Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

The War to End Slavery

(Timely diary, on the anniversary of a day we must never forget. – promoted by fogiv)

It’s well-known that some southerners still refer to the US Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression.”  It’s an odd rhetorical trick, given that 150 years ago today some South Carolinians fired on Fort Sumpter, manned by Federal troops, and sparked the armed conflict that would claim over 600,000 lives.  Some southerners have tried to read this conflict as more about “states’ rights” than slavery.  


This effort is as old as the history of the conflict itself.  In his inaugural address as President of the CSA, Jefferson Davis avoids even alluding to slavery, suggesting that his movement knew its primary rationale for secession was awfully difficult to defend, though others tried with passion.

The “Civil War” is a deeply politic title that avoids partisanship.  It only defines the kind of conflict.  “The War of Northern Aggression” points a finger at the Federal Government, which has become of late a perverse way to assert one’s patriotism.  But let there be no obfuscation on this day.  The Civil War was “The War to End Slavery,” and we should call it that.  The Confederacy fought to preserve the systematic exploitation, humiliation, torture, rape, and murder of Africans and their descendants brought here against their will for the sake of profit.  It is impossible to overstate the horrors of slavery.  

When those in the South who seek to define The War to End Slavery as an effort to maintain their liberty, as a form of local patriotism, and then defend their display of the Stars and Bars on state flags, they are basically arguing that Germany would be justified in including a swastika on their flag, because WWII wasn’t all about the Jews and some NAZIs simply loved Germany.  The last part may be true, but they are as guilty of standing by while Jews, cripples, Communists, Roma, and homosexuals were murdered as were patriotic Confederates who looked the other way on slavery, as their president sought to do in his inaugural speech.  Stars and Bars = NAZI flag.

Until those in the South for whom the wounds of that conflict, which began 150 years ago today, still fester admit the central fact of “The War to End Slavery,” until they admit that their forebears were on the wrong side of history and basic human decency, and until they view that part of their past with a sense of sorrow and contrition, William Faulkner’s insight will remain current: The past is not dead; it’s not even past.

There is one particularly important lesson we should draw from the efforts to obfuscate the central issue of “The War to End Slavery.”  We should always beware those who wrap themselves in the self-righteous trumpeting of liberty, who treat the Federal Government as a looming threat and tyrannical entity, and who invoke the founding fathers on behalf of their efforts to protect the privilege of the few at the expense of the weakest and most vulnerable among us.


  1. HappyinVT

    because many of the comments (not likely here, though) end up in the whole “their are a bunch of racist, ignorant assholes” department.  And, many are.  I cannot dispute that ~ the recent poll where 40% of all self-identifying Republicans in Mississippi thinks that interracial marriage should be illegal kind of makes any argument hard.  Given that southern states generally have their grubby paws well into the federal government’s piggy bank says something about “state’s rights,” too.  It’s hard too to argue when Mississippi elected and re-elected Haley Barbour.

    Well, hell, I think I ran out of arguments.  🙁

    Actually, I think a lot of the younger folks who might be tempted to buck the Republican system in Mississippi leave the state largely because of lack of opportunity.  That means you are left with generations of folks who continue the federal government is evil, leave the South alone mentality.  While the education system and social support systems fail on a regular basis.

  2. Hollede

    for the sesquicentennial anniversary of the end of the civil war on April 9, 2015 (I am using Lee’s surrender to Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse for this date).

    Let us also celebrate on December 18, 2015, the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution by Secretary of State Seward.

  3. Because you’re so particularly sensitive and adept at dealing with Shoah denialism, and the various political perturbations of Holocaust history over the years, I think this gives you very acute insight into the subtle forms of Civil War denialism

    Since it is no casual reference, there’s no Godwin in your Nazi analogy. Having read Tim Snyder’s Bloodlands recently (a really excellent book though my friend Dovid thinks it helps the Baltic deniers) I think it’s pretty clear that, just as you say, the Holocaust wasn’t the main project of Nazi expansion East, so too, though abolition of Slavery might not have been the only cause of the Civil War, it’s the most important and resonant outcome, and to deny that is akin to denying the Nazi Genocide of many peoples and groups, with Jews the main victims, and of course Belorussian civilians and Russian Prisoners of War among the other casualties you listed.

    Perhaps this subtle denialism is what is still tearing the US apart, at least if the correspondence of maps of Tea Party support and slave ownership are to be believed.

