Slavery and the Causes of the Civil War

  • #1
russ_watters
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Taken from the Confederate Flag thread in Politics...

Art said:
If slavery was the key issue than why did several slave states fight on the union side? Also I believe (per the History channel) there were actually more slaves in the northern states than in the southern states at the beginning of the war.
All of the "deep south" states seceded immediatly following Lincoln's election. The four "border states" that did not secede did not secede precisely because there was no clear preference for slavery in those states. Delaware had few slaves, so never considered secession, and the other 3 states have major internal conflicts over the issue.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_War
selfAdjoint said:
The sides really were passionate about the constitutional issues States' rights versus Preservation of the Union, your idea that it was a secondary idea after the war started is wrong, I believe.
I disagree, but eh - this is an issue that has been debated for 150 years and will likely be debated for another 150 years.
There was nothing constitutional that Lincoln as President could do about slavery, whatever his opinions might be. A constitutional amendment would be required, with its supermajority requirements at the state level, which Dixie still had enough states to block.
That is, of course, true, but that doesn't have anything to do with the fact that the slave states seceded immediately following Lincoln's election and South Carolina's Ordinance of Secession specifically mentions slavery as the "states rights" issue at issue.
[Ordinance of Secession]But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.
I think your statement about slavery making it hard to establish the constitution is overstated too. Both Massachusetts leaders like Hamilton and Adams and slave owning Virginia ones like Madison and Jefferson were proponents, and the difficulty was not between slave and free states but between small and large, and agricultural and mercantile.
The main difference between large and small, agricultural and mercantile was slavery. While I know slavery wasn't specifically at issue in the Great Compromise (it was a basic power struggle), slavery was one of the prime characteristics that differentiated the states. There were two other compromises (3/5 compromise and the putting off on slave import regulations until 1808) that took a fair bit of negotiation to solve.
 
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  • #2
Art
Although I realise it is largely a matter of opinion rather than fact as to what was the primary reason behind the civil war it is a matter of record that when the war began abolition of slavery was not one of the stated goals. See highlight below.

CIVIL WAR, RECONSTRUCTION, AND URBAN MIGRATION
Although most northern whites did not expect the Civil War to result in the elimination of slavery, black abolitionists offered their services to the Union cause with that end in mind. Northern policy regarding black enlistments was inconsistent, however, for President Abraham Lincoln and other leaders hoped to preserve the Union without abolishing slavery or ending discrimination in the North.
The idea I put forward that there was an element of 'punishment' behind the abolition of slavery is reinforced by the highlighted passage below

Blacks in Union Service
Few blacks were initially permitted in the northern military forces. As casualties mounted during 1862, however, northern military commanders sometimes recruited black soldiers without explicit authority, and Congress finally gave the president authority to use black troops. Lincoln also issued his Emancipation Declaration, freeing slaves held by southerners who remained in rebellion as of Jan. 1, 1863. This act had little immediate effect but did signal the change in Lincoln’s racial attitudes that eventually led to a constitutional prohibition of slavery by the 13th Amendment.
http://www.historychannel.com/blackhistory/?page=history4 [Broken] In fact the single biggest factor in setting the stage for the civil war appears to have been the war with Mexico and the ensuing political wrangling over the new territories won. The southern states feared the loss of it's natural majority in congress and the senate to the industrialised north who were at that time pushing their own brand of social structure and democracy. (which is proof of the saying 'those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it' :smile: )
 
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  • #3
selfAdjoint
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Thanks for these careful remarks Russ, and for the extract from the South Carolina Ordinance of Secession.

I just want to make one point here. Whatever the public/private role of slavery in the crisis and response of 1861, the constitutional situation took place in a different era of slavery. Before the introduction of the Cotton Gin, and the shift to a cotton economy, slavery was a much less attractive economic practice in the old South. Jefferson for one stated his dissatisfaction with his two slave plantations, which he hoped to get him out of his inherited debt, but failed to do so. Many southern thinkers were of the opinion that emancipation was doable, if the problems of compensation for owners and eliminating the presence of all those free blacks could be solved.
 

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