Recently several southern municipalities have initiated the removal of monuments dedicated to the memory of the War of 1861. I believe the optimal solution to this issue would be placing the monuments and the land they are on up for auction. Private entities could purchase them and deal with them as they please.
That brings us to the larger issue, the war itself. I contend that there is no moral high ground regarding the War of 1861. As I always told my students, when Lee surrendered to Grant we need to understand both men had freed their slaves long before the war.
Slavery was a fact of life in the western world until the 19th century. The best way to approach the discussion is to set aside the issue of slavery, not because it is unimportant, but because it existed on all sides.
First, southerners should recognize that slavery was an issue in the conflict, to deny that is to deny history. If we read Kenneth Stampp’s, Causes of the Civil War, slavery is one of the issues that led to the war. Is it the issue? For some it was, we cannot argue otherwise. But, was it the issue for the common soldier, absolutely not. When less than 4% of a population engages in an activity, it is hard to motivate folks who don’t have skin in the game to fight for it.
Unionists should accept the fact that no matter what they were taught in school, the north did not wage war to free the slaves. The north waged the war for economic reasons, simply put:
the south disproportionately provided the tax revenue that the union relied on.
Slavery was a symbol of southern agrarian culture, its spread west was concerning to northern states because many felt that the south had undue influence in Congress. While independence and self-determination was fine for New Englanders, southerners were not going to be allowed to go their own way and take their money with them.
Is there evidence to support my position?
One, Lincoln supported the Corwin Amendment. The Corwin Amendment would have Constitutionally protected slavery forever. Enshrining slavery as a Constitutionally protected institution is not a way to free slaves.
Two, had the north truly been concerned with freeing the slaves, they would have allowed the south to secede. Once that happened they would not have had to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and the north would have become a refuge for escaped slaves. The entire institution would have collapsed without violence in less than a decade.
Three, the union states had slaves and had no reservations about using them for military purposes. If “contraband” slaves did not join their efforts, they were oftentimes murdered. One of the hidden truths that union apologists do not discuss is the large numbers of slaves that were killed during Sherman’s bloody march.
Sherman’s goal was to economically decimate the south through total war, and he did so. There is no way any apologist can say that the war was an effort to “preserve the union” in light of Sherman’s (and other northern military leaders, there was more than one march of destruction) March, it was a war to subjugate the southern people. For more information see Jeff Hummell’s, Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men.
On the other hand, southerners cannot argue that the Confederate government gave a hoot for “state’s rights.” Income taxes, the first American draft, the forced compliance of the war effort, and the way internal “rebellion” was put down with prejudice in the Confederacy, compounded with the forced enslavement of free blacks that were captured in union states show a complete disregard for individual freedom and self-determination by CSA leaders.
In the end, whether we like it or not, the war was about whether southerners would be ruled by oligarchs in Richmond, VA or Washington, DC (for a more in depth treatment on this subject listen to the Dangerous History Podcast).
Do not mistake me, nullification and secession are powers that all states have and had. The Union efforts to suppress secession destroyed the American republic.
Lincoln was an evil man who had no respect for natural or Constitutional rights and powers. He ordered the destruction of printing presses owned by newspapers who did not support him, he arrested and held political opponents in prison who did not support his actions, he was a vehement racist, and he led an effort that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians who were mostly women, children, free blacks, and slaves (see The Real Lincoln, Thomas DiLorenzo).
Arguing that Lincoln was justified in his efforts is arguing that a man who CHAINS his wife in the basement after she tells him she is leaving is justified.
People on both sides to recognize that the lost cause was not as noble as some like to think. Union apologists should understand that when they argue for what happened, they are arguing for an evil effort that was not motivated by anything more than the subjugation of their fellow Americans.
No matter what side you fall on, your side sucks.