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Causes of the Civil War



Retrieved from fab4bear


The Cause of the War (good summary)

The Whig Party, as well as the Republican Party which replaced it, always held the policy of high protective tariffs.  The U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Tariff Bill in 1860 (named for steel manufacturer and Republican Congressman Justin S. Morrill of Vermont) which raised the tariff from 15% to about 37% with an increase to 47% within three years.  Tariff revenues were tripled due to the increase in items covered.

Tariff revenues fell disproportionately on the South, accounting for 87% before the Morrill Tariff.  The tariff protected the industrial interests of the North while greatly raising the cost of living and commerce in the South.  This reduced the trade value of agricultural exports to Europe and placed an economic hardship on many of the Southern states.  What is even more obscene is that over 80% of these revenues were used for public works and industrial subsidies in the North.  We call this redistribution of wealth.

Lincoln campaigned for the Morrill Tariff in 1860 which was incorporated into the Republican Party Platform.  Two days before the election in November of 1860, the “Charleston Mercury” expressed the feelings of South Carolina with this editorial:

“The real causes for dissatisfaction in the South with the North are in the unjust taxation and expenditure of the taxes by the Government of the United States, and in the revolution the North has effected in this government, from a confederated republic, to a national sectional despotism.”


The Truth about Abraham Lincoln (VIDEO)

The South wanted to secede because of the Northern Tariff, which was imposed to subsidize Northern industry. The effect of the tariff was to force the South to pay higher costs for manufactured goods, disproportionately tax them to support the federal government, and injure their trading relations with other parts of the world. The battle over the tariff began in 1828, long before Lincoln entered the scene.

So, after 30 years of being taxed unfairly (a long train of abuse), 13 Southern states chose in 1860-61, to peacefully secede from the Union and go their own way. Lincoln however, pledged to “collect the duties and imposts.” The issue of slavery didn’t enter the picture until long into the war.

In April 1861, with Congress out of session, President Lincoln ordered the blockade of Southern ports (an act of war) and suspended habeas corpus in the South. In September 1862, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus in the North as well, putting down resistance to his military draft. Lincoln imprisoned more than 14,000 civilians without due process, and ordered the shut down of more than 300 newspapers.

A Jeffersonian View of the Civil War

The term Civil War is a misnomer. The South did not instigate a rebellion. Thirteen southern states in 1860-61 simply chose to secede from the Union and go their own way, like the thirteen colonies did when they seceded from Britain. A more accurate name for the war that took place between the northern and southern American states is the War for Southern Independence. Mainstream historiography presents the victors’ view, an account that focuses on the issue of slavery and downplays other considerations.


The Constitution of the Confederate States of America prohibited the importation of slaves (Article I, Section 9). With no fugitive slave laws in neighboring states that would return fugitive slaves to their owners, the value of slaves as property drops owing to increased costs incurred to guard against their escape. With slaves having a place to escape to in the North and with the supply of new slaves restricted by its Constitution, slavery in the Confederate states would have ended without war. A slave’s decreasing property value, alone, would have soon made the institution unsustainable, irrespective of more moral and humanitarian considerations.

The rallying call in the North at the beginning of the war was “preserve the Union,” not “free the slaves.” Although certainly a contentious political issue and detested by abolitionists, in 1861 slavery nevertheless was not a major public issue. Protestant Americans in the North were more concerned about the growing number of Catholic immigrants than they were about slavery. In his First Inaugural Address, given five weeks before the war began, Lincoln reassured slaveholders that he would continue to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

After 17 months of war things were not going well for the North, especially in its closely watched Eastern Theater. In the five great battles fought there from July 1861 through September 17, 1862, the changing cast of Union generals failed to win a single victory. The Confederate army won three: First Bull Run (or First Manassas) on July 21,1861; Seven Days – six major battles fought from June 25-July 1, 1862 during the Union army’s Peninsular Campaign that, in sum, amounted to a strategic Confederate victory when McClellan withdrew his army from the peninsula; and Second Bull Run (or Second Manassas) on August 29-30, 1862. Two battles were indecisive: Seven Pines (or Fair Oaks) on May 31-June 1, 1862, and Antietam (or Sharpsburg) on September 17, 1862. In the West, Grant took Fort Donelson on February 14, 1862 and captured 14,000 Confederate soldiers. But then he was caught by surprise in the battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburg Landing) on April 6-7, 1862 and lost 13,000 out of a total of 51,000 men that fought in this two-day battle. Sickened by the carnage, people in the North did not appreciate at the time that this battle was a strategic victory for the North. Then came Antietam on September 17, the bloodiest day in the entire war; the Union army lost more than 12,000 of its 60,000 troops engaged in the battle.

