I’m going to let you all in on a secret. If everything you know about the Civil War Era comes from a textbook, you don’t know diddly squat about the South- and you’re confused about the North as well.
Reading between the lines in our textbooks, after all of us colonists got together and told Mother England where she could stick her taxation without representation and formed a lovely little nation of our own, something odd happened. Apparently, in the years following, us brand new Americans divided ourselves into two factions and split geographically. All of the ignorant, bigoted, white supremacists congregated south of the Mason Dixon Line and the enlightened, equality- minded, civil rights warriors gathered to the north of the line. Then, the loathsome southern crew all planted plantations full of cotton to give all of our legions of slaves something menial to do. Next, they built gigantic plantation houses for the women folk to traipse around in while wearing poofy dresses and sipping mimosas. All the while, the northerners made honest livings in factories waiting for Abraham Lincoln to come along and trounce some morality into that southern rabble.
Not so much. There are two things you need to know:
1. Your history book lied to you about the Civil War.
2. The Mason Dixon Line is a geographical boundary, not a moral one.
Your History Book Lied to You About the Civil War
Lincoln was not a “great emancipator” sending in Union troops to “make men free,” and the South wasn’t fighting primarily to be able to keep slaves. By the way, up to this point in history, slavery was a worldwide societal norm among all cultures. Humanity was finally beginning to “wake up” and slavery was on its way out in multiple civilizations around the globe- none of which resulted in massive Civil Wars. The South, though wrong in their general acceptance of the morality of slavery, was fighting overreaching authority of the federal government.
While slavery did play a part in the Civil War, it was not in the moral capacity that our history books so often paint it. Instead, the disagreement over slavery was an economic and political one. Federal laws leading to the increasing southern unrest date back 30 years prior to the Civil War which was fought from 1861-1865.
In 1828 and 1832, Congress passed tariff legislation which benefited the North’s industrial economy while damaging the South’s agricultural economy. The South produced raw materials and imported manufactured products. The southern economy was built on agriculture and many were dependent on slave labor to run the massive plantations that supplied raw materials to the factories in the north. These tariffs gave northern manufacturers an enormous advantage by decreasing foreign competition. The bulk of the South’s raw materials now went to the North instead of abroad, yet taxes were levied on the North’s finished products which made them, to a large extent, unaffordable in the South. This resulted in the South paying the bulk of federal taxes, while the taxes were spent predominantly in the North. When South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun held a convention to nullify this law, President Andrew Jackson actually threatened to send troops to enforce it, but the Compromise of 1833 resulted in lowering the taxes for a period of four years and an altercation was avoided.
If you think our most recent presidential election was contentious, you’ve never read about Lincoln’s. Lincoln was backed exclusively by big industry in the North. In the 1860 election, he won with only 39% of the popular vote and not a single electoral vote from the South. The first thing Congress did when they met after the election was to pass the Morrill Tariff, which was the highest tariff in US history. The following quote is from the Northern British Review, Edinburgh, 1862, “…All Northern products are now protected: and the Morrill Tariff is a very masterpiece of folly and injustice. No wonder then that the citizens of the seceding States should feel for half a century they have sacrificed to enhance the powers and profits of the North; and should conclude, after much futile remonstrance that only in secession could they hope to find redress.”
Lincoln never saw the Civil War as an opportunity to bring about justice or free slaves. Lincoln’s single, intention throughout the Civil War was to hold the Union together. In his 1862 letter to Horace Greely of the New York Tribune, Lincoln famously wrote, “ My paramount objective in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all of the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union…” This letter can be viewed in its entirety at abrahamlincolnonline.org.
Now, whether or not you believe that the South had a constitutional right to secede, or if Lincoln was justified in his many questionable tactics to hold the Union together is a whole separate can of worms. But, if you find yourself sympathizing with the modern day “Calexit” movement, the least you can do is avoid being a hypocrite and admit that you actually have more in common with the Confederacy than you thought.
