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The Real Cause of the Civil War

The Real Cause of the Civil War

The Washington Peace Conference of early February 1861 was held in a city already involved in a military build-up caused by frenzied Republican editors and politicians. The Conference’s chairman, former President John Tyler described “an atmosphere where lunacy . . . prevails.” Those from the Southern States who understood the founders’ aversion to standing armies, resented the constant parading of US troops through the streets while regarding them as “a menace and a threat on the part of the North.”

The military buildup in a time of peace was fueled by Joseph Medill’s Chicago Tribune’s scare tactic of a supposed Southern army converging on Washington. The editor proclaimed himself a “volunteer sentinel on the walls.” Illinois congressman Elihu Washburne again advised Lincoln of “a widespread and powerful conspiracy,” which was in truth Americans in the South working together to form a more perfect union.

Vermont delegates to the recent Republican Convention were in town to oppose all concession to the South’s requests as a surrender of principle which would demoralize and destroy the polyglot Republican party – in other words, party over peace. Local newspapers excitedly reported rumors of secessionists poisoning army horses while Republican Radicals took delight in knowing that “grinning artillery” was ready “to rattle grape, if necessary.” Medill’s newspaper thought this a “charming medicine” for the disease called treason.” The New York Tribune wrote that “the only Peace Conference that we want is the one now assembled in Washington under General Scott.”

Treason, of course, is specifically and unmistakably defined in Article III, Section 3 of the US Constitution as waging war against “them” – the individual States.

(Old Gentleman’s Convention: The Washington Peace Conference of 1861. Robert Gray Gunderson, University of Wisconsin Press. 1961)

 

 

It Was Not About Slavery

If continued black labor in the South was essential to the economic survival of the region and the ultimate reason for seeking independence, it was equally essential that the economic survival of Northern financial, textile, and manufacturing industry interests. It was not unexpected that after the Confederate States of America was formed in early February 1861 and enacted a modest 10% tariff which would have decimated northern ports, that those northern interests urged war against the South. It was not about slavery.

The following is excerpted from Mark R. Winchell’s posthumous “Confessions of a Copperhead” recently released by Shotwell Publishing. See www.shotwellpublishing.org.

It Was Not About Slavery

“If the North was fighting for an imperial vision of American hegemony rather than for the abolition of slavery, what motivated the South? The statement of South Carolina’s anti-flag scholars quotes several Confederate officials, who declared they were fighting to preserve slavery.

It would perhaps be more accurate to say that the Confederacy was formed to assure the economic survival of the American South. (The revolutionist’s declaration of independence from England was motivated by similar economic considerations.)  In 1861, African labor seemed essential to that survival [just as New England’s poverty-wage slavery held mill workers to their employment.]

Of even greater concern, however, was the agricultural tariff passed by the US Congress on behalf of Northern industrial interests. This tariff made it difficult for Southerners to sell cotton and other crops in European markets. An independent South, free of the tariff, would have prospered among the community of nations. If Lincoln was willing to assure the perpetuation of slavery, this former corporation lawyer was not willing to ease the tariff.”

(Confessions of a Copperhead, Culture and Politics in the Modern South, Mark R. Winchell, Shotwell Publishing, 2022, pg. 183)

Trusting Congress to Ratify Unconstitutional Actions

Lincoln was a one-term Whig US congressman from Illinois before assuming the presidency with a mere 39% of the popular vote, and not even being on the ballot in many States. He had little knowledge of the US Constitution, no foreign policy awareness or experience, and led a purely sectional party of former northern Whigs and anti-Catholic Know-Nothings, Transcendentalists and abolitionists. Despite Southern unionists imploring him to abandon Fort Sumter to allow a cooling-off period to defuse the crisis and stop other States from seceding, he consciously lit the fuse of war which cost the lives of a million Americans and ended the American republic.

