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THE REAL CAUSE OF THE CIVIL WAR
By Jack L. Pennington
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Jack L. Pennington
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Lincoln was a member of the Whig Party and served a single term in Congress in 1847-49. This was at the time of the Mexican War, and Lincoln was famous for what became known as the "spot" resolutions in which he called on President Polk to come before Congress and show where American blood was shed on American soil.
After serving one term in Congress, Lincoln returned to his law practice in Springfield. Lincoln's opposition to the Kansas Nebraska Act brought him back into politics. This begins the period where I will look at Lincoln's views on the basic issues that led either directly or indirectly to the Civil War.
Lincoln was an adroit politician, and one cannot help recognize how adept he was in using presentations that were specious, metaphorical, and often they were abstract and non-sequitur. He was an expert at playing on the fears of his audience. The divided feelings brought about by the Kansas-Nebraska Act created splits in both the Whig and Democrat Party. It caused the demise of the Whig Party and a Northern and Southern divide in the Democrat Party. The breakup of the Whig Party brought on the formation of the Republican Party. Lincoln became a member of that party. John C. Fremont was their first presidential candidate in the election of 1856. He made a respectable showing, but James Buchanan the Democrat candidate received the necessary electoral votes to be President.
The Northwest Ordinance, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution were interpreted by Lincoln to express his views and supposedly blend them with those of the founding fathers. He said the Northwest Ordinance showed that Congress could pass acts preventing the extension of slavery; the Declaration of Independence represented and was meant to include the essential rights of blacks; and the Constitution gave the Union government power over the states. The states, according to Lincoln, had agreed to the Constitution and joined the Union, so they had no right to secede. Lincoln felt that secession constituted a rebellion, and that the central government had not only the right but the obligation to prevent it.
Three particular Congressional Acts must be looked at because of their central role in the issues that led to the Civil War. They were: The Missouri Compromise, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision is the other major factor that needs to be examined.
In attempting a study such as this I should mention that I am biased. I think very few wars in history are justified, and this observation certainly applies to the recent wars the United States has been engaged in. I believe if any war has been justified World War II would receive the number one position.
Lincoln attempted to use the founding fathers' Northwest Ordinance, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution to support the positions that he took.
The Northwest ordinance or the ordinance of 1785
A committee was set up to survey and divide the Northwest Territory into divisions such as townships and sections, and to establish land policies. One of the provisions was that there was to be no slavery or involuntary servitude. In his Peoria speech of 1854, Lincoln brought out that in doing so the founding fathers recognized that the central government had the right to prevent the extension of slavery, and he used this to counteract Douglas's claim that because the founding fathers supported self government they would have been in favor of popular sovereignty.
I believe this is a good example of where facts are manipulated in order to support ones position, in this case that Congress had the right to prevent slavery from entering a territory. In my study I didn't find any example where members working under the Articles of Confederation or the Constitution even questioned that Congress didn't have that right. However, I would say it is more of an indication that slavery was recognized both in the North and the South as being immoral, and so the central union government could allow or prevent slavery during the territorial period.
I did not read of Southerners, at that time, maintaining or advocating the principle that they had an inherent right to take slaves into a territory. Slave owners could be found in northern states, but it was also recognized that states, when forming their constitution, could say whether they were to be free or slave. Where there were slave owners, the states had the right to free those slaves. Many northern states, when freeing the slaves in their states, did not free the then slaves from their owners, but that the progeny when reaching a certain age would be free.
Since the purpose of the Northwest Ordinance was to organize and establish rules for organizing and dividing the land, one could say that at the time the concern between the North and the South was not over slavery but control of the central government and commercial policies. The North at the time felt this power rested in the South. This view would change in the eighteen hundreds.
