Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Charleston Happenings

Fort Sumpter. Source.

Following South Carolina’s secession, a delegation was sent to Washington, DC to demand that President Buchanan order the United States troops to hand over the Federal held property in what they considered to be the sovereign state of South Carolina. The main problem was with the forts in Charleston Harbor. There were far too few men stationed in them, around 80 in Fort Moultrie and the rest were virtually empty. Moultrie was indefensible because it was intended to fight off attackers from the sea, and on the land side the sand dunes had been allowed to build up to the top of the wall. On the night of December 26th, Major Robert Anderson moved his troops in boats to the stronger Fort Sumter, on an island on the other side of the Harbor. They moved very quietly for fear of the groups of state militia which patrolled the area, the transfer was undetected until the next morning.

South Carolina considered that the Federal troops were foreigners invading their state and demanded their surrender, but Anderson refused. They were low on food and supplies, but they were determined not to surrender and hold out as long as possible.  

Major Anderson, commander of the fort

Friday, December 24, 2010

Declaration of the Immediate Causes...

Secession Convention
150 years ago today South Carolina adopted a “Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union.” You can read that declaration here. The paper was to tell the world why they were leaving the Union. We will spend a little time looking at what they said.

War for Independence

They began with the history of the War for Independence and beyond. They declared that the war was to preserve from Great Britain “the right of a State to govern itself; and the right of a people to abolish a Government when it becomes destructive of the ends for which it was instituted. And concurrent with the establishment of these principles, was the fact, that each Colony became and was recognized by the mother Country a FREE, SOVEREIGN AND INDEPENDENT STATE.”


They also held that because they voluntarily joined the Union by ratifying the Constitution, they had the rights of the laws of contract.  “We maintain that in every compact between two or more parties, the obligation is mutual; that the failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement, entirely releases the obligation of the other...” Therefore they assert that they have a right to leave because as they are about to say, they believe the federal government had not fulfilled its Constitutional duties.

Fugitive Slaves

Their first grievance was the violation of the fugitive slave law. In the Constitution (as we have previously seen) the states were required to return escaped slaves to their masters. But with the rise of the abolition movement against slavery, the Northern states passed laws which rejected their Constitutional requirement because they did not believe slavery was just.

Resistance to Slavery

They also complained that even though the US Constitution left it it to each individual state to govern itself, the other states denounced the institution of slavery as a sin and encouraged the slaves to escape or rebel against their masters. They also said that they were no longer equal members of the Union when a candidate for President had been elected, Abraham Lincoln, who said that the, “Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free.” Therefore they properly feared that they would be under attack from the Federal government because they held slaves.

Separation from the Union

They concluded by saying this:
We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.
You may recognize that they are using the exact same language that the founders used in the Declaration of Independence. They were pointing back the the War for Independence and claimed that they had the right to do the same thing in 1860.

Concluding Thoughts

Notice in this document that South Carolina’s main reason to leave the Union was not that the North did not have slaves. It was because they believed that the Constitution had been violated by the states ignoring the fugitive slave law, and that it would be broken further when the federal government headed by Abraham Lincoln would attempt to eradicate slavery from the Southern states.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Slave Trade

A Slave Ship
Most people today confuse Southern slavery with the slave trade, but they were actually very different things. The slave trade was the process of buying kidnapped slaves from Africa and bringing them over to Europe or America. By the time of the drafting of the US Constitution many people realized that this was an evil that should be outlawed, but because some states would not join the new nation if the slave trade was not protected for some length of time, the Congress was not allowed to outlaw it until 1808. However, it may surprise you which states opposed the slave trade. Virginia, although it had the highest percentage of slaves at 39%, had already outlawed the slave trade and had no problem with the Congress outlawing it has well. It was the states in the deep south that supported the slave trade.

Even though the North did not have a large number of slaves, they were the ones that owned and manned the ships that carried on the slave trade. Thomas Jefferson wrote this about the debate over the Declaration of Independence:
The clause too, reprobating the enslaving [of] the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who on the contrary still wished to continue it. Our northern brethren also I believe felt a little tender under those censures; for tho' their people have very few slaves themselves yet they had been pretty considerable carriers of them to others.1
By 1808 several more states had outlawed the slave trade and Congress outlawed it on January 1st, the earliest date that it was permitted to by the Constitution. When the Southern States left the Union and formed the Confederacy, not only did they not try to reestablish the slave trade, it was actually outlawed in the Confederate Constitution. They did not want to be associated with what they considered the evil practice of the slave trade.

