The Confederacy, The Union, and the Civil War – A look at four claims about the War Between the States

Author: Michael T. Griffith

Recently some members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans drafted
a statement to be placed on a proposed monument at a Confederate
grave site in a Texas cemetery. The statement contains four claims
regarding the Confederacy, the Union, and the Civil War. The purpose
of this article is to examine those claims. The text of the statement
is as follows:

The Confederate dead died for states rights guaranteed under
the Constitution. The people of the South, animated by the spirit
of 1776, to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact
in 1861. The North resorted to coercion. The South, against overwhelming
numbers and resources, fought until exhausted.

There are four principal claims made in this statement:

1. That Confederate soldiers fought for states rights guaranteed
under the Constitution.

2. That the people of the South seceded in order to preserve
their rights.

3. That the North (i.e., the Union) resorted to coercion.

4. That the South fought against overwhelming odds.

Before I begin to discuss these claims, I would like to briefly
introduce myself so as to give the reader some idea of where I’m
coming from when I approach the subject of the Civil War. I’m
not a Southerner by upbringing. I spent nearly all of my childhood
in the North and in the West, and I have spent the majority of
my adult life outside the South. I’ve always considered myself
to be a "Northerner" or a "Yankee." Politically,
I’m an independent and a centrist who has long favored affirmative
action and minority set-asides. One of the web pages that I maintain
is dedicated to educating the public about the terrible abuses
that African Americans have suffered in our nation, especially
prior to the 1970s.

1. "The Confederate dead died for states rights guaranteed
under the Constitution."

States rights are in fact guaranteed under the Constitution.
They are expressly guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution,
which reads:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,
nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states
respectively, or to the people.

The whole purpose of this amendment was to prevent the federal
government from usurping powers that were not assigned to it,
including powers that were reserved for the states. Constitutional
scholar Bruce Findlay said the following:

Because of widespread fear that the new government might try
to employ powers that were not granted, this amendment was added.
It makes clear that the federal government was to have only those
powers assigned to it, and no more. Some other powers were left
to the states. (Your Rugged Constitution, Stanford, California:
Stanford University Press, 1950, pp. 216-217)

The main reason for opposition to the ratification of the Constitution
was the fear that the federal government would eventually grow
so large that it would destroy the states. Historians John Garraty
and Robert McCaughey point out that most of the opposition to
ratification only subsided after backers of the Constitution agreed
to add amendments that would prevent the federal government from
usurping civil liberties and states rights:

Aside from a few doctrinaires, most were ready to give the new
government a chance if they could be convinced that it would not
destroy the states. When backers agreed to add amendments guaranteeing
the civil liberties of the people against challenge by the national
government and reserving all unmentioned power to the states,
much of the opposition disappeared. (Garraty and McCaughey, The
American Nation: A History of the United States to 1877
, New York:
Harper & Row Publishers, 1987, p. 159)

Even Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio, a notorious "South-hater,"
said in 1855 that if the states were not the ones who could ultimately
decide if a law violated the Constitution, then the states would
be deprived of their right to defend their citizens and the general
government would become a "miserable despotism":

Who is the judge in the last resort of the violation of the Constitution
of the United States by the enactment of a law? Who is the final
arbiter, the General Government or the States in their sovereignty?
Why, sir, to yield that point is to yield up all the rights of
the States to protect their own citizens, and to consolidate this
government into a miserable despotism. (As quoted in Mildred Rutherford,
Truths of History, Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company,
reprint of original 1920 edition, p. 4)

James Madison, one of our founding fathers, an author of The
Federalist Papers
, and our fourth president, said the federal
government’s powers were delegated, defined, and few in number,
and that the powers that were to remain with the states were "numerous
and indefinite":

The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal
government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the
State governments are numerous and indefinite. (Federalist Paper

Of course, one of the states rights for which the South fought
was the right of a state or a group of states to voluntarily and
peacefully leave the Union. Thomas Jefferson tacitly recognized
this right in his first inaugural address in 1801:

If there be any among us who wish to dissolve the Union or to
change its republican form, let them stand undisturbed, as monuments
of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where
reason is left free to combat it.

In 1816 Jefferson gave a stronger endorsement of the principle
that a state should be able to peacefully leave the Union:

If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation
. . . to a continuance in the union. . . . I have no hesitation
in saying, "Let us separate." (Letter to William Crawford)

In 1839 President John Quincy Adams said that if sectional differences
between the states became too severe it would be better for the
states to go their own way in peace than to be constrained to
remain together:

The indissoluble link of union between the people of the several
States of this confederated nation is, after all, not in the right,
but in the heart. If the day should ever come (may Heaven avert
it) when the affections of the people of these States shall be
alienated from each other, the bonds of political association
will not long hold together parties no longer attached by the
magnetism of consolidated interests and kindly sympathies; and
far better will it be for the people of the disunited States to
part in friendship with each other than to be held together by
. (Speech given at a celebration of the 50th anniversary
of the inauguration of George Washington, April 30, 1839, as quoted
in the Hon. Joseph Wheeler, "Slavery and States Rights,"
reprinted in Richmond Dispatch, July 31, 1894, emphasis added)

None other than Horace Greeley, a leading Republican and abolitionist
and the owner of the then-influential New York Tribune, said the
South had the right to leave the Union in peace:

We hold, with Jefferson, to the inalienable right of communities
to alter or abolish forms of government that have become oppressive
or injurious; and, if the Cotton States [the Deep South states]
shall decide that they can do better out of the Union than in
it, we insist on letting them go in peace. . . . And, whenever
a considerable section of our Union shall deliberately resolve
to go out, we shall resist all coercive measures designed to keep
her in. We hope never to live in a republic where one section
is pinned to the residue by bayonets. (New York Tribune, November
9, 1860)

Numerous other Northern newspapers voiced the view that the Southern
states had the right to secede and that it would be wrong to use
force against them to compel them to return. The Detroit Free
editorialized as follows:

An attempt to subjugate the seceded States, even if successful
could produce nothing but evil — evil unmitigated in character
and appalling in content. (Detroit Free Press, February 19, 1861)

Congressman Jacob M. Kunkel of Maryland echoed this view shortly
before the war broke out:

Any attempt to preserve the Union between the States of this
Confederacy by force would be impractical, and destructive of
republican liberty. (As quoted in Walter Williams, "Do States
Have A Right of Secession?", Capitalism Magazine, April 19,
2002; NOTE: Prior to the Civil War, many leaders and writers occasionally
referred to the U.S. as a "confederacy.")