Most important lessons to take away: If you are ignorant of true Civil War history and engage in or applaud the ripping down of confederate monuments in a misguided protest of slavery or racism, expect opposition from individuals who aren’t ignorant of true Civil War history who have respect for these monuments to great men who put their lives on the line to fight federal government overreach. This is no way means they are racist or that they are sympathetic to the institution of slavery- much less fascist.
The Mason Dixon Line Is A Geographical Boundary, Not A Moral One
The South is not now nor has it ever been any more or less “racist” than the North.
Seriously. This old, tired, inaccurate stereotype of the South as a geographical collection of diversity hating, white supremacists doesn’t even have a historical leg to stand on. The North is not immune and has its own historically documented list of embarrassing and abhorrent racist sentiment.
According to the 1860 census, there were 451,021 slaves counted in states and territories that would make up the Union during the Civil War. This was an increase from the 1840 census 20 years earlier. Historian Douglas Harper notes, “The North failed to develop large-scale agrarian slavery, such as later arose in the Deep South, but that had little to do with morality and much to do with climate and economy.”
The North didn’t exactly have an attack of conscience and decide to emancipate all their slaves immediately following the Revolutionary War. The British helped out with that in tactics Lincoln later used on the South. Douglas Harper writes, “Since the North saw much longer, and more extensive, incursions by the British troops, its slave population drained away at a higher rate than the South’s. At the same time, the governments in northern American states began to offer financial incentives to slaveowners who freed their black men, if the emancipated slaves then served in the state regiments fighting the British… When the Northern states gave up the last remnants of legal slavery, in the generation after the Revolution, their motives were a mix of piety, morality, and ethics; fear of a growing black population; practical economics; and the fact that the Revolutionary War had broken the Northern slaveowners’ power and drained off much of the slave population…The business of emancipation in the North amounted to the simple matters of, 1. determining how to compensate slave owners for the few slaves they had left, and, 2. making sure newly freed slaves would be marginalized economically and politically in their home communities, and that nothing in the state’s constitution would encourage fugitive slaves from elsewhere to settle there.”
We’re not done with Lincoln yet. While he opposed slavery, Lincoln did not believe in racial equality in any way, shape, or form. The following quote is from the fourth Lincoln-Douglas debate (the full transcript can be viewed at this National Park Service link.)
“I will say then that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social or 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, not qualifying them to hold office, not 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.”
The most violent race riot in history actually occurred in Manhattan as a protest to the Union’s draft policy. Freed blacks were exempt from the draft, while whites had to pay $300 to buy their way out of it. Poor whites who couldn’t afford to buy their way out of the draft rioted for four days. This horrific riot resulted in the deaths of as many as 120 people, the lynching of at least 11 blacks, and the assault of many more. 4,000 troops from Gettysburg put down the uprising.
The North was full of raced based legislation in the years immediately post Civil War. The North had segregation laws. Free black men were not allowed to vote in all northern states and some states required that a black man own property in order to have the right to vote. In some states, blacks weren’t allowed to hold public office or testify against a white person in court. Many northern states had restrictions on the number of free blacks that could enter the state while some barred them from entering altogether.
Most important lesson to take away: The “racist, white-supremacist, Southerner” is an ignorant stereotype perpetuated by those who wish to divide the country along a racist boundary that never existed.
Racism has never been a geographical phenomenon. During the Civil Rights movements of the 60’s, we all joined together to promote equality and the vast majority of the population has been united in that endeavor ever since.
Today, white or black supremacist groups and terrorist organizations such as the KKK, BLM, Antifa, and the Black Panthers are all fringe groups. These groups are small in number with loud mouths and violent, attention- getting tactics. The mainstream media love to perpetuate the false narrative that large swathes of the United States population sympathizes with one group or another, and this propaganda is not arbitrary. It’s about time we all recognized this divisive propaganda for what it is- an orchestrated effort to divide us.
Step away from the monuments- the ghosts of the Confederacy are not your foes.
2 Replies to “If Everything You Know About the Civil War Era Comes From A Textbook, You Don’t Know Diddly About the South”
It is great to know that there are people who know true history. Thank you for your article. The historical ignorance of our country, including white southerners, is heart breaking. Keep up the good work.
Thanks Danny! I completely agree. Ignorance of history is an epidemic.