02 June 2009

Guest Post - The Upper South

The following piece is a guest post by historian and journalist Douglas Harper. It is posted here with his permission. Douglas Harper is a historian, author, journalist and lecturer based in Lancaster, Pa. He is the author of "If Thee Must Fight:" A Civil War History of Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1990); "An Index of Civil War Soldiers and Sailors from Chester County, Pa." (Chester County Historical Society, 1995); "The Whitman Incident: Revolutionary Revisions to an Ephrata Tale" (Lancaster County Historical Society Journal, 1995); "West Chester to 1865: That Elegant & Notorious Place" (Chester County Historical Society, 1999). Harper is a graduate of Dickinson College, Carlisle, Pa., with a degree in history and English. He has been featured in a BBC production on the Welsh settlements in America, and has been interviewed as a source for historical articles by the Philadelphia Inquirer, Washington Post and a number of other magazines. Mr. Harper's piece, very succinctly, destroys some common notions which are widely popular and promoted in some academic circles about the war. His approach is objective and refreshing.


The secession of 1860-61 and the shooting war that followed were the climax of a long interplay. Like a couple heading into divorce, the regions fought often, in the open and in secret. But they nursed grudges, and what they argued out loud was not always the real issue.

That the North fought the war as a crusade for the rights of black folks, to free the slaves from their chains, is easily exploded and nobody would seriously maintain it nowadays. However, the modern prevailing view is that the Southern Confederacy was a nation based on, and fighting for, slavery. This view allows no other reason for secession, and thus equates Confederate heritage with racism and slavery.

Making out that the Civil War was "about" slavery also has the advantage of being quick, clean, and easy to write. Get a hatful of quotes and you're done. The Confederate leaders and documents supply them in abundance. Taking this position also seems to show an awareness of the slaves' realities, and it adequately reflects the indignation we know we ought to feel at institutionalized human bondage. Economic history, on the other hand, tends to bog down in a turgid tangle of language. And who would want to peel back the easy answers to probe the complexities of the past, when the easy answers feel so good and absolve so much? A small class of bad guys: an aberation in the great American history.

Compare the Southern revolt of 1860 to the colonial uprising of 1776. What moved the colonists to break the ties with the "mother country?" Taxes? Tea? George William Brown, mayor of Baltimore in 1861, was a non-partisan politician and an opponent of secession (Lincoln jailed him anyhow). Yet like many people in his day he understood the move, in the light of the American Revolution, and how small points of disagreement can be the flashpoints of broader conflicts:

"The men of '76 did not fight to get rid of the petty tax of three pence a pound on tea, which was the only tax left to quarrel about. They were determined to pay no taxes, large or small, then or thereafter. Whether the tax was lawful or not was a doubtful question, about which there was a wide difference of opinion, but they did not care for that. Nothing would satisfy them but the relinquishment of any claim of right to tax the colonies, and this they could not obtain. They maintained that their rights were violated. They were, moreover, embittered by a long series of disputes with the mother country, and they wanted to be independent and to have a country of their own. They thought they were strong enough to maintain that position."[1]

No one can deny the importance of slavery to the feud that split the United States, or that the CSA states made protection of slavery one of their central purposes. But the Southern confederacy -- that is, the national government of the CSA -- was no more built on slavery than was the Northern Union. The Confederate Constitution was pretty much a carbon copy of the U.S. Constitution, except that it stipulated that the government could not impose protective tariffs, grant subsidies, or finance internal improvements. (But then, we are constantly told that the South was "all about slavery," so economic points like that don't matter).

On the matter of slavery, it specifically asserted the inviolability of that institution. This was more clear than the U.S. Constitution, but not at odds with it, and Lincoln and many in his camp publicly declared they were willing to amend the U.S. Constitution to make it say the same, if doing so would end the rebellion.

Other than that, you can read the two constitutions side by side for long stretches and not be sure which is which. The CSA Constitution banned slave imports from Africa, proscribed international traffic in slaves, kept the three-fifths clause, and even allowed non-slave states the option of joining the new nation.

Yet the weakness of the "it was all about slavery" argument seems most apparent when you consider that when the shooting began, four future CSA states, with 1.2 million slaves, remained in the Union. The state with the single largest number of slaves of any state, Virginia, was among them. Together, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Arkansas represented half the future CSA's population and resources and held key military installations and armories.

If the entire South was going to be a minority force in the government after 1860, consider how much more so, and how much more vulnerable, the Upper South alone would have been. Yet it was willing to stay, till it saw the course of the Lincoln Administration with regard to force, not to slavery.

