Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014

Anniversary of the Civil War

December 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Civil War

This coming year will mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. E.J. Dionne, at the WaPo, posts an article on getting the cause for the war correct before the remembrance begins:

When the war started, leaders of the Southern rebellion were entirely straightforward about this. On March 21, 1861, Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s vice president, gave what came to be known as the “Cornerstone speech” in which he declared that the “proper status of the Negro in our form of civilization” was “the immediate cause of the late rupture.”

Thomas Jefferson, Stephens said, had been wrong in believing “that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature.”

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea,” Stephens insisted. “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”

Our greatest contemporary historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, has noted that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a major slaveholder, “justified secession in 1861 as an act of self-defense against the incoming Lincoln administration.” Abraham Lincoln’s policy of excluding slavery from the territories, Davis said, would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless … thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.”

South Carolina’s 1860 declaration on the cause of secession mentioned slavery, slaves or slaveholding 18 separate times. And as the historian Douglas Egerton points out in “Year of Meteors,” his superb recent book how the 1860 election precipitated the Civil War, the South split the Democratic Party and later the country not in the name of states’ rights but because it sought federal government guarantees that slavery would prevail in new states. “Slaveholders,” Egerton notes, “routinely shifted their ideological ground in the name of protecting unfree labor.”