Myth: The War Between the States Was Fought Over Slavery


October 09, 2017
Richard Lee Montgomery
Living in the Land of Cotton:


True or false? Abraham Lincoln gave us the answer. When asked in March of 1861 by a newspaper reported at a Virginia Compromise Delegation, “Why not let the South go?” Abraham Lincoln replied, “Let the South go? Let the South go! Where then shall we gain our revenues?” 1 Why would President Lincoln say such a thing? Well, it’s because he was alluding to the fact that the South paid 85 percent of the tax (Tariffs) burden of the nation. Lincoln sensed total financial ruin for the North so he waged war on the South.


In fact, the notion that the war was fought over slavery is so far from the truth and yet this interpretation has taught so many generations a deceptive lie. Even across the Atlantic Ocean in England, Charles Dickens, in 1862 said, “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. Secession by the South would, in fact, bring us very many years nearer to the end of slavery than a continuation of the old system under the great union pledge to support as a whole the evil that afflicts a half.” 2 This was a news worthy subject even in England and throughout other European nations.


But you know what – we know that Lincoln was a politician and politicians do whatever it takes in order to get a vote, even if it’s a lie. And to make the war about slavery, was a lie. But what makes this even more interesting, is to listen to some of Lincoln’s leading Generals.


One of the first men that comes to mind, is the obvious, Major General Ulysses S. Grant who was hand chosen by Lincoln himself, to command his army. And that he did – Grant was very successfull in this endeavor. In the summer of 1861, at the start of the war, Grant was then the Colonel of the Twenty-First Illinois Regiment of Infantry and at that time, made this comment, “I have no doubt in the world that the sole object is the restoration of the Union. I will say further, though, that I am a Democrat – every man in my regiment is a Democrat – and whenever I shall be convinced that this war has for its object anything else than what I have mentioned, or that the Government designs using its soldiers to execute the purposes of the abolitionists, I pledge you my honor as a man and a soldier that I will not only resign my commission, but will carry my sword to the other side, and cast my lot with that people.” 3 General Grant’s motive for fighting the Southern Army was in no way about fighting to free the slaves. In fact, “General Grant had to free his slaves when the war closed.” 4 Following the war, Samuel Augustus Steel, a Methodist minister tells us that, “General Grant owned slaves, and he did not liberate them, but held on to them until the adoption of the amendment to the Constitution abolished all slavery in the United States.” 5


Another man – that comes to mind – is General William T. Sherman. In a letter to General Henry W. Halleck, dated September 14, 1864, Sherman conveyed, “I am honest in my belief that it is not fair to my men to count negros as equals. Let us capture negros, of course, and use them to the best advantage.” 6 Also, Sherman expressed his opinions when he wrote to his wife in July of 1860, “All the congresses on earth can’t make the negro anything else than what he is; he must be subject to the white man. Two such races cannot live in harmony save as master and slave.” 7 Sherman was no abolitionist, for he did not think too highly of them. He fought to preserve the Union, which is consistent with Abraham Lincoln’s comment, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.


If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that.


What I do about slavery and the coloured race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.” 8


Here we have three of the leading men who were leaders in what they called the “Civil War.” Clearly they have stated that freeing or abolishing slavery was not their real concern. In fact, Carl Sandburg makes an interesting statement as to what Lincoln’s interest and goals were – when he said, “Of new and old societies, unions, lodges, churches, it seemed that Lincoln belonged only to the Whig party and the American Colonization Society.” 9 Why would Sandburg make such a statement? On January 26, 1857, Abraham Lincoln was elected as one of the eleven “managers” of the Illinois State Colonization Society and was made public on the morning of Wednesday, January 28, 1857. 10 This was the start of Lincoln becoming a firm believer in colonization.


The United States Congress took action on “July 16, 1862, which appropriated $500,000 to colonize emancipated slaves of the District of Columbia, to be repaid to the Treasury out of the proceeds of confiscated property.” 11 Then we come to Marion Mills Miller, who edited a book entitled “Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Presidential Addresses, 1859-1865,” published in 1907, which reminds us that “On August 14, 1862, a committee of colored men called by invitation upon President Lincoln. He informed them that a sum of money had been appropriated by Congress, and placed at his disposition, for the purpose of aiding the colonization in some country of the people, or a portion of them, of African descent, thereby making it his duty, as it had for a long time been his inclination, to favor that cause. The place the President had in mind was Vache Island, in the West Indies, which the owner, a man named Koch, had unloaded on the Government. The experiment of colonizing it with American freedmen was a disastrous failure. Inadequately provisioned, without a leader, and brought face to face with the problems of life in a strange country, the disheartened colonists fell an easy prey to sloth and disease. Many died of malaria before the Government sent a ship to bring the half-starved and debilitated survivors back to the United States. The following is a report of the substance of the President’s remarks: Why should the people of your race be colonized, and where? Why should they leave this country? This is, perhaps, the first question for proper consideration. You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss; but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think. Your race suffer very greatly, many of them, by living among us, while ours suffer from your presence. In a word, we suffer on each side. If this is admitted, it affords a reason, at least, why we should be separated.


