A Personal Request

I’ve never been much interested in military history nor in the Civil War. (My relatives fought, I believe, on both sides, but – and this is telling – I’m not even sure about that.)

Still I love mid-nineteenth century lit. So, here I am – trying to pick the quite excellent and well-stocked brains of my co-Chicagoboyz and our knowledgeable commenters.

Clearly I have some really big holes in my knowledge. My impression (and something I always make a point of when teaching Frederick Douglass) is the splits in so many of the major Protestant denominations came from beliefs about slavery. (I’m sure economics & politics entered, as well, but to ignore the polarizing issue of slavery is to ignore the voices in the literature we read.)

I’d thought the church in the south found reasons to defend slavery, while the core of the Abolitionist movement came out of the Northern Protestant churches. I’m curious: am I wrong or have I been miseducating students? What are some good treatments of the role of religion in both the Civil War itself and the movements that led up to it?

My students have taken to politely observing that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, that the motives were political. This isn’t what the voices of Thoreau or Douglass would say, of course. I’ll accept there’s some truth to what they say, but my suspicion is that there isn’t as much as they would like to think. For instance, they are quite willing to see the Southern churches as hypocritical, but less willing to believe the Northern church’s role in the Abolitionist movement. Cynicism sounds more truthful when we are 18 or 20 than it does when we’ve seen a bit more of the world.

People’s motives are always a mixed bag, but it is best not to simplify them too much. When they approvingly quote their anthro teacher who argues that all of history is one group having something and another group wanting it and so wrenching it from them, I figure they are ignoring much that has compelled man to act. We are covetous, but we’re also complicated.

78 thoughts on “A Personal Request”

  1. Ginny: Two essential books are Kevin Phillips’ The Cousins’ Wars and Freehling’s Road to Disunion. (The cites and a thumbnail summary are in the biblio to The Anglosphere Challenge which is on line at the URL above.) Of course it was about slavery. Slavery wasn’t a political issue? Duh!

    On that particular question also see Jay Winik’s April 1865 and Freehling’s The South vs. The South, and in particular the discussion in both books about Confederate General Patrick Cleburne and his proposal to arm black troops for the Confederacy, which he realized would mean the end of slavery in the South as the price of independence. This proposal (which was secret for a long time) is fascinating because it split the Southern nationalists (who were willing to abolish slavery if that was the price of Southern independence) from the people who were fighting primarily to keep their slaves.

  2. “My students have taken to politely observing that slavery had nothing to do with the Civil War, that the motives were political.”

    Odd isn’t it of the timing of the 13th and 14th Amendments? Odd too that for reestablishment of full representation after the rebellion that states were required to ratify it. [side note – since Kentucky never claimed succession, they didn’t get around to ratification till the last decade, with much embarrassment.] Not just loyalty oaths were required, but ratification of two permanent changes to Constitution.

    Its along the same rational that Posse Comitatus protects civil rights. In fact the Act removed the federal troops from the polls in the post war South resulting the loss of basic civil rights of hundreds of thousand and ultimately millions of blacks for nearly a hundred years.

  3. The problem with Civil War history is that there is so much of it, and so much of it is of good quality.

    If I had to pick one book to get started, I would highly recommend James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. It covers the political as well as the military dimensions, it is thorough, it is well-written and it has an excellent bibliography to pursue matters in greater detail.

    To get a feel for Northern attitudes to the war, the conduct of the war, and the war-weariness that led to early termination of Reconstruction, in effect abandoning the southern blacks, Jean Edward Smith’s superb biography of U.S. Grant is very good.

    A book which I have sitting here but I have not yet read is Alan Guelzo’s The Emancipation Proclamation. This book addresses the cynical view of Lincoln’s actions — making the point that Lincoln was constrained by legal and military practicalities, and that he did as much as he could given the public’s mixed views on the issue. You might want to look at this so you can better confront your students with the reality of leaders who have to actually do things and try to make their policies work, as opposed to sitting in moral superiority from a chair in a classroom. Lincoln to his credit, thought like a lawyer, and he wanted to enact something that would be enforceable, and master of rhetoric that he was, he also knew when to employ dry, cold legal language. He used the language appropriate to get done what he wanted to get done. Review here

    (Walter Russell Mead reviewed this book recently, which I had an itch to buy.)

    I concur in Jim’s recommendation of The Cousins’ War, which is a brilliant though idiosyncratic book. Note that it is much broader in scope than just the Civil War. I have not yet read the Freehling books, or the Winik book.

    Your basis understanding as set forth here is correct in general. Of course the war was about slavery. It was a timebomb that had been threatening to go off for decades. The people of that time were not cynical. They believed in their principles and killed and died for them. That in itself is hard for modern people to understand.

    Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (20th Massachusetts, wounded three times) put it very well:

    The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperiled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluble; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.

  4. Ginny,

    Unfortunately, history has shown that religions tend to rationalize theology to justify the economic and political beliefs of their adherents. I think your observation that northern churches tended towards abolition and southern churches justified slavery is largely correct. More diversity existed earlier in the 1800’s but by the 1850 the lines where fairly well drawn.

    I think that people do forget that up to the point the actual shooting started, abolition was a cost-free moral position for northerners to take. They would be materially unaffected either way. Southerners contemplating abolition had to face the restructuring of their entire social, political and economic order. Abolition for the vast majority of northerners was a cheap and easy route to moral elevation. (I think one of John Callhoun’s(sp?) famous pre-war speeches touched on that.)

    Your students belief that the war was largely an economic/politica issue probably reflects the way the history of the war is taught in the south. When I was in college, conversations with other students educated in other parts of the country led me to investigate the textbooks used in various states. In the south, the economic and state’s rights aspects of the war are played up and the role of slavery played down. In the North, the war is presented largely as a moral crusade to abolish slavery and the economic and constitutional issues are played down.

  5. Excellent information above, to which I can only add:
    If slavery wasn’t the issue, why did all the Secession Resolutions mention it?
    Having said that, there is a distinction to be drawn between the interests of the plantation owners and those of the Confederate rank and file, few of whom were slaveowners — thus the expression “a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
    My understanding is that Abolitionism was considered to be a fringe movement. One thing to check is the date that the mainline denominations fissioned. If it was before the election of 1860, it seems more likely that Abolitionists were directly responsible.
    Great stuff from Lex, as usual, so I offer the following with no unduly critical intent: In our time, we are learning the limits of the sentiment expressed in “… we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.” I don’t respect the shaheed.
    An instructive contrast may be drawn between the respective roles of the church in the US and Brazil in abolishing slavery. My understanding is that the Catholic hierarchy in Brazil more or less said “game over,” and that was it. American Protestantism was too democratic for such a thing to be done here.
    Finally, a shameless plug regarding Ginny’s: “Cynicism sounds more truthful when we are 18 or 20 than it does when we’ve seen a bit more of the world.” Ah, the progression of situational citizenship

  6. Saying that the Civil War was about more than slavery is perfectly accurate. However, saying that the Civil War was not about slavery at all is an attempt to rewrite history. The Civil War was about many things but all of those issues turned on the axle of the issue of slavery.

    Remember what the primary cause of the Civil War was the succession of Southern states due to the election of Lincoln. They did not do so out of some idea that Lincoln was some states’ rights buster but out of the fear that he was an abolitionist.

  7. Here is what Lincoln had to say about the cause of the Civil War, in his Second Inaugural Address:

    “One eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the Southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was, somehow, the cause of the war. 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 expected for the war, the magnitude, or the duration, which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!” If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”


    The burden of proof on those who would disagree is heavy.

  8. Some blog that I visit linked to an analysis of Lincoln’s 1858 speech, in which the author argued that Lincoln effectively politically isolated Douglas, which somehow insured war. I don’t remember the details, but that guy thinks it’s the most important speech in American history. I’ll post the link if I find it, but I’m sure any political analysis of the Civil War must include that speech.

  9. Ginny – You might also want to look at the first volume of an earlier popular history, Bruce Catton’s “The Coming Fury”.

    To summarize very briefly, Catton says that Southern pro-slavery extremists blocked the nomination of Democrat Steven Douglas, demanded a pro-slavery platform, and divided the Democratic party. (One faction then nominated Douglas, the other, Breckinridge) The result was the election of Lincoln and the secession of most slave states — as extremists such as South Carolina’s William Yancey intended.

    When South Carolina seceded, they cited as their principle grievance attacks on the institution of slavery, and they issued a call to all “Slave-holding States” to join them.

    People have denied that slavery was the principle issue in the Civil War for two reasons, to make the South look better, and to make the United States look worse. But anyone who reads what most in the North and South said at the time can have no doubt that slavery was the main reason for the conflict.

    If I were you, I would find those South Carolina statements and share them with your students, along with what Lincoln said in his second inaugural.

    Here’s an Amazon link to the Catton history, which has recently been re-released in a paperback edition:

    (Douglas’s great crime, from the point of view of the pro-slavery extremists, was that he believed in “popular sovereignty”, the right of the people of a state to decide not to have slavery.

    It is quite likely that many Southern soldiers did not fight to preserve slavery, but to, as they saw it, defend their homes.)

  10. The single best book on the civil war is Fletcher Pratt’s “Short History of the Civil War”; originally titled “Ordeal by Fire” in 1935. Modern scholarship shows some errors in the details, but check out the reviews at Amazon:

    Bruce Catton could spend two pages describing a muddy campaign, and you will come away knowing it was muddy and what a logistical problem that was. Shelby Foote could spend a chapter on a muddy campaign and you will come away knowing it was muddy and how much the troops complained about it and maybe a funny incident or two. Fletcher Pratt could spend a paragraph or two on that campaign, and when done you’ll notice your legs hurt. Why? Because you didn’t want to get mud on your couch.

