Browsing "Southern Culture Laid Bare"

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

Robert E. Lee remarked that slavery in the South was an evil and would be better solved by time and benevolent Christian influence, and the story of Reverend Chavis related below was a manifestation of that view. Chavis’s experience taught him that emancipation of the African race in his land must be preceded by education; Lincoln’s violent revolution that set black against white was the very opposite of his understanding of racial harmony.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Reverend Chavis’ View of Emancipation

“John Chavis [1763-1838], a free Negro of unmixed blood, preacher and educator, was born near Oxford in the County of Granville, North Carolina. As a free man he was sent to Princeton to study, privately under President Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey — “according to tradition, to demonstrate whether or not a Negro had the capacity to take a college education.”

That the test was successful appears from the record in the manuscript Order Book of Rockbridge County, Virginia, Court of 1802, which certifies to the freedom and character of Reverend John Chavis, a black man, who, as a student at Washington Academy passed successfully “through a regular course of Academical Studies.”

Through the influence of the Reverend Samuel Davies, a Presbyterian divine, Chavis became connected as a licentiate with the Presbyteries of Lexington and Hanover, Virginia. About 1805 he went to North Carolina, where he joined in 1809 the Orange Presbytery, and ministered to whites and blacks in various churches in at least three counties.

He was distinguished for his dignity of manner, purity of diction, and simplicity and orthodoxy in teaching. Familiar with Latin and Greek, he established a classical school, teaching sometimes at night, and prepared for college the sons of prominent whites in several counties, sometimes even boarding them in his family. Among them were Senator Willie P. Mangum, Governor Manly, the sons of Chief Justice Henderson. And others, who became lawyers, doctors, teachers, preachers and politicians. He was respectfully received in the families of his former pupils, whom he visited often.

The letters of Chavis to Senator Mangum show that the Senator treated him as a friend. Curiously, one dated in 1836, was a vigorous protest against the Petition for Emancipation, sent to Congress by the abolitionists, as injurious to the colored race:

April 4, 1836

“I am radically and heartily opposed to the passing of such a Law, a Law which will be fraught with so many mischievous and dangerous consequences. I am already of the opinion that Congress has no more right to pass such a Law than I have to go to your house and take Orange [a slave] and bring him home and keep him as my servant . . . I am clearly of the opinion that immediate emancipation would be to entail the greatest earthly curse upon my brethren according to the flesh that could be conferred upon them especially in a country like ours . . . I believe that there are a part of the abolitionists that have, and do, acting from pure motives but I think they have zeal without knowledge, and are doing more mischief than they expect. There is I think another part that are seeking for loaves and fishes and are an exceedingly dangerous set.”

Chavis died in 1838, aged about seventy-five, a conspicuous example of merit rewarded by slave-holding whites.”

(Universal Education in the South, Volume I, Charles William Dabney, UNC Press, 1936, excerpt, pp. 453-454)

 

 

Nov 5, 2017 - America Transformed, Antebellum Realities, Carnage, Freedmen and Liberty, Race and the South, Slave Revolt Fears, Southern Culture Laid Bare    Comments Off on Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

Both colonies, Virginia and North Carolina, feared the growing numbers of Africans working the plantations that enriched far-off England, but pleas to restrict importations of slaves were rebuffed by the King. After the Revolution, sentiment towards solving the slavery problem increased steadily in the South and in 1816 the American Colonization Society was formed with more Virginians active in its affairs than any other State. The object of the group was to colonize Negroes in Liberia and return them to the land from which they were torn.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sad Result of Britain’s Colonial Labor System

“[In] August 1831 an event in Southampton County, in the southeastern corner of the State near North Carolina, caused the people of Virginia to forget for a time that there was a controversy between the sections. This was Nat Turner’s bloody slave insurrection.

The white population of Richmond and the entire State was filled with alarm when the slave Nat Turner led some sixty blacks in an orgy of killing that took the lives of nearly sixty whites, most of them women and children. Captain Randolph Harrison of Richmond led his troop of light horse to the scene, but was unable to cover the eighty miles to Jerusalem . . . until the day after the massacre. By that time the Negro uprising had been effectively put down.

The bugler for the light horse troop was a free Negro named Dick Gaines. He is described as tall and black, “a fine rider and striking figure as he appeared on horseback, bugle in hand, in his red jacket, sword and helmet, with its crest of white horse-hair falling over his broad shoulders.”

