Sorry, but I don't think the American Civil War is that complicated

I know people are fond of discussing how complicated were the causes of the American Civil War, and how complicated is the task of weighing the moral position of each side. I confess as I learn and think more about these topics, I just don’t see how either is overly complicated.

The Cause

The southern states maintained the institution of African Slavery, and wanted to spread slavery to states entering the union.

The northern states were opposed to African Slavery, and were particularly opposed to more “slave” states entering the union.

The southern states got tired of arguing about it, and decided just to pull out of the union.

The northern states, as represented by the recently formed Republican Party, as represented by Abraham Lincoln, said, you can’t pull out of the union.

This latter disagreement was resolved by force.

The Moral Positions of Each Side

Again call me simplistic, but I just cannot get around the fact that the southern states perpetuated one of the most hateful, horrific institutions of the last 500 years.

Yes, yes, yes, I know that the northern states had terrible faults, and not the least of these were terrible and brutal racism. The draft riots in New York City for example, were among the most brutal race riots this country has ever seen. But to me everything pales in comparison to the enormity and the pure evil of the instituation of African Slavery.

The southern states were fighting for their right to maintain this institution. Case closed.

I don’t feel like going into detail, but let it suffice to say that you are WAY oversimplifying the underlying causes of the war and the positions of the north and south. Reed Shelby Foote’s works, or watch Ken Burn’s “The Civil War.”

I dunno, Ilsa_Lund, it seems like constantine gave a pretty good summary to me, especially in the section “The Cause”. It wasn’t just “the Civil War was about slavery!”; it did (for a 5-sentence summary) capture some of the complexities: the South seceded in defense of slavery; but the North (while lead by an anti-slavery party) did not initially fight to end slavery, but to preserve the Union. Just what are these complex underlying causes, anyway?

It looks simple to you because you’re applying an overly simplistic view of it. History didn’t start in 1860. Go back even farther, and that’s when you start to see the complications.

-Cotton: The cotton gin made the crop viable, and thus made the South overly dependent on it… it also revitalized slavery, which was on the decline (Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin, also developed the American System, which is today known as Mass Production… which gave the North the industrial ability to bitch-whomp the south. He essentially caused and ended the Civil War…)

-Around the mid-1800s, other foreign countries were producing their own cotton, which was causing the south to lose money… making a desperate scramble to grow more and more cotton, resulting in almost the entire infrastructure being devoted to the crop. This is why there was next to no manufacture or industry in the south, further putting them in a precarious situation.

-The south expected England to side with them, but the anti-slavery stance in England resulted in many textile workers being content to be jobless if it meant that slavery was abolished. Further, the long run-up to the war allowed English textile mills to stock up on cotton, meaning that there wasn’t too great a lack during the war. This meant that the south had no access to naval forces to match the northern fleets.

-Ego: The south had convinced itself that the country, the world, nay, the entire universe needed their cotton, and that nobody would dare try ANYTHING against them. “Cotton is king”, and all that. Thus, they were tragically unprepared for the war.

Any war can be simplified, if you wished to ignore the details. Vietnam was a minor civil war skirmish. Korea was a mere border dispute. The American Revolution was about tea taxes.

Well, but this is exactly my point. No offense (really, I’m not just saying that as a throwaway, I really do not mean any offense), but this response represents exactly what I’m talking about. “I’m not going to specifically refute what you said, I’m just going to tell you that you are oversimplifying and that you should go read this book that I agree with.”

FWIW, actually I have read (although not completed) Shelby Foote’s trilogy on the Civil War, and I have watched Ken Burn’s excellent documentary on the subject.

Accusing someone of oversimplifying is just name calling unless you can explain why the their explanation is too simple.

SPOOFE: So, there were reasons why the South was dependent on slavery and was willing to secede in an attempt to protect the institution. There are always causes of causes, and reasons for the reasons for the reasons.

Now those are just silly. For example, in Korea both the North and the South claimed to be the legitimate government of the entire peninsula. It wasn’t a “border skirmish” at all. And the American Revolution wasn’t just about the tea tax, but about the broader issue of absentee government.