  11. One of the resons I recommended Phillips was his detailed analysis of the partisan politics and social divisions of the US in the decades before the War, including the fascinating story of exactly how the Liberty Party (pure abolitionists) grew into the Free Soil party (a coalition with people merly opposed to the extension of slavery into the West, for many different reasons) and then combined with some of the remnants of the Whigs to for the Republican party. The story of how churches and other arms of civil society divided in the decade before the War addresses your questions directly.

    The Abolitionists may have been a fringe element before 1850, but they rapidly gained more influence as events accelerated.

  12. It’s a modern liberal lie that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery. Liberals want to make all Americans evil, when in fact the North sacrificed much in order to win freedom for the slaves.

    I have been reading the book Twenty Years of Congress by James Blaine, which is about the political history of time before, during, and after the Civil War. James Blaine lived through it as a member of Congress and as the Speaker of the House, and he says the war was about slavery.

  13. I am nit-picking here but as somebody from the other side of the Pond (who, nevertheless, has studied and read American history) I have always thought that what the Southern states wanted was secession. Yet several of the comments mention succession. Succession to what?

  14. Ginny,

    One other thing about religion and the civil war. In the north, the desire to preserve the union was a far stronger incentive to fight the war than was abolition and that desire had strong religious roots. Many believed that America had a divinely granted imperative to be moral beacon for all mankind. It was therefor imperative that America survive intact. This belief was probably the most import for its practical impact on the course of the war.

  15. I’m sure there is good reason for their reticence, so you will not find much historical information from the churches themselves about the splits, most of which took place in the 1840’s. Here is a short account. Here is a more particular account of the Baptists, which notes that there were regional differences long before the 1845 split. Here is an original source, a Biblical “justification” of slavery. That same collection has many other manuscripts and publications from the period.

  16. Dear Ginny,

    For the sheer pleasure of reading first-person accounts, I would recommend:

    “Mary Chesnut’s Civil War”, edited by C. Vann Woodward, and

    “The Civil War Diary of Sarah Morgan” edited by Charles East.

    Mary Chesnut was married to a high-ranking member of the Confederate government which gives her diary some special added insight to the times, however, Sarah Morgan’s diary, begun when she was a mere teenager in Baton Rouge, has charm beyond belief.


  17. Thanks to everybody – and to anyone who comes along later. You all have been very helpful – and shown why we must have some of the most generous commenters as well as bloggers on our site.

    I can see my Amazon bill is going to enlarge & probably won’t be able to get to much before May. The only one of all those mentioned I’d read was Winik’s – which I really enjoyed but didn’t have enough context. Now, I will go back to it with a better focus.

    The 1858 speech is I suspect the “House Divided” one. My impression: while Lincoln said that if the union could be kept together with slavery in the south, he would favor that. Clearly in his 2nd Inaugural he shows his passion was partially impelled by the reasons Shannon gives. But this speech argues that a house divided cannot long stand; it certainly implies a nation half slave & half free could not remain split on such an important issue.

    I want to apply myself to at least some fo these works because they sound like they would help with other literary figures as well. For instance, Jim Bennett’s description of the party division might help me better understand William Cullen Bryant.

    And, of course, the holes in my education argue
    against specialization in a liberal arts education. How are we to understand these writers without understanding the context of their times, the newspapers they edited (and the audiences for them)? Only at the end of my own graduate classwork, as I was taking required Am Civ courses – I had tons of lit but nothing from other departments – did I begin to see how partial was the perspective I’d always taken on lit works.

  18. Ginny,
    Had the average preachers began their careers in the south (where slavery was an economic factor) rather than the north (where slavery was not a factor), then they would not have taken an abolishinists stand.

    I know Lex and others disagree but the insistence upon union and consequent southern invasion to force union upon southern stataes was the act of a tyrancial (Lincoln-led) government.

    The reason this is so relates to the process by which the constitution was ratified by the states 80 or so years earlier. If the constitution had contained a clause agreeing to a permanent union it would never have been adopted. Such language was actively argued for but was a stumbling block to ratification. A clause requiring a permanent arangement was not included in order to gain acceptance by the states.

    So, the justification for the civil war was not a matter of the rule of law (and was contrary to American tradition) but a matter of the rule and desire of (Northern) men. It seems to me the “tyranical” appelation with respect to Lincoln in this regard (even though he agonized over it) is a just one.

    BTW, Lincoln and company may have made the country great by preserving the union, but let’s call it (the northeren insistence upon union) what it was.

    BTW#2 (I don’t want to dis Abe to much, but) Do you all think that, throughout the world, the bigger the statue errected, the more questionable the actions of the “model” are? Think Stalin, Saddam Husein,….

  19. The only appropriate response from me is probably gratitude to all. And modesty – having already revealed by woeful lack of knowledge about American history in general & Civil War history in particular.

    Nonetheless, Tyouth, I’m curious about your attitude toward slavery. That big elephant sat in the middle of the South’s living room. They developed an elaborate and chivalric code, but ignored that elephant. You can’t really pretend that it wasn’t important.

    This reminds me of a woman I knew who looked at a poster I had up at my business. She said it was remarkable but, of course, the painting was so much more so. Then she said, ah, but I wouldn’t put up a poster from an exhibition I hadn’t seen. Such niceness might be that of a Henry James heroine, except at that point she was living with another woman’s husband.

    Such disproportionality seems more like a psychological condition than a real take on history: I suspect that many a tyrant’s oppressed citizens would be happy to live in Lincoln’s America, which may have limited press & speech freedoms, but still allowed a remarkable level of criticism. McClellan would not have kept his head in either the government of Stalin or that of Saddam Hussein. Many a tyrant’s oppressed citizens would be surprised to see a free election conducted in the middle of a civil war. (You notice, Lincoln did not get 99% of the vote.) To compare Lincoln to Stalin & Saddam Hussein seems, well, over the top.

  20. If you want a really detailed discussion of the issues, and are willing to make the effort to wade through all the inter-relationships between political philosophies, theologies, foundational documents of the republic, and competing ideologies, see Harry Jaffa’s “Crisis of the House Divided,” and “A New Birth of Freedom.”

    I also recommend Eric Foner’s “Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War,” which covers, for example, the tension between evangelical, revivalist Protestantism and abolitionism and its effect on the New York anti-abolition riots of 1834.

    Finally, for an interesting look at how unrelated political agendas can be combined into a platform, see Tyler Anbinder’s “Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings & the Politics of the 1850’s.” Want to know what anti-Catholicism, alcohol prohibition, abolition, and anti-immigration have to do with each other? Just ask a Know Nothing.

  21. There were very few democracies in the world at the time. A lot of people believed that American democracy was a precious thing, that it was the mainstay of our liberty, that it was the treasure bought with the blood of the Revolutionary generation, and that much of the rest of the world was hoping that our free and democratic country would fail. They knew that a divided country would lead to both sections being preyed upon by foreign powers and a permanent state of warfare or at best armed truce between the sections — in other words the replication of European power politics here on our continent, something the Founders warned against. There were lots of reasons to be horrified at the prospect of secession.

    The question of the supposed legality of secession is largely trumped up. The Constitution did not contemplate the unilateral withdrawal of any state from the Union. The legalistic arguments made by the Southerners on this point are not convincing. They wanted out, and they cooked up rationalizing arguments. .

    The South lost an election and instead of accepting the outcome and working with it, started a war and began killing people. That is the antithesis of democracy, which requires the discipline to work within a system of law and accept results you don’t like. Taking up arms against the constitutionally legitimate government of the USA was considered an outrage by many in the North who would otherwise have tolerated slavery going on.

    Tyouth has left many good comments but he has a blind spot as to Lincoln. The idea that Lincoln was like Stalin or Saddam is preposterous. Many libertarians detest Lincoln because they see the victory of the North as the victory of “government”. This is a blinkered and childish view of the situation. Read the history and make your own conclusions.

  22. Thanks Lex, it is always nice to keep in mind how fragile these people thought democracy was (Europe keeps seeing us as young, but frankly we’re the showcase for democracy – it is here that it has lasted).

    Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech is in some ways in a direct line from Winthrop’s “On Christian Charity.” Both argue that the value (the Puritan interpretation of Christianity in the first and “government of the people, by the people & for the people” in the second) is bigger than the people whose responsibility it is to show the truth & beauty of that value by their actions in this world (being bound by the ligaments of love in the one case and demonstrating that the union will hold and such a government does work in the latter). If they fail, their failure with mean in the first case that their God will not be honored and in the second that their form of government will not be replicated. This is bigger than them – bigger, indeed, than the failure of a colony or the loss of a war.

  23. As to book recommendations, I think anyone who has to deal a lot with the Civil War, e.g. someone who teaches American literature, would benefit from the magisterial Encyclopedia of the American Civil War. The treasure trove of documents alone, e.g. Lincoln’s 1858 speech, the Dred Scott decision, and all the Ordinances of Secession, justifies the price of the volume.

    I think Robin Goodfellow has it exactly right: “The Civil War was about many things but all of those issues turned on the axle of the issue of slavery.” Many issues divided the North and the South – the powers of the Federal Government vis a vis the States, conflicts about tariffs, a foreign policy that favored manufacturing or agriculture. The reason, however, that, in the end, these divisions could not be bridged was the division over slavery. Slavery was, to use another analogy, the linchpin that held together the various disputes between the North and South and what made them irresolvable.

