The Civil War and Slavery Existed Hand-in-Hand, Despite Excuses

A column by Paul Craig Roberts for the Institute for Political Economy explores the writer's push to prove that the American Civil War was fought over economic loggerheads and not over the issue of slavery.

The idea that slavery was not the underlining and driving issue leading to the secession of the South has been around for a hundred years and has been explained in any number of various ways, including many of the ideas put forward by Roberts in this particular piece.  It is by no means new or eye-opening, but it bears witness to the fact that old ideas become new ones when spoken aloud after some time has gone by and many people have either forgotten that they heard it or they just didn't know.

Two days before Lincoln’s inauguration as the 16th President, Congress, consisting only of the Northern states, passed overwhelmingly on March 2, 1861, the Corwin Amendment that gave constitutional protection to slavery. Lincoln endorsed the amendment in his inaugural address, saying “I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

First off, to understand what's going on here, we must understand the underpinnings of the events leading up to the Corwin Amendment.  Roberts is speaking about the Congress, “consisting only of the Northern states,” overwhelmingly passing the Corwin Amendment, which “gave constitutional protection to slavery.”

The reasons why the Corwin Amendment was passed by an all-Northern-state Congress is BECAUSE the South had already seceded with the election of Abraham Lincoln, a man widely viewed by most Southern state leaders as an abolitionist!  Who was the president prior to Lincoln taking office?  Democrat and slavery-advocate, James Buchanan.

Buchanan was known as a “doughface,” a Northerner with Southern sentiments, including the Southern stance on slavery.  Buchanan was very active in the advocacy of slavery, even pushing forward his opinions on the Supreme Court Justices (Taney in particular) to pass the Dred-Scott decision.  Had the advocates for the slave won, that would have allowed a slave from a non-“popular sovereignty” state to be freed once the owner of the slave brought him to the free state of Kansas.  Clearly, Buchanan had the ear of the justices, because the decision came down that slaves were property and therefore, could not be granted freedom based on the instance of simply passing over a state border in a free state territory.

Roberts goes on further to say that the Corwin Amendment being dangled like a carrot on a stick should have gotten the South on board because it granted constitutional protection to the practice of slavery, yet that again is only half-right.  The Corwin Amendment did, in fact, grant this protection, BUT…that protection, no matter how meaningful at the time of its passage, was about as ironclad as any amendment to the Constitution.  As we all know, an amendment can be repealed by a later amendment, rendering such a gesture by the North to be a trick in the eyes of the South.  In other words, just because the South didn't bite, doesn't mean they passed on the morsel because they didn't believe in its content; rather, it was because they were aware that the amendment really meant nothing in substance if it was merely deleted a year later through Constitutional amendment.

Let's not forget also that the Corwin Amendment was never “endorsed” by Lincoln.  It was a very lukewarm reception of the Amendment in the Inaugural speech where Lincoln full admitted that he hadn't even read the legislation!

“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service … holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Lincoln was a much more savvy individual than to believe that any such provision would be “irrevocable.”  Nothing, as history has proven time and time again, is irrevocable.

Here we have absolute total proof that the North wanted the South kept in the Union far more than the North wanted to abolish slavery.

Absolute proof?  The entire premise of Lincoln's campaign for the presidency rode on the abolition of slavery!  Going all the way back to the Lincoln-Douglas Debate in 1858, the candidate made the stark lines between himself and the Democrat Party quite clear…he did not believe for a moment that the Declaration of Independence was conceding that only White men were created equal!  To hold this Corwin Amendment passage (which occurred during the Buchanan presidency, I would add) as the proof that the North didn't want to abolish slavery is ludicrous.

Buchanan filled his entire Cabinet with Southern-sympathizers and it infuriated the Northern abolitionists.  Even his three Northern Cabinet members were fellow “doughfaces,” and this did nothing to tame the Republican forces aligned in opposition.

And, of course, the nation united was the more important, impending issue of the day!  What is more important than a “United” States of America?  Ending slavery a year before or a year after the Civil War would have done nothing to have stopped the formulation of the Ku Klux Klan or the Civil Rights movement.  The co-existence of the North and the South was vital to the survival of the Republic.  That was the focal thrust of the Lincoln Inaugural speech.  The Corwin Amendment was an afterthought, considering the man hadn't even seen the Amendment in the first place, since it was passed in Congress only two days prior.

Blaming the war on slavery was the way the northern court historians used morality to cover up Lincoln’s naked aggression and the war crimes of his generals. Demonizing the enemy with moral language works for the victor. And it is still ongoing. We see in the destruction of statues the determination to shove remaining symbols of the Confederacy down the Memory Hole.

Today the ignorant morons, thoroughly brainwashed by Identity Politics, are demanding removal of memorials to Robert E. Lee, an alleged racist toward whom they express violent hatred. This presents a massive paradox. Robert E. Lee was the first person offered command of the Union armies. How can it be that a “Southern racist” was offered command of the Union Army if the Union was going to war to free black slaves?