Trusting Congress to Ratify Unconstitutional Actions

Eighty days was the interval between Lincoln instigating the confrontation at Fort Sumter and the regular assembling of Congress in July, providing the new president with a virtual monopoly of emergency powers. On April 15th 1861, in language reminiscent of Washington’s response to the Whiskey Rebellion, Lincoln declared an “insurrection” to exist, announced that federal laws were being opposed in seven States “by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings, by the powers vested in the marshals of the law,” and on his own claimed authority called forth the militia of the States to the number of 75,000 to “suppress said combinations.”

This was how our “civil war” commenced and without a declaration by the only entity vested with the constitutional authority to do so. Though the States which declared independence from the US Constitution fully considered their actions legal and peaceable, Lincoln’s political party and those supporting his actions viewed this independence movement as null. They assumed a defensive attitude with a readiness to strike in retaliation for any act of resistance to what they saw as the national authority – which they viewed the withdrawn States as still a part of.

Author J.G. Randall wrote that “Lincoln was to take other war measures. He issued on his authority two proclamations of coastal blockade by which he could continue to collect tariffs, which was the lifeblood of the US treasury.  The second applied to Virginia and North Carolina, the latter of which was still a part of Lincoln’s union – and an act of war against a State.

He decreed the expansion of the regular army on his own authority, calling forth on May 3rd recruits of the regular army beyond the total then authorized by law – any increase is a congressional function.  Acting independently and not waiting for the constitutionality of his acts to be questioned, he advised Congress in July that “whether strictly legal or not, were ventured upon under what appeared to be a popular demand and public necessity, “trusting that Congress would readily ratify them.”

(Civil War and Reconstruction, James G. Randall, DC Heath & Company, 1937, pp. 360-361)

Emancipation Explained

Perhaps in anticipation of emancipation, in 1862 the constitutional convention in Illinois proposed in Article XVII that “No Negro or mulatto shall migrate or settle in this State; No Negro or mulatto shall have the right of suffrage or hold any office in the State; The general assembly shall pass all laws necessary to carry into effect the provisions of this article.”

Emancipation Explained

“As incident to the war of 1861 “and as a fit and necessary war measure” in September 1862, was issued a paper which (with a sequel 100 days later) is called “proclamation of emancipation.” By this in portions of the country called rebellious, slaves were made free, unless by the 1st of January 1863, said communities ceased to rebel. Slave ownership was to be the reward of loyalty, slave abolition the penalty of rebellion.

This might be translated: “Negroes shall continue to be slaves to their masters if only their masters will be slaves to us. Let us have in peace the jobs which are in sight and your slaves may reap in peace your harvests, taxed only by our tariffs. We will let you have your slaves if you will let us have your freedom.”

After this offer had been made and rejected, who had the right to say that the South was fighting to preserve slavery, or Lincoln for the slave’s freedom? As in the South construed, the motive was not to free the slave but to enslave the free.

In October 1863, Lord Brougham (an abolitionist ab initio) referring to this proclamation said: “Hollow we may well call it for those who proclaimed emancipation confess that it was a measure of hostility to the whites and designed to produce slave insurrection from which the much enduring nature of the unhappy Negro saved the country.”

(Brilliant Eulogy on Gen. W.H. Payne from Good Old Rebels Who Don’t Care, Leigh Robinson, Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. XXXVI, R.A. Brock, ed., 1991, Broadfoot Publishing, pp. 328-331)

War for a Certain Interpretation

“We talk of peace and learning,” said Ruskin once in addressing the cadets of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, “and of peace and plenty, and of peace and civilization, but I found that those were not the words which the muse of history coupled together, that on her lips the words were peace and corruption, peace and death.” Hence this man of peace glorified war after no doubt a very cursory examination of the muse of history.”

 War for a Certain Interpretation

“The surrender of the armies of Lee and Johnston brought the struggle to an end. The South was crushed . . . “the ground of Virginia had been kneaded with human flesh; its monuments of carnage, its spectacles of desolation, it’s altars of sacrifice stood from the wheat fields of Pennsylvania to the vales of New Mexico.” More than a billion dollars of property in the South had been literally destroyed by the conflict.