    I also think, however, that Jim Miller has it exactly right: “It is quite likely that many Southern soldiers did not fight to preserve slavery, but to, as they saw it, defend their homes.” The first round of secessions took place in December, 1860 and January, 1861. It was the election of Lincoln that led these states to bolt. It was not, however, until after Lincoln’s April 15, 1861 proclamation calling for volunteers and making it clear he was going to preserve the Union by force that the rest of the South, including Virginia, seceded. I believe the ordinary Southern soldier fought, not in support of slavery, but because the North had invaded the South. Many Southerners, certainly small and middle sized Southern farmers (think of Jimmy Stewart’s character in SHENANDOAH) hated slavery, but what they hated even more was those damnyankees invading the South to maintain the Union by force. Almost all Southerners really did see their liberty threatened by a Federal government run amok.

    I think, therefore, we can best over simplify matters thus: Slavery ultimately led to secession, and Lincoln’s decision to preserve the Union by force led to war. Of course, secession eventually would have led to war anyway because, even if Lincoln had let the South go in peace, sooner or later, the USA and CSA would have come into armed conflict over, among other things, the Western territories. Thus, in the final analysis slavery was the cause of the Civil War.

  24. ” Secession ” mea culpa.

    It’s easy in the popular history to start the events with the states’ declarations or the firing on Fort Sumter. However, to understand the events leading to these actions, I’d say that the war was fired by the actions which unfolded in ‘Bleeding Kansas’ years before. It was the pre-Civil War. It demonstrates what the ruckus was all about.


    Now, just for fun and color [flavor not pure historical accuracy], dig out a copy of the movie “Santa Fe Trail”.

  25. “Many Southerners, certainly small and middle sized Southern farmers (think of Jimmy Stewart’s character in SHENANDOAH) hated slavery, but what they hated even more was those damnyankees invading the South to maintain the Union by force. Almost all Southerners really did see their liberty threatened by a Federal government run amok.”

    This is a common interpretation, but I’ve never seen the evidence to support it. Southern states were more than happy to have the national government impose gag rules in Congress, prohibit abolitionist literature being sent through the US mails, enforce the fugative slave laws, and impose tarrifs favorable to southern interests. They only objected to federal authority when it was not used to actively support their interests. They were happy to have federal troops (US Marines to be precise) from Washington City enter Virginia to capture and hang John Brown for inciting servile insurrection. For some reason they were less supportive of US troops preventing Missouri Bushwackers from assaulting anti-slavery voters in Kansas.

    They weren’t feeling threatened by a federal government run amok, they were feeling threatened because the federal government wasn’t beating the snot out of the abolitionist like they thought it should. They split the Democratic Party and rejected Steven Douglas’s principle of popular sovereignty because they did not believe that it should be legal for states to prohibit slavery. They likewise rejected the right of Utah to make polygamy legal within that state and expected the federal government to reject the Utah state constitution on those grounds despite the fact that the US Constitution is absolutely silent on the matter. Those are not positions based on any concept of state rights. They agreed with Chief Justice Taney’s opinion in Dred Scott that negros have no rights under the Constition and that no state should be allowed to give them US citizenship despite the fact that that was not the matter before the court. They supported judicial activism by the Taney court when it favored them, and rejected it when it did not.

    Further more, I’ve seen virtually no evidence to support the claim that the average southern soldier did not actively support slavery. Arguments based on slave ownership ignore the fact that many southern farmers, even the fairly large class of subsistence farms (who, by the way, virtually disappeared after the war) used slaves they did not own. They would rent or borrow them, just like we rent and borrow cars today. And not owning a car does not mean you don’t aspire to own one someday. And it also doesn’t mean you don’t see the value in someone else owning them and don’t support the taxes used to maintain roads and bridges.

    For example, several years ago I got an opportunity to go through the spindle records of a general store in Richmond during the Civil War that are currently in the collection of the Library of Virginia in Richmond. As orders were processed in the store they would be stuck on a spike attached to the clerks desk. When the spindle filled up, they were pulled off and stored in a box. By chance, about 3 years of orders from one store survive. I was doing research into Civil War textiles and got permission to photograph the collection because many of the orders included an attached fabric sample. If someone wanted some fabric from the store but didn’t have time to visit the shop in person, they would write a note describing what they wanted (often attaching a sample to match) and send it with a “boy” to the store. The store would make up the order and either send it back with the “boy” that brought the order, or have it delivered by the store’s “boy.” The references on the notes to “boys” are ubiquitous. If you didn’t have a “boy” to send, you would ask your friend across the street if her “boy” could run an errand for you.

    There were 4.5 million slaves in the south. They were everywhere. Everyone saw them. Everyone used them. They weren’t just on the plantations, they were in the railroad stations, and the blacksmiths shops, and in the grist mills, and on the river boats, and in the kitchens and laundries and bedrooms. If you grew up in the south, you couldn’t image the world without slaves regardless of whether you owned one or not.

    The only big area in the south were there weren’t many slaves was in the Appalachians. Northwestern Georgia and South Carolina, western North Carolina, western Virgina and Maryland, eastern Kentucky and Tennesee were largely white — and largely Unionist.

    Another thing many accounts ignore is that the military mobilization of the south occurred before secession. The main military force in the ante-bellum US were the state militias, not the regular army. Southern state militias exploded in the year preceding the war. The Charleston Zouave Cadets fired the first shots of the war and they were a South Carolina state militia company organized in the summer of 1860. What the Confederate government did after secession was to convert these local organizations into the national field armies with which we are familiar, but the sword was already drawn before Lincoln was inaugurated. Look at the photographs of the Richmond Grays (a Virginia State militia company) at John Brown’s execution and then look up how many of those men later served in the Army of Northern Virginia.

    What you see in border states seceeding after Lincoln calls up the militia is the effect of a small number of swing voters. In March of 1861 Virginia is divided 49% for secession and 51% for union and the governor is actively working to avoid a convention on secession. Lincoln mobilizes the militia and 2% of the voters switch from being unionists to being secessionist. That is not the same thing as 51% of the voters becoming secessionists because Lincoln calls up the militia. And what really happens is that Virginia divides east/west. The west is pro-union and the east is pro-secession and the swing voters are all in Richmond. Of course it is not possible to know these kind of numbers with any certainty, but the point remains that a change in a state’s position on secession does not necessarily indicate a major shift in voter sentiment.

    None of this is to say that the same things weren’t happening in the north. Northerns were just as happy to applaud SCOTUS decisions favoring them and condemn those they opposed. Most abolitionists were not in favor of negro voting rights and very few of them supported repeal of the laws against inter-racial marriages. Many people objected to slavery not because of sympathy for the slaves, but because they felt the “slavocracy” wielded inordinate power in the federal government. The 3/5ths representation in the constitution certainly supported this belief. And there were regional divisions as well. New York City was very supportive of secessionists, whereas the old North West Territories of the 1787 act, where especially hostile to it.

    All the letters and all the speeches and all the pamphlets I’ve seen show that the southerns were very much aware of what they were fighting for, and that was explicitly a culture based on negro slavery. Everything else was an explanation of why that culture was worth fighting for, or why some particular event was threatening it. I haven’t seen a single letter from a soldier saying, “I hate slavery, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some Yankee set foot in my state.” I’ve seen lots that say the second part, but they never include the first part. There may be some out there, but it’s not many. I’ve also seen lots of letters from Union soldiers that say, “I hate N*****s, but I’ll be damned if I’ll let some Reb break up my country.”

    After the war, with the benefit of perfect hindsight, many veterans change their tunes. Take Oliver Wendell Holmes conciliatory speeches on Decoration Day with a grain of salt. He might not have been so respectful of his opponents back when he hadn’t slept in 3 days, was up to his knees in mud, and his best friend had bled to death in his arms the day before.

  26. Paul K writes: “Another thing many accounts ignore is that the military mobilization of the south occurred before secession. The main military force in the ante-bellum US were the state militias, not the regular army. Southern state militias exploded in the year preceding the war. The Charleston Zouave Cadets fired the first shots of the war and they were a South Carolina state militia company organized in the summer of 1860. What the Confederate government did after secession was to convert these local organizations into the national field armies with which we are familiar, but the sword was already drawn before Lincoln was inaugurated.”

    All of this is certainly true. It was clear that, if Lincoln won, much of the South would secede. (Perhaps they would have seceded anyway.) Since much of the South had already set sail for the shores of secession, they had to prepare for war, if the Union President, whoever he was, decided to fight to save the Union. Also, Fort Sumner was in Charleston Harbor. It was only natural that South Carolina would want to remove what it held to be the outpost of a foreign regime. Had Lincoln decided not to save the Union by force (a decision that I believe would have been one of most tragically wrong decisions in all of history), there would have been no Civil War as we know it (though, as I indicated before, some sort of armed conflict between the USA and CSA would have happened eventually).

    It’s one thing to say that most Southerners couldn’t imagine life without slavery or even that most Southerners benefited in some way from slavery (which, no doubt, is true). It’s quite another thing, however, to say that most Southerners fought to preserve slavery. After all, the letters from Southerners that Paul K cites, while they proclaim no hatred of slavery, do support the idea that the reason they were fighting was to repel the North’s invasion. (BTW, the cited Northerners’ letters indicated little sympathy for the plight of Southern Blacks and that, for many, the War was no campaign for Emancipation but, rather, one for Union.) Perhaps, many Southerners were hypocritical and condemned Federal actions only when they didn’t like them. Still, when it comes to seeing the Federal Government as running amok, a military invasion is rather more dramatic evidence than an activist Supreme Court.