The secession of the Upper South, when it came, was hardly a bid to protect slave property. Virginia, Tennessee, even North Carolina, with a hostile anti-slavery United States on their frontier, could never hope to maintain slavery as a viable economic and social institution. Their pre-war complaints about fugitives prove they knew it. The mere presence of "free" states nearby in the 1850s exerted an economic pressure that was rapidly draining slavery out of the Border States.

National union, with slavery intact, was the only guarantee for slavery's continuance in the Upper South. And if you insist that every slave-holder, or slave-holding state, must make choices solely on the basis of interest in slavery, then I will argue that the Border State that remained in the Union did so to protect their slaves. Why else would slaveholders fight for the Union?

As John B. Henderson, the Unionist senator from Missouri, reminded his colleagues, "there are numbers of loyal slaveholders in that state [Missouri], men who have been carrying the flag of their country from the earliest beginning of this rebellion, who have left their homes for the battle-field, leaving their slaves behind them, many of whom are in the service of the country today, and will continue there until the rebellion is over."[2]

I think of Basil L. Gildersleeve, Virginia cavalry veteran and professor (author of a Latin textbook I still use for reference), describing his beloved home state's awkward position in the winter of 1860-61:

Submission is slavery, and the bitterest taunt in the vocabulary of those who advocated secession was “submissionist.” But where does submission begin? Who is to mark the point of encroachment? That is a matter which must be decided by the sovereign; and on the theory that the States are sovereign, each State must be the judge.

The extreme Southern States considered their rights menaced by the issue of the presidential election. Virginia and the Border States were more deliberate; and Virginia’s “pausing” was the theme of much mockery in the State and out of it, from friend and from foe alike. Her love of peace, her love of the Union, were set down now to cowardice, now to cunning. The Mother of States and Queller of Tyrants was caricatured as Mrs. Facing-both-ways; and the great commonwealth ... was charged with trading on her neutrality. Her solemn protest was unheeded. The “serried phalanx of her gallant sons” that should “prevent the passage of the United States forces” was an expression that amused Northern critics of style as a bit of antiquated Southern rodomontade. But the call for troops showed that the rodomontade meant something. Virginia had made her decision; and if the United States forces did not find a serried phalanx barring their way, -— a serried phalanx is somewhat out of date, -— they found something that answered the purpose as well.[3]

What was different about the situation of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, after April 14, 1861? Was slavery any more threatened after Ft. Sumter than before? Nothing in word or deed, with regard to slavery, had changed in the Lincoln Administration between the months of 1861 when Virginia was in the Union and the day she stepped out of it.

How slavery got to be the only acceptable explanation for everything done in the South in the Civil War is a matter of modern historical scholarship going overboard in a horrified attempt to right its old wrongs. I'm convinced future generations will read the tunnel-vision and decide we're all batty.

Gildersleeve, in his essay, describes some of his memories of the war. What he writes is typical; only his expression is more elevated than a hundred other testimonies.

As he's writing, he has before him "The University Memorial, which records the names and lives of the alumni of the University of Virginia who fell in the Confederate war," some 200 of them.

“[A]nd some of the noblest men who figure in its pages were Union men; and the Memorial of the Virginia Military Institute tells the same story with the same eloquence. The State was imperiled, and parties disappeared; and of the combatants in the field, some of the bravest and the most conspicuous belonged to those whose love of the old Union was warm and strong, to whom the severance of the tie that bound the States together was a personal grief. But even those who prophesied the worst, who predicted a long and bloody struggle and a doubtful result, had no question about the duty of the citizen. ... The most intimate friend I ever had, who fell after heroic services, was known by all our circle to be utterly at variance with the prevalent Southern view of the quarrel, and died upholding a right which was not a right to him except so far as the mandate of his State made it a right; and while he would have preferred to see “the old flag” floating over a united people, he restored the new banner to its place time after time when it had been cut down by shot and shell."


"Scant allusion has been made in this paper to the subject of slavery, which bulks so large in almost every study of the war. A similar scantiness of allusion to slavery is noticeable in the Memorial volume, to which I have already referred; a volume which was prepared, not to produce an impression on the Northern mind, but to indulge a natural desire to honor the fallen soldiers of the Confederacy; a book written by friends for friends.

"The rights of the State and the defense of the country are mentioned at every turn; 'the peculiar institution' is merely touched on here and there, except in one passage in which a Virginian speaker maintains that as a matter of dollars and cents it would be better for Virginia to give up her slaves than to set up a separate government, with all the cost of a standing army which the conservation of slavery would make necessary.