Virginia did not secede until April 17, 1861, two days after Lincoln called up troops for the invasion of the South.

I'll give Roberts the “ignorant morons” comment because he's absolutely right.  The kids today who have been brainwashed in our universities really don't know their history.


“Court historians,” as he likes to call those who replace real history with fake history, are not responsible for the information that has placed the primary underlying reasons for the Civil War at the table of slavery.  He is speaking specifically about the revisionists who would like all our children to be ignorant of history.  Stating that the Civil War was not fought over slavery is like saying that Obamacare was not the reason for a 26-hour work week.

Roberts has opted to forget everything prior to the passage of the Corwin Amendment in favor of a call to arms for the South being based on tariffs and high taxes…economy versus slavery.  SLAVERY WAS THE ECONOMY!

When slavery was introduced to the Colonies in the 1600-1700s by Europe through the West Indies trade, colonists were perplexed.  Genuinely perplexed.  The first slaves to arrive in the colonies were given over to the Northerners and the Southerners and told that they were slaves, but the colonists paid them nevertheless!  They were confused because, while many who were new immigrants to the New World, they remembered slavery from Europe and its implications.  But here, in the American Colonies, there was freedom and independence from the motherland.  Slavery?  Here?

Also, for those born in the Colonies, the concept of slavery was alien as well.  They had never seen it in their own lifetimes.  They knew of Indentured Servants.  That was well-documented.  Many of these Indentured Servants, arriving on the ships from Europe with “T”s tattooed or branded on their hands (for “transport”) were petty criminals who were sentenced by the courts to “transport” to the New World to serve out their sentence.  They arrived and were sent to work at one manor for a land-lord or another.  When their sentence was complete, then and only then, could they be free once again.

But slavery was foreign and strange.  Once the concept sank in and, particularly in the South where tobacco and cotton were a majority part of their economy in the plantations, the idea of slavery finally became more comfortable to the palate by landowners, it was inevitable that the slave trade in the South was indelibly connected and, in their minds, irrevocable.  To ignore this “truth” is to ignore the what's intellectually honest.  Yes, economic concerns were a driving primary force in secession with the North; but to say it was NOT about slavery is simply dishonest.

Surely there must be some hook somewhere that the dishonest court historians can use on which to hang an explanation that the war was about slavery. It is not an easy task. Only a small minority of southerners owned slaves. Slaves were brought to the New World by Europeans as a labor force long prior to the existence of the US and the Southern states in order that the abundant land could be exploited. For the South slavery was an inherited institution that pre-dated the South. Diaries and letters of soldiers fighting for the Confederacy and those fighting for the Union provide no evidence that the soldiers were fighting for or against slavery. Princeton historian, Pulitzer Prize winner, Lincoln Prize winner, president of the American Historical Association, and member of the editorial board of Encyclopedia Britannica, James M. McPherson, in his book based on the correspondence of one thousand soldiers from both sides, What They Fought For, 1861-1865, reports that they fought for two different understandings of the Constitution.

Landowners were not the fighting force of the South.  No one denies that the soldiers were not fighting over slavery.  Were the farmers and blacksmiths and printers apprentices and pickle salesmen fighting in the American Revolution fighting to break with the mother country, England.  Were they fighting against the oppressive tax laws of King George?  Of course not.  If they were, General Washington wouldn't have had to quell mutinies and request money from the Continental Congress every other month to entice his fighting men to say and not desert their posts!

The fact that the Southern soldiers were not fighting over slavery is one of the weakest arguments any historian can make for the case of the South and its connection to slavery.

As for the Emancipation Proclamation, on the Union side, military officers were concerned that the Union troops would desert if the Emancipation Proclamation gave them the impression that they were being killed and maimed for the sake of blacks. That is why Lincoln stressed that the proclamation was a “war measure” to provoke an internal slave rebellion that would draw Southern troops off the front lines.

If we look carefully we can find a phony hook in the South Carolina Declaration of Causes of Secession (December 20, 1860) as long as we ignore the reasoning of the document. Lincoln’s election caused South Carolina to secede. During his campaign for president Lincoln used rhetoric aimed at the abolitionist vote. (Abolitionists did want slavery abolished for moral reasons, though it is sometimes hard to see their morality through their hate, but they never controlled the government.)

South Carolina saw in Lincoln’s election rhetoric intent to violate the US Constitution, which was a voluntary agreement, and which recognized each state as a free and independent state. After providing a history that supported South Carolina’s position, the document says that to remove all doubt about the sovereignty of states “an amendment was added, which declared that 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.”

