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)