The palpable tragedy of violent death had befallen the family circles of the South’s patriotic not merely twice as frequently as in times of peace, or three times as frequently, or even ten times, but a hundred times as frequently. Within the space of four years was crowded the sorrow of a century. Mourning for more than 250,000 dead on battlefield or on the sea or in military hospitals was the ghastly heritage of the war for the South’s faithful who survived. The majority of the dead were mere boys.

Many strong men wept like children when they turned forever from the struggle. As in rags they journeyed homeward toward their veiled and stricken women they passed wearily among the flowers and the tender grasses of the spring. The panoply of nature spread serenely over the shallow trenches where lay the bones of unnumbered dead – sons, fathers, brothers and one-time enemies of the living who passed.

War is at best a barbarous business. Among civilized men wars are waged avowedly to obtain a better and more honorable peace. How often the avowed objects are the true objects is open to question. Avowedly the American Civil War was waged that a certain interpretation of the federal Constitution might triumph.

To bring about such a triumph of interpretation atrocities were committed in the name of right, invading armies ravaged the land, the slave was encouraged to rise against his master, and he was declared to be free.

“The end of the State is therefore peace,” concluded Plato in his Laws – “the peace of harmony.” The gentle and reasonable man of today has not progressed much beyond this concept. “War is eternal,” wrote Plato “in man and the State.”

The American Civil war strangled the Confederacy and gave rebirth to the United States. It brought forth a whole brood of devils and also revealed many a worthy hero to both sections. Seen through the twilight of the receding past a war is apt to take on a character different from the grisly truth.”

(The Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, William Watson Davis, Columbia, 1913, pp. 319-322)

The Pursuit of Liberty

“Daniel Webster has said, and very justly as far as these United States are concerned: “The sovereignty of government is an idea belonging to the other side of the Atlantic. No such thing is known in North America. Our governments are limited. But with us all power is with the people. They alone are sovereign, and they erect what governments they please, and confer on them such powers as they please.” Jefferson Davis

The Pursuit of Liberty

“If any lingering doubt could have existed as to the reservation of their entire sovereignty by the people of the several States when they organized the federal Union, it would have been removed by the Tenth Amendment . . . the particular one in which they substantially agreed, and upon which they most urgently insisted. Indeed, it is quite certain that Constitution would never have received the assent and ratification of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina and perhaps other States, but for a well-grounded assurance that the substance of the Tenth Amendment would be adopted. The amendment is in these words:

“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.”

To have transferred sovereignty from the people to a Government would have been to have fought the battles of the Revolution in vain – not for the freedom and independence of the States, but for a mere change of masters. Such a thought or purpose could not have been in the heads or hearts of those who molded the Union.

The men who had won at great cost the independence of their respective States were deeply impressed with the value of union, but they could never have consented, like “the base Judean,” to fling away the priceless pearl of State sovereignty for any possible alliance.”

(Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, Jefferson Davis, D. Appleton and Company, 1881, pp. 146; 156)

 

Republicans, Sectionalism and War

Michigan Senator Lewis Cass was born in New Hampshire in 1782 and quite possibly had seen President George Washington as a young man. A lifelong Democrat and devoted Northwestern man who watched the latter territory develop, he longed to see the sectional troubles developing in the 1850’s resolved with faithful compromise. The nascent Republican party was not to be compromised with, and after electing its first president with a small plurality in 1860, plunged the country into a war it never recovered from.

Passing in 1866, he lived long enough to witness Washington’s republic perish in the flames of sectional warfare.

Republicans, Sectionalism and War

During the deliberations of the Compromise of 1850, Lewis Cass believed slavery to be a misfortune to the South, but only “the passage of ages” could bring about emancipation without the destruction of both races.

On the date July 6, 1854, the Whigs and Free-Soilers, or the “Free Democracy” of Michigan, met and formed a new party. The name Republican was adopted with old party trammels soon cast aside and all bent to the task of forming a party upon the cornerstone of unionism and freedom. This new party was opposed to State sovereignty as well as constitutional interpretations which were contrary to their views, and gave their strength to this party which advocated nationalism.

