Response to Mr. Wise
If we were debating that slavery was a contributing factor to the War then we would not need to debate. I agree that it was a contributing factor. However, your article places the cause for the South seceding from the Union on the single cause of slavery.
This simple-minded reasoning for such a complicated issue as state secession is that taught by our public school systems. Of course, our public schools are maintained using a large amount of federal funding so such teaching should not come as any surprise. After all, it is a fundamental truth of history that the victor gets to write the history of any war. Such is the case with the war waged against the Southern states upon their constitutional withdrawal from the federal Union in 1861.
This course of action taken by the South should have been foreseen. Indeed, there is much evidence that it was and that the federal authorities did not heed the warnings. These warnings began fully 30 years prior to the secession of South Carolina from the Union.
Although not taught in our schools and scarcely discussed in fair debate is another primary factor leading to secession. The grossly unfair distribution of public funds from the federal treasury is another major factor yet how often do we hear of this?
The unfair use of federal funds was born in 1816 following the War with Great Britain and I readily agree that the South erred in judgment by allowing this to occur. It was at that time that the sovereign states agreed to pass their individual war debts to the federal government and for the federal government to issue a tariff on exports and imports to this country. The tariff was intended only to pay off the war debt and then be terminated. That was the original agreement yet the precedent was set for future abuses. As a side note it is interesting to recall that the Northern States demanded that this tariff be created or they would secede from the Union. How many 7th graders know this little kernel from our history?
Anyway, the first major crisis over the tariff came in 1828 when the war debt was nearly paid off and the Southern states wished for the tax to end. However, rather than ending it the Congress raised the tariff!
This led South Carolina to hold a ‘Nullification Convention’ and almost led to war with the federal government at that time. However, a compromise was worked out and the tariff was agreed to decrease over the next few years. It was during this time (1828) that a Northern Congressman when asked why the abolitionists so actively agitated the Southern states said, “Because they will not give us our tariff!” This certainly sounds like a humanist does it not?
With a 30 year history of a growing suspicion of Congress regarding tariffs, it was with the election of a sectional President in 1860 whose party openly embraced protectionist policies, that the South saw the hand-writing on the wall. After all, Abraham Lincoln and many of the ‘Radical Republicans’ were former Whig Party members. The Whigs was a party dedicated to a high protectionist tariff to protect the industries of the Northern States.
Secession Conventions were convened and seven states constitutionally withdrew from the Union. In his inaugural address the President even stated that he had no power to affect slavery, however he would force the payment of the federal tariffs by force of arms, if necessary.
The President’s refusal to remove the federal troops from Fort Sumter in the middle of Charleston Harbor was not the simple act of patriotism that it has been painted to be. The federal government maintained a Customs House in that fort and planned to continue to require payment of tariffs to its treasury even following the secession of South Carolina. This continued federal presence in the harbor of the busiest seaport in the South along with Customs Agents therein was designed purposefully to force the Southern government to take precisely the course of action it did in April 1861.
However, the month prior, peace commissioners were sent by the Confederate government to attempt to work out a peace agreement between the two nations. What was President Lincoln’s response? Reportedly, he is said he was worried about where his revenues would come from if let the South go peacefully.
Like most wars, this war was fought over power, money and greed. The North wanted what only the South could give. Money! Money to protect its fledgling industries and money to build transcontinental railroads that ran across the northern tier of the nation.
In as much as slavery was a part of the Southern economy it must be a factor on the road to war. In as much as Northern politicians used agitation against the South as a means of gaining their tariffs also makes it a factor.
However, it was and is most disingenuous of the federal government, and you, to take the moral high road by stating that they fought the war ONLY to free the slaves. After all, it was the Northern states that received the most benefit from the labor of the slave.
We are most fortunate in that the federal government was constitutionally required to take a census in 1860 which gives us a snapshot of the demographics of the country just prior to this momentous war. Let’s look at these rough figures from the United States Census for 1860.
Population: North = 47.5%
South = 39.9%
West = 12.6%
Tariff Revenues: North $72,000,000 on all tariffs
South $167,000,000 in cotton alone
West (Not included)
This means the South provided more than double the tariff revenue of the North in 1859!
