Contrary to the simple morality tale taught in school, both sides of the “Civil War” were evil in many respects, but the federal government won the “Civil War” and wrote the subsequent history. The South had two main grievances against the north: Taxation and Slavery.
Causes of the Civil War – Taxation
As with the nullification crisis in South Carolina in the 1830s , southerners knew high protectionist tariffs were on the way that would adversely affect the southern economy. The grievance was essentially that southerners would pay federal tariffs (taxes) on foreign imports, making those foreign goods cost more than inefficiently produced northern goods, and the revenue raised by the tariffs (taxes) would be spent, unconstitutionally, on “internal improvements” in the north. Southern fears of 1860 were realized with the passage of the Morrill Tariff in 1861.
The Morrill Tariff raised import tax rates (on an long list of foreign goods) from about 15% to between 37% and 47%. If the import dependent south seceded, the federal government would instantly lose almost 80% of federal revenues from the tariff.
“[T]here needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.” [Emphasis added]
In other words, pay tribute to the federal government or federal armies will invade your state and kill you. And if you refuse to pay, you will have brought death upon yourselves. How would people react if George Bush or Barack Obama threatened military action against a state that no longer consented to being part of the federal union (and thus refused to pay federal taxes)? With Republicans (Alexander Hamilton’s nationalist heirs) seizing control of Congress, and with Lincoln’s election, the Deep South no longer consented to being a member of the federal partnership.
A March 1861 editorial in the New York Evening Post sums up the North’s motivations as follows,
“That either the [tax] revenue from [import] duties must be collected in the ports of the rebel states, or the port must be closed to importations from abroad, is generally admitted. If neither of these things be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before the next crop of corn is ripe. There will be nothing to furnish means of subsistence to the army; nothing to keep our navy afloat; nothing to pay the salaries of public officers; the present order of things must come to a dead stop.”
“Union means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money is the root of this, as of many other evils. The quarrel between the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.”
Causes of the Civil War – Slavery
Slavery was undoubtedly a crucial point of contention between the North and South, but it’s prior history (Missouri Compromise, Wilmot Proviso, Kansas-Nebraska Act, etc…) is well beyond the scope of this short page. A condensed version of history and motivations is what follows.
Wealthy southern slave-owners largely controlled southern politics and did not want the northern abolitionists to interfere with southern slavery. In an attempt to calm fears of the southern aristocracy, Congress adopted what would have become the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, known as the Corwin Amendment. This Amendment would have expressly enshrined and protected slavery in the Constitution. Its text says:
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”
In his first inaugural address, Lincoln declared his support for the amendment: “I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution–which amendment, however, I have not seen–has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable” (emphasis added).
These are the words of a President widely acclaimed as the, “Great Emancipator.” Lincoln’s assertion that he had not seen the text of the proposed amendment may be true, but Lincoln himself was personally instrumental in getting this amendment through Congress, with the help of William Seward. Seward introduced an identical amendment in the Senate prior to the Corwin Amendment. Ohio, Maryland and Illinois ratified the Corwin Amendment prior to the Union Army’s invasion of northern Virginia and the outbreak of war.
Lincoln’s views on race should not be a surprise to those familiar with the history since Lincoln was a member of the American Colonization Society which advocated deporting blacks to Liberia and Haiti. Nevermind Lincoln’s other despotic acts (such as issuing an arrest warrant for the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Roger Taney, for ruling the power to suspend the writ of habeas corpus was vested with Congress, not the President). Consider Lincoln’s words from an 1858 debate with Stephen Douglas:
“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 or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will for ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.”
Consider a resolution by Congress that “this war is not waged . . . for any purpose of . . . overthrowing established institutions [i.e., slavery] . . . but to defend . . . the Constitution and to preserve the Union.”
Were poor white southerners really fighting a “Civil War” to preserve institutional slavery? Or were southerners seeking to repel a foreign invader as their forefathers had done in seceding from the British Empire?
Consider the “Emancipation Proclamation,” which Lincoln himself said was merely a “war measure” to deter European support for the Confederacy. The Emancipation Proclamation expressly said it did not free any slaves in southern territory controlled by the north. It was roundly condemned by antislavery Europe as a military tactic intended to incite insurrection and the slaughter of southern civilians, ala the Haitian Revolution 60 years earlier. Nevermind that Lincoln’s Civil War was responsible for the murder of at least 50,000 southern civilians.
Referencing the Emancipation Proclamation, William Seward, Lincoln’s friend and Secretary of State said, “We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free.”
Was the federal government really interested in racial equality? Or was the federal government using blacks and the reconstruction amendments to entrench Republicans in control of Congress after the Civil War? If northerners were so concerned with racial equality, then why did so-called discriminatory “black codes” originate in the “free” northern states? Why were “free” states really only free for white labor? If racial equality was something northerners were so concerned about, why did General William Tecumseh Sherman’s Union army commence its genocidal campaign against the Plains Indians three months after Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia to Sherman at Appomattox Courthouse? Did this war against the Indians have anything to do with nationalism, manifest destiny, and the transcontinental railroad? (Nevermind that Lincoln himself was a corporate lawyer for the railroads earlier in his career). In a letter to President Grant, Sherman wrote, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women, and children.”
If you’d like to pay your respects to General Sherman, his statue is within earshot of Alexander Hamilton’s on the south side of the Treasury Department in DC. Fittingly, Lincoln’s memorial is the largest in Washington—a temple to unlimited government. Appropriately, Lincoln’s hands rest on his seat of state bearing Roman fasces. (Ever wonder where the word “fascist” comes from?)
Impact of the Civil War
The American Civil War resulted in consolidating power in Washington DC, creating a centralized nation-state, bringing full scale mercantilism to America, fulfilling Hamilton’s nationalist vision, and building an American Empire from sea to shining sea… and eventually around the world. The agent destroyed the principals and the agent became the super-principal. This centralized, consolidated government with unlimited powers is what Americans toil under today. The founding father of the modern, centralized American state, considered by most to be the greatest President in American history, was really a mass murderer who overthrew the American Revolution. Have you ever wondered why modern day Republicans and Democrats love Abraham Lincoln?
“[T]he consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Robert E. Lee – 1866
In other words, the federal form of government established in 1789 was destroyed in the 1860s. Nationalists such as Alexander Hamilton and John Marshall began the subversion (consolidation) process, but the Republic didn’t meet its end until Lincoln’s Civil War. FDR swept away the remnants of the Old Republic a couple generations later. The beauty for nationalists is that anyone who questions or condemns Lincoln and the subversion of the Republic can be branded as a racist, slave-driving, neo-confederate. In the words of Al Gore and his pitch on global warming, “the debate is over.”