War Between the States Pt. 1
Introduction and Review
The War Between the States and all that led to it was the first major breach of trust and unity among the American states. Having fought side by side in the War for Independence, the War of 1812, and the Spanish-American War, to turn and face each other with the same vehemence and passion that had formerly been pointed at other countries was no light matter in any estimation. What must be understood from the outset is that the Civil War was fought over the nature of the United States government. It was over which direction American culture and society would take.
Related to the vision for what America ought to be, was the question of ‘rights’. What are ‘rights’? And where do you get them? In the Christian way of thinking and speaking, there is strictly, no such thing as ‘rights’. There is nothing in this world that we are entitled to simply because we exist. We live in the world that God made which means that everything is a gift. Gifts are not deserved or earned. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness those basic values that the framers of the constitution sought to protect are not rights. No one deserves or is entitled to those things apart from them being given by God. But even once they are given we are not allowed to assume that we are now entitled to them. We must use the gifts that are given according to the guidelines that are given to us. To take life for an example, no one has a right to life. God’s Word gives instructions regarding the protection of life. However, God also gives instructions for when it is right and proper for life to be taken. Life is not a right; it is gift for the duration of God’s pleasure.
The American Civil War erupted in the height of the romantic period. As we have seen, one of the tendencies of the romantics was the care for the less fortunate and a passion for living well and whole heartily. Depending on the goals and the means, this desire was at times both praiseworthy and utterly wicked. The French Revolution was no sunny day.
Differences: North and South
Throughout the beginning of the 19th century, things were changing dramatically in the North. Factories began appearing in cities, the railroad became a normal and expected reality, and a large influx of immigrants changed the landscape throughout the northeast. Factories produced textiles, shoes, woolens, milled flour, and worked metals. By the 1850s, Isaac Singer sewing machines and John Deere plows were multiplying and making production and agriculture easier and more efficient. But in the big picture, while southern farmers prospered greatly, particularly through the cotton plantations, it was the North that was booming industrially. The diversity of productions, agriculture, and technology was not only impacting the overall culture of the North, it was setting the northern states up for greater stability in the long run.
In addition to these economic and industrial developments, a greater and deeper divide had already begun to show its face. While the faith of Americans was Puritan and Calvinistic from its colonization, the influence of the Enlightenment had made its imprint in America no less than Europe. While we cannot know all the hows and whys of this transition, the North gradually, from the time of American independence onward, had embraced a less doctrinally sound form of Christianity. In some places this took the form of an orthodox faith watered down with a great amount of sentimentalism, likely related to the Romanticism of the day. In other places, it was the Unitarian faith that prevailed. Ultimately denying the doctrine of the Trinity, the Unitarian Church was also heavily motivated by social concerns at the expense of truth and orthodoxy. On the other hand, the South was by and large a stronghold of the orthodox faith handed down from the reformation: Calvinists, Presbyterian, and Episcopal (by faith or family). While there were also many faithful in the North, the population of the North was also over double of the South, most of its surplus found in immigrants from northern and central Europe.
But given even these differences, even conceding the fact that southern people talk funny, why did it come to war? It is important to point out here that the issue of slavery was not the central concern of the war. While it was a tangible issue related to the conflict, it was not ultimately the reason southern states seceded from the Union or why the Union fought so hard to retain them. Abraham Lincoln, the president of the Union who ordered the United States Army to overrule the secession of the Confederate States stated plainly that his reason for going to war was not in order to free any slaves. It was not until 1863, two years into the war that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves of the South. This was a thoroughly political move that was intended to further jeopardize any stability that the South may have had as well as give a pretense that would rally many of the abolitionists of the North to his aid. Lincoln, simply put, needed a boost from the North and anything he could do to disrupt the South was worth the effort. It was a brilliant move, and it succeeded perhaps far beyond what Lincoln and his advisors had hoped. It should be added also that there were slaves in the North and the South, and the Emancipation Proclamation freed only some slaves in the South and none of the slaves in the North.
