Today marks the 150th anniversary of the bombing of Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. It is the official start of the American Civil War.
As a history nut, I can’t let it pass without comment.
The War Between The States was in my mind, the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to the United States of America. I will always be amazed that rational, sane men allowed the country to be torn apart and cost the lives of over 600,000 soldiers and thousands of private citizens.
When I see civil wars in other countries, as we see today, I wonder, “Could this happen here, again?”
Let’s hope not.
The debate rages as to the causes of the conflict 150 years after the official start. But the war really started shortly after the American Revolution.
As a Southerner by birth, I cut my teeth on Confederate history. As a Virginian, I learned early on to revere Robert E. Lee, and as a child born in the only home General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson ever owned, I learned to revere him as well.
But, growing UP in the Nawth, and having an education that was “yankeefied”, I am of two minds.
Some would say more!
To me there isn’t just one cause for the conflict, there were several.
The northern and southern regions of the USA were vastly different economically. With the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, cotton became cheaper and easier to grow and process. It became King. It required more and more labor, and more slaves were imported through the northern ports as well as the south to feed the beast. The northern economy was based on industry, and the industrialist who used children as laborers and the influx of refugees from Eastern Europe, Germany, and Ireland for pennies a day were no better than the largest slaveholder in the south. When the workers wouldn’t go to work, the police forced them to. When a child or other worker died of starvation or exposure, the factory foreman just took the next one off the boat. It was slavery with a different name.
The north needed the southern cotton; the two areas were dependent and juxtaposed at the same time. The industry needed the agriculture, and the agriculture needed the industry.
The social orders of the two areas was different as well. The south was nearly feudal. Granted, only seven percent of southerners owned slaves at the onset of the conflict, but the aristocracy existed. The north offered more opportunity for people to move from immigrant to tycoon and join the industrialist aristocracy. Bluebloods are bluebloods regardless of real estate location.
Since the beginning of our nation, state government and federal government views have conflicted. This exists even today. At the onset, the thirteen states formed a loose confederation with a very weak federal government. When problems arose, the weakness of this form of government caused the leaders of the time to come together at the Constitutional Convention and create the US Constitution – in secret. Strong states’ rights believers, like Jefferson and Patrick Henry were absent. Some believed that the new constitution ignored the rights of states to continue to act independently. When the states were denied the opportunity to declare laws unconstitution and decide if they were willing to accept laws or reject them through nullification, the south moved closer and closer to secession.
And of course, there was slavery. How it happened is beyond me. I can’t imagine anyone believing they had the right to own another human being, and I can’t imagine anyone believing that other living men and women were inferior or, in some cases, not human at all. Slavery has existed for thousands of years, and quite frankly exists today in many countires. But, it was wrong then, and it is wrong now.
As more and more territory was added to the US via the Louisiana Purchase and Mexican War, the slave states and their statesmen – who were all slaveholders – were worried that the balance of power between the two economic systems would be tilted. Compromises were made, people were unhappy, stuff happened.
Alarmingly, good people on both sides made bad decisions. The peculiar institution was accepted in the south, despised in the north, and a focal point, or boiling point for conflict.
The abolishionist movement gained momentum.
Northerners became more polarized against slavery. Sympathies began to grow for abolitionists as well as slaves. After the fugitive slave act, John Brown’s Raid at Harper’s Ferry, The Dred Scott Case, and the publishing of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, things heated UP. The media, as powerful then as now, only far less sophisticated, played a huge part in pushing slavery to the front of the line.
It makes me wonder, “Is there a cause today that could be used by the media to tear the country apart?”
And then, there was Lincoln, or more correctly, the election of Abraham Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln is one of the top two most revered Presidents; he’s most remembered and most respected for “saving the Union”. But, Lincoln didn’t do that. His generals did.
The election of Lincoln helped to tear the country apart. The situation was already explosive when Lincoln was elected in 1860. South Carolina issued its “Declaration of the Causes of Secession.” South Carolina, who in my opinion really started the war, was led by people who believed that Lincoln was anti-slavery and in favor of Northern interests. Lincoln wasn’t completely anti-slavery at first. He was simply pro-Union. And he was a great politician who knew the war needed a cause, and there was no cause like slavery. He was no friend to the black race at first – he may have emancipated the slaves, but he felt them inferior, and wanted to send ALL of them back to Africa. Slaves of African descent had lived and been born in America for well over 200 years at the time of Lincoln’s election; they were Americans. One of his friends in a book published shortly after his death claimed, “Lincoln felt them no more than another farm animal.”
But, the south hated him, considered him the bogey man. His election was the match that lit the fuse.
And the hot heads of South Carolina started shelling.
The rest, of course, is history.