I had a history teacher in high school once paraphrase a famous quote, but his alteration made it infinitely more accurate. He said, “War is rich old men arguing and poor young men dying.” More often than not, this is the case.
There is some general confusion among southerners when it comes to the Civil War. Perhaps a good way to start this article is to talk very briefly about my background, because talking about the Civil War tends to ignite deep regional prejudice, and it is completely unwarranted in my case.
I was born in Missouri, a state that permitted slavery. I only attended kindergarten there, and I can honestly say I never heard of the Civil War while living in the “show me state.” I then moved to Michigan, a state whose demographics are no longer anything like that of during the Civil War. Due to the auto industry, a fair amount of black people had moved there from the South, in a simultaneous search for economic opportunity and freedom from southern bigotry. Still, my family moved from Michigan when I was in 4th grade, and my exposure to history was very scant at this time.
I spent the bulk of my young school life in Indiana. In case you’ve never been (and I can’t say I blame you), Indiana is whiter than a Tea Party convention at a NASCAR event. While black people were fleeing racism in the south at the turn of the 20th century, white-flight occurred in a huge way during 50’s and 60’s. For those blissfully unaware, white people of any means largely left the south in search of land free of “urban problems” (i.e. black people) in the Midwest. Some found it in Indiana.
When I was growing up, the Ku Klux Klan was still active in my state. The Grand Wizard resided a few counties south of where I lived. I remember quite a few racist jokes in grade school, and I didn’t realize “nigger” was something you couldn’t say until I was in high school. My middle school had one black kid, and no one liked him.
I was fed the same pseudo-history as most southerners: Lincoln was a tyrant who pushed the noble South into throwing off the chains of oppression to form their own nation, in the same mold as the colonies during the American Revolution. When I came to study history more thoroughly on my own, I found this to be a complete load of propagandist bullshit.
It’s funny, really, to hear people who speak today of “wage slavery” and the abuse of the average person at the hands of the wealthy colluding with government turn around and try desperately to deify the South as a beacon of freedom. Cognitive dissonance is a strange phenomenon.
After years of reading Civil War history as a hobby, I am by no means a world renowned scholar, but I do know a few things for certain. One is that South Carolina seceded solely due to slavery. The first state to leave the Union did not do so because of tariffs or the nebulous concept of “states rights,” nor was it because of anything Lincoln did. The facts are quite clear: South Carolina left the union before Lincoln took office, before he so much as lifted a finger and did anything, and for no other reason than to ensure the future of its slave economy.
The disagreement was mutually peaceful on both sides until South Carolina fired upon Fort Sumter. The South fired the first shots. The South was not only fighting for an ignoble cause, they also initiated hostilities. These are the facts, and it was all a far cry from what I was taught about the War of Northern Aggression in the neo-Southern enclave of Indiana.
Recently, revisionist historians (largely southern libertarians) have tried to argue there were other underlying reasons for the South leaving the Union. They always say “reasons,” but once you boil it down and eliminate euphemisms for the defense of slavery, one is left with “tariffs.” This idea seems compelling to those seeking a non-slavery cause, but history does not support this argument.
For one thing, the tariffs in question (Tariff of 1828) had been repealed by the time of the Civil War. For another, tariffs would have been prominently listed in the “Declaration of Causes” drafted by some of the states. They are not. Some, like Nikk, argue that slavery was the reason given, but that tariffs are the true cause, however the Southern States would have no reason for a cover-up of this kind. The American Revolution was fought over taxes, and taxes were the cornerstone of propaganda used to incite conflict. Had tariffs truly been the root cause (or if they had even been in place at the time of the Civil War’s outbreak), it would have been trumpeted loudly by the South.
There were underlying causes which the South did not publicize. For example, the concept of “free soil” was a major sticking point among the Southern elite. Many Northerners even formed a “Free Soil Party.” What was the concept of “free soil?” It was one reminiscent of anarchist views regarding property: that the wealthy should not be allowed to buy up large tracts of land in new territories. Those who supported “free soil” wanted independent farmers to work their own land, and to halt the expansion of the exploitative system of slave-worked plantations. In fact, many Southerners supported free soil initiatives, because most Southerners didn’t own slaves.
At this point, I think it might be useful to analyze the people involved in the Civil War. At the heart of it was a small group of wealthy landowners who bought and sold people, treated them like animals, and had near absolute control of the government in the South. The bulk of the South (who were not slaves) were poor white farmers who cared little about slavery. In the North, some people were ardent abolitionists, but most were like the poor white southern farmers when it came to the issue of slavery: indifferent.
