February 4, 1861: The Confederate States of America is formed.
In November of 1860, Abraham Lincoln, a one-term U.S. representative and candidate for the newly-formed Republican Party, was elected President of the United States with just under 40% of the popular vote. Rather than remain in a union whose president had won the election with a party promising “free labor, free land, free men”, seven southern slaveholding states seceded. The first was South Carolina, birthplace of John C. Calhoun and historical hotbed of states’ rights sentiment, and the last of the original seven was Texas, which seceded in February, a little over a month before Lincoln took office.
Six delegates convened in Montgomery, Alabama in the chambers of the state senate on February 4, 1861. Their first meeting marked the founding of the Confederate States of America, and in the coming months the Montgomery Convention drafted a Constitution and appointed former Secretary of War and veteran congressman Jefferson Davis president opposite the comparatively inexperienced Abraham Lincoln. In his Cornerstone Speech (March 21, 1861), the Confederate States’ vice president Alexander Stephens asserted that “our peculiar institution African slavery” was the “immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution”. He also declared that the founding principle of the new Confederate state, for which hundreds of thousands of lives would soon be spent, should be the principle of black racial inferiority:
Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.
Remember when you were in school, and they tried to tell you the Civil War was about “state’s rights.” -_________-
Here’s the thing though. Until you’re in middle school the Civil War is taught as the (good) North going to war against the (evil) South to free the slaves. And then you hit seventh grade (for me) and you learn that, actually, that’s not really what the war was about. Was the Confederacy founded on racist principles? Undoubtedly. Was the Civil War really about slavery? No.
It was about the right of the states to secede and about what rights went to the federal government and what rights went to the state governments. It was about taxation. Slavery wasn’t pulled into the war until late in the game, when Lincoln needed more support. The Emancipation Proclamation, that great shining document of anti-slavery rhetoric, never freed a single slave. (It declared all slaves in the Confederacy to be ‘forever free’ but did nothing for those slave-holding border states. And, just a reminder, Lincoln had no political power in the Confederacy at that time. It would be like Obama issue a decree about gay marriage in Canada. Nothing would change because Obama isn’t the president (yes, I know Canada has a prime minister, not a president…) of Canada.)
*note that this is written by someone born and raised in Wisconsin. I would imagine that the Civil War is covered a bit differently down in Mississippi and Alabama. Any Southerners care to chime in?
The Civil War was fought because of slavery. The North was not an anti-racist abolitionist utopia and Abraham Lincoln was not a radical abolitionist, but the American Civil War was fought largely because of slavery.
ETA the aim of the Union going into the war wasn’t the abolition of slavery obviously oh my god, the Emancipation Proclamation was supposed to weaken the Confederacy and also serve as a shout-out to foreign powers that hey!! We’re fighting both a moral and political battle here, now you can’t recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign state (and the Emancipation was, in its own time, criticized as totally hypocritical and ineffectual). No true abolitionist believed the Emancipation Proclamation was a “great shining document of anti-slavery rhetoric”, contemporaries recognized it as what it was. True, the large majority of abolitionists in the North fought for abolition not for moral but economic reasons (free labor, free land, free men!!), and the Republican Party of the 1860s wasn’t the party of racial equality, but… do you not see that the issues of states’ rights and slavery were irrevocably intertwined… please stop downplaying the role slavery played in the break-up of the Union… Also true, the average small farmer wasn’t a plantation owner, but the average small farmer didn’t drive the South to secession, the Southern elite did, and the power and wealth of the elite were concentrated in, what? Rocks? Dirt? or a system entrenched in racism and supported by slavery?
ETA 2.0 honestly reading some of the responses, I really think that some of this is semantics. How about: slavery was a decisive factor leading to the break-out of the American Civil War, since it was such a huge component of Southern society.