The Union Cause Was Not Ending Slavery
There are more books written about the U.S. “Civil War” than any other subject with the exception of Christianity and the Bible. In the foreword of my book, The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths, published in 2011, I noted that despite the hunger of Americans to know about the Civil War, it is the least understood war in American history in terms of its political causes and conduct. The second least understood war in American history is the Vietnam War, on which I also published a book in 2009, entitled Lessons from the Vietnam War, Truths the Media Never Told You. The history of both wars suffers from ideological distortion by the relentless imposition of politically correct false narratives that dominate the U.S. educational, media, and political establishments. The distorted narrative of the Civil War and Reconstruction (1861-1877) has been especially powerful in advancing the liberal-progressive political agenda of centralized federal power and in corrupting voters with numerous victim and entitlement ideologies.
The government and progressive media narrative of the Civil War focuses on one issue—slavery—turning the war into a morality play about freeing Southern slaves. No knowledgeable and politically uncorrupted scholar can endorse such a politicized and distorted simplification of history. Yet that is the prevailing and often repeated public understanding of the “cause” of the war. Slavery was an important secondary issue, but it was not primarily driven by a moral rejection of the institution by most Northern political leaders or their constituents.
Slavery is an institution that limits human freedom and productivity and is fraught with the potential for human abuse. It also presents extreme dangers to the peace, stability, and social well being of any society. However, the conditions and abuses of slavery in the South were greatly exaggerated by Northern media and political leaders to justify Northern aggression and tyranny throughout the war, during Reconstruction, and still today. Under the strong influence of Christian teachings in the South, slavery was much more benign than generally believed today, perhaps the most benign in human history. Extensive research by Fogel and Engerman in 1974 and the Slave Narratives, compiling interviews with former slaves by the Roosevelt Administration from 1936 to 1938, indicate that Southern slaves had significantly better nutrition, housing, and medical care than Northern industrial workers. Physical abuse was uncommon and unlawful. Over 80 percent of the former slaves interviewed by Federal Government scholars had a favorable opinion of their former masters.
The 1860 Republican Platform written in Chicago addressed slavery, but it did not call for its abolition. It only called for it to be limited to its present Southern boundaries. Another important plank in the platform and Lincoln’s presidential campaign was a huge tariff increase.
Abraham Lincoln stated unequivocally in his first inaugural address what he had previously written to New York Tribune Editor, Horace Greeley:
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
Furthermore, in Lincoln’s inaugural address, he gave verbal support to the Corwin Amendment, which passed both houses on Congress two days later on March 4, 1861. Lincoln wrote letters to the Governors of all the states on March 16 to support passage of the Amendment. The Corwin Amendment would have become the 13th Amendment to the Constitution had not active war commenced on April 12. The Corwin Amendment was sponsored by Republicans Tom Corwin in the House and William Seward in the Senate
“No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of such State.”
In other words, the Corwin Amendment would have guaranteed slavery in the Southern States forever and prohibited any future Constitutional amendments or Congressional legislation repealing the amendment or interfering with slavery in the Southern States.
In addition, the Northern Congress passed a Resolution on July 22, 1861, stating specifically that preserving the Union and maintaining the supremacy of the Constitution and not interfering with slavery were the purposes of the war.
My favorite way of shattering ideological attachment to an exaggerated vision of slavery as the all-important cause of the war is quotation. Quotes make history more real and help people understand differences in past and present culture. Moreover, they force people to think.
President Woodrow Wilson, in his multi-volume History of the American People, offered this explanation as to why the issue of slavery was so exaggerated during and after the war:
“It was necessary to put the South at a moral disadvantage by transforming the contest from a war waged against states fighting for their independence into a war waged against states fighting for the maintenance and extension of slavery.”
Charles Dickens, beloved British author:
“The Northern onslaught upon slavery is no more than a piece of specious humbug designed to conceal its desire for economic control of the Southern states.”
Lyander Spooner, New England lawyer and abolitionist, five years after the war: “All these cries of having abolished slavery, of having saved the country, of having preserved the union, of establishing a government of consent, and of maintaining the national honor are all gross, shameless, transparent cheats—so transparent that they ought to deceive no one.”
London Times, November 7, 1861:
“The contest is really for empire on the side of the North, and for independence on that of the South, and in this respect we recognize an exact analogy between the North and the Government of George III, and the South and the Thirteen Revolted Provinces.”
Henry Carey, Lincoln’s Chief Economist, promoter of the “American System” of Developmental Capitalism and Government Intervention, in a letter to House Speaker Schuyler Colfax in March 1865:
”To British Free-Trade it is, as I have shown, that we stand indebted for the present Civil War.”
Yikes! Do you mean Lincoln’s chief economic adviser didn’t believe the primary cause of the war was slavery? Yes, and neither did Abraham Lincoln!
The huge tariff increase called for in the 1860 Republican Platform and Lincoln’s presidential campaign would be an immense benefit to Northern manufacturers but have a ruinous effect on Southern agricultural costs, export revenues, and thereby profits. Ninety-five percent of U.S. Federal revenue was from import tariffs. The Morrill Tariff passed two days before Lincoln’s inauguration was endorsed by him. It would more than double the average tariff on all imports from 16 percent in 1860 to 34 percent within three years. The South already paid 83 percent of all import tariffs and received less than 25 percent of the benefits. Protectionist tariffs are generally harmful to economic growth and are essentially a political means of redistributing regional and commercial wealth. A 2006 academic study by Douglas Irwin indicated that a 30 percent increase in tariffs in 1885 increased profits for protected industries by 15 percent but reduced exporter profits by 11 percent. The overall impact on the total economy was to reduce GDP by eight percent. The highest tariff ever was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, passed by Republicans to revitalize the economy during the depression. Exports dropped 61 percent, and unemployment more than doubled from 7.8 percent when Smoot-Hawley passed to 16.3 percent in 1931 and peaked at 25.1 percent in 1933. The Morrill Tariff of 1861 probably made secession of South Carolina and six Gulf cotton-producing states inevitable
Maj. General Patrick R. Cleburne, CSA, January 1864:
“Every man should endeavor to understand the meaning of subjugation before it is too late…It means the history of this heroic struggle will be written by the enemy; that our youth will be trained by Northern schoolteachers; will learn from Northern school books their version of the war; will be impressed by the influences of history and education to regard our gallant dead as traitors, and our maimed veterans as fit objects of derision…It is said slavery is all we are fighting for, and if we give it up, we give up all. Even if this were true, which we deny, slavery is not all our enemies are fighting for. It is merely the pretense to establish sectional superiority and a more centralized form of government, and to deprive us of our rights and liberties.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Author and Columnist
a.k.a. Leonard M. Scruggs
Mike Scruggs is the author of two books: The Un-Civil War: Shattering the Historical Myths; and Lessons from the Vietnam War: Truths the Media Never Told You, and over 600 articles on military history, national security, intelligent design, genealogical genetics, immigration, current political affairs, Islam, and the Middle East.
He holds a BS degree from the University of Georgia and an MBA from Stanford University. A former USAF intelligence officer and Air Commando, he is a decorated combat veteran of the Vietnam War, and holds the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, and Air Medal. He is a retired First Vice President for a major national financial services firm and former Chairman of the Board of a classical Christian school.
His viewpoint is unapologetically Christian, conservative, and patriotic. He has been a Republican County Chairman in two Southern states and remains an active participant in church, political, and veterans’ affairs.