Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Monday, August 24, 2015

The Civil War was about slavery, slavery, slavery.

Historian Ken Burns reminded supporters of the Confederacy on Sunday that the Civil War had been primarily about slavery, and not states' rights as many conservatives have claimed. "You know, when the Constitutional Convention happened, there was a man named John J. Chapman, who said slavery was like a sleeping serpent," 

Burns told CBS host John Dickerson. "It lay coiled under the table during the deliberations; thereafter, slavery was on everyone's mind, if not always on his tongue." "You know, we've grown up as country with a lot of powerful symbols of the Civil War in popular culture that would be 'Birth of a Nation,' D.W. Griffiths' classic, and 'Gone with the Wind,' of course," he explained. "And in that, it postulates, among other things, both films, that the Ku Klux Klan, which is a homegrown terrorist organization, was actually a heroic force in the story of the Civil War. So it's no wonder that Americans have permitted themselves to be sold a bill of goods about what happened, oh, it's about states' rights, it's about nullification, it's about differences between cultural and political and economic forces that shaped the North and the South." 

 But Burns recommended that Americans read South Carolina's Articles of Secession to get the real story on why the states went to war against each other. 

 "[T]hey do not mention states' rights. They mention slavery, slavery, slavery," he pointed out. "And that we have to remember. It is much more complicated than that, but essentially the reason why we murdered each other -- more than 2 percent of our population, 750,000 Americans died; that's more than all the wars from the Revolution through Afghanistan combined -- was over essentially the issue of slavery." According to Burns, the racism running through the DNA of America was still present in modern day politics.



Les Carpenter said...

The south's economy was built on the exploitation of cheap productive labor. Slavery being the cheapest (long term) as well as productive. In the agrarian society of the south it was driven by economic considerations and these states believed it their righr to self determination with respect to their economies. They believed slavery crucial to the success of their economies. Thus their willingness to go to war in the attempt to preserve it.

Jerry Critter said...

Clearly, slavery was the base cause of the war. Other excuses all stem from slavery.

Shaw Kenawe said...

RN, the people who owned the cotton mills in the North benefitted from slavery as well. They were anti-abolitionists, and they did all they could to disrupt and end the abolitionist movement and its leaders like William Lloyd Garrison:

"The truth is," write Anne Farrow, Joel Lang and Jennifer Frank, "that slavery was a national phenomenon. The North shared in the wealth it created, and in the oppression it required." The three cite example after example to support their thesis. And while their analysis is far from exhaustive and sometimes lacking in scholarly depth, the width and breadth of the exploitation they describe is impressive.

They start with the most obvious example. In the early 19th century, New England textile mills in places such as Lowell, Mass., became eager buyers of cotton shipped from Southern plantations. The authors explore in detail the strong commercial alliance "between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom," as Sen. Charles Sumner of Massachusetts once described it. New England's rich textile barons wanted above all else to keep cheap cotton flowing North, and thus they worked to keep the divisive issue of slavery off the national agenda. Exploitation of slaves and mill workers was a winning business strategy."


But what Burns' research clearly shows is that the Civil War was about slavery, not states' rights or "northern aggression."

Shaw Kenawe said...

Jerry, yes. But history revisionists will continue to argue that slavery had nothing to do with it. And of course along with that argument is the equally absurd idea that Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant. But then, we'll always have crackpots among us.

skudrunner said...

It was indeed about slavery that the civil war was all about. The States right to determine if slavery was legal. So while the issue was slavery, the objective was for states to have their own rights.

State rights are mostly a thing of the past. We now bow to the federalists who are controlled by corrupt politicians who's only goal is to stay in office so they can become richer.

Les Carpenter said...

Those who would argue slavery had nothing to do with it are willfully ignoring a part of reality. Just the same as those who would argue that economic realities of southern economies had nothing to do with it.

It sure is fun recreating the events of 155 years ago without the benefit of having personal first hand knowledge or experience. What we do know is that human bondage is ethically and morally wrong in every conceivable situation.

Try as one might they cannot boil a complex socio economic reality into a neat and tidy box that fits their personal comfort zone.

Shaw Kenawe said...

"The States right to determine if slavery was legal."

Our Founding Fathers ignored the evil that it was. Even our enlightened Founding Fathers didn't have the courage to confront the southern states about it, because they knew if they did, all bets were off for uniting the colonies into a country. Funny, but European countries by that time had made the determination that owning people and decimating their families was an evil thing. It took our "exceptional" country too many years to figure that out, and it cost us dearly in human lives. We didn't really get rid of the residual effects of slavery until the Civil Rights movement, but even that didn't stop certain segments of our "exceptional" country from hounding our first bi-racial president about his citizenship.

