeing here is that the money, shipping, and importing power lie in the North, and the South wanted more control.

Alternatively, the North saw things from a different perspective:
Northerners, of course, held a diametrically opposing view of these economic developments. Eager for “a liberal immigration policy to assure an abundance of cheap labor, ship subsidies for the promotion of commerce, internal improvements in the form of roads, canals, and harbor facilities, a sound monetary system to guarantee that loans and interest would be duly met in values at least equal to the nominal figure in the bond, [and] high tariffs for industries,” Northern businessmen complained that the backward, agrarian, feudalistic South dominated the national government. Southern votes had been chiefly responsible for the low Walker tariff of 1846, and Southern votes would back the still lower tariff of 1857, which greatly reduced rates and expanded the free list. In the days of Jackson and Van Buren it had been Southern votes which helped destroy the second Bank of the United States, thereby depriving the nation of central financial direction. Southern Congressmen defeated or retarded necessary appropriations for internal improvements. Southern jealousy held up federal assistance for the construction of a transcontinental railroad linking Chicago or St. Louis with the Pacific coast. Southern Congressmen repeatedly helped defeat homestead legislation which would have encouraged free-soil settlement of the national territories. To many irate Northern capitalists the South appeared to require that “the federal government was to do nothing for business enterprise while the planting interest was to he assured the possession of enough political power to guarantee it against the reenactment of the Hamilton-Webster program.”

The problem here is of course that both sides were right and wrong. They were 2 halves of a whole, blinded by their own fears and prejudices. This fear wove itself through out the arguments of both sides. The South and North both fought over the admission of new states as either free or slave, as they would in turn tip the balance one way or another. It was not because one side was either for or against slavery that was the key, but that the status of a state as either free or slave would in effect change the voting blocks in congress. With the south’s economy dependent on the colonial plantation model (which worked best with large numbers of low paid workers or slaves), it was a matter of power and profitability. In addition, too many slave states would skew power away from the free, and too many free would unbalance the federal against the slave.

The conclusion here is that while the institution of slavery was in fact a component of the war, it was not the reason for the war. It was in fact the economic and political issues that formed around the institution, and not the moral which were the main causes.

Six Myths About Lincoln – Thomas Dilorenzo
First Inaugural Address
The Missing 13th Amendment – David M. Dodge, Researcher
The Original Thirteenth Amendment
Declarations of Causes of Seceding States – South Carolina Mississippi Georgia Texas
Wedges of Separation In The Civil War


Article Copyright 2004 – Bob Hubbard. Reprinting by permission only.