So the South did NOT secede because they wanted to maintain the institution of African Slavery and were tired of arguing with the northern states about maintaining that institution?

I agree with your analysis re: cotton, and how the southern states needed slaves to maintain a cotton based economy, especially after the use of the cotton gin became widespread.

But to me what your analysis explains is why the South wanted to maintain slavery. It doesn’t seem to contradict my initial thesis about the causes of the war. But perhaps I am misunderstanding you.

Nope. You missed the central issue in fact.

The problem with your vision of things is that the northern states, by and large, were pro-slavery. They loved it. They had textile industries, the South had cheap cotton, all was well. And since the rest of the industrialized world was either outlawing slavery or already had, the North was at a significant advantage. There was no argument, as you put it, about maintaining the institution of slavery. There were arguments over allowing slavery to spread to new states, and about continuing the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Only a tiny Green Party sized group was actually working to end slavery period.

But the South wanted to sell their cotton to the highest bidder, which was Britain. And the North wanted to force them to sell domestically with tariffs. Nobody gave a spit about what was good for the slaves.

I mean, how long after the Civil War did it take for Northerners to start taking steps to actually enforce the post-war amendments granting equal rights to all? A century. They didn’t grab their rifles again when the South reverted to sharecropping. They didn’t mount an offensive against the Klan.

Seriously, go read something above the school textbook level on this. Read what the Secessionists were actually going into invective laden rants over. The VAST majority of arguments for secession were tariff-based. Then read the arguments from the Unionists. Especially Lincoln and his party leadership. Not only was Lincoln not talking about freeing the slaves before the war, he was out stumping to industrialists promising to keep slavery intact in the South.

Also, check a timeline of events in the war. You may notice that Lincoln didn’t declare the slaves free as an opening salvo, or even release them once war broke out. He anounced emancipation only when it opened the prospect of keeping Britain out of the war, and then he only emancipated the slaves outside the Union.

The war was not over ending slavery, it was over how to split the proceeds.

The vast majority of pro-secession arguments were not based on arguments about tariffs. The State of Mississippi proclaimed the Southern position to be “thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery” (not “the institution of free trade”). They don’t mention tariffs at all. The State of Texas barely mentions tariffs ("[t]hey have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance") but does mount an impassioned defense of slavery and the supremacy of the white race:

The State of South Carolina complains not about tariffs, but about the non-enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution, about the encouragement of slaves to flee and the incitement of “servile insurrections”, about the exclusion of slavery from the territories (i.e., Northern opposition to the expansion of slavery), and about the general hostility towards slavery found in the North. The State of Georgia does discuss the issues of tariffs and protectionism; but they certainly don’t agree about the Republican Party not being an anti-slavery party:

Georgia accuses the Republicans of not only advocating the “prohibition of slavery in the Territories” and, “hostility to it everywhere” but also of supporting “the equality of the black and white races”. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens called slavery and the subordination of blacks to whites the “cornerstone” of the new Confederate government.

The Confederate States was ardently pro-slavery, and it was because the perceived a threat to their economic, social, and political system–i.e., black slavery and the supremacy of the white race–that they seceded from the Union.

The main problem with debates of this kind is the implicit assumption that “anti-slavery” must necessarily equal “radical abolitionist” – that anyone who wasn’t an avowed abolitionist couldn’t “really” be anti-slavery. By this definition, virtually no one in the North was “really” anti-slavery.

But it’s a fatally flawed assumption. People at the time didn’t assume immediate abolition was the only option.

A good modern day analogy would be smoking. Only a tiny percentage of the population would support the complete and total abolition of the sale and use of tobacco. Yet this does not in any way contradict the fact that a large segment of the population favors restrictions on tobacco use, and wishes to see it phased out over the next several decades.

I did not say the war was about ending slavery. I said the two sides were at odds about the institution of slavery, and the southern states got tired of arguing about it and then seceded.