In one of his final messages, given a few months before Lincoln
was inaugurated, President James Buchanan said the government
had no right to use force against a state that had seceded, and
he cited founding father James Madison in support of his point:

The question fairly stated is: Has the Constitution delegated
to Congress the power to coerce a State into submission which
is attempting to withdraw or has actually withdrawn from the confederacy?
If answered in the affirmative, it must be on the principle that
the power has been conferred upon Congress to declare and to make
war against a State. After much serious reflection, I have arrived
at the conclusion that no such power has been delegated to Congress
or to any other department of the federal government. It is manifest,
upon an inspection of the Constitution, that this is not among
the specific and enumerated powers granted to Congress; and it
is equally apparent that its exercise is not "necessary and
proper for carrying into execution" any one of these powers.
So far from this power having been delegated to Congress, it was
expressly refused by the convention which framed the Constitution.

It appears from the proceedings of that body that on the 31st
May, 1787, the clause "authorizing an exertion of the force
of the whole against a delinquent State" came up for consideration.
Mr. [James] Madison opposed it in a brief but powerful speech,
from which I shall extract but a single sentence. He observed:
"The use of force against a State would look more like a
declaration of war than an infliction of punishment, and would
probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution
of all previous compacts by which it might be bound." Upon
his motion the clause was unanimously postponed, and was never,
I believe, again presented. Soon afterwards, on the 8th June,
1787, when incidentally adverting to the subject, he said: "Any
government for the United States, formed on the supposed practicability
of using force against the unconstitutional proceedings of the
States, would prove as visionary and fallacious as the government
of Congress," evidently meaning the then existing Congress
of the old confederation.

Without descending to particulars, it may be safely asserted
that the power to make war against a State is at variance with
the whole spirit and intent of the Constitution. . . .

The fact is, that our union rests upon public opinion, and can
never be cemented by the blood of its citizens in civil war. If
it cannot live in the affections of the people, it must one day
perish. Congress may possess many means of preserving it by conciliation,
but the sword was not placed in their hand to preserve it by force.
(President James Buchanan, Presidential Message, read in the U.S.
House of Representatives, December 4, 1860, Journal of the House
of Representatives of the United States
, 1860-1861, pp. 19-20)

Conservative scholar Joseph Sobran observes that the right of
secession is implied in the Tenth Amendment:

The Tenth Amendment implies the right of secession, since it
reserves to the states and the people "the powers not delegated
to the United States [i.e., the federal government] by the Constitution,
nor prohibited by it to the states." The Constitution doesn’t
prohibit the states from seceding, so that power remains with
them. . . .

During the debate over ratification of the Constitution, opponents
of ratification made many dark predictions: the Constitution would
enable the federal government to impose tyranny, it would lead
to "consolidated" – centralized and monolithic
– government, and so forth. But nobody complained that the
Constitution would prevent the states from reclaiming their independence,
as they certainly would have done if the Constitution had been
understood to rule out secession. (Sobran, "Slavery, No;
Secession, Yes," Sobran’s, January 16, 2001, p. 1)

2. "The people of the South, animated by the spirit of 1776,
to preserve their rights, withdrew from the federal compact in

Southern leaders made it clear they believed they were following
in the footsteps of the founding fathers and that they were protecting
their rights. They quoted the Declaration of Independence on the
right to form new governments and on the principle that governments
derive their just powers "from the consent of the governed."
They also quoted the founding fathers on the sovereignty of the

The Southern states believed they were seceding to protect their
constitutional rights, and that their rights had been violated
by the North. They believed their rights had been violated in
five areas, namely, tax policy, federal spending, the fugitive
slave law, border security, and equal access to the territories.

For decades prior to the secession crisis, the South had complained
about the imposition of tariffs. Tariffs usually had a negative
impact on the South’s economy, while they tended to have a positive
impact on the North’s economy. Because the South’s economy was
heavily dependent on imports and exports, the South paid the majority
of the tariffs. In 1832 South Carolina and the federal government
nearly came to blows because South Carolina refused to pay the
recently increased tariffs. Eventually a compromise was reached
and the tariffs were gradually reduced. The issue of tariffs continued
to be a sore point between North and South right up to the start
of the Civil War. Southern leaders also objected to the misuse
of tariff revenue by the federal government. They viewed as unfair
and unconstitutional the use of tariff money for "internal
improvements." Admittedly, many more of these "internal
improvements" went to the North than to the South. The South
had a valid complaint here, and the situation only stood to get
worse with the election of Lincoln, who favored higher tariffs
and increased spending on internal improvements. We must bear
in mind that there was no income tax back then. Tariffs were a
huge source of revenue for the federal government at the time.
It’s fair to say that in most cases the South favored free trade
and that the North favored protectionism. The South’s desire to
control its own economic destiny and to trade directly with Europe
without having to pay federal tariffs was an important factor
in its decision to secede.

