Slavery and the Civil War

With the recent commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, a number of journalists in their editorials (and even a historian, David Von Drehle, in a Time magazine article) attempted to assure us that they are setting the historic record straight — namely, that the paramount reason for the War Between the States (aka “The War of Northern Aggression” in the South) was racial hatred and slavery.

In a recent editorial in the Macon Telegraph, my local newspaper, John Parnell, writing for the editorial board of the newspaper claimed, "Most of us have heard from our youth on up that the origins of the war did not lie in slavery but in the South’s defense of states’ rights against the federal government."(1)

Really? That is not the way most of us remember it! The primacy of slavery as the cause of the Civil War has been inculcated to school children from day one, and if you ask most people in the street, I am willing to bet, most teenagers and even adults, if they "know" anything about the Civil War will associate it with slavery, and if you mention states' rights, chances are they will stare at you with a puzzled look, if not astonishment!

Mr. Parnell went on to say that the South must still come to terms with the primacy of slavery as the cause of the Civil War before it can heal its wounds.  And so I answer him right off the bat (and to those who continue to assert the paramount reason for the Civil War was slavery) then it necessarily follows that President Abraham Lincoln must have lied when he wrote in a letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862: "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union."(1)

It was Christianity that brought European slavery to an end, not because of a specific biblical commandment but as a result of the Christian teaching that all men were brothers. Prior to the advent of Christianity, slavery was a worldwide institution, and it was actually an improvement over the previous condition of mankind, which was namely, immediate murdering of all men, women, and children, after the usual pillaging and plundering of villages and the storming of cities. (Women were frequently raped first and then likewise discarded, unless they were spared and taken as "wives" or concubines by the victorious raiders). Slavery was an acceptable substitute for mutilation and death after defeat in war or capture following hostile raids; that and the fact it became profitable are the reasons why slavery existed for hundreds of years.

States’ rights, the right of secession, slavery, particularly the enforcement of runaway slave laws in the West and the North, etc., were all important causes of the Civil War. But if there was one paramount cause of the war, perhaps, it would have to be the high protective tariffs the North wanted to impose on the South, repeatedly, to protect and expand its manufacturing and industrial might in competition with Europe, particularly France and England.

In fact, the South began to reconsider its economic position with the North at least since the imposition of "The Tariff of Abomination" of 1828 during the Presidency of John Quincy Adams. The imposition of high protective tariffs threatened not only southern cotton interests but also life in the South that depended on manufactured goods produced in and imported cheaper from Europe.(2)

Almost forgotten is the fact even under President Andrew Jackson (1829–1837), South Carolina raised the specter of possible civil war, again over the revenue tariff of 1832, which was subsequently opposed by the theories of Nullification and State Interposition of U.S. Senator from South Carolina, John C. Calhoun (1782 –1850), political arguments leading to secession, derived from none others than Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions of 1798.

There could have been a civil war, without the theme of slavery, based on the unresolved issues of states’ rights, the right of secession, and the tariffs, if the North had continued to pass high protective tariffs to keep the agricultural South subservient to the industrial North.

When California joined the Union as a "free state," tilting the balance of power in Congress, the fate of the country was sealed in favor of the North. John C. Calhoun on his deathbed succumbing to tuberculosis, warned the country of the political imbalance and the possibility of war; but within a few years those who took heed, the great champions of conciliation and the preservation of the Union — e.g., U.S. Senator from Kentucky, Henry Clay (1777-1852; "The Great Compromiser"), and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, Daniel Webster (1782-1852) — had died, and their successor, U.S. Senator form Illinois, Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861; "The Little Giant"), was in over his head. (Douglas himself, critically ill, died of typhoid fever just before the commencement of the Civil War in 1861.)

It should be remembered Sen. John C. Calhoun became the South's champion over the issue of the tariffs (and not slavery) around 1828. Before that, he was a supporter of a strong central government with his young friends and political allies, war hawks: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and Andrew Jackson. But to remain the leading politician from South Carolina and for the South, he had to change his views, and first of all it was over the issue of the protective (manufacturing interest) tariffs way before 1860 or the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863!

Black slavery in the United States prior to 1865 has been discussed in the popular press, and even depicted in scholarly documentaries as if it was a unique event in the history of man. With the advent of Christianity and the wind of freedom heralded by the Age of the Enlightenment, slavery has rightfully been denounced as an evil institution. And yet, there was plenty of blame to go around. We know in plenty of details the sins of the Old South and the Confederate States of America, but also to come to terms with their own past, African-Americans must recognize the fact that native Africans sold their own people, their own brothers, into slavery.

