So what was the North fighting for?

We have had several threads here about the motives behind the confederates and most of us agree that the confederacy was fighting to keep slavery and their way of life.

But I’d like to ask you all, what was the Union fighting for?

I feel (and this is my opinion and you might have something different) they were fighting to preserve the union and punish the traitors and secessionists. Freeing the slaves while being the goal of abolitionists inspired by John Brown, it certainly was NOT a goal of the rest of the union. In fact I think many in the north wanted to free the slaves more to hurt the southern economy and gain new soldiers. In fact some northern generals also owned slaves and some northern states were against any black immigration (Illinois for example).

And they were right. The states of the confederacy had been bought or acquired thru treaty such as the Louisiana Purchase. The US government had paid for them, paid to develop them (ex. roads, dredging rivers, built harbors), and built forts and provided armies to protect them. The states had asked to join the union and seceding was just a criminal act by a bunch of traitors.

So what do you all think?

PS. Some Civil War songs:

Marching Thru Georgia

Battle Cry of Freedom

They loved their country and wanted to keep it together, as far as I can tell. I agree they weren’t fighting to free the slaves. They were also protecting their property that happened to be in the traitorous states.

You’re wrong about the states of the Confederacy having been bought or acquired, etc. Some were and some weren’t. Some were part of the original 13.

To preserve the Union.
I don’t believe Lincoln ever implied anything else.

There was a general mood in the north to free the slaves; they voted for Lincoln, after all. It certainly wasn’t universal but if it came to a vote they would have likely abolished it. They wouldn’t have supported a war to do it, though.

Once the south seceded, however, slavery became a secondary concern to winning the war and preserving the Union, and thus democracy; that is what the north was fighting for. Even Lincoln was willing to forego abolition if it meant preserving the Union; see his support for the Corwin Amendment.

Once it became clear that protecting slavery would not appease the Confederacy into giving up their rebellion Lincoln and the north went back to the task of abolishing it.

I’m not sure it was “love of country” as much as “love of remaining an economic/defense powerhouse.” Pre-war US was expanding coast to coast, growing in strength, internal security, and international influence. Really hard for the moneyed interests in the NE to give up a significant portion of that, and set the precedent for future secessions.

Lincoln’s party did not want to abolish slavery. They wanted to nibble away at it. Likely getting rid of the Fugitive slave laws to start, and not allowing slavery to expand into any new areas. Also, the government would offer to buy slaves to free them.

The ironic thing is that the Southern leaders that declared Secession only ended up getting their slaves taken away much sooner and with no compensation. If they hadnt rebelled, they could have all finished their lives out with slavery.

Too bad it wasn’t 'finished their lives in slavery.

Certainly many individual soldiers were abolitionists. But I agree that the general reason at the policy level was to preserve the union.

I agree that the war was fought to preserve the Union.
RitterSport are you saying that the Northern states regarded the Southern states as their property?
I believe at that point in time, people thought of loyalty to their state more than to the country. After a state seceded, people who didn’t remain loyal to a state would be considered to be traitors.

Didn’t it start when the traitor army fired on a Union fort?

To keep the USA unified.

Slavery was hardly the main motive; many Northerners were plenty racist themselves. That “we fought the war to free the slaves” is something a lot of Northerners, IMHO, like to claim now, well over a century after the fact, to pat themselves on the back. It was an ancillary benefit; it sure wasn’t the primary motive.

I’m sure you have an example of this somewhere.

urbanredneck2: “…they were fighting to preserve the union”


Union forces were also responding to being attacked (at Sumter) and the South’s seizing of federal arsenals.

I thought it was when the USA refused vacate a fort that was no longer their property. :slight_smile:

Not all Union soldiers were fighting for the same thing, of course. I expect the 178,000 men of the U.S. Colored Troops were fighting pretty directly to free the slaves.

For a lot of the Union soldiers, though, it certainly came down to “patriotism” or “love of country”. The famous letter written by Sullivan Ballou of Rhode Island seems to speak simply in terms of “love of Country”.

In more concrete terms, that patriotic justification was expressed by William Tecumseh Sherman in his letter to the people of Atlanta (emphasis added):

Unilateral secession was rebellion; if not opposed, the American republic was doomed to disintegration into warring states and endless strife. Sherman didn’t say so specifically, but a prudent American would reasonably have feared not only internecine fighting among Americans themselves, but also the prospect of intervention by the European powers, trying to stir up warfare and the progressive disintegration of the American republics for their own purposes–First “North against South”, but later perhaps state against state, and even the division of some of the individual states themselves.

Actually there’s a fair amount of wartime correspondence from Federal troops that bears out that a great many of them were personally concerned more with preserving the Union than anything to do with slaves.

But yeah, at a policymaking level, I think it’s interesting that even the Gettysburg Address, written more than a year after the Emancipation Proclamation, directly references preservation of the Union, but doesn’t mention slavery.

You’re probably making a joke but just in case: it was definitely owned by the Feds. In fact, it was built on granite hauled down from New England so it was also northern soil!

Not directly but it does mention “…a new birth of freedom” which I take to mean the abolition of slavery.

My intended point is that both sides believed themselves to be in the right.
That does bring up an interesting question; if a state told the US government to return the property upon which a fort was constructed, would it leave?

I don’t believe for one second that the south believed that the fort was theirs by right prior to the secession.

They were only ‘in the right’ in the sense of “you left your stuff here, and I have declared that everything in this area is mine. Thus, it’s mine now!”