Robert Kennedy's United States History Class
THE EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION
Discuss the Sessionist Movement and how it led to the Civil War
The American Civil War, the bloodiest in the nation’s history, resulted in approximately 750,000 deaths.1 The war touched the life of nearly every American as military mobilization reached levels never seen before or since. The vast majority of northerners went to war to preserve the Union, but the war ultimately transformed into a struggle to eradicate slavery. African Americans, both enslaved and free pressed the issue of emancipation and nurtured this transformation. Simultaneously, women thrust themselves into critical wartime roles while navigating a world without many men of military age. The Civil War was a defining event in the history of the United States and, for the Americans thrust into it, a wrenching one.
Civil War casualties Outnumber All American casualties of previous wars and subsequent wars combined.
The Mexican-American War
The results of the war with Mexico between 1846-47 (new territory was acquired by the United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February of 1848) posed a question which the Americans of the next decade could not evade. "Would it be the destiny of the United States to spread slavery or freedom?"
As a result of the war and Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the desire the United States had for Manifest Destiny had been realized.
John C. Calhoun and Ralph Waldo Emerson had little else in common, but both men sensed in the Mexican War the omens of a great disaster.
Calhoun warned that Mexico was "the forbidden fruit; the penalty of eating it would be to subject our institutions to political death."
"The United States will conquer Mexico," Emerson conceded, "but it will be as the man swallows the arsenic.... Mexico will poison us." Wars, as both men knew, have a way of breeding new wars, often in unforeseen ways.
Thus the winning of the Southwest gave rise to quarrels over newly acquired lands. In each case the quarrels set in motion a series of disputes which would continue to pull at the emotional. psychological. and political seams of the country until it exploded into civil war.
It is ironic that when the antislavery movement concentrated on the states where slavery existed, it made little headway; but when the focus shifted to the territories where slavery did not yet exist, the is.sue became so explosive that it eventually split the nation. There are several reasons for this.
First, the Constitution clearly denied Congress the authority to abolish slavery in the states. But the territories were a different matter: they belonged to the nation. The precedents of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 and the Missouri Compromise of 1820 seemed to give Congress the authority to prohibit slavery in the territories.
Second, during the 1850s the question of slavery in the territories divorced race from the issue of slavery and made the "slavery issue" a matter of fundamental principle, far removed from the reality of America's black slaves.
Northerners were no more eager than Southerners to have blacks as free and equal members of their society. To them, abolitionism threatened to tum millions of blacks loose on white society, a prospect that during the 1830s provoked dozens of northern mobs to attack abolitionists and free blacks.
Nonetheless, many Northerners had become convinced that slavery was the direct antithesis of all that they associated with freedom. In its essence, slavery robbed people of their labor, the very instrument by which free men and women determined their own destinies.
For Northerners and Southerners alike, the territories represented the future. The conflict over slavery in the territories became a struggle for control of the future. Most slave holders believed that their way of life could endure and thrive only if they had full freedom to take their slave property into the open territories. To deny them that right, they believed, was to subject them to a tyranny that deprived them of the foundation of their present prosperity and their dreams for the future.
To the Northerners the open territories also symbolized an open future, full of potential and opportunity. But many now considered the expansion of slavery to be incompatible with their own freedom to make the best life their talent and labor would allow. They feared that slavery would jeopardize their future if it was permitted to enter the territories they themselves might want to go into. Slavery seemed to give slave holders an unfair advantage in "the race of life": with only their own labor, how could they possibly compete with the labor and capital the planter could extract from his slaves? The debate over the expansion of slavery would become the "key issue" during the late 1840s and throughout the 1850s.
Since the 1790s when slaves had successfully rebelled in Santo Domingo and slaughtered 60,000 people, Southerners realized that their own slaves might rise up against them. From 1820 to 1831 many slave revolt conspiracies developed, especially along the coast where blacks outnumbered whites; of these, Nat Turner's rebellion in 1831 created the most emotional and psychological stress among Southern whites.
In August of 1831, Nat Turner and six other slaves attacked and killed Turner's owner and family, gathered arms and ammunition as they could find them, and set out to gain support from other slaves. Turner felt, when the slaves saw their owners actually lying dead and felt themselves masterless, they would join his liberation army. And since the slaves in Southampton County outnumbered the whites (9,501 blacks to 6,574 whites), the county would belong to them .