Unrest among Richmond slaves was feared when word of the Turner massacre was received, but the blacks were said to be altogether docile and “as astonished and indignant was were the whites.” However, the white population not only of Richmond but the entire South was alarmed by the events in Southampton.

Turner had been treated well by his master, and had apparently been satisfied with his lot. Yet he and his cohorts not only murdered his master and mistress and their baby, but scores of others. The memory of Gabriel, and his far more extensive plan for wholesale murder, was also on their minds.

It was in this atmosphere that the General Assembly convened in late 1831. The frankest discussion of slavery that had yet occurred took place in that session. Both the Richmond Enquirer and Whig were arguing for the immediate or eventual elimination of the slave system. But the legislature ended by doing little or nothing . . . The time was not felt to be ripe.

Negroes, both slave and free, made up a vital part of Richmond’s labor force, especially in the tobacco factories, the coal mines and the Tredegar Iron Works. In addition, black mechanics had a virtual monopoly in carpentry, masonry, shoemaking, cooperage and other trades prior to the Civil War. Many white artisans left the State rather than compete with them.”

(Richmond: The Story of a City, Virginius Dabney, Doubleday & Company, 1976, excerpts, pp. 109-110)

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

The American Revolution stirred the idea of emancipating the Africans brought to America on British and New England slave ships, and Virginia’s early emancipation efforts were second to none. But while the Northern States in the early 1800’s had trouble tolerating the few free black people among them, the very large number of free blacks and slaves in the South being influenced by black revolts in the Caribbean created a smoldering powder keg. Virginia had experienced an enemy inciting blacks to massacre white Virginian’s with Lord Dunmore’s 1775 emancipation proclamation; it was feared that New England’s radical abolitionists would do the same.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Rise and Fall of Emancipation in Petersburg

“[An] alarming proportion of black families were “matriarchal,” that is, the husband/father was either absent or . . . present but of negligible influence. [Also] the woman-dominant family was unstable and disorganized, at once the symptom and cause of severe social pathology among black people.

Women were prominent among free blacks; they outnumbered the men three to two, they headed more than half of the town’s free black households, and they constituted almost half of the paid free black labor force. Among those free blacks who managed to accumulate property, a high proportion — 40 to 50 percent — were women.

The [Virginia] manumission law of 1782 empowered the owner to set free any slave under the age of forty-five by the stroke of a pen.

For the first time, a substantial proportion of black Virginians would be free people. Petersburg’s free black population more than tripled in the space of twenty years, its size swelled by the high rate of emancipation in the town itself and by the hundreds of newly-freed migrants from the countryside who came in search of kin, work and community.

By 1810, there were more than a thousand free blacks in Petersburg, and they made up close to a third of the town’s free population (31.2%). Free blacks and slaves together outnumbered the whites four to three.

It was the very success of the manumission law that led to its demise. In 1805, Petersburg’s common council begged the General Assembly for some action to halt the growth of the free black population.

The council feared an uprising, and with seeming good reason. Petersburg had welcomed its share of refugees from Saint-Domingue [Haiti], where dissatisfaction among free blacks had touched off protracted [racial] warfare; in 1803, the whites of Saint-Domingue were ousted altogether.

When Petersburg’s officials looked at their own burgeoning free black population, they imagined it happening all over again . . . “a mine sprung in St. Domingo that totally annihilated the whites. With such a population we are forever on the Watch.”

(The Free Women of Petersburg, Status and Culture in a Southern Town, 1784-1860; Suzanne Lebsock, W.W. Norton, 1984, excerpts, pp. 89-91)

 

Ruffin’s Library and Slaves Lost

Edmund Ruffin of Virginia, born in 1794 while Washington was president, committed suicide in his room at Redmoor Farm in Amelia County on 17 June 1865, unwilling and unable to live under a Northern tyranny that had already destroyed his life, family, and way of life. The veteran of the War of 1812 had observed, from 1861 through 1865, what the Northern conqueror was capable of with the invasion of his beloved Old Dominion.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Ruffin’s Library and Slaves Lost 

“One other loss of property occurred during the first occupation at Beechwood [plantation], the result of looting by Union troops: the libraries were destroyed. Ruffin had no inventory of his books. He suspected at first that most of the volumes had been sent by the Union commander to New York for sale. A Union soldier’s letter, which eventually fell into the family’s hands, explained that the libraries had been the objects of looting by Union troops.

Slaves began “absconding” from Marlbourne, Beechwood, and Evelynton very early in the war, just as they did from farms all along the Pamunkey and lower James rivers once [General Geroge] McClellan occupied the peninsula. The level of desertions astonished Ruffin.