When the states of the Deep South seceded and formed the Confederate
States of America, Jefferson Davis, in one of his first acts as
president of the Confederacy, sent an official letter to Abraham
Lincoln expressing a desire for peaceful relations (Letter from
Jefferson Davis to Abraham Lincoln, February 27, 1861). Davis
also sent a peace delegation to the city of Washington to meet
with Lincoln for the purpose of establishing friendly relations.
Lincoln would not even meet with the delegation. A short time
later, in his first inaugural address, Lincoln threatened to invade
the South if the South didn’t pay the tariffs (or if the South
didn’t allow the federal government to maintain and occupy federal
forts and property that were in Confederate territory). So Lincoln
certainly viewed the collection of tariffs from the South as a
critical issue, one over which he was willing to go to war (and
it should be noted that Lincoln made no such threat over any issue
relating to slavery). Jefferson Davis explained the tariff issue
in these words:

Under the power of Congress to levy duties on imports, tariff
laws were enacted, not merely "to pay the debts and provide
for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,"
as authorized by the Constitution, but, positively and primarily,
for the protection against foreign competition of domestic manufactures.
The effect of this was to impose the main burden of taxation upon
the Southern people, who were consumers and not manufacturers,
not only by the enhanced price of imports, but indirectly by the
consequent depreciation in the value of exports, which were chiefly
the products of Southern states. The imposition of this grievance
was unaccompanied by the consolation of knowing that the tax thus
borne was to be paid into the public treasury, for the increase
of price accrued mainly to the benefit of the manufacturers. Nor
was this all: a reference to the annual appropriations will show
that the disbursements made were as unequal as the burdens borne–the
inequality in both operating in the same direction [i.e., against
the South in both cases]. (Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall
of the Confederate Government
, Volume 1, New York: De Capo Press,
1990, reprint of 1881 edition, p. 28)

Southern leaders vehemently opposed the Morrill Tariff. But,
the tariff was passed in the 1859-1860 session of the House of
Representatives, and when Lincoln’s Republican Party gained control
of the Senate, the bill passed in that chamber in 1861. The Morrill
Tariff called for a drastic increase in the tariff rates. During
Congressional debates on the bill, Representative G. S. Houston
of Alabama voiced some of the objections that the South had to
the Morrill Tariff, and he made it clear that he viewed this issue
as being as important as the issue of slavery, if not more so.
He pointed out that the Morrill Tariff would further benefit the
manufacturing interests. Most manufacturers were in the North.
Since the South’s economy was largely based on imports and exports,
any increase in tariffs was of great concern to Southerners. Representative
Houston, along with many other Southern members of Congress, argued
that the government should cut spending rather than raise the
tariff. Representative Houston:

The question is an important one. The taxing power of the Government,
and its duty growing out of the exercise of that power, in view
of the constitutional grant, present questions which, in my judgment,
are not surpassed in importance by any ever agitated in an American
Congress. I at once acknowledge the vast magnitude and importance
of the questions growing out of African slavery. I am satisfied
that upon its adjustment and final settlement the fate of the
Government depends, and properly depends. Yet no question connected
with the Government can be of more interest or importance than
those growing out of the bill under consideration [the Morrill
Tariff bill].

I was pleased to hear the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Sherman) admit
so fully and distinctly that a duty levied upon imports is a tax
upon those who consume such imports. . . . I am pleased that the
protectionists are now disposed to deal more frankly and candidly
with the subject, and admit that the taxes proposed in this bill–exorbitant
and unjust as I know them to be–are to be paid (if the bill shall
become law) by the consumers of this country for the benefit (as
I am sure will be admitted by candid debaters) of the manufacturers.
That is a correct statement of the case, and presents to our constituents
the true and precise question, whether they are willing to be
thus taxed in their necessary consumption, not because the Government
needs the money, but to prosper and enrich the manufacturing interests.

The pretext presented by those who want protection is, that we
are not receiving, under the existing law, sufficient revenue
to meet the just and proper demands of the Government. That is
a mere pretext, as I propose to show. In 1857 our receipts, under
the [tariff] law of 1846, were said to be too large. I was then
satisfied they were too large. I have not changed that opinion;
and while the present law, passed in that year [1857], did not
suit me in some of its provisions, yet I voted for it as the best
I could get. It was a reduction of the receipts into the Treasury,
as well as a reduction of the taxes upon the people. An effort
is now being made to increase the duties to a point much higher
than they were under the law of 1846, upon the alleged ground
that our receipts into the Treasury are too small. . . .

If they are, if our receipts are not sufficient to meet the just
demands of the Government, what is the proper remedy? . . . They
should, if practicable, curtail the expenses of the Government,
and in that way bring its expenditures to a point where they could
be met by its income. Let us adopt that course. Let us cease to
waste the money of the Government. Let us dispense with unnecessary
and extravagant appropriations and see if in that way we cannot
avoid an increase of taxation. . . .

The difficulty, Mr. Chairman, is not that the law does not produce
revenue enough, but that Congress unnecessarily expends and wastes
the money. Let us correct that abuse, and we will have ample means,
not only to meet current expenses, but to pay the public debt
in a few years. (Rep. G. S. Houston, U.S. House of Representatives,
May 8, 1860, Appendix to the Congressional Globe, p. 449)

Another Southern member of the House of Representatives, Representative
Moore of Alabama, likewise expressed strong opposition to the
tariff bill. He noted that the burden of a tariff increase would
fall mainly on the South, and that, on the other hand, it would
benefit the manufacturers in the North. And Rep. Moore made it
clear the tariff issue was a crucial topic:

Regarding the tariff bill now under consideration as the most
important measure, so far as the interests of my constituents
are concerned, of any which has been introduced into Congress
since I have had the honor of a seat on this floor, I cannot in
silence permit it to become a law. . . . I feel impelled by a
sense of duty to enter my most emphatic and indignant protest
against the passage of this bill. . . . From the examination I
have been able to give this bill, I consider it highly objectionable;
and if, unfortunately, it should become a law, my opinion is that
it will prove scarcely less oppressive than did the memorable
tariff act of 1828, known throughout the South as the bill of

Mr. Chairman, any material change in our revenue laws affects,
in some degree, the interests of every individual. . . . It is
for this reason that the question of the tariff has always been
justly regarded as one of the greatest importance. . . . The public
mind has of late been, and is now, absorbed by another question
of more perilous import [slavery]; but let none think that this
of the tariff has been overlooked or forgotten by the protectionists.
. . .

