Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Well, here we are once again firmly enmeshed in "silly season". "Silly season", to me, is the last six months before the presidential election in this country. Since these events occur every four years, and since I’ve been around for awhile, I’ve experienced many of these and what I find most irritating and exasperating is the constant pronouncements during this period of extreme hyperbole, prevarications, falsehoods, untruths and any other term that can be applied to an outright lie.

Yes, I get truly tired of the lies. There are lies to build up one candidate, lies to tear down another, lies to exaggerate the accomplishments of the incumbent, lies to… well, I think you get the picture. Sadly, this constant lying during political campaigns has become a part of the American pageant. It likely always has been although it seems more pervasive than ever before which, I suppose, can be attributed to the advancements in communications and the failure of the media to be non-partisan.

As much as I detest all the untruths associated with modern-day politicking, there is one lie that has been around for awhile which angers me even more than any of the constant untruths that I hear during political campaigns. To me, the biggest lie ever foisted on the American people is the myth that the great war fought from 1861 to 1865 (and erroneously called the "Civil War") was instigated by the South and fought over the issue of slavery.

There had been vast differences between those of the North and those of the South even prior to the time of the American Revolution and the founding of this country. The question of secession had come up numerous times between the founding and the first actual secession of a state in 1860. Early threats of secession had come primarily from New England states with threats of secession being made four times between 1803 and 1846.

The first serious consideration of secession by a Southern State came about as a result of the Tariff of 1832 which followed closely on the heels of the Tariff of 1828 which, in the South, had been called the "Tariff of Abominations". The opposition was so strong in South Carolina that the state called for nullification of the tariff and President Andrew Jackson responded by sending federal naval and military forces into the state. A compromise was reached and the hostilities ended for the time being.

This certainly did not end the differences between the North and the South and by 1850 there were renewed calls by many Southerners for secession. The great John C. Calhoun had prepared what was to be his last public presentation for the South in the United States Senate. Calhoun was dying of tuberculosis and was too weak to present his speech so it was read for him by a younger colleague.

In this speech, Calhoun listed three main grievances of the South that could lead to secession. The first was the exclusion of the South from most of the new territories. The second was the growth in power of the federal government despite the limitations imposed by the United States Constitution. The third grievance was the most critical and involved the effect of federal taxation on the South. Calhoun’s words reflected feelings throughout Southern State governments when he explained: "The North had adopted a system of revenue and disbursements in which an undue proportion of the burden of taxation has been imposed upon the South, and an undue proportion of proceeds appropriated to the North… the South… has in reality paid vastly more than her due proportion of the revenue".

Calhoun had precisely nailed the issue. The South was weary of supplying a large proportion of the federal revenue and receiving little in return.

Unfortunately, this situation did not change and on January 15, 1861, after the secession of four Southern states – South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama – and the soon-to-be secession within days of three more – Georgia, Louisiana and Texas – Rep. John H. Reagan of Texas (later to be Confederate postmaster general and treasury secretary) rose on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and directed the following toward the Northern-dominated government: "You are not content with the vast millions of tribute we pay you annually under the operation of our revenue laws, our navigation laws, your fishing bounties, and by making your people our manufacturers, our merchants, our shippers. You are not satisfied with the vast tributes we pay you to build up your great cities, your railroads, your canals. You are not satisfied with the millions of tribute we have been paying you on account of the balance of exchange which you hold against us. You are not satisfied that we of the South are almost reduced to the condition of overseers of northern capitalists. You are not satisfied with all this; but you wage a relentless crusade against our rights and institutions."

Even the English recognized the unfairness of the revenue situation in America. The ATHENAEUM, a British weekly, wrote: "As a rule, the great mass of the public expenditures were made from the North, not in the South, so that Southerners found themselves doubly taxed – taxed first for the benefit of the northern manufacturers, and then, in the disbursements of the public funds, denied an equal participation in the benefits accruing therefrom."

It should be noted that at this time the amount of revenue collected from the Southern States was approximately 75% of all revenue collected by the federal government. As both Calhoun and Reagan had mentioned, most of this was being spent on projects in the North with the South reaping few of the benefits. It’s no wonder that the South had had enough of this situation.

It becomes obvious that the major disagreement between the North and the South was a financial one. There is a maxim that had been proven true for thousands of years that states that wars are fought for power and money. Power, of course, includes control of territory, resources and money. There is also an American truism that says when regarding any action of government, "follow the money". If you understand these two jewels of wisdom you will understand why the war of 1861 to 1865 was actually fought and, folks, it wasn’t slavery for either side.

Charles Adams, the brilliant economist/historian, in his wonderful book WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS makes the strong argument that it was during the month of March 1861 that the collision course of the North and South came inevitably to fruition and it was economic reasons alone that caused this happening. Adams calls this period the "war of the tariffs".

What happened was that in early March, Congress passed the highest tariff in American history. This was called the Morrill Tariff. On March 11 the Confederate Constitution was adopted and immediately created, for all practical purposes, a free trade zone in the South because of the exceedingly low tariff which was simultaneously implemented. Prior to this time, going back many months, northern newspapers had been advocating for peace between the two regions through conciliation. Within weeks of the creation of the Southern free trade zone, however, once the newspapers realized the implications of the extremely high tariff in the North and the exceedingly low tariff in the South, they changed their tunes drastically.

