Reasons for War Between the States

Published 9:37 am Friday, April 8, 2011

by Jim Beale

Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of guest columns by members of the Urquhart Gillette Camp 1471 Sons Of Confederate Veterans in commemoration of the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

I would first like to clarify several issues, that I have heard mentioned concerning the Sesquicentennial that we are entering.

We, as a nation, do not “celebrate” any war in which our people fought; rather we “commemorate” the service and sacrifice of those who fought and “celebrate” the results of those sacrifices made on our behalf.

The War Between the States has been called a Civil War and a Rebellion, neither of which is truly accurate. Civil War and Rebellion both connote a war with the aim of destroying or replacing the government of the opposing party, and the Southern states never entertained those objectives.

They only wished to remove themselves from the Union and form their own government, making it a War for Southern Independence. When President Lincoln forced the seceding states back into the union by the use of military might, it then became a war of northern aggression.

At 4:30 a.m. on April 12, 1861, Confederate forces under the command of Brigadier Gen. P.G.T Beauregard estimated that about 500 opened fire on Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

Thirty-four hours later, Major Robert Anderson, in command of Union forces in Charleston, surrendered the fort to Confederate forces and agreed to withdraw his 80 men. Anderson’s one condition was permission to fire a 100-gun salute to the U.S. flag, which was agreed to.

While there were no casualties from enemy fire during the bombardment of Fort Sumter, one unknown Confederate soldier bled to death from injuries received when an artillery piece misfired.

Then, on April 14, as Union troops were leaving the fort and firing their salute, a spark ignited a supply of powder bags, killing Pvt. Daniel Hough and burning three other soldiers, with Pvt. Edward Gallway dying in a Charleston hospital days later.

Thus began, in actual fact, four years of war that would affect the political, economic and social structure of our country forever. A war that would claim more 618,222 American lives — 258,000 Confederate and 360,222 Federal — more than all our other war losses combined, which is 455,439 lives.

But what were the reasons that led the people of South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas between Dec. 20, 1860, and Feb. 1, 1861, and break their ties with the Union and secede to form a new nation? Why did Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee secede only after President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to forcefully bring the seceding states back into the Union?

The main arguments for secession, I believe, centered around three very complicated and intertwined issues — political, economic and social. I will touch on each, and if interest is forthcoming, will attempt to address each separately in future columns. I am trying to present these issues as viewed historically at the time, not from our perspective, with the benefit of 150 years of hindsight.

The political issues had plagued the nation since its founding. From the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 to the adoption of the Articles of Confederation in 1777 to the ratification of the Constitution in 1788 and the Bill of Rights in 1791, arguments and compromises kept the process fluid.

The Whisky Rebellion in 1791 and tariff issues between 1800 and 1815 had most Northern states threatening secession, using the very same state sovereignty and states’ rights issues brought forth by the Southern states 50 years later.

On the economic side, the Northern states had become dependent on industry, shipbuilding and commerce, and had tariffs passed to protect them, increasing their profits. The Western states were opening for homesteading and agriculture, mostly of food crops, but were drawing many immigrant workers away from Northern factories with opportunity. The Southern states were agricultural, growing cotton, tobacco, indigo and rice. Large plantations utilizing slave labor were the main moneymakers (cotton provided an estimated 70 percent of U.S. exports in 1860), but most farmers were small, white landowners who had few, if any, slaves. The South operated without benefit of trade tariffs, which kept profits down and increased costs.

Socially, morally, or by any standard, the institution of slavery is wrong and reprehensible, but in 1860 America, it remained the law of the land. By 1804, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Jersey had freed slaves, and New York and Pennsylvania by 1847.

The U.S. abolished the import/export of slaves in 1808, but still passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850. By 1860, social and moral issues had flared enough that regional political and economic compromise had become impossible, and war inevitable.

JIM BEALE belongs to Urquhart-Gillette Camp No. 1471 Sons of Confederate Veterans. He can be reached at 562-2788.