In order to "strike terror and alarm" in hopes that they would receive less resistance from the whites, Turner decided that no white person in their path-- man, woman, or child--could be spared. At the Waller homestead, for example, one woman and a total of 10 children were killed. It was the bloodiest single raid of the campaign . Turner also decided that the killings must be brutal in order to intensify the general terror. Thus the heads of some victims were severed, and the bodies of others dismembered.
Although not as successful as he desired, Turner was able to recruit between 60 to 70 slaves who ended up killing at least 55 whites.
The immediate effect of the rebellion on the whites was the institution of a reign of terror of their own which resulted in the murder of a large number of innocent blacks. In order to stop Turner's Rebellion, local and state militia joined by federal troops, had orders to capture or kill any insurrectionists.
But Nat's men had worn no uniforms. No one could tell who had been part of the terror and who had not. There were even rumors among the whites that a huge slave army of more than a thousand was still moving .around the country . The whites' fear and rae had few limits. Blacks were murdered at random all over the county and down into North Carolina. Some were lynched, others shot or beheaded. One company of cavalry killed forty blacks in two days, then put the heads of 15 on poles "as a warning to all who should undertake a similar plot."
As a result of the rebellion, the psychological and emotional make-up of the South became apparent during a debate that occurred in the Virginia legislature over the continued use of slavery in the state. The Governor, John Floyd, came to the conclusion that slavery must end. Floyd was joined by many members of the Virginia legislature who also shared his foresight. Some of them however, were only interested in creating a more modern commercial and industrial South; they were convinced that slavery kept them in bondage to economic underdevelopment.
Nonetheless, one legislator drew a conclusion that was clearly in the minds of many Virginians : every slave was a potential Nat Turner. This legislator asked: could a "deluded and drunken handful" of rebels like Nat Turner's band possibly have created panic throughout Virginia? "No," came his answer. "It was the suspicion eternally attached to the slave himself, the suspicion that a Nat Turner might be in every family, that the same bloody deed could be re-enacted at any time in any place, that the materials for it were spread throughout the land, and always ready for a like explosion." The only solution, he argued, was to abolish slavery and send the freed slaves back to Africa.
The result of Nat Turner's Rebellion and the ensuing debate pointed up what became a critical fact. A point of crisis had been reached, and white Southerners had to choose which way to tum. If they did not do something to end slavery. they had to do something to make it more secure and profitable . The choice was made without much hesitation: the white South fastened slavery on the blacks and themselves much more firmly than ever before .
Consequently, more stringent slave laws and more vigorous enforcement of existing statutes became the order of the day. And any attempt by, Northern abolitionists, or Whigs, or Republicans to interfere with the existence or expansion of slavery was seen as a threat to the very soul of the South. Thus, "the more violently the winds of Northern abolitionism blew, the more tightly the South wrapped the black cloak of slavery about itself, and the more savagely it struck back at its tormentors ." It is in light of this emotional and psychological make-up and the fact that blacks made up over 44% of the population in six of the 15 slave states that the Southern reactions to the above mentioned sectional conflicts should be understood. As the South resisted its tormentors, the North became more determined to bring an end to the embarrassing institution. In 1850, most Northerners thought of slavery merely as an unfortunate fact of life in the South. But by 1860 they had come to feel it to be an intolerable stain on the entire nation as well as a possible threat to their economic future.
The Media, Legislation, and the Supreme Court
The press played a major role in bringing about the Civil War: It exploited sectional stories, creating stereotype views for both the North and South. These were unrealistic and very damaging to the political process since they made it impossible for either side to settle their differences. This can best be exemplified by "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry, Virginia.
The most celebrated publication during the period was Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" published in an antislavery magazine over a 10-month period between June 1851 and April 1852. Later that same year it was published in book form (due to popular demand). Its net effect was to inflame one-half of the nation against the other; it helped produce disunion and civil war by giving people an image of slavery which was not universally correct but irp.plied it was. The book did so by using the emotions of different heart-breaking episodes of slavery.
The fact that Mrs. Stowe had never personally observed slavery did not harm the sale of the novel. The importance of "Uncle Tom's Cabin " lay not in whether it was an accurate account of the institution of slavery. Rather the novel was important because it supplied Northerners with concrete stereotypes.
