View Poll Results: Which narrative is the correct one for the cause of the American Civil War?

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  • The Lost Cause

    3 15.79%
  • Progressive

    4 21.05%
  • Emancipation

    3 15.79%
  • Unionism

    10 52.63%
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Thread: The Civil War Narrative?

  1. #1
    Staff Emeritus
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    The Civil War Narrative?

    I've just started reading Amazon.com: This Mighty Scourge: Perspectives on the Civil War (9780195392425): James M. McPherson: Books and his first chapter/essay covers some of the differing narratives of the cause of the Civil War:

    The Lost Cause - state's rights
    Progressive - sectional economic differences
    Emancipation - ending slavery
    Unionism - save the Union, with the fight over expansion of slavery being the cause

    What view was taught to you in school (and where) and which view is correct?
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

  2. #2
    Administrator Tarek Morgen's Avatar
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    I thought "the lost cause" was a much broader term when refering to the Conferderation. Does it really simply stand for (the quest for) state rights?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tarek Morgen View Post
    I thought "the lost cause" was a much broader term when refering to the Conferderation. Does it really simply stand for (the quest for) state rights?
    The lost cause is a broader term that also places Lee upon the almighty altar of worship while denigrating Grant and the northern victory as simply a product of greater resources, among other things. However, as related to the cause of the Civil War, it's narrative would be state's rights.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    If I recall correctly, I was taught the emancipation narrative, which is a product of both going to school in Illinois as well as going to school within two decades of the civil rights movement. However, the unionism narrative is the correct one in my opinion.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

  5. #5
    Administrator Tarek Morgen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    The lost cause is a broader term that also places Lee upon the almighty altar of worship while denigrating Grant and the northern victory as simply a product of greater resources, among other things.
    That was what I understood under the term. Dolchstoßlegende-lite more or less.

    While I did quite read a lot about the civil war in the last years I don't really feel comfortable to make a call here, though if I had to i would go with Unionism.

    edit:

    In school the whole subject was only touched briefly with mentioning that the war leaded to the end of slavery but not definitely that it was about slavery from the start.

  6. #6
    Senior Contributor Bigfella's Avatar
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    Shek,

    Didn't do Civil War at school, but did at Uni. I would have leaned toward 'unionism' with 'progressive' influence.


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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Shek,

    Didn't do Civil War at school, but did at Uni. I would have leaned toward 'unionism' with 'progressive' influence.
    How did they play the sectional economic difference card?
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Staff Emeritus Julie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bigfella View Post
    Shek,

    Didn't do Civil War at school, but did at Uni. I would have leaned toward 'unionism' with 'progressive' influence.
    I'll go with that also, and I was raised in Georgia.

    The economic difference card was played as the North being industrialized and the South being as prosperous through, of course, slavery. The Union began taxing everything, even slaves, in the South, as to what end, I'm not sure, whether it was for punishment, penalty, or so the South would not be as progressive as the North.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Julie View Post
    The Union began taxing everything, even slaves, in the South, as to what end, I'm not sure, whether it was for punishment, penalty, or so the South would not be as progressive as the North.
    Can you source a federal tax on slaves? I've seen state driven taxes, but nothing about federal taxation on slaves, which given the Southern stranglehold on the Senate, seems highly implausible unless they gained something very, very valuable from logrolling on this issue.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    Staff Emeritus Julie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shek View Post
    Can you source a federal tax on slaves? I've seen state driven taxes, but nothing about federal taxation on slaves, which given the Southern stranglehold on the Senate, seems highly implausible unless they gained something very, very valuable from logrolling on this issue.
    I will locate one, but those taxes are what prompted the southern states to secede from the Union. They didn't want to pay them.

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    Congress was not talking about slavery in 1776 because its members were abolitionists who wanted to act on the promise of the declaration. That was not the problem at all. Congress was talking about slavery because its members were framing a national government for the new nation—what would become the Articles of Confederation. Trying to figure out how to count the population to distribute tax burdens to the various states, the members inevitably faced the problem of whether to count the population of enslaved African Americans. Since slaves were 4 percent of the population in the North (New Hampshire to Pennsylvania) and 37 percent of the population in the South (Delaware to Georgia), this decision would have a huge impact on the tax burdens of the white taxpayers of the northern and southern states. Predictably, northerners wanted to count the total population (including slaves) while southerners wanted to count only the white population. As the members jostled with each other over this basic conflict of interest, they began to justify their positions by making claims about whether slavery was profitable and therefore made a state able to pay higher taxes (northerners said yes, southerners said no). The important point, however, is that once this issue had been opened it was impossible to prevent discussions of the injustice of slavery itself—in a Congress that had just declared that "all men are created equal."