Who introduces it here and now, and, as it seems to me, so unnecessarily
and unseasonably? Not those upon whom the taxes are most heavily
imposed by the tariff laws, and who might be expected to be weary
of bearing their endless burden, but the manufacturers themselves,
for whose support and profits nearly every individual and industrial
interest in the country is now compelled to contribute. . . .

Mr. Chairman, the honorable gentleman from Vermont (Mr. Morrill),
and all who have thus far spoken in favor of this bill, openly
advocate protection for the sake of protection. It seems, indeed,
strange that at this enlightened day the principles of protection
should find any advocates here. I can only account for it from
the fact, admitted by the honorable gentleman from Pennsylvania
(Mr. Florence) the other day, that the tariff question was no
longer a financial question, but a sectional question. The gentleman
well knows that while the chief burdens will fall on the South,
his constituents will be benefited by a high protective tariff.
(Rep. S. Moore, U.S. House of Representatives, April 30, 1860,
Appendix to the Congressional Globe, pp. 272-273)

The Declarations of Causes of Secession issued by Georgia and
Texas included complaints about unfair economic policies that
favored the North at the expense of the South. These were obvious
references to the South’s anger over tariffs, over the misuse
of tariff revenue, and over other economic policies that the South
opposed. In fact, Georgia’s declaration includes a specific complaint
about the protectionist policies of the North. Jefferson Davis
mentioned the South’s objections to federal tariffs in his first
message to the Confederate congress (he cited the North’s imposition
of "burdens on commerce as a protection to their manufacturing
and shipping interests"). Representative John Reagan, who
would later become the Postmaster General of the Confederacy,
strongly complained about unfair economic policies that hurt the
South in a speech that he gave on the floor of the House on January
15, 1861. In speaking to Northern leaders in general, he said:

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
tribute we pay to build up your great cities, your railroads,
and 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 must
wage a relentless crusade against our rights and institutions.
. . .

We do not intend that you shall reduce us to such a condition.
But I can tell you what your folly and injustice will compel us
to do. It will compel us to be free from your domination, and
more self-reliant than we have been. It will compel us to assert
and maintain our separate independence. It will compel us to manufacture
for ourselves, to build up our own commerce, our own great cities,
our own railroad and canals; and to use the tribute money we now
pay you for these things for the support of a government which
will be friendly to all our interests, hostile to none of them.
(Rep. John Reagan, U.S. House of Representatives, January 15,
1861, as quoted in Kenneth Stampp, The Causes of the Civil War,
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965, p. 74,
quoting Congressional Globe, 36th Congress, 2nd Session, I, p.

As the secession crisis continued, it didn’t take Northern leaders
long to perceive the grave economic threat that an independent
South would pose to Northern business interests. They realized
that if the South didn’t have to pay federal tariffs and were
allowed to set its own tariffs, the Southern ports of New Orleans,
Charleston, and Savannah could replace New York, Boston, and Philadelphia
as the main centers for commercial trade. Weeks before any hostilities
occurred, one Boston newspaper went so far as to opine that this
was the South’s "controlling motive" for wanting to
form a separate nation:

It does not require extraordinary sagacity to perceive that trade
is perhaps the controlling motive operating to prevent the return
of the seceding States of the Union, . . . it is apparent that
the people of the principal seceding States are now for commercial
independence. They dream that the centers of traffic can be changed
from Northern to Southern ports. The merchants of New Orleans,
Charleston, and Savannah are possessed with the idea that New
York, Boston, and Philadelphia may be shorn [deprived], in the
future, of their mercantile greatness, by a revenue system verging
on free trade. If the Southern Confederation is allowed to carry
out a policy by which only a nominal duty [tax] is laid upon imports,
no doubt the business of the chief Northern cities will be seriously
injured thereby.

The difference is so great between the tariff of the Union and
that of the Confederated States, that the entire Northwest must
find it to their advantage to purchase their imported goods at
New Orleans rather than at New York. (Boston Transcript, March
18, 1861, from Stampp, The Causes of the Civil War, p. 80)

About two months earlier, shortly after the secession crisis
began, the New Orleans Daily Crescent expressed the view that
the main reason the North didn’t want the South to secede was
economic in nature:

They [the Northern states] know that the South is the main prop
and support of the Federal system. They know that it is Southern
productions that constitute the surplus wealth of the nation,
and enables us to import so largely from foreign countries. They
know that it is their import trade that draws from the people’s
pockets sixty or seventy millions of dollars per annum, in the
shape of duties, to be expended mainly in the North, and in the
protection and encouragement of Northern interests. . . . They
know that the bulk of duties is paid by the Southern people .
. . and that, by the iniquitous operation of the Federal Government,
these duties are mainly expended among the Northern people. They
know that they can plunder and pillage the South, as long as they
are in the same Union with us, by other means, such as fishing
bounties, navigation laws, robberies of the public lands, and
every other possible mode of injustice and peculation. . . .