  27. Ginny,

    I feel that anti-slavery feeling was not very strong pre-hostilities and certainly nowhere close to strong enough to cause the civil-war. After hostilities I estimate it was used as propoganda (not to say that some folks didn’t have legit. strong anti-slavery feelings) to create as much anti Confederacy feeling as possible. In short, if hostilities had not started; when, if ever, would a civil war have started over the institution of slavery? If the north had devloped an economy based upon it one can easily guess it never would have been an issue at all at the time. To a large extent it was a change in fashion, wasn’t it? In 1820, for example, very very few would have had anything bad to say about it.

    We can’t sit here, in another world, and judge the morality of persons in that time in a very meaningful way. Finally, on a personal note, re. slavery: I’m against it.

  28. Lex,

    You and Ginny may be right about my “large statue” comment (although I didn’t say A. Lincoln was “like” Stalin and Hussien) being “over the top”. I’ll give you that one.

    However, you have (borrowing your phrase) a blind spot re.”the constitution not contemplating any state withdrawing from the union”. That is a pretty gross spin on the situation.

    More to the point is that the constitution does not contemplate perpetual union. You question the “supposed legality” of secession. I think I gave a pretty strong argument about why it was legal. I don’t know how to cite a stronger precedent re. American tradition and law than the the arguments at the constiutional convention. I repeat, a prepetual union was contemplated there and, if a prepetual union had been included in the document, the constitution would not have been adopted. The right to seceed, “not mentioned”, was reserved. Makes sense to me and is strongest secession legal argument – for or against – that I’ve ever seen.

    Where is the case for non-secession? (Emotional appeals to democracy, the morality of freeing the slaves, and “shining examples” for the world need not apply).

    Re. taking up arms. I believe that S. Carolinia asked Fort Sumter to evacuate peacefully. After they had secceded (and, of course, given that they had the right to seceed) then they had every right to ask that force to evacuate and to fight for the S. Carolinian property the fed. troops occuppied.

  29. There were all kinds of arguments on both sides. The argument that the union was not meant to be perpetual is wrong. I don’t have time to look it up. But even if it wasn’t a unilateral declaration followedy by armed violence, rather than some lawful separation cannot possibly have been “contemplated.” Anyway, there were decades of these arguments before the war. They were decided once and for all on the battlefield.

    I think anti-Big-Government libertarians who romanticize the Confederacy do not do their cause much of a service. We always have a few such voices around here any time anyone mentions the civil war.

  30. You talkin’ to me?


    Seriously though, I generally don’t believe that “big government” is very efficient, it is prone to corruption, and it is especially not adept in handling new challanges quickly ( still, I’m not sure that’s “anti-big gov’t”) , and, without doubt, I am not a Libertarian. Still, you don’t approach the argument in describing me or my supposed traits.

    Have I romanticized the Confederacy? Come on, Hitler decided Poland’s fate “on the battlefield”, a fine argument that – other than the winners write the history books, if that’s what you allude to.

    WHY is it wrong? If my history/legal reasoning is wrong, please call me on it.

  31. Of course the argument about ‘perpetual union’ and the secession ignore that the founding fathers put in to the primary document the concept “unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” So they did anticipate rebellion. Rebellion for what? Rebellion is outside the political model of the Constitution. Now engage in rhetorical gymnastics trying to make some form of rebellion anything else than secession, physically or functionally, from the political structure.

  32. Don, If the states had the right to secede then it was an exercise of their rights, not a rebellion. (Although it doesn’t really change the logic of the arguement one way or the other, hostilities started after the invitation to peacefully evactuate Fort Sumter was ignored.)

    Your comment, “Some form of rebellion anything else than secession”, is clearly not correct though. Consider the English lords that rebelled and forced the king to sign the magna carta. This was rebellion that forced redress, not secession, would be one example.

  33. I should no longer be surprised that a request for books about the Civil War devolves into the same old useless discussion about whether somehow or another the South was “right”. No one who thinks that is swayed by argument, and on one who disagrees with it is either. It is the perfect way to talk forever and get nowhere.

    Still, Tyouth, rather than go around and around about this, when everyone already has firmly held opinions, why don’t you offer up your two or three favorite books that support your position, which would at least approximate the initial rationale for this post.

  34. Lex, Haven’t done much reading re. the civil war for decades. American history in high-school and college, I suppose. Surely the historical backgrounds to the constitutional convention and the early civil war events are common knowledge here.

    I don’t have much emotional or other investment in the position I seemed to have staked out other than being interested in seeing if a more reasonable way of looking at the situation exsists. And, perhaps, the pleasure of argument and consiousness raising (teaching, I guess) vs. widely held dubious beliefs.

  35. Well, I’ve read boatloads about the Civil War. The generally held view is, I think, basically right. The book I recommended by McPherson is fair to the South, as is the book Jim Bennett recommended, The Cousins’ Wars. Being fair to them, they still come off as the bad guys.

    There has been a long time for people to sort through this thing. The more I read over the years, the less sympathy I have had for the Southern position. Nathan Bedford Forrest jeered at southerners who talked about states rights, etc. after the war. He said he went to war to keep his n_____s and everybody elses, and that was what the war was about. He was there, he was one of the Confederacy’s best generals, and he was willing to just tell the truth about his motives.

    Take a look at the Trevelyn biography of John Bright, and get an idea of what the mid-19th century English liberals and workingmen thought was at stake — democracy, freedom, progress. They strongly supported the North. The whole world knew what this war was about.

  36. While you can argue that the US Constitution is silent on secession, you can not make the same arguement about Fort Sumter. Military installations are ceded to the federal government by the states in which they are located and are no longer in any sense the property of the state from which they came. See Article I, Section 8.: “The Congress shall have Power…To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings;”

    The legislature of South Carolina had explicitly ceded the man-made island in the harbor on which sat Ft. Sumter to the federal government just like the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ceded three islands in Boston harbor for forts. Even if he had accepted the legality of South Carolina’s secession, Lincoln had no authority under the constitution to transfer US territory to a foreign power. Only Congress had that authority, and they were not in session in April of 1861. Lincoln could have withdrawn the troops stationed there as a military necessity, but that would not have changed the fact that the occupation of the island by South Carolina militia was either an act of war or an act of armed insurrection depending on your view of the legality of secession. In neither case could it be considered the simple reassertion of sovereignty.

  37. Ginny,

    From the House Divided speech:

    “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

    Of course the Civil War was about slavery. Any suggestion otherwise is so ludicrous that it should be dismissed summarily. Furthermore, the intentions of those who originate these claims must be questioned.

    The absurd notion that the Civil War was not about slavery originates with Gramscian Marxists like Howard Zinn. Abraham Lincoln and the events surrounding the Civil War are cornerstones of our national narrative. Gramscian Marxists want to undermine the foundations of our national narrative. And the baseless assertion that the Civil War was not fought to end slavery is part of that effort.

    Gramscian Marxists want everything about America to be considered immoral. A war fought to end slavery can only be construed as a just war. Therefore, in their eyes, since America is immoral then the Civil War could not have been fought to end slavery.

  38. Paul K, thanks for that clarification. Nothing like a citation to the Constitution to clarify things.

    HA, the Gramscian Marxists are a new group of bad guys I had not yet heard of. There are a lot of them out there.

  39. Paul, interesting, wasn’t aware of Article 1 section 8. If it was an assertion of soverignty, it was, I agree, certainly not a simple one. I don’t agree with Lex about you clarifying things though.

    If the state had secession rights – which was, in effect, the end to the social contract of the constitution binding them together- would they be bound by the contracts’ clauses? That is: if the contract (constitution) is indeed voided by secession then is the property (the island/fort) that is ceded by the contract still ceded?

  40. “That is: if the contract (constitution) is indeed voided by secession then is the property (the island/fort) that is ceded by the contract still ceded?”

    That was the legal construct that South Carolina tried to use. Their act of secession was actually the repeal of their act of ratification. The problem is that that then means they have to assert that 1. the transfer of the island was part of the contract being voided and not some other independant contract, 2. that contract law is the appropriate model for redress, and 3. that contract law would allow one of the parties to demand unilateral restitution in the form of returning property sold up to 72 years prior. (SC ratified May 23, 1788 and seceeded Dec. 20, 1860)

    Sovereign nations can repudiate treaties that include the transfer of land, like Germany repudiated the Versaille Treaty, but the invasion of the Sudetenland was still an act of war against Czechoslovakia. The enforcement of contract law and the kinds of relief a party can claim for violation of the contract depend on a superior authority. If you deny the existence of a superior authority, by what authority can you demand relief or restitution? It is one thing to say you are relieved of your obligations under a contract by the other party violating its terms, but it is quite another thing to say that the other party is now obligated to return property already exchanged.

    Furthermore, you have to establish that the tranfer of property was part of the contract being voided. The ratification of the Constitution means you agree that Congress has exclusive legislative rights over forts, but it doesn’t mean that sales of land to the federal government were a part of that constitution.

    And none of that changes Lincoln’s situation. The secession of one state, legal or not, does not dissolve the federal government or relieve the President of his obligations. To say that it was ever within Lincoln’s power to let the South go peacefully, is to ignore the explicit provisions of the Constitution. It was only within Congress’s power.

