Date: Sat, Oct 9, 2010
Subject: Reason for secession
Dear Mr. Combs:
CC: H. K. Edgerton
In my former posts I did not take up directly the one thing you seem most concerned about–the Southern states seceding to perpetuate slavery. I more or less worked all around it without directly responding to it, and so I’ll do that now.
First you should recall that there were fifteen states where slavery was constitutionally legal in 1860: Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. But only seven of these states (less than half) seceded from the Union prior to Lincoln’s call for 75,000 volunteers to invade those seven states. It was only after that declaration of war that Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Arkansas voted to leave the union.
Lincoln prevented Maryland from taking any such action by arresting secession-minded state legislators. Kentucky’s legislature voted to remain in the Union, but a convention of the people (the proper means for making such a decision) voted against the legislature’s decision. In Missouri governor Clayborn Jackson and the legislature declared the state to be out of the Union, for in that state a convention of the people may have been frought with danger because of the great turmoil already existing there. Delaware, isolated from the other slave-owning states, remained by default in the Union, though it is fair to say that anti-slavery sentiment was strong there.
Apart from the fact just given that most of the slave-owning states that seceded left the Union because of Lincoln’s declaration of war and not because of their intent to perpetuate slavery, you should know that it was primarily in the seven Deep South states where cotton was grown and where the need for agricultural labor was greatest. To have abruptly emancipated the slaves in those states would have created a crisis of immeasurable magnatude, for as I have said, the black population in those states ran as high as 40 to over 50 percent.
You are right, however, in your assumption that slavery would have eventually been eliminated in the South even if the Confederacy had won the war. The reason for this is twofold: First, Slavery was expensive. As I have already noted, a slave might cost as much as $2,000, and that was more than most people earned in a year in those days. In adition, a slave had to be provided with clothing, shelter, food, medical care–and in the end, a burial. All of this was cost to the owner. In addition to that, the children of slaves had to be given the same care. (Compare this with the Northern factory system where the employer didn’t have to buy his workers and then paid them a wage only when they worked. The second big reason why slavery would have been ended is that mechanical farming equipment was coming into use–the McCormic reaper, for example, and this would eventually have made manual farm labor comparatively more expensive.
But the whole issue–as I noted before–was an economic one. From the New England slave merchant right down to the Southern cotton planter, the key was profit, and in an agricultural society where the white population was very small, black slave labor was the key to making money.
And if you are under the impression that the North was fighting a war to end the very thing that was providing the basic raw material for their wealth, then you really need to do a lot more study.
I’ll leave you this time with a shocking fact: In 1864, Abraham Lincoln authorized the trading of military supplies to the Confederacy for cotton! You can find this in chapter 1 of The Red River Campaign: Cotton and Politics in the Civil War by Ludwell H. Johnson. The reason for this is that 1864 was an election year, and Lincoln needed the New England vote (the most heavily populated part of the U.S. at that time) where three of every four textile mills were shut down because they could not get cotton. Unless he could get those mills running again, Lincoln stood to lose the New England vote.
All wars–no matter what the popular reason for them may be–are fought over power and wealth, and the "Civil War" is no exception. Start studying it from that perspective, and you’ll discover the real forces that were in play at that time.
By the way, the Red River campaign was advertised throughout the North as an effort to reclaim Texas for the Union, but the real reason is that there were over 1000,000 bales of Confederate government cotton stranded on the wharves of the Red River because the Union controlled the Mississippi. Cotton was selling at that time for $1.90 per pound, and so a single 500 pound bale was worth $950. Naval prize law was still in effect at that time, and so Admiral David Porter stood to become a very wealthy man if he could collect all of that cotton.
Porter not only took Confederate government cotton but also sent armed parties miles inland from the river to break into private warehouses (a thing not considered fare in war at that time) and steal whatever cotton was there.
All government cotton bales were at that time marked with the letters CSA to distinguish it from privately owned cotton, and so when Porter took this cotton, he had the letters USN added to identify it as Naval prize law cotton. And so to get away with stealing privately owned cotton, he had two stencils made: one with the initials CSA and the other with the initials USN. So when his men broke into a planter’s private warehouse, they stenciled on each cotton bale both CSA and USN to make it appear that it had been Confederate government cotton.
One problem is that the Army had no such prize law and could not legally claim ownership of any cotton they might take. For this reason they held sort of a grudge against the navy.
An Army officer was having supper one night with Admiral Porter and asked him whether he knew what the initials CSA-USN meant. When Porter pretended not to know, the Army officer said, "They stand for ‘Cotton Stealing Association of the United States Navy’."
After the war, a number of Louisiana cotton planters sued Porter and got some money back for the cotton he had stolen.
But as I said, it was all about power and wealth and not at all about the poor Southern slaves.
Hope you aren’t tiring of the education.