Michael T. Griffith

When I began to study the Civil War, I realized that much of what
I had been taught about it in school was either wrong or incomplete.
It has been said that history is written by the victors. This is
especially true when it comes to the Civil War. The Southern side
of the story is rarely presented fairly in our public schools and
textbooks today. I believe it is important that we as Americans
know the whole truth about the Civil War. The purpose of this article
is to present the South’s side of the story.

The following basic facts are undisputed: The seven states of
the Deep South seceded in response to the victory of the Republican
Party’s presidential candidate, Abraham Lincoln, in the
1860 election. These states formed the Confederate States of America.
Lincoln refused to recognize the Confederacy. A small federal
garrison occupied Fort Sumter, South Carolina, on December 26,
1860. The Confederate government attempted to negotiate the withdrawal
of the garrison from the fort. Lincoln decided not to evacuate
the garrison. Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter on April
12, 1861. Lincoln issued a call-up for 75,000 troops to put down
what he claimed was a rebellion in the South. Four more Southern
states joined the Confederacy. Lincoln sent federal armies into
the South. The war lasted approximately four years and ended in
April 1865.

The version of the Civil War that’s taught in nearly all
textbooks goes something like this: “The only reason the
South wanted to leave the Union was to protect slavery. The South
had no right to secede. The South started the war by firing on
Fort Sumter. The war was fought over slavery. The defeat of the
South was a victory for government ‘of the people, by the
people, and for the people.’” This is the version
of the war that I accepted for most of my life.

We will consider twelve issues relating to the Civil War: Why
Did the South Secede? Did the South Have the Right to Secede?
What Caused the War? Who Started the War? The Emancipation Proclamation.
Republicans, the North, and Racism. Was the War Fought Over Slavery?
What Happened at Andersonville Prison? Did the South Control the
Federal Government Until 1860? The Reconstruction Era. The True
Nature of the War. And, What If the South Had Been Allowed to
Go in Peace?

Why Did the South Secede?

Nearly all textbooks give the impression that the South withdrew
from the Union merely to protect the institution of slavery. This
is a misleading, overly simplistic characterization. Slavery was
not the only factor that led the South to secede. In fact, some
of the wealthiest slaveholders opposed secession. They believed,
for good reason, that slavery would actually be safer in the Union
than out of it. Historian William Klingaman notes that even Lincoln
argued that the South would have a harder time protecting slavery
outside the Union:

But secession, Lincoln argued, would actually make it harder
for the South to preserve slavery. If the Southern states tried
to leave the Union, they would lose all their constitutional guarantees.
. . . (Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, New York:
Viking Press, 2001, p. 32)

Most people aren’t aware that, even as president, Lincoln
supported a proposed constitutional amendment that would have
guaranteed slavery’s continuation forever. Lincoln mentioned
his support for this amendment in his first inaugural address.
In the years leading up to the Civil War, Lincoln acknowledged
that slavery was protected by the Constitution. He also supported
the Fugitive Slave Law. Therefore, some Southern statesmen didn’t
believe Lincoln was going to threaten slavery’s existence.
Yet, they supported secession anyway.

Most Southern leaders who advocated secession in order to protect
slavery did so because they believed that Lincoln and the Republicans
in Congress would try to abolish slavery by unconstitutional means
and that Southern slaveholders would not receive compensation
for their slaves. Southern spokesmen felt this would be unfair,
since Northern slaveholders had been able to receive various types
of compensation for their slaves when most Northern states had
abolished slavery several decades earlier. They knew that emancipation
without compensation would do great damage to the Southern economy.
Critics note that many Southern statesmen voiced the view that
slavery was a “positive good.” Yet, even the “positive
good” advocates acknowledged that slavery had its evils
and abuses. In any case, there were plenty of Southerners who
opposed slavery and who were willing to see it abolished in a
fair, gradual manner, as had been done in most Northern states.
After all, 69-75 percent of Southern families did not own slaves.
However, few Southerners believed the Republicans were interested
in a fair, gradual emancipation program. The more extreme Republicans,
who were known as “Radical Republicans,” certainly
weren’t interested in such a program.

Few people today understand why the South distrusted the Republican
Party. Not only was the Republican Party a new party, it was also
the first purely regional (or sectional) party in the country’s
history. Republican leaders frequently gave inflammatory anti-Southern
speeches, some of which included egregious falsehoods and even
threats (Susan-Mary Grant, North Over South: Northern Nationalism
and American Identity in the Antebellum Era, University of Kansas
Press, 2000). Historian William C. Cooper points out that the
Republicans “had no interest in cultivating support in the
South, which they branded as basically un-American,” and
that “No major party had ever before so completely repudiated
the South” (Jefferson Davis, American, Vintage Books Edition,
New York: Vintage Books, 2000, pp. 294, 295). British historian
Susan-Mary Grant notes that the Republican Party that came into
being in 1854 was “a sectional party with a sectional ideology
. . . that was predicated on opposition to the South, to the economic,
social, and political reality of that section” (North Over
South, p. 17). Southerners were alarmed when dozens of Republican
congressmen endorsed an advertisement for Hinton Helper’s
book The Impending Crisis of the South, which spoke approvingly
of a potential slave revolt that would kill untold numbers of
Southern citizens in a “barbarous massacre.” The Republican
Party even distributed an abridged edition of the book as a campaign
document, and Republican editors added captions like “The
Stupid Masses of the South” and “Revolution . . .
Violently If We Must.” Southerners also noticed that the
Republicans broke the long-established tradition of having a sectionally
balanced presidential ticket. For decades, all major political
parties had nominated tickets that consisted of one candidate
from the North and one from the South. Each of the three other
parties in the 1860 election followed this tradition, but not
the Republican Party. Another reason that Southerners were worried
about the Republicans was that the party’s leaders made
it clear they would push for several policies that the South believed
were harmful and unconstitutional. Many Southerners feared that
Republican leaders were determined to subjugate and exploit the
South by any means. With these facts in mind, perhaps it’s
not hard to understand why the election of Lincoln triggered the
secession of seven Southern states.

As mentioned, slavery was not the only factor that led to secession.
If one reads the Declarations of Causes of Secession and the Ordinances
of Secession that were issued by the first seven states of the
Confederacy, one finds that there were several reasons these states
wanted to be independent and that some of the reasons had nothing
to do with slavery. For example, the Georgia and Texas Declarations
of Causes of Secession included economic complaints, in addition
to concerns relating to slavery. The Texas declaration complained
that unfair federal legislation was enriching the North at the
expense of the Southern states. The Georgia declaration complained
about federal protectionism and subsidies for Northern business

The South’s long-standing opposition to the federal tariff
was another factor that led to secession. The South’s concern
over the tariff was nothing new. South Carolina and the federal
government nearly went to war over the tariff in 1832-1833. In
the session of Congress before Lincoln’s inauguration, the
House of Representatives passed a huge increase in the tariff,
over the loud objections of Southern congressmen. Naturally, this
alarmed Southern statesmen at all levels, since the South was
always hit hardest by the tariff. One only has to read the many
speeches that Southern senators and representatives gave against
the 1860-1861 tariff increase to see how seriously they took this
issue. Moreover, in the congressional debates from the previous
four decades, one can find dozens of Southern speeches against
the tariff. Opposition to the tariff led some Southern leaders
to talk of secession over thirty years before the Civil War occurred
(Walter Brian Cisco, Taking A Stand: Portraits from the Southern
Secession Movement, Shippensburg, Pennsylvania: White Mane Books,
2000, pp. 1-44). Scholars who argue that Southern statesmen didn’t
really care about the tariff and that this was merely a “smoke
screen” are ignoring a massive body of historical evidence.

The South had valid complaints about the tariff. Jeffrey R. Hummel,
a professor of economics and history, notes the negative impact
of the tariff on the Southern states and concedes that Southern
complaints about the tariff were justified:

Despite a steady decline in import duties, tariffs fell disproportionately
on Southerners, reducing their income from cotton production by
at least 10 percent just before the Civil War. . . .

At least with respect to the tariff’s adverse impact, Southerners
were not only absolutely correct but displayed a sophisticated
understanding of economics. . . . The tariff was inefficient;
it not only redistributed wealth from farmers and planters to
manufacturers and laborers but overall made the country poorer.
(Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American
Civil War, Chicago: Open Court, 1996, pp. 39-40, 73)

A major point of contention between the North and the South was
the issue of the size and power of the federal government as defined
by the Constitution. Most Northern politicians supported a loose
reading of the Constitution and wanted to expand the size and
scope of the federal government, even if that meant giving the
government powers that were not authorized by the Constitution.
Most Southern statesmen supported a strict reading of the Constitution
and believed the federal government should perform only those
functions that were expressly delegated to it by the Constitution.
From the earliest days of the republic, Southern and Northern
leaders battled over this issue. Our textbooks rarely do justice
to this important fact.

Four of the eleven Southern states did not join in the first
wave of secession and did not secede over slavery. Those four
states—Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia—only
seceded months later when Lincoln made it clear he was going to
launch an invasion in order to “save” the Union. In
fact, those states initially voted against secession by fairly
sizable majorities. However, they believed the Union should not
be maintained by force. Therefore, when Lincoln announced he was
calling up 75,000 troops to form an invasion force, they held
new votes, and in each case the vote was strongly in favor of
secession. Thus, four of the eleven states that comprised the
Confederacy seceded because of their objection to federal coercion
and not because of slavery.

Virtually no history textbooks mention the fact that each Confederate
state retained the right to abolish slavery within its borders,
and that the Confederate Constitution permitted the admission
of free states into the Confederacy. In his analysis of the Confederate
Constitution, historian Forrest McDonald says the following:

All states reserved the right to abolish slavery in their domains,
and new states could be admitted without slavery if two-thirds
of the existing states agreed—the idea being that the tier
of free states bordering the Ohio River might in time wish to
join the Confederacy. (States’ Rights and the Union, University
of Kansas Press, 2000, p. 204)

Did the South Have the Right to Secede?

I believe the evidence is clear that the South had the right
to secede. None other than Ulysses S. Grant, the commanding general
of the Union army for much of the Civil War and later a president
of the United States, admitted he believed that if any of the
original thirteen states had wanted to secede in the early days
of the Union, it was unlikely the other states would have challenged
that state’s right to do so. Grant also conceded he believed
the founding fathers would have sanctioned the right of secession
rather than see a war “between brothers.” Said Grant,

If there had been a desire on the part of any single State to
withdraw from the compact at any time while the number of States
was limited to the original thirteen, I do not suppose there would
have been any to contest the right, no matter how much the determination
might have been regretted. . . .

