Last month, I talked about the start of the Civil War; “The Ordinance of Secession” and the events surround the signing of this life changing document. This month, I want to talk about what the document meant and my belief on why the Civil War was fought. Most people feel that the main reason the South seceded was to preserve their “Peculiar Institution: Slavery.” Slavery is definitely part of the reason the war was fought but not in the way that you may think.
In my opinion, for the South: it was all about economics and the power of the federal government to dictate the lives of the Southerners. (The Northern States at that time held a majority in BOTH Houses of Congress). For the North at the beginning the war, first and foremost their priority was to save the Union, not for their moral concerns about Slavery.
Lincoln believed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. He felt that the Southern states’ seceding was akin to a child throwing a tantrum and they would eventually come around as soon as the “fit” was done. Lincoln thoughts were that he needed to disperse the bands of rebels and establish loyal Southern governments. In the final passage of his inaugural address in March of 1861, Lincoln spoke of his willingness to rewrite parts of the constitution to accommodate the South. Just hours before his address, the Senate passed a constitutional amendment, that read “No Amendment, shall ever 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 person held to labor or service by the laws of said State.” This was passed by both houses and only had to be ratified by the states. Of course the problem was to get the two-thirds of the states to ratify this amendment. (I will discuss this on the Southern side.) He also stated in that speech that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly to interfere with the institution of slavery in the State where it exists.” “I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.” He was against the spread of slavery because he felt that it was affecting the “free labor economy”. It was not for the plight of the black man. In 1858, Lincoln stated “I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races…… and I as much as any other man I am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” He did believe though that Negros did have rights even if the races were unequal. “In the right to into his mouth the bread that his own hands have earned… (The Negro) is the equal of every other man white or black.” Much of the North had the same feelings; they were opposed to the expansion of slavery because of a dislike of the Negro as well as the dislike of slavery. Slavery was affecting Northern economic prosperity. In his Hartford Speech of 1860, Lincoln talks about slavery and how it was affecting the economy and the Union: “Slavery comes in, and white free labor that can strike will give way to slave labor that cannot!” Slavery is wrong in its effect upon white people and free labor; it is the only thing that threatens the Union.” As Gene Leach discussed in “Glimpses of Lincoln‘s Brilliance”, “Lincoln argued, it was not the product of a wickedness unique to slaveholders. Nor was slavery a bizarre anachronism standing in the way of the nation’s economic growth. To the contrary, Lincoln identified slavery with the driving engines of that growth. That was exactly the problem: In their zeal for material progress, all Americans, North and South, were losing their moral bearings. Southerners held slaves, and many Northerners tolerated the practice, because “pecuniary value” had become their ruling value.”
Lincoln’s main goal was to preserve the union. He said if he could accomplish this without freeing any slaves he would: if he could save the union by freeing all the slaves he would. In fact in 1861, The US House of Rep. passed a resolution declaring the Civil War was being waged to preserve the Union rather than to end slavery.
It was not until 1863 when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation did the moral concern of slavery become a rally point for the North. The proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” He felt at this point in time it was “a military necessity… We must free the slaves or be ourselves subdued”.
This proclamation was done to bring more support for the Union from Britain and France. If Britain and France continued to give support to the Confederacy it would look like would look like support for slavery, which both of these nations had abolished. It also increased the number of soldiers for the Union while helping to eliminate the Confederacy’s workhorse, the slaves. Every battle was expanding the domain of freedom and the black man was able to help liberate himself. Slaves quickly began to escape to the Union lines. The Proclamation did not free all the slaves, only those in states that seceded from the Union. Slavery was still legal in the Border States and parts of the Confederacy that were under Northern control. Thus, freedom from slavery was dependent on a Union military victory.
Lincoln had always been in favor of emancipation for the Negroes but he envisioned a gradual process in which there would be financial compensation to the owner. He understood the financial hardship that the immediate lost of property would do the Southern states and how it would ruin the Southern economy. In an 1858 speech, Lincoln stated that the “regions 4 million slaves were valued at no less than 2 billion dollars.” That sum was greater than the value of all the nation’s factories and railroads in both the North and South. He also believed in the colonization of the Negroes outside of the United States. In 1862, Lincoln states to Congress that “I cannot make it better know that it already is, that I strongly favor colonization.” He spoke with a group of Negroes in 1862 and said that a “physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both, as I think your race suffers very greatly… by living among us, while ours suffers from your presence.”
Lincoln did what he felt that would help to end this war; to stop the wounded and the dying on both sides of the battle field. He took a great risk because many in the North still believed the war was about preserving the Union, not about freeing the slaves. This proclamation lead to the thirteenth amendment to our Constitution. The Republican Senate passed the amendment in April of 1864 but it was not until January of 1865 that the Democratic House barely vetoed for the amendment. It was ratified by two thirds of the states on December 6, 1865 when Georgia gave its consent.
Unfortunately this did not immediately end the discrimination to the Negroes. It would be another 100 years until there would be balance between the races. It would have been very interesting to see what would have happened if Lincoln had lived?
Next month, I will talk about the Southern perspective.
Thanks for reading