    Until this past is accepted, and purged, and understood, it will continue to vitiate and distort American politics, in bizarre ways.

    My personal experience of this? The last two months blogging on Daily Kos. Being white, despite black and mixed race close relatives, my understanding of discrimination and anti Black racism has only been conceptual in the past. But thanks to – would you believe it? – a liberal blog, and the strange effect of near colour blindness of abstract text, I’m come to appreciate much more quite how subtle this anti Black discrimination is. I had hints of it from my ex American partner’s overwhelmingly democratic family, who always felt slightly uncomfortable, a mixture of guilt and fear of being made to feel guilty, in the presence of African Americans. But I did not realise how this guilt could easily break into anger when pushed. Until I got more involved in DKos.

    It’s odd this has happened, because I’m writing three more episodes of Bad Faith for Lenny Henry, about a black police chaplain who has lost his faith, and I’ve translated him to the heavily segregated old mill towns of West Yorkshire, where strict Deobandi followers live in ghettoes next to BNP supporters, and where his first encounter in the area is a racially charged arrest by a white officer.

    What this does to Jake, the tragicomic hero/villain of the plays, is to make him more resentful, forced to see things through race and religion again, for the first time since his youth and the riots in Handsworth. It’s double bind for him – the feeling of both victimisation, and resentment, and something Obama covered so brilliantly in his Philadelphia speech.

    So this past needs to be buried properly, given a full ceremony, and the confederate flag covering the casket. Until it is, the misunderstandings, resentments, fear and guilt will live on, weighing like a nightmare on the mind of the present.  

  4. jsfox

    PBS, at least in my part of the world, has been rerunning Ken Burn’s Civil War.

    When I first saw it years ago I was struck by how sanitized my American History education had been.

  5. fogiv

    take a look at this:

    As a student of history, I am constantly seeking opportunities to grow in areas in which I am weak.  I recently found out that April is Confederate History month. In 2005 I purchased a home built in the early 1880’s by Henry Martyn Stringfellow, a former confederate soldier.  Being a preservationist I frequently open my home in Hitchcock, Texas to the public. I struggle with whether my interpretation of the site should acknowledge his role in the Confederacy or just avoid telling that part of his story.

    I recently attended a “Sons of Confederate Veterans” meeting in Galveston. My goal was to share some history about Mr. Stringfellow and to discuss a possible event to be held at Stringfellow Orchards in recognition of Confederate History month.

    I discussed this subject with my wife and several different individuals. As an African American and descendant of slaves, should I even consider this? As the owner of this historic site with ties to a confederate soldier, should I not tell the confederate part of the story?

    Read the rest here: http://blog.preservationnation

    impressions? anything jump out at you?

  6. Rashaverak


    [Copied by Justin Sanders from the Official Records, Ser IV, vol 1, pp. 81-85.]

    The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic

    This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war. Our people, still attached to the Union from habit and national traditions, and averse to change, hoped that time, reason, and argument would bring, if not redress, at least exemption from further insults, injuries, and dangers.

    Recent events have fully dissipated all such hopes and demonstrated the necessity of separation. Our Northern confederates, after a full and calm hearing of all the facts, after a fair warning of our purpose not to submit to the rule of the authors of all these wrongs and injuries, have by a large majority committed the Government of the United States into their hands. The people of Georgia, after an equally full and fair and deliberate hearing of the case, have declared with equal firmness that they shall not rule over them.

    A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.

    The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party. While it attracts to itself by its creed the scattered advocates of exploded political heresies, of condemned theories in political economy, the advocates of commercial restrictions, of protection, of special privileges, of waste and corruption in the administration of Government, anti-slavery is its mission and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state.

    The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen. The opposition to slavery was then, as now, general in those States and the Constitution was made with direct reference to that fact. But a distinct abolition party was not formed in the United States for more than half a century after the Government went into operation. [….]


    [Copied by Justin Sanders from “Journal of the State Convention”, (Jackson, MS: E. Barksdale, State Printer, 1861), pp. 86-88]

    A Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of the State of Mississippi from the Federal Union.

    In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

    Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

    That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.

    The hostility to this institution commenced before the adoption of the Constitution, and was manifested in the well-known Ordinance of 1787, in regard to the Northwestern Territory.

