If you think the Civil War started with the attack on Fort Sumter by South Carolina when General P.G.T. Beauregard, in command of the Confederate forces around Charleston Harbor, opened fire on the Union garrison holding Fort Sumter, you would be correct. But that was on April 12th of 1861, about four months AFTER South Carolina had said "We, the people ... do declare ... the union now subsisting between South Carolina and other States, under the name of “The United States of America,” is hereby dissolved."
So, really, that was it? They sent a nasty gram and when no one noticed, they decided to take their "well regulated militia" and engage in open rebellion? Not exactly. Actually, not even close.
Shortly after penning their first missive, someone must have sobered up and realized "maybe we should explain why we are leaving." After all, Jefferson, a Southern Gentleman, had spent a lot of time elegantly explaining why we were leaving to foreigners. Certainly, we owe no less to our own kind. Besides, Southern Gentlemen are nothing if not chivalrous and loquacious when it comes to matters of righteous indignation.
Which brings us to the first Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union I told you they were loquacious. Even the titles of their documents could barely be read in a single breath. I suppose it was either a form of passive-aggressive taunting, or what people did to amuse themselves in the absence of cable news and pro wrestling.
So what were the immediate causes that induced and justified the unilateral act of secession? You don't have to read past the first paragraph to see what had their pantaloons in a bunch.
The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D. 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
That's a clue to you that this really is about slavery. But don't take my word for it. Reading through their historical review which starts about ten years BEFORE the War of Independence they eventually get to the point:
In the present case, that fact is established with certainty. We
assert that fourteen of the States have deliberately refused,for years past, to fulfill their constitutional obligations, and we refer to their own Statutes for the proof.
The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows:
"No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to
This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. [emphasis added]
whom such service or labor may be due."
TL;DR --- "If we had known that joining the Union meant giving up our slaves, we would never have even considered it. We're keeping our slaves. Ain't nothing you can say gonna change our minds. Screw you. We're leaving."
Obviously, that nastygram wasn't sufficient to settle the matter and so South Carolina attacked the Federal fort and started the shooting war.
So far, so good. South Carolina is acting like a bunch of hooligans, but what about the rest of the nation? Why did the Union feel compelled to bring the War of Northern Aggression to the "other slaveholding states" referred to in South Carolina's first Ordinance?
Turns out, the Union did not attack those states. The "other slaveholding states" decided to join in with South Carolina.
Let's consider the case of Mississippi. They were the first to follow South Carolina. Mississippi seceded shortly after New Year's on January 9th, 1861. Now, I know what you're thinking... but how could they follow South Carolina if South Carolina hadn't attacked Fort Sumter yet? Excellent question. When I say they followed South Carolina, I mean they really followed them closely. The title of their document severing ties with the Union?
A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.
Ok, now I agree that title, as long as it is, wasn't going to win any awards for originality, but at least the name of the state IS different, so you gotta give them that. Maybe it was the hangover talking, the heat, or they were just tuckered out from writing the title, but Mississippi was mercifully short in getting to the point in their Declaration. After a brief introductory sentence saying how difficult a decision this was they laid their cards on the table thusly:
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. [emphasis added]
TL;DR -- "We're keeping our slaves. Ain't nothing you can say gonna change our minds. Screw you. We're leaving. Yay Civilization!!!"
Florida basically phoned it in a day later with their Ordinance of Secession:
We, the people of the State of Florida, in convention assembled, do solemnly ordain, publish, and declare, That the State of Florida hereby withdraws herself from the confederacy of States existing under the name of the United States of America and from the existing Government of the said States; and that all political connection between her and the Government of said States ought to be, and the same is hereby, totally annulled, and said Union of States dissolved; and the State of Florida is hereby declared a sovereign and independent nation; and that all ordinances heretofore adopted, in so far as they create or recognize said Union, are rescinded; and all laws or parts of laws in force in this State, in so far as they recognize or assent to said Union, be, and they are hereby, repealed.
They obviously did not feel any explanation was needed. I guess everyone was eager to get back to the beach party. After all, it wasn't like anyone was shooting or anything. At least this way they had dibs on their seat at the table if anyone decided to sit down at one.
Alabama got involved the next day. Obviously disappointed by the showing of their neighbors in Florida, they overcompensated a tad when they issued their
An Ordinance to dissolve the union between the State of Alabama and the other States united under the compact styled "The Constitution of the United States of America"
As you can see, after a momentary respite, we are back to Titles Too Long to Read in A Single Breath theater. In keeping with the lengthy title, Alabama did not cut corners listing their grievances which revolved around the most odious examples of Northern Aggression ever to tramp across God's Green Earth. They made no bones about it....
Whereas, the election of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin to the offices of president and vice-president of the United States of America, by a sectional party, avowedly hostile to the domestic institutions and to the peace and security of the people of the State of Alabama, preceded by many and dangerous infractions of the constitution of the United States by many of the States and people of the Northern section, is a political wrong of so insulting and manacing a character as to justify the people of the State of Alabama in the adoption of prompt and decided measures for their future peace and security, therefore:
If you read that and thought "Day-um! Alabama seceded because Lincoln won the election?" you would be correct. Alabama didn't stop there. They didn't merely dissolve their relationship. They went a step further.
