A re-examination of the War Between the States

Published 10:28 am Saturday, July 8, 2017

by Earl Blythe

It seems that if something is repeated often enough it becomes believable and factual. So it is with slavery being the cause of the War Between the States. That notion has taken on a life of its own for far too long and the true reasons that led to the conflict need to be clearly stated so that the misunderstandings can be put to rest.

The primary cause of the war was the economic collapse of the North when the original seven states left the Union and it influenced all of the decisions of Lincoln and the Northern leaders in the spring on 1861. With the South’s foreign exports leaving the national economy, the nation’s foreign commerce would be reduced to less than one-half what it was before. The North’s trade with the South would stop and northern ships would lie idle at the wharves. Northern manufacturers would be ruined and millions of workers would be unemployed. The North suddenly realized that its wealth, power and most of its employment was dependent on the South. Cotton alone was 60 percent of U.S. exports in 1860, but Northerners shipped that cotton and handled virtually everything else making huge profits it the process. Without the North, the South was in great shape with 100 percent control of cotton. Without the South, the North was dead. The North, cut off from cotton, rice, tobacco and other Southern products would lose three fourths of its commerce and manufacturing. This fact alone brought an end to any hope that the Union could be preserved peacefully.

Lincoln knew he had to get the war started as quickly as he could. Each day that passed, the South got stronger and the North got weaker. There was no advantage to waiting a second longer. Lincoln was anxious to put up a naval blockade and force Europe to take a wait-and-see attitude toward the South, then he could let the North’s huge advantages such as four times the white population, almost all of the country’s manufacturing, an army, a navy with fleets of warships, a functioning government with unlimited immigration for the army, huge advantages in armaments, etc. wear out the South.

War would solve his political problems as people rallied to the flag. So, the economic issues in play in the spring of 1861 are far more powerful causes of the war than slavery could ever have been.  Lincoln’s sole purpose was to preserve the Union at all costs and what a terrible cost it was.

Southerners were paying three fourths of the taxes going into the federal treasury, but three fourths of the tax money was being spent in the North. How long do you think the North would tolerate the reverse?

For the South, 1861 was 1776 all over again. The war was about independence, self-government and maintaining the republic of the Founding Fathers in which states were supreme and the federal government weak and subservient. For the South, it was about economic independence, state’s rights and free trade and because it was protecting itself from attack by the Union forces.

One interesting note, in the South, approximately 93 percent of all slaves were owned by less than 10 percent of the white population. In other words, over 90 percent of the white population in the South never owned a slave. So why on earth would those men leave their homes and families to fight to preserve something they didn’t have or hope to have. The answer is simple. The men left their homes, shops, farms and families to protect them, their communities and their states from the Union invaders.  The Union attacked the South and raised its arms and committed “total war” against its brothers and sisters in the South on the orders of Commander-in-Chief Lincoln for the sole purpose of bringing the South back into the Federal government so that it could survive.

EARL BLYTHE is a Franklin native, former director of Social Services for York County and the City of Poquoson. He majored in business administration and U.S. history at Old Dominion University and took advanced courses in public administration at the University of Georgia and Virginia Tech. He can be reached at eblythe4@verizon.net.