Thomas Jefferson headed the Northwest Territorial committee of five. Three of the members, including Jefferson, were from the South, and two from the North. At the heart of the extension of slavery question is the fact that slavery was not profitable in areas that could or would not be raising cotton. This northwest region was not an area where slave owners would want to bring their slaves. One must also keep in mind that slave owners took care of not only the working slaves but their families, and economically it was important that slaves were fed and had adequate shelter. Therefore when one considers that this might be called the period of compromises, it is not hard to see that Southern delegates during the Articles and the formation of the Constitution in order to obtain other objectives would have been willing to support provisions that prevented slave owners from going into the Northwest Territory, since they knew it was not economical for them to do so.
Although one could say slavery was the emotional center of the discussion, the Missouri Compromise of 1820's underlying concern was sectional control of the government and the effect this could have on not only the institution of slavery but the increasing economic sectional division of the country. Admittance of Missouri as a slave state could have unbalanced the number of slave and free states, and effected the policy control between the North and South. The admittance of Maine as a free state allowed the Compromise to take place. The Compromise established that for the rest of the Louisiana Purchase north of the latitude line of 36o and 30' would be closed to slavery. The line ran along the southern border of Missouri. President Monroe signed the compromise even though he believed it was a direct violation of the U.S. Constitution.
After his one term in Congress, in which he had opposed the Mexican War, Lincoln had returned to his law practice in Springfield. The addition of new territory as a result of the Mexican War renewed the slavery question. An act was introduced in Congress known as the Wilmot Proviso, which would have prohibited the extension of slavery into the new territories. It failed to pass but was favored and extolled by many Northerners and strenuously opposed by Southerners.
California's gold rush in 1849 increased its population so fast that it was ready to come into the Union without having passed through the formation of a territorial government. It was applying as a free state. This accentuated the need to establish territorial status for the new territories. A bitter fight ensued, but the arguments of the three great leaders of the period, Clay, Webster, and Calhoun, with the aid of Douglas, Davis, and others, brought about the Compromise of 1850.
Webster was bitterly attacked by Northern abolitionists for his speech. He contended that slave restrictions by Congress on California and New Mexico territories were unnecessary. He argued that even if there were no such restrictions, slavery could not exist in those regions, and therefore to apply the Wilmot Proviso to them would only serve to antagonize the South, since California and New Mexico were destined to be free. "I would not take pains uselessly to reaffirm an ordinance of nature, nor to re-enact the will of God. I would put in no Wilmot Proviso for the mere purpose of a taunt or reproach."
For the purpose of my study, the two main parts of the Compromise were the enacting of a stricter Fugitive Slave Act, and the organization of the territories of New Mexico and Utah with no provision for slavery during the territorial period. When these territories, or any portions of them, were ready for statehood, they were to be admitted into the Union with or without slavery as their constitutions would prescribe at the time of admission.
What is also noteworthy is the extreme opposition to the Compromise in the North by the abolitionists and the advocates of the Wilmot Proviso, but more of an indifferent support by the South because their leaders did not seem to expect that either of the proposed territories would accept slavery. This view is similar to why there was no Southern concern in preventing slavery in the Northwest Territory, or accepting a line in the Missouri Compromise.
The period between the Compromise of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Act could be considered comparatively quiet, but abolitionist agitation increased as did southern reaction to it. The gold rush to California made the demand for a trans-continental railroad imperative and the central location became a sectional and political demand. Since land areas were expected to be first divided into territories and to form territorial governments before applying to Congress for statehood, this created the need to formulate territories in the remaining Louisiana Purchase. Once again this brought the slavery issue to the foreground. According to Northerners, the Missouri Compromise should have settled the issue. We need to remember that at this time both of the two main parties' members were from the North and the South. The South demanded that slavery be permitted to go into the territories, and the extension of slavery again became the country's main issue. Senator Douglas, who was chairman of the committee on territories, needed to come out with a territorial plan. I think it is fair to say that Douglas had future plans to become President, and so he needed Southern support. Douglas, under Southern pressure, brought forth the Kansas-Nebraska Act which opened the territories to popular sovereignty. Two things, besides his own political ambitions, were probably on Douglas' mind in justifying a plan that would abrogate the Missouri Compromise. One, he thought the application of popular sovereignty in the Compromise of 1850 would pave the way for its use; and secondly, he realized that slave holders would not find it profitable to go into these territories. Although Southern leaders recognized this, as they had with the Northwest Territory, along with the New Mexico and Utah territories, Douglas would not directly express this because it would have weakened the Southern position and their demand that the North recognize their right to take their property (slaves) into any U.S. territory. I believe too many historians either ignore or do not understand that having the right to take slaves into a territory had become a matter of Southern principle. These territories belonged to the South as well as the North. The South had developed a strong opposition to the Wilmot Proviso and Northern efforts to pass it in Congress. Northerners in opposing the extension of slavery in the territories caused the South to question whether they could rely on the North's assurances that they had no intention of doing away with slavery in the South if they were in control. The South would also realize that the territories formed by the Louisiana Purchase would eventually be entering the Union as free states, and if their rights could not be respected at this time how could they expect them to be later.
