Sunday, February 3, 2008

The Truth About the Civil War

Causes of the Civil War

As we approach Presidents day on February 18 and Black History Month for 2008, it is a good time to deal with the real causes of the Civil War of 1860 which changed the political, economic, and social landscape of America forever.

Abraham Lincoln is often considered the greatest president because he "saved the Union", that is, he kept the southern states from successfully seceding and forming their own Confederate government, and he "freed the slaves" by signing the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.

To understand the struggle between the North and South, we have to look at how both sides viewed the Federal government and States' rights. Remember that in 1860 the United States of America, commonly called "the Union" in those days, was only 84 years old. Most of the key political figures had parents who lived during the time of the American revolution, so the concept of "the Union" and a centralized Federal government as a permanent political structure was not as prevalent as it is today.

The dominant view in the North, which Lincoln shared, was that the states who had entered into the Union at the time of the Revolutionary War were bound to stay in the Union, by military force if necessary, and could not withdraw or secede from the Union.

The Southern states viewed their participation in the Union as voluntary and that secession was their right if the Federal government over-stepped it's Constitutional powers and encroached on the States' rights to self-rule.

In fact, the key issue in the presidential election which Lincoln won was not whether the South should give up slavery, but whether the Federal government could outlaw slavery in new states that were entering the Union. The Southern states felt that giving the Federal government this kind of power would weaken their own right to decide whether they would be slave states or free states.

As for Lincoln, he had made it clear during the election that although he was against slavery he would not use the Federal government to eliminate slavery in the South and would let slavery, which was already declining, die naturally due to free market forces.

Economic power was also at stake in the North/South divide. Contrary to what most history classes teach, the Panic of 1857 had devastated the Northern economy which was based on manufacturing and banking, while the Southern states, whose economy was primarily based on agriculture, were virtually untouched by the economic crisis gripping the North.

If the Southern states, which had the advantage of goods to export and good shipping facilities, withdrew from the Union and established free trade internationally it would further decimate the North financially.

To prevent this from happening, the Federal government used it's military forces to control the trade of the South, imposing taxes on cotton and tariffs on exports, leading to further division. The first battle of the Civil War, the attack on Union forces at Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, was in response to this kind of meddling in free trade by the Federal government.

The day after the Confederate forces captured Fort Sumter, Lincoln called up 75,000 militiamen from the states to suppress the Southern rebellion.

The conflict between North and South was now a full-fledged civil war. By the time the Union won the war four years later, more than 620,000 soldiers died in combat and over a million more died from disease.

How the Civil War changed America

The political consequences of the war were enormous. By virtue of it's victory, the Union had stopped the secession of the Confederacy and given the Federal government much more power over the States.

That Federal power kept growing and continues to grow to this day, threatening the freedoms and liberties that the founders of our country sought to guarantee to all citizens in the Constitution.

America now borders on becoming a Socialist state with the Federal government now in charge of the well-being of over half the population through it's entitlement programs like Welfare, Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare, the Prescription Drug Program, farm subsidies, earmarks, and Earned Income Credits. The near future probably includes universal health care insurance and child-care programs that will place all children in government run day cares from infancy and continue to indoctrinate them through graduation from high school and even into college.

The economic landscape also changed dramatically. The Northern states manufacturing based economy became dominant and the industrial revolution accelerated beyond anyone's imagination. As in most wars, research, development, and technology were instrumental in victory and now in the following peace time those talents were turned towards the market place and the expansion of America to the west.

Agricultural production started to shift away from the South and into the new states in the mid-west. New railroads made transporting agricultural and manufactured products easier and led to greater integration of the economies of the North, South, and West. As modern machinery entered the workplace and labor unions formed, people worked less hours and now turned their attention to education and leisure activities.

The social structure of America also changed forever after the Civil War. The most obvious change was the newly granted freedom to millions of slaves who could now vote, own land, start businesses, and hold political office. Although it was easy to legislate freedom, changing the way whites and blacks in America viewed each other would take another hundred and forty years of hard work and tolerance.

A subtle but dangerous change in our country also occurred as a result of the Union victory in the Civil War. As noted, Lincoln felt it was not the government's role to force and end to slavery, and that the free market would accomplish that eventually.

But now the government has become a vehicle for social change. Instead of individuals using education, the free market, and dialogue to elevate people from poverty and correct injustice, the government was now viewed as the instrument of change, whether it was addressing racial injustice, establishing wage controls, reducing gun ownership, restricting free speech in campaigns, saving the whales, stopping global warming, access to abortion, fighting AIDS, or the war on drugs.

Today America is at a political cross-roads as unlike any time since the election of 1860. We can choose to follow the liberals into a totally socialistic state like those found in Europe or we can fight for the conservative values of individual freedom and liberty with less government interference in our lives.

The choice is ours, for now.

Suggested reading...

Abraham Lincoln: Tyrant, Hypocrite, or Consummate Statesman?
Causes of the Civil War: A North Georgia Perspective
Causes of the Civil War
Top Five causes of the Civil War
Civil War Facts
The Panic of 1857

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