Home > Uncategorized > 150 Years Ago Today Began the Great War Between the States: Thoughts on the Tragedy and Necessity of the Civil War

150 Years Ago Today Began the Great War Between the States: Thoughts on the Tragedy and Necessity of the Civil War

April 12th, 2011
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I was born and raised deep in the heart of Dixie, in the Florida panhandle, only twenty minutes or so away from Alabama right across the state line, where, tragically, some of the most brutal forms of chattel slavery that was the basis for the South’s economy was practiced, in the dense pine forests near my home town of Pensacola, Florida. I remember as a child visiting many Civil War museums and sites and none of us in those days great up without memorizing the words to “Dixie”[a song written by a Northerner, ironically] and singing it with gusto. I then recall learning, as I grew older, the real history behind the “War of Northern Aggression” and feeling deep horror and shame at the thought of how this nation treated millions of people living here, bought and sold as property. Over twelve million people from Africa were brought against their will between the 16th and 19th to the “New World” with 650,000 brought to the United States. While slavery had gradually gone away in the Northern States, in the South, by 1860, there were four million men, women and children owned as slaves and they were the essence of the Southern economic system.

The Civil War was fresh in the living memory of the Deep South I grew up in, a South that was being wracked by another conflict, born of the Civil War: the civil rights movement. One could argue that the Civil War was finally not truly over until civil rights legislation was passed and enforced throughout the South. 150 years ago began that great conflict that would consume so many of our nation’s men, at the time, on both sides. I remain deeply distressed that even some of my fellow LCMS pastors are so willingly complicit with attempts to recast the history of the times and make it appear as though the issue of slavery was not at the very heart of the issues that precipitated the Civil War.

Slavery was a festering wound in the side of the United States at its very inception, when, frankly, hypocritically, the same men who declared that all men are created equal owned as property fellow men, as slaves. The war was long in coming, but perhaps inevitable and tragically, finally necessary. But what a great tragedy it was. I think that no better words have ever been spoken on why the war was necessary than those spoken by Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the cemetery at Gettysburg. Following Lincoln’s speech, are words from a speech given by the vice-president of the confederacy, driving a nail into the coffin of the argument that the Civil War was not about “slavery.” When people talk about the “culture” of the South, and “peculiar institution” of the South, let’s be clear: that culture, that “peculiar institution” was slavery!

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And here are Alexander Stephens words, talking about the purpose of the formation of the Confederate States of America:

“The new constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution of African slavery as it exists amongst us, and the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution. Jefferson in his forecast, had anticipated this, as the “rock upon which the old Union would split.” He was right. But whether he fully comprehended the great truth upon which that rock stood may be doubted. The prevailing ideas entertained by him . . . were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. . . . Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error. It was a sandy foundation, and the government built upon it fell when the “storm came and the wind blew.”

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its corner- stone rests upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first in the history of the world based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. . . . Many governments have been founded upon the principle of the subordination of certain classes of the same race; such were and are in violation of the laws of nature. Our system commits no such violation. With us, all of the white race, however high or low, rich or poor, are equal in the eye of the law. Not so with the negro. Subordination is his place. He, by nature, or by the curse against Canaan, is fitted for that condition which he occupies in our system . . . . I have been asked, what of the future? It has been apprehended by some that we would have arrayed against us the civilized world. I care not who or how many they may be against us, when we stand upon the eternal principles of truth, if we are true to ourselves and the principles for which we contend, we must triumph.”

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  1. Richard
    April 12th, 2011 at 14:08 | #1

    Amen, Pastor McCain. Thank you for speaking truth.

  2. Mrs. Hume
    April 12th, 2011 at 17:50 | #2

    “feeling deep horror and shame at the thought of how this nation treated millions of people living here”

    Was it really “this nation” or the power elite? I traced my family back and in the process read of families who moved here and were dirt poor settlers in Wisconsin whose sons died fighting for the Union rather than inheriting the farms they worked. They weren’t even able to vote because back then there wasn’t universal suffrage. Many in this country didn’t have the power to change anything and were themselves oppressed by the same elites who would wink at slavery.

  3. Robert Buechler
    April 12th, 2011 at 19:39 | #3

    Yeah, I grew up most of my life in Florida too (in Miami and North Palm Beach mostly). I was born in New Jersey though, so I was always viewed as a Yankee by my more “purely Southern” neighbors.

    There just isn’t any way around the fact that slavery was the central point of so many compromises and conflicts (politically and socially…see Missouri and Kansas) that ultimately ended in the Civil War. States rights was wrapped up in the whole issue of slavery. There is no disconnection with regards to the political class that urged separation.

    However it is true that some Confederates were not pro-slavery but fought because they believed the Union had no right to compell a state to remain in the Union. One such Confederate was Robert E. Lee, and I believe Longstreet. However, that does not mean that such men believed in racial equality, although one could make an argument that Robert E. Lee came to that conclusion. One story to remember is that after the war, Robert E. Lee was in church and during communion the first man to the altar was a black man. Robert E. Lee was the only man who came up with that black man to receive communion with him. So perhaps he believe in equality before God, while he may also have believed in inequality in society. I am not certain of this though.

  4. Terry Maher (Past Elder)
    April 13th, 2011 at 00:42 | #4

    Re General Lee, while writings and stories are recounted and discussed, I have always found significant something that is noted as a matter of fact but not noted for what seems to me to be its significance. Though he was a full general officer from the inception of the Confederate States Army, he always wore the uniform of a Colonel, the highest rank he held in the United States Army.

    Re Jefferson, also a Virginian, the wonder is not that a man who could write “all men are created equal” could also hold slaves, but that a man who held slaves according to accepted custom of his times could also think and write “all men are created equal” and understand that the contradiction between the times and the idea could not remain unresolved.

  5. melxiopp
    April 13th, 2011 at 09:30 | #5

    From the Declaration of the ‘Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union’:

    “The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them. In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.”

    James Loewan notes that while we have been taught that ‘states rights’ is the real reason behind succession, isn’t it interesting that the major complaint in this document is that other states are exerting their own political prerogatives contra the fourth article of the Constitution concerning slavery and that the federal government was not intervening to exercise authority over these states? SC has the right to leave the union because the federal government has not brought these anti-slave states into line, but those states do not have the right to pass laws which are not in accordance with the fourth article of the Constitution. I am not suggesting a hypocrisy here, as the logic is consistent on the part of SC – Loewan’s point is simply that the sovereign “right of states” over against the federal government as some sort of sacred and pure principle, never to be violated, is obviously not the issue here. If SC has the right to leave the constitution and the union, then presumably the states that passed laws which SC believed to be in violation of the fourth article were free to do that as well. The SC argument seems to suggest that these states do not have the right to act in a manner that violates the SC interpretation of compliance to the fourth article, but this would seem to be undermined by the stress SC puts on the sovereignty of the states. A sovereign state can break contracts with other states. It can refuse to continue to comply with them. It is also worth noting that the one gripe SC offers in this document pertains to slavery. If states’ rights were the issue behind succession, it would seem the one and only category of rights SC is concerned with has to do with the institution of slavery.

    - From http://fwd4.me/zYw

  6. melxiopp
    April 13th, 2011 at 09:35 | #6

    It’s probably also worth noting that “The War of Northern Aggression” began with Southern/Confederate shots fired at a Northern/Federal ship entering Charleston (SC) Harbor followed by the bombardment of the the Federal government’s Fort Sumter there.

    Arguing that the North had said all sort of “aggressive” things that caused the War calls to mind the rhyme: “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”. There’s a difference between aggressive words and aggressive war, e.g., Fort Sumter.

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