In October 1859 John Brown's attempt to incite a slave rebellion at Harper's Ferry, Virginia, was portrayed by Southern newspapers as an intolerable Northern attack on Southern property and lives. The raid became even more reprehensible when Southerners learned that Brown had been financed by Northern abolitionists and businessmen. Southern newspapers blamed the Republican party for the outrage even though conservative Republicans condemned Brown's harebrained scheme. This fiasco, which should have been looked upon as an isolated local disturbance and the act of a misguided mad man, was important in destroying the last bonds of sentiment holding the Union together as Southern emotions reached a new high.
The end result of these false stereotypes, which each side developed of the other, was hostility in the form of intense sectional conflict. This led to the major means of communication between the North and South, a nationally integrated two-party system, being destroyed. THIS LEFT THE SECTIONS WITH NO WAY OF COMMUNICATING WITH EACH OTHER IN ORDER TO SETTLE THEIR DIFFERENCES.
(John Brown on the scaffold)
The first conflict centered around the Wilmot Proviso which was introduced in August of 1846 by a Representative from Pennsylvania, David Wilmot. Soon after the Mexican War began, President James K. Polk requested $2 million from Congress with which to negotiate a peace and the purchase of territory from Mexico that he assumed would follow the war. When the appropriation bill got to the House of Representatives, it was amended by Wilmot using words taken verbatim from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The proviso stated that "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall ever exist in any part of ' the territories that might be acquired from Mexico . Although the proviso was never passed, the debates over it aroused the country. Sectional animosity was heightened as state legislatures and other public bodies debated the principle incorporated in the proviso. It should be noted that at this time most Northerners were still perfectly content to let slavery--and hence the blacks--remain unmolested in the states where it already existed.
The next major sectional conflict was the Compromise of 1850. By 1849 the politics of avoidance was no longer-possible when nearly 80,000 "forty-niners" flocked to California after the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill . The California gold rush forced President Taylor to deal with the territorial issue as California needed some kind of civil organization. Consequently, he advocated a straightforward plan to skip the territorial stage and have the people of the territories won from Mexico adopt constitutions and apply directly for statehood .
Lincoln-Douglas Debate: Compromise of 1850
Southern leaders were shocked. If the antislavery forces were permitted to keep slavery out of California and New Mexico, how could they be stopped from keeping it out of all future territories? If California and New Mexico came into the Union as free states, power might shift so decisively to the North that slavery in the South itself might be endangered. All over the South, alarmed Southerners held rallies denouncing the attack on their institutions and rights. The vehemence of the Southern response alarmed Unionists everywhere, one of which was the aging Senator Henry Clay.
Consequently, Clay offered to the Senate a series of resolutions that he hoped all sides could agree on. From these resolutions eventually came the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise of 1850 is a collective term of later origin applied to the five laws enacted from September 9-20. The resolutions involved (1) admitting California as a free state on the grounds that is what it wanted, (2) organizing New Mexico as a territory without restrictions on slavery and adjusting the Texas-New Mexico boundary, (3) organizing the territorial government of Utah with identical provisions, (4) passing a strict new fugitive slave law which the south had desired, and (5) barring the slave trade from Washington, D.C., but not slavery itself. The net effect of the Compromise was that it prevented the threatened secession of the South until war finally broke out in April of 1861. Another important effect of the Compromise was that it hastened the breakup of the Whig party. Northern and Southern Whigs were so alienated from each other that they were unable to stand together in the election of 1852. For the nation the decay of this major party was a sign of things to come. Since its beginning, the Whig party had been an organization within which spokesmen of some of the most influential business interests of the North had been able to sit down with the richest planters of the Border states and the Deep South and discuss, in a spirit of moderation, the ·· major problems of politics. Now this major link between the sections was cracking and, with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, the Whig party disappeared and the Republican party came into being.