    “Because the Union was formed by compact, it is said that parties to that compact may, when they feel themselves aggrieved, depart it; but it is precisely because it is a compact that they can not. A compact is an agreement or binding obligation. It may by its terms have a sanction or penalty for its breach, or it may not. If it contains no sanction, it may be broken with no other consequence than moral guilt; if it have a sanction, then the breach incurs the designated or implied penalty. A league between independent nations generally has no sanction other than a moral one; or if it should contain a penalty, as there is no common superior it can not be enforced. A government, on the contrary, always has a sanction, express or implied; and in our case it is both necessarily implied and expressly given. An attempt, by force of arms, to destroy a government is an offense, by whatever means the constitutional compact may have been formed; and such government has the right by the law of self-defense to pass acts for punishing the offender, unless that right is modified, restrained, or resumed by the constitution act. In our system, although it is modified in the case of treason, yet authority is expressly given to pass all laws necessary to carry its powers into effect, and under this grant provision has been made for punishing acts which obstruct the due administration of the laws.” Jackson’s Proclamation to the People of South Carolina, Dec. 10, 1832.

    “Un-ratifying” the Constitution does not return Fort Sumter to South Carolinian sovereignty according to either US Constitutional law, or the law of nations.

  41. As an observer from across the Atlantic, I’m going to make some observations, in no particular order:

    (1) Perhaps most southern soldiers were not personally fighting to preserve slavery, but to preserve their homeland from outside conquest. I don’t know. But then most German soldiers in WWII were not fighting to preseve Auschwitz and the Final Solution, but to preserve their homeland from outside conquest. In other words, this line of reasoning gets us nowhere.

    (2) Whatever the Constitution said or failed to say, as a matter of realpolitik neither Lincoln or any other President in Washington could sit back and fail to act when a state or group of states in the Union decided to leave the Union. This is because if he had not acted, the entire edifice would sooner or later crumble and dissapear into dust over a series of other issues that states and the federal government disagreed over. Secession unopposed would signal the death of the United States.

    (3) In any case, there was and is no legal mechanism for a US state to ‘resign’ from the US. Therefore to do so was by definition illegal. Think of it as being like marriage in a world where there was no such thing as divorce.

    (4) Who are rebels and who are revolutionaries depends upon who wins. If the CSA had won they would not be rebels today by revolutionary heroes; just as if George Washington and friends had lost in the previous century he would not have been Father of the Nation but a failed rebel against the British Crown.

    (5) Has Simon Scharma’s ‘Rough Crossings’ been published in the US yet? It was published in the UK last year and makes the following interesting points:

    (a) The reason slavery was not castigated in the Declaration of Independence and outlawed in the US Constitution was that the slave-owning colonies/states would not have signed up to either document if it had been. It was recognised in the North from the very start to be unfinished business; that the US could not be complete so long as it survived.

    (b) Slaves in the South were opposed to independence and pro-British almost to a man because the British had made it clear that defeat for the rebels would lead to the abolition of slavery. (The abolishionist movement was much stronger in Britain than America at this time.)

    (c) In attemt to keep their word on this, following defeat the British removed as many former slaves as they could, to, firsty Nova Scotia, and ultimately, Sierra Leone on the West African coast — where they formed a sort of freed-slave nation under British protection: an example followed many years later by the American inspired and protected Liberia.

  42. JEM, Your point #3 (“no legal mechanism….to “resign”….therefore to do so was illegal by definition”) is wide of the mark.

    Article 10 reads :

    “The powers not delegated to the U. S. by the Constitution, nor prohibitted by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

  43. JEM,
    Does Rough Crossings discuss the general sentiment in England about slavery in its territories at that time – and for the next couple of generations?

    My knowledge is kind of anecdotal: Henry Adams spent the Civil War working for his father, Charles Francis, who represented America to England, which seemed (at least socially) often on the South’s side in their conversation and were even virulent toward Lincoln. Somewhere lately I read/heard that the division was a class one. And Lincoln clearly embodied much that the British found distasteful about America. (And much that we take pride in, of course.)

    This must have been complicated for Victorians. The British plantations had higher mortality rates than did American ones, but slavery was much more entwined with our culture. The Brits were farther from their colonies than the North was from the South (the Fugitive Slave Law prodded the North into a more awakened, self-conscious guilt).

  44. Tyouth:

    It is your counterargument (based on Article 10) that is wide of the mark. This is beside the point as it is not relevant to the power or lack power of an individual state to ‘resign’ from the Union, but concerned only with the internal behavour of a state while part of the Union. At least, if I was a lawyer (which I am not) that would form the basis of my argument.


    I think your characterisation of the British as pro-South is contradicted by the evidence. For one thing, there is no doubt that the refusal of both workers and owners of the British cotton mills to have anything to do with Southern cotton while slavery lasted, was the single most powerful act of economic ‘war’ against the South, effectively ruining it’s economy and so ultimately its ability to conduct an effective war.

    Even the naval blockade attempted by the North on Southern ports was not nearly as effective as the ‘virtual’ blockade of southern shipping across the Atlantic imposed by the Royal Navy — a far more powerful entity than the relatively tiny US Navy was at the time.

    (We all know who is the superpower today, but it’s important in the context of the Civil War to remember who was the superpower then–Britannia really did rule the waves in the 1860s.)

    The British courts found the movement of slaves within, into and out of the British Empire illegal in 1772 (note: four years before 1776: indeed Scharma in his book argues that this was perhaps the powerful factors leading the slave-owning colonies to support a break from Britain. In other words, the United States happened in order to preserve slavery. There’s a thought to conjure with!) and the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was passed by Parliament on March 25, 1807. The act imposed a fine of £100 for every slave found aboard a British ship. The intention was to entirely outlaw the slave trade within the whole British Empire.

    The Royal Navy was already patrolling off the African coast to prevent the slave trade by ships of any nationality as early as 1815.

    Slavery in any form was made illegal by the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 and all slaves anywhere in the British Empire were emancipated in 1834.

    Or, in summary, I think your characterisation of the British position during the Civil War is flat wrong. Sorry.

    By the way, as I have been saying elsewhere recently in the blogsphere, it is my believe that the American Civil War certainly accelerated the end of slavery, but it was not the primary reason why slavery ended. Nor was it the moral cursades against it either in the Northern States, in Britain, or anywhere else.

    No. It was the industrial revolution.

    In the short run, that may even have led to more slaves in the South as they fed the growing demand for cotton from England’s industrialised cotton mills. But ultimately, industrialisation and mechanism, even on the cotton plantations, would have made slavery uneconomic as it already had almost everywhere else in the western world by the 1860s.

    After all, slaves are not ‘free’, any more than farm animals are ‘free’. In the end the peculiar institution would have been killed off by the profit motive, not morality or laws or war.

  45. JEM,

    Huh? “only with the internal behavior of the state”? Where did you get that?

    Article 10 is complete as I quoted it. Quite a range of entitlement, isn’t it?

  46. Many Federal laws appear to fly in the face of the Tenth Amendment. So-called conservatives are as susceptible to promoting end runs around it as are liberals; see any Federal anti-abortion legislation for an example. In the real world, such end runs are just something that happens. In any case, a State which has removed itself from the Union can hardly point to a Constitutional Amendment for protection! So while I believe that secession should be safe, legal, and rare (heh), there appears to be no Constitutional mechanism for it; indeed, as Don pointed out, the Constitution provides for the suppression of rebellion.
    Mixing topics, I cannot resist mentioning Jeffrey Rogers Hummel’s Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, which makes the point that slavery had a severe problem with geographic boundaries by 1860; the southern states resorted to strenuous exertions to keep their slave populations from fleeing. Bleeding Kansas bled because if it entered the Union as a free state, Missouri would be surrounded by free states on three sides. Slavery was doomed; the South merely accelerated its demise by starting a war. Strauss and Howe, for their part, explain why the temperament of the generation in power in both the USA and CSA virtually guaranteed not only that there would be a war, but that when it came, it would be a war of extermination.

  47. Hummel also pointed out that in Brazil slavery died peacefully, state by state, until it had disappeared by the late-19th century. Part-slave / part-free is unstable and becomes more so as productivity increases.

    Lex may remember my long-ago argument with our mutual friend OLP, in which I asked what is wrong with secession if everyone in the affected region wants it. Nowadays the USA has, if anything, the opposite problem.

  48. Thank you JEM for that quite useful summary of your nation’s history and one that helps give me (who knows little of British history) a larger context.

    My sense as I said was anecdotal and depended on the attitudes at dinner parties in London during the Civil War, although I was surprised at a similar tone in one of the Anne Perry mysteries I read a few years ago. (The Northern abolitionists were crude and the Southerners chivalrous.)

    By the way, the Unitarian site (which emphasizes the Adams role in the church; the family had been anti-slavery going back to the pre-Revolutionary period) has the following information:

    In 1861, . . . Lincoln appointed Adams Ambassador to the court of St. James. The Adamses left for Britain shortly after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. When they arrived in London, Britain had recently issued a proclamation of neutrality, recognizing the Confederacy as a belligerent power and, in so doing, granting it the right to purchase arms and commission privateers. Adams and the Lincoln administration worried that this was a step towards British diplomatic recognition of the Confederacy as a new nation. Adams quickly developed a good working relationship with British foreign secretary Lord John Russell. Unfortunately Russell, like many of his countrymen, believed the Southern secession an accomplished fact.Trouble erupted when an American naval vessel seized two Confederate diplomats, James M. Matson and John Slidell, from the British mail ship Trent. In incidents like this one Adams maintained his composure, relayed his government’s statements and instructions in ways that were relatively palatable to the British, and helped to prevent a war between Britain and the United States. One of his major tasks was to alert the British government that the Confederacy was building vessels in British shipyards that were to be armed as commerce raiders. Among these was a ship, later known as the Alabama, which inflicted great damage on Northern shipping. In 1863 Adams threatened war in order to prevent two Confederate-built ironclad rams from leaving the Liverpool shipyards. Russell, who had already been looking for a legal expedient to detain the ships, settled the incident by buying them for the British government. James Russell Lowell praised Adams’s role as ambassador to Britain, saying, “None of our generals etc. did us better or more trying service than he in his forlorn outpost of London.”

