December 09th, 2017
Who would have thought it, in 2017 over one hundred and fifty years later the causes of the Civil War are debated by some. And yes the discussion does have its nuances. The North and Lincoln were more for stopping slavery from spreading to the new states and territories when the War started. The strategy was, if limited to the current states in the South slavery would eventually die. This was valid thinking. Cotton was king in the South mostly because of slave labor and the abundance of good arable cotton land. These two factors made the South’s cotton the cheapest and best in the world. Thus, the textile factories in Manchester and Liverpool in England were anxious to acquire southern cotton.
The problem for the southern cotton growers was cotton depleted the soil in three to four years. They were constantly in need of new land to grow more cotton. So they needed to expand their cotton empires further and further west into new territories. And with the spread of cotton to grow it economically efficiently, they had to use slavery. The North adamantly opposed the spreading of slavery west into the new territories. The North also knew if they did this the Southern economy based on slave labor would die and slavery would eventually die on the wicked vine it grew.
The secession of the South brought this slavery strategy and question in the current states into play. The question is often asked if this is so why didn’t Lincoln declare immediate emancipation of the slaves? And the answer to that is quite simply he was being strategic. If he had declared emancipation of the slaves a border state such as Maryland would have sided with the South. This would have made Union victory harder and made the invasion of the North by the South more likely [as it was only one significant invasion in the North occurred during the war]. Also Lincoln was at first holding out hope that the South would come back into the fold and the United States would have reverted to the non-violent means of not allowing slavery to spread into the new territories and eventually dying. Of course this did not happen.
Yes at first Lincoln was for preserving the Union. This was a more palatable cause for all sides and he hoped the conflict would end quickly. It was thought the South once they experienced a few losses would concede and come back in the Union, and the old status quo would return. It did not happen this way. And in fact the South won most of the early battles. Lincoln waited for a significant Union military victory to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation. This was to show that eventually the Union would win the war. This would keep the border states in line knowing this. They would want to be on the winning side. But it also would help with recruiting soldiers in the North which had waned and now dramatically increased after the Emancipation Proclamation. This increase in signing up for the Union Army after the Proclamation would, in and of itself, prove that a large part of the North was for ending slavery.
So why after so many years is it hard for many Southerners to admit slavery was the primary cause of the war? Because for white Southerners the antebellum period was the zenith of economic and cultural wealth of the South. To say that this wealth was earned on the back of slaves and that we lost this wealth because of our defense of slavery would place the zenith of our heritage in moral jeopardy. So the war was not about slavery.
Maybe it is time for us white southerners to not define ourselves by the white wealth and culture of the antebellum period. Maybe it is time to look at other things about our culture to highlight. Maybe the plantations are not our only southern heritage story to share and elicit pride about. Maybe the music of blues, jazz, zydeco, and country, maybe the varied cultural expressions Gullah, Cajun, Creole, Appalachian, and Cherokee, maybe the heroes like Clarence Jordan, Will Campbell, Wendell Berry, Jimmy Carter, MLK Jr., John Lewis, Martha Berry, the Grimke sisters, and others are the proud heritage we expound. There is more in the South than a now historically mixed bag to share..
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