Beechwood suffered heaviest losses from slave defections between May and June 1862, when sixty-nine of the slaves still held there fled. “Not a single man is left belonging to the farm,” he noted on 11 June. (One of the absconders, a man Ruffin knew as William and described as “an uncommonly intelligent Negro,” would return in August 1862 to guide Union forces landing in Prince George.)

Events in June 1862 that broke up the slave community at Beechwood and Evelynton demolished Ruffin’s assumptions about slaves and their relationship to his family . . . he decided the notion that black people felt a commitment to their own families was just a false statement.

At Beechwood and Evelynton individual slaves had absconded with no apparent concern for their families left behind — evidence, Ruffin surmised, that they had no such commitment. [In the early summer of 1862, Ruffin sold] twenty-nine troublesome slaves. That sale, Ruffin said, was an ordeal . . . their slaves had forced them to “a painful necessity thus to sever more family ties,’ . . . [but] he had sold to just one buyer, who represented just two plantations; he had tried to break no family tie except those already broken by the slaves themselves.”

(Ruffin, Family and Reform in the Old South, David F. Allmendinger, Oxford University Press, 1990, excerpts, pp. 164-166)

 

 

 

Saving the South for Southerners

The States’ Rights Democratic Party of the mid-1940s had no stronger advocate than Charleston News & Courier editor William Watts Ball.  Also known as the “Dixiecrats,” its platform in 1948 called for strict interpretation of the Constitution, opposed the usurpation of legislative functions by the executive and judicial departments, and condemned “the effort to establish in the United States a police nation that would destroy the last vestige of liberty enjoyed by a citizen.”

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Saving the South for Southerners

“A full year before the end of Roosevelt’s third term, Ball was again active in attempts to organize a Southern Democratic party. It was the spring of 1944, however, before the movement was underway in earnest. Through public contributions (Ball gave one hundred dollars) the anti-Roosevelt faction hoped to finance an advertising campaign in newspapers and on radio. The independent white Democrats would not present candidates in the primaries, but offer only a ticket of presidential electors pledged not to vote for Roosevelt.

They might back a favorite son for president, or they might better co-operate with the similarly-minded in other States in support of someone like Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia . . . in May anti-Roosevelt Democrats had held their first meeting in Columbia, with nineteen counties represented, and made plans for a State convention. The Southern Democratic Party had been reborn.

[Ball’s] News and Courier continued to urge the election of independent Democratic electors. If eleven to sixteen Southern States withheld their electoral votes, they could assure respect for their political policies.

But in spite of the untiring efforts of The News and Courier, aided principally by the Greenwood Index-Journal, the anti-Roosevelt movement did not develop. Very few people made financial contributions; the Southern Democratic Party could not wage an effective campaign. Once again South Carolina gave solid support to Roosevelt and the Democratic Party.  All the State schools except the Citadel, he charged, were part of the State political machine . . .”

But at that moment, the “second Reconstruction” was already underway . . . [and] emerging forces combined to force open the entire [racial] issue. The Negro migration northward had begun in earnest with World War I. By 1940, a small Negro professional and white-collar class resided in a number of northern cities and it used its growing political power to win greater equality of treatment there.

Because New Deal programs were designed to advance employment security, including that of Negroes, most northern Negroes abandoned their historic allegiance to the Republican Party. In cities like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Cleveland, the Democratic political machine depended heavily upon the Negro vote.

But already an earnest and vital independent political movement was underway [in 1948], in protest against the civil rights program of the Truman administration and the attitudes of the liberal court. Of 531 electoral votes, 140 were in the South; yet the North, East and West treated the South as a slave province. Other papers joined Ball in the demand for action; the [Columbia] State, like the News and Courier, called for a Southern third party.

On January 19th, in the State Democratic Party’s biennial convention, Governor Strom Thurmond was nominated for the office of president of the United States. The State’s national convention votes were to be withheld from Harry S. Truman. If Truman were nominated, South Carolina would not support the national party in the electoral college.

The State had not spoken so sharply since 1860; it would bolt rather than accept Truman. At the same time Governor Fielding L. Wright of Mississippi issued the call to revolt at the western end of the Deep South. The Southern governors’ conference . . . named its own political action committee, headed by Thurmond, which was to go to Washington . . . to demand concessions . . . from President Truman.