"This silence, which might be misunderstood, is plain enough to a Southern man. Slavery was simply a test case .... Except as a test case it is impossible to speak of the Southern view of the institution, for we were not all of the same mind."[4]

The Republicans in the 36th Congress made it clear where the interest lay. Their private correspondence shows them interested in only the appearance of being open to compromise and discussion with the South, for the sake of public opinion. Crittenden's proposal was postponed again and again while the Republicans rushed off to take up the revived Morrill Tariff that had been the promise in exchange for Pennsylvania's votes in 1860, and which was brought up on the second day of the session, despite the secession crisis. The higher duties affected iron, cotton bagging, gunny cloth -- the kind of things that would dip directly into the pockets of Southern planters, big and small. The border state and upper South Congressmen who were risking their careers to keep their states in the union would get no help from that quarter.

"Our national property, our citizens, public officers, and rights must be protected in all the States, and our men-of-war must be stationed off the southern ports to collect the revenue."[5] Bingham of Ohio introduced a bill to authorize collection of U.S. customs from the decks of warships. To the Senate naval appropriations bill, introduced Feb. 11, the Republicans added money for seven new steam warships, light, fast, and heavily armed. Everyone knew what that was about. "It must not be forgotten," the New York Times wrote, "that the 'coercion' by which the Federal Government will seek to preserve the integrity of the Union and the supremacy of the Constitution, must be coercion by sea. It must be mainly a matter of blockades." [Feb. 8, 1861]. After much contention, the amendment passed, 27-17.

At the same time they were striving to enforce the onerous laws on the South, they were cutting off the beneficial services; the same Congress that was insisting the tariff continue to be paid was voting to authorize the U.S. postmaster general to cut off mail service in the South.

1. George W. Brown, "Baltimore & the Nineteenth of April, 1861," N. Murray, for Johns Hopkins University, 1887, reprinted with an introduction by Kevin Conley Ruffner, Johns Hopkins, 2001.
2. Congressional Globe, July 10, 1862, p.3231.
3. "The Creed of the Old South," The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 69, issue 411, January 1892.
4. ibid.
5. Isaac N. Morris, Jan. 16, 1861.


James F. Epperson said...

"What was different about the situation of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, after April 14, 1861?" --- A shooting war had started. Both Virginia and Tennessee had passed legislative resolutions some months earlier which declared that if the crisis could not be resolved peacefully, they would each "go South." Events at Fort Sumter indicated that the crisis would not be resolved peacefully.

Jubilo said...

Dear Old Dom.,
Interesting post ! I do not however think one can ignore Stephen's "Cornerstone" Speech, the ridiculousness of the 3/5ths law, nor the fact that almost to a man the "Fire-eaters", were adamant about re-opening the African slave trade .The tradition of great Southern statesmen was not evident in the Confederate government . They were backward,provincial and in most cases, wrong.
Good article concerning ties on teh "Manliness" site; Father's day is fast approaching.
David Corbett

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello David. I believe Mr. Harper alludes to the Cornerstone speech in his remarks about "Confederate leaders." Furthermore, Harper has written a separate piece on the Cornerstone speech here:


He's quite a prolific writer. I'm surprised he's not wider known.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

James - he's specifically referring to the institution of slavery in posing the question.

James F. Epperson said...

"However, the modern prevailing view is that the Southern Confederacy was a nation based on, and fighting for, slavery." --- I think the historical record supports this view of things, Mr. Harper's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. All you have to do is read the things the secessionists themselves wrote and said. Just go to the website linked to my name for a sampling.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Mr. Harper specifically addressed "the things the secessionists themselves wrote and said", your website comments notwithstanding.

James F. Epperson said...

"James - he's specifically referring to the institution of slavery in posing the question." --- I understood that, and I think my comment addresses that. Both VA and TN were on record that, if the crisis could not be resolved, they would go with their "slave-holding" brethren. That suggests to me that slavery had a lot to do with what they did.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I think you're missing the whole point of the question.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

If I say to someone, "I'm going with my beautiful wife" - would you suggest I'm insinuating that I'm also beautiful?

Your logic is seriously flawed, to say the least.

Michael Bradley said...