Worth recapitulating, Europeans could hardly penetrate the hot tropical climate and jungles of the sub-Saharan part of Africa during the late 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, because of their susceptibility to heat, malarial fever, and other tropical diseases. Arab and African traders captured, bought, and sold Africans first hand, and then sold or bartered them to Europeans and other Arab middlemen traders for a profit. Islamic traffickers are still doing so today in places such as the Sudan and Central Africa!

Additionally, they also need to remember the pesky fact that black Americans not only owned slaves in colonial America and in the U.S. before the Civil War, but also the equally troublesome fact the first legal slave owner in America was a black colonist, one of the original twenty blacks brought to Jamestown in 1619. Mr. Anthony Johnson of Virginia was that man. He took his former worker, another black indentured servant, to court, won his case, and secured the enslavement for life of Mr. John Casor, setting a legal precedent of black slavery in America as early as 1655, that would initiate, formulate, and establish the precedent of black slavery until the end of the Civil War.(3)

While many ardent abolitionists, such as William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglas, were uncompromising when it came to the institution of slavery — the idea that the North was committed to a moral crusade to end slavery was hypocritical and untrue. Illinois and other northern states had passed racist laws prohibiting the settlement of free blacks in their states and many Union soldiers vehemently refused to serve in integrated units with black Americans.

What to do with freed black slaves was a problem that plagued both the North and South before the War Between the States. The Republic of Liberia on the west coast of Africa was established in 1821 by the American Colonization Society to resettle ex-slaves, but only a minuscule number of African-Americans wished to be sent back to Africa. Only 15,000 eventually settled there. Although many white citizens in the North wanted to free the slaves, when it came to allowing them to settle in their states, as we have seen, they balked, and several northern states did not welcome the freed men. The easiest solution would have been for the North to purchase the slaves and compensate the slave owners, but this did not happen. As Mr. Steve Scroggins, a very knowledgeable Civil War buff of the Georgia Heritage Council points out, "giving the slaves 40 acres and a mule would have been much cheaper than the cost of a war, not counting the human cost."(4)

States’ rights, the right of secession, and slavery were all important contributing causes of the Civil War, but perhaps most important were the high revenue and protective tariffs that the North wanted to impose on the South repeatedly, not only to increase revenues for the federal government but even more apropos, to protect and expand its manufacturing and industrial might in competition with Europe, particularly France and England. The U.S. Congress led by northern politicians, who now had a decisive majority, passed and Lincoln signed ten tariff bills while in his presidency.

On March 2, 1861, Congress passed the Morrill Tariff that doubled duties on European imports, a tremendous hardship on the South. Two days later, in his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861 Lincoln announced that states had no right to secede from the Union and that it was his duty "to collect the duties and imposts" from the southern states. He also affirmed that he had no intention and no legal authority to interfere with the institution of slavery, and to reassure the South he expressed his support for the intended Corwin Amendment that would prohibit Congress from interfering with slavery, legislatively or constitutionally, where it already existed.

Just days before the Emancipation Proclamation, in the midst of the war, Lincoln extended his offer, once again — namely, that if the southern states would lay down their arms and return to the Union, slavery would be preserved where it already existed. But by then, southern secession had become the reason for continuing the war because, as John C. Calhoun had predicted, the South feared that its status in the U.S. would be subordinated to the interests of the industrialized and financially controlling North. One thing that Lincoln would not yield was his intention to collect duties on his tariff.

It is also evident that northern financiers recognized that the North had much to lose in commerce, if southern ports would remain open to foreign goods via free trade. Suddenly, by the end of 1860 and the beginning of 1861, the northern press aided by Republican propagandists began clamoring for war on the South. Thus, the heretofore call for "letting the South go in peace” ended.

Protective tariffs were so abhorrent to the South that the President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, in his February 18, 1861 inaugural address announced that the southern economy would be based on free trade, and the Constitution of the Confederacy that followed prohibited protective tariffs and permitted only the imposition of revenue tariffs that were absolutely necessary to run the central Confederate government.

On April 15, 1861, Lincoln called for the enlistment of 75,000 volunteers to invade the South, force the seceding southern states into reinstatement in the Union, and to force collection of the Morrill Tariff, which had just been passed two days earlier. The stage had been set for war. In his own inaugural address, Jefferson Davis had already asserted that the South would repel such an invasion.

When President Lincoln ordered a naval blockade of belligerent southern ports during the early months of the hostilities, he affirmed that the reason for the blockade was the need for tariff collection. Likewise, the stated congressional reason for the invasion of the South was to maintain the forts and property of the federal government for the purpose of collecting tariffs. These bellicose acts pushed Virginia, North Carolina, and Arkansas into the arms of the Confederacy.

