Jeffersonian View of the Civil War
Donald W. Miller, Jr.
the schoolbook account of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln
rose to the Presidency and took the steps needed to end slavery.
He led the country in a great Civil War against the slaveholding
states that seceded, restored these states to the Union, and ended
slavery. Accordingly, historians rate Abraham Lincoln as one of
our greatest presidents.
in the South, like my great-great-grandfather Louis Thomas Hicks,
had a different view of the war. Louis Hicks fought in the Battle
of Gettysburg in the Army of Northern Virginia, commanding the 20th
North Carolina Regiment (in Iversonís Brigade of Rodes Division
in Ewellís Second Corps). He led his regiment into action on the
first day of the battle and was forced to surrender after losing
eighty percent of his men (238 out of 300) in two-and-a-half hours
of fighting. In his personal account of the battle, he wrote, "[As
a prisoner] I lied awake, thinking of my comrades and the great
cause for which we were willing to shed our last drop of blood."
His daughter, Mary Lyde Williams, echoed similar sentiments in her
Presentation Address given at the Unveiling of the North Carolina
Memorial on the Battlefield of Gettysburg on July 3, 1929. She began
her address with the words, "They wrote a constitution in which
each state should be free." Four children, including her granddaughter,
my mother, who was then 10 years old, removed the veil that covered
American children are taught in the nationís schools, both in the
North and South, that it was wrong for people to support the Confederacy
and to fight and die for it. Well-intentioned, "right thinking"
people equate anyone today who thinks that the South did the right
thing by seceding from the Union as secretly approving of slavery.
Indeed, such thinking has now reached the point where groups from
both sides of the political spectrum, notably the NAACP and Southern
Poverty Law Center on the left and the Cato Institute on the right,
want to have the Confederate Battle Flag eradicated from public
spaces. These people argue that the Confederate flag is offensive
to African-Americans because it commemorates slavery.
the standard account, the Civil War was an outcome of our Founding
Fathers failure to address the institution of slavery in a republic
that proclaimed in its Declaration of Independence that "all
men are created equal." But was it really necessary to wage
a four-year war to abolish slavery in the United States, one that
ravaged half of the country and destroyed a generation of American
men? Only the United States and Haiti freed their slaves by war.
Every other country in the New World that had slaves, such as Argentina,
Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay,
and Venezuela, freed them in the 19th century peacefully.
war did enable Lincoln to "save" the Union, but only in
a geographic sense. The country ceased being a Union, as it was
originally conceived, of separate and sovereign states. Instead,
America became a "nation" with a powerful federal government.
Although the war freed four million slaves into poverty, it did
not bring about a new birth of freedom, as Lincoln and historians
such as James McPherson and Henry Jaffa say. For the nation as a
whole the war did just the opposite: It initiated a process of centralization
of government that has substantially restricted liberty and freedom
in America, as historians Charles Adams and Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
have argued Adams in his book, When
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession
(published in 2000); and Hummel in his book, Emancipating
Slaves, Enslaving Free Men (1996).
term Civil War is a misnomer. The South did not instigate
a rebellion. Thirteen southern states in 1860-61 simply chose to
secede from the Union and go their own way, like the thirteen colonies
did when they seceded from Britain. A more accurate name for the
war that took place between the northern and southern American states
is the War for Southern Independence. Mainstream historiography
presents the victorsí view, an account that focuses on
the issue of slavery and downplays other considerations.
until the 19th century slavery in human societies was
considered to be a normal state of affairs. The Old Testament of
the Bible affirms that slaves are a form of property and that the
children of a slave couple are the property of the slavesí owner
(Exodus 21:4). Abraham and Jacob kept slaves, and the New Testament
says nothing against slavery. Slaves built the pyramids of Egypt,
the Acropolis of Athens, and the coliseums in the Roman Empire.
Africans exported 11,000,000 Black slaves to the New World
4,000,000 to Brazil, 3,600,000 to the British and French West Indies,
and 2,500,000 to Spanish possessions in Central and South America.