If they [the founding fathers] had foreseen it, the probabilities
are they would have sanctioned the right of a State or States
to withdraw rather than that there should be war between brothers.
(The Personal Memoirs Of Ulysses S. Grant, Old Saybrook, Connecticut:
Konecky & Konecky, 1992, reprint of original edition, pp.

There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits a state from
peacefully and democratically separating from the Union. Indeed,
the right of secession is implied in the Tenth Amendment, which

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 Constitution does not give the federal government the power
to force a state to remain in the Union against its will. President
James Buchanan acknowledged this fact in a message to Congress
shortly before Lincoln assumed office. Nor does the Constitution
prohibit the citizens of a state from voting to repeal their state’s
ratification of the Constitution. Therefore, by a plain reading
of the Tenth Amendment, a state has the legal right to peacefully
withdraw from the Union.

Critics of the Confederacy cite certain clauses in the Constitution
about the supremacy of federal law or about states not being allowed
to enter into treaties with foreign powers, etc., etc. However,
it goes without saying that such clauses only apply to states
that are in the Union. There’s simply nothing in the Constitution
that says a state can’t peacefully and democratically revoke
its ratification. If a state’s citizens were to vote in
a legitimate democratic process to revoke the state’s ratification
of the Constitution, either by direct vote or by convention, then
that state would no longer be bound by the Constitution. The citizens
of each state are the ultimate sovereign, not the federal government.
The federal government is supposed to be servant of the people,
not their master. Even Lloyd Paul Stryker, who opposed secession,
admitted the Southern states had an “arguable claim that
no specific section of the Constitution stood in their way,”
i.e., no section of the Constitution prohibited peaceful, democratic
separation (Andrew Johnson: A Study in Courage, New York: The
Macmillan Company, 1930, p. 447).

The great early American constitutional scholar William Rawle
said a state had the right to secede. Rawle was a contemporary
of founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and was
appointed by George Washington as the first U.S. Attorney for
Pennsylvania. Rawle’s book A View of the Constitution of
the United States was used as a legal textbook at a number of
universities, including West Point, Dartmouth, and Harvard. To
this day, scholars who debate legal issues relating to the First
and Second Amendments refer to Rawle’s work. On the issue
of secession, Rawle said,

It depends on the state itself to retain or abolish the principle
of representation, because it depends on itself whether it will
continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent
with the principle on which all our political systems are founded,
which is, that the people have in all cases, a right to determine
how they will be governed.

This right must be considered as an ingredient in the original
composition of the general government, which, though not expressed,
was mutually understood. . . . (A View of the Constitution of
the United States, 2nd Edition, 1829, Vol. 4, p. 571)

Another early American legal giant, George Tucker, also said
a state had the right to secede. Like Rawle, Tucker was a contemporary
of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison and corresponded with the
former. Tucker came to be known as the “American Blackstone.”
Tucker was a professor of law at the University of William and
Mary. He served as the chief justice of the Virginia supreme court
and was appointed as a federal district court judge by James Madison.
Tucker’s 1803 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries,
which he annotated to American law, was widely used for the teaching
of law in the United States for years. On the issue of secession,
Tucker wrote that the states’ participation in the Union
was voluntary and that each state had the right to resume to “the
most unlimited extent” the functions that it had delegated
to the federal government:

The federal government, then, appears to be the organ through
which the united republics communicate with foreign nations and
with each other. Their submission to its operation is voluntary:
its councils, its engagements, its authority are theirs, modified,
and united. Its sovereignty is an emanation from theirs, not a
flame by which they have been consumed, nor a vortex in which
they are swallowed up. Each is still a perfect state, still sovereign,
still independent, and still capable, should the situation require,
to resume the exercise of its functions as such in the most unlimited
extent. (Tucker, editor, Blackstone’s Commentaries: With
Notes of Reference to the Constitution and Laws of the Federal
Government of the United States, Volume 1, Philadelphia: William
Birch and Abraham Small, 1803, Appendix: Note D, Section 3:IV)

The Union was never meant to be held together by force. The Southern
states joined the Union voluntarily, and they should have been
able to leave it voluntarily. A key principle of Americanism is
the sacred right of self-government, that government should only
govern “with the consent of the governed.” This noble
idea is expressed in the Declaration of Independence. America
came into existence by secession from England. There was only
a war because England wouldn’t allow the American colonies
to leave in peace. George Washington’s secretary of state,
Timothy Pickering of Massachusetts, rightly said that America
was founded on the principle of secession. Thomas Jefferson, the
author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president
of the United States, said in a letter to William Crawford in
1816 that if a state wanted to leave the Union, he would not hesitate
to say “Let us separate,” even if he didn’t
agree with the reasons the state wanted to leave.

The principle of peaceful separation was as American as apple
pie. But Lincoln, relying on an utterly erroneous understanding
of the founding of the Union, declared that secession was “treason,”
“insurrection,” and “rebellion.” If Lincoln
had been alive during the Revolutionary War and had used the same
kind of reasoning that he used against Southern secession, he
would have sided with the British.

The South had no desire to overthrow the federal government.
The South seceded in a peaceful, democratic manner, with the support
of the overwhelming majority of Southern citizens. The Southern
states used the same process to secede that the original thirteen
states used to ratify the U.S. Constitution, i.e., by voting in
special conventions comprised of delegates who were elected by
the people. The one exception was Tennessee, which, instead of
holding a convention, passed a secession resolution in the state
legislature and then held a referendum in which secession won
by a margin of more than two to one. Furthermore, most Southerners
believed secession would be peaceful. In fact, it’s revealing
that the early correspondence of the first Confederate secretary
of war, Leroy Walker, "clearly indicates he did not expect
war" (Rembert Patrick, Jefferson Davis and His Cabinet, Louisiana
State University Press, 1944, p. 106).

What Caused the War?

The war was fought because Lincoln refused to allow the South
to go in peace. Other Republican leaders and certain Northern
business interests played key roles in the decision to use force,
but ultimately Lincoln was the one who had to make the decision,
and he chose to launch an invasion. The fighting and dying started
when federal armies invaded the South. That’s why nearly
all the battles were fought in the Southern states.

The Confederacy did not want war. One of the first things Jefferson
Davis did after assuming office as president of the Confederacy
was to send a peace delegation to Washington, D.C., in an effort
to establish friendly ties with the federal government (Cooper,
Jefferson Davis, American, pp. 360-362; Kenneth Davis, Don’t
Know Much About the Civil War, New York: HarperCollins Publishers,
1996, pp. 156-157). The Confederacy offered to pay the South’s
share of the national debt and to pay compensation for all federal
installations in the Southern states (Charles Roland, The Confederacy,
University of Chicago Press, 1960, p. 28; Patrick, Jefferson Davis
and His Cabinet, p. 77; William C. Davis, Look Away! A History
of the Confederate States of America, New York: The Free Press,
2002, p. 87). The Confederacy also announced that Northern ships
would continue to enjoy free navigation of the Mississippi River
(Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, p. 138; Davis,
The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Volume 1, pp.
210-213). Yet, Lincoln rejected all Confederate peace offers and
insisted that federal armies would invade if the Southern states
didn’t renounce their independence and recognize federal

It should be pointed out that many Northern citizens opposed
the war and believed the South should be allowed to leave in peace.
Dozens of Northern newspapers expressed the view that the Southern
states had the right to peacefully leave the Union and that it
would be wrong to use force to compel them to stay. Even President
James Buchanan told Congress in an official message shortly before
Lincoln assumed office that the federal government had no right
to use force against the seceded states.

Who Started the War?

The standard textbook answer to this question is that the South
obviously started the war because it “fired the first shot”
by attacking Fort Sumter, which was located in the harbor of Charleston,
South Carolina. Most textbooks don’t mention several facts
that put the attack in proper perspective. For example, after
the Fort Sumter incident, the Confederacy continued to express
its desire for peaceful relations with the North. Not a single
federal soldier was killed in the attack. The Confederates allowed
the federal troops at the fort to return to the North in peace
after they surrendered. South Carolina and then the Confederacy
offered to pay compensation for the fort. Lincoln later admitted
he deliberately provoked the attack so he could use it as justification
for an invasion. The Confederates only attacked the fort after
they learned that Lincoln had sent an armed naval convoy to resupply
the federal garrison at the fort. The sending of the convoy violated
the repeated promises of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William
Seward, that the fort would be evacuated. Seward continued to
promise the Confederacy that the fort would be evacuated even
after he knew that Lincoln had decided to send the convoy. Major
John Anderson, the Union officer who commanded the federal garrison
at the fort, opposed the sending of the convoy, because he felt
it would violate the assurances that the fort would be evacuated,
because he knew it would be viewed as a hostile act, and because
he did not want war. Several weeks before the Fort Sumter incident,
Lincoln virtually declared war on the South in his inaugural address,
even though he knew the Confederacy wanted peaceful relations.

In his inaugural speech, given weeks before the attack on Fort
Sumter, Lincoln threatened to invade the seceded states if they
didn’t continue to pay federal “duties and imposts”
(the tariff) and/or if they didn’t allow the federal government
to occupy and maintain all federal installations within their
borders. Imagine what the American colonists would have thought
if the British had said to them, “We want peace. But, we’re
going to invade you if you don’t keep paying our tariff
and/or if you don’t allow us to occupy and maintain all
British installations within your borders.” The colonists
would have rightly regarded this as a virtual declaration of war.
Of course, in effect, the British did say this to the colonies.
This was the same position that Lincoln presented to the Confederate
states weeks before the Fort Sumter attack. Furthermore, five
months earlier, some Republicans in Congress publicly swore “by
everything in the heavens above and the earth beneath” that
they would convert the seceded states “into a wilderness”
(James McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era,
New York: Ballantine Books, 1988, p. 251).

If Lincoln had desired peace, he knew all he had to do was evacuate
Fort Sumter, as his own secretary of state had been promising
would be done for weeks. When the Confederate authorities were
told the fort was going to be evacuated, Confederate forces stopped
building up the defenses around the harbor and celebrated. Across
the harbor, Major Anderson was grateful the fort would be evacuated
and that therefore North and South would separate peacefully (Cisco,
Taking A Stand, pp. 105-106).