On July 25, 1861, Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution, a proposal stating explicitly that the reason for the invasion of the South was to "preserve the union" and "not to interfere with the domestic institutions of the states," referring, of course, to slavery.(2)Civil War state lineup map

That slavery was not the sole underlying reason for the war is also evident in the fact during the war, four slave states remained in the Union (i.e., Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky, and Missouri, and another slave state (i.e., West Virginia carved out of the Old Dominion) was admitted to the Union in 1863.

And it goes without saying, if Lincoln had not ordered the invasion of the South, there would probably not have been a War Between the States. War would inevitably follow invasion. The South had to act in self-defense. Moreover, once hostilities started, if the Confederacy had freed all the slaves, the war would not have ended. And the war would not necessarily have been avoided, if slavery had been the only conflict between the two regions; there were the sticky issues of contention: states’ rights, and more ominously as we have seen, the right of secession, arising out of imbalance of trade and the imposition of imposts and protective tariffs.

And we must remember that the Emancipation Proclamation freed only the slaves of the rebellious states, not those in the northern and western states, or the U.S. territories. Those slaves in the Confederate States, who had been "freed," had to wait until they were liberated by the conquering Union armies. Black slaves in the loyal states or U.S. territories had to wait for another eight months after the end of the war to gain their freedom because slavery remained legal in the U.S. until the end of 1865.

According to the 9th and 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (i.e., parts of the Bill of Rights), since secession is not prohibited by the Constitution to the states, it is a right reserved to the people, or respectively, to the states. While I am not saying that secession and separation would have been ultimately beneficial to either the North or the South, I do question Lincoln's assertion that secession was illegal, and that the war and the bloodshed that followed were absolutely necessary and could not be avoided.

GettysburgWhat was the death toll in a civil war that could have possibly been avoided? The American Civil War took a heavy toll not only econmically with the devastation of the South, but also 750,000 young soldiers perished, according to Binghamton University historian J. David Hacker. Moreover,  in another study the Historian John Huddleston estimated the death toll at "ten percent of all Northern males 20–45 years old, and 30 percent of all Southern white males aged 18–40." Neither of these estimates mention an as yet undetermined number of civilians casualties, mostly in the South. In short the Civil War exacted the bloodiest and greatest toll of American lives in U.S. history, even surpasing those of World War I and World War II combined!(5)(6)

Most of Latin America, former colonies of Spain and Portugal, had black slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries, and not one of those countries required a sanguinary civil war to abolish the hated institution. Although in Cuba an unsuccessful war for independence had been fought between 1866 and 1876, the island abolished slavery peacefully in 1886. Brazil the largest country in South America with a large black and mixed-race population ended slavery in 1888 — and also without a war.  Latin America has had its share of problems (i.e., revolutions, poverty, even communist dictatorships) but one issue in which it has perhaps surpassed America is in the issue of race relations. And one lesson we should learn from our Latin neighbors is that genuine conciliation and healing are gained, not by government fiat or by constantly reopening old wounds, but by living together and moving on!

References & Sources

1) Parnell, John. The South should be honest about Civil War, the Macon Telegraph, April 15, 2011.

2) Blum, JM, Catton, B, Morgan, E.S., et. al., A History of the United States — the National Experience, 2nd ed.,  Harcourt, Brace, & World, Inc., New York, 1968, p.p. 225-369.

3) The Story of John Casor. 

4) Scroggins S. Lincoln Mythology is Born – Commentary. March 4, 2011.

5) Gugliotta Guy. New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll. The New York Times, April 3, 2012, pg. D1 (of the New York edition), and April 2, 2012 on

6) American Civil War entry, Wikipedia, Jan 24, 2014

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

This article was published exclusively for on July 25, 2011. Edited January 30, 2014. The article can be cited as: Faria MA. Slavery and the Civil War., July 25, 2011. Available from:

Copyright ©2011 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

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Comments on this post

Unequivocal evidence!

The Macon Telegraph, Viewpoints, Oct. 4, 2014

Unequivocal evidence

I appreciate Miguel Faria’s response to my letter about the Mississippian mounds, but I think he would do better to debate the issue than ramble on about rigid orthodoxy which has nothing to do with my letter.

So much has been written about the American Civil War that if you’re not picky about the credentials of the writer you can find support for almost any claim.

Fortunately, we can avoid all those writers, both good and bad, and go directly to the writings of the leaders of the rebellion, the newly written state constitutions and, most importantly, to the Declarations of Causes published by the states leaving the union.