Charles Adams cites an example of this radical change by mentioning how the Philadelphia PRESS newspaper had opposed military action by the North in an editorial of January 18, 1861, stating that the secession crisis should best be handled peacefully and not by "conquest, subjugation, coercion or war". Yet, on March 18 this same newspaper was demanding war on the South and a blockade of all Southern ports. This turnaround was repeated by newspapers throughout the North.

For example, for months the New York TIMES had printed articles indicating that secession "would not injure Northern commerce and prosperity". By March 22 this same paper was calling for a shutdown of every Southern port and for "utter ruin" to be brought on the Confederate States.

The Boston TRANSCRIPT keenly perceived something that many other papers missed. The paper pointed out that although several Southern politicians had claimed that secession touched upon the slavery question, this was only a facade. The paper editorialized that "the mask has been thrown off and it is apparent that the people of the principal seceding states are now for commercial independence". For this reason the war was encouraged by many factions in the North. They saw war, a winning war, as the only way to protect commerce in the northern states. Likewise, a number of Southerners had claimed that secession was tied to slavery since they undoubtedly believed that most Northerners certainly would not fight a war, risking blood and treasure, for a cause so secondary to Northern prosperity. Remember, folks, always follow the money.

An interesting aside to all this was the threat issued by New York to withdraw from the Union (secede) and create its own free trade zone. Certainly doesn’t sound like freeing the slaves was on the mind of New York businessmen and decision-makers.

It is a fact that a third party, not closely aligned with either of two warring entities, can have a better perspective on what is actually happening than a party close to one or the other of the war participants. For this reason it is interesting to read the perspectives of various periodicals that were covering the American conflict from afar.

The British press, represented by many magazines and periodicals, gave extensive coverage to the war in America. The Brits were especially confused by the Northern onslaught upon the South. For instance, the CORNHILL MAGAZINE of London asked a difficult question about Northern actions: "With what pretence of fairness, it is said, can you Americans object to the secession of the Southern States when your nation was founded on secession from the British Empire?" Good question!

MacMILLAN’S MAGAZINE, a major British monthly, sent a correspondent to America to find an answer to a question that was extremely perplexing to many Brits: "What was the North fighting for?" The Brits, indeed all of Europe, knew that Lincoln had refused to speak to a peace delegation sent by Jefferson Davis a month before Lincoln’s inauguration to discuss friendly relations and trade agreements between the two countries. To many Europeans this suggested a morality problem on Lincoln’s part. There was an accepted doctrine that it was illegal and immoral for a Christian nation to go to war except to defend itself. It was obvious, in America, that it was the South that was on the defensive. Thus the question of what the North was really fighting for remained a mystery to most Brits and Europeans in general.

How did the British perceive the involvement of slavery as a causative factor of the conflict?

Charles Dickens, who covered the war as a correspondent for several publications, wrote that "…the South instead of seceding for the sake of slavery, seceded in spite of the fact that its separate maintenance will expose them…to risks and losses which the Union would afford security." Dickens, as did many Brits, knew that slavery was protected in the U.S. Constitution and that the Fugitive Slave Act had been upheld and supported by the U.S. Supreme Court.

[Question: Have you ever wondered why the "Underground Railroad" ended in Canada rather than the Northern states of the U.S.?]

The QUARTERLY REVIEW of London also recognized that slavery was not a major issue insofar as being a causative factor of the war with this analysis: "For the contest on the part of the North is undisguisedly for empire. The question of Slavery is thrown to the winds. There is hardly any concession in its favor that the South could ask which the North would refuse, provided only that the seceding states would re-enter the Union… Away with the pretence on the North to dignify its cause with the name of freedom to the slave!"

The QR also was wise in its understanding of the South’s reasoning as expressed in this opinion: "If slavery were alone, or principally, in issue, the conduct of the South would not only be unreasonable but unitelligible." The QR well recognized that maintaining slavery was not the primary issue for the South nor was freeing the slaves a paramount concern for the North.

Charles Adams summed up the attitude of the British reporters thusly: "It seems clear that British war correspondents and writers saw the war between the states as caused by the forces that have caused wars throughout history – economic and imperialistic forces behind a rather flimsy facade of freeing the slaves."

Smart folks, those Brits!

I cannot end without one more quote from the great Dickens: "The Northern onslaught upon slavery was no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states."

Smart man, that Dickens!

In closing I would like to quote two outstanding writers of the current era. Several years ago in a rebuttal article that I wrote for the local (and very liberal) newspaper here in Tallahassee, I quoted the respected black journalist, W. Earl Douglas, on matters pertaining to that war from 1861 to 1865. During the South Carolina flag fight just over a decade ago, Douglas had defended the continued flying of the Confederate Battle Flag atop the Capitol dome. The following statement truly stood out to me: "I am reminded that it was my grandparents who kept the home fires burning while the Confederacy waged war. Which is why I cannot view loyalty to the South or the desire for independence as being monopolized by either race. And the two greatest lies perpetrated by history (are) that the South instigated the war and that it was fought by the North for the purpose of freeing the slaves."

And finally, from the aforementioned Charles Adams who, by the way, is a Northerner and indeed a member of THAT Adams family: "It seems to this historian that financial prosperity was the powerful force that moved the nation into war. ALL OTHER EVENTS AND MOTIVES WERE SECONDARY." (emphasis mine)

I feel that I am in good company.


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