But, sadly, Lincoln didn’t pursue peace with the Confederacy.
For a while it seemed as though he was prepared to evacuate Fort
Sumter, in spite of his earlier statements to the contrary. Initially
all but two of his cabinet members urged evacuation, as did his
general-in-chief, General Winfield Scott. However, Radical Republicans
and influential Northern business interests applied intense pressure
on Lincoln and on his cabinet not to evacuate the fort. Radicals
in the Senate threatened impeachment if the fort were evacuated
(Catton and Catton, Two Roads to Sumter, p. 277). Once the low
Confederate tariff was announced, powerful Northern business interests
came out strongly opposed to peace with the Confederacy. As the
pressure for aggression mounted, Lincoln decided to provoke an
attack on the fort in order to use the attack as a pretext for
invasion and to whip up a majority of the Northern public into
a war frenzy against the South. Lincoln himself later admitted
in two letters that he provoked the attack so he could use it
as justification for waging war (Francis Butler Simkins, A History
of the South, Third Edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1963,
pp. 213, 215-216; J. G. Randall and David Donald, The Civil War
and Reconstruction, Lexington, Massachusetts: D. C. Heath and
Company, 1969, p. 174).

Some Northern leaders who wanted peace urged that Fort Sumter
be evacuated. Among those leaders was General-In-Chief Winfield
Scott and Senator Stephen Douglas, one of the most prominent Northern
members of the U.S. Senate. Scott and Douglas both recognized
that the continued federal occupation of Fort Sumter was a virtual
declaration of war against the Confederacy. Any country on earth
would strongly resent the unwanted occupation of an island in
one of its major harbors.

Republicans protested loudly over the fact that several Southern
states seized numerous federal installations before Lincoln assumed
office and in a few cases before the state had voted to secede.
Modern critics tend to make a mountain out of a molehill over
this issue, as if those seizures alone justified a brutal invasion.
Nearly all the seizures occurred after the state had already seceded,
so in those cases the state arguably had every right to assume
control of federal facilities within its borders. Most of the
relatively few pre-secession seizures took place when there was
no doubt the state was going to secede. In one case, local citizens
seized a federal installation on their own initiative. When the
governor learned of the seizure, he ordered the citizens to leave
the facility. Not one of the seizures involved the loss of life.
A number of the federal facilities that were seized were of little
consequence and were manned only by small garrisons. Admittedly,
the pre-secession seizures, though few in number, were unwise
and arguably illegal. However, let’s keep in mind that these
seizures posed no threat to the federal government, that they
were bloodless, and that the Confederacy offered to pay compensation
for all federal installations in the South. The seizures certainly
didn’t provide any credible justification for a federal
invasion, and they were hardly what one could call “aggression”
in any meaningful sense of the word.

The Emancipation Proclamation

Everyone can agree that slavery needed to be abolished. However,
the Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, left
over 400,000 slaves in bondage. Let’s take a moment to consider
the purpose, nature, and legality of the Emancipation Proclamation.

The proclamation was a war measure, as the document itself states.
The Radical Republicans hoped the proclamation would produce a
slave revolt in the South, even if this resulted in the deaths
of thousands of women and children on plantations and farms. (Perhaps
it’s an indication of how most slaves were treated that
no such revolt ever occurred, even though many plantations and
farms were being run by women and children at the time, since
most of the men were engaged in the war effort.)

The proclamation did not free a single slave in any of the four
Union slave states nor in any of the regions of the South that
were then under Union control. The proclamation excluded the slaves
in those areas. The proclamation only applied to slaves in the
Confederate states, where Lincoln had no authority to enforce
it. Slavery continued in the Northern slave states and in the
South for the rest of the war and wasn’t abolished until
the Thirteenth Amendment was ratified in late 1865. Historians
John Blum and Bruce Catton commented on the limited nature of
the proclamation:

The Emancipation Proclamation asserted freedom for slaves in
those areas that were not under control of the federal government
and left slavery untouched in areas where federal control was
effective. It seemed a halting measure of dubious effect and shaky
legality, and the Confederates denounced it as a call for a slave
revolt. (In Blum and Catton, Edmund Morgan, Arthur Schlesinger,
Kenneth Stampp, and C. Vann Woodward, editors, The National Experience:
A History of the United States, Second Edition, New York: Harcourt,
Brace, & World, 1968, p. 360)

African-American scholar Lerone Bennett documents that Lincoln
only issued the proclamation under intense pressure from the Radical
Republicans, who were threatening to cut off funds to the army
if emancipation wasn’t made a war objective, and that Lincoln
only began to seriously consider the Radicals’ demands after
Union forces suffered several defeats (Bennett, Forced Into Glory:
Abraham Lincoln’s White Dream, Chicago: Johnson Publishing
Company, 2000, pp. 23-24, 415-420, 498-504; see also Klingaman,
Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, pp. 139, 148-149,
200-202). Bennett also shows that Lincoln sought to undermine
the proclamation almost as soon as he issued it.

The proclamation provided no compensation for slaveholders, even
though Lincoln himself had said this should be done, and even
though most slaveholders treated their slaves humanely (as even
many abolitionists had once been willing to admit). Few Northern
abolitionists had ever supported compensated emancipation. The
Radical Republicans certainly weren’t about to support such
a plan. They didn’t care that several Northern states had
reaped fantastic profits from the slave trade. Nor did they care
that when most Northern states had abolished slavery they had
done so gradually and in a manner that enabled Northern slaveholders
to recover the cost of their slaves.

If the Southern states were still actually in the Union, as Lincoln
and other Republicans incredibly claimed, then the Emancipation
Proclamation was unconstitutional. Neither Lincoln nor Congress
had the right to abolish slavery in any state. The only legal
ways to abolish it would have been by a constitutional amendment
or by the states abolishing it on their own.

Of course, the Southern states had in fact left the Union, and
everyone knew it. Lincoln only denied this fact because he knew
the federal government had no constitutional right to invade states
that had peacefully and democratically separated from the Union.
Since the Southern states were no longer part of the federal compact,
the Emancipation Proclamation amounted to an attempt to incite
a slave revolt in another country, in spite of the proclamation’s
disclaimer to the contrary. Certainly the Radicals hoped the proclamation
would spark a slave revolt, regardless of the cost in human lives.
American leaders reacted angrily when the British tried to incite
a slave revolt in the American colonies during the Revolutionary
War. This was a serious threat, since slaves were held in each
of the thirteen colonies at the time. The British offered freedom
to American slaves who would fight in the British army, and they
encouraged slaves to sabotage the colonial war effort. Not surprisingly,
tens of thousands of slaves flocked to British army encampments.
Fortunately, however, not enough slaves fought for the British
to turn the tide against the colonies. At the end of the war,
at least 18,000 former slaves accompanied British troops as they
evacuated New York, Charleston, Savannah, and other cities (Hummel,
Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men, p. 10).

If the Emancipation Proclamation had covered all slaves, if it
had included compensation for slaveholders, and if it had contained
guarantees against a slave revolt, it would have been on solid
moral ground. It still would have been unconstitutional, but it
would have been consistent, fair, and moral. However, the proclamation
contained none of these things. It was intended as a war measure.
It left Northern slaves in bondage. Its real purpose was to advance
the effort to subjugate the South, even if that meant causing
the deaths of thousands of women and children. The Radicals and
other Republicans were using Southern slaves as pawns in their
effort to conquer the South.

Republicans, the North, and Racism

(NOTE: In this section it will be necessary to quote some offensive
words and statements from the Civil War era. I apologize to those
readers who are offended by them.)

The same Republican-controlled Congress that eventually made
forceful emancipation a secondary goal of the war and that imposed
oppressive Reconstruction rule on the South after the war, also
sanctioned the federal government’s terrible mistreatment
of the American Indians. Historian C. Vann Woodward put it this

The same Congress that devised Radical Reconstruction . . . approved
strict segregation and inequality for the Indian of the West.
(In Blum and Catton et al, editors, The National Experience, p.

With the Republicans firmly in control of the federal government,
the Union army began a series of brutal campaigns against the
American Indians a few months after the Confederate commanding
general, Robert E. Lee, surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia. Federal
forces and Northern militias cheated and abused the Indians on
certain occasions during the war, but the federal campaigns against
the Indians that started with the Sioux War in 1865 were vicious
and remain a stain on our history. Under Republican rule, the
federal government ordered forced relocations, engaged in shameful
treaty violations, and authorized merciless attacks in which thousands
of Indians, including many women and children, were killed. Generals
William Tecumseh Sherman and Phil Sheridan, fresh from having
ravaged the South, were responsible for many of those attacks.
The general who ordered the first post-war campaign against the
Indians was Ulysses S. Grant. Much of the worst mistreatment of
the Indians occurred when Grant was president (1868-1876). Republicans
occupied the White House for all but seven of the thirty-one years
from 1861 to 1892 (three of those seven years were under Lincoln’s
vice president, Andrew Johnson, and the remaining four years didn’t
come until 1884-1888). The Republicans controlled Congress for
the majority of that period as well, especially from 1861 to 1874.

I agree with Thomas DiLorenzo’s point that the Republicans’
treatment of the Indians raises questions about their professed
concern for social justice:

The fact that the war against the Plains Indians began just three
months after Lee’s surrender calls into question yet again
the notion that racial injustices in the South were the primary
motivation for Northerners’ willingness to wage such a long
and destructive war. No political party purporting to be sensitive
to racial injustice could possibly have even contemplated doing
to the Indians what the United States government did to them.

Both the Southern Confederates and the Indians stood in the way
of the Whig/Republican dream of a North American economic empire,
complete with a subsidized transcontinental railroad, a nationalized
banking system, and protectionist tariffs. Consequently, both
groups were conquered and subjugated by the most violent means.
(The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda,
and an Unnecessary War, Paperback Edition, New York: Three Rivers
Press, 2003, pp. 222-223)

Another example of Republican hypocrisy was the Republican Party’s
platform for the 1868 presidential election. Ulysses S. Grant
ran for president on this platform, and won handily. The platform
stated that the Southern states should be forced to allow blacks
to vote but that the Northern states should be allowed to decide
this issue for themselves. The Republicans took this position
even though every Northern state that had voted on amendments
for black voting rights in the preceding three years had soundly
defeated those amendments. Republican leaders knew that racism
was so widespread in the North that they would lose the election
if they advocated forcing the Northern states to allow blacks
to vote. Many Republicans themselves weren’t enthusiastic
about voting rights for Northern blacks anyway.