No less than the president of the Confederacy referred to slavery as the direct cause of the rebellion and his vice president, Alexander Stephens, who usually delighted in contradicting him, wrote this in 1861:

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution of African slavery as it exists amongst us, the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the ‘rock upon which the old Union would split.’ He was right. What was conjecture with him, is now a realized fact.”

I could easily go on and on quoting the leaders of the rebellion who fostered no doubt that the direct cause of the American Civil War was slavery, but even better are the ultimate primary sources called Declarations of Causes. I wish there was room here to quote from all of them because they all make slavery the main cause of succession. Here is the first paragraph from Georgia’s Declaration of Causes:

“The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last 10 years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate states with reference to the subject of African slavery.

They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property.”-- Jim Sandefur, Lizella


Dr. Faria replies

Dear Editor: As to my disagreement with Mr. Sandefur on the causes of the Civil War, let me just reiterate that reasonable and honest men can reach different conclusions based on multitudinous and conflicting data. As to debate, this has been done endlessly, and the main point I address is his dogmatism & insistence on exclusivity.

As to the Confederate documents he provided — e.g., Alexander Stephens admission and "The Georgia Declaration of Causes," etc. — I'm very well aware of them, as I'm of Abraham Lincoln's own statements, who on the other hand, denied the Civil War was about slavery. I'm also very cognizant of historical veracity and the context in which declarations, accusations, and recriminations are made. In the heat of imminent and contentious civil wars, passions flare and boastful declarations are made, which must be weighed in with preceding actions and historical antecedents. If this is not done it amounts to intellectual laziness.

In short, what is evident here is Mr. Sandefur's exclusivity, intolerance for different opinions, and yes, rigidity of thought, which are evinced by his obdurate insistence that his opinion is the only one correct and condescending to calling those with whom he disagrees, "Confederate revisionist nut." In my case, given my background & ethnicity, his blanket assertion is, pardon me, laughable: It is like the pot calling a newly varnished silver urn, black! — MAF

Critical thinking

Letter to the Editor, Macon Telegraph, Sept 27, 2014

Critical thinking

I agree with Jim Sandefur about the sorry state of education, not only in Middle Georgia but the nation. This is particularly true for history and civics. He is factually correct the Indian Mounds in this area are a product of Mississippian civilization, centuries earlier than the Creeks.

What Mr. Sandefur wrote also about "tribal memories" is correct and is true for other civilizations, e.g., Mayan (Mesoamerican) civilization in the Yucatan, which had virtually vanished before the Spaniards arrived there.

With all that said, "the main cause" of the Civil War is subject to debate, even as it regards contemporary claims from both sides. This type of rigid orthodoxy, excluding contrarian but well-formed opinions, does not encourage young minds to think constructively, but to reduction of thought (intellectual laziness) that leads to the same type of faulty education he decries!

Such exclusionary rigidity of thinking in historical claims, when not associated with absolutely factual information, as was mentioned with the Mississippians, impairs critical thinking, as well as leads to absurd reductionism, oversimplification and historical inaccuracies.

I'm a disinterested student of the Civil War, as I have no ancestors or geographical connections with either side, thus I do not qualify as a "Confederate revisionist nut." Yet, I have come to the conclusion after years of study, that slavery was an important but not the main cause of the Civil War for reasons I have stated elsewhere. Well done objective research in subjective and disputable areas of history may lead to different conclusions and treatises by honest and unbiased researchers.

Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.

Disputable history

Posted MT, Sept 27, 2014
Emory Lane (Georgia Southern University): Well said Dr. Faria, well said. To generalize: "Well done objective research in subjective and disputable areas of [history] may lead to different conclusions and treatises by honest and unbiased researchers."

Civil War Traitors?

Macon Telegraph 12/13/13

Faithful to his oath

John Wayne Dobson takes the 124th anniversary of Jefferson Davis’ death to show how hard it was for Davis and Jackson and Lee to become traitors. Well, in a few days we will be able to celebrate the 149th anniversary of Virginia’s greatest general’s victory at the Battle of Nashville. That general’s name was George Thomas

Like Lee, Thomas was a plantation class Virginian. As a child he played with his families’ slaves and illicitly taught some of them to read. When Lee was superintendent at West Point, Thomas was an artillery and cavalry instructor. He and Lee were friends.

Also like Lee, Thomas swore the following oath to become a United States Army officer when he graduated from West Point:

“I, George Thomas, appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the president of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according the rules and articles for the government of the armies of the United States.”