Mr. Epperson is ignoring the argument given in the guest posting. Of course one can finds quotes "proving" the Confederacy was based on slavery. One can find quotes "proving" it wasn't. I can give quotes "proving" that waterboarding is not torture, I can provide quotes "proving" it is. Like Mr. Epperson's quotes on slavery, these also come from govenment leaders.
The guest posting argues that the Upper South did not secede over slavery but over Lincoln's call for troops to invade the Deep South. The issue of slavery alone was not enough to bring about the secession of Arkansas, Tennessee, North Caroling, and Virginia. Multiple causes brought about their secession. The multicausal argument is well established among historians, academic and amateur. For many years it was the prevailing argument.
The argument that the war is all about slavery is of rather redent origin among academic historians. Over the years there have been several interpretations about what caused the war. The current monocausalist interpretation will not always be "the modern interpretation," it has never been the universal interpretation.
Mr. Epperson is taking the position that he has "the truth" while he actually has "a truth." This is the case with all monocausalists.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Dr. Bradley - well stated.

"The issue of slavery alone was not enough to bring about the secession of Arkansas, Tennessee, North Caroling, and Virginia. Multiple causes brought about their secession."


Thanks for your input. No one, including Mr. Harper, is suggesting that slavery was not a central issue of the war but, as Harper and you both point out, it was just one of the issues.

Border Ruffian said...

JF Epperson-
"However, the modern prevailing view is that the Southern Confederacy was a nation based on, and fighting for, slavery." --- I think the historical record supports this view of things, Mr. Harper's opinion to the contrary notwithstanding. All you have to do is read the things the secessionists themselves wrote and said. Just go to the website linked to my name for a sampling.

The North also left us some documents-

“That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of powers on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depends…”

-from Republican Party Platform, 1860


“Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled…:
ARTICLE THIRTEEN, No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

-Proposed amendment to the United States Constitution, March 1861


“I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution…has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service….I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”

Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861


“…this war is not waged upon our part…for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and to preserve the Union…”

Resolution passed by the United States House of Representatives, July 22, 1861 (Vote: 117-2). Similar resolution passed by the Senate, July 25, 1861 (Vote: 30-5).

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Right BR. We can pull quotes all day as Michael notes, but standing back and looking at the whole picture gives a much clearer picture and leaves the morality play to those who, for some reason, believe it necessary to portray the South as the bad guys and the North as the good guys.

Border Ruffian said...

...almost to a man the "Fire-eaters", were adamant about re-opening the African slave trade..."


Even among the Fire-Eaters those promoting the slave trade were in the minority.

And I believe they did it more to stir up controversy (to cause more division between North and South) rather than for any realistic attempt to re-open the trade.

James F. Epperson said...

Mr. Epperson is ignoring nothing. He perhaps is not as convinced as some of you are that Mr. Harper's arguments are on target. There is a difference.

We have to be clear about things. IMO, there are three separate questions: (1) Why did the South secede? (2) Why did the resulting political crisis lead to war? (3) Why did the individual soldiers join their respective armies? IMO, the evidence is simply overwhelming that the Cotton States seceded over slavery. The Upper South (VA, TN, NC, AR) joined with them when actual shooting broke out for the (IMO obvious) reason that they had more in common with the Cotton South than the North; a *large* component of that commonality was slavery.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"The Upper South (VA, TN, NC, AR) joined with them when actual shooting broke out for the (IMO obvious) reason that they had more in common with the Cotton South than the North; a *large* component of that commonality was slavery."

I think Mr. Harper presents a strong argument to the contrary on that point James. I agree with him. I suppose we interpret the facts differently. I, too, think the evidence overwhelming.

Michael Bradley said...

Mr. Epperson, I respect your right to hold that opinion even while I am convinced you are quite wrong. Tennessee never said it would "go south" if war came. Tennessee voted twice on secession--once in Feb and once in June 1861. Slavery was an equal factor both times but the second vote was strongly in favor of declaring independence--the actual phrase used in 1861.

The commonality with the Deep South was a matter of blood and family, politics(tariffs and internal impovements),questions of who should dominate--state or national govenment--which went back to Madison and Hamilton, as well as slavery.

Monocausalism is too simplistic to stand the test of quesioning. That is why some historians wish to ban the questions--as has been noted in another thread on this blog. That is also why anyone who presents a multicausal interpretation of the causes of the way is likely to find himself the object of ad hominem attacks--as has occurred on so many other C.W. blogs.

James F. Epperson said...