1. Autobiography of Thomas Jefferson, p. 16-17. Source

Monday, December 20, 2010

South Carolina Secedes

Secession Convention
As soon as South Carolina heard of the election of the Republican anti-slavery candidate Abraham Lincoln, the General Assembly of South Carolina called for the election of delegates to a Convention to consider secession from the Union. While the convention was gathering, a group of Southern Senators and Representatives wrote this:
To our Constituents: The argument is exhausted. All hope of relief in the Union, through the agency of committees, Congressional legislation, or constitutional amendments, is extinguished, and we trust the South will not be deceived by appearances or the pretence of new guarantees. The Republicans are resolute in the purpose to grant nothing that will or ought to satisfy the South. We are satisfied the honor, safety, and independence of the Southern people are to be found only in a Southern Confederacy —a result to be obtained only by separate State secession—and that the sole and primary aim of each slaveholding State ought to be its speedy and absolute separation from an unnatural and hostile Union.1
The convention convened on December 17th and on the first day passed a unanimous resolution to secede. On December 20th, 1860, 150 years ago today, they again unanimously passed the Ordinance of Secession which was their official statement that they were seceding from the Union and becoming independent states. A few days later they wrote a document which declared their reasons for separation, which we will discuss at that time.

At this point the question for the North was whether or not the South had a Constitutional right to secede. It had been threatened by several states North and South previously, but now one had actually tried it. Would they allow South Carolina to leave the Union peaceably or would they use force to attempt to bring them back?

1. The Century May 1887 – October 1887 (New York: The Century Co, 1887) p. 829. Source.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Crittenden Compromise

150 years ago today John Crittenden introduced a bill into the Senate which was intended to stop the Union from collapsing. Crittenden was an influential senator from Kentucky who had served as attorney general and governor of Kentucky. His idea was to add six amendments to the Constitution and enact several laws in Congress.
John J. Crittenden

1st Amendment

The first suggested amendment declared that the line between the slave and free state would be 36 degrees, 30 minutes, the same as in the Missouri Compromise which was established in 1820 but later overturned. Slavery would be prohibited north of the line and allowed below, whether as a territory or state. This argument had gone back many years and was complicated by the fact that if a state was let in it would swing the balance toward the side it came in on, slave or free.

The green line marks the proposed barrier between free and slave states

2nd and 3rd Amendments

In these articles Congress was to be forbidden to outlaw slavery in areas over which it had control, such as military posts or the District of Columbia.

4th Amendment

Congress was to be forbidden to prohibit the transportation of slaves across state lines. It did not bother to stop them from prohibiting it in state lines, because they recognized that the federal government does not have control of what happens in a state except in very special circumstances. The conflict preceding the civil war was over whether or not slave states were to be let into the union, because the Constitution allows the Congress to refuse admission for any reason.

5th Amendment

The Congress was allowed to pay the owners of slaves the value of their slave if the fugitive slave law could not be enforced. The fugitive slave law was part of the Constitution that stated that legal slaves who escaped to other states were to be returned to their masters. This was another big issue before the war of whether or not that law should be enforced. This amendment would empower the Congress to reimburse an owner whose slave could not be recovered because of an abolitionist mob or something of that nature.

6th Amendment

The last proposed amendment would make it impossible to remove the other five so that the agreement could never be revoked. This would protect the Southern states if the free states gained a majority in Congress.

Other Laws

The compromise also proposed several other laws which would require that the fugitive slave law be enforced. He also suggested a law for the suppression of the African slave trade. We will discuss the slave trade in a later post, but most people today do not realize that the slave trade had been outlawed since 1808, the first year that it could be Constitutionally forbidden.

Abraham Lincoln as a candidate for President

The Fate of the Compromise

The Crittenden Compromise was referred to the Senate committee of thirteen. Lincoln, the president-elect, sent out letters to try to get the compromise rejected. This is what he wrote to E. B. Washburne regarding the compromise:

Prevent as far as possible, any of our friends from demoralizing themselves and our cause by entertaining propositions for compromise of any sort on ‘slavery extension.’ There is no possible compromise upon it but which puts us under again and leaves all our work to do over again. … On that point hold firm, as with a chain of steel.1

Lincoln was successful and all five Republicans voted against it. Jefferson Davis and another member agreed since the compromise was worthless if the Republicans did not agree.

Lincoln’s Destruction of the Union

Here Lincoln had a chance to preserve the Union, and he rejected it. At times during the war he said that they were fighting to preserve the Union, with or without slavery.2 But this was simply not true. He would not do anything that would further the spread of slavery, and that is why he opposed the Crittenden Compromise. His true motives are revealed in his famous “House Divided” speech which he gave on his nomination to run for President:

‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery, will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become alike lawful in all the States, old as well as new -- North as well as South.3
In another speech he said “I think Slavery is wrong, morally, and politically. I desire that it should be no further spread in these United States, and I should not object if it should gradually terminate in the whole Union.”4 Lincoln threw away his chance to save the Union because he believed that slavery needed to be removed from the United States.