The issue of the extension of slavery into the territories was reopened in January of 1854 with the introduction by Senator Stephen A. Douglas of a bill for organizing the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. The measure incorporated the principle of "popular sovereignty." (This concept said residents of each state or territory should be allowed to vote for or against slavery.) This measure also permitted the admission of the territories with or without slavery. The bill repealed the Missouri Compromise and thus formally established the doctrine of congressional nonintervention in the territories. Passed after three months of bitter debate, the bill ended up antagonizing both parties. Republicans were vehement because they felt the act was a plot by slave holders to spread slavery into all the territories of the Union, and Democrats saw no reason to put slavery to a vote over and over again.
Another major conflict came as a result of the Dred Scott decision in 1857. The basic judgment was that Scott, because he was a slave, was neither a citizen of Missouri nor a citizen of the United States and had.no constitutional right to sue in the federal courts. The decision also established that black slaves were a species of property protected by the Constitution and, hence, Congress had no authority to abolish slavery in the territories and the Missouri Compromise was unconstitutional. Finally the decision held that Scott's temporary residence in free territory had not made him free upon his return to Missouri, since his status was determined by the laws of the state in which he resided when the question of his freedom was raised . In reaching this decision, the Court discussed several highly controversial slavery issues about which sectional hostility had long been aroused.
Rather than settle these issues, the decision accelerated the polarization which resulted in the Civil War. The final crisis before the results of the election of 1860 led to the dismantling of the Union was John Brown's raid. Brown considered himself God's instrument for the destruction of slavery. In October 1859 he led his band of 18 men, including two of his sons and five blacks, in an assault on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Brown captured the armory easily, but there was no slave uprising--only a few slaves lived in the area, and none of them had been told about the raid. State and federal troops quickly forced Brown to retreat to an engine house near the arsenal. The next day U.S. Marines commanded by Col. Robert E. Lee stormed the engine house, killing 10 of Brown's men and capturing Brown and most of the others. Brown was quickly tried by a Virginia court, condemned for treason, and executed on December 2, 1859. However, his eloquent defense during the trial convinced many Northerners that the abolition of slavery was a noble cause that required drastic, possibly violent, action.
At his sentencing Brown delivered one of the classic American speeches: "Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice , and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I say, let it be done." From the moment of his capture to his execution Brown conducted himself with a fortitude and dignity that commanded the respect of the judge and his captors.
To all questions regarding his motives he had only one answer: he had desired to free the slaves--he believed himself an instrument in the hands of God to this end. Thus Brown became something of a martyr as his actions and death inspired the words to a marching song that was the unofficial anthem of the Union troops, "John Brown's Body Lies A' mouldering in the Grave."
Brown's raid had as powerful an effect on Southerners as Uncle Tom's Cabin had had on Northerners. The novel had seemed to expose the awful reality of slavery; the raid seemed to expose the terrifying reality of the Northern threat to the South and its peculiar institution. Thus to many Southerners the "crimes of John Brown" were simply the "practical illustratim,ls of the doctrines of the Republican Party," while to many Northerners because of the publicity received at his trial and subsequent hanging, Brown became a noble martyr in a great cause.
As the fall of 1860 approached, a four-way race for the Presidency—and the future of America—emerged. In April, the Democratic Party convened in Charleston, South Carolina, the bastion of secessionist thought in the South. The goal was to nominate a candidate for the party ticket, but the party was deeply divided. Northern Democrats pulled for Senator Stephen Douglas, a pro-slavery moderate championing popular sovereignty, while Southern Democrats were intent on endorsing someone other than Douglas. The parties leaders refusal to include a pro-slavery platform resulted in Southern delegates walking out of the convention, preventing Douglas from gaining the two-thirds majority required for a nomination. A subsequent convention in Baltimore nominated Douglas for the Democratic ticket, while southerners nominated current Vice President John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky as their presidential candidate. The nation’s oldest party had split over differences in policy toward slavery.
Initially, the Republicans were hardly unified around a single candidate themselves. Several leading Republican men vied for their party’s nomination. A consensus emerged at the May 1860 convention that the party’s nominee would need to carry all the free states—for only in that situation could a Republican nominee potentially win. New York Senator William Seward, a leading contender, was passed over. Seward’s pro-immigrant position posed a potential obstacle, particularly in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, as a relatively unknown but likable politician, rose from a pool of potential candidates and was selected by the delegates on the third ballot. The electoral landscape was further complicated through the emergence of a fourth candidate, Tennessee’s John Bell, heading the Constitutional Union Party. The Constitutional Unionists, comprised of former Whigs who teamed up with some southern Democrats, made it their mission to avoid the specter of secession while doing little else to address the issues tearing the country apart.
