Fables of the Reconstruction, part two

I’ve been slow getting started on this series, but let’s dive right into the first of the historical myths that I want to address.  But first, let me make something clear–this is not going to be some sort of neo-Confederate tirade about Northern aggression or states’ rights or any other of the beaten-dead-horse arguments that unreconstructed Rebels like to trot out.  Instead, I think its important that we expose some of the underlying myths, before reaching the vitally important conclusions regarding how the events of the Civil War era have adversely affected our Republic.  So, if this doesn’t interest you, feel free to check out.  If it does, please be patient, as I work through several of these posts to the ultimate conclusion.  Most importantly to me, please try not to assume that I have some mean or vile underlying motive or agenda.  I fully realize that some of what I’m about to discuss is a favorite topic of some folks with whom I would not want to be associated.  That fact has kept some of these cows sacred for far too long.  Trusting that I have some benefit of the doubt here, lets get started…

Myth Because Abraham Lincoln planned to end slavery, the Southern states seceeded following his election.

Now I realize that there are many different ways I could’ve phrased that myth, and certainly reasonable folks could quibble with the words I chose.  But the point is this:  it is generally assumed in this country that Mr. Lincoln opposed slavery, and the Southern states left the Union because of the threat he posed to it.

First of all, actually Abraham Lincoln was dedicated to preserving slavery in those states that permitted it.  He had no intention of acting to end it, and freely acknowledged that he would have no constitutional authority to do so even if he so desired.  Mr. Lincoln did feel very strongly that those states where slaveholding was not permitted, should not be forced to allow it.  Like most of his day who held those beliefs, they were grounded not in compassion for slaves, or opposition to the injustice of slavery, but rather in a desire to keep black people out of the nearly all-white territories and northern states, and a fear that slave labor would compete with, and demean, free labor.  Thus Mr. Lincoln opposed the extension of slavery into the territories and the so-called Free States, but did not oppose its continuation in all states where it then existed.  He repeatedly made this point while running for President, and it was specifically included as a plank in his party’s platform.  In fact, in his first inaugural address he even went so far as to endorse a constitutional amendment that would have permanently prohibited the federal government from ever interfering in any way with slavery wherever it currently existed. 

Consider this, from Mr. Lincoln’s first inaugural address on March 4, 1861:

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States, that by the accession of a Republican Administration, their property, and their peace, and personal security, are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed, and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you.

I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that “I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this, and many similar declarations, and had never recanted them. And more than this, they placed in the platform, for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves, and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, 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 power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.


I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution, which amendment, however, I have not seen, 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. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments, so far as to say that holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

That stuff never shows up in the school books.

Secondly, the motives of the seceeding states weren’t all the same.   Virginia seceeded, for example, for reasons entirely different from those of South Carolina.  The historical truth is that Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas, and, arguably Missouri and Kentucky, did not  seceed because of the election of Abraham Lincoln.  In fact, each of those states had made the affirmative decision to remain in the Union, with Mr. Lincoln as President.  They had each elected not to join the six deep south states that had formed the Confederate States of America.   Not to digress too much, but just think for a moment of how viable the C.S.A. would have been without Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.  So why did those states reverse their decisions, withdraw from the Union, and go to war against the Northern states?  Because they were essentially driven out by Mr. Lincoln, and forced to fight a war of self-defense against what they perceived to be an invading army.

Keep in mind that following the election of Mr. Lincoln, Virginia and the other states of the upper South had decided to remain in the Union.  They had specifically chosen not  to join the Confederacy.  Of course no state had been more instrumental to the very creation of the U.S.A. than Virginia.  Virginians loved the Union, and despite the fact that very few of them loved Mr. Lincoln, they weren’t about to abandon the Republic over his election.

But following the episode at Ft. Sumter, Mr. Lincoln made a decision that would ultimately cost 600,000 Americans their lives, and transform America for the worse, perhaps irrevocably.  In his capacity as Commander in Chief he called for each state to supply 75,000 soldiers to “put down the rebellion” in the South.  This act shocked and outraged the states of the middle South, through which this army would presumably march, and they all quickly seceeded in protest.  The responses to the call for troops were emphatic.

Governor Ellis of North Carolina responded: “Your dispatch is received, and if genuine, which its extraordinary character leads me to doubt, I have to say in reply that the levy of troops made by the Administration for the purpose of subjugating the States of the South, is in violation of the Constitution and a usurpation of power.  I can be no party to this wicked violation of the laws of the country, and to this war upon the liberties of a free people.  You will get no troops from North Carolina.”

Governor Letcher of Virginia wrote:  “The militia of Virginia will not be furnished to the powers at Washington for any such case or purpose as they have at view….You have chosen to inaugurate civil war.”  He then promptly called on the Virginia militia to assemble to prepare to repel invasion.  This less than one month after Virginia had voted against secession by a 2-1 margin. 

Governor Jackson of Missouri responded:  “There can be, I apprehend, no doubt but that these men are intended to form part of the President’s army to make war upon the people of the seceeded States.  Your requisition, in my judgment, is illegal, unconstitutional and revolutionary in its objects, inhuman and diabolical and cannot be complied with.  Not one man will, of the state of Missouri, furnish or carry on such an unholy crusade.”

And so on.

So the truth of the matter is that Mr. Lincoln’s administration did not plan or intend to end slavery in America.  But he certainly did intend to raise an army to subdue the six seceeded deep South states, and it was his mustering of that army that caused the otherwise loyal states of the upper and middle south to seceed.

By forcing the non-seceeding states to either join that army, or resist it, Mr. Lincoln forced a civil war upon the country.

But surely a war to end slavery is a just and noble cause, and it was wrong to resist an army fighting to liberate the enslaved.   Right?

Next up, the myth that the Northern states went to war to free the slaves.

Grace and Peace