Recently, a “civil war” moderated forum that I occasionally visit on-line recently had the question “Was the Civil War About Slavery?” posted for comments.
As usual, visitors to the forum who know only what they were taught in public grade schools were quick to paint a picture of a noble and benevolent north going to war with an evil south to “free the slaves”.
I chose to respond to the question and, quickly, I had a union apologist insist that I remove or edit my post. I am publishing it here and ask you to decide.
“Was the Civil War About Slavery?”
The term “about slavery” is so broad and general that to use it in defining a cause to the war between the states, either to say it was or was not, is neither totally right or totally wrong.
Pro-southerners, such as myself (unlike some, I formally admit my bias), will defend against uninformed, self proclaimed “experts” who want to attribute a 350 year history of slavery in North America to a four year period of time.
Omitted from much of the discussions that often limits slavery to being a “sin” of the south are facts, such as:
The African slave trade was a part of the commercial interests of Europe, as were the colonies that they formed in North America. Thirteen of these 20 colonies would become the United States. Slave trade was an essential part of the New England economy from 1637 through as late as 1847. The first slave ship to be equipped in America was built in 1637, and sailed from Salem, Massachusetts. After slave cargo from Africa was barred from American shores, New England ships for hire were still providing the transportation of slaves from Africa to the other points in the world where slaves could still be purchased in South America and the Caribbean. Money from this trade was pumped into other New England business industries, such as textile mills (where cotton harvested by slaves in southern states would be processed) and distilleries. (See George H. Moore, Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts (D. Appleton and Company, New York, NY: 1866)
It was in Virginia, the heart of Confederacy, where African slave trade was first outlawed on October 5, 1778, by an act of the General Assembly. They had tried several times as a colony to do the same thing, but their laws were overruled by the royal governor appointed by the King of England. This was ten years before Massachusetts and thirty years before British parliament acted on this barbaric practice. This law not only prevented the importation of slaves, but also stipulated that any slave brought into the state contrary to the law would be then and forevermore free. (See W.E.B. DuBois, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade to the United States of America (Russell and Russell Inc., New York, NY: 1965)
Thus, with a long and intertwined history throughout the colonies and states, “slavery” was a part of the life of anyone who was a part of the American economy at that time, north and south. Accordingly, the constitution protected this vile institution and Lincoln, taking an oath to defend and uphold that constitution, promised not to interfere with it in states where it existed.
The issue of the day was whether or not slavery … or the alternative development of a middle class in an industrialized society … should be the model in developing future territories into states — and the political ramifications of either decision, as to how it would affect power in the senate and house.
This issue is what was at stake following the election of 1860, which led to secession, which led to war.
So … was the war “about slavery”? Yes and no. The question does not go deep enough.
[Note: The last I look, the post remains where it was and has not been deleted, yet.]