I was lucky to have a spectacular AP History teacher. He was a Civil War re-enactor, with family ties to Tennessee during that era. He re-enacted as a Tennessee officer.
We had new textbooks the year I took the class. He said, “Please turn to page [something]. Conveniently, the section on the many causes of the Civil War starts with Slavery, and that section has a page break before the next 4 reasons. Go ahead and tear out those pages. We won’t be needing them.”
Nice. Tennessee was a major Northern stronghold as many mountainous areas in the east didn’t enjoy the agricultural benefits of slavery and were largely dependent upon Federal infrastructure such as railroads and postal services. Funny how economic inequality can clear peoples’ eyes to the realities of human suffering.
Fun fact: portions of farm accounting to this day are directly a result of having slave labour. So the fact that the South’s economy was so heavily farm-based (with pl}antations essentially being factory farms, not the small, bucolic myth they like to present), and slaves were treated more as equipment… Slavery was undoubtedly the biggest thing.
It’s kind of like the resistance to regulations – especially those combatting big-money crimes. Slavery was tied into the Southern economy much the way money laundering is tied into our modern one: eliminate it, and the entire house of cards collapses. Knowing how precarious their position was, the 1% did exactly what they are doing today: convincing the useful idiots lower down that the big, bad, federal government was coming to take away their way of life. That the “Northern Elites” were trying to infringe on their precious freedoms. Those 1% knew exactly what they were defending, but they knew they couldn’t get Jimmy-Joe Average to give a crap and fight the war for them, if it was just “we want to keep and force the return of human beings”, the guy with 2 square acres of vegetables he has to work himself isn’t going to die for that.
Yes, the official documents say it’s about slavery, but your average soldier was as well-informed as your average Fox News viewer when it came to shit like that. So I can see how this myth of “States Rights” started… It was deliberate propaganda. There’s little difference between what the slaveowners did and the big-money players are doing today.
That’s one of the things that has me so scared. The parallels between what happened then and what’s happening now are huge. Support was growing for the idea that maybe owning humans wasn’t a good thing, and the big-money players were scared they’d have to revamp everything. Today, support is growing for the idea that massively polluting industries and financial shenanigans aren’t good things. Since so much money is tied up with these activities, the same message is being broadcast, only now it’s “Coastal Elites” coming to take away your freedom.
Isn’t this why a whole heap of people insist that the war wasn’t about slavery? Rather than being stupid, they’ve simply had a false version of history pushed at them by schools, parents and all other adults surrounding them as they grew up. Could any of us have broken free of such carefully taught cultural indoctrination if we had been brought up with such a lie?
Whether or not the average soldier was poorly informed, a possibly more accurate picture is that the 1% started the war (and I’ll throw the northern 1%ers in with the southern 1%ers for the sake of argument), and, once started, the war was fought on southern land, which also included non-plantation private land. And, to paraphrase Neil Young, the Union soldiers weren’t coming to “deliver the mail”. I think it’s fair to say a lot of southerner took up arms simply to defend their homes. Racism probably wasn’t the primary motivation for most of the rebel soldiers.
I think it’s an important distinction for framing the history. Like any other war, the US civil war was started on behalf of the 1%, but it fell on the 99% to fight it. I can understand how Southerns who aren’t racists (and I’d dearly love to believe that accounts for most of them) want to believe there’s more to their ancestors than racism even if they’re deluding themselves. I don’t think the discussion can move forward if we insist there was nothing more to the war than racism, even if it was fundamentally about racism at its core.
It wasn’t. It was about slavery. The economy of the south had grown reliant on slavery and the 1% as you note, propelled the 99% into a conflict to defend it. Which they did willingly (those who didn’t abstained or joined resistance, which there was a lot more of than many want to let on). Support of slavery is the most blatant form of racism. There is no way you can separate the two. The belief that confederate apologists are somehow going to “move forward” is ignoring the fact that any discussion about the war that doesn’t begin and end with slavery and it’s inherent racism is not a discussion at all. It is not the role of progressives to drag troglodytes into the future. Just as with everyone else, they have to do it for themselves. It is, however the role of right-minded people to rebut these bullshit talking points and evasion at every turn.
I disagree. Until we are willing to accept the real fundamental reasons and say “Regardless of what your great-grandfather told you, it was about the confluence of racism and greed”, we will never get past where we are. Accepting the other narratives as anything other than the cynical propaganda that they are, lets people insulate themselves today. The more we say “it was about more than that,” the more we give cover to the idea that there was a noble cause worth defending.
And would they have needed to come at all, if the South hadn’t decided they’d rather die than give up their slaves? Hell, as has been pointed out upthread, if they’d even been willing to compromise on the slave hunting issue, there might not have been a war.
I’ll go you one better; as Americans, we can’t even begin to fathom any system of civilization and governance that isn’t dependent upon deeply entrenched exploitation in order to succeed - the exploitation of natural resources (to the detriment of the entire ecosystem) the exploitation of animals, and the exploitation of other human beings.
Absolutely! My point, however poorly made, was that people stop listening to you if you insult them.
I’ve had this conversation. I spoke with someone from North Carolina who insisted their ancestors didn’t have slaves, couldn’t care less about slavery, but went to war to save their homes from the Northern Aggressors. Bullshit? I’m sure it was. But I was willing to concede it to make the point that the war was started by plantation owners who were very much invested in slavery. I think at the end, I least managed to change his mind about the origins of the war.
Absolutely keep fighting the good fight. Just remember you’re fighting it against human beings.
Bit of a problem out there on the western frontier. Perhaps the south wouldn’t have been as driven to create new slave states to maintain power in Congress and the Electoral College, but it could have been messy.
And with no way to enforce the return of escaped slaves, aggravations would be high along the border. (Build a wall?)
Sure. Don’t start with “you’re a racist”. However, I’m not willing to concede an inch over the motivations of the civil war. As I said after Charlottesville, if you look up and find you’re marching under a Nazi flag and don’t run the other way immediately, you’re a Nazi!
I don’t think the proposition that someone might be motivated to defend their home against an aggressor army is a cynical narrative, regardless of their position on slavery.
a) many of the rebel soldiers didn’t have slaves. Maybe they wanted slaves, maybe they were racist assholes, but they didn’t have slaves to give up. So “why were they fighting?” is a reasonable question. b) It’s unlikely that a southern concession on escaped slaves would have prevented the war. There was that whole western expansion thing.
I’m cynical enough to believe this about all of humanity. I’m also hopeful enough to recognize the same traits in animals and believe that the major perceivable difference is our ability to see the destruction it brings at this scale. Maybe we reign it in before it’s too late… but then the cynic says that day has already passed.