These are the reasons these people do not wish the South to secede
from the Union. They are enraged at the prospect of being despoiled
of the rich feast upon which they have so long fed and fattened,
and which they were just getting ready to enjoy with still greater
gout and gusto [i.e., by the Morrill Tariff]. (New Orleans Daily
, January 21, 1861, from Stampp, The Causes of the Civil
, p. 75)

Garraty and McCaughey note that the South’s growing fear of being
dominated economically by the North was a factor that led to secession:

Why were southerners willing to wreck the Union their grandfathers
had put together with so much love and labor? No simple explanation
is possible. . . . Lincoln had assured them that he would respect
slavery where it existed. . . . The Democrats [who at the time
were mostly from the South] had retained control of Congress in
the election; the Supreme Court was firmly in their hands as well.
If the North did try to destroy slavery, then secession was perhaps
a logical tactic. . . . To leave the Union meant abandoning the
very objectives for which the South had been contending for over
a decade: a share of the federal territories and an enforceable
fugitive slave act.

One reason the South rejected this line of thinking was the tremendous
economic energy generated in the North, which seemed to threaten
the South’s independence. As one Southerner complained at a commercial
convention in 1855:

From the rattle with which the nurse tickles the ear of the child
born in the South to the shroud which covers the cold form of
the dead, everything comes from the North. We rise from between
sheets made in Northern looms, and pillows of Northern feathers,
to wash in basins made in the North. . . . We can eat from Northern
plates and dishes; our rooms are swept with Northern brooms, our
gardens dug with Northern spades . . . and the very wood which
feeds our fires is cut with Northern axes, helved with hickory
brought from Connecticut and New York.

Secession, southerners argued, would "liberate" the
South and produce the kind of balanced economy that was proving
so successful in the North and so unachievable in the South. (Garraty
and McCaughey, The American Nation, pp. 418-419, emphasis in original)

And then there was the dispute over slavery. Before we look at
the South’s disagreement with the North over slavery, I think
it would be worthwhile to briefly consider why Southerners questioned
the moral authority of the North to judge the South on this issue.
For example, they noted that some Northern states forbade blacks
from migrating into their boundaries, and that several other Northern
states wouldn’t allow blacks to vote, wouldn’t allow them to testify
in court, and wouldn’t allow them the right to litigate to collect
a debt from whites. Lincoln biographer William Klingaman notes
the following:

In the first half of the nineteenth century, state legislatures
in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut took away
Negroes’ right to vote; and voters in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan,
Maine, Iowa, and Wisconsin approved new constitutions that limited
suffrage [the right to vote] to whites. In Ohio, Negro males were
permitted to vote only if they had "a greater visible admixture
of white than colored blood." (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln
and the Road to Emancipation
, New York: Viking Press, 2001, p.

Historian James McPherson gives us more information on the conditions
of blacks in the North:

The Indiana constitutional convention of 1851 adopted a provision
forbidding black migration into the state. This supplemented the
state’s laws barring blacks already there from voting, serving
on juries or in the militia, testifying against whites in court,
marrying whites, or going to school with whites. Iowa and Illinois
had similar laws on the books and banned black immigration by
statute in 1851 and 1853 respectively. These measures reflected
the racist sentiments of most whites in those states. (McPherson,
Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1982, p. 80)

African-American scholars John Franklin and Alfred Moss discuss
the racist atmosphere that many blacks experienced in the North
during this period:

There can be no doubt that many blacks were sorely mistreated
in the North and West. Observers like Fanny Kemble and Frederick
L. Olmsted mentioned incidents in their writings. Kemble said
of Northern blacks, "They are not slaves indeed, but they
are pariahs, debarred from every fellowship save with their own
despised race. . . . All hands are extended to thrust them out,
all fingers point at their dusky skin, all tongues . . . have
learned to turn the very name of their race into an insult and
a reproach." Olmsted seems to have believed the Louisiana
black who told him that they could associate with whites more
freely in the South than in the North and that he preferred to
live in the South because he was less likely to be insulted there.
(Franklin and Moss, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African
, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, p. 185)

Southerners also questioned the North’s moral authority because
Northern states willingly allowed and profited from industrial
wage slavery, under which tens of thousands of lower class, unskilled
workers lived and toiled in conditions that were considerably
worse than the conditions in which slaves lived. Historians Garraty
and McCaughey observe that in the North "there existed a
class of miserably underpaid and depressed unskilled workers,
mostly immigrants, who were worse off materially than nearly any
southern slave" (The American Nation, p. 385). Representative
Mike Walsh expressed the feelings of many Southerners when he
said on the floor of the House in 1854,

The only difference between the Negro slave of the South, and
the white wage slave of the North is, that the one has a master
without asking for him, and the other has to beg for the privilege
of becoming a slave. . . . The one is the slave of an individual;
the other is the slave of an inexorable class. (From Arthur Schlesinger,
The Age of Jackson, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945, p.
490, quoting the Congressional Globe, 33rd Congress, 1st Session,
p. 1224)

After reviewing Representative Walsh’s case against Northern
wage slavery, historian Arthur Schlesinger, who certainly can’t
be accused of having a pro-Confederate bias, says "there
was something to be said for his argument" (The Age of Jackson,
p. 491). Schlesinger continues,

The Jacksonian impulse had, after all, sprung up to meet certain
inadequacies of Northern society, and for all the hullabaloo over
slavery, those inadequacies continued to exist. The Free Soilers
might urge that the destruction of slavery was an indispensable
preliminary to further reform; but the doctrinaire radicals could
not but regard this as a confession of impotence, a compulsion
on the part of a bankrupt reform party to escape its responsibilities
at home by going on a crusade abroad. (Schlesinger, The Age of
, p. 491)

The continuation of slavery as a legal institution where it already
existed was not a major point of contention in the negotiations
between North and South during the secession crisis. To be sure,
some Southern leaders expressed the fear that Lincoln and his
fellow Republicans would seek to abolish slavery. However, other
Southern leaders did not share this fear. In the various negotiations
during the secession crisis, Northern representatives, following
Lincoln’s lead, made it clear they would support additional legal
protection for slavery. Lincoln had already gone on record with
the promise that he would not disturb slavery where it already
existed. He even supported a constitutional amendment that guaranteed
the continuation of slavery as a legal institution (Garraty and
McCaughey, The American Nation, pp. 418-419). This amendment was
passed by Congress and signed by President Buchanan two days before
Lincoln took office. If war had not broken out shortly thereafter,
it is very probable the amendment would have been ratified by
more than the required majority of states.

