Sunday, May 8, 2011

Was Slavery the Cause of the Civil War?

Controversy has been brewing on this issue on the editorial pages of The Lima News. It started a month ago when we had two columns on the same day, commemorating the upcoming 150th anniversary of the war's start. The columns were long and will not be reproduced here, as the titles tell the story. Leonard Pitts had the column "Civil War was about slavery, nothing more", while Tom Lucente's column was "Power the cause of American Civil War".

My response, published only in part because of its length, was:

"I am writing on the 150th anniversary of the American Civil war. This is not an event to be celebrated, but it certainly should be remembered and learned from, and in that vein I was glad to see two columns on this topic in Sunday's Lima News. One of those columns accurately described the issues causing the war, while the other was abysmally inaccurate and needs to be corrected.

Leonard Pitts ascribes the causes of the Civil War to slavery, which is totally false. Lincoln made this quite clear in his first inaugural address, saying: "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so." Then in July, when he submitted his message to Congress in support of his request for appropriations to fund the war, he never mentioned slavery at all!

Rather than being about slavery, Lincoln's war on the southern states was fueled by his belief that they had no right to secede, and that it was therefore his duty to keep the union intact. Lincoln repeatedly characterized the secession movement as a "rebellion", his purpose being to cast Southerners as traitors. How an action designed to peacefully separate yourself from a partnership is a "rebellion" is a bit of over-the-top sophistry which Lincoln could never justify.

Lincoln never did offer any decent legal analysis to support his view that secession was illegal, an amazing fact in light of his supposed competence as a lawyer. Study of the Constitution reveals that it says nothing one way or the other on the issue of whether a state has a right to secede. However, when read as a whole, it is obvious the intent of the founders was to delegate only certain limited powers to the federal government, with all other powers reserved to the states and/or the people. By implication, therefore, Lincoln was wrong in his view. Why people in the North blindly followed him, instead of challenging him on this, is hard to fathom.

The extreme irony here is that our country was founded by an act of secession. Further, during the Civil War the western counties of Virginia were allowed to secede from that state and form their own separate state.

In his Sunday column, Thomas Lucente correctly described the cause of the Civil War as being a dispute over the distribution of power in our federalist system. It is regrettable that American history books do not analyze the Civil War properly; however, what is really inexplicable is the fact that historians, who should know better, continue to rank Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents. If more people like Mr. Lucente speak out, perhaps a more accurate evaluation will eventually be made. "

Then this guest clumn from one Bob Brenneman"

"As I enter the final months of my 35 years spent teaching social studies at St. Marys Memorial High School, I found the opposing April 10 viewpoints of columnists Leonard Pitts Jr. and Thomas J. Lucente Jr. concerning the origins of the American Civil War quite interesting.

While I do not teach the Civil War, I did some checking to see which arguments had the most validity. In an age where people deny the Holocaust and the state board of education in Texas voted to remove the term “slave trade” from all its textbooks last year, it is important to know what actually happened before we begin to give our interpretations.

After a little checking, I would give Pitts an A and Lucente an F in terms of historical accuracy.

In Pitts' column (“Civil War was about slavery”), nothing more, he refers to the Declaration of Causes of Secession of the state of South Carolina. As each state seceded, it drew up a statement explaining why it was leaving the union. These make for some very interesting reading and would provide anyone honestly seeking the causes of the Civil War the best primary source available. I would suggest Lucente consult them before he pretends to speak on behalf of the seceding Southerners again (“Power the cause of American Civil War”).

Here is what they actually said when they spoke for themselves. Mississippi began its articles with the following paragraph:

“Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching consummation. There was no choice left us by submission to the mandates of abolition, or dissolution of the union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

Texas strikes a similar chord referring to the North having developed “an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irresponsive of race or color — a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.”

If one reads these any of these articles with an open mind, it is difficult to find anything that does not directly or indirectly point to slavery as the reason for secession. No Southern state in 1861 was the least bit apologetic about fighting a war to maintain slavery. The way to deal with this fact is not to pretend that it does not exist.

Pitts speaks wisely when he encourages us to “listen to the hard things the past has to say-and learn from them."

Then a letter from one Drew Cady:

"Jerry Weaver said in a recent letter that columnist Thomas J. Lucente Jr. was right describing the cause of the Civil War as being a dispute over the distribution of power in our federalist system, and Leonard Pitts Jr. was wrong to ascribe the causes to slavery.

Weaver cited Abraham Lincoln's words and actions to preserve the union and not directly attempt to end slavery at the beginning of his presidency as proof. Weaver further said historians who rank Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents should know better.

I believe Lincoln's choice of words, actions and timing were what led our nation toward reunification and the end of legalized slavery in the U.S. For this alone, he deserves to be recognized as one of our greatest presidents.

As for slavery, I would suggest readers access the “Declaration of Causes of Secession” given by the leaders of the Southern states. A reading of these justifies both Lucente and Pitts in their statements regarding the causes of the Civil War."

My response to the column, submitted yesterday:

"Guest columnist Brice Brenneman recently wrote that slavery was indeed the cause of the Civil War. However, all he establishes is that slavery was the cause of the secession of the southern states, a proposition which is not in question.

The issue being discussed is not the cause for secession, but rather the cause of the Civil War. This cause was clearly Lincoln's decision to make war on the southern states, rather than allow them to go in peace.
Almost immediately after taking office, Lincoln faced the crucial decision of whether to re-provision Fort Sumter. He chose to do so, against the almost unanimous advice of his Cabinet members, and knowing it would most likely lead to war. His reasons for going to war are well-documented, and did not involve slavery. Rather, he went to war because he was convinced that the south had no right to secede, and had to be stopped at all costs. As we know, the cost was horrendous, including 620,000 Americans killed."

1 comment:

Martin Casper said...

If there had been no slavery, there would have been no reason for the two regions.the North and the South, to go to war against one another. The
North's chief objection to slavery was economics. Didn't want slavery to encroach on their free labor economy. Study the whole ante-bellum period in America (1800 - 1860) and you will see how slavery gradually led to the two regions entering into the bloodbath.