Many Republican leaders, including some of the Radicals, held
racist views. Thaddeus Stevens, the leader of the Radicals in
the House, not only opposed racial integration but believed blacks
were less intelligent than whites and, in the words of friendly
biographer Fawn Brodie, “insisted that he had never held
to the doctrine of Negro equality” (Fawn Brodie, Thaddeus
Stevens: Scourge of the South, New York: W. W. Norton & Company,
1959, p. 193; Hummel, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men,
p. 300). Incidentally, Stevens also believed the Constitution
was “a worthless bit of old parchment” (Brodie, Thaddeus
Stevens, p. 292). Another powerful Radical in the House, George
Julian, lectured his fellow Republicans about their racism, saying,
“The real trouble is that we hate the negro. It is not his
ignorance that offends us, but his color. . . .” (Kenneth
Stampp, The Era of Reconstruction, 1865-1877, Vintage Books Edition,
New York: Vintage Books, 1965, p. 102). Benjamin Wade, a leading
Radical in the Senate, was overheard “railing about too
many ‘nigger’ cooks in the capital” and complaining that
he had eaten so many meals “cooked by Niggers” that
he could “smell and taste the Nigger all over” (Klingaman,
Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, p. 53). In the 1860
election campaign, numerous Republican leaders championed their
party as the true “White Man’s Party” that would
keep the western territories safe for white labor (McPherson,
Ordeal By Fire: The Civil War and Reconstruction, New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1982, p. 123). Lincoln’s secretary of state, William
Seward, the man who claimed in 1858 that there was an “irrepressible
conflict” between the free states and the slaveholding states,
spoke for many Republicans when he said,

The North has nothing to do with the Negroes. I have no more
concern for them than I have for the Hottentots. . . . They are
not of our race. (In Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road to
Emancipation, p. 295)

Lincoln himself held racist views. As a politician in Illinois,
Lincoln voted to deny blacks the right to vote, and he supported
the state’s oppressive “Black Code.” Lincoln
used the N-word, even in public statements, and even as president.
Lincoln referred to the Declaration of Independence as “the
white man’s charter of freedom.” He also said he did
not support allowing blacks to be citizens, explaining, “I
am not in favor of negro citizenship” (The Collected Works
of Abraham Lincoln, Volume 3, edited by Roy Basler, New Brunswick,
New Jersey, 1952-1955, p. 179). In an 1858 speech, Lincoln left
no doubt about his views on race:

I will say, then, that I am not nor ever have been in favor of
bringing about in any way, the social and political equality of
the white and black races; that I am not nor ever have been in
favor of making voters of the free negroes, or jurors, or qualifying
them to hold office, or having them to marry white people. I will
say in addition, that there is a physical difference between the
white and black races, which, I suppose, will forever forbid the
two races living together upon terms of social and political equality,
and inasmuch as they cannot so live, that while they do remain
together, there must be the position of superior and inferior,
that I as much as any other man am in favor of the superior position
being assigned to the white man. (Abraham Lincoln: Speeches and
Writings 1832-1858, New York: The Library of America, 1989, edited
by Don Fehrenbacher, p. 751)

To be fair, it should be noted that Lincoln was by no means alone
in his views. The sad truth is that in those days the vast majority
of white Americans, in all parts of the country, shared Lincoln’s
racial attitudes. Most whites believed that the white race was
the superior race and that therefore blacks and other minorities
belonged to inferior races. Nearly all textbooks give the false
impression that white supremacy and racism were mainly confined
to the South, but these problems were widespread in the North
as well. Numerous historians have acknowledged this fact. In many
cases, the “free” states weren’t very free for
blacks. Historian Robert Cruden:

To understand something of the nature of that problem we must
look at the position of the American Negro in the 1860s. . . .
Throughout the nation there were 488,000 free Negroes. . . . Most
free Negroes—258,000—lived in the South. . . .

“Free people of color” were welcome in few places.
In the North they were almost universally segregated, excluded
from public life, and their children barred from white public
schools. In those areas where separate Negro schools were provided
they were inadequately financed and instruction was poor. . .

The situation of the black American when the war ended was ambiguous.
. . . Northerners as a whole, willing to concede freedom, were
hostile to equality. Many of them dreaded an incursion of black
folk after the war—especially among lower paid workers who
feared Negro competition and some not so poorly paid who resented
possible Negro entry into their crafts. The use of Negroes as
strikebreakers during the war and their employment in areas where
whites were out of work resulted in agitation and riots and intensified
anti-Negro feeling.

Such sentiment, however, was by no means confined to workingmen.
Between 1865 and 1867 voters in Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Ohio
rejected proposals for Negro suffrage [the right to vote]; in
1868 only 8 out of 16 Northern states permitted Negroes to vote.
Oregon even continued its pre-war prohibition against the entry
of free Negroes. . . . (The Negro in Reconstruction, New Jersey:
Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969, pp. 6, 12-13)

African-American scholars John Franklin and Alfred Moss:

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.
(From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, New
York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, p. 185)

Was the War Fought Over Slavery?

The war was fought over Southern independence, not over slavery.
Lincoln said repeatedly the war was not being fought over slavery.
In August 1862, over a year after the war started, Lincoln wrote
an open letter to a prominent Republican abolitionist, Horace
Greeley, in which he said he did not agree with those who would
only “save” the Union if they could destroy slavery
at the same time. Lincoln added that if he could “save”
the Union without freeing a single slave, he would do so (Letter
to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862, published in the New York

In July 1861, after the First Battle of Manassas (Bull Run) had
been fought, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution, by an overwhelming
majority, that declared the war was not being fought to disturb
slavery, nor to subjugate the South, but only to “maintain
the Union” (i.e., to force the Southern states back into
the Union). A few months later, in September, a group of Radicals
visited Lincoln to urge him to make compulsory emancipation a
war objective. Lincoln declined, telling the Radicals, “We
didn’t go into the war to put down slavery, but to put the
flag back” (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 155; Klingaman,
Abraham Lincoln and the Road to Emancipation, pp. 75-76). Later
on, about halfway through the war, the Radicals and other Republicans
succeeded in making the uncompensated abolition of Southern slavery
a secondary goal of the war. However, the primary purpose of the
federal invasion was always to destroy Southern independence.

The war itself really had nothing directly to do with slavery.
It’s true that issues involving slavery were the most important
factors behind the first wave of secession, but secession and
the war were two separate events, and four of the Southern states
did not secede over slavery. As noted earlier, secession was a
peaceful, democratic process. The seceded states posed no threat
to the federal government, and they had no intention of trying
to overthrow the government. The Confederate states wanted to
live in peace with the North and offered to pay their share of
the national debt and to pay compensation for all federal forts
in the South.

If the Southern states had not seceded, there would have been
no war and slavery would have continued. If the Southern states
had surrendered when Lincoln issued his call-up for an invasion
force, there would have been no war and slavery would have continued.
If Jefferson Davis’s first announcement as Confederate president
had been that the Confederacy was going to abolish slavery, Lincoln
and the Radicals still would have invaded the South. If the Confederacy
had informed Lincoln at any point during the war that it was going
to start an emancipation program, Lincoln would not have suddenly
called off the federal invasion. The issue was Southern independence,
not slavery.

The reaction of the Northern abolitionists to the proposal of
fellow abolitionist Moncure Conway is further proof the war was
not fought over slavery. At least a few of the abolitionists were
Republicans, and nearly all of them strongly supported the Radicals.
Conway, on the other hand, was a pacifist. Yet, at first Conway
reluctantly supported the invasion of the South. “But,”
notes Jeffrey Hummel, “the increasing bloodshed sickened
him.” So, when Conway was in England in 1863, he proposed
to a Confederate envoy that if the South freed the slaves the
abolitionists would oppose the war. Conway also said he would
support the continuation of the Confederacy as long as the Confederacy
abolished slavery. Strangely enough, leading abolitionists had
selected Conway to go to England in order to convince the British
that the war was being fought to free the slaves. However, when
Conway’s proposal for Southern independence coupled with
abolition was published, most abolitionists reacted with outrage
and withdrew their support from him (Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving
Free Men, p. 206).

To most Southerners, independence was more important than the
continuation of slavery. This is not surprising, since less than
10 percent of Southern citizens actually held title to slaves,
and since 69-75 percent of Southern families did not own slaves
(John Niven, The Coming of the Civil War: 1837-1861, Arlington
Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, Inc., 1990, p. 34; Divine
et al, editors, America Past and Present, p. 389; see also the
1860 Census). Early in the war, James Alcorn, a powerful planter-politician
from Mississippi, began to talk openly about emancipation. Duncan
Kenner, one of the most powerful slaveholders in the South and
a chairman in the Confederate Congress, urged that slavery be
abolished. Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s most famous
general, believed slavery was evil and favored gradual emancipation.
The Confederate secretary of state, Judah Benjamin, and Governor
William Smith of Virginia, also supported ending slavery. By late
1864, Jefferson Davis himself was prepared to abolish slavery
in order to gain European diplomatic recognition and thus save
the Confederacy, which shows that independence was more important
to him than preserving slavery.

A Confederate soldier who was captured early in the war expressed
the South’s reason for fighting in simple yet eloquent terms.
He wore a ragged homemade uniform, and like most other Southerners
he didn’t own any slaves. When his Union captors asked him
why he was fighting for the Confederacy, he replied, “I’m
fighting because you’re down here” (McPherson, The
Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 311, emphasis added).

What Happened at Andersonville Prison?

The question that really should be asked is, Why did thousands
of Confederate prisoners die of starvation, disease, and exposure
in Northern prison camps when the Union army could have easily
given them adequate food, housing, and medical care?

Yes, thousands of Union prisoners died of starvation, disease,
and exposure at the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville,
but that was because the Confederacy simply didn’t have
enough food, medicine, and facilities to care for them. During
this same period, tens of thousands of Confederate soldiers were
going hungry on a regular basis and lacked adequate medical supplies–because
of the Union naval blockade and because of the inhumane destruction
that Union armies were inflicting on the South. Confederate authorities
tried to obtain medical supplies for the Union prisoners at Andersonville,
but Lincoln refused to sell them, even though the Confederates
offered to allow Union doctors to accompany the supplies to ensure
they were used for Union prisoners. After the war, even some Union
officers placed the blame for Andersonville squarely on Lincoln
and on Ulysses S. Grant, not on the Confederacy.