The most hotly contested issues relating to slavery were the
fugitive slave law, the South’s fear of further armed abolitionist
raids into Southern territory, and the North’s effort to bar slavery
from the territories. There can be no doubt that these were the
most important factors that led the Deep South to desire secession
and independence, although the economic disputes with the North
also contributed to the secessionist sentiment. The election of
Lincoln was the trigger event that caused the Deep South to secede.
We should keep in mind, however, that the states of Virginia,
Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee did not secede over slavery.
These states did not secede when the states of the Deep South
seceded. They only seceded when, about two months later, Lincoln
made it clear he was going to use force against the newly formed
Confederacy. Prior to that time, these states were willing to
remain in the Union, and Lincoln was willing to allow them to
do so. The initial votes on secession in these states, whether
in convention or by popular vote, all went against secession,
in Virginia by a margin of two to one. However, after Lincoln
left no doubt he was going to use force, new votes were held,
and they all went heavily in favor of secession.

The South believed its legal rights were being denied by the
refusal of several Northern states to honor the fugitive slave
law, which at the time was established and protected by the Constitution
itself and which had been reaffirmed by Congress. Although one
can certainly sympathize with those Northern states that refused
to enforce this law, legally speaking the South was in the right–and,
legally speaking, the South’s rights were being violated in this
regard. Some Northern states, appealing to a higher moral law,
were in fact refusing to obey the fugitive slave law, even though
it was guaranteed by the Constitution.

After the John Brown raid of 1859, many Southerners believed
their borders were no longer secure, and they feared that abolitionist
forces in the North would launch more armed assaults into the
South for the purpose of inciting potentially deadly slave rebellions.
Southerners were genuinely frightened when abolitionist John Brown
led an armed incursion into Virginia in an attempt to incite a
slave revolt. Southerners were mindful of the fact that a slave
revolt in Haiti had resulted in a large-scale massacre of whites.
Therefore, many people in the South were especially enraged and
alarmed when, during the 1860 presidential election, the Republican
Party distributed an abridged version of an anti-slavery book
entitled The Impending Crisis, which spoke approvingly of a scenario
in which slaves would rise up and kill their masters. Not only
did the Republican Party distribute this book, but in the version
that the party distributed, Republican editors added such captions
as "The Stupid Masses of the South" and "Revolution–Peacefully
if we can, Violently if we must." With this in mind, perhaps
it’s not hard to understand why so many Southerners viewed the
relatively new Republican Party with so much alarm and distrust.
To put this in modern terms, imagine the unrest and outrage that
would be generated if a major political party in our day were
to distribute a book that endorsed the shooting of abortion doctors
and the bombing of abortion clinics. As much as one might oppose
and detest abortion (as I do), it is legal. No responsible citizen
could support a party that distributed a book that promoted violence
against abortion doctors and their clinics. Similarly, although
no one can defend the institution of slavery, we must keep in
mind that not only was slavery legal back then, but it was permitted
by the Constitution and had existed in America for over two hundred
years before the secession crisis began.

Not only were some Northern states refusing to honor the fugitive
slave law, but many Northern leaders was pushing to bar slavery
from the vast western territories. One does not have to approve
of slavery to admit that this effort was of somewhat debatable
legality. What’s more, many historians have noted that the North’s
drive to bar slavery from the territories was mainly motivated
by a desire to prevent slave labor from competing with free white
labor, and not by any strong moral objection to the extension
of slavery itself. It must also be mentioned that, sadly enough,
most whites in the territories simply didn’t want blacks living
among them. From the South’s point of view, the North had no right
to bar a legal institution from the territories, especially when
the South had contributed the majority of the soldiers who had
fought in the war that led to the acquisition of most of the new
western territories (the Mexican War). Southerners also noted
that the North showed no interest in banning Northern white wage
slavery from the territories.

3. "The North resorted to coercion."

I believe the correctness of this statement is beyond dispute.
The historical record makes it clear that the North was the aggressor
and that it resorted to coercion against the South. As mentioned
earlier, the reason the states of the Upper South decided to secede
was that Lincoln chose to use force. The four states that formed
the Upper South, i.e., Arkansas, North Carolina, Virginia, and
Tennessee, did not join in the first wave of secession. They made
it known that they would remain in the Union if Lincoln did not
use force against the newly formed Confederacy. And those states
joined the Confederacy only after Lincoln announced he was going
to wage war against the seceded states (see McPherson, Ordeal
By Fire
, pp. 137-138, 150-151).

As stated earlier, Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy,
tried to establish peaceful relations with the North as soon as
he took office. He sent a letter to Lincoln expressing a desire
for peaceful relations, and he sent a delegation to Washington
to meet with Lincoln for the specific purpose of establishing
peaceful ties with the Union (see, for example, Kenneth C. Davis,
Don’t Know Much About the Civil War, New York: Avon Books, 1997,
pp. 156-157; see also Jefferson Davis, The Rise and Fall of the
Confederate Government
, pp. 212-213). Lincoln would not even meet
with the delegation.

Lincoln gave his reply to the Confederacy’s peace overtures in
his first inaugural address. In that speech, Lincoln threatened
to invade the Confederate states if they didn’t pay the tariffs
and if they didn’t allow the federal government to occupy and
maintain federal installations that were in Confederate territory
(see, for example, Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to
, pp. 31-32) . This was in spite of the fact that
the Confederate states were prepared to pay compensation for the
federal forts and property that were located within their boundaries.

