Busting the myth that the Civil War was about "states' rights"

I find that your aside cuts to the HEART of the matter. The scariest book that I’ve ever read about the Holocaust was Ordinary Men which was about a police unit whose main job was to round up people and put them on the trains to the concentration camps…unless there were problems with the trains…It was scary BECAUSE it showed the human side of the perpetrators…


[Cylon Trigger Warning] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLV4_xaYynY


I whole-heartedly agree with Col. Ty Seidule when he says, “Slavery is the great shame of America’s history.”

The failure of America’s earliest Christian European settlers – who came to this land seeking freedom and opportunity – to reject slavery outright, but instead allow it to take hold, flourish and so weave itself into society and the economy that only a cataclysmic event like the war of 1861-1865 could end it, is America’s original sin. The Founders’ grand words in the Declaration of Independence are mocked by slavery.

But my agreement with Seidule ends there.

His 200,000-figure overstates a bit the number of blacks fighting in the Union Army, and charactizing them all as “former slaves” makes good copy, but ignores the large number of already free black citizens in the North who joined. That’s a minor point.

What is manifestly false is his claim that slavery, “by a wide margin,” was the Confederacy’s primary reason for fighting the Civil War. Likewise the notion America, by which he means the Union, fought the war to abolish slavery.

First and foremost, the institution was not at risk in the South. Slavery wasn’t going anywhere. It did not need defending or preserving.

Slavery had been practiced in all 13 of the original colonies and was still legal in most of the states when the Constitution was ratified in 1788. That Constitution, adopted and signed by ALL states, recognized the legality of the institution and the enforceable property rights of slave owners, even in states that exercised their right to ban the practice for those residing within their borders. Everyone, North and South – and the states that subsequently joined the United States – were voluntary members of a covenant that recognized and protected enslavement of black people, a practice just as odious in 1788 as it was in 1860.

While individual states could, and did, exercise their state rights and ban slavery, the only legal means to end slavery nationally was by constitutional amendment. There were not the votes (nor, do I believe, the will) to do so. So, the South did not have to “preserve” slavery against a constitutional challenge.

Politically, there was little for Southerners to fear for slavery within their borders. Lincoln and the Republicans did not target slavery in the South, only in the new territories in the West. Lincoln himself said he did not believe he had constitutional authority to do anything about Southern slavery. He signed the Corwin Amendment, passed just two days before his first inauguration, guaranteeing slavery in perpetuity in those states where it was currently legal. If the South was concerned about “preserving” slavery, it merely needed to reject secession, return to the Union and avoid a devastating war.

Four of the 11 seceding states provided Declarations of Cause which mention a variety of issues, but all address slavery. Their grievances have nothing to do with “preserving” slavery. Their grievances center on the North’s failure to abide by the Constitution to which all bound themselves in 1788. Contrary to its requirements, the North was refusing to return runaway slaves, it was failing to protect slave owners passing through their states with their property and it committed acts of violence that went unpunished against slave owners or their agents attempting rendition of their property. The North was even fomenting insurrection among slaves against their owners. Further, even though Southern states were full and equal members of the Union and even though their citizens had contributed men and treasure in the expansion of U.S. territory westward, the North was resisting Southerners’ right to move to those territories with their property just as Northerners could with their property.

The South was not fighting to “preserve” slavery – that issue was legally settled in 1788 – the South fought to preserve the Constitution that the North was violating. And in refusing to be bound by the Constitution, the North had, by practice, dissolved the Union the Constitution created. Secession – like a divorce decree – was a mere formality.

It should be noted that, in seceding, the South surrendered all rights to the Western territories and their desire to expand slavery there, and it surrendered all legal expectations that the North would ever return another runaway slave. For the South, preserving its liberty was primary – a liberty that denied the federal government access to the tax base that had been providing something like 70 percent of its revenues (if you want a reason for Lincoln’s prosecution of the war, follow the money).

Final point, despite those pesky Southerners no longer being in Congress after secession, Northerners didn’t get around to passing the 13th Amendment ending slavery until 4 months before Lee surrendered at Appomattox and didn’t ratify it until December 1865. That means slavery lasted in the North (e.g. still legal and practiced in Delaware) eight months beyond the South’s defeat).

This should be no surprise since at no point did Lincoln ever say he was prosecuting the war to free slaves – not even in the Emancipation Proclamation. Indeed, that document did not touch slavery in the so-called border states and barely touched it in Southern lands under Union control – it only declared emancipation for slaves in Confederate-held territories where Lincoln had no authority. But, here’s the clincher, if the Southern states would return to the Union by Lincoln’s deadline, they would then be under Union control and their slaves, too, would be exempt from emancipation. No harm, no foul, tote that barge, lift that bale!

If Mr. Lincoln wasn’t fighting to end slavery, the South did not need to waste lives and resources to preserve it. Seidule has made the mistake of assuming the result of the war – a good one – was its cause and purpose – a bad one.

A word on Alexander Stephens’ “Cornerstone Speech” trumpeting “the Negro is not equal to the white man.” It’s racist, no doubt. I don’t see how it’s possible to keep a group in bondage or seek to exterminate them without a racist worldview and an entire society that supports that worldview. But Lincoln himself is on record saying, “I will say then that 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 inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” Lincoln’s solution to the slave question was emancipation and then “send them to Liberia.” There’s plenty of shame to go around.

Speaking of shame – or the lack of it – Seidule proclaims, “As a soldier, I am proud that the United States Army, my army, defeated the Confederates.” Oh, that his army had ended its carnage with its rampage through the South.

Within a year of the War’s end, Union Gens. Sherman, Sheridan, Crook, Miles, Pope and Custer were on their way west to commit genocide against the Plains Indians, all under the Stars & Stripes.