One of the most balanced and objective treatments of the issue
of Andersonville can be found in J. G. Randall and David Donald’s
highly acclaimed book The Civil War and Reconstruction. No one
would argue that Randall and Donald were pro-Confederate historians—in
fact, they were decidedly pro-Union in their outlook. However,
on most issues they were fair and objective, and one of those
issues was the Confederate prison camp at Andersonville. Among
other things, Randall and Donald said,

The Andersonville prison, until the soldiers built huts for themselves,
was but a stockaded enclosure of sixteen and a half acres in southwestern
Georgia. Mosquito-infested tents; myriads of maggots; pollution
and filth due to lack of sanitation; soldiers dying by thousands;
men desperately attempting to tunnel their way to freedom; prison
mates turning on their fellows whom they suspected of treachery
or theft; unbaked rations; inadequate hospital facilities; escaping
men hunted down by bloodhounds—such are the details that
come down to us from incontrovertible sources. The causes of such
conditions are to be found in the sheer inability of officers
in charge to cope with the immense number of prisoners pouring
in on them before preparations could be made to receive them,
the insurmountable difficulties in obtaining supplies and equipment,
and the poverty of the Confederacy in material resources. Union
prisoners at Andersonville were in no worse case than many of
the soldiers of Lee’s army; and it should be remembered
that “the prisoners received the same rations as the soldiers
who were guarding them” [quoting pro-Northern historian
James F. Rhodes]. . . . (The Civil War and Reconstruction, pp.

Much could be said about the thousands of Confederate prisoners
who died in Union prison camps and about the horrible conditions
in many of those camps. The Union had no excuse for not adequately
caring for its Confederate prisoners. Unlike the Confederacy,
which was literally starving and was being invaded and blockaded,
the Union had more than enough food, medicine, and equipment.
There was no reason that a single Confederate prisoner should
have died of starvation or exposure. Even Kenneth Davis, who is
very critical of the Confederacy on nearly all issues, admits
that thousands of Confederate prisoners were deliberately mistreated
by the Union army:

The worst Union prison was in Elmira, in upstate New York, where
2,963 Confederate soldiers died, nearly a quarter of the 12,123
men held there. This death rate was only slightly less than Andersonville’s
and more than double the average death rate in the other Union
prison camps. Built in May 1864, after prisoner exchanges were
halted, the camp was designed to hold 5,000 men. The deaths at
Elmira were caused by diseases brought on by starvation and terrible
living conditions. During a bitterly cold winter, clothes sent
by families for the prisoners were deliberately withheld, and
hundreds of men, forced to live in tents with no blankets, froze
to death. In May 1864 War Secretary [Edwin] Stanton ordered prisoner
rations reduced to the same amount issued to Confederate soldiers.
This supposedly ensured that Confederate prisoners were receiving
the equivalent of the rations Union prisoners were getting. In
other words, in the midst of plenty in the Union, malnourished
Confederate prisoners suffered epidemics of scurvy, diarrhea,
pneumonia, and smallpox. (Don’t Know Much About the Civil
War, p. 354)

Did the South Control the Federal Government Until 1860?

The claim is frequently made that the South controlled the federal
government until the 1860 election, and that therefore the South
showed a lack of tolerance and fairness when it seceded in response
to Lincoln’s victory. However, anyone who is familiar with
American history knows that the South did not control the federal
government until 1860. Many Northern politicians and writers trumpeted
this myth for political and propaganda purposes. A major component
of this myth was that the alleged “Slave Power” in
the South was behind the South’s supposed domination of
the federal government. Some Northern leaders even claimed there
was a “Slave Power conspiracy” to impose slavery on
the entire country. When the war ended, Radical Republicans issued
dire warnings about the need to crush this supposed “Slave
Power” in order to justify their subjugation and looting
of the defeated South.

For one thing, wealthy Southern plantation owners, i.e., the
men who allegedly comprised the supposed “Slave Power,”
did not dictate Southern politics. Moreover, they were by no means
uniform in their political beliefs. In fact, many affluent planters
were Whigs (Frank Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, LSU Press
Edition, LSU Press, 1982, pp. 141-142; Arthur Schlesinger, The
Age of Jackson, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1945, p. 453;
McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 242). And, as mentioned
earlier, some of the wealthiest slaveholders opposed secession.
In Georgia, for example, many counties with heavy concentrations
of Whig slaveholders voted against secession (McPherson, The Battle
Cry of Freedom, p. 242). Randall and Donald pointed out that the
plantation aristocracy did not control the South’s political

Nor is it to be inferred that a plantation “aristocracy”
somehow controlled the political destinies of the region, for
the current of democracy had eroded the powers of the gentry until
“whatever influence the planters exercised over the political
action of the common people was of a personal and local nature”
[quoting Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South, p. 139]. (The Civil
War and Reconstruction, pp. 40-41)

If the South truly “controlled” the federal government
until 1860, one can only wonder why the federal tariff was never
as low as the South wanted it to be, why Congress gave the Northern
states a legal monopoly in the lucrative shipbuilding business
and why this monopoly was never repealed, why it took ten years
for Texas to be admitted as a state, why Cuba was never annexed,
how the Missouri Compromise became law in 1820, how the Tariff
of Abominations passed Congress in 1828, how the Force Bill passed
Congress in 1833, how the tariff act of 1842 passed Congress,
how the John Calhoun resolutions of 1847-1848 were all defeated,
how the Wilmot Proviso passed the House of Representatives twice,
how the Compromise of 1850 was enacted, why Kansas wasn’t
admitted as a slave state, why the Missouri Compromise line wasn’t
extended to the west coast, and how the draconian Morrill Tariff
passed the House in 1860. (Some critics claim that Southern congressmen
supported the 1828 Tariff of Abominations, but in point of fact
most Southern congressmen voted against it [Taussig, The Tariff
History of the United States, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons,
1910, pp. 61-62].)

It’s true that there were periods when the South had more
influence on federal policy than did the North, but there were
also periods when this was not the case. At no time did the South
“control” the federal government. Cooper notes that
“after mid-1854 no chance remained for a congressional majority
on any initiative marked as a southern measure” (Jefferson
Davis, American, p. 284). The South was usually able to block
or modify unwanted bills in the Senate, but not always, and the
South was frequently unable to defeat unwanted bills in the House.
As early as 1819 “the North had built up a decisive majority
in the House of Representatives” (Divine et al, editors,
America Past and Present, p. 281).

As for the presidency, Presidents John Adams, John Quincy Adams,
Martin Van Buren, William Harrison, Franklin Pierce, and James
Buchanan were all Northern politicians. And who were the Southern
presidents? They were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, John Tyler, James K. Polk,
and Zachary Taylor. So the South by no means enjoyed exclusive
control of the White House prior to the war. Furthermore, the
“Southern” presidents didn’t automatically take
the South’s side on all issues, just as the “Northern”
presidents didn’t automatically take the North’s side
on all issues. For example, President Taylor sided with Northern
politicians on crucial aspects of the Compromise of 1850 and also
supported the Wilmot Proviso, even though he himself was a slaveholder.

When the South did exercise considerable influence on federal
policy, it used that influence in efforts to reduce taxes, to
limit the growth of the federal government, to curb or eliminate
harmful protectionist trade policies, to impose fiscal responsibility
on federal spending, to abolish the corrupt United States Bank,
to preserve our free banking system, to prohibit the use of tax
dollars for wasteful corporate welfare schemes, to expand the
land area of the United States by acquiring new territory, to
preserve the sovereignty of the states, and to enforce a strict
interpretation of the Constitution. Under Southern leadership,
Texas was finally admitted to the Union and the gigantic land
area of the Mexican Cession became American territory. And if
Southern leaders had been able to persuade the federal government
to acquire Cuba, that beautiful island would have become an American
state, there would have been no Cuban Missile Crisis, and the
Cuban people wouldn’t be suffering under Fidel Castro’s
oppressive Marxist regime (which has been in power for over forty
years now).

I’m not saying that Southern politicians did no wrong.
For example, the Southern-inspired 1836-1844 gag rule in the House
of Representatives, which prevented debate on petitions to abolish
slavery in the District of Columbia, was unfortunate, though many
Northern congressmen supported the rule as well. The largely Southern-backed
Lecompton Constitution for Kansas was admittedly unfair, and fortunately
the people of Kansas were eventually able to vote it down. But
such cases were the exception, not the rule. Most of the time
Southern politicians used their influence to pursue good, sound
policies that benefited all citizens.

The Reconstruction Era

Time only allows me to provide a brief sketch of the “Reconstruction”
program that the Republicans imposed on the South after the war.
I don’t deny that some good things were accomplished during
Reconstruction. Nor do I deny that Reconstruction, as bad as it
was, could have been worse. However, most textbooks only talk
about the good aspects of Reconstruction and either ignore or
minimize the negative aspects. The unjust, illegal aspects of
Reconstruction merit discussion.

Reconstruction began in 1865 and officially ended in 1877. The
Radicals took substantial control of Reconstruction in 1867. Reconstruction
was bad enough from the outset, but it became much worse under
Radical influence. The Radicals illegally placed the South under
military rule. They divided the South into five military districts,
each governed by a Union army general. They nullified the recent
Southern elections and refused to allow Southern congressmen to
take their seats in Congress, even though these men had been elected
in elections that were just as valid as any election that had
been held in the North. Not content with their political subjugation
of the South, the Radicals and other Republicans allowed the Southern
states to be looted and exploited for years by Northern business
interests and by corrupt Reconstruction governments. The Radicals
did these things over the strenuous objections of Lincoln’s
successor, President Andrew Johnson.

The Radicals also shamelessly contradicted the earlier Republican
claim that the Southern states had not left the Union. During
the war, Lincoln and other Republicans made the bizarre argument
that the Southern states had not really left the Union but that
they had been taken over by “combinations” too powerful
for local authorities to suppress. According to this pathetic
argument, Lincoln wasn’t invading the Southern states; rather,
he was merely liberating them from the “combinations”
that had supposedly seized control of them. Well, once the war
was over, the Radicals decided that the Southern states had left
the Union after all, and that they couldn’t be readmitted
until they complied with Republican demands.

During the worst period of Reconstruction, Southerners who voiced
objections to Republican policy could be jailed, and even executed,
without indictment or trial. Southern newspapers that criticized
Reconstruction ran the real risk of being shut down, and some
newspapers were closed down for this reason. Federal troops were
stationed all over the South, and in many cases their conduct
was disgraceful and abusive. Many Republican operatives and other
Northerners who came to the South poisoned race relations by inciting
former slaves to hate and persecute Southern whites. The Republicans
made it illegal for males who had served in the Confederate army
or in the Confederate government to vote or hold public office.
Ex-Confederates could only vote if they were willing to lie by
taking the “ironclad oath.” The oath disqualified
any man who had served in the Confederacy or who had even “aided”
the Confederacy. Of course, this excluded a large majority of
Southern men. To their credit, some Southern black leaders opposed
denying former Confederates the right to vote, but their efforts
were unsuccessful. New Southern legislatures and governors were
chosen in elections in which most former Confederates were barred
from voting. These corrupt Reconstruction state governments imposed
oppressive taxes on their citizens and also stole or wasted a
staggering amount of taxpayer money.

