Civil War: The Economic and Slavery Tensions Preceding It
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in December of 1860.
Economic and slavery issues preceded the Civil War, in the same way financial debt is often connected to an underlying moral debt.
Billy Graham once counseled: “the deeper issue for you isn’t economic but spiritual.”
On the economic side, prior to the Civil War, tariffs on imports into southern ports, notably Charleston, South Carolina, provided the majority of the revenue for the U.S. Federal Government.
A Federal income tax did not exist yet.
Tariff taxes on foreign made goods caused them to be more expensive, causing people to buy domestically produced goods, mostly manufactured in Northern factories.
The Tariff taxes that helped the North hurt the South, as the South had few factories to protect.
Economically, the South was dependent on agriculture, primarily rice and cotton.
Cotton was one of the largest industries in the world, and America’s leading export.
Eugene R. Dattel wrote in “Cotton and the Civil War” (Mississippi Historical Society, July 2008):
“Cotton’s financial and political influence in the 19th century can be compared to that of the oil industry in the early 21st century.”
Before the Civil War, cotton exports from America’s southern states made up 77 percent of the 800 million pounds used in Britain’s textile industry.
Tragically, the South’s cotton farming was dependent on slave labor.
In the 1850s, bumper crops of cotton were sold to Britain, resulting in it having a surplus inventory of over a million bales.
Britain, therefore, cut back on further purchases.
In 1860, America’s cotton exports were 3 million bales, but the next year, in 1861, it dropped to only few thousand bales.
To compound the problem, the South mistakenly thought it could raise the price of cotton by creating a shortage, so it intentionally burned 2.5 million bales.
This did indeed cause the price of cotton to rise from 10 cents a pound in 1860 to nearly $2.00 a pound in 1863-1864, but in ending one problem, it created another that was far worse.
Britain, instead of paying the higher price, began to look for other sources for cotton, most notably India, Egypt, and Brazil.
Ironically, workers in these other countries labored under near slavery-like conditions.
Soon there was a global glut of cotton, further drying up the South’s economy.
On top of this, the South experienced another problem, the exhaustion of the soil.
Every year cotton is grown, it depletes the soil of more nutrients.
This motivated Southern agricultural interests to seek more land to cultivate in the new territories coming into the Union.
Southern farmers struggled under increasing debt, often borrowing on anticipated harvests two or three years into the future.
Choking under this economic stranglehold, the South threatened to stop collecting tariff taxes on imports at Southern ports.
Federal troops were sent to Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor to force them to collect the tariffs.
South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union in December of 1860.
Forty days after Lincoln took office, the Union officer in command at Fort Sumter, Major Robert Anderson, received a demand from Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard to surrender:
“FORT SUMTER, S.C., April 12, 1861, 3:20 A.M. -
SIR: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time.
We have the honor to be very respectfully, Your obedient servants,
JAMES CHESNUT JR., Aide-de-camp.
STEPHEN D. LEE, Captain C. S. Army, Aide-de-camp.”
Union General Anderson refused, and at 4:30am, April 12, 1861, Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter.
The Civil War had begun.
Shortly after the firing upon Fort Sumter, four more States seceded.
The Confederate troops mostly used old smoothbore muskets with round balls that were inaccurate at long distances, veering from the target.
The Union troops, on the other hand, mostly used modern rifles with conical shaped Minie balls that spun like a football and were very accurate at long distances.
With fewer banks in the South, there was a limited supply of gold with which to back a Confederate currency.
Short of money and credit, the Confederacy used cotton to barter with British manufacturers in exchange for weapons and ammunition.
President Abraham Lincoln stopped this by enacting his “Anaconda Plan” naval blockade of the South in April 1861.
Union forces eventually captured the southern ports, ending the trade of cotton for armaments.
Lincoln appointed Charles Francis Adams, the grandson of John Adams, as U.S. Minister to Britain.
He was instrumental in convincing England to stay neutral during the Civil War and not recognize the Confederacy.
In addition to the financial debt that preceded the Civil War, was the moral debt — slavery.
The South was in the midst of a perfect storm.
On top of its economic crisis, a group in the North called “Radical Republicans,” began demanding an immediate end to slavery.
Slavery has a long, tragic history.
On the eastern side of the Atlantic, sharia Muslim slave traders and Barbary pirates had enslaved an estimated 180 million Africans, as well as over a million Europeans.
On the western side of the Atlantic, prior to the arrival of Europeans, slavery existed with various native tribes enslaving captives for labor, ritual sacrifice, and cannibalism.
In the 1600s, Britain sold a half-million Irish Catholics into slavery.
Sean O'Callaghan wrote To Hell or Barbados (2000):
“From 1625 onward the Irish were sold, pure and simple as slaves. There were no indenture agreements, no protection, no choice … sold for their profit.”
The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, brought by a Dutch ship who had seized them from a Spanish ship.
At first, they were treated as other indentured servants and freed after a period of servitude.
An indentured African slave, Anthony Johnson, worked for seven years and was freed. He then became the first black man in America to own land. He also owned another African slave, John Casor.
When Casor’s indentured term was up, Johnson sued and won in 1621, to keep Casor a slave permanently — making Casor one of the first person of African descent in the English Colonies to be a slave for life.
Over the next two centuries, slavery gradually became the economic foundation for South’s agriculture-based economy.
Slaves were purchased from Africa, where for centuries, Africans were sold at notorious sharia Islamic slave markets and bazaars in:
— Khartoum, and
Slaves bought at these markets were taken to:
— Persian Gulf,
— Far East,
— Indian Ocean islands,
— Somalia, and finally to
— European colonies in the Western Hemisphere.
