1. The South was the aggressor.

I came to the Civil War debate as someone who was very pro-Northern. One of the things that struck me like a ton of bricks as I began to read on the subject was that it was obvious that, contrary to what I had always supposed and been taught, the North, not the South, was the aggressor. This was the first crack in my pro-Northernism. Even before I became aware of Lincoln’s statements to Fox and Browning about his motive for sending the armed naval convoy to Fort Sumter, I recognized his sending of the convoy as a deliberate provocation, the equivalent of stepping across a line or bumping someone on the shoulder and daring them to do something about it.

What was even more revealing, and surprising, were the events that followed the bloodless attack on Sumter. The South did not invade it was going to invade the North. The South did not announce it was going to try to overthrow the federal government. The South did not refuse to recognize the right of the Northern states to live as they pleased. No, it was the North that announced it was going to invade the South, and that did invade the South. It was the North that announced it was going to overthrow the Confederate government and force the Southern states to return to the Union against their will. "So how in the world," I remember wondering to myself, "can anyone say the South was the aggressor, much less that the South somehow started the war?"

2. The South started the war.

Huh? The North invaded the South even as the South was still calling for peaceful coexistence, but the South started the war??? That is Orwellian logic. It’s beyond absurd. "But the South fired on Sumter!" is the usual reply. Get real. If the U.S. had seized an island fort in any other nation’s harbor and then sent an armed naval convoy to resupply that unwanted garrison, such an act would have been universally recognized as hostile and provocative. A bloodless attack on a fort you have seized and refused to leave is hardly a credible, moral excuse for launching a brutal invasion, especially when the other side has offered to pay compensation for the fort if you just will leave it peacefully.

Of course, we now know that the Republicans had no intention of allowing the South to remain independent, and that they were determined to pick a fight so they could use it as an excuse to invade the South. Lincoln himself made it quite clear that he sent the naval convoy to Sumter hoping it would provoke an attack. Even before Confederate leaders learned of the naval convoy’s pending arrival, they recognized that the Republicans were not going to allow the South to leave in peace. They knew that if they allowed Sumter to be resupplied, Lincoln would send a force to some other formerly federal installation to "enforce federal authority" with the intent of provoking an armed response that would then be used as a pretext for invasion.

3. Fort Sumter was federal property, so the North had every right to seek to maintain control of it.

One, under the original understanding of American sovereignty, the ultimate sovereign for a state was the citizenry of that state. Once the citizens of SC voted to rescind their ratification and to resume their independent status, all formerly federal property in the state reverted back to their ownership. The citizens of SC had the sole, exclusive right to decide whether or not to join the Union, and they had the sole, exclusive right to decide whether or not to remain in the Union. Granted, when such a reversion occurs, it’s only right that compensation be paid for the property that has reverted back to the state citizenry’s control, and both SC and then the Confederacy offered to pay such compensation.

Two, what kind of a government launches a brutal invasion and forces a group of states back into a "union" over a fort that wasn’t even completed and that the other side was willing to pay compensation for? Our Patriot forefathers bitterly resented the fact that the British would not allow the colonies to go in peace. They felt it was tyrannical and immoral for the British to try to force the colonies to rejoin the empire against their will. The fundamental premise of the Revolution was that a people have a natural right to separate themselves from an existing government and to form a new one of their own choosing, and that this right should be recognized and respected. Lincoln and his fellow Republicans behaved toward the Southern states in the same undemocratic, tyrannical way that the British behaved toward the colonies, if not worse.

Was it really worth over 600K dead and over 1M wounded simply to "enforce federal authority" at the unfinished, previously ignored Fort Sumter? Of course, Sumter was just the excuse. No moral, just government launches a brutal invasion over a bloodless attack against an unfinished fort that nobody has cared two cents about, especially when the other side has offered to pay for the fort and has made it clear that it wants good relations and peaceful coexistence. But the Republicans didn’t want peaceful coexistence. They didn’t want to let the Southern states live under a government of their own choosing. They didn’t recognize the citizens of the Southern states as the ultimate sovereign of those states. They believed in mob rule, that the Northern states somehow had the right to use the federal government to force the Southern states to rejoin the Union, that now "federal authority" was superior to the sovereignty of the people in the Southern states. They rejected James Madison’s explanation that the people were sovereign only as citizens of their respective states and not as a whole.

And what happened to the Northern troops at Sumter after the bloodless attack? Were they executed? Taken prisoner? Held hostage? Roughed up a little bit and then sent packing? No, none of the above. They were allowed to surrender with full military honors, were saluted by Confederate soldiers, and were allowed to return to the North in peace. Yet Lincoln’s response to all this was to launch a massive invasion and start the worst war in our history.

Mike Griffith
Civil War website