Note: The Crittenden Compromise can be read here.
1. McClure’s Magazine, November, 1989. p. 163. Source
2. “My paramount object 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 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; and whoat I forbear, I forbear beacuse I do not believe it would help save the Union.” The Century, November 1888-April 1889. (New York: The Century Co, 1889) p. 441. Source
3. Debates of Lincoln and Douglas (Scituate, MA: Digital Scanning Inc., 1998) p. 115. Source
4. Ibid, p. 256.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Causes of the War - Economics

One of the four causes of the Southern secession and the War Between the States was economic impoverishment of the South. While it was not their main complaint, they believed that the North had pillaged them. In the Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, they said:
They have impoverished the slave-holding States by unequal and partial legislation, thereby enriching themselves by draining our substance.1
The roots of the economic disagreements went all the way back to the United States Constitution. In the writing of the Constitution the founders had to consider how to raise money for the federal government. Rather than modern taxes such as the income tax, they chose only two, the head tax and the tariff.2 A tariff is a tax on imports or exports. The federal government was not intended to have any jurisdiction inside a state. It was only allowed to regulate commerce that crossed state borders. Therefore it was only given the right to tax goods that crossed the national border. The problem with a tariff is that the government can easily use it to give advantages or punishments to particular industries or states. The Constitution specifically forbade different tariff rates for different states,3 but as we will see it still can be unfair even while charging the same rate.


The first type of tariff is on exports, where the merchant has to pay a tax to export products from the nation. Exports are rarely used because they have a direct and visible hit on a specific industry. If a Representative from North Carolina votes for a tariff on tobacco, the tobacco producers from his home state will not re-elect him because he raised their taxes.


Taxes on imports charge foreign producers to bring the product into your country. This helps in the home industry because they can raise their prices, or be less efficient. If a government charges a 20% tariff on imports of cars, when a foreign company makes a $10,000 car, in the United States they will have to sell it for $12,000 to over the import tariff. But this means that the American car manufactures will be be able to raise the prices on their cars, say 15%, and still be cheaper than the foreign car manufacturers. Their manufacturing costs can be the same, but one is $12,000 and the other $11,500. A tariff raises the price of domestic goods because the government has inflated the cost of foreign goods.

Wealth Discrepancy

Before the War for Independence, America primarily produced raw materials and shipped them to the manufacturers in England, so once they separated from England, Washington and the subsequent presidents wanted to encourage Americans to start manufacturing. To do this tariffs were placed on manufactured imports. But this created a wealth discrepancy between the Northern and the Southern states. The North was primarily manufacturing and the South mostly produced raw materials. The North were able to get more profit by raising their prices because the foreign competition had to pay the tariffs. This economic situation caused a discrepancy in wealth between the Southern and the Northern states.


The issue caused by protective tariffs was not the main cause of the war. It was less important than other issues, but it did play into the decision by the Southern States to leave the Union.

1. Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union, 1861. Source.
2. “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;” Constitution, article 1, section 8. Source.
3. “No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.” Constitution, article 1, section 9. Source.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Real Causes of the Civil War

Before we can understand who was right in the Civil War and the effects that it has had on America today, we first need to understand what caused it. If you ask the average American today what caused the Civil War, he would tell you it was because the North wanted to free the slaves. But that is not true. The idea that the war was fought over slavery is the biggest misconception about it today. The war was fought over whether or not states had the right to secede. Lincoln wrote this during the war:
My paramount object 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 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; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.1
However, as we will see through the next few weeks, Lincoln frequently lied. He did have a chance to save the Union and preserve slavery, but he rejected it. But most of the Northern soldiers were fighting to preserve the Union, not to end slavery.

If you look deeper and examine the causes of secession, then you will find slavery played a big role in causing the Southern states to attempt to leave the Union. But even that it is not as clear cut as most make it out to be. There were also economic and religious reasons that went into the decision to leave the Union.

There were four main causes of succession and the war which do overlap at some points. We will look at these as a progression, not in order of importance. First there were economic reasons that caused the South to believe that the North was robbing them. Second there were religious differences because of Unitarianism. These religious differences caused the third disagreement which was slavery, and lastly there is the idea of state sovereignty. In the coming days we will examine each of these causes and who was right in each instance.