About 500,000 slaves, 5 per cent of the total number shipped to
the New World, came to America. Today slavery still exists in some
parts of Africa, notably in Sudan and Mauritania.
heralded the end of slavery, in the Western world at least, with
its Bill of Abolition, passed in 1807. This Bill made the African
slave trade (but not slaveholding) illegal. Later that year the
United States adopted a similar bill, called the Act to Prohibit
the Importation of Slaves, which prohibited bringing slaves into
any port in the country, including into the southern slaveholding
states. Congress strengthened this prohibition in 1819 when it decreed
the slave trade to be a form of piracy, punishable by death. In
1833, Britain enacted an Emancipation Law, ending slavery throughout
the British Empire, and Parliament allocated twenty million pounds
to buy slavesí freedom from their owners. The German philosopher
Arthur Schopenhauer rightly described this action as one of the
greatest acts of collective compassion in the history of humankind.
This happened peacefully and without any serious slave uprisings
or attacks on their former owners, even in Jamaica where a population
of 30,000 whites owned 250,000 slaves.
Constitution of the Confederate States of America prohibited the
importation of slaves (Article I, Section 9). With no fugitive slave
laws in neighboring states that would return fugitive slaves to
their owners, the value of slaves as property drops owing to increased
costs incurred to guard against their escape. With slaves having
a place to escape to in the North and with the supply of new slaves
restricted by its Constitution, slavery in the Confederate states
would have ended without war. A slaveís decreasing property value,
alone, would have soon made the institution unsustainable, irrespective
of more moral and humanitarian considerations.
rallying call in the North at the beginning of the war was "preserve
the Union," not "free the slaves." Although certainly
a contentious political issue and detested by abolitionists, in
1861 slavery nevertheless was not a major public issue. Protestant
Americans in the North were more concerned about the growing number
of Catholic immigrants than they were about slavery. In his First
Inaugural Address, given five weeks before the war began, Lincoln
reassured slaveholders that he would continue to enforce the Fugitive
17 months of war things were not going well for the North, especially
in its closely watched Eastern Theater. In the five great battles
fought there from July 1861 through September 17, 1862, the changing
cast of Union generals failed to win a single victory. The Confederate
army won three: First Bull Run (or First Manassas) on July 21,1861;
Seven Days six major battles fought from June 25-July 1,
1862 during the Union armyís Peninsular Campaign that, in sum, amounted
to a strategic Confederate victory when McClellan withdrew his army
from the peninsula; and Second Bull Run (or Second Manassas) on
August 29-30, 1862. Two battles were indecisive: Seven Pines (or
Fair Oaks) on May 31-June 1, 1862, and Antietam (or Sharpsburg)
on September 17, 1862. In the West, Grant took Fort Donelson on
February 14, 1862 and captured 14,000 Confederate soldiers. But
then he was caught by surprise in the battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburg
Landing) on April 6-7, 1862 and lost 13,000 out of a total of 51,000
men that fought in this two-day battle. Sickened by the carnage,
people in the North did not appreciate at the time that this battle
was a strategic victory for the North. Then came Antietam on September
17, the bloodiest day in the entire war; the Union army lost more
than 12,000 of its 60,000 troops engaged in the battle.
saving the Union justify the slaughter of such a large number of
young men? The Confederates posed no military threat to the North.
Perhaps it would be better to let the southern states go, along
with their 4 million slaves. If it was going to win, the North needed
a more compelling reason to continue the war than to preserve the
Union. The North needed a cause for continuing the war, as Lincoln
put the matter in his Second Inaugural Address, that was willed
by God, where "the judgments of the Lord" determined the
losses sustained and its outcome.
days after the Battle of Antietam, on September 22, 1862, Abraham
Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation.
