Let's Discuss the American Civil War

Discussion in 'Archive: The Senate Floor' started by LordNyax113, Dec 7, 2009.

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  1. LordNyax113 Jedi Knight

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 2007
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    Or more specifically, issues about the war.

    Recently I have become thouroughly engrossed with anything and everything about america's bloodiest conflict. And through this, I've discovered numerous controversies and debates that I never got exposed to in school at all (much to my chagrin in hindsight) and would like to start a discussion on.

    1. Did the South have the right to secede? Did Lincoln have the right to force them back into the Union? A few scholarly works I've read state that the Constitution remained silent on the matter and this thus meant the states were allowed to secede; that the Constitution never said "once a state, always a state" (in the US).

    2. Some assert the Confederacy didn't secede to preserve slavery per se but to protect states rights and they were scared that a proposed tariff increase would ruin the Southern economy.

    3. Lincoln's war= unjust. This relates to number one, but it's been asked if lincoln deliberately provoked the attack at Fort Sumter, because apparently Sumter wasn't in a desperate need of basic food and supplies as many claim. If indeed secession was technically legal, was Lincoln pursuing an unjust conflict?

    4. Did Lincoln really wish to free the slaves? Was the Emancipation Proclamation a political manuever?

    There's alot more I was curious about, but I'd thought we'd start with that. :)
  2. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 8, 2000
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    1. I think they did. I don't think the Constitution ties any state to the union. In a way it's almost hypocritical that Lincoln wanted to force the Southern states to stay in the Union when 87 years earlier, 13 states had "seceded" from England. However, I also don't believe that the Confederacy would have survived as a nation very long on its own, even if it had won the war. I don't think its agrarian economy would have been sustainable for any long period of time.

    I wish I could remember the name of the novel, but there is a novel out there based on the scenario that the Confederates won the Civil War. It goes into the 20th century, Woodrow Wilson is a Confederate President instead of a US President, and it ends in the 60s when JFK and the Confederate President meet to discuss reuniting the two countries. Basically the Southern economy was not self-sustaining and the Confederacy was going sharply downhill.

    2. Yes and no. Yes, it was to preserve states' rights, but the states were fighting for the right to continue holding slaves. There really was no other issue in which they were concerned about the federal government taking away their rights.

    3. I don't think Lincoln deliberately provoked the attack on Fort Sumter, but that would depend on whether the fort really was in need of supplies. South Carolina did threaten the federal government with attack if the government replenished the fort, however, had the fort run out of supplies, would the Confederate government have replenished it? Or would Davis let Anderson and his men starve? Would Beauregard have attacked the fort anyway, but after Anderson had run out of food and ammo? I don't know that Lincoln really had a choice.

    4. From everything I've read, no, he didn't wish to free to slaves. He didn't personally favor slavery but at the same time, he had a "live and let live" attitude towards slavery where it already existed. He also did not believe that African Americans were equal to whites; few white people at the time did. The Emancipation Proclamation was absolutely a political move; I'm trying to remember exactly what precipitated it, but he threatened the Confederates with the proclamation before it happened.
  3. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
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    Brief answers now, may go more in depth later:




    1. The right to secede before Lincoln was ambiguous, and never really touched upon in the constitution. But it was settled after the Civil War that there was no right to secede, by both fighting the war and Supreme Court decisions. So there is now no right to secede, at least not without the consent of Congress as well.



    2. The southern economy was already becoming outdated by the Industrial Revolution, and the textile mills starting in the north. There was no longer a national economic need for slavery, and the Southerners wanted to keep their way of life. They argued that Slavery was a States' Rights issue, because they knew national momentum was against slavery, especially since the British already abolished it a few decades earlier I believe. But States' Rights by themselves is an empty concept, they were fighting that states had the right to keep slavery. Slavery was the driving issue.

    As the Vice President of the Confederacy said, in the 1861 "Cornerstone Speech" where he defined the founding principles of the Confederacy, Alexander Stephens stated:

    (Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. ... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner?stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery ? subordination to the superior race ? is his natural and normal condition.


    It doesn't get any clearer than that.



