So, I just went to a literature class where the guest professor insisted that the Civil War was fought over slavery and basically all the South's fault. All the school books that state otherwise merely rewrote history to ensure they would sell in Southern schools! Absurd, yes, but also very frustrating to refute. All the scholarship stating to the contrary of her claim can be labeled "revisionist" and ignored. Much of the class was devoted to the "myth" of the Old South prevalent in post-Civil War literature: happy slaves devoted to their white families, big white-columned plantation houses, quick reconciliations after the war, etc. etc.
So... what I would like to do is point to historical facts that would prove that the Civil War could NOT have been fought over slavery. I've got the Emancipation Proclamation only freeing slaves in states that persisted in rebelling, not in any states still part of the Union. In other words, if North Carolina had surrendered before 1863 they would have been permitted to keep their slaves. But that's not much to go on, and I'm betting there are Civil War buffs here who would be able help me out. I confess to never having retained much in history courses.
Based on what was said in class, I would have to answer these questions: Why was the Civil War fought if not for slaves? Is the name "War of Northern Aggression" at all justified? What role did slavery play in the start of the war?
I'll keep researching, too. Thank you in advance!
I am afraid your goal is not possible as I understand it. Slavery was a major if not THE major cause of the war. By the way MitOS is short for Mark in the Old South. My family is pure Southern with the exception of one Swiss immigrant that located in Virginia in the late 19th century. All sides and branches fought for the South.
If you read the speeches of the leaders of that era you will see Slavery and the right to own slaves being the reason for their actions. It was the threat that a political party that made the elimination of legal Slavery the corner stone of their party and agenda that sparked the South’s actions. It was a hesitation to fight over that issue the reason the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arkansas, Maryland and Missouri waited. It was the Call for troops that caused these states to leave the Union and for some the moment to act was too late. Yet even for these the role of slavery was hard to ignore.
A safer and more grounded point to make was the nature of slavery to the rule of law and the proper role of government. Slavery as an issue was welded at the hip to those issues and it those issue the present text books seek to avoid. The South was and still is the bedrock of rule of law and limited government. Slavery was just a handy wedge issue to eliminating strict rule of law principles and small government. It worked I am sad to say. It is still working today and even the South is weaker on all these issues than they were in the past.
Consider the rule of law principle. The Constitution spells out clearly that all power not given to the Federal government was reserved for the people and the state governments. There is not provision for federal control of education and yet we have Federal mandates on a host of education issues. The first act of Congress after the South left was a federal funding for land grant colleges. The North wanted them the South said no. After the South got out of the way the North put this at the top of their agenda. The Southern colleges such as Virginia Polytechnic (Now known as Virginia Tech) were not founded until well after the war. In fact the Southern states did not have public grade schools only private schools and what we would call now Home Schooling. Neither central control nor a desire for them. All this changed during Reconstruction.
This is just one example there is a host of other. If is often forgotten that Dred Scott was from a Slave state and won his case in the State courts. It was a common enough practice for Slaves to sue their masters and earn their freedom. Dred Scott did so and won but lost in the Supreme Court. This is yet another example where the Southern legal system recognized rule of law but the power in Washington had a different agenda.
Limited government was also key to understanding the issue as related to slavery. Law on the books restricted teaching slaves or Free Persons of Color (FPC) to read and write but the practice was limited in enforcement. Most slaves were unschooled more because of the concept of education that is still in practice today. Education was related to class, not race. The only reason most whites could was because most were at least of midlin’ rank but the lower a man was in his station the less likely he was able to read or write. College was for people of certain class. This is an anathema in the modern world were they seem to prefer all people get a poor education and feel they are equal when the schools in the last century would frighten a college educated person today. Even High School entrance exams were beyond the ability of most college graduates today.
There was highly educated and trained FPC in the antebellum era. There was more FPC in Virginia than any other state. Petersburg had the largest population of any city in the US. The FPCs were very large in Louisiana and many were very rich. This is not to say they had equal status but the South was still the location they preferred to stay when a slave got his freedom. That was even more true before the war than after when economic collapse and hostility made things hard. This was true even when the laws stated that a newly manumitted slave had one year to leave the state. In truth they could request an exception and they were very free given. When they chose to leave it was often to another Slave holding state.
Most slaves who ran away were rarely punished despite the mythology. If they were punished it was some sort of restriction of withholding of some favor they would usually be expecting. There was good reason most slave owners did not punish runs aways. Most run aways never left the area and most of the time the owners knew exactly where the slave was. It was not Yankee freedom they sought but a visit with their girlfriend of a family member in a neighboring plantation. It is a hard man who whips a man for visiting his wife or mother. Even a hardened man is likely to be a little lenient in this area. As long as the timing was not too hard on the owner such as rice harvest time the owner rarely suffered much. In some states there were more slaves than they needed such as Virginia and they desire to be cruel had risks.
This was an era of social outrage and to violate it was at their peril. Uncle Tom’s Cabin (UTC) offended the South because it left this aspect of the law out in the story. Many people believe the story was based on a real event in New Orleans. A doctor and his wife were cruel to their slaves and one slave in an attempt at suicide set fire to her cell. The townsfolk sought to put out the fire and found the evidence of these wicked people. The doctor and his wife had to flee the city that very night for their life, never to return. UTC is a good read because it does give a good cross section of the type of owners there were but it paints the image that Simon Legree could never face a court of law in the South because the only witnesses to his evil were slaves.
On paper the claim is correct but the population and the law of common decency it a different court entirely. There were Simon Legrees but they rarely survived being exposed. There was a case in Petersburg where slaves worked along side FPC and whites where a manager mistreated a slave he did not own. They had to pull the town folk off him.
Prof. Ervin L. Jordon writes about some of this sort of thing in his book Black Confederates and Afro-Yankees in Civil War Virginia. Prof. Jordon is black and was pillared for his book because it does not serve the modern agenda on the South and slavery. I recommend this book.
Also for an understanding on how slavery developed then Slave Counterpoint by Philip D. Morgan is a good read. A bit too heavy for causal reading but very informative on slavery.
For race relations I like The Plantation Mistress by Catherine Clinton.
Its focus is the woman of the house but their role with their slaves is very telling and supports much of what Prof. Jordon says in his book, which centers on the slave and the blacks in that era.
This is really a huge topic and too much to say in a simple manner.
Let me know if you want more.
Mark in the Old South