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The Timeworn Stereotype of the South

In the following paper historian Frank L. Owsley refutes the claim that the North fought the war to preserve democratic government in America. He asserted that on the surface the South sought to establish its independence while the North fought to deny this desire. Owsley wrote that by early 1861 the Southern people “felt it both abhorrent and dangerous to continue to live under the same government with the people of the North. And so profound was this feeling among the bulk of the Southern population that they were prepared to fight a long and devastation war to accomplish a separation. On the other hand, the North was willing to fight a war to retain their fellow citizens under the same government with themselves.”

The Timeworn Stereotype of the South

“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 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 very unrealistic and downright silly.

Indeed, both Northern and Southern people in 1861 were alike profoundly attached to the principles of free government which is substantiated by period newspapers, diaries, letters and speeches give irrefutable evidence in support of this assertion. Their ideology was democratic and identical.

By 1860 the northeastern section of the United States had already assumed its modern outlines of a capitalist-industrial society where the means of production were owned by a relatively few. That is to say that New England and the middle States were fast becoming in essence a plutocracy with the lower classes dependent upon those who owned the tools of production.

Turning to the South, which was primarily agricultural, we find the situation completely contradictory to what has usually been assumed. The so-called slave-oligarchy of the South owned scarcely any of the land outside the black belt and only about 25 percent of the land inside the black belt. Actually, the basic means of production in the black belt and in the South as a whole was well-distributed among all classes of the population. The overwhelming majority of Southern families in 1860 owned their farms and livestock; about 90 percent of the slaveholders and about 70 percent of the non-slaveholders owned the land on which they farmed.

And it is important to note that the bulk of slaveholders were small farmers and not oligarchs – the majority of whom owned from one to four slaves and less than three hundred acres of land.

Thus, unlike the industrial population of the East, the overwhelming majority of white families in the South, owned the means of production. In other words, the average Southerner like the average Westerner possessed economic independence and held on strongly to its democratic ideology and sound economic foundation of a free government.”

(The Fundamental Cause of the Civil War, Frank L. Owsley. Journal of Southern History, Vol. 7, No. 1, February 1941. pp. 5-6)

Unable to Settle the Great Differences

“The South in 1860 knew only that the party which was hotly intolerant of the whole body of Southern institutions and interests had triumphed in the elections and was about to take possession of the government, and that it was morally impossible to preserve the Union any longer.

“If you who represent the stronger portion,” Senator John C. Calhoun stated in 1850, in words which perfectly convey this feeling in their quiet cadences, cannot agree to settle the great questions at issue on the broad principle of justice and duty, say so; and let the States we both represent agree to separate and depart in peace.”  (Division and Reunion, 1829-1909. Woodrow Wilson. Longmans, Green and Co., 1912; pp. 209-210)

Jul 27, 2022 - America Transformed, Carnage, Costs of War, Lincoln's Blood Lust, Myth of Saving the Union, Northern Resistance to Lincoln, Withdrawing from the Union    Comments Off on The Human Cost of Seeking Political Independence

The Human Cost of Seeking Political Independence

Edmund D. Patterson was born in Ohio of New England parents in 1842. Age seventeen found him well-educated and selling books by subscription in northern Alabama as well as teaching school. With war in 1861 came his enlistment in the Lauderdale Rifles, which became Company D of the Ninth Alabama Infantry. Patterson’s regiment arrived in Virginia two days after the battle of First Manassas, and the following extract is from his diary entry of July 23, 1861.

The Human Cost of Seeking Political Independence

“On the day we reached this place the rain poured down in torrents, and when we camped for the night, it was in mud and water several inches deep, and near the bloodiest part of the battlefield.

I have just returned from a walk over the battlefield. I made an attempt to go over it some hours ago, but the smell of the blood made me sick, and I had to turn back, but this time I succeeded, and may God grant that I may never see another.

I have often read descriptions of battlefields but never, until now, realized all the horrors that the word expresses. Here are the mangled human bodies on every side, some pierced by a rifle or musket ball – others almost torn to fragments by a shell – in some places horse and rider have fallen together. Some have a look or expression on their face as mild and calm as if they were only sleeping, others seem to have had a terrible struggle with the monster death and only yielded after having suffered such pain as has caused their faces to assume expressions that are fearful to look upon, their features distorted, the eyeballs glaring, and often with their hands full of mud and grass that they have clutched in their last agony.

I noticed one who had striven vainly to staunch the flow of blood from a wound through the body by stuffing mud into the wound. This was probably while the battle was still raging and no one near to attend to him. Another clutched in his hand a portion of a pack of cards, while the remained of them lay scattered around him.

But why attempt to describe in detail the particulars of this sickening scene? Many a poor fellow who left his home a few weeks or few months ago full of hope for the future now lies sleeping on this battlefield never more to be disturbed by the rattle of musketry . . . or the roar of artillery.

The result of this battle will teach the North a lesson that will not soon be forgotten. It will show them, and the world, that we are in earnest and that we mean what we say and that in attempting our subjugation they have undertaken a Herculean task. It seems to me that this battle has been a complete victory.”

(Yankee Rebel: Civil War Journal of Edmund DeWitt Patterson. J.G. Barrett, editor, UNC Press, 1966, pp. 7-8)

Let the South Depart in Peace

Let the South Depart in Peace

Frederick Grimke’ (1791-1863) wrote about the meaning of American constitutional democracy in his “Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions” of 1848. His work was hailed as a fitting companion to Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as both works at the time were deep philosophical studies of this country’s democratic civilization.

Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Grimke’ was a Southern aristocrat, well-acquainted with American history and possessed a lifetime’s intimate experience with American legal and political institutions.  He parted with what he saw as Tocqueville’s grand mistake “of identifying equality of condition,” instead holding that the American system contained the promise of equality of opportunity.

On the subject of African bondage, he opposed immediate and uncompensated abolition and found himself frequently at odds with sisters Sarah and Angelina, the latter married to the intense Connecticut abolitionist Theodore Weld. Grimke’s first-hand experience with free black communities around Cincinnati convinced him of their not yet being ready to assume the responsibilities of American self-government.

As the sectional gulf between North and South widened, Grimke’ held that States could not nullify federal laws within the Union but were at full liberty to withdraw from that union and form another. He viewed this as akin to a person who had decided to migrate to another country.

He wrote that “no enlightened person who values freedom would contest the right of an individual to emigration; and likewise, none should threaten or compel a State bent on seceding to remain” in a political union it wished to leave.

Grimke’ understood this policy of peaceful departure from the 1789 Union by a group of States to be a lesser evil than war. Grimke’ also believed – as did Jefferson – that a number of regional American confederations might later be created; and while they would have distinct political governments, they would continue to belong, if not to the original union, but to the American democratic civilization which he so greatly prized.”

(The Nature and Tendency of Free Institutions, Frederick Grimke, John Williams Ward, editor. Harvard University Press, 1968. Review essay by Adrienne Kohn, South Carolina Historical Magazine, Vol. 71, 1970.)

 

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)

 

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