You here are freemen, I suppose? [A voice: Yes, sir.’]


Perhaps you have long been free, or all your lives. Your race is suffering, in my judgment, the greatest wrong inflicted on any people. But even when you cease to be slaves, you are yet far removed from being placed on an equality with the white race. You are cut off from many of the advantages which the other race enjoys. The aspiration of men is to enjoy equality with the best when free, but on this broad continent not a single man of your race is made the equal of a single man of ours. Go where you are treated the best, and the ban is still upon you. I do not propose to discuss this, but to present it as a fact with which we have to deal. I cannot alter it if I would. It is a fact about which we all think and feel alike, I and you. We look to our condition. Owing to the existence of the two races on this continent, I need not recount to you the effects upon white men, growing out of the institution of slavery.


I believe in its general evil effects on the white race. See our present condition—the country engaged in war—our white men cutting one another’s throats—none knowing how far it will extend—and then consider what we know to be the truth. But for your race among us there could not be war, although many men engaged on either side do not care for you one way or the other. Nevertheless, I repeat, without the institution of slavery, and the colored race as a basis, the war could not have an existence. It is better for us both, therefore, to be separated. I know that there are free men among you who, even if they could better their condition, are not as much inclined to go out of the country as those who, being slaves, could obtain their freedom on this condition. I suppose one of the principal difficulties in the way of colonization is that the free colored man cannot see that his comfort would be advanced by it. You may believe that you can live in Washington, or elsewhere in the United States, the remainder of your life as easily, perhaps more so, than you can in any foreign country; and hence you may come to the conclusion that you have nothing to do with the idea of going to a foreign country.


This is (I speak in no unkind sense) an extremely selfish view of the case. You ought to do something to help those who are not so fortunate as yourselves. There is an unwillingness on the part of our people, harsh as it may be, for you free colored people to remain with us. Now, if you could give a start to the white people, you would open a wide door for many to be made free. If we deal with those who are not free at the beginning, and whose intellects are clouded by slavery, we have very poor material to start with. If intelligent colored men, such as are before me, would move in this matter, much might be accomplished. It is exceedingly important that we have men at the beginning capable of thinking as white men, and not those who have been systematically oppressed. There is much to encourage you. For the sake of your race you should sacrifice something of your present comfort for the purpose of being as grand in that respect as the white people. It is a cheering thought throughout life, that something can be done to ameliorate the condition of those who have been subject to the hard usages of the world. It is difficult to make a man miserable while he feels he is worthy of himself and claims kindred to the great God who made him. In the American Revolutionary war sacrifices were made by men engaged in it, but they were cheered by the future. General Washington himself endured greater physical hardships than if he had remained a British subject, yet he was a happy man because he was engaged in benefiting his race, in doing something for the children of his neighbors, having none of his own.


The colony of Liberia has been in existence a long time. In a certain sense it is a success. The old President of Liberia, Roberts, has just been with me—the first time I ever saw him. He says they have within the bounds of that colony between three and four hundred thousand people, or more than in some of our old States, such as Rhode Island or Delaware, or in some of our newer States, and less than in some of our larger ones. They are not all American colonists or their descendants. Something less than 12,000 have been sent thither from this country. Many of the original settlers have died; yet, like people elsewhere, their offspring outnumber those, deceased. The question is, if the colored people are persuaded to go anywhere, why not there?


One reason for unwillingness to do so is that some of you would rather remain within reach of the country of your nativity. I do not know how much attachment you may have toward our race. It does not strike me that you have the greatest reason to love them. But still you are attached to them, at all events.


The place I am thinking about for a colony is in Central America. It is nearer to us than Liberia—not much more than one fourth as far as Liberia, and within seven days’ run by steamers. Unlike Liberia, it is a great line of travel—it is a highway. The country is a very excellent one for any people, and with great natural resources and advantages, and especially because of the similarity of climate with your native soil, thus being suited to your physical condition. The particular place I have in view is to be a great highway from the Atlantic or Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and this particular place has all the advantages for a colony. On both sides there are harbors—among the finest in the world.


