Why the Civil War Happened

The "Neo-Confederate" movement now sweeping conservative circles argues that the real reason for the Civil War was money. The north wanted high tariffs. Lincoln was a dictator. It was all the north's fault. Etc. Etc. Etc. Like Holocaust revisionists, when they're stuck for a fact, the Neo-Confederates just make one up.

Here are some points which identify (1) the real issue, and (2) who started the war. In brief, the answers are (1) SLAVERY, and (2) THE SOUTH.


The big issue before the United States for the previous decade had been whether new states should enter the Union slave or free. Kansas, the test case for the 1850 Kansas-Nebraska Act, quickly became "Bloody Kansas" because of fighting and terrorism between pro- and anti-slavery forces.


The South Carolina Declaration of Secession makes no mention whatsoever of tariffs. It maunders on for page after page about how awful the north is because of its hostility to "our peculiar institution," and how the north refuses to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. The other ten state declarations of secession are similar. NOT ONE even mentions the word "tariffs." Read for yourself:

The state declarations of secession


With the exception of a few tear-jerkers like "Just Before the Battle, Mother," every northern popular song about the war either focused on slavery or mentioned it:

The Little Octaroon. John Brown's Body. I could go on all day. It helps to have a mother who was into folk songs in the '60s.


The textile workers of Manchester, UK, whose jobs depended on southern cotton, rallied publicly against the Confederacy--and against their own economic self-interest. Popular hatred of the Confederacy was so strong in the UK that Britain never entered the war to defend the CSA, a nominal ally. So much for the claim that everything is about economics.


The South fired first. Hello? THE SOUTH FIRED FIRST. It wasn't enough for South Carolina to secede. They wanted to nationalize the US base at Fort Sumter, despite having ceded the territory to the United States decades earlier--ceded, not leased. Neo-Confederates claim it was all a plot by Lincoln to force those poor Confederates to fire first, by intimidating them with armed resupply ships.

When did the South fire first? Surprisingly, it was NOT at the celebrated bombardment of Ft. Sumter. It was three months earlier, when James Buchanan--BUCHANAN, NOT LINCOLN--tried to resupply Ft. Sumter with an UNARMED merchant ship--"Star of the West." Shore batteries at The Citadel opened fire on the ship on January 9th, 1861. Captain John McGowan turned the ship around and headed for the open sea after a warning shot across the bow. Despite that, the Morris Island battery kept firing, hitting the ship three times.

Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated March 4th.


On November 10th, 1860, South Carolina passed an ordinance calling Lincoln's election "a hostile act," and calling on the south to arm itself. The election had been held on November 6th. The man had no time to put any sinister plots in motion.

Neo-Confederates often say Lincoln could have ended slavery by paying off the south instead of "waging a terrible war of aggression." Guess what? Lincoln planned to do exactly that. His plan was to phase out slavery gradually by compensating the slave-owners over a forty-year period, 1861-1900. This was the radical notion that so frightened South Carolina.

In short, and in retrospect, the Neo-Confederate line is a pack of lies. They want to justify one of the worst causes in history--the Confederate States of America, the region which built its economy on the blood of tens of millions of kidnapped, overworked, beaten, tortured, raped, and murdered slaves. The region where even mentioning Abolition could get a man or woman pulled off a train, stripped, and flogged. The region where attempts to set up Abolitionist offices were met by burning the said offices.

BTW, about the claim that we were ignoring the wishes of "South Carolina" to peacefully secede? 58% of the state's population at the time was black--i.e., enslaved. They didn't get to vote on the matter.

Page created:05/09/2012
Last modified:  05/09/2012