Did saving the Union justify the slaughter of such a large number of young men? The Confederates posed no military threat to the North. Perhaps it would be better to let the southern states go, along with their 4 million slaves. If it was going to win, the North needed a more compelling reason to continue the war than to preserve the Union. The North needed a cause for continuing the war, as Lincoln put the matter in his Second Inaugural Address, that was willed by God, where “the judgments of the Lord” determined the losses sustained and its outcome.

Genesis of the Civil War

The historical event that looms largest in American public consciousness is the Civil War. One-hundred thirty-nine years after the first shot was fired, its genesis is still fiercely debated and its symbols heralded and protested. And no wonder: the event transformed the American regime from a federalist system based on freedom to a centralized state that circumscribed liberty in the name of public order. The cataclysmic event massacred a generation of young men, burned and looted the Southern states, set a precedent for executive dictatorship, and transformed the American military from a citizen-based defense corps into a global military power that can’t resist intervention.


Now, you won’t read this version of events in any conventional history text, particularly not those approved for use in public high schools. You are not likely to hear about it in the college classroom either, where the single issue of slavery overwhelms any critical thinking. Again and again we are told what Polybius called “an idle, unprofitable tale” instead of the truth, and we are expected to swallow it uncritically. So where can you go to discover that the conventional story is sheer nonsense?

The last ten years have brought us a flurry of great books that look beneath the surface. There is John Denson’s The Costs of War (1998), Jeffrey Rodgers Hummel’s Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men (1996), David Gordon’s <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1560003626/lewrockwell/&#8221; Secession, State, and Liberty (1998), Marshall de Rosa’s The Confederate Constitution (1991), or, from a more popular standpoint, James and Walter Kennedy’s Was Jefferson Davis Right? (1998).

“>But if we were to recommend one work-based on originality, brevity, depth, and sheer rhetorical power-it would be Charles Adams’s time bomb of a book, When in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000). In a mere 242 pages, he shows that almost everything we thought we knew about the war between the states is wrong.

Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States: The Irrefutable Argument.

This book proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the North did not go to war to free the slaves or end slavery. The North went to war because it faced economic annihilation and a Southern competitor that controlled the most demanded commodity on earth: cotton. The North’s economy was based mostly on manufacturing for the South and shipping Southern cotton around the world. Cotton alone was 60% of U.S. exports in 1860. When the South seceded, the Northern economy began a dramatic collapse, and by war time, there were hundreds of thousands of hungry, unemployed Northerners in the street — and the “tocsin of war” sounded. Economically ignorant Northern leaders then passed the astronomical Morrill Tariff that threatened to destroy the Northern shipping industry by rerouting trade away from the high-tariff North and into the low-tariff South. The Morrill Tariff was like pumping gasoline into an already raging fire. Abraham Lincoln was the first sectional president in American history. He was president of the North, and the North was clamoring for war. He saw an opportunity to start it without appearing to be the aggressor, so he took it. Thus, he started a war that killed 800,000 men and wounded a million. The idea that the good North was so outraged over slavery that they marched armies into the South to free the slaves is an absurdity of biblical proportions and this book proves it. This is an exciting, fast-paced 360 page book using over 200 sources with everything cited in footnotes and a bibliography. Part I proves that the economic annihilation of the North was what drove Lincoln to start the war. Part II proves the right of secession, which Horace Greeley believed in until he realized that secession meant an economic catastrophe for the North. Part III is the famous treatise by Charles W. Ramsdell, “Lincoln and Fort Sumter,” which proves conclusively that Abraham Lincoln started the War Between the States. Slavery was not the cause of the War Between the States, and this book makes the irrefutable argument. Here’s what Dr. Clyde N. Wilson says about this book: Historians used to know – and it was not too long ago – that the War Between the States had more to do with economics than it did with slavery. The current obsession with slavery as the “cause” of the war rests not on evidence but on ideological considerations of the present day. Gene Kizer has provided us with the conclusive case that the invasion of the Southern States by Lincoln and his party (a minority of the American people) was due to an agenda of economic domination and not to some benevolent concern for slaves. This book is rich in evidence and telling quotations and ought to be on every Southern bookshelf. Clyde N. Wilson, Emeritus Distinguished Professor of History, University of South Carolina.