Again, there is evidence of very rich coal-mines. A certain amount of coal is valuable in any country. Why I attach so much importance to coal is, it will afford an opportunity to the inhabitants for immediate employment till they get ready to settle permanently in their homes. If you take colonists where there is no good landing, there is a bad show; and so where there is nothing to cultivate and of which to make a farm. But if something is started so that you can get your daily bread as soon as you reach there, it is a great advantage. Coal land is the best thing I know of with which to commence an enterprise.


To return—you have been talked to upon this subject, and told that a speculation is intended by gentlemen who have an interest in the country, including the coal-mines. We have been mistaken all our lives if we do not know whites, as well as blacks, look to their self-interest. Unless among those deficient of intellect, everybody you trade with makes something. You meet with these things here and everywhere. If such persons have what will be an advantage to them, the question is, whether it cannot be made of advantage to you? You are intelligent, and know that success does not so much depend on external help as on self-reliance. Much, therefore, depends upon yourselves. As to the coal-mines, I think I see the means available for your self-reliance. I shall, if I get a sufficient number of you engaged, have provision made that you shall not be wronged. If you will engage in the enterprise, I will spend some of the money intrusted to me. I am not sure you will succeed. The government may lose the money; but we cannot succeed unless we try; and we think, with care, we can succeed. The political affairs in Central America are not in quite as satisfactory a condition as I wish. There are contending factions in that quarter; but, it is true, all the factions are agreed alike on the subject of colonization, and want it, and are more generous than we are here.


To your colored race they have no objection. I would endeavor to have you made the equals, and have the best assurance that you should be, the equals of the best.


The practical thing I want to ascertain is, whether I can get a number of able-bodied men, with their wives and children, who are willing to go when I present evidence of encouragement and protection. Could I get a hundred tolerably intelligent men, with their wives and children, and able to “cut their own fodder,” so to speak? Can I have fifty? If I could find twenty-five able-bodied men, with a mixture of women and children,—good things in the family relation, I think,—I could make a successful commencement. I want you to let me know whether this can be done or not. This is the practical part of my wish to see you. These are subjects of very great importance—worthy of a month’s study, instead of a speech delivered in an hour. I ask you, then, to consider seriously, not pertaining to yourselves merely, nor for your race and ours for the present time, but as one of the things, if successfully managed, for the good of mankind—not confined to the present generation, but as
From age to age descends the lay
To millions yet to be,
Till far its echoes roll away
Into eternity.” 12


What I find interesting is that one month later, on September 22, 1862, Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that as of January 1, 1863, all slaves in the rebellious states “shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.” We see first that Lincoln talks to the black community on the issue of “the colonization” of the Negro people, “for the good of mankind.” Then second we see Lincoln proclaim that only the slaves of the Southern “Rebellious” states are free, but in reality no one is freed. The mixing of emancipating and colonizing the black population begs for the question: Was this really in the best interest of those it was supposedly tending to, or was it really a bigoted scheme? – and now we know it as “The War Between the States Was Fought Over Slavery.”


Foot Notes:


1 Frank H. Alfriend, The Life of Jefferson Davis (Cincinnati: Caxton Publishing House, 1868), 201.
2 Paul H. Belz, The Monster Lincoln: The Lies My Schools Taught Me (Paul H. Belz, 2012 ), 60.
3 Matthew Carey Jr., The Democratic Speaker’s Hand Book (Cincinnati: Miami Print and Pub Company, 1868), 33.
4 Mildred Lewis Rutherford, The South in History and Literature: A Hand-book of Southern Authors, from the Settlement of Jamestown, 1607, to Living Writers (Atlanta: Franklin-Turner Company, 1906), 49.
5 S. A. Cunningham, Confederate Veteran, Volume 30, No. 7 (Nashville, 1922), 256.
6 Christopher Dorsey, A Call to Arms: The Realities of Military Service for African Americans During the Civil War (Backintyme, 2007), 50.
7 M M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Home Letters of General Sherman (New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1909), 178.
8 Merwin Roe, Speeches and Letters of Abraham Lincoln, 1832-1865 (London: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1917), 195-196.
9 Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years And The War Years (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1960), 195-196.
10 Illinois State Journal, Volume 9, Number 186, 28 January 1857, page 4.
11 Edward McPherson, The Political History of the United States of America, During the Great Rebellion (Washington D. C.: D. Appleton & Company, 1864), 212.
12 Marion Mills Miller, Life and Works of Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and Presidential Addresses, 1859-1865 (New York: The Current Literature Publishing Company, 1907), 163-169.


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