The first large-scale battle of the Civil War took place in the
South, because Lincoln sent a large military force into Virginia.
For that matter, nearly all the battles of the war took place
in the South. The South’s strategy was defensive. The South hoped
the North would eventually grow tired of casualties and would
decide to allow the Confederacy to exist in peace. Jefferson Davis
did not desire to conquer the North. He said repeatedly that the
South simply wanted to be allowed to go in peace, and that the
Confederacy wanted peaceful relations with the Union (see William
Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, New York: Vintage Books, 2000,
pp. 379-380). Davis expressed this position many times. For example,
he said the following in his proclamation to the people of Maryland
in 1862:

First, that the Confederate Government is waging this war solely
for self-defense; that it has no design of conquest, or any other
purpose than to secure peace and the abandonment by the United
States of their pretensions to govern a people who have never
been their subjects, and who prefer self-government to a union
with them.

Second, that this Government, at the very moment of its inauguration,
sent commissioners to Washington to treat for a peaceful adjustment
of all differences, but that these commissioners were not received,
nor even allowed to communicate the object of their mission; and
that, on a subsequent occasion, a communication from the President
of the Confederacy to President Lincoln remained without answer,
although a reply was promised by General Scott, into whose hands
the communication was delivered. . . .

Fourth, that now, at a juncture when our arms have been successful,
we restrict ourselves to the same just and moderate demand that
we made at the darkest period of our reverses, the simple demand
that the people of the United States should cease to war upon
us, and permit us to pursue our own path to happiness, while they
in peace pursue theirs. (Proclamation of Jefferson Davis to the
People of Maryland, September 7, 1862)

Some might ask, "But didn’t the Confederacy fire the first
shot by shelling Fort Sumter in South Carolina?" In point
of fact, Lincoln deliberately provoked the South into firing on
Fort Sumter, and then he used the attack as a pretext for invading
the seceded states. Several historians have noted that Lincoln
knew that if he tried to resupply Fort Sumter, the Confederacy
would probably decide to use force to prevent it. The Confederacy
had been trying for weeks to arrange for the peaceful evacuation
of the fort. And before the Confederacy took over the Fort Sumter
negotiations, South Carolina had been trying for several weeks
to negotiate a peaceful resolution. As mentioned, the Confederacy
was prepared to pay compensation for all federal forts and property
that were in Southern territory. Furthermore, Lincoln’s Secretary
of State, William Seward, had promised the Confederacy the fort
would be evacuated, but that promise was broken. Lincoln’s own
comments indicate he deliberately provoked the attack on Fort
Sumter. I quote historian Francis Simkins,

By the time Lincoln took office Confederate authorities, fearing
hasty action from South Carolina, had assumed control of the delicate
Fort Sumter negotiations. . . . Would Lincoln pursue the dilatory
course of Buchanan or would he be aggressive and forthright as
the leader of the party which had condemned Buchanan’s policy?
He did neither. Instead, he carried out a plan of his own which
was so devious, so subtle, and perhaps so confused that it is
almost as difficult for the historian to understand as it was
for the men of the times. Some scholars believe that he blundered
into war, overestimating the strength of the Union party in the
South. It is more likely that, with a subtlety approaching the
diabolical, he provoked the Confederates into firing upon Fort
Sumter in order to solidify North public opinion. . . .

Although Lincoln did not confess his part in provoking the Civil
War with the cynical honesty of a Bismarck, he did speak certain
revealing words. He consoled the commander of the Fort Sumter
relief expedition for that officer’s failure: "You and I
both anticipated that the cause of the country would be advanced
by making the attempt to provision Fort Sumter, even if it should
fail, and it is no small consolation now to feel that our anticipation
is justified by the result." Shortly after the fall of the
fort he was quoted by a close personal friend: "The plan
succeeded. They attacked Sumter–it fell, and thus, did more service
than it otherwise could." A few of his party friends congratulated
him upon his masterful stroke. The New York Times believed that
"the attempt at reinforcement was a feint–that its object
was to put upon the rebels the full and clear responsibility of
commencing the war. . . ." Jefferson Davis, others exulted,
"ran blindly into the trap." (Simkins, A History of
the South
, Third Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963, pp.
213, 215-216, emphasis added)

Just two weeks before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter,
Secretary of State Seward warned Lincoln in a memorandum that
any effort to resupply the fort would provoke a hostile response,
and he advised Lincoln to evacuate the facility:

The dispatch of an expedition to supply or reinforce Sumter would
provoke an attack and so involve a war at that point. . . . I
would instruct Maj. Anderson [the commander of the federal troops
at the fort] to retire from Sumter, forthwith. (Memorandum from
Seward to Lincoln, "Opinion on Fort Sumter," March 29,

In fact, according to accounts of one of Lincoln’s cabinet meetings
in which the resupply of Fort Sumter was discussed, Lincoln told
his cabinet that if South Carolina’s artillery opened fire on
the fort or on the resupply ship, "he could blame the Confederacy
for starting a war" (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road
to Emancipation
, p. 45).

So, yes, the Confederacy did fire on Fort Sumter. But, the Confederacy
did this (1) only after Lincoln’s Secretary of State had broken
his promise to evacuate the fort, (2) only after the Confederacy
had tried for weeks to arrange for the peaceful evacuation of
the fort, (3) only after Lincoln had refused to meet with the
peace delegation that Jefferson Davis had sent to Washington,
(4) only after Lincoln had threatened an invasion if the Confederacy
didn’t allow the federal government to occupy and maintain federal
buildings in Confederate territory (even though the South had
offered to pay compensation for them), and (5) only after it became
known that Lincoln had sent a ship to resupply the federal troops
garrisoned at the fort. It should be mentioned that Lincoln didn’t
merely send a supply ship to Fort Sumter–he also sent warships.
It should also be mentioned that not a single Union soldier was
killed in the attack on Fort Sumter, and that the soldiers were
permitted to return in peace to the North after they surrendered.