    3. The war was just, it was not just Lincoln's war. His predecessor let everything go to hell, and people were done with compromising.



    4. Abraham Lincoln seemed to have always personally been opposed to slavery, but he did NOT intend to "free the slaves" as President. His primary intention was to preserve the Union. The Emancipation Declaration, I believe, only declared all slaves in the South were freed, it had little practical effect. But the Reconstruction period, with the south muffled, allowed the abolitionists of the north to pass the 13th, 14th, and 15th ammendments.
  4. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 8, 2000
    star 6
    On a couple of Ghost's points:

    2. Wow. That Stephens speech made me throw up a little in my mouth. About once or twice a week I usually find something that makes me ashamed to be a Southerner. That will do for the next several months.

    Yes, the British abolished slavery in the early 1830s, 1831 I believe. Sad that I had to go to the Maritime Museum in London to learn that. I don't remember ever seeing it in a history textbook here.

    4. The Johnson administration ran a much harsher Reconstruction than the Lincoln administration intended to run. I have to wonder how the course of history might have changed had Lincoln lived. I wonder, for example, if the KKK would have ever formed or if Jim Crow laws would have been in place. Maybe they would have been, but I really wonder.
  5. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    "The Johnson administration" barely had a hand in Reconstruction. Andrew Johnson was against secession, but not because he opposed slavery - rather, he was of the opinion that all white men, not just the white upper class, should be able to own slaves. Reconstruction under Johnson's strict control would probably have been very different. The Reconstruction we actually witnessed was the result of the so-called "Radical Republicans" who were abolitionist firebrands and thought the Lincoln, and Johnson, plans were entirely not harsh enough.

    Lincoln's plan was incredibly forgiving towards the South - enough so that we might have seen something worse than Jim Crow laws and the KKK.
  6. Raven Administrator Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Oct 5, 1998
    star 6

    The abolition of slavery in England occured in 1833; the Act that abolished slavery in England also abolished slavery in most - but not all - of the British Empire. The Act officially took effect on August 1st, 1834. Depending on what kind of slave they were, they were designated Apprentices, and were still required to serve their former owners, in some cases for years after they were freed. It wasn't until August 1st, 1840 that the last of the slaves was fully free.

    And even then, they probably didn't vacation in Georgia.
  7. Ghost Chosen One

    Member Since:
    Oct 13, 2003
    star 6
    I found that quote by accident a few months ago, I think I was in an argument with Kimball that somehow turned into a discussion if the Confederacy was founded on evil principles or not, I forget what thread it was. Anyways, that is the definitive statement, the "smoking gun" evidence, that the real issue was always Slavery. I'm surprised I hadn't heard about it earlier, but I also hear most history textbooks are printed in the South, and I don't blame them for being ashamed of this quote. But it doesn't get more legitimate than the Confederate Vice President saying racism is the founding truth of their new nation, in a formal document called the "Cornerstone Speech." You don't have anything to be ashamed of, all those responsible are long dead, but every once in a while I do come across someone (here in the North too) who thinks slavery should be legalized. It was never only the South's problem, we've had a lot of de facto segregation and racism up here too. It's just one of America's sad legacies.

    The British freeing the slaves before us was news to me too, when I learned it back in high school. My history teacher mentioned it, when most of my class was under the impression that the United States was the first in the world to ban slavery after the Civil War, and the world then following our lead. But it wasn't in the textbook at all, wouldn't have known it if my teacher didn't mention it.

    Here is a link to the entire speech, and the rest of the excerpt regarding slavery posted in full context, if anyone wants to read the Confederacy's self-proclaimed founding principles and issues for this thread.

    http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?documentprint=76


    [...] The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution African slavery as it exists amongst us the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the "rock upon which the old Union would split." He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood and stands, may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. It was an evil they knew not well how to deal with, but the general opinion of the men of that day was that, somehow or other in the order of Providence, the institution would be evanescent and pass away. This idea, though not incorporated in the constitution, was the prevailing idea at that time. The constitution, it is true, secured every essential guarantee to the institution while it should last, and hence no argument can be justly urged against the constitutional guarantees thus secured, because of the common sentiment of the day. Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the "storm came and the wind blew."

    Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural
  8. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
    star 9
    If the South had the right to secede, they then (in theory) should have left parts of certain Southern states who did not want to secede from the Union, secede from them. Which they didn't. Nor was it put to a general vote on that specific question. Even so, West Virginia seceded from Virginia at this point and joined the Union. Some states, like Kentucky, were evenly divided.

    It wasn't about States' rights, it was about slavery. Though the South always claimed it was 'states rights' what they meant was 'states rights to own slaves'.

    Ironically, most of people who served in the Confederate Armies didn't own slaves. They just hoped to, one day.

  9. Lord_Hydronium Manager Emeritus

    Member Since:
    Jun 11, 2002
    star 5
    I came across this a while ago: a clause-by-clause comparison of the Confederate and US Constitutions (the normal site isn't working for me, so I've linked the Google cache).

    What's interesting?and this is elaborated with examples at the bottom of the link?is that for all the "states' rights" talk, the CSA Constitution isn't that big on granting them. In slave-related matters, it actually takes them away; the CSA Constitution explicitly enshrines a right to own slaves, bans any law from outlawing slavery, and makes all new states automatically slave states.

    There's some other interesting matters of procedure and wording differences, too, but they're less relevant to the issue of the war?unless someone wants to argue it was fought over a line-item veto. :p
  10. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 8, 2000
    star 6
    It's true. A lot of Confederate soldiers, including my great-great-great-grandfather, were sharecroppers. He was on my dad's side. My mother's wealthy plantation-owning ancestors never fought. There's a reason the Civil War was known as a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight."
  11. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
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    Lincoln (and I think Grant as well) came to believe that the war was punishment on the nation for slavery--every drop of blood extracted with the whip would be matched by one with the sword. Grant also believed the Mexican War was wicked, and that it lead directly to the Civil War.

    During the Revolution the Brits pointed out that the Americans kept talking of their liberty, yet wouldn't extend it to slaves. Hypocritical, much? If so, they paid, and paid bitterly, if you believe slavery distorts the owner as well as the slave. The history of the USA between the Revolution and the Civil War was also distorted by this very issue--several issues became paramount--and it prevented things such as homesteading, which the South objected to and managed to head off. They feared it would mean more free states.
  12. Gonk Jedi Grand Master

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    Jul 8, 1998
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    Lincoln (and I think Grant as well) came to believe that the war was punishment on the nation for slavery--every drop of blood extracted with the whip would be matched by one with the sword. Grant also believed the Mexican War was wicked, and that it lead directly to the Civil War.

    During the Revolution the Brits pointed out that the Americans kept talking of their liberty, yet wouldn't extend it to slaves. Hypocritical, much? If so, they paid, and paid bitterly, if you believe slavery distorts the owner as well as the slave. The history of the USA between the Revolution and the Civil War was also distorted by this very issue--several issues became paramount--and it prevented things such as homesteading, which the South objected to and managed to head off. They feared it would mean more free states.


    I think you run into a fair amount of revisionism with some of these things. Many say, for instance, that Lincoln was far more concerned about the South seceeding than about freeing the slaves. Perhaps, perhaps not -- or perhaps the public and private side of the man were very different (it might not go over as easily at the time to say to the people of the North that this was all about Slavery -- many would potentially be more sympathetic to loyalty to the Union than to freeing the slaves.

    As well the hypocracy the Brits levelled over slavery I think is mostly fair and yet unfair to some of the framers of the Constitution. Fair perhaps to the wider nation which may have failed to live up to the ideals of particular individual framers, but I suspect it might have been unfair to someone like Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson owned slaves, but almost everything else about him would indicate that he didn't approve of the practice (he twice tried to emancipate them). Yet he tolerated it: But, as it is, we have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him (a slave) , nor safely let him go. justice is in one scale, and self-preservation in the other. He was radical enough to support the French Revolution at all it's stages, only on his Deathbed recanting: and the Revolution abolished slavery sometime around the Girondist or Jacobin phase. I think the most likely case is that Jefferson kept slaves because it was expected of him to do so and had different private views on the practice. But the paradox does remain almost -- though not quite -- as baffling as Robespierre having once been a stauch opponent of the Death Penalty.

