The government and progressive media narrative of the Civil War focuses on one issue—slavery–turning the war into a morality play about freeing Southern slaves. No knowledgeable and politically uncorrupted scholar can endorse such a politicized and distorted simplification of history. Yet that is the prevailing and often repeated public understanding of the “cause” of the war. Slavery was an important secondary issue, but it was not primarily driven by a moral rejection of the institution by most Northern political leaders or their constituents.
Slavery is an institution that limits human freedom and productivity and is fraught with the potential for human abuse. It also presents extreme dangers to the peace, stability, and social well being of any society. However, the conditions and abuses of slavery in the South were greatly exaggerated by Northern media and political leaders to justify Northern aggression and tyranny throughout the war, during Reconstruction, and still today. Under the strong influence of Christian teachings in the South, slavery was much more benign than generally believed today, perhaps the most benign in human history. Extensive research by Fogel and Engerman in 1974 and the Slave Narratives, compiling interviews with former slaves by the Roosevelt Administration from 1936 to 1938, indicate that Southern slaves had significantly better nutrition, housing, and medical care than Northern industrial workers. Physical abuse was uncommon and unlawful. Over 80 percent of the former slaves interviewed by Federal Government scholars had a favorable opinion of their former masters.
My favorite way of shattering ideological attachment to an exaggerated vision of slavery as the all-important cause of the war is quotation. Quotes make history more real and help people understand past and present culture. Moreover, they force people to think. This is particularly important in unbinding the chains of political correctness, which presently shackle so much of history and often obscure essential truth.
President Woodrow Wilson, in his multi-volume History of the American People, offered this explanation as to why the issue of slavery was so exaggerated during and after the war:
“It was necessary to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery.”
Other quotes follow.
Charles Dickens, beloved British author:
“The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”
London Times, November 7, 1861:
“The contest is really for empire on the side of the North, and for independence on that of the South, and in this respect we recognize an exact analogy between the North and the Government of George III, and the South and the Thirteen Revolted Provinces.”
Lyander Spooner, New England lawyer and abolitionist, five years after the war:
“All these cries of having abolished slavery, of having saved the country, of having preserved the union, of establishing a government of consent, and of maintaining the national honor are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats—so transparent that they ought to deceive no one.”
Henry Carey, Lincoln’s Chief Economist, promoter of the “American System” of Developmental Capitalism and Government Intervention, in a letter to House Speaker Schuyler Colfax in March 1865:
”To British Free-Trade it is, as I have shown, that we stand indebted for the present Civil War.”
Maj. General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, January 1864:
“Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late…It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects of derision…It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up, we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.”
Confederate Lt. General John B. Gordon, later distinguished Governor and U.S. Senator from Georgia:
“As for the South, it is enough to say that perhaps eighty percent of her armies were neither slave-holders, nor had the remotest interest in the institution. No other proof, however, is needed than the undeniable fact that at any period of the war from its beginning to near its close, the South could have saved slavery by simply laying down its arms and returning to the Union”
The Constitution of the Confederate States; March 11, 1861:
“We, the people of the Confederate States, each State acting in its sovereign and independent character, in order to form a permanent federal government, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God do ordain and establish this Constitution for the Confederate States of America.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis after the war.
“The Principle for which we contend is bound to reassert itself, though it may be at another time and in another form.”
Salmon P. Chase, Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, July 1867
“If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion. Lincoln wanted [Confederate President] Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one.”
After two years in prison, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was released without trial. He died on a visit to New Orleans in 1889 at the age of 81 and is buried in Mississippi. In May 2015, the Student Government at the University of Texas voted almost unanimously to remove a statue of Davis on the South Campus Mall following the Charleston Church shootings and South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s removal of the Confederate Battle Flag from the state capitol. The University of Texas statue of Davis was removed and relocated to a campus museum by order of the President of the University. Since then there have been hundreds of attacks on Confederate symbols.
-go to www.universalmediainc.org to order The Un-civil War.