Emancipation Proclamation was a "war measure," as Lincoln
put it. Foreign correspondents covering the war recognized it as
a brilliant propaganda coup. Emancipation would take place only
in rebel states not under Union control, their state sovereignty
in the matter of slavery arguably forfeited as a result of their
having seceded from the Union. The president could not abolish slavery;
if not done at the state level, abolition would require a constitutional
amendment. Slaveholders and their slaves in Missouri, Kentucky,
Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, and parts of Virginia and Louisiana
occupied by Union troops were exempt from the edict. Slaves in the
Confederacy would be "forever free" on January 1, 1863
one hundred days after the Proclamation was issued
but only if a state remained in "rebellion" after that
date. Rebel states that rejoined the Union and sent elected representatives
to Congress before January 1, 1863 could keep their slaves. Such
states would no longer be considered in rebellion and so their sovereignty
regarding the peculiar institution would be restored. As the London
Spectator put it, in its October 11, 1862 issue: "The principle
[of the Proclamation] is not that a human being cannot justly own
another, but that he cannot own him unless he is loyal to the United
slaves in states loyal to the government or occupied by Union troops,
Lincoln proposed three constitutional amendments in his December
1862 State of the Union message to Congress. The first was that
slaves not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation be freed gradually
over a 37-year period, to be completed by January 1, 1900. The second
provided compensation to owners for the loss of their slave property.
The third was that the government transport freed Blacks, at government
expense, out of the country and relocate them in Latin America and
Africa. Lincoln wrote that freed blacks need "new homes [to]
be found for them, in congenial climes, and with people of their
own blood and race." For Lincoln, emancipation and deportation
were inseparably connected. Secretary of the Navy Gideon Wells wrote
in his diary that Lincoln "thought it essential to provide
an asylum for a race which he had emancipated, but which could never
be recognized or admitted to be our equals." As historian Leone
Bennett Jr. puts it in his book Forced
Into Glory: Abraham Lincolnís White Dream (2000), "It
was an article of faith to him [Lincoln] that emancipation and deportation
went together like firecrackers and July Fourth, and that you couldnít
have one without the other."
Congress refused to consider Lincolnís proposals, which Horace Greeley
in the New York Tribune labeled whalesí tubs of "gradualism,
compensation, [and] exportation." None of the Confederate States
took the opportunity to rejoin the Union in the 100-day window offered
and the war continued for another two years and four months. Eight
months later the 13th Amendment was ratified, and slavery
ended everywhere in the United States (without gradualism, compensation,
and White Americans sustained racial and political wounds from the
war and the subsequent Reconstruction that proved deep and long
lasting. Northern abolitionists wanted southern Black slaves to
be freed, but certainly did not want them to move north and live
alongside them. Indiana and Illinois, in particular, had laws that
barred African-Americans from settling. The military occupation
and "Reconstruction" the South was forced to endure after
the war also slowed healing of the wounds. At a gathering of ex-confederate
soldiers shortly before he died in 1870, Robert E. Lee said,
I had foreseen the use those people [Yankees] designed to make
of their victory, there would have been no surrender at Appomattox
Courthouse; no sir, not by me. Had I foreseen these results of
subjugation, I would have preferred to die at Appomattox with
my brave men, my sword in my right hand.
were business and political leaders in the North so intent on keeping
the southern states in the Union? It was, to paraphrase Charles
Dickens, solely a fiscal matter. The principal source of tax revenue
for the federal government before the Civil War was a tariff on
imports. There was no income tax, except for one declared unconstitutional
after its enactment during the Civil War. Tariffs imposed by the
federal government not only accounted for most of the federal budget,
they also raised the price of imported goods to a level where the
less-efficient manufacturers of the northeast could be competitive.
The former Vice-President John C. Calhoun put it this way:
North had adopted a system of revenue and disbursements in which
an undue proportion of the burden of taxation has been imposed
upon the South, and an undue proportion of its proceeds appropriated
to the NorthÖ the South, as the great exporting portion of the
Union, has in reality paid vastly more than her due proportion
of the revenue."
