Slavery and the War

To assert the dogma that slavery caused the war of the 1860s sanctifies the North, vilifies the South, glorifies the Blacks, and mythologizes the war. This dogma has been thrown out there as an unchallenged “given” for a hundred and fifty years to put the South on the guilty defensive and keep her there, but it all collapses with one question: How? How, exactly, did slavery cause the war?

Slavery did not cause the war. The North itself admitted it in the New York Times (quoted in the Richmond Whig of April 9, 1861, just before Ft. Sumter):

“Slavery has nothing whatever to do with the tremendous issues now awaiting decision. It has disappeared almost entirely from the political discussions of the day. No one mentions it in connection with our present complications. The question which we have to meet is precisely what it would be if there were not a negro slave on American soil….” [emphasis theirs]

Yet Lincoln insisted it was the cause, when he issued his Second Inaugural:

“All knew that this interest (slavery) was, somehow, the cause of the war.”

“Somehow!” He attempts to explain precisely how by going on to say:

“To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it…. Neither (party) anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease.”

That was because that which ceased was not the cause. What caused the conflict was not slavery, but Northern imperialism, and Northern Imperialism did not cease with the Surrender at Appomattox.

A moment’s reflection will show the fallacy of Lincoln’s remarks. In the first place, when the Southern States peacefully seceded from the Union, these so-called “insurgents” could not have been seceding to extend and strengthen slavery, for their very acts of secession automatically restricted it. With their secession from the Union they not only renounced all claims to the Union’s Territories, they renounced all other claims to any rights under the Constitution as well, for they were no longer a part of the Union of which that Constitution was the Charter. In short, all of the issues so wrangled over in the National Councils before the war, evaporated with the secession of the Southern States.

As for “rending” the Union “even by war,” the record shows that the South bent over backwards to avoid war. She had nothing to gain and everything to lose by inaugurating war with the industrial colossus to the North of her. She merely asked to be left alone, but Lincoln not only rebuffed all peace overtures from the Confederate diplomats, he refused to even see them.

Finally, if Lincoln’s assertion that the Federal Government only claimed to “restrict the territorial enlargement” of slavery, isn’t it supreme irony that the Federal Government waged the bloodiest war in the history of the Western Hemisphere to drive Southern slavery back into the Union?

An objective look at the facts shows it was neither Southern slavery nor Northern abolitionist agitation, but rather the act of Southern secession itself that provoked the North into inaugurating war against the Southern States, just as Colonial secession provoked England to inaugurate war against the thirteen Colonies. Lincoln said so himself. He said he was fighting to “save the Union.” What he neglected to add was that he was fighting to save the Union for Northern financial and industrial interests – just as George III was fighting to save the Empire for England’s mercantile interests.

Thomas Prentiss Kettell, in his Southern Wealth and Northern Profits (New York: 1860, p. 19) wrote that after the War for Independence, New England inherited the same relationship towards her sister States that England had enjoyed towards her Colonies before the war. The industrializing North – with her growing political majorities and financial powers – was turning the Southern States into her agricultural Colonies, but the stubborn Southern States, with their insistence on maintaining the Federative nature of the Union (yes, the much-derided States’ Rights) as guaranteed by the Constitution, balked. She had been there before with Old England, and she was not about to do it again with New England. Thus the South was becoming a political nuisance and an economic stumbling block to the North’s political and economic ambitions, but with “King Cotton” out from under the control of the North’s “Mercantile Kingdom,” and with a free-trade Confederacy setting up shop on her Southern doorstep, the North would have to go back to cod fishing for a living or delivering sermons to each other instead of everybody else, while the South would prosper.

The North could not afford to let the South go in peace – and Lincoln was their man! He first cleverly provoked the South into firing the first shot to get his constituents the war they wanted, then he drove the Southern States back into the Union with the bayonet and under their control again.

To turn the Union into a centralized industrial empire, puppet State governments were set up in the defeated South under the control of Northern carpetbaggers and the Army of Occupation. The Radical Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867 which disfranchised white Southerners and enfranchised the newly freed blacks for Radical party purposes. Their votes were controlled by the Freedman’s Bureau and the Union Leagues, which taught the blacks to hate their former masters and vote the Radical party line. Reconstruction Amendments to the Constitution were then ratified by puppet conventions, which destroyed the federative nature of the Union, concentrated power into the Federal Government, and put it under Northern control once and for all.

It was just another war of conquest, cloaked in robes of morality. Selective emancipation of Confederate (but not Northern) slaves, and the enfranchisement of Southern (but not Northern) blacks during Reconstruction were merely the smelly “red herrings” that the North dragged across the tracks of her imperialism. Once she had realized her economic and political ambitions, she abandoned her Southern black political dupes to the poverty and racial hatred she had engendered, and turned her tender attentions to the Plains Indians, who were in the way of her trans-continental railroads.

However, that is not the “party line” of the “Court Historians,” nor will it ever be, for their careers are at stake. The Truth will make us free, but it will get the “Court Historians” fired.

About H.V. Traywick, Jr.

A native of Lynchburg, Virginia, the author graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1967 with a degree in Civil Engineering and a Regular Commission in the US Army. His service included qualification as an Airborne Ranger, and command of an Engineer company in Vietnam, where he received the Bronze Star. After his return, he resigned his Commission and ended by making a career as a tugboat captain. During this time he was able to earn a Master of Liberal Arts from the University of Richmond, with an international focus on war and cultural revolution. He is a member of the Jamestowne Society, the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and the Society of Independent Southern Historians. He currently lives in Richmond, where he writes, studies history, literature and cultural revolution, and occasionally commutes to Norfolk to serve as a tugboat pilot.

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