The fire-storm that erupted with the Kansas-Nebraska Act brought Lincoln back into the political arena. It also caused the break-up of one political party and a division in the other.
I will attempt to follow the events and disputes that led to the Civil War by analyzing Lincoln's speeches that followed the Kansas-Nebraska Act and his return to politics.
Chapter TwoLincoln's Speeches' 1854-1860
Popular sovereignty rested on the democratic assumption that the people during the territorial period had the right to decide whether to allow slavery or not. Senator Douglas connected popular sovereignty with the principle of self-government. In his Peoria speech Lincoln granted the importance of self-government, but said it did not apply to this case. He said that if the negro is a man, then he should have the right of self-government, and that when a white man governs himself that is self-government, but when the white man governs another that is not self-government but despotism. Lincoln is correct up to this point in his argument. No one can objectively deny that a male black is not a man. But Lincoln now goes further and uses the technique called reductio ad absurdum to prove how illogical popular sovereignty is. Lincoln takes self-government to what he says is its natural conclusion, which means that each individual would then have the right to govern himself. He said that would be anarchy.
This type of political argument may be effective politics, but it should not influence the historian. This is an example of ploys so often used by politicians. They present half-truths that appear to be logical when they actually are illogical. There is no way Douglas or anyone else would realistically allow individual self-government to happen.
In the Peoria speech Lincoln again uses this dissimulation approach by saying that popular sovereignty would bring about a renewal of the slave trade in America. Realistically this would not have happened because of public opposition to the trade in both the North and South.
The slave trade was a financial bonanza for New England slave traders. I doubt if there is anything in American history that is more reprehensible than the slave trade, and the cruelty it inflicted on the slaves during the "middle passage." There were leading New England families involved in the slave trade, and the profits were often used to start or expand various industrial endeavors. However, the slave trade was recognized for the cruelty it represented and was opposed internationally, as it was in both the South and the North. The slave trade was outlawed in America in 1808, but illicit trading continued with most of the slaves going to Latin American countries. Jefferson Davis when president of the Southern Confederacy vetoed a slave trade act, and it was upheld by their Congress.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and signed by President Pierce. A New England anti-slavery group raised money to have members go to Kansas to set up a territorial government opposed to slavery. This caused a counter attempt by Southern and primarily Missourians to do the same. Missourians rushed across the border and were able to establish a territorial government before enough anti-slavery people arrived. However, by the time they adopted a constitution, the anti-slave element were in the majority. President Buchanan called for an election by the people. The ballot proposed by the pro-slave legislature pertained only to slavery, and by the way it was worded, the slavery element would have won no matter how the people voted. The free-soil people refrained from voting, so the Lecompton pro-slave constitution won. Buchanan presented this constitution to Congress, where it was rejected, and Kansas did not come into the Union until 1861 as a free state.
Douglas split with Buchanan over the Lecompton Constitution. Douglas realized it was not a true representation of popular sovereignty.
In the Peoria speech Lincoln goes on with his sophistry when he says that Douglas is wrong on the issue of slavery's extension into a territory, and that it should be left up to the people of that territory. Lincoln said it is relevant to the whole country, for if slavery goes in then whites will not, and these territories should be left open so the whites, along with the new immigrants, will have a place to go.
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