    Tax Aversion and the Legacy of Slavery by Robin L. Einhorn, author of American Taxation, American Slavery

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    Julie,

    Your reference is to the Revolutionary War and is in fact the exact opposite of what happened in the drafting of the Constitution that formed the national government that was in existence in 1860 when Lincoln was elected. It was Southerners who demanded that slaves be counted as part of the population so that they could gain extra congressional seats and exert a disproportionate influence on the legislative process. Statistics bear this out based on how the South controlled the Presidency, Supreme Court, and Congress up to the Civil War. The 3/5ths compromise had nothing to do with taxes and everything to do with political power.

    As far as the reason for secession, there isn't a single mention of slave taxes in any of the declaration of causes of secession documents.
    "So little pains do the vulgar take in the investigation of truth, accepting readily the first story that comes to hand." Thucydides 1.20.3

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    The largest plantation owners (a.k.a. “planters”) were an
    aristocratic society; they were powerful people in their
    communities and were frequently active in state and national
    politics. Most of the wealthiest men in America lived in the
    south; nine of the first 15 presidents were born in southern states
    (most of them were slave owners).
    Non-slave owning farmers
    of the south wanted to climb the socio-economic ladder and thus
    supported the institution of slavery. Most southerners, whether
    they owned slaves or not, firmly believed that their economy
    and culture existed because of the use of human chattel
    (property).

    Slave owners really became rich after the invention
    of the cotton gin in 1793. Productivity increased fifty times.
    Most southern delegates to the Second Continental Congress
    (1776) were slave owners. They successfully removed a
    passage from the Declaration of Independence condemning the
    king and Parliament for allowing the horrific “Slave Trade.”
    Southern delegates to the Constitutional Convention (1787)
    argued that slaves should be counted in their population for
    purposes of representation in the new House of Representatives
    (the Three-Fifths Compromise). In addition, delegates decided
    to allow the new government to tax imports, including slaves,
    but forbid the Congress to consider other regulations against
    slavery until 1808 (the Slave Trade Compromise).


    Southern planters asserted that Africans were better off because
    of slavery. They were fed, clothed, housed, and taught
    Christianity; life as an American slave was better than life as an
    African “savage.” Any movement or legislation against the
    institution of slavery, the expansion of slavery, or the slave trade
    itself, was considered an attack on the southern way of life. To
    slave owners, the Missouri Compromise (1820) and the
    Compromise of 1850 were northern attempts to restrict slavery
    until it died. Abolitionists such as William Garrison and Harriet
    Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Toms’ Cabin) represented all
    northerners’ desire to end slavery altogether. John Brown’s
    militant attitude against slavery was misread as the attitude of
    all northerners. And the formation of the Republican Party (with
    Lincoln in tow) was practically a bugle call for war.

    http://lincoln.georgetowncollege.edu...lacard%202.pdf

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    I was taught in lower school that the civil war was fought over slavery. In a sense that is true. I voted for progressive as a first cause because the seeds of secession, which led to the war and morphed the cause into unionism, sprouted from the stark economic differences between the industrial north and the agrarian south. Slavery was a basic economic pillar in the south, and was protected so long as there was balance between slave and non-slave states in the US Senate. If that balance shifted to the north, slavery would likely be abolished, plunging the south into economic ruin. This seemed likely to happen as more and more new states entered the union. Secession thus became the only way the south could preserve its economy and its way of life.

    The primary cause of the civil war has never been nailed down because it seems at one moment to have been fought over slavery and at another over preserving the union. The truth is both were causes in turn. Protecting slavery was the cause of secession and secession was the cause of the war to preserve the union.

    I have an obscure 209 page book called "The Causes of the American Civil War" edited by Edwin C. Rozwenc of Amherst College published in 1961. One historian featured in the book attributes the cause of the war to hotheads in the south who spread false rumors about impending northern efforts to dominate the southern states. True or not, I think that's drilling too deep. The fact is the south seceded. The hotheads were in line with southern sentiments which feared for the south's cherished way of life, in other words its agrarian economy and, hence, slavery. A Constitutional crisis was inevitable.
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato

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