"Tennessee never said it would "go south" if war came." -- TN's statement was not as explicit as VA's, but IMO point #5 of the legislative resolutions of 1/28/61 is functionally equivalent: If the political crisis cannot be resolved, then the slaveholding states (of which Tennessee was one) should form their own new Union. An editorial from a Nashville paper (1/25/61) seems to support this view of things. "That the sympathies of Tennessee are emphatically Southern, no one will deny. She will take no course, in any event, calculated to militate against the interests of her Southern sisters."

And, of course, Gov. Harris's message to the legislature (1/7/61) spends a lot of time on the threat to slavery posed by Lincoln's election.

It is interesting to read the resolutions of Putnam County, TN (4/22/61). Even though this is a week after Fort Sumter, their initial complaint is not about the Federal government making war on the states, but instead is: "The antislavery party is the enemy of the Union and the Constitution, advocating the equality of the negro and the white races and the abolition of slavery." Eventually they do complain about the fleet sent to Fort Sumter, but they led off with slavery. I find that revealing.

Nonetheless I will concede that the Upper South's secession was less focused on slavery than was that of the Deep South. It is, IMO, simply impossible to argue the point with regard to the Deep South.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

One thing that Mr. Harper's post reminds of is the varying degrees of opinion in the South regarding secession and the reasons for separating. As Robert Moore has pointed out that not all Southerners were uniform in embracing secession, those who did embrace it did it for different and varying degrees of reason.

This makes the suggestion that the South seceded solely over slavery an over-simplistic and anti-intellectual view that reveals either a laziness in study or an agenda, perhaps both.

James F. Epperson said...

"This makes the suggestion that the South seceded solely over slavery an over-simplistic and anti-intellectual view that reveals either a laziness in study or an agenda, perhaps both." --- There is a third possibility: A reliance on the historical record, which habit makes a certain segment of the modern Southern population very uncomfortable. The variation that Mr. Moore speaks of does not gainsay the vast weight of sentiment and evidence on slavery as *the* cause of the break, to the virtual (not literal) exclusion of all other causes. Does this mean we can't find other causes spoken of or written about? Of course not. It does mean that slavery's preponderance as a cause was so great that speaking of it as *the* cause is, at worst, a minor over-statement.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Perhaps a different interpretation of the historical record should have been added by yours truly as a third possibility.

It was central to the break, no question. But I believe saying it was "the cause" is more than a minor over-statement. As always James, I appreciate your civil discourse and disagreement.

Your input is always welcome. You always manifest the persona of a gentleman and I truly appreciate that.

James F. Epperson said...

Let me end this discussion with a (true) story which I think illustrates my point very well.

I started my website (the one tagged to my name) in 1996. At that time I actually was fairly agnostic about Civil War "causes." I simply wanted to archive some documents that I found myself constantly returning to in online discussions. I started with the four state "declarations of causes" and a very few others. Over time, I found more that I thought bore on the issue of secession. As God is my witness, I was not pursuing an agenda. My assumption going in was that folks would supply me with documents supporting X, Y, and Z, (not slavery) as the cause of secession. It never happened. The only document given to me that did not emphasize slavery as the cause of secession was Rhett's "Address to the Slaveholding States" which a friend had confused with the South Carolina Declaration of Causes, and which she typed up for me to include. No one has suggested anything else to me. (Slight correction: Some years ago a woman got all upset with me and suggested I should include some of Michael Hill's editorials from the League of the South. I told her I was only interested in material from the 1860s.) I will happily add any document which bears on the causes of secession to my site. The proportion of evidence indicated on my site, I fear, is a reflection of the available evidence.

Border Ruffian said...

A review of the supposed causes of secession:

* Fugitive Slave Law

* Slavery in the Territories

Doesn't the South concede these by setting up two separate nations?

With two nations no fugitive slave law will be in effect.

The only territory claimed by the Confederates was the south half of the present-day states of New Mexico and Arizona. Not exactly suited for cotton plantations.

* Protection of Slave Property

The South already had this in the old Union.

So what's left?-

Independence stops the flow of wealth from South to North.

Michael Bradley said...

Mr. Epperson,
The anti-slavery party was an enemy of the Constutution as it was in 1861. That document clearly and firmly recognized slavery as legal and protected by the fundamental law of the nation. The anti-slavery party had made it clear that they were unwilling to accept the rule of law as defined by the Constutution. With the South in the Union there was no chance of amending the Constutution and no chance of getting a Supreme Court justice approved who would reverse the 5-4 Dred Scott Decision, even if it should come up for a re-hearing. The anti-slavery party had turned to domestic terorism to achieve its goals. There lies the seed of secession--the non-slaveowning majority in the South was convinced that domestic peace and security could be achieved only by separation.

