I realize I’m a couple days late posting anything on this, but Tuesday was a 12-hour war of attrition at work, and I didn’t get around to writing anything until today.
Nevertheless, for anyone who may have been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks, Tuesday marked the 150th anniversary of the start of the American Civil War. On April 12, 1861, confederate forces bombarded Fort Sumter off the coast of Charleston, S.C., prompting the official start of the war. Nearly four years to the day and more than 500,000 dead troops later, Lee surrendered on April 9, 1865. Four years and two days after the start of the war, Lincoln was shot by the firebrand, John Wilkes Booth, at [[Ford's Theatre]] in Washington.
As an original resident of South Carolina, the first state to secede from the Union, I am interested in examining both the causes of the Civil War and the effects from the fallout. My Civil War professor at Clemson University, Paul Anderson, supplied me and my fellow history students with this pithy summation of the root causes behind the War Between the States:
Both slavery and anti-slavery caused the Civil War.
This was literally one of the first sentences he uttered to us after roll call.
We know the story well. Southern aristocrats and politicians, of course, were fighting for the extension of slavery into the territories and for the continuation of slavery in the South, the South’s economy being almost exclusively dependent on the peculiar institution. That’s not to say that the North didn’t have a stake in the preservation of slavery. It was both a purchaser of Southern goods and an implicit participant in the slave trade, as slaves would often be brought to America on Northern ships. I’m sure Northern ship owners profited mightily from this enterprise.
“the unique aristocratic tone of the state’s politics and culture.
Against that backdrop, the loss of Charleston signaled the immediate end of the slaveholding Confederacy, but it also ushered in a second kind of civil war, an internal struggle between the antique ethic and a newer, empowered force of democracy.”
Many Southerners today talk a lot about the issue of states’ rights and how the start of the Civil War was, in part, fueled by the federal government encroaching on state sovereignty. While states’ rights was on the minds of Southern leaders, they were thinking of states’ rights to preserve slavery and fight for its extension into the colonies. There was simply no other main cause of the war. All other purported “causes” dreamed up by Southerners today attempting, perhaps, to soften the legacy of their ancestors are sub-causes of the one main cause. Lincoln’s first inaugural address, which was devoted almost entirely to the issue of slavery, makes this abundantly clear:
“One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute.”
Southern leaders prior to the war and afterward, shook in their trousers at the thought of four million free black people who were previously subjugated by rich whites. Thus, in the aftermath of the Civil War, a “new kind of civil war” commenced, as Anderson puts it, between the struggle mentioned above.
South Carolina’s 1895 constitution signaled the
“shotgun wedding of democracy and white supremacy.”
Hence, a new kind of subjugation persisted for another 100 years following the end of the war in the form of the Black Codes and Jim Crow. It’s a sad commentary that we, as a nation, took so long to recognize the true liberty of four million other human beings who played no small part — mostly against their will — in helping build the economic foundation of our-still young country in the 19th century. The 150th anniversary should be as much about honoring their legacy as remembering the half million people who died fighting for their respective causes.
[Photo Credit: Library of Congress photo collection - Morris Island, South Carolina. Battery Weed. Five 10-inch siege mortars.]