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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

Bio

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   (22)
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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?
1 year ago
1 year 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
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