About two weeks later a delegation of governors met with Howard McGrath, National Chairman of the Democratic Party. When McGrath gave a flat “No” to their request that Truman’s anti-discrimination proposals be withdrawn, the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, and Arkansas called on Democrats to join a revolt against Truman. The South, they announced, was not “in the bag” anymore.

If the South united behind Thurmond, Truman would lose all its electoral votes and the election might be thrown to the House of Representatives, where with the votes of the South and the West, a man such as Thurmond would have a real chance. Whatever the outcome, the national parties would learn a lesson they would not soon forget — the “Solid South” would no longer be a dependable political factor.

“In the electoral college,” Ball advised, “lies the only chance to save the South for Southerners.”

(Damned Upcountryman, William Watts Ball, John D. Starke, Duke Press, 1968, excerpts, pp. 201-233)

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

James D. Bulloch, born in Savannah and descended from Scottish forbears, was the foremost planner of naval affairs for the new American nation in 1861. His grandfather, Archibald Bulloch (1730-1777), guided Georgia’s Liberty Party in actions against oppressive British colonial measures and later served as a colonel in the Revolution. James remained in England after the war and died there in exile in 1901. It is said that Bulloch was encouraged to write his memoirs by nephew Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1880’s, which inspired Teddy’s later book on the War of 1812. Roosevelt praised his uncle and other Southern patriots for following their duty to fight for independence.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Sacrificing the Substance of Individual Liberty

“In 1861 the disintegrating forces prevailed, and eleven of the Constituent Republics withdrew from the Union on the plea that the original conditions of Union had been broken by the others, and they formed a fresh confederation among themselves. The remaining States or Republics resisted that act of separation, and affirmed that the people of the whole United States were, or should be fused into, one nation, and that the division of the Union into States had, or should hereafter have, no greater political significance than the division of the several States into counties.

The Union of 1787 was dissolved in 1861 by the action of ten of the constituent republics. A new Union was formed in 1865 by the military power of the majority of States, compelling the minority to accept their view of the national compact. The former Union was a confederation of States, and was of course a Federal Republic; the latter Union is founded upon a fusion of the people into one nation, with a supreme centralized executive and administrative Government at Washington, and can no longer be called a Federal Republic; it has become an Imperial Republic.

The latter name gives some promise of greater strength and cohesion of the former, but the duration of the restored Union will depend very much on whether the people of the whole country fully realize, and are really reconciled to, the new dogma that each State is only an aggregate of counties, and that its political functions are only to consist in regulating such purely domestic concerns as the central authority in Washington may leave to its discretion.

If the majority who have effected the change in the conditions of the American Union are content to leave the management of public affairs to the professional politicians, the “caucuses,” and the “wire-pullers,” they will have fought in vain, and will find that to secure the semblance of a strictly national Union they have sacrificed the substance of individual liberty.”

(The Secret Service of the Confederate States in Europe, James D. Bulloch, Sagamore Press, 1959, excerpts, pp. 14-16)

Sep 27, 2017 - Aftermath: Destruction, America Transformed, Carnage, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on The Ghost of Masonboro Sound

The Ghost of Masonboro Sound

The people of the Masonboro Sound community southeast of Wilmington, North Carolina, could hear in the distance the thundering cannon of an enemy fleet in January 1865 as it laid siege to Fort Fisher. After overwhelming the fort with millions of tons of shot and shell, “federal troops began to move inland, looting farms and houses as they went” as they re-asserted in North Carolina the political supremacy of the government in Washington.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Ghost of Masonboro Sound

“With the fall of [Fort Fisher], the Confederacy’s days were numbered. By late spring the four years of struggle were over. Gradually Masonboro men found their way home. Some were badly wounded, but all came back to do what John Hewlett had said he wished them to do – assist in building up the Kingdom of God at Masonboro.

It was late for plowing and planting, but there was no choice but to begin. Pine seedlings, briars, and honeysuckles had taken over the fields. Fish nets had rotted or disappeared altogether, and new ones had to be fashioned. Food everywhere was scarce, but persons on the sound fared better than most, they could find oysters, fish and shrimp at their doorstep. Some ex-slaves stayed to help them.

Many ex-slaves who had left plantations all over the Southland followed Yankee soldiers because they didn’t know what else to do. They became a burden to Northern armies, which could not care for them and feed them. Jim Irving, a South Carolina slave, followed Yankee soldiers to Wilmington, but soon found himself stranded in the city with nothing to eat and no way to earn anything. He met up with Elijah Hewlett, who told him to go with him down to the sound and he would give him work.