I find it interesting that you cite statements made by various leislative bodies in Tennessee, state and local, as "evidence" that Tennessee intended to "go south." Remember, Tennessee voted to declare itself out of the Union, a vote of the people. The various legislative bodies spoke only for themselves and, at most, can be viewed as hints that they reflected the views of the voters.

At any rate,in your post the point is conceded that the Upper South was different in its motivation from the Deep South. By this concession the argument that the war was brought about by a single cause is disproved.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


This nothing new. Harper acknowledged this in his post:

"Making out that the Civil War was "about" slavery also has the advantage of being quick, clean, and easy to write. Get a hatful of quotes and you're done. The Confederate leaders and documents supply them in abundance."

I'm not going to go through his post point by point, but he follows that quote with his reasoning. Again, you're not adding anything with this comment not already pointed out by the original post.

Marc Ferguson said...

"Now while I think as badly of slavery as Horace Greeley did I am not ashamed that my family were slaveholders. It was our inheritance - Neither am I ashamed that my ancestors were pirates & cattle thieves. People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war - as she said in her Secession proclamation - because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding."
-John Singleton Mosby to Samuel Chapman, 1907
Gilder Lehrman Document Number: GLC03921.21

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


Like James' last comment, this adds nothing to the discussion.

From Harper's original post:

"Making out that the Civil War was "about" slavery also has the advantage of being quick, clean, and easy to write. Get a hatful of quotes and you're done. The Confederate leaders and documents supply them in abundance."

We can play the quote game all day long:

"First, the most determined anti-slavery man, if he have fairness of mind, will grant, when he understands the case, that African slavery is not the cause, but only the occasion, of the Southern resistance. The cause for which this people contend is constitutional right. It is but a circumstance that the right to the labour of their slaves happened to be the particular in which the sacred authority of law was assailed. . ."

R.L. Dabney

"It has been said that General Jackson "fought for slavery and tho Southern Confederacy with the unshaken conviction that both were to endure." This statement is true with regard to the latter, but I am very confident that he would never have fought for the sole object of perpetuating slavery."

Mrs. T.J. Jackson

Big whoop.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Since everyone has aired their views and things are becoming repetitive, I'm closing comments on this post.

Thanks to all for your comments and input.


Marc Ferguson said...

Harper actually provides no analysis at all of the background conflict leading to secession, but only asserts that it is simplistic to attribute it to slavery and of course knocks down the usual strawmen. Of course it is simplistic to merely assert that slavery caused the war. How conflict over slavery -its economic, political, social, and cultural dimensions - resulted in a civil war is complex. All Harper really does is make an argument against secession for the sake of protecting slavery, something many people in the South also did in the winter of 1860-61. They lost the argument. Whatever clever, or not so clever, arguments are made to avoid identifying conflict over slavery as the fundamental cause of secession, and therefore the war, I always end up asking myself such questions as: "Why did the secession documents cite almost exclusively preservation of slavery as their motivation and send out commissioners to the upper South and border states to argue that secession was necessary to protect slavery? Why did the seceding states refer to themselves as the "slave states" and not the anti-tariff states? Why did all attempts at compromise to avoid secession focus EXCLUSIVELY on the issue of slavery?" I quoted Mosby, knowing that Harper had attempted to inoculate himself such evidence by dismissing it in advance, because Mosby himself was reacting to what he saw as the rewriting of history and the role of slavery in secession and war.


KnightErrant said...

If one actually reads the speeches delivered in defense of 1861 secession one finds defense of slavery the principle casus belli. There are volumes of examples, to give one:

Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, March 21, 1861 (the Cornerstone Speech) ~ "The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution -- African slavery as it exists amongst us -- the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution....[Our new government] foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery -- subordination to the superior race -- is his natural and normal condition."

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


The Cornerstone speech is a favorite of those who wish to make your argument. But there's much more to consider regarding that speech and Stephens' view on slavery and secession. I would recommend historian Douglas Harper's excellent analysis of the Cornerstone speech here:


Thanks for your input.

Fogshredder said...

Gee Richard,
I notice you closed comments just in time to exclude my last one, yet almost two weeks later decided to add another one. So much for your oft-proclaimed commitment to the free exchange of ideas.


Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...


You're right. My apologies. I actually had forgotten I had closed comments. The comment previously omitted has been posted, though I think you missed Harper's point and your contention that all Harper does "is make an argument against secession for the sake of protecting slavery" is ludicrous.