    I didn't know that Grant believed the Mexican War was wicked. Although the judgement of history has been that Grant's presidency was a failure, that at least improves my opinion of him marginally: it was thought by a number of people in the US at the time it was fought to have been a wicked war, and history hasn't looked favorably on America concerning the conflict.

    In any case, I think there's been a bit too much cyncical reviewing of history on this account: to hear some tell, America fought the Civil War first, then gained a conscience about it after the fact. In many cases this may have been true. But as Zaz points out, it's not necessarily the case.
  13. anakin_girl Jedi Grand Master

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    Oct 8, 2000
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    As far as the Founders were concerned, the only real "people" were white men. For some of them, the only real "people" were property-holding white men.
  14. Kimball_Kinnison Chosen One

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    Oct 28, 2001
    star 6
    I would call this a fair analysis, in large part because it recognizes the real complexities of the issues.

    The Civil War was not just about slavery. Slavery provided the flash point for it, but the typical soldier on either side didn't tend to have a strong feeling about it either way. In the South, "states rights" was the key issue for most people. Slavery formed a large part of that, because that's where a lot of the previous conflict on the issue had centered, but it wasn't the main reason.

    Even the "Cornerstone Speech" linked to earlier illustrates this. Stephens pointed out several key points in the Confederate Constitution meant to either strengthen the states or weaken the federal government. Among those was limiting the President to a single 6-year term (in an attempt to limit him from using the office for personal gain). Another was limiting the federal government from using the Commerce Clause as an excuse to hand out money to the individual states. This would have the effect of limiting the power of the federal government to influence the states, and would require them to be more independent.

    I encourage everyone to read both the link that Darth-Ghost gave to the full text of the "Cornerstone Speech" and the comparison of the US and Confederate Constitutions that Lord_Hydronium posted (although I will say that I found the analysis in Lord_Hydronium's link to be rather limited and one-sided).

    Remember a lot of the tension that developed prior to the war was centered around issues relating not just to slavery, but whether or not the federal government could force such policies onto the states. Similarly, there was the question of whether one state could use nullification to avoid or overrule the acts or laws of another state (such as by passing laws refusing to return escaped slaves or other fugitives). These issues led to the Dred Scott decision, and even though that decision was in favor of the Southern views, it did almost nothing to resolve the underlying legal disputes.

    And that is probably the most critical point of the Southern position. The conflict over slavery brought to light some very real Constitutional issues about the relationship between the states and federal government. Yes, many of the leadership in the South owned slaves, and wanted to protect their livelihood, and there were those who were extremely racist. But you cannot
  15. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

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    Well that's because secession was about their state's, not an individual's right to secede from the union. So they wouldn't observe that eastern Tenn, which was more pro-Union, would have the right to stay in the union over middle and western Tenn. It was the whole state. Most confederates held the United States union was a union of sovereign states and the national government was ultimately legitimized by those state's sanction of it.

    As a historical aside:

    The confederates who were poor landowners or sharecroppers were known then as yeoman. As anakin girl noted, most of the fighting was done by them. And they were the most moderate of the secessionists ironically.
    But what drew them to the southern armies of No. Virginia and Tennessee: northern invasion and what they saw as northern aggression.

    Kimball noted the issue's complexities.
    Think of this:

    Southern Illinois and southern Ohio had small, but existing slave owners in the decades leading up to the Civil War. New Jersey had a very small, but existing slaveowning population at the outbreak of the war.
    In fact, Ohio was full of secret societies that helped fund southern raiders and guerilla ops in northern Kentucky and Missouri.*

    Another interesting thing is that New Orleans supported a sizable free black community who were highly-educated in academies and universities in the north. They would publish anti-slavery tracts and give speeches and hold meetings.

    *source is the highly excellent Southern Operations in Canada and New York(Headley). it was from the Time Life books Collector's Edition of the Civil War. It was a first-hand account of a former rebel raider and his ops in the middle states, New York and Canada. Excellent read. It was re-published by Time Life in the late '70's -early '80's.

