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Remind Me, What Was the Civil War About, Anyway?

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/08/07/remind-me-what-was-civil-war-about-anyway

“What was the Civil War about, anyway ?”

Had California and Oregon not been contemplating joining the confederacy, thereby derailing manifest destiny, Lincoln would have let the South secede. Then as now, manifest destiny was murka’s highest priority and failure to keep it on track was (and is) certain political suicide.

Slavery was always a secondary issue for Lincoln and his plan for freed slaves was a one way ticket to Africa.


The Civil War WAS about “states’ rights,” or more particularly about a single right of the states, the supposed right to keep millions of their citizens in perpetual servitude because of their ancestry. No other “states’ right” was under debate in the mid nineteenth century. It was then, and still is, legal and constitutional for states to levy and collect taxes, to pass and enforce laws, to build and maintain civil infrastructure, maintain systems of education and social services, etc. In fact, it is even legal for states to have their own armies. (Several still have state militias, in addition to the National Guard and two states of the “Old South” have their own military colleges.)

I suppose, then that the only error in claiming that the Civil War was about “states’ rights” was the pluralization of “rights” (and the omission of any explanation of which right was involved).


On what basis do you say Lincoln would have let the South secede vis a vis California and Oregon?

You are on the right track.

Secession from the Union was primarily about retention of slavery. There were other issues and discontents but the possibility of the Federal Government moving to abolish slavery was the impetus to the creation of the break-away ‘Confederacy’. Noting that it was essentially the immediate economics of the slave system that was desired to be protected not necessarily the Southern ‘way of life’.

The war was the result of the Lincoln Administration’s decision to ‘preserve the Union’ by force of arms. The rallying cry in the ‘North’ was ‘the Union forever’. It would be hard to imagine that an army could have been raised at the time for the sole purpose of ‘freeing the slaves’.

However ‘America’ being what ‘America’ is, territorial wars between the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. would have been expected. (One seldom mentioned component of the secession movement was a desire by Southern interests to annex more Mexican territory which was not supported in the Northern States.)


Although slavery was not part of Lincoln’s 1860 POTUS campaign platform, building a railroad to the west coast was part of the platform. California joining the confederacy would derail that plan (no pun intended). The original tentative transcon route surveys provided choices of New Mexico /Arizona territory, or Dakota/Montana territory because the route through Wyoming/Nevada was estimated to be more costly to build and operate.

First the Civil War pushed the AZ/NM route out of contention, then shorter distance to CA compared to the northern route, along with the Nevada Comstock rush and a lot of corporate welfare lobbying made the WY/NV route the first choice.

We yanks continue to pay dearly for a divorce that should have occurred in 1861 and still hasn’t occurred, while the South has been laughing all the way to the bank ever since.


Senator Tom Cotton is not promoting oppression for the Confederacy. He is promoting oppression for the Union.

Cotton deserves anything that Lofgren cares to throw at him, but trying to claim some sort of high ground for Northern prejudice muddies the waters. Anytime a lot of people fight, motives vary. But while a lot of Southerners did fight in large part over slavery, the North mostly did not. Rank and file among the North fought largely “for Union,” to control the South to oppose an English invasion that did not come even during the war. Northern industrialists supported a fight for cheap labor, much as they have since.

There’s a shortage of angels and few demons on this planet, just lots of people and lots of fools, and human blood that spills.


The movie Harriet, the docudrama of the abolition years and the life-risking heroics of former slave Harriet Tubman, was an education for me. The movie expresses the palpable injustice and fear of antebellum slaves.

The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 is a major part of the story. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required that slaves be returned to their owners, even if they were in a free state. A Congress was that unbelievably unjust and sordid.

Sen Tom Cotton has a constituency, and may it forever be small and insignificant.


The English were effectively taken out of the war by the Emancipation Proclamation. Otherwise the blockade and such may not have happened. What were the average Southerners fighting for? That’s right Plantation Politics, for the rich. Not their own interests. Same as today.

Slavery in the old south. Prisoners working for pennies in the prison industrial complex to benefit owners and shareholders. Rehabilitation centers lauding non-paid work as self-actualizing for patients (they get paid by their patients to get sober and for the work of the patients while they try to sober up - who would not become rich with such a business plan). Exploitation is America.