1. Source

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What to Call it

One of the many hotly debated issues regarding the Civil War is what to call it. Most people today call it the Civil War, modern day Confederates call it the War of Northern Aggression, other less inflammatory names include War Between the States and the War of Southern Secession. Many writers after the war referred to it as The Late Unpleasantness. Of all these choices, which is correct and which should we use today?

Civil War

Many times when someone calls it the Civil War, someone responds with, “It wasn't a Civil War. There was nothing civil about it!” This is actually an incorrect statement. “Civil” does not refer to the kindness between the combatants, or there would be no civil wars. A civil war is one between factions in the same country. Those who believe that the South had a right to secede, including myself, would take objection to the fact that the war was between parts of the same country.

War of Northern Aggression

A common term among Southerners is the War of Northern Aggression. Supporters of the Union would point out that it was the Confederates who fired on Fort Sumter, their opponents would respond that they shouldn't have been there at all. That is a another argument for another day. But clearly, this name will never be in common use by both sides because it is very one-sided.

War for Southern Independence

The War for Southern Independence or War for Southern Secession is less biased. Everyone would acknowledge that the war began because the Southern states decided that they no longer wished to be a part of the Union. Many would say that the true cause was slavery, but I would disagree (again, a discussion for another day.)

War Between the States

The most appropriate yet unbiased name seems to me to be the War Between the States. The South still considered itself to be states, and the North did as well. The only problem with this name is that it is not in general use, and is much longer than Civil War.” warbetweenthestates150blog.blogspot.com is a very long name to remember! So unfortunately, for the time being we will have to stick with the Civil War.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Nation in 1860

Over the next few weeks up to the secession of South Carolina, we will be posting some introductory posts to bring you up to speed on the causes of the war and what was happening in December, 1860. Check back soon!

Friday, December 3, 2010

John Brown's Raid on Harper's Ferry

Today is the 151th anniversary of the execution of John Brown after his raid on on Harper's Ferry in October, which in many ways helped cause the Civil War. This week people are celebrating how he was a martyr who died to free the slaves. This is actually not true. Brown was a very evil man. Before the raid on Harper's Ferry, he stole what would now be about a million dollars, but he was so persuasive that he convinced the man he stole it from later to lend him money. He was also a lunatic. At one point while he was in Kansas, he took a group of people out during the night and went to all the cabins of the area and murdered in cold blood everyone who was for slavery. Also it just so happened that after that murder Brown and his sons had nice new saddles. There are many other examples which we will leave out for lack of space. My father did a great talk on our trip to the Shenandoah Valley last year, which you an buy here.

John Brown was encouraged to raid Harper's Ferry by the "Secret Six", a group of six prominent Bostonians who were abolitionists and Unitarians. The raid was not a very smart idea. He had 21 men, 16 white and 5 black. He chose Harper's Ferry because at that time it was a large arsenal and weapon factory where about 100,000 guns were stored. His plan was to get the weapons and leave, and then he excepted the slaves to flock to him from their plantations. First of all, he did not have any way to transport the 100,000 weapons. Secondly, if the slaves did come to him, it would just be a mob. Brown had never commanded more than 30 men, and the slaves probably did not know how to use the weapons. It would have been a bigger disaster than it was.

Inside the engine house

The actual raid went well to start with. He captured the arsenal, but then he made a big mistake by not leaving at once. The militia of the area gathered and attacked him. He ended up trapped in the fire engine house with only four men. The next day Col. Robert E. Lee and Lt. Jeb Stuart came up from Washington with 88 marines, and stormed the engine house at the point of the bayonet and captured it. John Brown and his men were tried for murder and slave insurrection and were convicted. They were hung on December 2nd. There is much interesting history about the raid which I studied before we went to the Shenandoah Valley.

Last year we took a tour to Harper's Ferry and it was great to see what actually happened there. Much of the town is the same as it was then, and it is a very nice location.

The Bridge which Brown used to get to Harper's Ferry
The town
The original location of John Brown's Fort (it was moved)
The Potomac River. Harper's Ferry is here the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers meet

Here is a short video clip from our VAlley Tour:

To view in HD click here.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Introduction

We are approaching the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. This blog is intended to chronicle over the next five years the causes, battles, events and effects as we reach the anniversaries. The War Between the States had a great effect on our nation. The interpretation of the Constitution and many other things were completely different afterward. Even the death of over 650,000 men had a great effect. There are many lessons that we can learn from the mistakes of those who came before that are very important to us today. Over the next few months we will look at some of the causes and reasons of the war, and the secession of the various states. Once the war begins we will look at the battles, tactics and men of the bloodiest war in American history.