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A New Way Of Looking At The Civil War

A recent book examines less obvious causes for the war that tore our nation apart.

by
Chris Queen

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August 16, 2013 - 2:00 pm
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The Battle of Chickamauga

A century and a half after the Civil War, the debate continues to rage over the true causes of the war. The menace of slavery is an obvious answer, but it wasn’t the sole cause. Many scholars argue that the fight over states’ rights led to the war, while at the war’s outset, Abraham Lincoln waged war to preserve the Union. And Shelby Foote tells the story of a Confederate soldier who, when an invading Union solder asked him why he was fighting, replied, “I’m fighting because you’re down here!”

Historian and author Thomas Fleming recently published A Disease In The Public Mind: A New Understanding Of Why We Fought The Civil War, and the book details two compelling reasons for the war: New England’s disdain for the Southern states – along with the ensuing all-or-nothing attitude of militant abolitionists, and Southern whites’ fear of a race war were the nation to emancipate the slaves. Last month here at PJ Lifestyle, David Forsmark interviewed Fleming about his theories, and that interview compelled me to read the book.

The founding fathers left the question of slavery unsettled at the nation’s outset. After the Revolutionary War, politicians from New England believed that they had inherited the mantle of leadership, since New England’s native sons had first called for independence. However, Southerners like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison rose to greater prominence in national politics, which infuriated the New Englanders, who resented the “slavocracy” they felt came about from Southern leadership.

This hatred for the South continued to fester, and as the abolitionist movement gained prominence, its leadership brimmed with seething hatred for Southerners in general. Fleming presents William Lloyd Garrison’s reaction to a bloody slave revolt as a prime example of this attitude.

On October 19, 1831, he told one correspondent that he was pleased the “disturbances at the South still continue. The slaveholders are given over to destruction…”

Here was a signal revelation of the fundamental flaw in William Lloyd Garrison’s character, a flaw that permeated the New England view of the rest of America: an almost total lack of empathy. Fellow Americans had just been exposed to an awful experience – a tragedy that dramatized in horrendous terms the problem of Southern slavery… The only emotion Garrison permitted himself was a thinly disguised gloating – and a call for sympathy for the slaves. No matter how much they deserved this emotion, was this the time to demand it?

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All Comments   (23)
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How have I puzzuled, throughout my life, about my puzzuling lack of empathy for slavers! WHY, of why, could I have no empathy for those who hold slaves?

At last comes the answer- I grew up in the north! Of course, I have no sympathy for slavers! Thank God, an answer at last!

It's also good to know, that those who grew up in the south, do not have this pernicious and blinding bias! How lucky you southerners are! Wel, the white ones, anyways.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
If you grew up in the oh so enlightened north, then why don't you know that the Union states of Delaware, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia all continued to allow slavery even while siding with Lincoln?

Slavery didn't even end in Washington, DC itself until 1862, while the Civil War started the previous year in 1861.

If you have no sympathy for slavers, does this mean you hold Union General Ulyssis S. Grant, commander of Union forces, in disdain since he continued to hold slaves until forced to release them by the 13th Amendment in 1865?

How about Union General Sherman, who likewise owned slaves?

The 13th Amendment itself wasn't even adopted until December 6, 1865 - fully 4 years and 8 months after that war started on April 12, 1861. Had the federal government chosen, they could have passed that amendment at any time during the conflict.

President Johnson declared an end to the war on May 9, 1865 - still 7 months before the Union government moved itself to pass the 13th Amendment long after that war had ended.

The north was quite the hypocrite on the subject of slavery, lambasting the South ever since mid-way through the war for the issue of slavery while allowing it to continue within it's own territory for the entire duration of that war.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You are talking about politics. Of 1865. In wartime.

None of it matters. Unless you still hold slaves, do you? And if not, why not?
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Northern economy was just as dependent on slavery as the South was. The Founding Father warned that the greatest threat to the country was that the industrializing North would made a colonial "milch cow" of the South. Indeed if one looks at the history of tariffs and embargoes they were aimed at keeping out foreign manufactured goods whilst forcing the South to sell its raw materials to Northern industry, cheap.

At the same time, over 80% of the revenues from tariffs and duties raised on Southern products was spent in the Norther building canals and railroads and upgrading ports. So, the Southern infrastructure was less developed while shipping goods North and getting garbage products in return.

Lastly, there were many options for ending slavery but hot heads on both sides took over the issue. Indeed if the war had held off just a few more years, machines were becoming available, like horse and steam powered harvesters, that would have made slavery even less economic that it already was.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Indeed, Lincoln did have a rather more moderate program in mind for freeing the slaves by buying out their owners and shipping the newly freed blacks back to Africa; a project ultimately never realized anywhere but in Washington D.C. itself, and then mostly only the first phase at that.

Also, the Southerners made a lot of very stupid economic decisions, since their having an endless supply of cheap labor made their part of America a lot less attractive to immigrants, ensuring the North's continued growth (particularly of political influence in the House of Representatives) and industrialization while the South stagnated. To those who talk of the South's seeking economic freedom, I've read a fascinating libertarian indictment of how just downright socialistic and statist the Confederacy turned out to be in practice:

http://reason.com/blog/2009/09/18/the-confederate-leviathan

It included everything from high tariffs and corporate welfare subsidies for railroads to nationalization of key industries and a suspension of habeas corpus to rival any of the crimes against the Constitution anyone has ever accused Lincoln of committing; I certainly don't see any reason to shed any tears over the destruction of such a meddlesome and oppressive government.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
People are always quick, to ask the slave to "wait just a little while more.". Yup, they's is.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It's silly to generalize about "most New Englanders" and "much of the south". Northerners were not united behind the war and Copperheads and a "peace party" faction actively opposed it. Likewise, Southern unionists were brought into line by violence or its threat during the war, and by the KKK and after it.

