To assert the dogma that slavery caused the war of the 1860s sanctifies the North, vilifies the South, glorifies the African-Americans, and mythologizes the war. This dogma has been asserted for a hundred and fifty years to put the South on the guilty defensive as scapegoat for all of America’s racial ills and keep her there, but it all collapses with one question: How? How, exactly, did slavery cause the war?
“Well,” you say, “just look at the Ordinances of Secession. They had slavery written all over them. And the Confederate Constitution specifically protected the institution.”
So? This does not explain a thing. Slavery was also protected under the US Constitution with the Fugitive Slave Clause (Art. IV, sect. 2), and nowhere was it prohibited. Slavery was not abolished in the United States until ratification of the 13th Amendment, after both Abraham Lincoln and the Confederacy were in their graves. Furthermore, not all Ordinances of Secession mentioned slavery as a cause of secession (such as Virginia’s). Most importantly for all of them, these ordinances were not Declarations of War, they were Declarations of Independence, just as in 1776, when the thirteen slave-holding Colonies seceded from the British Empire.
Slavery did not cause the war. The North admitted it in the New York Times (quoted in the Richmond Whig of April 9, 1861, just before Ft. Sumter):
“Slavery has nothing whatever to do with the tremendous issues now awaiting decision. It has disappeared almost entirely from the political discussions of the day. No one mentions it in connection with our present complications. The question which we have to meet is precisely what it would be if there were not a [N]egro slave on American soil..."
Lincoln said in his First Inaugural that he was waging war not to free the slaves, but to save the Union. Yet in his Second he insisted slavery was the cause:
“All knew that this interest (slavery) was, somehow, the cause of the war.”
Somehow! He attempts to explain precisely how by going on to say:
“To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than restrict the territorial enlargement of it…”
A moment’s reflection will show the fallacy of Lincoln’s remarks. In the first place, when the Southern States attempted to peacefully withdraw from the voluntary compact of sovereign States to which they had acceded, these so-called “insurgents” could not have been doing so to extend and strengthen slavery, for their very acts of secession automatically restricted it. With their secession, they not only renounced any claim to the Union’s territories, they renounced all other claims to any rights under the US Constitution as well, including the Fugitive Slave clause.
As for “rending” the Union “even by war,” the record shows that the South had nothing to gain and everything to lose by inaugurating a war with the industrial colossus at the north. She merely asked to be let alone, but Lincoln not only rebuffed all peace overtures extended by Southern diplomats, he refused to even see them.
Finally, if Lincoln’s assertion that the Federal Government only claimed to “restrict the territorial enlargement” of slavery, isn’t it supreme irony that while the secession of the Confederate States removed the majority (not all) of the slaves out of the United States, Lincoln waged the bloodiest war in the history of the Western Hemisphere to drive Southern slavery back into the Union?
So what, then, caused the war? Secession caused the war. There were many causes of secession but only one cause of the war, which was secession itself. The respected historian Barbara Tuchmab, in her book The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, calls the War of 1861-1865 "The North's War against the South's Secession." Lincoln admitted it when he said he was waging the war to "save the Union" - notwithstanding the fact that the seceded States were in no way depriving the Northern States from having all the Union among themselves that their hearts could desire. The South merely asked to be let alone. But with the South’s “Cotton Kingdom” out of the Union and free-trading with Europe, the North’s “Mercantile Kingdom” would collapse. So Lincoln raised his imperial fist above his lofty rhetoric and launched an armada against Charleston to provoke South Carolina into firing the first shot to get the war he wanted. South Carolina responded to Lincoln’s provocation just as Massachusetts – the self-anointed “Patriot State” - had responded to George III’s provocation at Lexington and Concord in 1775. The rest is history, but it has been twisted out of shape to conform to the Progressive Identity Politics of our multi-cultural Empire.
But did the war end slavery or merely transform it? The Scriptures tell us (Proverbs 22:7, NIV) that "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender." Allen Tate, in his biography of "Stonewall" Jackson (chapter VII), noted that the Northern atmosphere was charged with commerce and industry, which "required a different kind of slave. He would be a better slave; he would have the illusion of freedom."
“Ignorance is strength.”
- George Orwell, 1984
Today’s Big Government Progressives are giving perennial voice to vitriolic Confederaphobia, the latest manifestation being the crusade to tear down Confederate monuments. Let us drop the toxic demagoguery of Progressive Identity Politics and review the facts:
After the Revolutionary War, the thirteen former Colonies formed themselves into a voluntarily confederated Union of sovereign States. But with the election of Lincoln came the triumph of a strictly Northern political party of Big Government that would destroy the federative nature of the Union, consolidate power into the hands of the central government, put it under Northern control with its sectional majorities, and turn the agrarian South into its “cash cow,” just as England had done with her Colonies. Seven Southern States, then, attempted to withdraw peacefully from a Union with people who had been plundering them with tariffs while despising and slandering them at every turn.
But with the “Cotton Kingdom” out of the Union the North’s “Mercantile Kingdom” would collapse, so Lincoln – under the pious guise of “saving the Union” (now no longer voluntary) - launched an armada against Charleston Harbour to provoke South Carolina into firing the first shot, and to get the war he wanted for conquering the “Cotton Kingdom.” South Carolina responded just as Massachusetts, the self-anointed “Patriot State,” had responded at Lexington and Concord.
Virginia had stood for the Union until Lincoln called for her troops to subjugate the Confederacy, at which point she immediately refused, immediately seceded, and indicted Lincoln for “choosing to inaugurate civil war.” Four other States followed her out and joined the Southern States in their defense against invasion, conquest, and coerced political allegiance – just as in 1776, when the thirteen slaveholding Colonies seceded from the British Empire. The rest is history, although it has been twisted out of shape to conform to the toxic demagoguery of Progressive Identity Politics and “The Myth of American History” – or what Voltaire would call “The propaganda of the victorious.”
So what of the Confederate monuments? As Edmund Burke said, “You are gibbeting the carcass while your house is the haunt of robbers.” These monuments were raised to honor our fathers, just as were those in the North - and those after any other war - but to those increasing multitudes today who don’t know who their fathers are, this is an alien concept. Thus as atomized dependents of a collectivist State that throws to them sops and promises in return for their votes, they are continually being flattered by the toxic demagoguery of Progressive Identity Politics that glorifies their victim status. Vilifying Confederate monuments is merely the latest manifestation of this demagoguery. To the Big Government Progressives who are orchestrating this, however, these monuments stand as a rebuke and an indictment, so they must be speciously branded as monuments to “Jim Crow” by hired “Court Historians” and media commentators, and torn down by Progressive social justice warriors, rent-a-thugs, “wokescolds” and other assorted useful idiots in order to hide the Brave New Empire from its benighted minions.
A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, the author graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a Regular Commission in the US Army. His service included qualification as an Airborne Ranger, and command of an Engineer company in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. After his return, he resigned his Commission and ended by making a career as a tugboat captain. During this time he was able to earn a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, with an international focus on war and cultural revolution. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Society of Independent Southern Historians. He currently lives in Richmond, where he writes, studies history, literature and cultural revolution, and occasionally commutes to Norfolk to serve as a tugboat pilot