    The feeling increased, until, in 1819-20, it deprived the South of more than half the vast territory acquired from France.

    The same hostility dismembered Texas and seized upon all the territory acquired from Mexico.

    It has grown until it denies the right of property in slaves, and refuses protection to that right on the high seas, in the Territories, and wherever the government of the United States had jurisdiction.

    It refuses the admission of new slave States into the Union, and seeks to extinguish it by confining it within its present limits, denying the power of expansion.

    It tramples the original equality of the South under foot.

    It has nullified the Fugitive Slave Law in almost every free State in the Union, and has utterly broken the compact which our fathers pledged their faith to maintain.

    It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst.

    It has enlisted its press, its pulpit and its schools against us, until the whole popular mind of the North is excited and inflamed with prejudice.

    It has made combinations and formed associations to carry out its schemes of emancipation in the States and wherever else slavery exists.

    It seeks not to elevate or to support the slave, but to destroy his present condition without providing a better. [….]

    South Carolina

    [Copied by Justin Sanders from J.A. May & J.R. Faunt, South Carolina Secedes (U. of S. Car. Pr, 1960), pp. 76-81.]

    Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union

    The people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, on the 26th day of April, A.D., 1852, declared that the frequent violations of the Constitution of the United States, by the Federal Government, and its encroachments upon the reserved rights of the States, fully justified this State in then withdrawing from the Federal Union; but in deference to the opinions and wishes of the other slaveholding States, she forbore at that time to exercise this right. Since that time, these encroachments have continued to increase, and further forbearance ceases to be a virtue.

    And now the State of South Carolina having resumed her separate and equal place among nations, deems it due to herself, to the remaining United States of America, and to the nations of the world, that she should declare the immediate causes which have led to this act. [….]

    The Constitution of the United States, in its fourth Article, provides as follows: “No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”

    This stipulation was so material to the compact, that without it that compact would not have been made. The greater number of the contracting parties held slaves, and they had previously evinced their estimate of the
    value of such a stipulation by making it a condition in the Ordinance for the government of the territory ceded by Virginia, which now composes the States north of the Ohio River.

    The same article of the Constitution stipulates also for rendition by the several States of fugitives from justice from the other States.

    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.

    The ends for which the Constitution was framed are declared by itself to be “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

    These ends it endeavored to accomplish by a Federal Government, in which each State was recognized as an equal, and had separate control over its own institutions. The right of property in slaves was recognized by giving to free persons distinct political rights, by giving them the right to represent, and burthening them with direct taxes for three-fifths of their slaves; by authorizing the importation of slaves for twenty years; and by stipulating for the rendition of fugitives from labor.

    We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection. [….]


    [Copied by Justin Sanders from E.W. Winkler, ed., Journal of the Secession Convention of Texas, pp. 61-66.]

    A Declaration of the Causes which Impel the State of Texas to Secede from the Federal Union.

    The government of the United States, by certain joint resolutions, bearing date the 1st day of March, in the year A.D. 1845, proposed to the Republic of Texas, then a free, sovereign and independent nation [emphasis in the original], the annexation of the latter to the former, as one of the co-equal states thereof,

    The people of Texas, by deputies in convention assembled, on the fourth day of July of the same year, assented to and accepted said proposals and formed a constitution for the proposed State, upon which on the 29th day of December in the same year, said State was formally admitted into the Confederated Union.

    Texas abandoned her separate national existence and consented to become one of the Confederated Union to promote her welfare, insure domestic tranquility and secure more substantially the blessings of peace and liberty to her people. She was received into the confederacy with her own constitution, under the guarantee of the federal constitution and the compact of annexation, that she should enjoy these blessings. She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

    The controlling majority of the Federal Government, under various pretences and disguises, has so administered the same as to exclude the citizens of the Southern States, unless under odious and unconstitutional restrictions, from all the immense territory owned in common by all the States on the Pacific Ocean, for the avowed purpose of acquiring sufficient power in the common government to use it as a means of destroying the institutions of Texas and her sister slaveholding States.

    By the disloyalty of the Northern States and their citizens and the imbecility of the Federal Government, infamous combinations of incendiaries and outlaws have been permitted in those States and the common territory of Kansas to trample upon the federal laws, to war upon the lives and property of Southern citizens in that territory, and finally, by violence and mob law, to usurp the possession of the same as exclusively the property of the Northern States. [….]

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