  16. Ramza JC Head Admin and RPF Manager

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    I'm about to say something I never, ever thought I would say:

    I agree with Kimball. The sense of regional loyalty did not extend merely to the lower ranks, either: No less a figure than Robert E. Lee actually decided to become a Confederate general primarily out of loyalty to the state of Virginia, rather than the slavery issue.
  17. saturn5 Jedi Master

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    The last one or the coming one between the Palinites and Baldwinites?[face_laugh] My money's on the former, after all they have all the guns.

    What always strikes me is how closely the 2 sides resemble the Roundheads and Cavaliers in so many ways. Also it amazes me how ruthless Lincoln is, doing things that would make George W and FDR wince
  18. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

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    I believe Lee resigned his commission when he heard the north was preparing an invasion(led by McDowell's newly-organized Army of Virginia).

    There was even a quote by Lee where he said his love of Virginia or something compelled him to serve the south.

    To many confederates, state sovereignty reigned over what they regarded as a "union" of those states.
  19. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
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    In fact, the only votes that counted were the state representatives, which under the circumstances, was not enough.

    You should read Grant's Autobiography some time. It's highly entertaining. Not only was he a brilliant general, he was also quite a writer (though, as you say, a not-good President). He thought that the Mexican War caused the Civil War, and the pretext to fight it was lame.

    I'm not sure that I'd cite Jefferson re slavery, considering that he was apparently the father of several of them himself. :mad: Of all the elements of slavery, that's perhaps the most loathesome.

    I'm currently reading John Keegan's military history of the Civil War and very interesting it is. He cites Grant and Sherman as the best generals in the War. He thinks Jackson and Lee were great tacticians, but poor strategists. I can't see how they could be great strategists, however, as Keegan admits the South had few choices and especially after Britain refused to support them early on. The South refused to ship cotton, thinking that this *would* garner European support, if the mills, especially in Britain, were idle. They reckoned without public opinion. The British chattering classes often supported the South, mainly because they enjoyed seeing the USA shoot itself in the foot. The millworkers, however, often Methodists and deeply religious, supported the North, and even wrote to Lincoln, telling him to go for it, despite the fact that they were out of work as a result. And...good on them.
  20. saturn5 Jedi Master

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    As I recall Lee was offered the command of the Union armies but turned it down rather than fight against his home state.

    As for the UK, the attitude towards the Union wasn't helped by the US navy's actions, shades of 1812 all over again. You also have to remember that the abolitionist movement would undoubtedly support the North (it's rise in the UK one of the reasons for the American revolution)

    Quite frankly when you compare the largely agrarian South with it's small white population against the industrialized North it's a miracle the south lasted as long as it did. Of course the disasterous policy of King Cotton didn't help
  21. DarthBoba Manager Emeritus

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    The South had the benefit of a distinctly gifted officer corps; in the day before professional non-commissioned officers existed, this counted for alot on the battlefield.

    My knowledge of Civil War battles is limited to say the least, but it seems to me that the South was generally more maneuverable and typically had the initiative as well.
  22. saturn5 Jedi Master

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    One could theorise that the Southern troops fought harder because they were being invaded by the North and they saw their way of life being threatened "Because you're down here". The Northern troops weren't so motivated in either abolishing slavery or preserving the Union
  23. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

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    Oct 11, 1998
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    The North won the two battles that took place in the North; namely, Antietam and Gettysburg.

    But things didn't improve in the East until Lincoln brought Grant from the West in 1864.
  24. ShaneP Ex-Mod Officio

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    Won Antietam? Eh...McClellan would've won it outright if not for the timely arrival of reinforcements for the AoNoVa.

    The engagement did stop Lee's first invasion but....

    And Burnside and that bridge.....could that guy do anything right? Antietam, Fredericksburg, The Crater....:oops:

    By the way, Grant not only thought the Mexican War was wicked, but fought under false pretenses, namely that the Mexican forces violated a territorial treaty with the U.S and the war was in response to that.

    edit: added territorial before treaty on last sentence for clarity.
  25. Zaz Jedi Grand Master

    Member Since:
    Oct 11, 1998
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    Poor Burnside. Even poorer--the soldiers who served under him.
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