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THE WAR FOR THE UNION, 1861–65.
The Causes of the Civil War.
The documents, wherein the politicians of South Carolina
attempted to justify her course, furnish at once the reason for secession and for the ultimate
defeat of the South in the War. So far as governmental ideas were concerned, the leaders of public opinion in the South in 1861 occupied the same ground that their great-grandfathers had occupied in 1776. Volumes have been written expounding the arguments for and against Staterights. It is not necessary for the proper understanding of the points at issue in 1861 to go into these arguments. The Southern States which seceded first and last were, broadly speaking, agricultural communities. This fact had led to the introduction of slavery in the beginning, and slavery, once established, had prevented those communities from becoming other than agricultural. There was only one city of any considerable importance in the whole slave-holding section, south of the Potomac. This was New Orleans, which, in 1860, contained a population of one hundred and sixty-eight thousand. Moreover, its prosperity was due in great measure to the fact that it was, to a greater extent then than now, the entrepôt for the commerce of the Mississippi Valley. The North, on the other hand, had developed into a country of
The Causes of the Civil War.
diversified interests, agriculture, manufactures, and commerce. The population was dense compared with that of the South. The city of New York alone contained eight hundred thousand inhabitants, and the population of Philadelphia was estimated at over half a million; while Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St Louis each contained over one hundred thousand souls. Moreover, throughout the North — with the exception of the newly settled North-west — there were to be found, every few miles along the lines of steam communication, thriving manufacturing and commercial towns, some of them like Cleveland, Albany, and Lowell approaching the dimensions of cities. Of the one hundred and seven cotton mills in operation, ninety-nine were in the North. The material interests of the two sections were therefore entirely unlike. The North had outgrown the economic conditions of 1776, and at the same time had developed a new set of political theories. The representatives of each section, as if unconscious of the true nature of the dispute, endeavoured to justify their positions by appeals to the Constitution and by arguments based on that instrument. Mr Lodge has shown the fallacy of this mode of reasoning in his comments on Mr Webster's “Reply to Hayne.” He asserts that in 1787-88 “there was not a man in the country ... who regarded the new system as anything but an experiment entered upon by the States, and from which each and every State had the right peaceably to withdraw, a right which was very likely to be exercised.” Gerry had stated the case very well at the time the constitution of the Senate was under consideration in the federal Convention. He then said: We are neither the same nation nor different nations. We ought not, therefore, to pursue the one or the other of these ideas too closely.” The Constitution of the United States, therefore, permitted of development in either or in both directions. Farther on, in speaking of the Nullification episode, Mr Lodge says: “The times had changed
and with them the popular conception of the government." Between 1830 and 1860 the “times” had changed still more, and the conception of the nature of the federal government held by the mass of the people of the North in 1860 was substantially that which Webster had laid down in his great speech. They believed the United States to be a nation. The mass of the Southern people held to the constitutional theories of Calhoun. Their idea of the nature of the general government may be gathered from the safeguards which the framers of the Constitution of the Confederacy placed around the States. In that document it is stated, for instance, that in the formation of the government each State “acted in its sovereign and independent character.” In the Senate of the Confederacy, each State was represented by two Senators; but in certain cases, the votes should be taken by States and not by poll as is always the rule in the Senate of the United States. The State legislatures of the Confederate States possessed the right to impeach officers of the general government, and the process of amendment was simplified and made easy. On the other hand, the States of the Confederacy were limited in the exercise of the right to confer State citizenship.
The Civil War was fought to determine which of these Underlying
conceptions of the nature of the federal tie should be adopted as the true interpretation
of the Constitution of the United States. As this interpretation is historically uncertain, we cannot speak of the war as a rebellion, for it was fought, so to say, to determine whether the seceders were rebels or not. Then, too, a movement on such a vast scale and extending over such a long space of time is something more than a rebellion even when unsuccessful. Furthermore, the war was not begun to secure the destruction of slavery, although slavery was abolished as a result of the conflict. It may be regarded, however, from a Southern point of view, as a war waged to
Causes of the
Nature of the War.
perpetuate slavery, since slavery was at the bottom of the social and material distinctions which separated the country into two irreconcilable sections.
A Northern historical student, who has begun to study these matters since the close of the war, finds it difficult to understand why the Southern leaders
position, 1861. chose the occasion of Lincoln's election to put the secession theory into practice - especially as failure meant the establishment of nationalism. Lincoln had received an overwhelming majority of the electoral votes; but he had polled only a minority of the popular vote — the Republican ballots numbering one million eight hundred thousand to two million eight hundred thousand cast for the other candidates. Moreover, the Republicans were at first the smaller party in both Houses of Congress and were only placed in a majority by the withdrawal of the Senators and Representatives of the seceding States. Plainly, Mr Lincoln, the President of a minority and supported by a minority in Congress, had no mandate from the country to destroy Southern institutions or to establish Republican theories of nationalism. So long as the Southerners remained in Congress, it would have been impossible for him to do these things or either of them. In point of fact, the Republicans could not have destroyed slavery so long as a condition of peace continued. The levying of war by the Southern leaders completely changed the aspect of affairs. The Republicans gained control of Congress, and the President became entitled to exercise his “war powers the constitutional commander-in-chief of the army and navy of the United States. Years before, John Quincy Adams had warned the slave-owners of their danger. “From the instant that
your slave-holding States become the theatre of war,” he said, “from that instant the war-powers of the Constitution extend to interference with the institution of slavery in every way." These words were uttered by ex-President Adams in
1836. Recurring to the subject in 1842, he stated that in time of war, whether civil or foreign, municipal institutions give place to military authority. At such a time “so far from its being true that the States where slavery exists have the exclusive management of the subject, not only the President of the United States, but the commander of the army has power to order the universal emancipation of the slaves.” The Southern slave-holders were undoubtedly correct in believing that the moral sense of the people of the North was opposed to slavery; and that, therefore, the institution of slavery was doomed. It was this conviction that led to secession the election of Lincoln was only the pretext. It is probable that very many Southern leaders did not
expect that separation would be of long conProbability of a Compro tinuance. They hoped to make better terms
out of the Union than in it. The people of the North seemed to have reached the end of what might be called peaceable compromise; secession might bring about coercive compromise, so to speak. If Jackson had had his way in 1833, or had Taylor lived two years longer, the efficacy of this new instrument might have been earlier tested.
The consequences of failure never m to have presented themselves to the Southern leaders. Probably they had never regarded failure as possible. The Southerners gave a new example of that condition of ignorance of the feelings and capacities of one's neighbours which is not unfamiliar to the student of European history. The people of the North and of the South, although living under one government, were wider apart than the peoples of many nations of modern times. On the surface, there ,seemed to be a basis for the confidence of the slave-holders.
The area of the United States devoted to slavery was greater than that dedicated to free labour.
A cursory examination of the map, therefore, would seem to settle the question in favour of the slave-power. Slavery, however, was