Unlike Lee, George Thomas was not able to betray his solemn oath as a gentleman and officer. Thomas loved Virginia and his family living there, so his decision to not break his oath and not betray his country was probably harder than Davis’ and Lee’s decision to join the crowd and fight for one of the worst causes in the history of war -- the preservation of slavery.

At the Battle of Chickamauga, Thomas earned the nickname “Rock of Chickamauga” by saving the Union Army from being completely routed. Later, the army he built in Tennessee was never defeated and he was considered by some to be the best general in the Union Army, but he was never fully trusted by Sherman and Grant because he was a Virginian and they were jealous of his abilities. Some modern historians point out that had Thomas joined Lee, that lethal combination could very well have lead to victory for the Confederacy.

So, instead of celebrating the anniversary of Jefferson’s death on Dec. 6, I’ll celebrate the greatest general from Virginia who attacked, routed and destroyed the Confederate Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Nashville on Dec. 15-16, 1864.

-- Jim Sandefur, Lizella

Macon Telegraph 12/18/13


Jim Sandefur never fails to slander Confederate soldiers as “traitors” or to falsely define their cause, which in truth was self-defense and independence. He applauds Union Gen. George Thomas of Virginia, who is more aptly deemed the traitor.

Thomas, Gen. R.E. Lee and Jefferson Davis were all West Point graduates. Honest people of the time had honest differences on secession and which duties and allegiances were paramount. Each acted according to his conscience.
Many West Point cadets were familiar with a textbook used there, “A View of the Constitution of the United States of America,” written by William Rawle. The 2nd Edition (1829) can be read online at

In Chapter 32 entitled “Of the Permanence of the Union,” Rawle writes that each state “depends on itself whether it will continue a member of the Union. To deny this right would be inconsistent with the principle on which all our political systems are founded ...” He added that, “Allegiance (to the Union) would necessarily cease on the dissolution (of the Union).”

Though not the only constitutional reference text at West Point, it’s well documented that many graduates of the pre-war period were familiar with Rawle’s views that are entirely consistent with those of Madison and the framers of the Constitution.

Sandefur is as wrong now as the U.S. government was then to slander Davis, Lee and others. Treason charges against Davis and others were dropped in 1869. U.S. prosecutors knew the facts didn’t support their charges. U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote in July 1867, “If you bring these (Confederate) leaders to trial it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution, secession is not rebellion. Lincoln wanted Davis to escape, and he was right. His capture was a mistake. His trial will be a greater one.”
Sandefur’s nonsense notwithstanding, it’s well documented that the invasion and blockade of the South were not launched to abolish slavery. It was Lincoln and his Yankee horde who committed treason as defined in the Constitution.

-- Steve Scroggins, Macon

The South's own Abolition of Slavery

Dr. Faria,

For years I've maintained that slavery was on the way out and that the South would have abolished slavery on it's own terms, which would have resulted in better black/white relations today. Perhaps not perfect relations, but there might not have been a need for a Civil Rights Movement in the 50s and 60s or for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I've also maintained that the relationship between black and white people in the South quite possibly would have ended up better than the Northern relationship between white people and their black neighbors if the South had been allowed to deal with slavery on its own.

It's true that the Civil War came about more because of tariffs than because of slavery. Yet people have been well trainined and will dispute that fact to their death beds. Regardless, the reality of the Civil War is that it was more about money and power and much less about people. Black slavery was simply a pawn, used primarily by the North, to justify it's role in subjugating the Confederacy.

I've never thought about the fact that no Latin American nation needed a war to abolish slavery. Thats one more tool I can use in my arguement that civil war was not needed for that purpose. One of the main arguments I've used is the fact that technology was on the horizon that would eliminate the need for slavery. Yes, the cotton gin actually increased the need for both land and slaves. But mechanical plows, cultivators, planters, pickers and balers were soon to be developed that would make it far more profitable to use machinery than forced human labor (which still had to be clothed, fed, and sheltered).

I suppose that the argument could be made that the abolishment of slavery is what created the need for such farm equipment, but that argument would also negate American inquenuity. The claim that abolition made it farming advancements possible also sets up the false idea that Americans cannot be inventive simply on the merits of creating an easier, more profitiable means of survival, which in turn would suggest that things like televisions and computer games should never have been invented.

No, humans are much more intelligent and inventive than the slavery-is-the-reason-for-the-civil-war proponents will admit.

Thank you for your in-depth and accurate response to those who claim slavery is why the north invaded the south and why the south ceeded in the first place.

~ 107 degrees in the shade - can you take the heat?