In America, through the influence of Quakers, Methodists and other Christian denominations, slavery was prohibited in 7 of the original 13 colonies by the time of the Revolutionary War.
Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence condemned King George III, who profited from the Royal African Company, for continuing the slave trade - “the opprobrium (disgrace) of Infidel Powers.”
“Opprobrium of Infidel Powers” was a reference to the infamous Islamic slave markets.
“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him,
captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death, in their transportation thither.
This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of Infidel Powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain.
He has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable commerce, determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die.”
In 1807, the U.S. Congress passed an “Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves,” with the U.S. Coast Guard given the task of catching slave trading ships.
This was the same year Christian British statesman William Wilberforce helped pass Britain’s “Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”
The Second Great Awakening Revival fueled the abolitionist movement, which led 19 of the 34 states to prohibit slavery prior to the Civil War.
Though Southern Democrats defended slavery, less than one-fourth of them held slaves in 1860.
With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 adding 828,000 square miles, and the Mexican Cession of 1848 adding 529,000 square miles, there was renewed effort by Democrats to expand slavery into the new territories.
Congress attempted to resolve the issue with:
— The Missouri Compromise of 1820, and
— The Compromise of 1850.
These were effectively repealed with Democrat Senator Stephan Douglas’ 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.
The Democrat-controlled Congress also passed the infamous Fugitive Slave Act in 1850.
A historical marker in Wisconsin reads:
“Joshua Glover was a runaway slave who sought freedom in Racine. In 1854, his Missouri owner used the Fugitive Slave Act to apprehend him. This 1850 law permitted slave catchers to cross state lines to capture escaped slaves. Glover was taken to Milwaukee and imprisoned.
Word spread about Glover’s incarceration and a great crowd (5,000) gathered around the jail demanding his release. They beat down the jail door and released Joshua Glover. He was eventually escorted to Canada and safety.
The Glover incident helped galvanize abolitionist sentiment in Wisconsin. This case eventually led the state supreme court to defy the federal government by declaring the Fugitive Slave Act unconstitutional.”
Shorty afterwards, in 1854, Wisconsin citizens met in a schoolhouse in Ripon, Wisconsin, to form what would become the Republican Party.
Its original platform preserved marriage as one man and one woman and stood for ending slavery:
“to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism — Polygamy and Slavery.”
Tensions increased when Chief Justice Roger Taney, appointed by Democrat Party founder Andrew Jackson, issued his infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision.
This decision caused an uproar in the 1860 Democrat Party Convention, resulting in a split, with 50 Democrat delegates walking out.
In protest, disenfranchised Democrats formed the Southern Democrat Party.
In the Presidential Election of November 1860, the candidates were:
— Stephan Douglas, Democrat;
— John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democrat Party;
— John Bell, Constitutional Union;
— Gerrit Smith, Liberty (Union) Party;
— Abraham Lincoln, Republican Party.
With the highest voter turnout in American history to that date, 81.2 percent, Lincoln did not win the popular vote, only receiving 39.8 percent.
Lincoln won because the electoral college let each state cast a representative portion of the electoral votes.
Seven states seceded before Lincoln was sworn into office on March 4, 1861.
Jefferson had written in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:
“The several states composing the United States … delegated to that Government certain definite powers, reserving each state to itself, the residuary mass of right to their own self Government; and that whensoever the General Government assumes undelegated powers, its acts are unauthoritative, void, and of no force.”
The Civil War began with both sides expecting it would only last a few weeks.
Instead it dragged on for four years.
The Confederate Army had the initial advantage with better trained military leadership.
It was nearly unstoppable, twice winning Battles at Bull Run, Virginia, just 20 miles from Washington, D.C.
Union troops had fled in panic to the fortifications of the U.S. Capitol.
The tide of the war did not to turn until Lincoln seized the moral high ground by recasting the war as an effort to end slavery.
Pastors of various Christian denominations met with President Lincoln to pressure him to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves.
Though without legal force, the Proclamation nevertheless caused all European support for the Confederacy to dry up, as no country wanted to be accused of supporting slavery.
Without European countries supplying weapons and ammunition, the Confederacy faced insurmountable odds.
On November 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke with Pastor Byron Sunderland of the First Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C.:
“If it had been left to us to determine it, we would have had no war.
And, going further back to the occasion of it, we would have had no slavery.
And, tracing it still further back, we would have had no evil …
On both sides we are working out the will of God.
Yet, how strange the spectacle! Here is one half of the nation prostrated in prayer that God will help them to destroy the Union and build up a government upon the cornerstone of human bondage.
And here is the other half equally earnest in their prayers and efforts to defeat a purpose which they regard as so repugnant to … liberty and independence …
And they are Christians and we are Christians. They and we are praying and fighting for results exactly the opposite.”
On March 4, 1865, in his Second Inaugural Address, just 45 days before his assassination, President Lincoln stated:
“Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained …
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.
It may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.
The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes …
If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God … He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came.”
Lincoln concluded by connecting the financial debt “wealth piled … shall be sunk” with the moral debt, “two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil”:
“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword,
as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’
With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us … bind up the nation’s wounds.”
President Calvin Coolidge, on May 25, 1924, at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, stated:
“It was Lincoln who pointed out that both sides prayed to the same God.
When that is the case, it is only a matter of time when each will seek a common end.
We can now see clearly what that end is. It is the maintenance of our American ideals, beneath a common flag, under the blessings of Almighty God.”
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