Native Americans who stood in the way of the transcontinental railroad – their treaty rights notwithstanding – were massacred or forced onto impoverished reservations in what Sherman termed “the final solution of the Indian problem.”

“They did not,” he complained, “make allowance for the rapid growth of the white race … both races cannot use this country in common.”

To Grant he wrote, “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children.” In a letter to his brother John, he said: “I suppose the Sioux must be exterminated …”

To his soldiers, he ordered, “During an assault, the soldiers cannot pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age. As long as resistance is made, death must be meted out …”

Eight years into his war of “extermination,” Sherman wrote Sheridan (of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian” fame): “I am charmed at the handsome conduct of our troops in the field. They go in with the relish that used to make our hearts glad in 1864-5.”

Sherman and Sheridan were responsible for the near extinction of the American bison by 1882, its herds once numbering in the millions and the primary food source for the Plains Indians. Starvation was their goal – ecocide in the service of genocide.

Black lives matter, Sioux lives not so much!

I’ll leave it to someone far smarter than me – Col. Seidule, perhaps – to explain how two Union generals, who allegedly risked their lives to free Southern slaves, could turn around and callously murder Native Americans.

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One who was sent a letter of congratulations by Karl Marx.


Well, it’s the federal government’s fault in the sense that they abandoned reconstruction, and once the federal troops left, so did the freedmen’s protection.

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Wellll…there was a lot of non-abolitionist-related fear of the “slave power” and the idea that the aristocratic plantation owners were just salivating at the chance of bringing their slaves up north (or into the free territories) and driving free labor out of business.

But there were also a fair number of abolitionists, and many, many more as the war went on.

I have long been criticized and mocked when I point out that Black lives are considered inferior, but native American lives are barely even considered human.

There are megatons of blame to go around. But in this particular context for this issue, I agree with the video as presented more than I disagree. Hate and evil know no political, ideological, or religious boundaries.

Fuck, I need to take a shower.


It’s good to remember, though, what it used to be like for the losing side of a war, historically speaking. The Marshall Plan had not been invented yet…in fact, the NAMESAKE of the Marshall Plan hadn’t even been born yet. The President had just been assassinated by a loyal Confederate sympathizer. And yet, not even General Lee nor Jefferson Davis were executed as traitors, civilians were not killed en masse, Southern land was not surrendered to the North, and the South wasn’t even required to provide restitution to the country. If you look at it in the context of the history of war, the South barely got its knuckles rapped afterwards.


“These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.”

“the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery

Yeah, those don’t sound at all like they’re worried about preserving slavery.


Yep, back in the day when the Republican party stood for progressive causes like opposing slavery and supporting women’s suffrage. The sad thing is that you have to go back more than a century to find a time when they were on the right side of any major civil rights issues.


Nonsense. The Confederate Constitution granted its member states LESS freedom on the issue of deciding whether or not to allow slavery than the U.S. Constitution did.

Under the U.S. Constitution, slave states could choose to end the practice of slavery within their borders if they wished. Under the CSA Constitution they had no such rights—if you didn’t want to continue the practice of slavery, you weren’t welcome in the new nation they were trying to create. Explain to me how that approach was more in the spirit of “States’ Rights” or the original intent of the U.S. Constitution.


So. . . Abraham Lincoln sent the Union army into Virginia to . . . collect taxes?

And the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter because the Union troops there were going to collect taxes?

Lincoln says a lot more in that address, I suggest you read it all before deciding the war was fought over “taxes.”

BTW-- Lincoln probably didn’t have the legal authority to interfere with slavery in those states, that would be something for Congress to legislate and/or the Supreme Court to decide, not him to personally decree. With the Emancipation Proclamation however he interpreted his war powers as giving him the authority to free slaves only in those states in rebellion (which is why slavery persisted for a time in non-CSA states.) This was (I think) justifiable, as the CSA were using slave labor to support their army, so freeing those slaves would help the war effort for the Union, and would fall under his war powers as commander in chief.


When the north won, they abolished slavery, (Not racism of course), If the South had won, they would have continued slavery.
To say they did not need to defend slavery is akin to saying that a black man doesn’t need to defend his rights today because he already has them.

If you want to see what people who want to claim that state’s rights were at the heart of the conflict sound like, just imagine (And I’m risking a Godwin here), imagine Germans claiming that the Nazi’s main concern was… I’m sorry, I can’t finish that sentence.
They killed a lot of Jewish people, they were forced to stop.


I’ll get the smelling salts.

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Many words, few facts.


Hey, Ike Federalized the Arkansas National Guard to enforce Brown v. Board of Education in '57, so there were Republicans on the right side of major civil rights issues 60 years ago. It was really in the '60s when Nixon opened the party to the Southern neanderthals post-LBJ signing the Civil Rights Act that the GOP got completely hideous.


That book kills me (though it’s excellent)- just really horrible (and very viscerally described) stuff, especially since his conclusion is not “these were all horrible monsters” but these were indeed, as Hannah Arendt would have said it, banal, ordinary men.

The professor who teaches the holocaust class to undergrads often assigns this book… also, the semester he teaches this class, he’s’ always in a miserable mood for the whole semester, not surprisingly.


Shut down the thread, ladies and gentlemen, because I don’t think we can top this rebuttal! I am pulling that out the next time some republican wants to remind me that Lincoln was a republican…


Seems akin to Godwinning, no?

  1. Multiple northerners said the same thing Lincoln said.
  2. Alexander Stephens was a politician as well
  3. Carpetbaggers from the north perpetuated slavery with sharecropping and other tactics under control of the union.

I know everyone likes to feel all warm and fuzzy about our great country . It’s always nice to have a bogey man to point the finger at but the reality is not such a fairytale. The north didn’t fight to end slavery.