You are right that in the years before the war the abolitionists were a minority in the North. It is quite a stretch though to conclude from that that the North “loved slavery.” If that were the case, why did they outlaw the transatlantic slave trade, and why were they opposed to the expansion of slavery into new states entering the union?

The Southerners were concerned with “maintaining their way of life,” and the speeches and arguments for secession by and large–in one form or another–argued that the northern states were intent on destroying that way of life. Certainly tarrifs were one issue put forth, as part of the general arguments that the northern bankers were trying to control the south. But the cornerstone of that “way of life,” was African Slavery, not selling cotton to the highest bidder on the international market.

An even better analogy might be anti-Communism. You had the real “fire eaters” like Curtis LeMay who favored “rollback”, even if that meant World War III; then you had more moderate types who favored “containment”. (Or, as Richard Nixon once put it, “Cowardly Communist Containment”.) As Nixon’s words show, sometimes the fire-eaters (or more probably in Nixon’s case demagogues who were pandering to the fire-eaters) would accuse moderate anti-communists of being insufficiently anti-communist or even pro-communist “dupes”. However, just because the John Birch Society regarded Eisenhower or Dean Acheson as “Communist dupes” does not mean that the Politburo agreed. The Soviets undoubtedly viewed a policy to “contain” them as hostile.

Abraham Lincoln was a moderate graduate of the “Sycophantic School of Stopping the Spread of Slavery”; firebrands of the John Brown wing of immediate abolition undoubtedly condemned him and others like him as pro-slavery dupes because the moderates didn’t want to invade the South and destroy slavery by force. But the more moderate anti-slavery forces, like the more moderate anti-communists, were still anti-slavery: they wanted to “contain” slavery until it could wither and die on its own.

In the case of communism, containment ultimately worked. In the case of slavery, the slave owners miscaculated and, deciding that even containment was too much of a threat to slave power, made the demise of slavery inevitable by provoking a war (both by seceding and by initiating hostile action against Union forces).

Have you heard the hoopla over that Jefferson Davis statue in the Kentucky capital building? I’ll never understand how some southerners can still take pride in such a traitorous act as secession. I would think they’d shove the whole episode under a rug like the Germans did with the third reich.
Any statues of Benedict Arnold still standing somewhere?
Union jacks are still everywhere down here, SHEESH!

That would be news to anyone with some knowledge of economics. In 1776, Adam Smith, who did not claim to have invented the process, in his best known book, gave an example of the effects of the division of labour.

Eli Whitney was no more responsible for “inventing” Mass Production than Edison was responsible for “inventing” the electric light.

One of Many Links

As far as the reason for Lincoln going to war on the patently false claim that secession was not permitted under the US constitution, the last thing he wanted was to go down in history as the President under whom the union broke up, so in order to avoid that terrible fate he decided he had to use force (“the union next my heart most dear” and all that).

Apart from 600,000 deaths and, after the conclusion of the war, the abolition of slavery, the outcome of the Civil War (or War of Southern Independence, if you prefer) ensured that instead of Lincoln going down in history as a stupendous political failure, the Northern victory ensured that he would be transformed into a plaster saint by post bellum historians of the North.

Isn’t “patently false” a stretch? I can’t find any place in the Constitution where a method for seceding is specified. Seceding from the United States isn’t even mentioned so how does one conclude that opposition is “patently false?”

And was Lincoln supposed to just overlook the attack on a military base of the United States with an, “Oh well, boys will be boys, and besides they were provoked.”?

I apologize for accusing you of oversimplifying. SPOOFE and laigle went into the detail I did not.

It was the first three points in The Cause that I took issue with.

The main point is that everything happens due to a huge variety of underlying circumstances, and nothing can be boiled down to a sound bite.

Eli Whitney invented neither the ctton gin nor the system of mass roductio/interchangeable parts. Se Richard Shenckman’s Legends, Lies, and Cherished Myths of American History and the many cites therein.