Hummel notes the heavy tax burden that was imposed on the South
after the war:

. . . the war-ravaged South suffered under some of the heaviest
state and local taxation in proportion to wealth in U.S. history.
Tax rates in 1870 were three or four times what they had been
in 1860, even though property values had declined significantly.
Many who had not lost their land already were now forced into
bankruptcy. At one point 15 percent of all taxable land in Mississippi
was up for sale because of tax defaults. (Emancipating Slaves,
Enslaving Free Men, p. 316)

Northern business interests took full advantage of the South’s
subjugation during Reconstruction. African-American scholars Franklin
and Moss note that “Northern financiers and industrialists
took advantage of the opportunity to impose their economic control
on the South, and much of it endured for generations” (From
Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, p. 264). Kenneth
Davis concedes that Southern railroad companies were "burdened
for decades by unfair rates and restrictive tariffs set by Northerners,
who controlled the vast majority of railways and the legislatures
that set rates" (Don’t Know Much About the Civil War, pp.

“But,” some will ask, “wasn’t slavery
abolished under Reconstruction?” Yes, slavery was abolished
during the Johnson phase of Reconstruction when the Thirteenth
Amendment was ratified on December 18, 1865. We can all agree
that slavery was wrong and that it needed to be abolished. But
it was abolished in a way that was unfair and that caused enormous
damage to the Southern economy. Under the Thirteenth Amendment,
Southern slaveholders received no compensation for their slaves.
The abolition of slavery without compensation cost the South about
two billion dollars in capital, and it reduced real estate values
by at least that amount. In terms of modern monetary value, this
represented a total loss of over sixty billion dollars.

Southern slaveholders should have been able to recover the cost
of their slaves, just as Northern slaveholders had been able to
do decades earlier. Most Southern slaveholders treated their slaves
humanely. Many of these men believed they had a Christian duty
to properly and respectfully care for their slaves. One doesn’t
have to condone human bondage to acknowledge that in most cases
Southern slavery was administered humanely. This isn’t the
place for an extended discussion on slavery in the pre-war South,
but it should be pointed out that Southern slaves had a life expectancy
that was comparable to urban populations and higher than in Europe,
that 66-80 percent of slave marriages were not broken up, that
nearly 40 percent of the marriages performed in Southern Episcopal
churches between 1800 and 1860 were slave marriages, that even
in the 1850s many slaves were able to buy their freedom because
they were permitted to earn money, and that hundreds of thousands
of slaves were converted to Christianity. Granted, no matter how
humanely slavery was administered, it was still wrong. The point
is that most Southern slaveholders did not deserve to lose their
slaves without compensation, and that this unfair policy did great
damage to the South’s economy.

Textbooks note the fact that Radical Reconstruction included
civil rights reforms that enabled former slaves to vote. However,
they almost never mention information that sheds important light
on those reforms. If the Republicans had enacted and implemented
these reforms in a legal, ethical manner, and if their motives
for doing so had been noble, they would deserve nothing but praise.
But such was not the case. Most Republican leaders supported the
imposition of these reforms because they wanted to control and
exploit the Southern states, not because they really cared about
the fate of the ex-slaves. Republican operatives manipulated,
and sometimes even coerced, ex-slaves to vote Republican so the
Republican Party could take over Southern state governments. Once
the Republicans achieved this goal, they proceeded to engage in
large-scale corruption and oppression, which harmed blacks and
whites alike. A respected moderate Southern leader in Mississippi
warned President Johnson that the Republican-created Freedmen’s
Bureau was “demoralizing the negroes, robbing and defrauding
them” (Felicity Allen, Jefferson Davis: Unconquerable Heart,
Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1999, p. 472).

Civil rights could and should have been advanced through legal,
ethical means. Yes, this would have taken longer, but it would
have preserved the constitutional republic that our founding fathers
gave us, and all Americans would have been better off in the long
run. Instead, in the name of imposing civil rights on the South,
the Republicans, led by the Radicals, subverted the rule of law,
permitted Republican operatives to engage in astonishing corruption,
looted the South for years, poisoned race relations, illegally
and unethically amended the Constitution, further destroyed the
balance of power between the states and the federal government,
and empowered the federal government to perform functions that
the founding fathers did not want it to perform.

I would like to conclude this discussion on Reconstruction by
quoting a substantial portion of President Johnson’s veto
of the first Radical Reconstruction Act. Before doing so, I should
point out that the Radicals tried to remove Johnson from office
because he opposed their Reconstruction program, even though he
had staunchly supported the war and had opposed secession. When
Lincoln was assassinated, some Radicals said Lincoln’s death
was “a godsend to the country” because they believed
Johnson, unlike Lincoln, would help them ravage the South. When
the Radicals realized Johnson was not going to cooperate with
them, they turned on him with a vengeance. They impeached (i.e.,
indicted) him in the House and then put him on trial in the Senate,
on the basis of utterly frivolous charges (Johnson was acquitted).
Amazingly, a few Radicals even tried to frame Johnson for Lincoln’s
murder. In any case, the Radicals overturned Johnson’s veto.
Therefore, their Reconstruction program became law and was imposed
on ten of the eleven Southern states (the one exception was Tennessee).
Here is some of what President Johnson had to say about the first
Reconstruction Act and why he refused to sign it:

I have examined the bill "to provide for the more efficient
government of the rebel States" with the care and the anxiety
which its transcendent importance is calculated to awaken. I am
unable to give it my assent for reasons so grave that I hope a
statement of them may have some influence on the minds of the
patriotic and enlightened men with whom the decision must ultimately
rest. The bill places all the people of the ten States therein
named under the absolute domination of military rulers. . . .

The bill . . . would seem to show upon its face that the establishment
of peace and good order is not its real object. The fifth section
declares that the preceding sections shall cease to operate in
any State where certain events shall have happened. . . . All
these conditions must be fulfilled before the people of any of
these States can be relieved from the bondage of military domination;
but when they are fulfilled, then immediately the pains and penalties
of the bill are to cease, no matter whether there be peace and
order or not, and without any reference to the security of life
or property. The excuse given for the bill in the preamble is
admitted by the bill itself not to be real. The military rule
which it establishes is plainly to be used, not for any purpose
of order or for the prevention of crime, but solely as a means
of coercing the people into the adoption of principles and measures
to which it is known that they are opposed, and upon which they
have an undeniable right to exercise their own judgment. . . .

I submit to Congress whether this measure is not in its whole
character, scope, and object without precedent and without authority,
in palpable conflict with the plainest provisions of the Constitution,
and utterly destructive to those great principles of liberty and
humanity for which our ancestors on both sides of the Atlantic
have shed so much blood and expended so much treasure. . . . (Veto
of the first Reconstruction Act, March 2, 1867)

The True Nature of the War

In reality, the Civil War was not a civil war. In a civil war,
two or more factions fight for control of the national government.
But the South was not trying to overthrow the national government,
nor was it trying to achieve exclusive control of the government.
The South merely wanted to leave the federal government in peace
and was willing to pay its share of the national debt and to pay
compensation for federal installations in the Southern states.
The Confederacy tried to establish peaceful relations with the
federal government, but Lincoln refused to even meet with Confederate

The Civil War was a war of aggression against the South. Republican
leaders and their Northern industrialist backers used the force
of the federal government to destroy Southern independence. Some
of these men despised the South. Radical Republicans saw in secession
an excuse to subjugate and exploit the Southern states. Northern
business leaders who bankrolled the Republicans feared that their
financial empire would be threatened if the Confederate states
were able to trade directly with other nations with the much lower
Confederate tariff. The Republicans weren’t about to lower
the tariff, since they were committed to drastically raising it
(which they did soon after the South seceded). Rather than fairly
compete with the low Confederate tariff by lowering the federal
tariff, the Republicans and their Northern financial backers opted
to destroy the Confederacy by force. Charles Adams demonstrates
that after the Confederacy announced its low tariff, influential
Northern business interests began to strongly oppose peaceful
separation and Lincoln’s cabinet quickly reversed itself
and adopted a hardline stance on Fort Sumter (When In the Course
of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession, Lanham,
Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000, pp. 26-27,
pp. 61-70). Simkins said the following about the motives behind
the federal invasion, race relations in the North, and what happened
when Southern influence was removed from the federal government:

Northern industrial and financial leaders wished to destroy the
influence of the agrarian South in Washington in order to use
the powers of the federal government to their own advantage. Northern
common people wished slavery restricted or abolished because they
objected to the competition of cheap labor, not because they wished
to make the bondsmen their equals. Both of these groups revealed
their intentions when Southern influence was removed from the
federal capital and when the Negro was free. The business leaders
imposed high tariffs, constitutional protection to corporations,
monetary deflation, and centralized banking. The common people
denied the free Negro access to Western lands [the western territories]
and imposed upon him caste restrictions in some respects sharper
than those of the South. “It is not humanity,” said
Jefferson Davis to the North in 1861, “that influences you
in the position that you now occupy before the country. . . .
It is that you may have a majority in the Congress of the United
States and convert the government into an engine of Northern aggrandizement.
It is that your section may grow in power and prosperity upon
treasures unjustly taken from the South.” (A History of
the South, p. 190)

Most Republican leaders, while claiming they were “saving”
the Union and preserving representative government, were undemocratic
and despotic. The worst offenders were the Radical Republicans,
but other Republicans were almost as bad. The Republicans and
their generals imprisoned thousands of Northern citizens in order
to suppress Northern opposition to the war. They shut down hundreds
of Northern newspapers and jailed dozens of newspaper editors
for expressing “unpatriotic” views. They suspended
the writ of habeas corpus (protection against unlawful arrest),
rigged elections, prevented two Northern legislatures from convening,
and branded as “traitors” Northern political opponents
who spoke out against Republican violations of civil rights. In
one case, they arrested thirty-one members of the Maryland legislature
and sealed off the town where the legislature was meeting. When
it became known that former president Franklin Pierce believed
the war was cruel and unnecessary, Republicans accused him of
treason and nearly had him arrested. (Pierce feared the true purpose
of the war was to wipe out the states as sovereign entities and
to drastically increase the power of the federal government in
violation of the Constitution. Pierce also believed it was wrong
to hold the Union together by force.)

