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Thursday, July 25, 2013

See, It Wasn't About Slavery!

Mere days after the disastrous Battle of Bull Run in 1861, the US Senate voted 30-5 in favor of this statement of war principles:

Resolved, That the present deplorable civil war has been forced upon the country by the disunionists of the southern States now in revolt against the constitutional government and in arms around the capital; that in this national emergency Congress, banishing all feeling of mere passion or resentment, will recollect only its duty to the whole country; that this war is not prosecuted upon our part in any spirit of oppression, nor for any purpose of conquest or subjugation, nor purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of these States, but to defend and maintain the supremacy of the Constitution and all laws made in pursuance thereof, and to preserve the Union, with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.

The House had overwhelmingly passed a very similar resolution on July 22.  Not exact, but close enough for gummint work.  President Andrew Johnson referred to both versions in his proclamation of April 2, 1866:

[W]hereas these resolutions, though not joint or concurrent in form, are substantially identical, and as such may be regarded as having expressed the sense of Congress upon the subject to which they relate;

And whereas, by my proclamation of the thirteenth day of June last, the insurrection in the State of Tennessee was declared to have been suppressed, the authority of the United States therein to bo undisputed, and such United States officers as had been duly commissioned to be in the undisputed exercise of their official functions;And whereas there now exists no organized armed resistance of misguided citizens or others

to the authority of the United States in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Florida, and the laws can be sustained and enforced therein by the proper civil authority, State or Federal, and the people of the said States are well and loyally disposed, and have conformed or will conform in their legislation to the condition of affairs growing out of the amendment to the Constitution of the United States, prohibiting slavery within the limits and jurisdiction of the United States...

Now, therefore, I, Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, do hereby proclaim and declare that the insurrection which heretofore existed in the States of Georgia, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas, Mississippi and Florida is at an end, and is henceforth to be so regarded. 

Well, good ole King Andy elided a couple of things.  The resolutions were passed in large part out of fear in the war's early days when the Union wasn't faring well and needed to make sure border states didn't bolt for the CSA.  But attitudes can change over time:

[The resolutions] voiced at the time the public opinion of the country, and almost the unanimous opinion of the Republican party. President Lincoln represented this opinion, and in a conservative spirit he attempted at first to conduct the war without inter- fering with slavery, on the assumption that the status of the states and their relation to the Union had not changed. 

But the war made all the difference in the world. The events of but a few short months of war wrought a decided change in the purpose and temper of Congress and the country. It was seen that slavery was a source of strength to the Rebellion. Conservative Union men were being rapidly and radically convinced that if the national government did not interfere with slavery, slavery would seriously interfere with the national government and the success of its arms. This change in policy and purpose is indicated by the fact that when the Thirty-seventh Congress came together again in its regular session in December, 1861, and an attempt was made to reaffirm the Crittenden resolution which had received such universal approval but a few months before, it was decisively rejected.

Indeed, the House laid the resolution to reaffirm said principles upon the table by Stevens' motion on December 4, and another in the same vein was similarly dealt with the following day through a motion made by Owen Lovejoy, brother of martyred abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy.

I bring that up only to show that the position of the Congress and the President had evolved fairly quickly once it was clear the war wasn't going to be quick and the prodigal South wouldn't be coming back to the family any time soon.  Certainly Lincoln saw that undermining slavery would undermine the rebellion, and when the House had a chance to reaffirm that the destruction of slavery wasn't a goal of the war--a purely political move--it failed to do so.

While Johnson made a nod to the 13th Amendment, he was still a white supremacist and a lot of stuff was going down in April that he and the South didn't like.  Congress was repassing the Civil Rights Act that the President had rejected in '65, and overriding his subsequent veto, plus a compromise was introduced that ultimately would become the 14th Amendment.  And that, of course, the Rebs weren't going to support--Johnson discouraged them to, not that they needed his advice--so Congress was spurred to pass the Reconstruction Acts and implement a Radical Republican vision of how to readmit Southern States.

Southern Unionist/War Democrat Johnson was just as counterproductive as the traitors themselves.  In an alternate history, he might've signed the Civil Rights Act first time around, and the Radical Reconstruction would not have come to fruition and the 14th Amendment never would have been deemed necessary.

Anyway, from the North's perspective (not the South's, natch), the war wasn't about slavery at the beginning.  But every time they tried to meet the pro-slavery folks halfway, or 3/5s of the way, their opponents weren't satisfied, so fairly quickly the war did become a fight against slavery.  The Union couldn't be a house divided, and the Rebels forced the question.  And lost.


July 25, 2013 | Permalink


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