Even the attack on Fort Sumter did not have to lead to war. The
Confederacy made no hostile moves against any Northern state.
But, two months after the Fort Sumter incident, a large Union
force marched into Virginia, which led to the first major battle
of the war, the Battle of Bull Run (or Manassas).

4. "The South, against overwhelming numbers and resources,
fought until exhausted."

I don’t think anyone disputes the fact that the South faced overwhelming
odds in a war with the North. The North had over twice the population
of the South, and a great deal more heavy industry. McPherson’s
chapter entitled "The Balance Sheet of War" in his book
Ordeal By Fire shows just how great the odds were against the
South (Ordeal By Fire, pp. 180-205). In nearly every important
category, the North held a decided advantage. In major battles,
Confederate forces were frequently outnumbered by a ratio of two
or three to one. Yet, amazingly, the Confederacy won many battles,
inflicted greater casualties than it suffered, came close to gaining
formal recognition from England and France (and would have but
for the loss of two or three battles), and managed to hold on
for over four years.

Finally, I would like to list some important facts that are often
omitted from most of the history textbooks used in public schools
and that are rarely, if ever, mentioned in documentaries on the
Civil War:

* As early as 1862, Confederate diplomats in England were indicating
to British authorities that the Confederacy would be willing to
abolish slavery in exchange for diplomatic recognition. In late
1864, Jefferson Davis and other Confederate leaders were ready
and willing to abolish slavery in order to save the Confederacy,
and Confederate diplomats in Europe made an offer to this effect
(see Cooper, Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 552-553; see also,
Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 113).
This shows that Confederate leaders viewed independence as being
more important than the continuation of slavery.

* The Confederate constitution outlawed the slave trade, i.e.,
it forbade the importation of slaves from Africa and from all
other continents (Article I, Section 9).

* During the secession crisis, a group of moderates in the Senate
proposed the Crittenden Compromise, which may have ended up preventing
war. Lincoln rejected the proposal, and Senate Republicans stalled
the measure until they had enough votes to defeat it after a number
of Southern senators had resigned. This led Senator Crittenden
himself to suggest that the compromise be voted on by the people
in a national referendum. Senate Republicans, with Lincoln’s approval,
prevented this from happening (see Bruce Catton, editor, The National
Experience: A History of the United States
, Second Edition, New
York: Harcourt, Brace, & World, 1968, p. 336). There is little
doubt the Crittenden Compromise would have been approved by a
substantial majority of the people if the measure had been put
to a national vote (see, for example, Allan Nevins, The Emergence
of Lincoln
, Volume 2, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950,
pp. 401-402).

At the first committee vote on the compromise, the Southern representatives,
including Robert Toombs and Jefferson Davis, said they would support
the proposal if the Republicans did the same (Nevins, The Emergence
of Lincoln
, p. 397). Vice President Breckinridge, who was from
Kentucky, told the Senate that "the leading statesmen of
the lower Southern States were willing to accept the terms"
of the compromise (Nevins, The Emergence of Lincoln, p. 398).
But, as mentioned, the Republicans were unwilling to support it.
Historian Allan Nevins noted that "the chief responsibility
for the defeat of the compromise falls upon the twenty-five Republicans
who voted to slay it" (The Emergence of Lincoln, p. 403).

* Four of the states that fought for the Union were slave states:
Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky, and Missouri.

* As of 1860, just one year before the outbreak of the Civil
War, roughly half of the free blacks in America lived in the South,
and in the Southern cities of New Orleans and Charleston alone
there were more free blacks who owned real estate than in the
Northern cities of Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, and Boston
combined (see Franklin and Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, pp.
169-175). I again quote African-American scholars Franklin and

Free blacks in the Southern states also accumulated property.
. . . Luther P. Jackson found that in Virginia in 1860 free blacks
owned more than 60,000 acres of farmland and their city real estate
was valued at $463,000. In North Carolina they owned $480,000
worth of real property and $564,000 worth of personal property
in 1860. In Charleston, 352 blacks paid taxes in 1859 on property
valued in excess of $778,000. Tennessee’s free blacks owned about
$750,000 worth of real and personal property in 1860. The affluence
of a large number of free blacks in New Orleans is well known.
(Franklin and Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, pp. 174-175)

* French scholar Alex de Tocqueville visited America and wrote
of his experiences in 1831. He found that race relations were
better in the South than in the North:

The prejudice of the race appears to be stronger in the States
that have abolished slavery than in the States where slavery still
exists. White carpenters, white bricklayers and white painters
will not work side by side with the blacks in the North but do
it in almost every Southern State. . . . (de Tocqueville, Democracy
in America
, as quoted in Mildred R. Rutherford, Truths of History,
Athens, GA: M. L. Rutherford, 1907, p. 92)

* The same Republicans who vehemently attacked the South over
slavery, and who imposed harsh Reconstruction rule on the South
after the war, approved official discrimination against the American
Indians in the West and permitted them to be segregated from the
rest of society. One textbook, edited by Civil War scholar Bruce
Catton, puts it this way:

The same Congress that devised Radical Reconstruction . . . approved
strict segregation and inequality for the Indian of the West.
(Catton, editor, The National Experience, p. 416)


Michael T. Griffith holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Excelsior
College in Albany, New York, two Associate in Applied Science
degrees from the Community College of the Air Force, and an Advanced
Certificate of Civil War Studies and a Certificate of Civil War
Studies from Carroll College in Wisconsin. He is a two-time graduate
of the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in
Arabic and Hebrew, and of the U.S. Air Force Technical Training
School in San Angelo, Texas. He is the author of four books on
Mormonism and ancient texts, and of one book on the John F. Kennedy
assassination. He has completed advanced Hebrew programs at Haifa
University in Israel and at the Spiro Institute in London, England.
He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Religious Studies
from The Catholic Distance University in Hamilton, Virginia.

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