March 1861, the New York Evening Post editorialized on this
either the revenue from duties must be collected in the ports
of the rebel states, or the port must be closed to importations
from abroad, is generally admitted. If neither of these things
be done, our revenue laws are substantially repealed; the sources
which supply our treasury will be dried up; we shall have no money
to carry on the government; the nation will become bankrupt before
the next crop of corn is ripe. There will be nothing to furnish
means of subsistence to the army; nothing to keep our navy afloat;
nothing to pay the salaries of public officers; the present order
of things must come to a dead stop.
the serious financial difficulties the Union would face if the Southern
states were a separate republic on its border engaging in duty-free
trade with Britain, the Post urged the Union to hold on to
its custom houses in the Southern ports and have them continue to
collect duty. The Post goes on to say that incoming ships
to the "rebel states" that try to evade the Northís custom
houses should be considered as carrying contraband and be intercepted.
in Britain looked beyond the rhetoric of "preserve the Union"
and saw what was really at stake. Charles Dickens views on the subject
means so many millions a year lost to the South; secession means
the loss of the same millions to the North. The love of money
is the root of this, as of many other evils. The quarrel between
the North and South is, as it stands, solely a fiscal quarrel.
Marx seconded this view:
war between the North and the South is a tariff war. The war is
further, not for any principle, does not touch the question of
slavery, and in fact turns on the Northern lust for sovereignty.
South fought the war for essentially the same reason that the American
colonies fought the Revolutionary War. The central grievance of
the American colonies in the 18th century was the taxes
imposed on them by Britain. Colonists particularly objected to the
Stamp Act, which required them to purchase an official British stamp
and place it on all documents in order for them to be valid. The
colonists also objected to the import tariff that Britain placed
on sugar and other goods (the Sugar Act).
the enactment of what was called the "Tariff of Abomination"
in 1828, promoted by Henry Clay, the tax on imports ranged between
20-30%. It rose further in March 1861 when Lincoln, at the start
of his presidency, signed the Morrill Tariff into law. This tax
was far more onerous than the one forced on the American colonies
by Britain in the 18th century.
coerced the South to fire the first shots when, against the initial
advice of most of his cabinet, he dispatched ships carrying troops
and munitions to resupply Fort Sumter, site of the customs house
at Charleston. Charleston militia took the bait and bombarded the
fort on April 12, 1861. After those first shots were fired the pro-Union
press branded Southern secession an "armed rebellion"
and called for Lincoln to suppress it.
was adjourned at the time and for the next three months, ignoring
his constitutional duty to call this legislative branch of government
back in session during a time of emergency, Lincoln assumed dictatorial
powers and did things, like raise an army, that only Congress is
supposed to do. He shut down newspapers that disagreed with his
war policy, more than 300 of them. He ordered his military officers
to lock up political opponents, thousands of them. Although the
exact number is not known, Lincoln may well have arrested and imprisoned
more than 20,000 political opponents, southern sympathizers, and
people suspected of being disloyal to the Union, creating what one
researcher has termed a 19th century "American gulag,"
a forerunner of the 20th centuryís political prison and
labor camps in the former Soviet Union. Lincoln denied these nonviolent
dissenters their right of free speech and suspended the privilege
of Habeas Corpus, something only Congress in a time of war
has the power to do. Lincolnís soldiers arrested civilians, often
arbitrarily, without any charges being filed; and, if held at all,
military commissions conducted trials. He permitted Union troops
to arrest the Mayor of Baltimore (then the third largest city in
the Union), its Chief of Police and a Maryland congressman, along
with 31 state legislators. When Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger
Taney wrote an opinion that said these actions were unlawful and
violated the Constitution, Lincoln ignored the ruling.
called up an army of 75,000 men to invade the seven southern states
that had seceded and force them back into the Union. By unilaterally
recruiting troops to invade these states, without first calling
Congress into session to consider the matter and give its consent,
Lincoln made an error in judgment that cost the lives of hundreds
of thousands of Americans. At the time, only seven states had seceded.
