Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Grant on the Cause of the Civil War

While looking for another quote, I came across these paragraphs (one from the conclusion of his memoirs, the other from an early 1861 letter). Grant is not an impartial source, but I like when people agree with me.

The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery. For some years before the war began it was a trite saying among some politicians that “A state half slave and half free cannot exist.” All must become slave or all free, or the state will go down. I took no part myself in any such view of the case at the time, but since the war is over, reviewing the whole question, I have come to the conclusion that the saying is quite true.

Slavery was an institution that required unusual guarantees for its security wherever it existed; and in a country like ours where the larger portion of it was free territory inhabited by an intelligent and well-to-do population, the people would naturally have but little sympathy with demands upon them for its protection. Hence the people of the South were dependent upon keeping control of the general government to secure the perpetuation of their favorite institution. They were enabled to maintain this control long after the States where slavery existed had ceased to have the controlling power, through the assistance they received from odd men here and there throughout the Northern states. They saw their power waning, and this led them to encroach upon the prerogatives and independence of the Northern States by enacting such laws as the Fugitive Slave Law. By this law every Northern man was obliged, when properly summoned, to turn out and help apprehend the runaway slave of a Southern man. Northern marshals become slave-catchers, and Northern courts had to contribute to the support and protection of the institution.

This was a degradation which the North would not permit any longer than until they could get the power to expunge such law from the statute books. Prior to the time of these encroachments the great majority of the people of the North had no particular quarrel with slavery, so long as they were not forced to have it themselves. But they were not willing to play the role of police for the South in the protection of this particular institution.

No impartial man can conceal from himself the fact that in all these troubles the South have been the aggressors and the Administration has stood purely on the defensive, more on the defensive than she would dared to have done but for her consciousness of strength and the certainty of right prevailing in the end….In all this I can but see the doom of Slavery. The North do not want nor will they want, to interfere with the institution. But they will refuse for all time to give it protection unless the South shall return soon to their allegiance.…Letter to Frederick Dent, 19 April 1861

From Ulysses S. Grant Memoirs and Selected Letters (published by Library of Congress in 1990)


Anonymous said...

I think that is pretty correct.

One can make all sort of arguments about what was Lincoln goals at the start of the war. That is the to keep the Union together. But one cannot deny that as the war continued at least from a Northern perspective the War was very much elevated to a higher moral claim to the abolition of slavery. But I do think he hits it right that many Politicians and Planters in the south realized the writing was on the wall.

Fr. Greg said...

While the North, at least at the beginning of the war, was not necessarily fighting to end slavery, it is clear that the Southern states were, from the very beginning, fighting to preserve it. If anyone doubts this, all they have to do is to peruse the "declaration of causes" issued by the various Southern states as they left the union. Some of them are found at the link below:

The documents from Texas is particularly interesting.

AG said...

"[non-Slave holding states] based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law." - from Texas' Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

Oh, I love it. Thanks for the link, Fr. Greg. I don't think there's any revisionism found in American History studies that continues to do more damage than the perpetuation of the myth that the Civil War was fought over "states' rights." As several of those documents show, the Southern states gave not a whit of concern about the violation of states' rights of the Northern states or the expansion of federal powers, as long as it ensured the protection of slavery, their beloved, divinely ordained institution. They were worked up into a blind panic since the average Northerner, quite honestly, cared not a whit about the equality of the "negro" race. Of course, once the War's casualties began to mount, it was untenable for the institution of slavery to outlast it.

From Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address:
"Neither [side] anticipated that the cause of the conflict [i.e., slavery] might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered; that of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!' If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.' "