Grasping Prussians and a Conservative South
The American South saw that its resistance to unconstitutional and aggressive Northern acts had come to a head over questions connected with slavery, that the incessant agitation caused secession, and that the North waged war against the latter. It was clear that by 1860 the two sections were two different countries, and as some viewed it, “the split might have come about over mules.”
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
Grasping Prussians and a Conservative South:
“…Southerners insisted that slavery was not a cause of the war in the sense of being a source of an irrepressible conflict between North and South. They ascribed [Northern attacks on slavery]…not to any humanitarian or ideological considerations which indicated divergent opinions on the morality of slavery, but to the desires of ambitious politicians and selfish manufacturers for political power and economic gain.
They charged that Northern majorities in Congress had passed legislation for the benefit of their section’s commercial and manufacturing interests and at the expense of the Southern States. The Yankees had become grasping and aggressive, and Jefferson Davis, drawing a parallel to the contemporary Franco-Prussian War, compared the Yankees of the 1850’s to the Prussians of the 1870’s (he described the Prussians as the “arrogant, robbing Yankees of Europe” who appropriated their small sister states.).
Not slavery but the North’s unjustifiable assaults upon the Southern States had caused secession and war, in the view of Confederates…the primary reasons for the North’s hostility to the Southern States lay in the fact that the Northern and Southern States had differing, antagonistic and competing ways of life. The Southern way of life was generally defined by former Confederates in terms of an agricultural economy, locally controlled and conservative in its social and political customs.
[They] emphasized in particular that the ante-bellum South had differed from the North in that its civilization had been essentially conservative. It was conservative, they asserted, in its concept of constitutional liberty, centering around the sovereignty of States, and opposed both to national centralization and to extreme doctrines of the “natural rights” of individuals. It was conservative also, they stated, in its aristocratic principles, opposing mere majority rule, opposing what the former Confederate Secretary of State, R.M.T. Hunter called the “despotic majority of numbers” in the North.
D.H. Hill, A.T. Bledsoe, and R.L. Dabney took the lead in describing the antagonism between Southern “conservatism” and Northern “radicalism.” The North, they declared, had abandoned the system of government prescribed in the Constitution and had adopted radical, democratic, European “isms,” based upon principles of equal rights for all individuals and rule by the majority. These doctrines stemmed from the French Revolution; they were held, implied General Jubal Early, by the men who had crucified Jesus Christ. Against Northern Jacobinism the Confederacy had fought the whole world’s battle; the South, asserted [D.H.] Hill, was the Vendee of the United States and had waged a similar fight for “conservatism against lawlessness, infidelity, irreverence towards God and man, radicalism.”
(Americans Interpret Their Civil War, Thomas J. Presley, 1954, Princeton University Press, pp. 119-121)