As for the North being in favor of slavery , read any of a number of books about the war, and people’s own writings (see Ken Burns’ documentary, for one, or the book based on it). There are plenty of cites about the inhumanity of slavery, and why it shuld be ended. By the 1860s, the US was among a very few nations that still allowed slavery. It had been banned in Mexico long bfore (One reason the Texans wanted to secde from Mexico was because Santa Ana was threatening to emancipate the slaves. Not the only reaso, of course.). Britain and France condemned slavery. In a world at long last powered by steam, slavery was an anachronism. And an ambarassment.

Sweet jeebus, two people try to refute me by saying that the South liked slavery. I mean, if that wasn’t a central tenet of my take on events, boy, that would have zinged me.

Let’s recap boys. Yeah, the South was a bunch of slave mongering jerks. That we’re in agreement on. My point was that the North was not popularly anti-slavery just because it makes for a simple contrast. You see, the problem with the description of things in the OP was that the North came galloping in to put a stop to this.

But that didn’t happen. The North didn’t enter the Civil War to end slavery, any more than the US entered WWII to stop the Holocaust. Heck, they allowed slavery to persist after the war, under the name of sharecropping, in the South despite military occupation and control of the region. They allowed the use of massive amounts of slave labor by Asian immigrants on the railroads without batting an eye. The situation was, in fact, “complicated,” sorry. You cannot make sense of US history, particularly in the area of race relations, if you go around thinking that the Civil War was a great crusade to save the poor brown people.

My point wasn’t that the South was a great and noble place. It wasn’t, it was a horrible degenerate hellhole, and still is in many parts. My point was that both sides were out for their own petty interests, not for some great cause.

Yes. Like child labor nowadays. So, bought any Nikes of late?

The last place practicing horrible, inhumane standards of labor is rarely under a compunction to stop in a capitalist environment. Usually quite the opposite, the tendency of a free market is a rush to the bottom. That’s where us economic interventionist types come in.

It was about protectionsim and it was about slavery. The necessity of free markets was driven by the reality of slavery.

The south couldnt have survived, even if it had won the war and seceeded. Slave owning economies cant compete with non-slave owning econimies. In slave owning economies, because slaves perform manaul labor, manual labor is seen as degrading work, fit only for slaves. Slaves, since they get to keep none of the fruits of their labor, labor only enough to keep from getting whipped/killed and no more.

In non-slave owning societies on the other hand, labor has no such stigma attached to it; indeed, as in many northern states, labor was glorified; you werent a man if you couldnt/wouldnt labor on your own behalf. Also, because keeping the fruits of ones labor is a requirement for non-slave societies (as others’ controlling the fruits of ones labor is by definition partial slavery, or involuntary servitude, as in many socialist and communist societies today) one is going to labor harder and with far more initiative than any slave.

This is why southern states on the eastern seaboard desperately needed trade with outside nations, as as time went on they could less and less afford goods made in the north. And, if they had won the war and seceeded, as time went on they would have been less and less able to afford goods made anywhere. The very root of capital and wealth, labor, was reviled and looked down on as work fit only for slaves, so its no wonder that they had an ever diminishing supply of wealth. Its why the south couldnt respond to new types of textiles; its why the south was locked into cotton and cotton only, because there was no incentive for anyone to labor at anything else, or think of anything else. The slaves wouldnt have been able to keep any proceeds, so why do it? and the whites in general thought they were above or too good to do such things, and the whites that didnt were socially reviled by the whites that did.

The only incentive for labor, and thus wealth creation, in the south was the whip and the noose. Its no wonder they attacked the north, as thats all their limited imaginations could think of. The end was inevitable and they knew it.

On the other hand, the protectionism of the north was short sighted in the extreme, resulting in the US being effectively a third world nation until markets started to open up in the early 20th century after WW1. Wealth started to flow, until knee jerk protectionism once again reared its head, resulting in the depression, which lasted until markets were opened up once again beginning/during WW2. And they have fortunately continued to remain open since then.

Please explain to me why the South wanting to secede from an alliance they didn’t want to be part of anymore is any more treasonous than America going to war to seperate from England?