Be it declared and ordained by the people of the State of Alabama, in Convention assembled, That the State of Alabama now withdraws, and is hereby withdrawn from the Union known as "the United States of America," and henceforth ceases to be one of said United States, and is, and of right ought to be a Sovereign and Independent State. [emphasis added]
You gotta give them credit for going the extra step and actually thinking about what it meant to secede from the UNITED States. If you ain't united with no one, then you be independent. Makes sense. Of course, anyone who remembers their first foray into independence remembers how scary that was. Alabama was no exception. Having jumped off that bridge, they looked around and realized they really didn't like the idea of going down alone, so they went on to write:
And as it is the desire and purpose of the people of Alabama to meet the slaveholding States of the South, who may approve such purpose, in order to frame a provisional as well as permanent Government upon the principles of the Constitution of the United States,
TL;DR = "We're keeping our slaves. Ain't nothing you can say to change our minds. We're leaving! Hey, who wants to hold hands when we jump?"
Be it resolved by the people of Alabama in Convention assembled, That the people of the States of Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri, be and are hereby invited to meet the people of the State of Alabama, by their Delegates, in Convention, on the 4th day of February, A.D., 1861, at the city of Montgomery, in the State of Alabama, for the purpose of consulting with each other as to the most effectual mode of securing concerted and harmonious action in whatever measures may be deemed most desirable for our common peace and security.
That's right -- Fort Sumter hasn't even been attacked yet. In fact, Lincoln hasn't even been sworn in yet. He's still in Illinois. But these guys are not only leaving because they didn't like the election results, they are INVITING states that haven't seceded (and won't wind up seceding, either) to get together and form a NEW confederation of independent states. Those are some shiny brass balls for a bunch of guys who want to cling to their slave holding ways, but are afraid to go it alone.
By the way, the proposed date of that Convention? A whole month before Lincoln was even sworn in! Things happened slower back then.
Georgia and Louisiana signed up the next week, with brief notices of their own following the Florida model. I guess they figured all the good lines had been taken, so why bother?
Texas followed on February 1st, 1861. Lincoln, by the way, was still making arrangements to leave Illinois at that point. But Texas was WAY ahead of him on this one.
A declaration of the causes which impel the State of Texas to secede from the Federal Union
Not to be outdone by South Carolina, Alabama or Mississippi, Texas felt compelled to spell out the reasons it was leaving the union they had joined a mere fifteen years earlier. I'm guessing they chose the most poetic language possible because they wanted folks to realize Texans weren't fickle; they were sensitive. There's a difference.
The recent developments in Federal affairs make it evident that the power of the Federal Government is sought to be made a weapon with which to strike down the interests and property of the people of Texas, and her sister slave-holding States, instead of permitting it to be, as was intended, our shield against outrage and aggression.
You gotta admit, that's some pretty poetic wording. The imagery is just delicious. The irony is sublime. But the bottom line is still the same:
TL;DR -- "We're keeping our slaves. Ain't nothing you can say gonna change our minds. Screw you. We're leaving. Let's go shoot some Indians!!!"
That's where things stood for about two months. Lincoln's train finally made its way to Washington, DC. He got sworn in. And then South Carolina decided to turn the war of words into a shooting war.
Virginia jumped on board this "War of Northern Aggression" shortly after South Carolina attacked Fort Sumter, and the Federal forces surrendered. Lest anyone doubt their Christian intentions, Virginia declared they were not going to tolerate anyone oppressing the poor slaveholders:
The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitition were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States
TL;DR "We're keeping our slaves. That's the deal we made when we joined. Ain't nothing you can say gonna change our minds. Screw you. We're leaving. "
Once the shooting started in earnest, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee joined in. North Carolina and Tennessee, in solidarity with Florida, phoned it in with simple statements devoid of any explanations. Arkansas, on the other hand, took a different tack from the rest of the crowd.
Even though 20% of whites in Arkansas held slaves, most only had a few. To be a person of substance (i.e., to have "planter" status) you had to have a dozen slaves. Only 12% of slave owners, or about 2% of the white population had significant slave holdings. However, that small group held a disproportionate share of political and economic clout in the state. (Some things never change, do they?) Those folks were agitating for secession for the obvious reason. They actually held a convention in Little Rock in March of 1861 but the majority won out and secession was voted down.
Once the shooting started, the slave holding elites were able to rally the people of Arkansas using a different line of argument.