But when Lincoln announced his intention to bring these states back
into the Union by force, four additional states Virginia,
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas seceded and joined
the Confederacy. Slavery was not the issue. The issue was the very
nature of the American union. If the President of the United States
intended to hold the Union together by force, they wanted out. When
these four states seceded and joined the Confederacy rather than
send troops to support Lincolnís unconstitutional actions, the Confederacy
became much more viable and the war much more horrible.
the time Lincoln entered politics as a candidate for state legislature
in 1832, he championed a political agenda known as the "American
System." First advocated by his idol and mentor, Henry Clay,
it was a three-part program of protective tariffs, internal improvements,
and centralized banking. This program "tied economic development
to strong centralized national authority," as Robert Johannsen
puts it in Lincoln,
the South, And Slavery. Lincoln believed that import tariffs
were necessary, at the expense of consumers. He believed that American
industries needed to be shielded from foreign competition and cheap
imported goods. The "internal improvements" he advocated
were simply subsidies for industry, i.e., corporate welfare. Abraham
Lincoln was the first president to give us centralized banking,
with paper money not backed by gold.
Constitution of the Confederate States of America forbid protectionist
tariffs, outlawed government subsidies to private businesses, and
made congressional appropriations subject to approval by a two-thirds
majority vote. It enjoined Congress from initiating constitutional
amendments, leaving that power to the constituent states; and limited
its president to a single six-year term. When the South lost, instead
of a Jeffersonian republic of free trade and limited constitutional
government, the stage was set for the United States to become an
American Empire ruled by a central authority. In starting his war
against the Confederate States, Lincoln was not seeking the "preservation
of the Union" in its traditional sense. He sought the preservation
of the Northern economy by means of transforming the federal government
into a centralized welfare-warfare-police state.
failure of the South to win the War for Southern Independence was
a blow to liberty. The Confederate lyrics to the song "Battle
Cry of Freedom" read:
with the eagle
up with the cross!
rally Ďround the bonny flag
rally once again
shout the battle cry of freedom
from the prison camp at Johnsonís Island, Ohio shortly before the
end of the war, my grandparent Louis Hicks walked, barefoot, back
to North Carolina to his home named "Liberty Hall" in
the town of Faison. But instead of enjoying a new birth of freedom,
he and his family, along with other people in the South, had to
endure a twelve-year military occupation and an oppressive Reconstruction
instituted by radical republicans.
on the War for Southern Independence let us hope that the Confederate
Battle Flag that Louis Thomas Hicksí North Carolina regiment carried
with it into battle at Gettysburg, with the cross of Scotlandís
patron saint emblazoned on it, will come to be viewed in the 21st
century, not as an badge of slavery, which it is not, but as a symbol
of opposition to centralized government power and tyranny.
Confederate Battle Flag has 13 white stars superimposed on a blue
Cross of St. Andrew, centered on a red backdrop. Each star represents
a state that seceded from the Union, which includes Kentucky and
Missouri, the last two states to be admitted into the Confederacy
in late 1861. Throughout the war, however, they remained largely
under Union control. St. Andrew was the younger brother of St. Peter
and is the patron saint of Scotland.
The population of the United States in 1860 was 31,101,000,
of which 21,244,000 lived in the North and 10,957,000 in the Confederacy.
In the Confederate states 5,447,000 of these people were white,
133,000 free black, and 3,951,000 were slaves. There were 320,000
deaths in Union forces, 3.2 percent of the total male population;
and 300,000 deaths in the Confederate forces, 9.7 percent of the
(white) male population. This death rate, with the current population
of the United States 284,050,000, would be equivalent to 6.5 million
men being killed today. Most of those killed were teenagers and
men in their 20s.
his First Inaugural Address, for United States Lincoln uses
the term Union. In his Gettysburg Address, however, instead
of Union he uses the word nation, which implies a
closer association of states under centralized control, as opposed
to a looser association connoted by the word Union, of separate
and sovereign states. Likewise, in his Second Inaugural Address
Lincoln only uses the word Union when referring to the country
as it was when he gave his First Inaugural Address four years earlier,
before the war began; he uses the word nation for the country
it had become in 1865. In these two later speeches he says that
the war was fought to preserve the "nation," that the
"nation" shall have a new birth of freedom, and that we
must bind up the "nationís wounds."