    By the way, as you observe in your later paragraphs, England did use American cotton – from states which always had slaves. I assume when you say that the workers & owners refused to buy cotton from states that practiced slavery you were speaking of a specific time frame. The “cotton famine” appears to have been important economically, an effect that apparently only came with the Civil War. And, of course, families such as the Barretts and Brownings were no longer making their fortunes directly from the slave trade & sugar plantations by the time of the Civil War.

    Of course, Britannia ruled the waves. We were pretty small potatoes. In fact, we probably weren’t capable of the skills of “British investors” who “built small, very fast ‘blockade runners’ that brought in military supplies (and civilian luxuries) from Cuba and the Bahamas and took out some cotton and tobacco. When the blockade captured one the ship and cargo were sold and the proceeds given to the Union sailors. The crews were British, so when they were captured they were released and not held as prisoners of war.” (The not always reliable Wikipedia.)

    Literature is not a clear indicator of popular feeling, so I’m sure your position is quite correct in general. As always, we owe much to the British spirit; while your sense of the eventual force of industrialization is quite probably true, your series of bills and the strong abolitionist movement in England certainly affected us. We have always read your works with pleasure and respect. Nonetheless, pro-South remarks are not uncommon in Brit lit.

    A book that deals with this cross-pollination appears to be Divided Hearts: Britain and the American Civil War by R. J. M. Blackett, of which I’ve read a review but not bought. His argument in part is that no other international event at mid-century had as a great an effect in England as did our Civil War. Also, “By and large, those in favor of reform supported the union; those opposed, the Confederacy.” (7)

  49. The non slavery-oriented reasons for the Civil War are pretty underwhelming. Every other issue seems either easily solvable or else draws its impact upon the masses because of some connection with slavery. I mean, tarriffs? When have tarriffs not been a big issue pitting producers against consumers? Routes for the transcontinental railroad? You could build two railroads for the price of a month’s war.

    Such reasoning also ignores the fact that all of the leadups to the Civil War involved slavery intimately. Annexation of Texas? Controversial because it was a slave state. Mexican War? Incredibly controversial because the land the US acquired was considered natural slave land. (US Grant believed that the Civil War was the direct result of the Mexican War and the arguments over whether slavery should be permitted in the territory the US gained.) Slavery in the federal territories? The Missouri Compromise? The Kansas-Nebraska act? The Fugitive Slave act? The controversy over whether Kansas should be accepted on the base of the pro-slavery LeCompton constitution? The Dred Scott decision? The North and the South were constantly fighting one another between the end of the Mexican War and the end of Reconstruction, and the issue was always slavery.

  50. Saying the Civil War wasn’t about slavery is like saying the current apocalyptic Supreme Court battles aren’t about abortion: sure there are a lot of issues separating the two sides, and some of the issues are substantial in their own right. But there’s no way you could sustain that kind of passionate intensity — an attempted filibuster! the nuclear option! — over somebody like Sam Alito if both sides didn’t think that Roe vs Wade somehow hung in the balance.

  51. Tyouth, I don’t think you know your own Constitution (and it’s your Constitution, not mine, y’know!)

    US Constitution, Article One, Section10:

    “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.

    “No State shall, without the Consent of the Congress, lay any Imposts or Duties on Imports or Exports, except what may be absolutely necessary for executing its inspection Laws: and the net Produce of all Duties and Imposts, laid by any State on Imports or Exports, shall be for the Use of the Treasury of the United States; and all such Laws shall be subject to the Revision and Controul of the Congress.

    “No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

    Besides this, the Tenth Amendment is a trivial thing in a way, clearly ‘outvoted’ by the above.

    So I say it once more: the Tenth Amendment is concened only with the internal behavious of states. As soon as a state starts to behave like an independent nation it breaches the Constitution.

    Thus ‘resigning’ from the United States is quite specifically illegal within the meaning of the Constitution.

    End of this particular argument, I think (g)

  52. Ginny:

    “When they [the Adams] arrived in London, Britain had recently issued a proclamation of neutrality, recognizing the Confederacy as a belligerent power and, in so doing, granting it the right to purchase arms and commission privateers.”

    I’m sorry, but this is not correct.

    The British Government never recognised the CSA in any way shape of form (neither did France, the only other power that mattered then, by the way) and the CSA were never granted the right to purchase arms, etc., in Britain. In fact, it was one of Lincoln’s greatest worries just before Gettysburg tuned things around that Britain might do exactly what you describe. But it never happened.

    Some attemps were made to commission ship-building in Britain by private individuals acting as informal agents of the CSA, but none succeeded. I believe a couple of ships that did get built were in fact impounded by the British Government. I think these are the two in Liverpool that you mentioned, but there was no threat of war by the US.

    That idea is in any case absurd as (a) the US would have lost–the last thing the US needed at the time would have been an invasion by the only power in the world then able to project the necessary force against it, from Canada* and a British blockade of northern ports; and (b) it would have been the one thing that might have driven the UK into recognising the CSA.

    *Don’t forget that until Vietnam, the only war the US ever lost was the War of 1812 with Great Britain, which despite justifications concerning impressment of American sailors at sea was really an attemt to grab Canada while Britain was supposedly fully-occupied fighting Napoleon. And in the 1860’s Britain was not fighting any other major wars, so could have brought its full imperial might to bear againt the US if it had come to it.

    Perhaps I should have made it clearer that the British refuasal to buy Southern cotton applied quite specifically to the period of the Civil War. And of course, something like 75% of the entire cotton crop had been exported to Britain, so this was a major disaster for the CSA. And again the French, who took most of the rest of the crop, followed the British lead in this, compounding the problem for the South.

    One of the major miscalculations of the southern leadership as they were going into the Civil War was that Britain would never do this. Wrong!

    Interesting thought here:

    Arguably, the American War of Independence against Great Britain would have been lost by the Americans if it had not been for French intervention*. Also, possibly, the Northern war againt the South would have been lost without British help for the North–as set out above.

    *Which can be shown to have cost the French so much that it ruined their economy and so led to the French Revolution…(g)

  53. Apparently Simon Scharma’s ‘Rough Crossings’ is not yet published in the US, at least according to Amazon.com.

    So to help impart a flavour of what’s coming your way, here is a reader’s review (which I largely concur with) from Amazon.co.uk:

    “There appears to be two kinds of political history: that which is hidden from us completely by the special interests, and that which can be dug up and exposed when it is “safe”. Rough Crossings by Simon Shama is of the latter, and will stir up a storm of indignation when it is published in the USA in 2006.

    “Starting even before the Revolutionary War, so-called American Patriots and the “founding fathers” exhibited the same kind of special interest/self interest that schoolchildren today are taught is beneath public service. Patrick (Give me liberty or give me death!) Henry could not for the life of him understand why he should free his own slaves. Thomas Jefferson’s first declaration of independence in 1775 cited the British government’s rumored incitement of Negroes to rise up for their freedom as one of the prime movers of the colonies to break free of the tyranny of England.

    “He was proven right in that tens of thousands of slaves ran away to fight on the British side, against the colonists. The “Patriots” killed every runaway they could find before they got to the English ships. (The same was to occur in 1812, when the British and the Americans clashed again)

    “The British, who of course taught the Americans everything they knew about slavery in the first place, had only recently begun to abhor it. Using the courts, English activists were able to obtain the freedom of people who were being captured in England to be shipped off to sugar plantations. The British public, caught up in this humanitarian, headline-making campaign, was offended by the tyranny of the Americans, just as the Americans were offended by the tyranny of the British in things like taxation. The result was armed conflict.

    “Word of successes in English courts gave hope to the American slaves, and the southern slaveholders clearly only joined the revolution to protect slavery, as they would again in the Civil War 90 years later. Meanwhile, Jefferson had a change of heart and included much more humanitarian wording in the next draft of the declaration of independence. It was edited out to avoid offending the new southern allies the Patriots had acquired.

    “During the war, Patriot General Sumter took to awarding slaves to soldiers for voluntary service, and sometimes also in lieu of pay. No sooner had the war ended, than black soldiers were rounded up and sent back to their owners, or auctioned off. It was actually a top priority of the Americans. Henry Laurens, a man who skimmed 10% on slave sales in the colonies, managed to insert a clause in the peace treaty that Negroes and other American property would not be carried away in the British withdrawal. the Land of Liberty made no pretence of equality.

    “There follows great diversions – to new settlements in Sierra Leone and in Nova Scotia, with possibly the most important development of North America’s first black political leader, Thomas Peters, fifty years before Frederick Douglass. Peters worked tirelessly on both sides of the Atlantic to obtain the rights promised by the Crown.

    “In the early 1800s, failing to get an acutal law abolishing slavery through the House of Commons, MPs apparently agreed with testimony such as the Lord Mayor of London’s, who claimed ending slavery would end the market for rotten codfish. This was apparently a delicacy shipped to the Caribbean, to be forced down the throats of slaves, who were force fed with iron bits and clamps holding their mouths open.

