Friday, June 10, 2011
Another excellent, and readable article on the Civil War
Excerpts from "Opening Salvo" from the Smithsonian, vol. 42, #1, Apr. 2011, pp. 76-99. (This is a one of the best magazines in the country if you enjoy human and natural history, science, etc. It is very readable for the average reader) "Generations of historians have argued over the cause of the war. "Everyone knew at the time that the war was ultimately about slavery" says Orville Vernon Burton, a native South Carolinian and author of" The Age of Lincoln. 'After the war, some began saying that it was really about states' rights, or a clash of two different cultures, or about the tariff, or about the industrializing North versus the agrarian South. All these interpretations came together to portray the Civil War as a collision of two noble civilizations from which black slaves had been airbrushed out." African-American historians from W.E.B. Du Bois to John Hope Franklin begged to differ with the revisionist view, but they were overwhelmed by white historians, both Southern and Northern, who, during the long era of Jim Crow, largely ignored the importance of slavery in shaping the politics of secession. Fifty years ago, the question of slavery was so loaded, says Harold Holzer, author of Lincoln President-Elect and other works on the 16th president, that the issue virtually paralyzed the federal commission charged with organizing events commemorating the war's centennial in 1961, from which African-Americans were virtually excluded. (Arrangements for the sesquicentennial have been left to individual states.) At the time, some Southern members reacted with hostility to any emphasis on slavery, for fear that it would embolden the then-burgeoning civil rights movement. Only later were African-American views of the war and its origins finally heard, and scholarly opinion began to shift. Says Holzer, "Only in recent years have we returned to the obvious--that it was about slavery" As Emory Thomas, author of The Confederate Nation 1861-1865 and a retired professor of history at the University of Georgia, puts it, "The heart and soul of the secession argument was slavery and race. Most white Southerners favored racial subordination, and they wanted to protect the status quo. They were concerned that the Lincoln administration would restrict slavery, and they were right." [Lincoln} . . .declared explicitly that he would not tamper with slavery where it already existed. (He did make clear that he would oppose the expansion of slavery into new territories.) However, the so-called Fire-eaters, the most radical Southern nationalists who dominated Southern politics, were no longer interested in compromise. "South Carolina will secede from the Union as surely as that night succeeds the day, and nothing can now prevent or delay it but a revolution at the North," South Carolinian William Trenholm wrote to a friend. "The ... Republican party, inflamed by fanaticism and blinded by arrogance, have leapt into the pit which a just Providence prepared for them." In Charleston, cannon were fired, martial music was played, flags were waved in every street. Men young and old flocked to join militia companies. Even children delivered "resistance speeches" to their playmates and strutted the lanes with homemade banners. . . .According to historian Douglas R. Egerton, author of Year of Meteors: Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, and the Election that Brought on the Civil War, "To win over the yeoman farmers--who would wind up doing nearly all the fighting--the Fire-eaters relentlessly played on race, warning them that, unless they supported secession, within ten years or less their children would be the slaves of Negroes." . . .In December 1860, a little more than a month after Lincoln's election, South Carolina's secession convention, held in Charleston, called on the South to join "a great Slaveholding Confederacy, stretching its arms over a territory larger than any power in Europe possesses." While most Southerners did not own slaves, slave owners wielded power far beyond their numbers: more than 90 percent of the secessionist conventioneers were slaveholders."