At any rate, disputes began between the North and the South over the matter of the rights of a state. You’ll remember that the framing of the Constitution was itself a compromise of epic proportions between the Federalists and those who favored more decentralized rule (i.e. the Democrats). The radical change in wording from the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution (We the States… vs. We the people…) was being put to the test as the United States expanded its territories. Each new state being formed (e.g. Texas, Missouri, California, etc.) was required to enter the union as either a “free” or “slave” state. The titles are somewhat misleading because it was not as simple a difference as that.
The North was an industrial society seeking to export its products throughout the world. The South was an agricultural society seeking to sell to the highest bidder. Furthermore, the southern states developed trade agreements with Great Britain which some believed threatened the success of the North. Great Britain was producing textiles and other products at a rate untouchable by any other country in the world. While the South imported some products from the North, much was a result of trade with Britain. The northern states, seeing this, began clamoring for trade restrictions and tariffs (trade taxes). The big business men of the North in turn demanded that the federal government step in and protect the North’s growing industrial concerns. However, the South contended that it was none of the federal government’s business how each state traded and with whom they traded. Trade and business were to be free and uninhibited by the federal government. It was only the duty of individual states to oversee trade and business. Otherwise, free trade was to run the day.
Put to this tangle, when new states entered the Union, it was not merely a question of whether slavery was to be legal or not, it was a question of who would get to move in and develop the new land. If slavery was outlawed, big plantation owners would be prohibited from moving in to begin growing cotton because without slaves they could not keep up with the demand. In their place, northern businesses and factories might move in securing growth for the North. Thus in 1820, when this had come to the fore, it was the Missouri Compromise that calmed everyone down for a little while. The Missouri Compromise established that states would only be allowed to enter the union in pairs, one ‘slave’ and one ‘free’ state together at one time. While this was an attempt at keeping some sort of balance, it did not lessen the tensions between the North and the South in the following years. The South grew increasingly concerned that the agenda of the federal government was more and more favoring the North. Meanwhile, the North grew increasingly concerned that the South be made to cooperate with its booming industry.
Abolition & Secession
Throughout the United States, north and south, racism was a prolific reality. The belief whether explicit or implicit that the country of one’s heritage or the color of one’s skin is adequate information for considering them of lesser value or aptitude is and was a terrible sin afflicting the entire country. Many people in the North and South alike recognized this and were involved in various means to correct the confusion. However, even some of those who detested the practice of slavery were thorough going racists. Such was the situation and it is difficult to draw any fine lines or make any nice distinctions as much as modern intoleristas would like us to believe the contrary.
While there were some large plantations in the South with many slaves, the majority of southerners did not own slaves. It should also be remembered that some northerners also had slaves, the major difference being that where in the North and South alike a gentleman might have one or two slaves, there were some plantations in the South with hundreds. This fact means that slave treatment varied considerably. Where some masters were certainly cruel and wicked men, others cared for and loved their slaves. While it was not the universally origin of every slave, the practice of kidnapping Africans, bringing them to America, breaking up families, and selling stolen people was a hideous and disgusting practice, and many people in the South recognized this. But where the North and South fundamentally disagreed was over how to change. Extremists in the North who had both money and influence were adamant that slavery be abolished immediately without compromise. But the vast majority of people (North and South) favored a gradual phasing out of slavery in order to responsibly deal with all of the necessary changes. Again central to these concerns was over who had the authority to make these decisions and enforce them. It was the South’s firm conviction that states retained these rights.
However, when Abraham Lincoln was elected president of the United States in 1860, knowing the general direction of his policies, which blatantly favored the industrial North, one by one the southern states held conventions and one by one they seceded from the Union. Within months a new union had been created by the southern states known as the Confederate States of America. Viewing this as a catastrophe on economic, political, and romantic ideals, Lincoln ordered the United States Army to invade the South and enforce unity between the states.
As with most conflicts, this was a tangled mess of rights, wrongs, and misunderstandings. However, when sides were drawn up, men everywhere hurried to enlist. In many ways, this was the first modern war. While battle tactics were not much different than previous wars, the improved technology of weaponry, the ability to mass transport soldiers, and enhanced intelligence options made the war far more horrific than many could have imagined.