The Republicans and their generals waged a shameful form of “total
war” against the South, causing the deaths of some 50,000
Southern civilians and wiping out whole towns in the process.
They hired thousands of unscrupulous mercenaries, including many
criminals fresh from European jails. They violated just about
every rule of civilized warfare known to man. They used tactics
that today would justify prosecution for war crimes. A few Union
generals, including George McClellan, objected to this cruel form
of warfare, and at least one general, Don C. Buell, resigned from
the army in protest–but these men were the exception, not the
rule. On the other hand, the vast majority of Confederate generals
refused to use the brutal tactics that so many Union generals
were using. At one point, some Confederate officials urged Jefferson
Davis to order Confederate forces to employ the barbaric tactics
that were being used by Union generals like William Tecumseh Sherman
and Phil Sheridan, but Davis refused. If the South had won, several
Union generals could have been tried and hung for war crimes.
Most Republican leaders, including Lincoln, strongly backed those
generals. (A sobering collection of Union war atrocities is presented
in Thomas Bland Keys’ book The Uncivil War: Union Army and
Navy Excesses in the Official Records, Biloxi, Mississippi: The
Beauvoir Press, 1991, which is based almost exclusively on Union
army records.)

After the war, most Republicans in Congress continued to violate
the Constitution. They imposed a clearly illegal military rule
on the Southern states and proceeded to plunder those states for
years. The Radicals and their supporters in the Union army accused
and jailed Jefferson Davis on the absurd charge that he was involved
in the conspiracy that killed Lincoln. They based this charge
on evidence that was later found to be fraudulent. They tried
to remove President Johnson from office for opposing their illegal
plans to ravage the South and for daring to defy their attempt
to prevent him from replacing Edwin Stanton as secretary of war.
Can you imagine the outcry that would arise today if Congress
tried to force the president to retain a cabinet member against
his will?

The Radicals came close to establishing a military dictatorship
in the name of “reconstructing” the defeated Southern
states. The Radicals passed a bill that said the military didn’t
have to obey the president’s orders unless the commanding
general of the Army approved those orders (McDonald, States’
Rights and the Union, p. 213). The bill also made it a crime for
any officer to obey orders except those that came from the commanding
general (Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 298).

Just imagine what most Americans today would think if the secretary
of defense refused to step down when suspended by the president
but instead barricaded himself in his office, issued an order
for the arrest of the man appointed to replace him, and asked
friendly members of Congress to intervene. And imagine what most
Americans would think if the commanding general of the Army then
stationed troops around the Pentagon in order to keep the secretary
of defense in power against the president’s express wishes.
Impossible? Couldn’t happen in America? Well, that’s
exactly what happened when President Johnson tried to replace
Stanton as secretary of war. When Johnson appointed Lorenzo Thomas
to replace Stanton, Stanton barricaded himself in his office,
issued an order for Thomas’s arrest, and asked his fellow
Radicals to help him remain in power. General Ulysses S. Grant
then stationed troops around the War Department building and authorized
them to call for reinforcements if necessary, causing fears that
“a new civil war was about to erupt in the capital”
(Elizabeth D. Leonard (Lincoln’s Avengers: Justice, Revenge,
and Reunion after the Civil War, New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, 2004, p. 279).

There were other Radical abuses. In January 1868, the Radicals
and most of their fellow Republicans passed a bill, over Johnson’s
veto, that transferred all of Johnson’s authority in Reconstruction
to General Grant. The Radicals also worked to deny President Johnson
his constitutional authority to appoint justices to the Supreme
Court by amending the Judiciary Act so the president couldn’t
fill vacancies that might occur on the high court (McDonald, States’
Rights and the Union, p. 211). After Edwin Stanton barricaded
himself in his office and asked the Radicals for help, two Radicals,
Senator Zachary Chandler and Representative John Logan, personally
led a company of one hundred men to guard the War Department building
(Brodie, Thaddeus Stevens, p. 335).

When even the Lincoln-packed Supreme Court tried to curb Republican
lawlessness, the Radicals reacted with outrage. In the Ex Parte
Milligan case, the high court finally gathered enough courage
to conclude that it was illegal to impose military rule on civilians
in non-combat areas where civil courts were still in operation
(which was what the Republicans had been doing, in the North,
for much of the war). The Radicals were furious with this ruling,
partly because it implied they had committed judicial murder,
since several civilians had been sentenced to death by federal
military courts. Then, in Ex Parte McCardle, the Supreme Court
upheld the right of habeas corpus and reaffirmed the principle
that civilians couldn’t be tried in military courts when
civil courts were available. The Radicals were so angered by this
decision that they introduced bills in Congress that would have
(1) abolished the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction in all habeas
corpus cases, (2) ended all judicial review of acts of Congress,
and (3) prohibited the high court from reviewing cases that involved
“political questions,” including the Reconstruction
Act. This was an open attack on basic American concepts of government,
justice, and due process. For example, if the Supreme Court were
denied jurisdiction in habeas corpus cases, it would be unable
to protect citizens against unlawful arrest and imprisonment.
That was exactly what the Radicals wanted. Luckily, the bills
were defeated. “Had they been enacted,” notes McDonald,
“the Court would have been destroyed as an arbiter of the
Constitution” (States’ Rights and the Union, p. 218).

I’m not arguing that all the Radicals were corrupt or that
everything they believed was wrong. Although I share the view
that many of the Radicals were more interested in power than in
civil rights, I also believe that some of them were sincere. The
Radicals deserve credit for eventually forcing Lincoln to provide
equal pay for black Union soldiers during the war and for trying
to provide food, clothing, and income for former slaves after
the war. For the most part, the Radicals’ positions on civil
rights issues were commendable, enlightened, and moral. However,
in many cases the Radicals used ruthless, illegal, and unethical
methods to achieve their civil rights objectives, and some of
their other objectives were dishonorable.

In a very real sense, the Civil War was not North vs. South;
rather, it was hardline Republican leaders and certain Northern
business interests vs. the rest of the country. Although the vast
majority of Southerners supported the Confederacy, at least 40
percent of Northerners did not support the Republicans and wanted
to halt or even abandon the federal invasion of the South. Before
the war, dozens of Northern newspapers voiced the view that the
South should be allowed to depart in peace. During the war, so
many Northern citizens opposed Lincoln’s policies that the
Republicans had to impose military rule on large areas of the

A good indication of Lincoln’s significant lack of Northern
support can be seen in the results of the 1864 presidential election.
Amazingly, Lincoln’s opponent in that election, former Union
general George McClellan, received 41 percent of the vote, even
though by then a Northern victory seemed likely, even though the
Republicans engaged in questionable polling-place tactics in certain
areas, and even though the Republicans had muzzled criticism of
the war in much of the Northern press.

At just about any point in the war, it’s probable that
a majority of Americans opposed the use of force to hold the Union
together. If Southern citizens had voted even in the 1864 election,
McClellan may very well have received a majority of the popular
vote, especially if the election had been conducted fairly. If
the election had been held in 1862 and had included Southern citizens,
Lincoln almost certainly would have lost the popular vote in a
landslide. If Northern citizens had known in advance what Lincoln
was going to do in response to secession, it’s unlikely
that he would have been elected in the first place. It should
be remembered that when Lincoln won the 1860 election, he only
received 39.9 percent of the popular vote. The conservative vote
was split between three candidates, Stephen Douglas, John Breckinridge,
and John Bell, each of whom, incidentally, later voiced opposition
to using force to maintain the Union. Lincoln received about 1.9
million votes, while Douglas, Breckinridge, and Bell received
about 2.8 million votes. However, Lincoln won the election because
122 of the 152 Electoral College votes that he needed for victory
were concentrated in just six Northern states.

One of the many untold stories of the Civil War is the fact that
Indians, Hispanics, and African Americans supported and even fought
for the Confederacy. The five tribes of the Indian Territory supported
the Confederacy and contributed troops to the Confederate army.
One Confederate general was a Cherokee Indian and was one of the
last flag officers to surrender his troops at the end of the war.

Thousands of Hispanics served as soldiers in the Confederate
army, and some even served as commissioned officers. In his book
Hispanic Confederates (Clearfield Company, 1999), John O’Donnell-Rosales
identifies 3,600 Hispanic Confederate soldiers by name and unit.
The Confederate commissioner to northern Mexico was a Cuban named
José Agustín Quintero. Hispanic American Santos
Benavides commanded the Confederate 33rd Texas Cavalry, the Mexican-American
unit that defeated Union forces in the 1864 Battle of Laredo.
Santiago Vidaurri, the governor of the Mexican border states of
Coahuila and Nuevo León, offered to have northern Mexico
secede and join the Confederacy, but Jefferson Davis declined
the offer because he was afraid Lincoln would then blockade Mexican

There is evidence that thousands of African Americans fought
for the Confederacy. For example, the chief inspector of the U.S.
Sanitary Commission, Dr. Lewis Steiner, reported that he saw about
3,000 well-armed black Confederate soldiers in Stonewall Jackson’s
army and that those soldiers were "manifestly an integral
portion of the Southern Confederate Army." In a Union army
battle report, a “General D. Stuart” complained about
the deadly effectiveness of the black Confederate soldiers whom
his troops had encountered. Confederate general Nathan Bedford
Forrest had slaves and free blacks serving in units under his
command, and said of them, “These boys stayed with me .
. . and better Confederates did not live.” After the Battle
of Gettysburg, Union forces took seven black Confederate soldiers
as prisoners, as was noted in a Northern newspaper at the time,
which said, “. . . reported among the rebel prisoners were
seven blacks in Confederate uniforms fully armed as soldiers.”
None other than African-American abolitionist Frederick Douglass
complained that there were “many” blacks in the Confederate
army who were armed and “ready to shoot down” Union
soldiers. During the Battle of Chickamauga, slaves serving Confederate
soldiers armed themselves and asked permission to join the fight—and
when they received that permission they fought commendably. Their
commander, Captain J. B. Briggs, later noted that these men “filled
a portion of the line of advance as well as any company of the
regiment.” There are numerous accounts of slaves assisting
Confederate soldiers in battle and helping them to escape capture
afterward (see, for example, Francis Springer, War for What?,
Springfield, Tennessee: Nippert Publishing Company, 1990, pp.
172-183). Two weeks after the Fort Sumter incident, several companies
of black Confederate volunteer soldiers passed through Augusta,
Georgia, on their way to Virginia (J. H. Segars and Charles Kelly
Barrow, editors, Black Southerners in Confederate Armies: A Collection
of Historical Accounts, Atlanta, Georgia: Southern Lion Books,
2001, pp. 3-4). After the war, hundreds of African Americans received
Confederate veterans’ pensions. Photos of reunions of Confederate
veterans show African Americans in attendance. As strange as it
may seem to most people in our day, many Southern slaves and free
blacks felt loyalty to the South and viewed Union troops as invaders.

