Smoley: Challenging the accepted view of the Civil War
Written by Phil Smoley
Thursday, 13 January 2011
The sesquicentennial of the American Civil War is upon us, and we can expect a lot more conversation in the coming months regarding the causes and effects of that catastrophic war.
Several editorials have recently been published in major newspapers making sure we all know what the real cause of the War was: Slavery. Locally, Gary Dickson reaffirmed this point of view in an editorial entitled “Nothing to Celebrate.”
This view typically hinges on two premises: First, that President Abraham Lincoln was committed “to end slavery in America,” and second, that when the Deep South seceded, they referred to their belief in the inferiority of blacks and their rightly being slaves as justification. Essentially, the idea is that the South was wrong, the North was right, and it is wrong for Americans today to celebrate Confederate heritage.
But these editorials miss the mark. Often they either conveniently leave out important facts or distort them to prove their point.
One example of many is the idea that Abraham Lincoln's primary focus was to free the slaves. In reality, Lincoln promised to maintain slavery where it was. He wrote: “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.”
Was this idle political posturing? Not at all. Little known to most of modern America was something called the “Corwin Amendment.” This was a proposed Constitutional amendment (intended to be the 13th, ironically) that stated: “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.”
Abraham Lincoln endorsed this amendment, and it passed Congress after the Deep South seceded.
Shockingly, Lincoln formally endorsed this amendment in his First Inaugural. It was sent to the states for ratification, where it awaits a vote to this very day! (It has yet to be withdrawn.) Three states have already voted to approve it (Ohio, Maryland and Lincoln's own Illinois.) Unbelievable, but true!
Little known too is that Lincoln's famed Emancipation Proclamation was carefully worded to preserve slavery everywhere it existed under federal control. It only attempted to free those slaves that were under Confederate jurisdiction (thus is actual practice, freeing hardly any slaves at all). Slaves in Kentucky, Missouri, Delaware, Maryland, parts of Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana were kept as slaves throughout Lincoln's life. They were not freed until long after Lincoln was dead and buried (by the eventually approved modified 13th Amendment.) So much for Lincoln's commitment to end slavery!
I won't go into quotes of Lincoln regarding blacks, but they were just as racist and incendiary as anything a southerner said at the time. Some of his quotes regarding blacks would make your skin crawl. Suffice to say here that Lincoln's solution to the “Freeman Problem” was to “ship them back to Africa.” The African country of Liberia was populated by freed slaves, shipped back by organizations that Lincoln endorsed and supported.
So when you read statements like “Abraham Lincoln's promise was to end slavery in America,” it is important to get the rest of the story to put things in a proper balance.
Google “Corwin Amendment,” “Emancipation Proclamation,” “Lincolns racist quotes” and “history of Liberia.” For extra credit look up “The Morrill Tariff” to decide whether taxation may have something to do with the War. Read up on these, and then re-read the “it was all about slavery” editorials. You will read them in a new light.
And it begs the question: If Lincoln and the North were willing to guarantee slavery forever in the South, then what was the real reason for a war that took more than 600,000 lives and destroyed half of the country?
In every conflict, the winners write the history. Have we been given a sanitized view of the Civil War?
We will never get to the truth as long as we are fed selected damning quotes from one side while damning quotes and actions of the other side are swept under the rug.
Don't accept at face value what you read regarding the causes of The War. Use the Internet and the library to dig beneath the “accepted” understanding. Verify, research and verify again. You still might not agree with those who celebrate the Confederacy, but you will have a far better understanding of what is motivating them, and it's not a yearning for returning to slavery.
These issues are being discussed in-depth at the Redwood Empire Civil War Roundtable that is meeting monthly. The next meeting will be held Feb. 1 at the Tallman Hotel in Upper Lake. The meeting starts at 6:15 p.m. There is no charge.
Phil Smoley lives in Lakeport, Calif.