South Carolina saw slavery as the issue being used by the North to violate the sovereignty of states and to further centralize power in Washington. The secession document makes the case that the North, which controlled the US government, had broken the compact on which the Union rested and, therefore, had made the Union null and void. For example, South Carolina pointed to Article 4 of the US Constitution, which reads: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.” Northern states had passed laws that nullified federal laws that upheld this article of the compact. Thus, the northern states had deliberately broken the compact on which the union was formed.

And rightly so.  The whole premise of the Dred-Scott decision was based primarily on this sentiment, that property (including slaves) could not be taken away, even if said property crossed state lines, whether it be a free state or not.

But to call abolitionists hateful is disingenuous.  You had Pro-Slavery Congressman Preston Brooks literally attacking Abolitionist Charles Sumner with a cane on the floor of the Senate after Brooks claimed that Sumner verbally attacked a speech by his Pro-Slavery uncle, Senator Andrew Butler!  It goes both ways, doesn't it?

The obvious implication was that every aspect of states’ rights protected by the 10th Amendment could now be violated. And as time passed they were, so South Carolina’s reading of the situation was correct.

The secession document reads as a defense of the powers of states and not as a defense of slavery.

Well, of course, it did.  South Carolina leaders had no choice but to take the moral high ground, considering the groundswell of abolitionist movement against them.  The entire nation was in an uproar for decades over slavery.  The placating of slave-owners going back all the way to Ben Franklin's alteration of the Declaration of Independence to exclude language that was anti-slavery had finally ended.  All the uncomfortable conversations that had never taken place in Congress as the members danced lightly and carefully around the subject of slavery was over and this was the result.

Look at it any way you like:  South Carolina, as well as the other Secessionist states, had no choice but to make this about the defense of powers rather than slavery because that was a wartime subject that could not be won.

A court historian, who is determined to focus attention away from the North’s destruction of the US Constitution and the war crimes that accompanied the Constitution’s destruction, will seize on South Carolina’s use of slavery as the example of the issue the North used to subvert the Constitution. The court historian’s reasoning is that as South Carolina makes a to-do about slavery, slavery must have been the cause of the war.

As South Carolina was the first to secede, its secession document probably was the model for other states. If so, this is the avenue by which court historians, that is, those who replace real history with fake history, turn the war into a war over slavery.

This court historian can tell when a straw is being desperately grasped for, and Roberts is doing so with a lot of rather old excuses and older ideas about the South being more moral than the North.  Both had their problems…both had their issues.  And truth is difficult to find if you don't look at the whole picture.  Roberts conveniently omits the events leading up to the Civil War, which most agree were directly formulating public opinion against slavery.  There is a reason why Lincoln won the election purely on the basis of the abolition of slavery.

The end of the Mexican War in 1848 set the stage for the creation of new states and territories, all of which were to have the ability to vote on whether or not they would be “free” or “slave.”  The Compromise of 1850 led to this ability of the state to decide if it was a “popular sovereignty” state or a “free” state.

Because many of the new states and territories were choosing “free” status, the Pro-Slavery movement demanded part of the Compromise to include the Fugitive Slave Act that disallowed those slaves escaping to a free state and being harbored there from remaining and holding the sanctuary state or land-owner liable for such harboring.  This caused the abolitionist movement to increase its Underground Railroad activities.

In 1852, Harriet Beecher Stowe published “Uncle Tom's Cabin” and that fed the Northerners' abolition sentiments to the point of near Civil War status, prompting Abraham Lincoln to say to Stowe upon meeting her years later:  “So, you're the little lady who started the big war.”

From 1854-1856, outbreaks of violence in the state of Kansas between Pro-Slavery and abolitionists heightened to the point of bloody violence and became so horrid and reprehensible that the area was known as Bleeding Kansas.  The sides blamed each other over these armed and deadly clashes, brimming over into Congressional battles between members.  This was one of the precipitating instances where Brooks beat Sumner with his cane.

Less than a year later came the Dred-Scott decision based on a push by Democratic President and Pro-Slavery advocate Buchanan.  In 1858, Buchanan made a push also to alter Kansas from a “free” state into a “slave” state through the Lecompton Constitution, but it failed and was sent back to Kansas for a vote.  Amazingly, it had an attached caveat:  If Kansas voted to remain a free state, its official statehood would be delayed.  Kansas voted to remain a free state and maintained its anti-slavery stance!

Education has so deteriorated in the US that many people can no longer tell the difference between an explanation and an excuse or justification. In the US denunciation of an orchestrated hate object is a safer path for a writer than explanation. Truth is the casualty.

That truth is so rare everywhere in the Western World is why the West is doomed. The United States, for example, has an entire population that is completely ignorant of its own history.

As George Orwell said, the best way to destroy a people is to destroy their history.

And as Colin Wright said:  “Ignorance is a temporary affliction, remedied only by asking the right questions.”

Source:  Institute for Political Economy



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