Yet, how was this money disbursed?
Federal treasury disbursements: North = 49%
West = 32%
South = 19%
The South receives less than 20% of the federal treasury for its infrastructure after contributing more than 75% to the federal coffers. It is clear, then, that the south had more than ample reason to be displeased with both the tariffs and the revenue disbursements by the federal government. Why is this information not taught in our seventh grade history classes as a major contributing factor to that war rather than only the federally approved reason that the North had to free the slaves?
While President Lincoln was no friend to slavery, he also saw that it was a constitutionally guaranteed Right of the Slave-Holding states. He said so in his first inaugural address.
So, why would the South leave the Union if slavery were the only issue? After all, it takes a 2/3 majority of both houses of Congress to amend the Constitution and ratification by 3/4 of our sovereign States to confirm it. Though now the minority in the Congress, the South certainly held enough votes to prevent any such undertaking.
So, why leave? While the South could prevent an amendment to the Constitution, it was clear that it could not prevent future increases to the tariff by a simple majority vote in Congress. This it anticipated, since tariffs were the main source of income for the federal government. The South did not have to wait long for the Morrill Tax Act was passed in 1861 raising the tariff to over 40%! How many average Americans know of this fact of our common history? Why is it not taught in some detail as a further wedge between the South and the Union?
How many Americans know that there was no such thing as personal and corporate income taxes prior to that war? We may all thank President Lincoln for these new means of adding to the federal coffers since they were introduced to help pay for the war to subjugate the South. I suppose the Northern industrialists, ironically, were not pleased with this consequence of their war.
Like most wars in history, our Civil War was fought primarily over money and greed. Emancipation of the slaves may have been a by-product of that war but it was not THE reason that President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers in April 1861. After his plans to subjugate the original seven (7) seceding states became clear, the remaining five (5) Southern states seceded because they knew that it was unconstitutional for the federal government to force sovereign states to remain in the Union against their will.
Sir, the war was indeed fought over State’s Rights on these and other State issues which the South saw the federal government attempting to centralize in Washington, D.C. The American Republic as it was originally founded died in 1865.
Yet what is most disturbing is the general ignorance of the American public on these contributing factors to the most destructive war ever fought by this country. The fact that the subject is not even debated in any open and meaningful way is what disturbs me the most. Why is it that meaningful study and debate about the causes of that war are squelched with slurs and innuendoes of racism heaped upon anyone espousing anything other than that slavery was the sole reason for the war?
Does this make me a Neo-Confederate as you espouse? I do not believe it does since I have served this nation for over twenty years in her army and fought on foreign shores for her purposes. Yet your slurs and unfounded labels are the tactics used by so many in this country to cower and quiet anyone that espouses anything other than the government myths about that war. The argument that the federal government sought to perpetrate the meanest, bloodiest, most vile war ever fought on the American Continent simply so the slaves could be freed is stupid.
I have offered you and your readers other probable and certainly contributing reasons for that terrible war. They are the same reasons that wars have been fought since ‘Helen of Troy’. Do you really believe that the Greeks fought the Trojans for ten years just to bring Helen back home to her husband?
No, money, land, power, and greed were the real causes of the war perpetrated against the Southern States. Following its unconstitutional war, the federal government had to create a moral reason for their conduct of its war against the sovereign Southern States. Thus, was born the myth that the war was fought to free the slaves. Go ahead, ask any 7th grader the reason behind the Civil War. You will get the standard federal line.
However, the truth is that the Northern states and the federal government had grown accustomed to feasting on the profits provided by the federal tariffs supplied by the Southern peoples. The South was their milch cow and the government and the northern politicians were not prepared to surrender her without a fight.
This lengthy argument, I hope, will provide you and your readers with some other, more probable, causes for the South to leave the Union and the reason the federal government would not allow that to happen. It mattered little to the federal government that the actions taken by the Southern States were totally constitutional.
I suppose your next argument is that the nation is better off because the South lost the war. I am ready for that argument as well if you care to go down that path.