The Southern elite seceded over the issue of slavery without any input from non-slave owners. The North fought back not because they sought to end slavery, but because their military base had been attacked. The poor on both sides fought for the same reasons: pride and profit.
There are accounts of people siding with one over the other for ideological reasons, but this was a rare occurrence that was romanticized after the war in the concept of brothers in the same house pitted against each other. In fact, this is a good analogy for the war itself. How would the analogy look, if the historical facts were applied?
Imagine two brothers, one who lives upstairs and one who lives downstairs. The brother who lives downstairs chains people up and forces them to do his work for him in the basement. The brother upstairs doesn’t really care about this, but sometimes people chained up in the basement escape and ask the brother upstairs to hide them. Having seen how they are treated, the brother upstairs offers to hide them in his attic. The brother downstairs gets upset about this and claims the brother upstairs seeks to prevent the downstairs brother from ever chaining people up. The brother upstairs never said that.
One day, the brother downstairs says, “You can’t come downstairs anymore, and you know the gun cabinet we keep on my floor? I’m stealing everything in it, even though half of it is yours.” The upstairs brother says, “I don’t think you should do that,” to which the brother downstairs replies by shooting the brother upstairs. The two begin fighting.
There is nothing noble about the Confederacy or the Union. Southern States left in a paranoid huff over the perceived threat of slavery ending, and most historians agree that the North would not have ended slavery had it not been for the Southern states leaving. In fact, it was the South’s absence in Congress that gave the former minority abolitionists the majority they needed to end slavery.
Slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation, which was not an act of Congress, but an executive order issued by Lincoln as a function of his expanded war powers. Over 800,000 slaves remained in captivity in the states of Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and West Virginia, because the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 only covered those states which left the union. Slavery in these four border states ended either through local statutes or the passage of the 30th amendment, which was passed a few months before the official end of the war in 1865.
Often, when mentioning the injustices of the South as pertaining to slavery, the only defense Southern sympathizers can mount is to attack the character of the North, as if one is trying to deify Lincoln or the Union when pointing out the tyrannical nature of the South’s secession. In fact, one need not have any respect or feelings whatsoever in regards to the rest of the country in order to see quite plainly how exploitative and economically corrupt the South was in its actions.
You don’t have to have any feelings whatsoever in favor of the Union, Lincoln, the US, or anything else to see that the Confederacy was and will always be nothing but a state formed around the preservation of slavery.
So why would anarchists support this exploitative state, which was a government like any other? Why do those who believe the government and the wealthy have conspired to oppress the average citizen support a state that is founded on this very principle?
I have my suspicions. I imagine it is largely a function of perception. Southerners are told that those in the North are raised to sing the praises of the slavery-fighting soldiers who died to end black oppression. I wouldn’t know, because I was not raised in this kind of environment. What I do know is that the “propaganda” is not limited to the North, if it exists there at all.
What I do know is that Southerners gleefully re-enact Civil War Battles in a disgusting glorification of violence. They wave Confederate flags as if they symbolize anything but the yoke of slavery which the leadership of every seceding state sought to protect. Why do people take pride in such things?
Outside of the blogging world, my last name is spelled Allen. My ancestors on my father’s side have been here since the Revolution. I am directly descended from Ethan Allen, who used his booming voice (which I inherited) in the dead of night to wake up the commander and demand the surrender of Fort Ticonderoga in the early stages of the American Revolution.
I don’t take particular pride in this, because I didn’t do it. Someone I never met in the distant past did it. Perhaps this is also why I don’t take particular offense at another issue regarding my family history.
You may notice a lot of black people have the last name “Allen.” This is because their ancestors were owned by mine. Several of the Allen clan in Kentucky and Virginia owned slaves and are directly related to me. If I were the type of person who held my ancestry as sacred, I too should be a Southern sympathizer. But, I am not. At some point, you have to be able to say, “That was a stupid thing they did.”
More Americans died in the Civil War than in any other conflict we have ever been involved in. None of them had to die. The entire war could have been avoided if a few wealthy slave owners who controlled the economy had not felt so threatened by the idea of having to actually lift a finger and do any real work for themselves, or else actually pay their laborers.
Besides the wealthy slave owners, poorer branches of my family tree were wiped out fighting for the South, and yet when I view a Confederate flag, this is what I see:
I don’t view the North as some saintly entity that can do no wrong. I don’t even think about the North as an entity at all. All I see is the Southern secessionists as petulant children who saw their free-ride coming to an end, even though it was not in danger until after their enormous hissy fit and exit from the democratic process.
And those are my feelings on the matter.