Though claiming to be a party of Americans for America, its absorption of the fiercely anti-Catholic Know-Nothings meant that only Protestants were to be tolerated.

It was a source of regret to Cass that a party with a “sectional” aim should find support in the country. For above all else he loved the Union, hoping against hope that harmony would be restored. But Michigan, so long faithful to him gave Fremont a popular plurality and elected a Republican legislature with an overwhelming majority.

“You remember, young man,” Lewis Cass said to James A. Garfield in 1861, “that the Constitution did not take effect until nine States had ratified it. My native State [of New Hampshire] was the ninth. So I saw the Constitution born, and I fear I may see it die.”

Though only nine of thirteen States ratified the third Constitution in June, 1788, the others remained fully independent States. And logically, should conventions of any of the thirteen (or subsequent States admitted) revoke or rescind their ratifications to resume their full-independent status and pursue another political arrangement, any lover of freedom and liberty would applaud this.

Lewis Cass, Andrew C. McLaughlin, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1891, pp. 301-324)

War was Lincoln’s Choice

President James Buchanan disagreed with secession as the prerogative of a State, but admitted that he as president held no authority to levy war to stop it — and his attorney general concurred. Both were well-aware of Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying was against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” Buchanan could not use military force against a State without committing treason.

War was Lincoln’s Choice

“The States of the deep South dissolved their connection with the voluntary union of the United States with marked legality at the beginning of 1861. For a quarter of a year no one knew that there was to be a war. Then Lincoln (unauthorized by the Constitution) called for troops; and the upper South, led by Virginia, seceded.

The point is, Lincoln could have chosen to let the South go in peace on the grounds that a just government depends on the consent of the governed, and the Southern States had withdrawn that consent.

But, said the North, the majority do consent, since there are more people in the North. Even if most of the people in the South do not consent, we in the North are the majority of the whole nation. Thus, the rights of a minority, although a minority of millions, mean nothing.

This is precisely what [Alexis] de Tocqueville warned against: the tyranny of the majority. And Lord Acton was deeply convinced that the principle of States’ rights was the best limitation upon the tyranny of the majority that had ever been devised.

Thus Lee did represent the cause of freedom, and Lord Acton broke his heart over Lee’s surrender because the principle of States’ rights was finally and forever denied.

The America of today is the America that won that immense triumph in the war – the triumph of unlimited, equalitarian democracy. And its leaders have blurred the distinction between freedom and equality to the point where many people use those words as virtually interchangeable terms.”

(The Glittering Illusion: English Sympathy for the Southern Confederacy, Sheldon Vanauken, Regnery Gateway, 1989, excerpt pg. 142)

Americans Unable to Control Their Future

Author Howard Ray White writes in his new “Rebirthing Lincoln” that Northern forces concentrating black refugees together in “contraband camps” promoted sickness and disease. He notes as well a smallpox epidemic “was first noted in 1862 among black congregations in Washington, DC . . . It subsequently spread south reaching epidemic levels among blacks and arriving in Texas in 1868.” This excellent and timely book is available in print or audiobook formats at www.Amazon.com.

The book helps make it clear that had the war been avoided through patience, diplomacy and a constitutional convention of States to solve their differences peacefully, the lives noted below would have been saved and the Founders’ republic perpetuated. Or perhaps two or more American republics, as Jefferson anticipated.

Americans Unable to Control Their Future

“The December 2011 issue of Civil War History, a scholarly journal published quarterly be The Kent State University Press, presented a highly-praised, 41-page census quantitative study by J. David Hacker, titled “A Census-Based Count of the Civil War Dead.” Hacker, presently at the University of Minnesota, reports that his study indicates that our ancestors suffered 750,000 soldier deaths instead of the 620,000 traditional number, an increase of 130,000.  He believes the Confederate deaths from disease and accidents have been seriously undercounted.