In a place such as Masonboro there would have to be a familiar ghost. And it would have to be in perhaps the oldest house on the sound. It was.

Sometime after the war, a soldier friend came to visit Dr. Anderson. He had been wounded in the war, had lost a leg, and had been fitted with a wooden leg. He was disturbed emotionally by his war experiences, and he would lapse into long silences. He would walk out on the pier and stand for hours, not moving, just gazing at the water.

The old pier was rotten and listing at a dangerous angle, but it was the habitual roosting place of a sad old egret, which, dull and gray like the weather at times, sat hunched over even in a blowing misty rain.

The old soldier often stood there looking just as forlorn and dejected as the sad old bird, and almost in the same spot. One morning the old soldier rose early and went out before the family was up. Hours later, they found him, lying face down in the water.

After that, members of the household thought they could sometimes hear the old soldier with his wooden leg thumping across the floor upstairs.”

(Between the Creeks, Crockette W. Hewlett and Mona Smalley, New Hanover Printing Company, 1971, excerpts, pp. 41-42)

Aug 26, 2017 - Recurring Southern Conservatism, Southern Conservatives, Southern Culture Laid Bare, Southern Patriots    Comments Off on Dr. Baruch, General Robert E. Lee’s Surgeon

Dr. Baruch, General Robert E. Lee’s Surgeon

In 1862, Simon Baruch graduated from the Virginia Medical College and was assigned as assistant surgeon in charge of the Seventh South Carolina Cavalry, and was promoted to surgeon of Gen. William Barksdale’s Thirteenth Mississippi Regiment. He was captured at Boonesboro in 1862, and again at Gettysburg while attending the wounded. The war ended while he was establishing hospitals at Thomasville, North Carolina. His wife Belle (nee Wolfe) was a member of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and in 1925, son Bernard, financier and political advisor, endowed that organization with the Mrs. Simon Baruch University Award to support scholars writing monographs and books on Confederate history.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

Dr. Baruch, General Robert E. Lee’s Surgeon

“Dr. Simon Baruch, formerly of Camden, SC, now one of the leaders of the medical profession in America, was born on July 29, 1840, at Schwersenz, Prussia. He graduated at the Medical College of Virginia in 1862, and served as a surgeon in the Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee for three years.

He practiced medicine in Camden, SC, for fifteen years, was president of the South Carolina Medical Society in 1873, and chairman of the State Board of Health of South Carolina in 1880. Later he removed to New York, where he was physician to the Northeastern Dispensary in 1883-84, and gynecologist to the same dispensary for three years following.

He was physician and surgeon to the New York Juvenile Asylum for thirteen years, having the care of one thousand children, and was chief of the medical staff of the Montefiore Home for Chronic Invalids for eight years, during which time he organized its medical department, and since that time has been its consulting physician. He is now [1905] professor of hydrotherapy in the New York Post-Graduate Medical School and Hospital.

Dr. Baruch diagnosticated the first recorded case of perforated appendicitis successfully operated upon, and Dr. J.A. Wyeth stated in a discussion in the New York Academy of Medicine that “the profession and humanity owe more to Dr. Baruch than to any other one man for the development of the surgery of appendicitis.”

It would be impossible within the limits of this short biography to refer in detail to the many achievements of this great physician. One thing, however, might be mentioned, namely, that the successful introduction of free public cleansing baths in the largest cities of the United States is largely the result of his agitation of this subject before medical societies and boards of health.

Dr. Kellogg, in an appreciative biography which he printed in Modern Medicine for May, 1903, has well summed up Dr. Baruch’s work in these words:

“The pioneer work which he has done for physiological therapeutics and rational medicine and in the philanthropic application of hydropathic principles entitles him to a splendid monument which the next generation will doubtless see, and has earned for him a large place in the hearts of all who are interested in the progress of rational medicine . . . He is a man of whom any country might be proud . . . [and] he has devoted his life to the betterment of his fellow-men.”

(The Jews of South Carolina, From the Earliest Times to the Present Day, J.B. Lippincott, 1905, Barnett A. Elzas, excerpts, pp. 268-269)

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

The mass immigration from Europe during the late antebellum years changed the social and cultural profile of the Northern States and deeply affected how that section viewed the new western territories, which they desired for expansion and free of a black population. Those immigrants being unfamiliar with the Anglo-Saxon culture, laws and traditions of their new home helped create a North which differed greatly with the South, and helped create two distinct sections that would either separate, or come to blows.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Gratification of a Favorite Passion

“The more Southerners viewed their own civilization the more they feared the dangers of its disintegration by the infiltration of Northern radicalism and its actual overthrow by continued Northern agitation and outright attack. They shuddered at the thought that they should ever by forced to embrace Northern ways.

