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 Civil War Issues


5: Conclusion

Section Index

  1. Chimera
  2. Lost Cause

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1. Chimera

If we want to look for reasons behind the Civil War, we should probably go back to the time of colonization and to the American Revolution again. There had been no singular scheme for establishing a colony on the American continent; each one had its own very distinct properties, depending on the founders and the founding principles, depending on the climatic situation, depending on the parameters set for immigration, land acquisition, business, general liberties etc.

The division between North and South separated slave states from non-slave states, more or less. The states of Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware did have slaves also - but under Union pressure they did not secede[1], also did some Northern states have had slaves in the past, too, and racism surely was not just a problem of the South - this can also be seen from the Abolitionist plan to deport the freed slaves back to Africa, to Liberia, a plan also illustrated in Uncle Tom's Cabin, and a plan which was also turned into practice. Abolitionists didn't necessarily believe in the equality of the races; also was the Emancipation Proclamation not declared until 1863 - which makes it seem rather like an instrument of propaganda and warfare than of a true fight for freedom and equality.

Maybe the secession took place between an America divided into those hiding their racism behind indifference or abolitionist propaganda, and others who made use of it in the peculiar institution. But it is not mind-sets which directly enslave others, they may lie beneath, but to take action or not is still the much more eminent, and much more harmful way. And the hard fact remains, that - while racism may have been universal, and slavery was also supported by the constitution[2] - it has been the South to actually engage in the ongoing enslavement of others.

Slavery was the prevaling issue of the dissension between the two parts, but the military conflict, the Civil War, was about preserving the Union.

The differences caused by the partition into slave-holding and non-enslaving states could be seen as a manifestation of a Chimera-like state created in the American Revolution, of two opposing parts fused together. Yet this is not the case, at least not in such a drastic way. North and South had more in common than what made them different, and also, there is neither "the North" nor "the South". Each state is different, so the only thing you could say is that probably Maine has more in common with Vermont, and Alabama more in common with Mississippi. Differences are mostly gradual, not abrupt, and the opposing pair created through secession was perhaps quite artificial also.

Perhaps the system is chaotic indeed, and it only needed so much friction as to incite sufficient change for both the Secession and the ensuing war to take place. If that drastically abstract level were to be upheld, this would imply that the yearning for stability is nothing more than a myth, and that the future may not be as predictable as it could seem today[3].

2. Lost Cause

Throughout this paper, I've been rushing through various issues of the Civil War, attempting to show some reasons for its outcome.

In economy, the South was terribly hurt by the very institution she was trying to preserve. The Southern economic system, which was to a large degree built upon the principle of slavery, impeded infrastructure, industrial production, future investments and development. Slavery was also the reason the South became isolated internationally, and - through the Emancipation Proclamation - may have been the ultimate reason for her defeat.

Militarily, the South may have had good leaders as the North also, but without manpower - as Southern population was significantly lower than Northern - and material - due to the economic situation - not even the greatest general would be able to succeed easily. Also did the South have a dangerous opponent in Grant, an opponent who understood the necessities of modern warfare probably better than any other general at his time.

The decision to go to war was the deathblow for the South. Had the North not been so hesitant and disinterested during the first years, the war could have been over before it even began. Yet the decision to go to war was closely connected with secession. Was secession necessary?

The question of slavery had to be dealt with, and there was only one solution: Abolition of slavery and full citizen's rights for freed slaves. Slavery as an economic institution had been an anachronism already, and morally, its existence was simply outrageous compared with the bold words Independence was founded upon. The economic backwardness of the South wasn't due to any Northern conspiracy, it was self-made. Furthermore, Lincoln could not have been expected to simply accept secession, that's not how democracy works. Thus the decision to secede and to fight lacked a solid factual basis, it was rather founded on emotions, pride and prejudice than on reality.

October 27th, 2000

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Endnotes - Part 5

[1] Brinkley 382f
[2] cf. Paul Finkelman. Slavery and the Founders.
[3] cf. Robert D. Kaplan. An Empire Wilderness. Travels into America's Future. NY: Random House, 1998.

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