Another untold story of the Civil War is the brutal way that
many Union forces treated Southern slaves. One Union unit, commanded
by Colonel John Turchin, moved into Athens, Georgia, and, with
Turchin’s approval, spent weeks in the slave huts “debauching
the females.” Turchin’s superior officers court-martialed
and convicted him for his crimes. (Amazingly, Lincoln later promoted
Turchin to brigadier general.) In another case, a Union colonel,
Ignatz Kappner, reported that Union troops “broke en masse
in the camps of the colored women and are committing all sorts
of outrage.” In some cases, Union soldiers would torture
and even kill slaves who would not reveal the location of their
masters’ valuables. Union soldiers usually viewed captured
or runaway slaves as “contrabands” and often mistreated
them. Says McPherson,

While northern soldiers had no love for slavery, most of them
had no love for slaves either. . . . While some Yanks treated
contrabands with a degree of equity and benevolence, the more
typical response was indifference, contempt, and cruelty. Soon
after Union forces captured Port Royal, South Carolina, in November
1861, a private described an incident there that made him “ashamed
of America”: “About 8-10 soldiers from the New York
47th chased some Negro women but they escaped, so they took a
Negro girl about 7-9 years old, and raped her.” From Virginia
a Connecticut soldier wrote that some men of his regiment had
taken “two Nigger wenches [women] . . . turned them upon
their heads, and put tobacco, chips, sticks, lighted cigars and
sand into their behinds.” Even when Billy Yank welcomed
the contrabands, he often did so from utilitarian rather than
humanitarian motives. “Officers and men are having an easy
time,” wrote a Maine soldier from occupied Louisiana in
1862. “We have Negroes to do all fatigue work, cooking and
washing clothes." (The Battle Cry of Freedom, p. 497, emphasis

The case of the Union army’s treatment of the slaves in
Bisland, Louisiana, is another example of federal mistreatment
of Southern slaves. When Union forces occupied the area around
Bisland, they caused the deaths of numerous slaves and left hundreds
of others in terrible condition. When Confederate forces recaptured
the area, they found shallow graves where slaves had been hastily
buried. They found a local sugar house filled with dead and dying
slaves. In one location the roads were lined with slaves who were
half-starved, sick, and unable to care for themselves. Upon seeing
the plight of the Bisland slaves, the Confederate troops provided
them with food, medicine, and transportation, saving hundreds
of them from certain death (James and Walter Kennedy, The South
Was Right!, Second Edition, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing
Company, 1994, pp. 143-144; David Edmonds, editor, The Conduct
of Federal Troops in Louisiana, Lafayette, Louisiana: The Acadiana
Press, 1988, pp. 116-119).

Textbooks note that well over 100,000 slaves served in the Union
army, but they rarely inform the reader that thousands of those
men were forced to serve. Union army records and other sources
document that thousands of slaves were abducted and then forced
into military service; some were taken from their plantations
during Union raids, while others were seized in areas that were
occupied by federal forces. General John Logan told General Grant,
“A major of colored troops is here capturing negroes, with
or without their consent.” General Lovell Rousseau informed
General G. H. Thomas that “officers in command of colored
troops are in constant habit of pressing [i.e., forcing] all able-bodied
slaves into the military service of the U.S.” Even in the
Union slave state of Kentucky, federal gunboats raided plantations,
“carrying off slaves to help build military railroads, fortifications,
and wagon roads” (Klingaman, Abraham Lincoln and the Road
to Emancipation, p. 161). In May 1862, federal troops in South
Carolina forcefully rounded up hundreds of slaves in compliance
with General David Hunter’s order to raise two regiments
of black troops from slaves (or “contrabands”) in
his region.

The conscription of slaves by federal forces continued even after
the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. For example, several
months after the proclamation was issued, General Innis Palmer
wanted to provide “laborers” for federal troops at
Fort Monroe. He informed his superior on September 1, 1864, that
even though he was having trouble “collecting the colored
men” for this purpose, he had already sent 221 of them and
was expecting to get “a large lot” the next day, adding
that “. . . the negroes will not go voluntarily, so I am
obliged to force them” (Keys, The Uncivil War, p. 106).

Southern family journals and letters contain numerous accounts
of Union soldiers forcefully removing slaves from their homes,
even when the slaves made it clear they didn’t want to leave
(see, for example, Henry Steele Commager, editor, The Civil War
Archive: The History of the Civil War in Documents, New York:
Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers, 2000, pp. 333-336, 675-677).

I’m not suggesting that all slaves remained loyal to their
masters or to the South during the war. Many thousands of Southern
slaves did in fact flock to Union lines, just as thousands of
colonial slaves flocked to British lines during the Revolutionary
War. But many Southern slaves remained loyal, and quite of few
of them viewed Union troops as invaders.

What If the South Had Been Allowed to Go in Peace?

Did the world end when America became a separate country from
England? No, and not only have America and England long been staunch
allies and close trading partners, but their peoples continue
to share many friendships and family relationships. Norway seceded
from Sweden, without a war, and the two countries still enjoy
friendly relations. Although I don’t advocate modern secession,
and although I’m proud of the many good things that America
has done, I don’t think it would have been the end of the
world if the South had been allowed to go in peace.

I think both the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. would have flourished.
Interchange between the states of the two nations would have continued
almost exactly as before. If anything, the presence of a prosperous
low-tax, limited-government Southern confederacy would have been
a powerful incentive for the federal government to limit taxes
and to adhere more closely to the limitations imposed on it by
the Constitution.

Some critics have suggested that if the Confederacy had survived,
World War II may have had a different outcome. But the fact that
England and America separated didn’t prevent them from later
joining forces to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World
War II. The U.S. and the Confederacy certainly would have teamed
up to do the same thing.

If the South had been permitted to go in peace, slavery would
have died a natural death in a matter of a few decades, if not
sooner. Before the war, even some Northern politicians, such as
William Seward, said slavery was a dying institution. The percentage
of Southern whites that belonged to slaveholding families dropped
by 5 percent from 1850-1860 (Divine et al, editor, America Past
and Present, p. 389). Historian Allan Nevins noted that by the
1850s "slavery was dying all around the edges of its domain"
(The Emergence of Lincoln, Volume 2, p. 469). Although slavery
was still economically profitable, its days were numbered. Interestingly,
some of the most vocal Northern abolitionists, including Wendell
Phillips, welcomed the South’s secession because they believed
Southern slavery would die out more quickly if the South were
no longer part of the Union.

If the South had been allowed to leave in peace, over 600,000
soldiers (over half of them from the North) would have been spared
death. Over 50,000 Southern civilians likewise would have been
spared death. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers would not have
been wounded for life. Millions of families would have been spared
sorrow and anguish over their dead and wounded loved ones. Billions
of dollars in property damage would have been avoided. And, race
relations would not have suffered the poisoning that they experienced
during and after the war.

“But,” some will ask, “wouldn’t the Union
have been destroyed if the Confederacy had survived?” This
was one of Lincoln’s erroneous arguments. The Union would
not have been “destroyed” if the South had been allowed
to leave in peace. The Union still would have had 23 states, compared
to the Confederacy’s 11 states, and it would have retained
control over the vast western territories. The Union’s population
was more than twice the size of the Confederacy’s. In addition,
the Union had nine times more factories than the Confederacy,
twenty times more pig iron, seventeen times more textiles, two
and a half times more railroad tracks, thirty-two times more firearms,
and nine times more production value. The Union still would have
been one of the largest and most powerful countries on the earth
even without the eleven states of the Confederacy. So the Union
would have been just fine if the Republicans had allowed the South
to go in peace. (Of course, if the two nations had lived in peace,
the Union would have needed to lower its tariff in order to compete
with the low Confederate tariff, but that could have been done
in a matter of days by the U.S. Congress.)

What would the South be like today if the Confederacy had survived?
No one can say with certainty, but it’s likely that taxes
of all kinds would be much lower. Citizens would have much less
government interference in their lives. Parents would have more
control over their children’s education and over their local
schools. Southern schools would most likely allow voluntary prayer,
moral instruction, nativity plays at Christmas time, and formal
Bible reading (as our schools used to do until the 1960s when
the Supreme Court suddenly decided these things were somehow “unconstitutional”).
There would be tough anti-pornography laws. The lives of unborn
children would be protected by law. There would be no question
that marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. And a
state government could place a Ten Commandments monument in front
of a state judicial building without having to worry about a federal
judge wrongfully ordering its removal.

However, all this being said, I think that if the South had been
allowed to go in peace, it would have eventually rejoined the
Union. But, if not, I don’t think it would have been the
end of the world if the South had remained independent. England
and America have managed to do very well as separate nations.
So have Norway and Sweden. I think the Confederacy and the United
States could have done the same thing.

Final Thoughts

Some people think it is unpatriotic or divisive to defend the
Southern side of the Civil War. As a retired U.S. Army veteran
and a flag-waving patriot, I reject that view. Confederate citizens
were Americans too. They were citizens of the “Confederate
States of America.” Their heroes included George Washington,
Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, George Mason, Davy Crockett,
and Andrew Jackson. The official Confederate seal featured the
image of George Washington on his horse. The Confederate president,
Jefferson Davis, was a former U.S. Army officer, a genuine hero
in the Mexican War, an outstanding U.S. secretary of war, and
a highly respected member of the U.S. Senate. Dozens of other
Confederate officials had likewise served faithfully in the U.S.
government. One of the members of the Confederate Congress was
former U.S. president John Tyler.

It is time for the demonization and smearing of the Confederacy
to stop. Compared with other nations of its day, the Confederacy
was one of the most democratic countries in the world. Even during
the war, the Confederacy held elections and had a vibrant free
press. In fact, on balance, the Confederacy was more democratic
than some nations in our day. Confederate citizens enjoyed every
right that we now enjoy, if not more. The Confederacy sought peace
with the federal government and only fought because it was invaded.
The Confederate Constitution was patterned after the U.S. Constitution
and contained improvements that even some Northern commentators
acknowledged were praiseworthy.

Yes, the Confederacy permitted slavery, but it left the door
open for the admission of free states and for the abolition of
slavery at the state level. Let’s keep in mind, too, that
the American colonies permitted slavery for decades, that the
United States permitted slavery for over half a century, that
several Northern states made huge fortunes from the slave trade,
and that many of our founding fathers were slaveholders, including
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison,
John Rutledge, George Mason, and Benjamin Franklin. Let’s
also keep in mind that most Confederate citizens did not own slaves,
and that by 1864 key Confederate leaders were prepared to abolish