"Whereas, in addition to the well-founded causes of complaint set forth by this convention, in resolutions adopted on the 11th of March, A.D. 1861, against the sectional party now in power in Washington City, headed by Abraham Lincoln, he has, in the face of resolutions passed by this convention pledging the State of Arkansas to resist to the last extremity any attempt on the part of such power to coerce any State that had seceded from the old Union, proclaimed to the world that war should be waged against such States until they should be compelled to submit to their rule, and large forces to accomplish this have by this same power been called out, and are now being marshaled to carry out this inhuman design; and to longer submit to such rule, or remain in the old Union of the United States, would be disgraceful and ruinous to the State of Arkansas"
TL;DR "We ain't going to get involved in this fight with other slave holding states. We're leaving. Oh yeah, we're keeping our slaves, too. But we're just too decent to mention that."
Missouri and Kentucky basically followed the Arkansas line of reasoning. Of course, this new found status as Independent and Sovereign States freaked them out as much as it did the folks in Alabama. Instead of trying to go it alone, and establish the model of neutrality Switzerland and Sweden would so successfully employ a century later, these states supported the Confederacy of states in open rebellion against the democratically elected government.
So now we are at a point where everyone has hurt feelings. In these pre-Twitter days, things moved slowly. It was July 21, 1861 before these yahoos saw up close and personal The Civil War was No Picnic. But even that realization wasn't enough to slap sense into the rebels. Like the man said, "You can't cure stupid." After the First Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), people started getting shot all over the place. What's Lincoln do about the slavery thing? Nothing ... as Harper's Weekly noted in its May 31, 1862 issue,
"WE publish in another column the President's Proclamation rescinding the General Order of General Hunter, by which the slaves in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida were freed. The President takes the ground that the right of emancipating negroes under the war power belongs to him, and that he does not choose to delegate it to commanders in the field."
It wasn't until September 22nd, 1862, following the battle at Antietam (Sharpsburg), that Lincoln issued what has become known as the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation.
He didn't free the slaves. His preliminary declaration states:
That on the first day of January in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any state, or designated part of a state, the people whereof shall than be in rebellion against the United States; shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free. [emphasis added]
Basically, he was setting a hundred day window (sound familiar?) and putting the Confederates on notice that by date certain things were going to change. However, this was not a dictate. This was a matter of "military necessity" and to make this legally legitimate, he had to give them notice. He also had to give them an opportunity to mitigate this potential damage. And he did. The preliminary emancipation proclamation goes on to say:
That the executive will, on the first day of January aforesaid, by proclamation, designate the States, and parts of states, if any, in which the people thereof respectively, shall then be in rebellion against the United States; and the fact that any state, or the people thereof shall, on that day be, in good faith represented in the Congress of the United States, by members chosen thereto, at elections wherein a majority of the qualified voters of such state shall have participated, shall, in the absence of strong countervailing testimony, be deemed conclusive evidence that such state, and the people thereof, are not then in rebellion against the United States.
TL;DR --- On January 1st, I am going to start treating the slaves in any rebel state as free. I'm going to decide which state (or part of state) is in rebellion on Jan 1st. Here's the test: If you have representatives in Congress on January 1st, you will not be considered a rebel and we will work this out.
The hundred days came and went. We all know what happened. No one came back of their own volition, so The Emancipation Proclamation was signed as a matter of "military necessity" and everyone finally agreed, yes, the war WAS about freeing the slaves. Sherman tore through the South and did horrendous damage. In general, the result of the war was lots of people were slaughtered or simply died as a consequence of all the slaughter and the South was forced to its knees.
To this day, that humiliation runs deep in the bones of Southerners. Sorry about that. You're just going to have to suck it up. Welcome to the 21st Century, Rip Van Winkle. We don't do history here. Our Motto is: "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." If you doubt that, I got a few War Crimes and a stolen election I'd like to show you. You want to live in the past? Be my guest. Just make sure you leave the Time Machine behind, I might want to go back and kill Hitler someday.
Lincoln, of course, was more magnanimous. That's why he did not seek to prosecute any of the foot soldiers. He let them keep their horses, if they had them. He knew he would have to bind the nation back together after the war. That is why the strategy Lincoln used to arrive at the Emancipation Proclamation is so interesting. Lincoln knew that if he was going to preserve the Union, he could not violate the Constitution to do it. Otherwise, in the aftermath the ruling would be legally overturned. That's why he went with the two-step approach. It does raise an interesting question, though. I often wonder if McClellan had scored a decisive victory at Antietam would that have prompted the Rebels to accept Lincoln's preliminary offer and settle for half a loaf? I used to think it might have. But judging from the way people are acting today, (McConnell, I'm looking at You!!!) I suspect they probably would have been just as intransigent and wound up with the same results.
So next time, someone starts to run that whole "War of Northern Aggression" malarky past you, Here's the bottom line: (You may as well write this down, because you won't be hearing any of this on cable news -- they don't do history, either.)
If you pre-emptively seceded before Lincoln was even inaugurated, encouraged other people to join you in open rebellion, fired the first shot, and then refused his personal offer to send representatives back to Congress to work out your disputes like sane adults, calling it a War of Northern AGGRESSION is simply Mything the Point!