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What Caused the Civil War? The Spring Offensive of the 44th

"The Civil War began 148 years ago this month with the assault on Fort Sumter...." Thus begins one of those painful WaPo overviews of what DC area kids is learning, in this case about what caused the Civil War. Supposedly the old lessons will take on new life, with our 44th President:

Ask Northerners the cause of the war, and the answer often is a single word: slavery. In many places in the South, the answers can vary: states' rights, freedom, political and economic power.

As students across the region begin springtime Civil War lessons, historians say the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president offers an unprecedented opportunity to break through stereotypes and view the era in broader ways....

There is little disagreement among professional historians that the South's effort to maintain the institution of slavery was the central reason that 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and civil war erupted. Today's textbooks have largely caught up with this view. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the classroom.

Even from this journalistic account, it seems pretty clear that the misleading equation of slavery with race or racism is behind the "stereotypes." It's also clear that no one seems to take seriously that slavery violates the central American founding principle of equality. Affirming human equality is the common cause behind a war to prevent secession that became a war to free the slaves. That was Lincoln's explanation, from the First Inaugural through his Second Inaugural. Equality is a principle of limited government, whose protection of liberty allows the fulfillment of human happiness. Ending slavery is the minimal condition for self-government.

While the journalist recounts a clever Simpsons episode, no where does she see fit to quote the 16th president of the United States in the year of the Bicentennial of his birth. But that can be a story for another time.

Categories > History

Discussions - 16 Comments

Ken Thomas, have you been posting on NLT long enough to realize the gravity of an American Civil War post?

Andrew: Well said!

Clearly an agent provocateur.

Booyah, Andrew, Steve Thomas and Dan!(Jim Crammer also got props on the Simpsons)

For all that some folks say meta-narratives are dead, there certainly are a whole lot of historians writting about Lincoln and the Civil War, but to bring it in to the Obama era...Now you really are being a provacateur. It seems to me that Obama makes himself a historical figure, that Obama himself is already as controversial as Lincoln and civil war scholarship and that in some way there is no reason to bother sorting out the past if you can't figure out the present.

So once you add to the question of the real civil war, that of the real Lincoln and add indirectly questions about the real Obama...well, once you get this far you might as well add Darwin(coincidence of birth?), and since the virginia founders used slaves to grow tobbaco and since Lincoln did not smoke, but Obama did or does, or especially still needs to do so...and since Darwinian biologists inform us that tobbaco messes with your dopamine receptors, it is "high time(s)" to suggest that the real cause of the civil war was Tobacco. You see the Virginia founders to include Jefferson would have gotten rid of slavery but they were addicted to tobacco or its profits and thus couldn't really free slaves if it meant having to pick and cure the stuff themselves. I mean who would bother working hard to grow a crop just to burn it? Certainly this messes up the calculations of a Malthus(inspiration for Darwin) on population. Now if someone else is toilling in hot sun to grow the crop so that you can burn it, well now that puts a different spin on the matter. Lincoln was able to be truer to the Declaration because he didn't let nicotine pervert his dopamine receptors, thus he knew the truth that is the tyranny: "you work, I will smoke and joke."

As we can see Obama by virtue of being a smoker is in danger of leading us down the road to communism, after all he has re-oppened negotiations with Cuba just to get his filthy lungs on a few cuban cigars.

I wrote comment four as a joke, but a serious history of Tobacco would explain a lot of our early history, financing the Revolutionary or "Tobacco War", complaints over brittish taxation+debt, helped finance the revolution via the french...the first federal tax on tobacco even made a dent in paying for the Civil War, and Jefferson expected profits from growing tobacco to justify going against principle in making the Louisiana Purchase...and the Nation required Tobacco and Tobacco required slavery...Tobacco a Nitrogen intensive crop robbed the soil of nutrients, changing and challenging Urban developement...it was against the moral code of the Puritans...and latter on the Abolitionists. The economics and sociology of Tobacco was the partial cause of the Revolutionary and Civil War. If Baseball is the american sport, chewing tobacco goes with it, and chewing tobacco is the american form of Tobacco...I digress, but Tobacco cultivation as the cause of the Civil War sounds like a good enough answer that I am tempted to dig in my heels.

I'm sure there are many NLT folk who could take the "bait" here, but I hope they won't. The fact is, there must be some reason why people at the Ashbrook won't let the dead rest in peace. Yep, Abe "saved" the Union and ended slavery (although don't many of us feel like slaves every April 15th, the legacy of an overbearing central government started during the Civil War period?). For those of you who take such pride in Lincoln's accomplishments, please try to remember that there is another side to this story.

I'm less concerned over the past Civil War than the pending one. Perhaps someone will address the issues that may cause it, but I won't hold my breath.

Pick up Allan Kulikoff's "Tobacco and Slaves: The Development of Southern Cultures in the Chesapeake, 1680 - 1800" and Thomas Sowell's "Black Rednecks and White Liberals" for some good, very compelling reading.

I don't think there is a real pending civil war.

I think it is blather by a Texas governor who is fighting to keep his weak governorship.

Dale, true. I wasn't refering to the Texas talk, although it is that current hot topic. The civil won't be based on secession, it will be guerilla style. Compounds, groups of people, churches, local clubs. They will sometime have enough and then refuse to participate in society...i.e. pay taxes.

Imagine if millions of ppl boycotted taxes, refused to file, refused court, and refused arrest. This is how a civil war would occur today. If the gov't keeps taking ppl's money to pay for everything from banks to abortions, I wouldn't be surprised if this occurs. It would be impossible to stop and therefore far more effective than any goofy secession.

This is a quote from Abraham Lincoln during a debate with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858.

"I am not, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in anyway the social and political equality of the white and black races - that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race."

Abraham Lincoln (honest Abe)

It is a shame that history is now subject to as much spin as yesterday's numbers on the economy, but it has been so for a long time. As a Georgian I can assure you that it is impossible to have a rational conversation about the War Between the States (WBTS) with anyone who has been fed the WaPo party line their whole lives. History is written by the victors. The Statists have long used slavery as an excuse for the extension of Federal authority where there are no Constitutional grounds - and will continue to do so ad infinitum.

Ken Thomas shows that examination of the actual arguments of the 1860's exposes the Constitutional basis for Seccession. Wildly dangerous in this era where historical inaccuracies and their political fruit are sacred. So much hay has been made out of both the WBTS and 60's era frictions that the basic truths were drowned out long ago.

Karl Marx of all people had a very accurate opinion as to the cause of the Civil War. He said that the Northern industrialists had no problem with slavery since it assured cheap cotton to come to their mills in New England. It was when the South began developing an incipient manufacturing capacity that the Northern leaders of industry found out that Southern products made with slave labor could undercut Northern products made with sweat shop labor.

Sah, you have offended the onnah of the South! How can you praise this heah Lincoln when he done made us get rid of our NEEE-grahs! Oh BEL-VE-DERE! Come heah, boy!

The War Between the States was over money and states rights. Look the history on the Morrill Act of 1861 and Lincoln's tariff. Slavery had nothing to do with starting the war.

Slavery was the excuse, not the reason. The true reason states rights as delcared in the Constitution. This is also why there are many states pushing this issue now. With the Feds driving us into debt that many generations will take (if ever) to pay off, and the loss of numerous rights (freedom of Speech, right to have weapons etc..) yes I can see a 2nd civil war starting.

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