a civil war the warring sides battle for control of the central
government. The term "civil war" was coined in England
in the 17th century to identify the war fought between
supporters of Charles I and the Parliamentarians led by Oliver Cromwell
for control of the government. The South had no designs on the federal
government of the North, headquartered in Washington, D. C. It did
not want to run that government. The breakaway Southern States asserted
their independence, like the American colonies did from Britain
eighty-five years before, formed their own Confederate States of
America and placed their seat of government in Richmond, Virginia.
American Republic was founded on the concept that all men are created
equal, with inalienable rights to life, liberty and property. Black
slaves, being sentient human beings, should therefore be as equally
free and independent, with equality under the law, as White human
beings; but, as slaves, they were also someoneís property and subject
to the due process of law in that regard. Federalist Paper No. 54
addresses the problem of counting slaves in the population with
regard to legislative representation, concluding that slaves are
divested as "two-fifths of the MAN" and three-fifths as
capital, or property.
the war Robert E. Lee also wrote, "The best men in the South
have long desired to do away with the institution [of slavery],
and were quite willing to see it abolished. But with them in relation
to this subject is a serious question today. Unless some humane
course, based on wisdom and Christian principles, is adopted, you
do them great injustice in setting them free." (Thomas Nelson
E. Lee: Man and Soldier [New York, 1911], page 38.) Lee
did not own slaves (he freed his in the 1850s), nor did a number
of his most trusted lieutenants, including generals A. P. Hill,
Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, J. E. Johnston, and J.
E. B. Stuart.
source references for these quotes can be found in Charles Adamsí
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession.
Colonists also objected to the search and seizure of their property
without a specific warrant, and to being denied the right of trial
by jury, which the British instituted to help them more easily catch
and imprison smugglers who avoided paying taxes on imported goods.
in the Course of Human Events: Arguing the Case for Southern Secession
(New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000)
this book Charles Adams does to our understanding of the Civil
War what Copernicus did to our ancestorsí understanding of the
solar system. The sun does not rotate around the Earth and slavery
did not cause the Civil War. Adams presents a compelling case
for the true, financial cause of the war. A must read.
Rogers Hummel, Emancipating
Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War
(Chicago: Open Court, 1996)
extensive documentation and in an erudite fashion, the author
shows how the Civil War was, indeed, a disaster for liberty.
The bibliographic essays at the end of each chapter all alone
are worth the price of the book.
W. Springer, War
for What? (Nashville: Bill Coats Ltd., 1990)
little known but very insightful view of the Civil War published
a year before the author died at the age of 92. He puts the
African slave trade, import tariffs, the Southís two-crop economy,
Lincoln, and the true nature of the war into clear focus, anticipating
Adamsí groundbreaking work by a decade.
Gordon (Editor), Secession,
State & Liberty (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers,
articles on secession based on papers presented at a conference
on this subject by the Ludwig von Mises Institute in 1995. Those
by Donald Livingson, Steven Yates, Murray N. Rothbard, Thomas
DiLorenzo, and James Ostrowski are particularly important.
Bennett, Jr., Forced
Into Glory: Abraham Lincolnís White Dream (Chicago: Johnson,
debunks the standard view of Lincoln as "the great emancipator."
He shows that Lincoln believed Blacks to be an inferior race.
Consequently, they could never have equal "political"
rights with White people and be given the full prerogatives of
citizenship. The author presents irrefutable evidence that Lincoln
wanted to have freed Blacks transported, at government expense,
out of the country and relocated somewhere else.
Thomas J. DiLorenzo:
article, in somewhat altered form, was published under the title
"The Economic Causes of the Civil War" in the October
2001 issue of Liberty Magazine.
Miller (send him mail)
lives in the state of Washington with his wife and
youngest son and is a cardiac surgeon in Seattle.
© 2001 LewRockwell.com