I hope everyone enjoyed their 4th of July weekend! It’s always amazing to think about the incredible sacrifices made by our countrymen to preserve the principles our Founding Fathers held so dear. Our God given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are obtained at a high cost, and freedom has never been free. We celebrate and remember that every year on this important date.
That’s why this week I’ve decided to embark on a discussion of the series of historical events that really put those principles to the test: a period in our history that nearly ripped our country apart; a time when the concept of States’ rights was pitted against the might of a growing Federal Government and the need for an intact nation. While the evils of slavery were recognized and the practice abolished, one of the greatest American Presidents in history also committed acts that many consider tyrannical to this day. Amazing precedents were set during this period, which of course by now you have guessed is the time of the Civil War.
You’ve probably noticed that I’ve been somewhat quiet on my blog for over a week. That’s because I’ve been doing my homework. This discussion has to be a two-parter, since the causes and implications of the Civil War were so many and so complex. So, in today’s post I’ll stick to plain historical storytelling (well, it won’t be plain, it’s actually very riveting!) and next entry I’ll discuss the results and what they mean for us today. (The time in between will also give you a chance to digest the story I’m about to tell).
So, it went down like this:
The North: Free the slaves!
The South (in southern drawl): No! We officially secede from the Union. We’ll call ourselves the Confederate States of America.
The North: You can’t secede. Free the slaves or else!
The South (in southern drawl): This is war!
And off they went. The North won. The End.
Just kidding. But sadly, that’s the gist of what I’d get from the “man on the street” interview (or most history textbooks.)
Here’s a shocker: the Civil War was NOT about slavery! At least not at first, not really. Oh, slavery was a part of it, but only as it pertained to States’ rights. As in most everything, the real issue was economic freedom. President Lincoln made slavery the focus later on in order to sway public sentiment in favor of the Union. See, here’s what really was going on:
It was the Industrial Revolution, and the Northern States, full of factories and manufacturing industries, exploded in population. The agrarian South, not so much. There was plenty of trade going on from all over the USA with Europe, particularly Britain and France. Southern cotton was shipping to Europe by the ton, and manufactured goods, steel products, grains, etc. from the North. There was also plenty of trade between North and South. Problem was, the much larger population in the North gave those States a large advantage in Congress, particularly the House of Representatives, in which representation is determined by population. Presidential elections also favored the will of the North in the Electoral College, putting Abraham Lincoln in office, much to the disgust of the Southern States. (Lincoln was not too popular and was elected as a “plurality” candidate. In the U.S., there are no runoff elections for the presidency. In a general election, the person with the most electoral votes wins, period.)
What started happening? The North, via their majority in Congress, was dictating trade regulations, levying tariffs and rates on traded goods, and pretty much telling the South what to do, affecting every aspect of their State economies. To make matters worse for Southern citizens, the North was using political bullying tactics to legislate their moral views on slavery: new State governments entering the Union were being threatened (at gunpoint) into disallowing slavery (the Federal government looked the other way), slaves who escaped their masters or even killed them and headed North were not returned or brought to justice (look up the case of the Amistad slave ship if you’re interested in details), and laws concerning slavery were not being enforced in Federal Courts. As disgusting as it is for us today, slaves back then were considered personal property and thus the slaveowner was protected by, amongst other things, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. By failing to enforce the law and even encouraging slaves to go free, the North was blatantly and illegally trampling on the rights of citizens of the United States, most of whom affected were Southerners.
Wow, you must be thinking. Those Southerners must have been a bunch of immoral idiots if their entire economy depended on slaves! Well, like I said, slavery was only a small part of it. Less than 20% of Southerners actually owned slaves. Slaves were expensive! In fact, most Southerners did not approve of slavery. But their disapproval of being told what to do and having their Constitutional rights denied and ignored was even stronger. You see, the Southern States actually believed that they were not stupid! They believed they could work out their own moral issues without having the North preach to them and dictate their lives for them! Imagine that? They also wanted to have a say their own trade rules, thank you, so that their economies wouldn’t go broke.
It went on for long enough that Southern States started seceding from the Union. But the formation of the Confederacy was not enough to justify a war. One thing of which you can definitely accuse the Southerners? They were a bunch of hotheads. They were MAD. So to show off their skillz, teach the North a thing or two, and get more States to secede, they decided to fire a couple of shots at Fort Sumter. Whoops. THAT gave Lincoln the impetus to invade the South. It turned the Confederates from protesters into rebels, and thus justified a military response. (Wonder what would have happened if they hadn’t fired at Fort Sumter?)
What Lincoln didn’t anticipate is that the South did have skillz, quite a few, and the North got its rear end kicked for quite a while, that is, until Gettysburg. You can probably figure the rest out on your own…