It was more than politics then, it is nothing more than that now when many NE folks are Libertarians. We all know there is a rural urban divide, but let's not pretend that the classic regional issues hold when you control for that.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>> Thomas Fleming ... posits compelling new reasons to add to the debate over the causes of the Civil War

If this article is any indication, he doesn't. Nothing mentioned is a new idea, and most of the things mentioned show a neophyte's conceit. That the two sides viewed each other through their own biases by the time the war began isn't anything new for any conflict of any type anywhere. And if you haven't read Bertram Wyatt-Brown's "Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South", which won a pulitzer prize for a reason, you'll never really fully grasp the complexity of the matter, or many matters including much of our dealings with the Middle East.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oddly enough it seems that most New Englanders continue to look down on the south and much of the rest of the country. And much of the south still doesn't care what Yankees think.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This is very true. My family was prominent in New England from the early 1600's, and we still have relatives there. Their contempt for anyone not born and bred in the North East, is palpable. They delight in making jokes about southern in-breeding, and the stupidity of people living in the western part of the country. To them, anyone not a graduate of some eastern college is an unsophisticated "red-neck". I see it as an obnoxious form of snobbery.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The caption under the painting reads, "This painting depicts Abraham Lincoln signing the Declaration of Independence" Perhaps you mean Emancipation Proclamation.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I find it hard to muster any sympathy for slavers. Or to muster indifference towards them, either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Most of those who fought for the south were neither slaveowners nor those who would ever have any hope of owning slaves. They were fighting for something else.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Yes indeed.
They were fighting for the right of others to own slaves, and to leave them as impoverished clients, suitable to used as cannon fodder, but not fit for much of anything else.
Not particularly noble things to fight for, but they certainly gave their all fighting for them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
So, what was Grant fighting for - since, ya know, he was a slave owner....?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yeah, that's basically what it was, though I'm sure their society's slave-holding sophisticates made it sound a lot better on the recruitment pamphlets by nattering about "property rights" and such; kind of like how these days "the right to choose" sounds a lot better than "being allowed to torture your baby to death at any time for any reason or none" does.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What I don't think you appreciate,(and you are certainly not alone in this),
is that the slaveholder was just as much in bondage as the slave was.

Both had been born through no fault of their own into a monstrous system that had existed for centuries on this continent.

The central fact of slavery is neither the slave or the master, but rather is the chain that binds them one to the other.
It is just as much a duty upon us to rod ourselves of the legacy of slaveholding by eschewing the misguided paternalism that seeks to "take care" of "those people" as it is also necessary to break the chains of bondage by not expecting "those people" to "take care" of us.

Both mindsets perpetuate the chain. Its a heavy sumbitch and it does neither party any good at all...put it down and let it rust.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Except of course one could have the other whipped to death.
Or rape the other's wife.
Or sell the other's children.

But yes, do pity the poor slaver who was just as much in "bondage" as the save was.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Given how slavery was ended in Haiti, plus the various uprisings that left a lot of innocent white people dead in the South, the Southerners had every right to be concerned about how slavery was ended in the US.

The fact that slavery continued to exist in the north as well is a fact most tend to overlook due to its inconvenience....

From the Southern perspective, leaders such as Lee and Jackson were already taking steps to transition slaves into freedom.

This is not something northern leaders such as Grant or Sherman were interested in - even though they owned slaves as well.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes, one can make a case for the Old Southerners being in a kind of bondage themselves, but it hardly inspires any pity for them. I've noticed in looking back over "Gone With The Wind" that even that supposed glorification of antebellum times takes a rather more cynical view of the Old South than some people suppose. The character Scarlett's extreme moral flexibility and opportunism comes off as downright psychopathic at times, and yet the wretched society that spawned her still comes off looking far worse than she does; it's hard to hate her for getting over the death the old order and adapting to the new one so quickly, especially considering what a rotten old order the Old South was.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"Yes, one can make a case for the Old Southerners being in a kind of bondage themselves, but it hardly inspires any pity for them."

Well, I don't recall asking for anyone's pity...did you read that somewhere else?

The point, Delbert, is that there are at least two parallel legacies of the Peculiar Institution, and one has been largely ignored, and when it has been acknowledged at all, it is with something akin to that of that slobbering boob above your comment.

Only someone who has never known "the joys of management/supervisorship" would delude themselves that owning the costly expense of other human beings was entirely "all that and a bag of chips".

I suppose that chops are due those "Old Northerner" slaveowners for doping out that the whole thing was a big PITA and not really worth the expense and bother, eh?

Oh, that's right...we're not supposed to know that Slavery was NOT an exclusively "Southern Thang".
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
Don't worry, most Southerners don't hold much for Yankees either.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Most Southerners were slavers?
I thought one of the excuses was that most weren't.
So much for that narrative.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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