Due to the North’s scorched-earth policy, food, clothing and shoes were often scarce, increasing the death rate from exposure and disease, so we assign 70% of those 130,000 deaths to Confederates, elevating their death total from 260,000 to 350,000. The death toll for Lincoln’s invaders rises to 400,000. Hacker’s figures include war injuries that resulted in death up to 4 years after surrender.

A death toll of 350,000 Southern men represents 30 percent of the white male population, aged 18 to 48, that were living in the seceded States when Lincoln launched his invasion. And a death toll of 400,000 Northern men, many, many just-arriving immigrants, represents 9 percent of that population, aged 18 to 48.

Applying 30 percent to today’s American population (2010 census), calculates to 21 million deaths – a war death toll that today’s Americans cannot comprehend. Only the region between the Rhine and Volga in World War II suffered greater mortality.

White civilian deaths during Lincoln’s invasion and the first four years of the political Reconstruction that followed are a very sad historical story. William Cawthon estimated that 35,000 white civilians died. Historian James McPherson calculates that the North’s war against civilians destroyed two-thirds of the assessed value of wealth in the Confederate States, two-fifths of their livestock and over half of their farm machinery, resulting in a destitute people, struggling to find enough to eat, unable to control their future.”

(Rebirthing Lincoln: A Biography, Howard Ray White, Southern Books, 2021, excerpt pg. 258)

The High Functionary’s War

President Jefferson Davis’ message to the Third Session of the Provisional Congress of the Confederate States at Richmond, Virginia, July 20, 1861 (excerpts):

“Commencing in March last, with an affectation of ignoring the secession of the seven States which first organized this Government; persisting in April in the idle and absurd assumption of the existence of a riot which was to be dispersed by a posse comitatus; continuing in successive months the false representation that these States intended offensive war, in spite of conclusive evidence to the contrary . . . the President of the United States and his advisors have succeeded in deceiving the people of those States into the belief that the purpose of [the Confederate] Government was not peace at home, but conquest abroad; not the defense of its own liberties, but the subversion of those of the people of the United States.”

Under cover of [an] unfounded pretense that the Confederate States are the assailants, that high functionary, after expressing his concern that some foreign nations “had so shaped their action as if they supposed the early destruction of our National Union was probable,” abandons all further disguise, and proposes “to make this conflict a short and decisive one,” by placing at the control of the Government for the work at least 400,000 men and $400,000,000. The Congress, concurring in the doubt thus intimated as to the sufficiency of the force demanded, has increased it to a half a million of men.

These enormous preparations in men and money, for the conduct of a war on a scale more gigantic than any which the world has ever witnessed, is a distinct avowal, in the eyes of civilized man, that the United States are engaged in a conflict with a great and powerful nation; they are at last compelled to abandon the pretense of being engaged in dispersing rioters and suppressing insurrections . . . and are driven to the acknowledgement that the ancient Union has been dissolved.

In 1781 Great Britain, when invading her revolted colonies, took possession of the very district of country near Fortress Monroe, now occupied by troops of the United States. The houses then inhabited by the people, after being respected and protected by avowed invaders, are now pillaged and destroyed by men who pretend that the victims are their fellow-citizens.

Mankind will shudder to hear the tales of outrage committed on defenseless females by soldiers of the United States now invading our homes; yet these outrages are prompted by inflamed passions and the madness of intoxication. But who shall depict the horror with which they will regard the cool and deliberate malignity which, under pretext of suppressing an insurrection, said by themselves to be upheld by a minority only of our people, makes special war on the sick, including the women and the children, by carefully devised measures to prevent their obtaining the medicines necessary for their cure.

The sacred claims of humanity, respected even during the fury of actual battle, by careful diversion of attack from the hospitals containing wounded enemies, are outraged in cold blood by a government and people that pretend to desire a continuance of fraternal connections . . . The humanity of our [Southern] people would shrink instinctively from the bare idea of waging a like war upon the sick, the women, and the children of the enemy.”

(Messages and Papers of the Confederacy, 1861-1865, Volume I, James D. Richardson, editor, US Publishing Company, 1906, excerpts, pp. 118-120)

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