Why the Civil War Was Not About Slavery

The dark story of New England’s involvement in the practice of slavery has been hidden from general public perception until recently, when three New England journalists published Complicity, How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery (New York: Random House, 2005). They express their utter shock in discovering New Englanders approved the slave trade and the practice of slavery in their States. They ask “How could we not know this?” And the answer is “Northerners have pushed much of their early history into the deepest shadows of repression … Slavery has long been identified in the national consciousness as a Southern institution.” The time to bury that myth is overdue. Slavery is the story of America, all of America. The nation’s wealth, from the very beginning, depended upon the exploitation of black people on three continents. Slavery, they continue, was a “national phenomenon. The North shared in the wealth it created, and in the oppression it required.” What is truly astonishing, however, is it took so long for these New England journalists to discover facts in their own backyard that were not difficult to uncover.4


Nor are they entirely emancipated from Warren’s “treasury of virtue,” for their book is titled Complicity. It is misleading, however, to say the North was complicit in American slavery. It was foundational. The slave trade began and was carried out mainly by New England States for more than a century and a half. The wealth piled up by New England and New York was generated by servicing slave economies throughout the Western Hemisphere. The purchase of slaves and land in the South and elsewhere was financed by Northern banks; slave-produced staples were transported in Northern ships and insured by Northern companies. The global industrial revolution was based on textile manufacturing which generated an insatiable demand for cotton throughout the world. It is no exaggeration to say the New York City of 1860 was built on slave produced cotton. So was the New England textile industry. Some 75 to 90 percent of federal revenue came from the Southern export trade. The federal government was funded from the first up to 1860 by slave labor.


Since Congress had no power over slavery, and did not want such power, the only way to abolish slavery would be through individual state action or by an amendment to the Constitution. No such amendment was ever proposed during the antebellum period, or even seriously contemplated. One reason is that Northerners were not at all willing to help pay for emancipation. They viewed slavery as entirely the South’s responsibility, willfully ignoring their own foundational and continuing participation in an economy and political order to which slavery was integral. But there was more to the North’s lack of interest in emancipation than a refusal to compensate slave owners. If slaves were freed nationally, they would be part of a national American society, but as we shall see, Northerners absolutely refused to integrate free Africans into their States.

If no national political party put forth an emancipation plank during the entire antebellum period, how did the myth ever arise that the war was a great moral struggle between those wanting to protect slavery and those wanting to abolish it? The myth is possible because of the confused and confusing way many Americans think about morality. We can best appreciate this by exploring the logic of the myth.


Consider Lincoln’s remarks in a debate with Stephen Douglas, September 18, 1858:

“I will say then that I am not, nor have ever been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races … there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever for bid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other men am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”6

In the manner of St. Thomas, Lincoln did not object to slavery as long as it was confined to the South. He laid out the possibilities confronting Americans: “What then? Free them all, and keep them among us as underlings? Is it quite certain this betters their condition? What next? Free them, and make them politically and socially, our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not … We can not then, make them equals.” Lincoln confessed he could not think of an acceptable solution to the moral problem of slavery: “If all earthly power were given to me, I should not know what to do, as to the existing institution.”7


The only solution Lincoln ever offered to the moral challenge of slavery was deportation of free blacks back to Africa — to their “own soil.”

The only place where the African population was accepted as part of society was in the South. There blacks were integrated into society through the family, i.e.; the plantation household. Southerners had come to think that the native soil of blacks was Virginia and Georgia, not Africa. There was subordination in the Old South but not segregation. Slaves attended the same church as their masters. Only ten per cent of Southerners even owned slaves, and half of those owned fewer than five. A third owned one or two. Half the owners worked in the fields with their slaves; ate with them; lived on the same property with them, and some times in the same house. Slave owners traveled in public transport with their servants. This social intimacy, as we will see, was extremely distasteful to Northerners who worked to remove themselves as far as possible from the African population with a determination that has been erased from general historical memory.


Colonization of blacks out of the country was the favored solution in the North to the problem of slavery. The various colonization societies read like a who’s who of American leaders: Madison, Marshall, Hamilton, Webster, Lincoln. But no one pushed the project harder than Lincoln. In debates with Douglas he had urged state and federal governments to fund programs of colonization. The same appeal was made in two state of the Union addresses and in the preliminary emancipation proclamation. In 1862 he introduced a constitutional amendment to buy and deport slaves. He sent the State Department out to arrange treatises with European colonial powers to secure land for Negro colonization. He explored possibilities in Haiti, Liberia, New Granada, Ecuador, St. Croix, Surinam, British Guiana, Honduras and the Amazon. In 1862 he urged Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to buy and deport slaves. In this plan slavery was to continue until 1900. At the end of his speech, Lincoln uttered the famous words: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best, hope of earth.”13 As with so many of Lincoln’s memorable phrases, these words have been taken to mean whatever those who quote them wish for them to mean. What Lincoln himself meant was America would continue to be torn — not by slavery as such — but by the presence of a large number of Negroes, whether free or not. The “last best hope of earth” referred to a purely white European polity free of racial strife, and not to a land of freedom for all as it is absurdly interpreted today.

