By Bill Ward
For the Salisbury Post

In the long years that have passed since Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Va., the discussion has continued about exactly what to call the war that took place between 1861 and 1865.

At the center of that discussion is the question, was it actually a civil war? For our answer, we turn to the definition of "civil war."

Most dictionaries define a civil war as being a war between two factions or regions of the same nation. Civil wars have happened all over the world. One may be in the making even now in the country of Iraq, where different political factions want control of the same government. In the mid-1960s, two distinct factions, one with U.S. assistance, fought for control of Vietnam. And that is the key to truly having a civil war.

Forming the Confederacy as a separate country was done to remove the Confederate states from under the control of the Washington government. The government that was established with Jefferson Davis as its president wanted nothing more to do with the national government under the Lincoln administration. They certainly did not stage a revolution to take control of the central government. The Confederacy tried to get Lincoln to come to an agreement by which the CSA — Confederate States of America — would be recognized diplomatically as a separate, friendly country.

James Madison, writing in Federalist Paper No. 39 in 1788, stated the case clearly: "Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution."

So, the situation that occurred when Abraham Lincoln engineered events at Fort Sumter to start a war of highly questionable legality became a war between two sovereign countries, hardly something we could call a civil war.

The Congress of the United States used the term "War Between The States" in two measures enacted into law. One became Public Law 834 in 1950, and a resolution, HR580, was adopted by the House in 1944. The term "War Between The States" has been used in various reports on bills during the 70th, 71st, 72nd, 74th, 80th and 81st Congresses.

Burke Davis in his book, "The Civil War: Strange and Fascinating Facts," lists 29 names that "The War Between the States" has been called. They include: "The War for Constitutional Liberty;" "The War for Southern Independence;" "The Second American Revolution;" "The War Against Northern Aggression;" and a few less serious names, such as "The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance."

But of the all the names that have been applied over the years, serious Southern history buffs still prefer the more correct name of "War Between the States."

©2006 The Salisbury Post

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