The deluge of immigrants with their strange and dangerous ideas had made of Northerners another race. Even basically, it was held, Northerners and Southerners were of different origins. It was the open-hearted Cavalier against the tight-fisted Puritan of the North – “the advocate of rational liberty and the support of authority, as against the licentiousness and morbid impulse of unregulated passion, and unenlightened sentiment. “

As William H. Russell put it, Southerners believed that the “New Englander must have something to persecute, and as he has hunted down all his Indians, burnt all his witches, and persecuted all his opponents to the death, he invented abolitionism as the sole resource left to him for the gratification of his favorite passion.”

In the North, there was corruption in State and municipal governments; the rulers were King Numbers, agrarian mobs, lawless democracies, black and red Republicans. There were overgrown grimy cities filled with crime and poverty. Beggars were everywhere – not like the South where an Englishman had spent six months and could say, “I never saw a beggar.”

There was free-soilism, abolitionism, freeloveism, Fourierism, Mormonism, a fanatical press “without honor or modesty,” free thought and infidelism, “intemperance and violence and indecorum” of the clergy . . . Northerners were a people whose wisdom is paltry cunning, whose valor and manhood have been swallowed up in corruption, howling demagoguery, and in the marts of dishonest commerce.

Capital and labor were in perpetual conflict; there was neither the orderly relation which existed between master and slave nor the social security the slave possessed. There was likely to be a violent social upheaval, not unlike the French Revolution, and the South did not care to be a part of the country undergoing it. The Southerner wanted his own country, one that he could love and take pride in.”

(A History of the South, Volume VII, The Confederate States of America, 1861-1865, E. Merton Coulter, LSU Press, 1950, excerpts, pp. 11-13)

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

In this late 1940 address to the Southern Historical Association, historian Frank L. Owsley (1890-1956) spoke of the sectional cause of the Civil War and the North’s reluctance to allow the South to seek political independence.  Prof. Owsley was born in Alabama, taught at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the Southern Agrarians.

Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com

 

The Civil War’s Basic Cause: Sectionalism

“Before attempting to say what were the causes of the American Civil War, first let me say what were not the causes of the war.

Perhaps the most beautiful, the most poetic, the most eloquent statement of what the Civil War was not fought for is the Gettysburg Address. That address will live as long as Americans retain their love for free government and personal liberty; and yet in reassessing the causes of the Civil War, the address whose essence is was that the war was being fought so “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth” is irrelevant.

Indeed, this masterpiece of eloquence has little if any value as a statement of the basic principles underlying the war.

The Civil War was not a struggle on the part of the South to destroy free government and personal liberty, nor on the part of the North to preserve them. Looked at from the present perspective of the worldwide attempt of the totalitarians to erase free governments and nations living under such governments from the face of the earth, the timeworn stereotype that the South was attempting the destruction of free government and the North was fighting to preserve it seems unrealistic and downright silly.

If the destruction of democratic government by the South and its preservation by the North were not the causes of the Civil War, what then were the causes? The surface answer to this question is that in 1861, the Southern people desired and attempted to establish their independence and thereby to disrupt the old Union; and that the North took up arms to prevent the South from establishing this independence and to preserve the Union.

This [Southern] state of mind may be summed up thus: by the Spring of 1861, the Southern people felt it both abhorrent and dangerous to continue to live under the same government with the people of the North. So profound was this feeling among the bulk of the Southern population that they were prepared to fight a long and devastating war to accomplish a separation.

On the other hand, the North was willing to fight a war to retain their reluctant fellow citizens under the same government with themselves.

The cause of that state of mind which we may well call war psychosis lay in the sectional character of the United States. In other words, the Civil War had one basic cause: sectionalism.

Our national state was built, not upon the foundations of a homogenous land and people, but upon geographic sections inhabited severally by provincial, self-conscious, self-righteous, aggressive and ambitious populations of varying origins and diverse social and economic systems; and the passage of time and the cumulative effects of history have accentuated these sectional patterns.”

(The Fundamental Cause of the Civil War, Frank L. Owsley, excerpt, Address to Southern Historical Association, November 8, 1940)

 

 

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