    “The struggle has obviously continued – to this day – but the book is a well documented adventure of it in the present tense, complete with Perfect Storms that make Hurricane Katrina look like a spring shower, and brutality only non-fiction could get away with.”

    Can you hear the sharp sound of sacred illusions shattering–on both sides of the Atlantic?


  54. “Patrick (Give me liberty or give me death!) Henry could not for the life of him understand why he should free his own slaves.” This is only strange if you think of the world the way people do in 2006. The notion that liberty and equality necessarily go together was not even common, let alone universal, in those days. Patrick Henry came from the back country, settled by what we somewhat inaccurately call “Scots Irish”. And he was a burgess in the Virginia legislature when he made that speech, to a roomful of tidewater aristocrats. Neither the back country nor the tidewater communities had any notion of equality as a political good, let alone a political necessity. The back country believed in radical individualism with authority residing in the ruthless and strong, with leadership going to hard and warlike leaders who could over-awe and compel the obedience of a society of poor, proud and anarchic individuals. The tidewater believed in a hierarchic society with liberty as a rare and precious thing which was fully held only by those few whom Providence and Lady Luck had blessed with the wealth and prestige to actually live independently. Those fortunate few in turn had a paternalistic duty to live virtuous lives and be humane toward those placed in subordination to them, but also to compel obedience where necessary.

    There is no mystery whatsoever in why these people saw liberty as precious and worth dying for, for themselves and their families and peers, and denying it to others. Liberty was not, to them, a universal human right. That very idea would have struck them as fantastic. David Hackett Fischer makes all this very clear in Albion’s Seed. If Schama thinks that there is anything shocking and unknown to say about the American founding era then he is a phony. The truly shocking thing would be for him or some other talented writer to explain the known facts about the period to people today in a more popular way than DHF managed to do in his long and scholarly book. But, it sounds like Schama took the easy and dishonest route — it is so much more fun and profitable to tell the old lie that the American Founders were a bunch of liars and hypocrites, and this is consistent with the intellectually comfortable stance of hating America. Actually understanding these people and their world as they understood it at the time would be too much work and would not support the popular intellectual bigotries of today.

  55. Lex:

    “Liberty was not, to them, a universal human right. That very idea would have struck them as fantastic.”

    Sorry but that is, in short, boloney:

    “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

    In other words, Patrick Henry’s attitude was strange not just those of us living today, but to the signers of the Declaration of Independence also–at least it was if their views coincided with what they signed up to.

    Or they were hypocrites. You pays your money and takes your choice. But I’d point out that Jefferson’s reluctant removal of the clause about slaves suggest the answer is ‘hypocrites’.

    And truly world-class spin doctors too.

  56. JEM,

    Your interpretation and comments are ridiculous re. the constitution and not worth further consideration.

    The first ten amendments are known (in this country as “Bill of Rights” and without them the states would not have ratified the document.

  57. JEM,

    To say the 10th amendment is a trivial thing, indeed! I believe a quite a few of us Americans would disagree.

    To spell the argument out for you, just in case you haven’t followed along:

    Secession is not prohibited by the document, nor is it a allowed. It is a right “reserved”.

    Now, if Secession occurs, all the clauses you mentioned no longer apply.

  58. Tymouth:

    Don’t make yourself more ridiculous-looking than you have to.

    The states ratified the whole package, not just the Bill of Rights. So they ratified their agreement that they would, in effect, never ‘resign’ from the Union, and that was, legally, that.

    Sorry, but your ignorance shows.

  59. Tyouth, you are at the point where you are shouting because the other guy is not agreeing with you. He understands your argument, he heard it, and he rejects it.

    I have to say that the argument from the reserved powers language of the 10th amendment is pretty weak. That was meant to clarify that the powers enumerated for Congress left open any remaining legislative powers for the states and people. It is a pretty vague warrant for secession. The legalistic arguments the Confederacy offered were just buyer’s remorse looking for a legal justification to opt out. Nothing wrong with that. People try to get out of deals they no longer like all the time. But no one is obliged to buy their arguments about why they should be let out of the deal.

    You have put your case about as well as you probably can. You should not be surprised that others do not agree with it. I have made any number of arguments on this blog that failed to convince lots of people. So be it.

    I think it is time to move on.

    Again, I ask you, name at least one book you can recommend to Ginny, which was the initial point of this post.

  60. “Sorry but that is, in short, boloney”

    Nope. The Declaration was the result of a political process and reflected compromise language, and it was targeted primarily to foreign opinion and opinion in England. There is no way the slave owners would not have considered “all men” as applying to their slaves. Also, the Declaration has no legal force, and so any such throat-clearing language was meant to get the various other sections of the country on board. Agreed, they came to regret the inclusion of this language later on. But it was needed at the time, so they signed on. As you say, they bought it, they had to live with it. It turned out to be a time-bomb. Jefferson was very clever. But the mindset of Patrick Henry and others at the time was exactly as I described.

  61. JEM,
    I am curious in what schools children are taught that elected leaders are without fault. Certainly not in the United States. (And I teach a pretty jingoistic take on this literature, because those guys may have been tainted but they were pretty damn heroic.) We are not all Bennishes but we are also not all fools. The core of American thought is that of the Calvinist belief in original sin and the more secular take of Benjamin Franklin, who sees us as contantly working on our errata. These went hand in hand with American individualism as much as “Self-Reliance” did.

    If Scharma’s book is as you describe it, this will hardly be a “bombshell” on this side of the Atlantic.

    The Alabama was built at Liverpool (which was heavily pro-confederate). Of course, England did not furnish weapons directly to the Confederacy, but all ships built were not impounded. (Thirty-five were estimated to come from Liverpool.) Nor were all guns that were shipped to the South.

    Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as “a belligerant power.”

    The State Department on the status of the re. with Great Britain. An interesting 6-part discussion of the relationship between economics and paternalism by David M. Levy and Sandra J. Peart (“The Secret History of the Dismal Science”) is web-available. This is interesting in many ways, one of which is that it was begun before and continues after 9/11, an event that we can see affecting their discussion. Besides giving us a history of Carlyle’s term (the “dismal science”), they analyze the divisions among British intellectuals over slavery, which soon represent two different views of economic theory. Carlyle/Ruskin/Kingsley/Tennyson/Dickens on one side, Mill/John Stuart/John Bright/Henry Fawcett/J. E. Cairnes/Herbert Spencer/T. H. Huxley/Charles Darwin on the other. (I doubt that the English are best represented by Carlyle, who calls for the reinstatement of slavery at about the time we were concluding our bloody war.) This is perhaps most clearly exemplified in the famous Eyre Affair. Not surprisingly, the divisions continue as we see in Anglosphere culture’s current debates on the nature of man.

    While about everyone else on this blog is a better military historian than I, probably your belief that if the Brits had come in strongly for the South, the North might have lost the war is true or at least arguable. That is not quite the same as arguing that the North without Great Britain’s help would have lost.

    This discussion is pretty useless if we don’t recognize that America’s and Great Britain’s histories are both complicated and that free people in free societies are likely to make many & sometimes quite different choices. The workers in Manchester, for instance, were thanked by Lincoln for their sacrifices; abolitionists were not popular in Liverpool. But, then, Liverpool’s economic well-being was much more tied to slavery.

    We respect Great Britain’s willingness to outlaw slavery, it’s consistent respect for human rights. People like Mill helped us define our own values and belief in the open marketplace. We accept that many in Great Britain were fervently anti-slavery; so, too, were many in America. We are not likely, however, to respect emphatic statements that ignore facts.

  62. Jay,

    Secession is not equivalent to rebellion. You ignore the appeal to Amendment 10. (and As anon. indicated some comments back: After secession the attack of Fed. assets was an act of war. scotus had a good outlook, also quite a few comments back: The south may have had a legal/moral right to seceed but thank God the Lincoln admin. did what it did successfully.

    Yeah, Lex, enough already. I don’t think I was the commentor shouting or using disparaging language though. For example, I didn’t call him/her a twit, immature smarmy brit, thick, or (as he did me) “ridiculous”, and “ignorant”, etc. I suggest that you might tell the other to mind his manners rather than myself – unless you think this is a way get your own point across. To my disappointment, I don’t see you taking him up on repeated misinterpretations re. the constitution.

    Amendment X was left vague and expansive for a reason, not accidentally.

    Rationalizations abound for not taking the Constitution literally. It is an overactive government that does so because it’s difficult and inconvienient to change the Constitution.

  63. OK, Tyouth, for the record, no one should call anyone a twit or whatever other disparaging words might have been used around here.

    Of course, that applies to everybody.

    So, behave, all of!

    As to the interpretations of the Constitution advanced here, I don’t happen to agree with yours. You made it, clearly and repeatedly, which is fine.

  64. — “I am curious in what schools children are taught that elected leaders are without fault.”

    Did I say anything like that? If so, I apologize and retract, because it is certainly not what I think or what I intended to say.

    –“The core of American thought is that of the Calvinist belief in original sin…”

    Well yes, although I’m not so sure about original sin being particularly Calvinist, which was more concerned with predestination and (wait for it!) total depravity (which is not what it now sounds like). I think original sin is part of all Christian denominations. However being of a Scottish Presbyterian (that is, Calvinist) background myself I know what you mean.