Given the disposition of the vast majority in New England, the other Northeastern states, the Midwest, and the West to rid themselves of the free African population in their states, it is preposterous to claim such people invaded the South to emancipate slaves. And they did not. Yet there was a long-standing agitation about slavery in the antebellum period, and that was a factor (though by no means the only one) in the decision of the Southern States to withdraw from the Union. This agitation, however, did not spring from a moral motive of concern for the liberty and well-being of the slave, but from other motives — and ones that were not always morally attractive. To appreciate this it is necessary to take a look at the main anti-slavery episodes in the antebellum period.

There was certainly a lot of anti-slavery talk in the antebellum period, but it did not have the moral content the official story implies. We have examined the major anti-slavery episodes from the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. Not a single one was motivated by a moral intention to do something about freeing the African population or attending to its welfare. In every case the motive was the economic and political interests of white people in the North and West against those of the South. The African population was viewed from New England, throughout the North, and across the West as a pariah people to be removed from one’s presence as far as possible.

The South did not secede to protect slavery from a national plan of emancipation because no national political party proposed emancipation. Indeed, there was greater legal protection for slavery in 1860 than ever. And the South did not secede to expand slavery into the Western territories because given its geography and, more importantly, the racial attitude of Westerners, there was no realistic possibility of the plantation system moving West. Besides by leaving the Union, the Southern States lost all claim to the use of those territories. We should also note that the Confederate Constitution abolished the slave trade and allowed the entrance of non-slave-holding states. Confederates were not intent on spreading slavery to every state in the Confederacy, and the same people who wrote the Confederate Constitution were not disposed in the 1850s (contrary to Lincoln and the official story) to spread slavery throughout the United States.

It is true that some states gave attacks on slavery as their reason for seceding, but not all of them did. Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas at first refused to join the Confederacy. They reversed themselves after Lincoln ordered — what they considered an unconstitutional — invasion of the seceding states. As Lee said, he did not want to live in a Union held together by bayonets. Those states that did give attacks on slavery as their reason for seceding did not have in mind resistance to a morally responsible nationally funded program of emancipation, but the virulent, irresponsible attacks of abolitionists. Their long advocacy of a slave insurrection and terrorism was put in practice by John Brown and supported by national cultural elites and even government officials. When the governor of Virginia requested the return for trial of fugitives of Brown’s raid which had fled North, the governors of Ohio and Iowa refused to comply, even though the Constitution requires governors to return fugitives from justice to the state where the alleged crime occurred when requested by the governor of that state. South Carolina, Texas and Mississippi mentioned this break-down in the rule of law as one of their reasons for seceding.

And to this we should add Northern leaders, moving through the uncharted territory of the industrial revolution, were beginning to deny that America is a federation of States. They began talking of it as a unitary nationalist regime with the central government having plenary powers controlled, of course, by the North. This was contrary to the Jeffersonian vision of the Constitution as a federation of sovereign States, which dominated in the South and which was the view of many in the North as well. Lincoln got no electoral votes from the South. He was the first sectional president.


The North did not acquire a “treasury of virtue” from prosecuting one of the bloodiest wars of the 19th century. Instead, it acquired a habit of self-righteousness and moral self-deception which unfortunately has become a national characteristic. Just as Northerners suppressed the obvious fact slavery was a national evil for which they bore some responsibility, so our popular history today cannot acknowledge the invasion and plundering of the South from 1861 to 1877 was an awful crime, as the great 19th-century liberal Lord Acton put it. Their very identity requires they view the conflict instead as a great moral struggle to abolish slavery, even though the antebellum North put forth no morally responsible proposal for eliminating it.

The official story that the war was a great moral struggle for the “soul of the nation” only strengthens the disposition to self-deception and self-righteousness. The war could not have been a battle for the soul of the nation because America in 1860 was not a centralized nation-state that could be said to have a soul. It was an inchoate federation of sovereign states only 70 years old; it had grown in only 50 years to more than four times its original size, which was expanding to the Pacific; and in which secession had been publicly acknowledged as an option in every section of the Union.

Our nationalist historians have made it virtually impossible to perceive the moral truth that the best solution to all the problems confronting the federation of States in 1860 would have been a peaceful division into two federations, which is what the early abolitionists recommended. That, among other things, would have ended the fear that Southerners would use the Western territories as a dumping ground for emancipated Africans because by seceding, they would have no constitutional claim to those territories. Secession would also have hastened the extinction of slavery, which drew its strength from being integrated with the Union. Jefferson Davis himself said that secession would mean the end of slavery.

The official story that the war was about the South’s desire to protect and expand slavery and the North’s determination to abolish it is not merely an error in academic history. The evidence against it has not been ignored so much as it has been suppressed. It had to be suppressed because it contradicts the legitimating myth of the centralized nationalist regime that emerged after the war. Having been repeated so often, it has come to be believed because of repetition.


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