Abraham Lincoln’s nomination proved a great windfall for the Republican Party. Lincoln carried all free states with the exception of New Jersey (which he split with Douglas). 81.2% of the voting electorate came out to vote—at that point the highest ever for a presidential election. Lincoln’s received fewer than 40% of the popular vote, but with the field so split, that percentage turned into a winning 180 electoral votes. Lincoln was trailed by Breckinridge with his 72 electoral votes, carrying 11 of the 15 slave states, Bell came in third with 39 electoral votes, with Douglas coming in last, only able to garner twelve electoral votes despite carrying almost 30% of the popular vote. Since the Republican platform prohibited the expansion of slavery in future western states, all future Confederate states, with the exception of Virginia, excluded Lincoln’s name from their ballots.2
The election of Lincoln and the perceived threat to the institution of slavery proved too much for the deep Southern states. South Carolina acted almost immediately, calling a convention to declare secession. On December 20, 1860, the South Carolina convention voted unanimously 169-0 to dissolve their Union with the United States. The other states across the Deep South quickly followed suit. Mississippi adopted their own resolution on January 9, 1861, Florida followed on January 10, Alabama January 11, Georgia on January 19, Louisiana on January 26, and Texas on February 1. Texas was the only state to put the issue up for a popular vote, but secession was widely popular throughout the South.
Confederates quickly shed their American identity and adopted a new Confederate nationalism. Confederate nationalism was based on several ideals, foremost among these being slavery. As Confederate Vice President Andrew Stephens stated in his “Cornerstone Speech,” the Confederacy’s “foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery… is his natural and normal condition.”3 The election of Lincoln in 1860 demonstrated that the South was politically overwhelmed. Slavery was omnipresent in the pre-war South, and it served as the most common frame of reference for unequal power. To a Southern man, there was no fate more terrifying than the thought of being reduced to the level of a slave. Religion likewise shaped Confederate nationalism and identity, as southerners believed that the Confederacy was fulfilling God’s will. The Confederacy even veered from the American constitution by explicitly invoking Christianity in their founding document. Yet in every case, all rationale for secession could be thoroughly tied to slavery. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world”, proclaimed the Mississippi statement of secession.4 Thus for the original seven Confederate states (and those who would subsequently join), slavery’s existence was the sine qua non for the fledging Confederacy.
Not all southerners participated in Confederate nationalism. Unionist southerners, most common in the upcountry where slavery was weakest, retained their loyalty to the Union, joining the Union army and working to defeat the Confederacy. Black southerners, most of whom were slaves, overwhelmingly supported the Union, often running away from plantations and forcing the Union army to reckon with slavery.
President James Buchanan would not directly address the issue of secession prior to his term’s end in early March. Any effort to try and solve the issue therefore fell upon Congress, specifically a “Committee of Thirteen” including prominent men such as Stephen Douglas, William Seward, Robert Toombs, and John Crittenden. In what became known as “Crittenden’s Compromise,” Senator Crittenden proposed a series of Constitutional Amendments that guaranteed slavery in southern states states/territories, denied the Federal Government interstate slave trade regulatory power, and offered to compensate slave owners of unrecovered fugitive slaves. The Committee of Thirteen ultimately voted down the measure and it likewise failed in the full Senate vote (25-23). Reconciliation appeared impossible.
The seven seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama on February 4th to organize a new nation. The delegates selected Jefferson Davis of Mississippi as president and established a capital in Montgomery, Alabama (it would move to Richmond in May). Whether other states of the Upper South would join the Confederacy remained uncertain. By the early spring of 1861, North Carolina and Tennessee had not held secession conventions, while voters in Virginia, Missouri, and Arkansas initially voted down secession. Despite this temporary boost to the Union, it became abundantly clear that these acts of loyalty in the Upper South were highly conditional and relied on a clear lack of intervention on the part of the Federal government. This was the precarious political situation facing Abraham Lincoln following his inauguration on March 4, 1861.