Shaw Kenawe said...

RN, you're correct. But there are still those who will argue forever that the Civil War was about states rights. Facts be damned.

Les Carpenter said...

Shaw, the USA is in many ways is
exceptional. Certainly with respect to the economic and military growth it was able to acheive in its relatively short history. We can be proud of the great accomplishments while recognizing and acknowledging at the same time we made many mistakes. Americans are after all is said and done human. Just like Europeans across the Atlantic from whence we came.

Ducky's here said...

When they admit that the war was about slavery (it happens occasionally) it serves as an opportunity to state that Republicans emancipated the slaves as if the contemporary Republican party is still the "party of Lincoln".

You still find some who feel it was just a matter of time before the free market ended slavery. This has something to do with the market replacing slave with a more efficient worker. In a nutshell, von Mises states that over time, incremental moves such "would transform the slaves into self-owners, because that would be the most efficient outcome, setting aside moral considerations". The wonders of the market solve everything.

"The War of Northern Aggression" was just that. Slavery would have faded out.

Dave Miller said...

Skud... would not another interpretation be that as a country, we fought a war, and lost countless lives, to express a loud NO and support a more muscular federal government as opposed to states rights?

For me, you, or anyone can say the Civil War was about whatever you want. But the fact remains the same. The south lost. SO if it was slavery, great. If it was states rights, that's great too.

But as the winners, the north gets to impose the terms of surrender.

States rights? The south needs to get over it.

However they interpret it and understand it as a cause of that tragic war.

Dave Miller said...

No RN, we apparently cannot acknowledge any mistakes.

Doing so, in the minds of many conservatives, and not just the wackos, is tantamount to apologizing and teaches youngsters that we are not the greatest country on the planet.

Think I'm wrong?

Take a tour of a few of the more right wing blogs...

Shaw Kenawe said...

"You still find some who feel it was just a matter of time before the free market ended slavery."

But how long before that would have happened, I wonder. Remember the westward expansion of slave states.

Shaw Kenawe said...

Dave, it wasn't just the southern states that were complicit in slavery, our original sin. The northerners who owned the cotton mills wanted to keep slavery as it was so that they could reap the profits of the cotton trade. They were against abolition and people like William Lloyd Garrison. Slavery wasn't only an original southern sin.

Anonymous said...

Slavery was the issue that started the State's rights argument. Slavery was the cause.
It's fortunate that the North won and we ended slavery.
It's unfortunate that we haven't learned our lesson about States rights. States rights end when any State law violates the federal rights of individuals.
But there were no federal rights for black individuals. Slavery was debated when the Declaration of Independence was debated and signed. The founders chose a nation over getting rid of slavery, and we were born a slave nation.
The Constitution did NOT make slavery illegal and the South felt betrayed when efforts to end slavery looked like it would pass. Then each State voted for secession.
There was no Congressional vote to end slavery, Lincoln simply signed a proclamation, but that was after the war started.
So was the South within its rights to demand something that was not made illegal according to the founding documents they signed? The founders who argued against slavery, owned slaves. A hypocritical stance that would be blasted today, and was then.
It's a long fight for issues/rights like same sex marriage because federal law does not protect those rights and won't unless the Supreme Court rules in their favor, or a constitutional amendment is passed, as was the case of the woman's vote. Immoral and legal are not the same.
Just as school desegregation (ruled legal by the Supreme Court) had to be backed by federal troops. I have no doubt that even if the Supreme Court had ruled blacks did have individual rights, the South would have forced the North to impose that ruling with federal troops anyways, and we would not have evaded the Civil War. But we would have had a legal (representative vote) basis to force the South to comply. Instead, simply, a shooting war started over a Fort, and the rest is History.

Les Carpenter said...

Well Dave perhaps I'm the exception.

I have visited many rightwing weblogs. I am rarely if ever in agreement with the most virulent ones. Just as I'm often in disagreement with the most virulent leftwing weblogs.

I despise litmus tests being a bona fide independent beholden to no ideology or dogma.

Ducky's here said...

I was being sarcastic about slavery being gradually replaced Shaw but that opinion is not that uncommon on the right. It might even have happened in 60 or 70 years.

It's that or admit there was a fundamental flaw in the founding and that won't do.
And portions of the current Republican party are still fighting that war.

Flying Junior said...

Where the hell is Will Hart when you need him?