[March 27, 2020] In my previous post yesterday on Union Aims about the U.S. Civil War, I wrote that Union aims. U.S. President Abraham Lincoln made it clear that any surrender terms of the South must be to preserve the Union and a pledge of equality for freed slaves. Today, I will address Confederate aims and how they differ from the Union’s position.
Recall that my understanding, until recently, was that Confederate aims were all about the importance of state’s rights. All other issues were secondary. Slavery was not essential but was a concern. In other words, teachers in the South taught the legalization of slavery was to up to each state and that no federal level of government should decide on the issue. For a national government to do so would, in effect, immoral.
Yet, elite southerners feared that the rest of the United States threatened slavery. Leading southern politicians advanced the position of states’ rights in response. Such thinking is the reverse of our teachings. Furthermore, southern intellectuals developed the myth of the cavalier, which claimed that elite southerners, unlike northerners, descended from aristocratic Englishmen.1 Thus, northerners and southerners were distinct and separate peoples.
“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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.” – Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens
Confederates quickly shed their American identity after the election of Lincoln and adopted a new Southern Nationalism. This nationalism was based on several ideas. First among these was slavery. Second, religion helped shape this ideology, as southerners believed that the Confederacy was fulfilling God’s will. And third, southerners believed that northerners had betrayed the original intent of the American Revolution, and thus the Confederacy was the true heir of the American Revolution.
The U.S. Civil War ended badly for the South. While the North sustained more casualties, 360,000 to 260,000,2 the South could ill afford such losses. Also, with the majority of the battles fought on southern soil, there was far more destruction of critical infrastructure.
After the South’s surrender, events would quickly overtake the U.S. government, trying to mend long-simmering political quarrels that would simmer for decades to come. Nothing is ever as simple as it may appear from far away.