III. A War for Union 1861-1863
In his inaugural address, Lincoln declared secession “legally void.”5 While he did not intend to invade Southern states, he would use force to maintain possession of federal property within seceded states. Attention quickly shifted to the federal installation of Fort Sumter. Union forces, under the command of Major Robert Anderson, held Charleston, South Carolina’s Ft. Sumter in April 1861. The fort was in need of supplies, and Lincoln intended to resupply it. South Carolina called for U.S. soldiers to evacuate the fort and Major Anderson refused. After decades of sectional tension, official hostilities erupted on April 12, 1861, when Confederate Brigadier General P. G. T. Beauregard fired on the fort. Anderson surrendered on April 13th and the Union troops evacuated. In response to the attack, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to serve three months to suppress the rebellion. The American Civil War had begun.
The assault on Fort Sumter, and subsequent call for troops, provoked several Upper South states to join the Confederacy. In total, eleven states renounced their allegiance to the United States of America. The new Confederate nation was predicated on the institution of slavery and the promotion of any and all interests that reinforced that objective. Some southerners couched their defense of slavery as a preservation of states rights. But in order to protect slavery, the Confederate nation created a central government that ruled over the states even more than what the constitution called for—an irony not lost on many.
Shortly after Lincoln’s call for troops, the Union adopted General-in-Chief Winfield Scott’s Anaconda Plan to suppress the rebellion. This strategy intended to strangle the Confederacy by cutting off access to coastal ports and inland waterways via a naval blockade, while ground troops entered the interior. Like an anaconda snake, they planned to surround and squeeze the Confederacy.
As discussed, with the results of the election of 1860: (1) the formal break-up of the Democratic party and (2) the winning of they residency by the Republicans and Lincoln, the will of the South to compromise was exhausted and the nation was thereby doomed to a bitter internal conflict.
In the election, the last link in the Union--a great political party (Democratic) with a powerful following in both the North and South--had snapped. With the Republicans in power and the Democratic party split, the South felt it had no way to make its needs effectively known within the federal system. Consequently, the South saw its only option as secession, which took place in two different stages.
For the purpose of discussing the problem of secession, the South must be divided into the Upper and Lower South. The Upper South consisted of: Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The Upper South had been willing to give the Lincoln administration a try before the Fort Sumter affair. In fact a number of these states had in different ways voiced their sentiments against secession . But after the firing on Fort Sumter, the Upper South was drawn to the Lower by ties of blood and a determination to keep that region a "white man's country." As people got caught up in the events and rhetoric of the time, they became determined to carry out their cause. Emotionalism played a major role in the events to come. This emotional commitment was rationalized by the theory of state sovereignty. Thus the major reason given for the Upper South's secession was constitutional. According to the theory of state sovereignty, any state had a right to secede. Hence,Lincoln's call for coercion was not only immoral but illegal.
Even Lincoln himself had once believed in the right of secession. He had said during a speech in 1848: "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. That is a most valuable, a most sacred right--a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is the right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit." However, by 1860 time and necessity had caused Lincoln to see things differently.
The Lower South consisted of: South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. The motives for secession for the Lower South were somewhat different from those of the Upper South. The states of the Lower South seceded as the result of a long series of dissatisfactions concerning the Northern attitude toward slavery. It has been argued that since the majority of Southerners owned no slaves, slavery itself was not the total issue but only part of the problem. For the majority of Southerners the social position of the blacks in Southern society was the real underlining or "hidden" issue. Abolitionism, they feared, would seep into the South, corrupt the black population, and put an end to the white domination that God and nature had ordained. Other than the black man and slavery, there was no mention in any of the Southern leaders' writings and speeches of any other cause. Protection against a high tariff had figured as a cause in the Confederate propaganda abroad, but it was not a major issue at the time of secession (the South had voted for the last tariff, past by Congress in 1857).
A letter by Jefferson Davis to a Northern friend in January, 1861, clearly sets forth the reason for secession by the Lower South. "To us it became a necessity to transfer our domestic institution (slavery) from hostile to friendly hands, and we have acted accordingly. There seems to be but little prospect that we will be permitted to do so peacefully." Hence, the Lower South went to war mainly for economic reasons as slavery was self-survival. However, the hidden social issue. concern about the position of the black man in society, was also a significant concern. From a Southern point of view they were fighting for everything that men hold dear--liberty, self-government, their homes, and the survival of their customs.