    Indeed the Scottish Enlightenment provided the main part of the philosophical underpinning of the American Revolution and in due course the Constitution. As just one example of how this happened, Jefferson was educated by two private tutors who were both Scottish Presbyterian ministers—to the extent that when he turned up in Paris many years later, the fact that he spoke French with a Scottish accent was commented upon by many people.

    –“Thirty-five [ships for the CSA] were estimated to come from Liverpool.”

    I can only find records for two, the ‘Florida’ and the ‘Alabama’.

    –“Great Britain recognized the Confederacy as “a belligerant power.””

    But this is a gross oversimplification. What happened was that by its act of blockading the CSA, the USA itself effectively recognized the CSA as a belligerent power, in terms of the way international law worked in these days. As a result other nations, in particular Britain and France, found that legally they really had to too.

    However that was a long way short of recognizing the CSA as an independent sovereign nation. The only time that came close was when two CSA diplomats on their way to try to open relations with the British Government were taken by force from a British ship (The “Trent”) sailing from Cuba to England. This was considered an American act of war and quickly led to talk of an actual war between the UK and US. The British commenced building up its forces in Canada and heavily reinforced the West Atlantic Fleet in preparation for a war against the United States, while the USA still seemed to be loosing against the CSA. Lincoln ended this potential disaster by capitulating to British demands with the words, “One war at a time.”

    –“I doubt that the English are best represented by Carlyle…”

    Indeed so. He was Scottish.

    But of course there was no uniform support for one side or the other in Britain. It seems most likely that the support was mostly divided on class lines, with upper class supporting the CSA and the lower & middle class supporting the USA. And sometimes self-interest overruled principle, as in the contrast between the mercenary attitude of the port city of Liverpool and the vast swathe of cotton mill towns just inland from it and around Manchester, where principle won.

    –“…That is not quite the same as arguing that the North without Great Britain’s help would have lost.”

    That was not quite what I intended to say. I was meaning that to provoke a war with Great Britain while still in the process of fighting and perhaps loosing against the south would have been well-nigh suicidal for the north.

  65. “But of course there was no uniform support for one side or the other in Britain. It seems most likely that the support was mostly divided on class lines, with upper class supporting the CSA and the lower & middle class supporting the USA.”

    Actually more complicated and interesting than that. But, yes indeed, Britain was very much of two minds about the American Civil War. Kevin Phillips’ Cousins’ War is very good on this point.

  66. Lex:

    It’s a while since I read “Cousins’ War” but I do recall that it set out the very interesting thesis that the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War were really just three episodes, roughly a century apart, in what was fundamentally the same struggle.

    Maybe so; and I warm to the idea which appeals to me at a deep level that “Anglo-America” is one cultural entity or civilisation that stretches from the English Channel by way of North America to Perth, Western Australia, and is the most successful “nation” (although technically consisting of six independent nations right now) that the world has ever seen.

    But before I’d confirm full acceptance of the ideas in the book I’d have to read it again and I’m too busy right now.

  67. Ginny,

    Most of the responses have not exactly addressed your original question, have they?

    On your specific question about religion and abolitionism, I think you’d definitely want to look at Lewis Perry’s 1973 book “Radical Abolitionism: Anarchy and the Government of God in Antislavery Thought.” Religion played a huge, albeit complicated, role in the abolitionist movement. (I should confess that my own historical sympathies are with these radical abolitionists rather than with the moderate confine-slavery-to-where-it’s-at “Free Soilers.”)

    More broadly, an absolute “must-read” on the general topic of secession is Forrest McDonald’s “States’ Rights And The Union : Imperium In Imperio, 1776-1876” published back in 2000. McDonald is a respected historian of the early Republic and a big admirer of Alexander Hamilton, so he’s probably more of a “big-government” fellow than most of the bloggers here. Nonetheless, he claims, with a lot of evidence, that prior to the Civil War, nearly all Americans assumed that secession was legal. For example, as every schoolboy knows, New England considered secession at the Hartford Convention in 1814-15 as a result of “Mr. Madison’s War.” New Englanders were also rather perturbed by Mr. Jefferson’s unconstitutional (as Jefferson himself admitted) “Louisiana Purchase”: New Englanders thought that the unconstitutionally acquired territory would upset the political balance in the new nation. (Of course, they were right, weren’t they? — the Kansas-Nebraska problems which sparked the Civil War could never have occurred had not Jefferson acquired the new territories in the first place.)

    Another must-read is Charles Adams’ “When in the Course of Human Events : Arguing the Case for Southern Secession.” Adams’ central claim is that the leaders of neither North nor South were motivated by the slavery issue. Rather, he argues, both sides were motivated by economic issues, essentially the protective tariff. He provides abundant evidence from original sources showing that this was the case for the North. He admits that the Southern leaders claimed that their motive was to defend slavery, but Adams maintains they were lying and that they really only cared about the tariff!

    Personally, I’m inclined to think that Adams is half-right: the Northern leaders were telling the truth in claiming they were motivated by the protective tariff, and the Southern leaders were telling the truth in saying their concern was preserving slavery (which means both sides fought for sordid and despicable reasons). Anyway, whether you agree with Adams’ conclusions, or, like me, disagree, he has a lot of useful information, including his references, in a short, readable book.

    I also recommend Ken Stampp’s “And The War Came : The North And The Secession Crisis, 1860-1861,” a detailed academic study of the events in the North which led to Sumter, and Stampp’s collection of readings, “The Causes of the Civil War,” very good except for some reason leaving out everything in Stampp’s own earlier book!

    You should also look at diLorenzo’s “The Real Lincoln,” which is openly polemical but does lay out some well-known-to-historians negative facts about Lincoln that most of us non-historians have never heard about.

    Finally Dean Sprague’s “Freedom Under Lincoln” is very enlightening, though mistitled. This is a fascinating, detailed narrative, written, by a Defense Department employee during the Kennedy-Johnson Administration, of the critical events which transpired in the border states in the early stages of the Civil War. An accurate title would have been “How Lincoln Held on to the Border States by Ignoring the Constitution.” Sprague was an admirer of Lincoln’s, which is, I suppose, why he chose the more neutral title for his book.

    I think these books may provide a somewhat broader and more balanced perspective on the Civil War than some of the books suggested by other posters.

    To end on a purely personal note, I myself hate and despise Abe Lincoln and his money-grubbing cronies. I also hate and despise Jeff Davis and his slave-owning cronies. All these murderous thugs got over six-hundred thousand human beings killed playing their nasty little power games. The “fanatic” abolitionist John Brown, for all his faults, at least risked his own life in the frontlines and was truly committed to freeing the slaves. Other civilized countries — England, France, Spain, even Brazil — managed to end slavery without getting more than a half million people killed — why couldn’t American politicians do the same? Why most Americans have the sense that you must be either pro-Union or pro-Confederacy escapes me. I say a pox on both houses!

    All the best,

    Dave Miller

  68. May I say that Dave Miller’s comment, even though I disagree with some of it, is about as good as you can ask for? I am adding several of these books to my list. On the issue of Lincoln’s violations of the Constitution, I have picked at James G. Randall’s Constitutional Problems Under Lincoln, which seems to be very scholarly and seems to be relatively unsympathetic to Lincoln. I have the Forrest MacDonald book and look forward to reading it. Answering the question of why the USA had to kill so many people to get rid of slavery would, I think, hold the key to many questions about what makes America what it is.

  69. Ginny,

    In my zeal to vent my spleen against Civil-War-era politicians, I neglected to mention the recent (2004) book by a serious historian which makes the case far better than I can: Michael Holt’s “The Fate of Their Country.”  In this brief book, Holt goes into detail about the self-serving, partisan political machinations of US political leaders in the 1840s and 1850s (Tyler, Polk, Stephen A. Douglas, etc.) that inflamed sectional passions leading to the great war.  (Douglas, of course, tried to redeem himself towards the end of his life by opposing the fraudulent LeCompton Constitution, and, when he realized that the 1860 election was lost, by doing what he could to avert the coming conflagration.  Too little, too late.)  Holt’s sympathies, contrary to my own, are with the Whigs, but his coverage seems to be fairly even-handed (I particularly liked his discussion of the noble conservative Democratic Senator Thomas Hart “Old Bullion” Benton — although a Senator from a slave state, Missouri, Benton was anti-slavery.  Some people transcend their environment.)

    Holt’s classic “The Political Crisis of the 1850s” also gives an interesting perspective on the role that the collapse of the national Whig Party (due partially to anti-Catholic/anti-immigration hysteria) played in leading to the horrible war. 


  70. Thank you, Dave. I think you have given me too great an abundance, since I waste far too much time to get all this reading done soon – but it is nice to have a project. You (and most of the others on this thread) have clearly thought a lot about the subject and have helpled clarify the period for me – and I suspect your sources will even more.
    Thanks again.

  71. Dave Miller said: “You should also look at diLorenzo’s “The Real Lincoln,” which is openly polemical but does lay out some well-known-to-historians negative facts about Lincoln that most of us non-historians have never heard about.”

    “Openly polemical” is putting it mildly. What is “well-known-to-(responsible)-historians” is that this book is not history but rather a distortion of the historical record. For example, DiLorenzo quotes primary source material which impugns Lincoln’s motives. If you are not a historian and are unfamiliar with the sources, you would likely accept the conclusions that the author draws from the quotes he cites. However, if you take the time to check the sources, you find that DiLorenzo has lifted phrases out of context, and even attributed words to one person that were clearly uttered by another. In short, beware of “history” written by those who have a political or economic axe to grind.

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