Reasons for the Civil War


Subject:    Re: The War of Southern Greed
Date:       Sat, 10 Aug 2002 16:02:05 -0500
From:       WWS <>
Message-ID: <>

<> wrote....
> >
> > You did a very good job of summarizing the historical case with
> > references, congratulations.
> TOO COOL! I got a gold star from Wes! (no I'm not being sarcastic)

It's reassuring to see someone else who's put forth the time and effort to
learn a little about who we are as a people, and how we became that way.
That's what the story of history is about, after all - how did we get here?
Why are we the way we are? Who are we, after all? The only way to ever gain 
any understanding into questions like that is to study how we got to where we 
stand today.

Those who don't honestly learn what happened in the past haven't just missed 
out on some arcane trivia; in a very real sense they can never know who we are 
as a people, and they will never really know who they themselves are in anything 
more than a glib and superficial way.

And if you never really know who you are, how can one live a life of any

> That's the thing, though, Wes. Unless you're an historian, were raised by
> an historian, or simply more suspicious of what your taught than the
> average student, (let's see, that would be, generously, 2% of the
> population?) you will be taught that the war was solely about slavery.

And the sad thing is that it's taught that way because that's the cheap, easy
way to get past the subject without having to delve into any of the real and 
meaningful truths behind the conflict. It's the analysis of those who
think "depth" means that the 24 page comic book they learned their history
from used a 16 color palette instead of just 4. They're substituting
cariacture for understanding, because the truth takes too much effort to
get at.

> If he is, I still win since I was wondering what you would
> think of my end of the discussion.

As before, I was quite impressed by your end of the discussion. You
did a good job of pointing out how, at the beginning, no one on either
side had any idea how far it would go. None of them intended the all-out
war which resulted, and none of them even believed that would be the
result. That's one of the most valuable lessons of the conflict, one which
was ignored by Europe in 1914 - never start a war lightly and with little
thought, because once started wars take on a life of their own which dwarf
the intentions of any of the participants, and leads them all down paths
they never imagined they would take.

Your comments sparked me to detail my own thoughts on the topic, which
have slowly coalesced over the last 30 years or so of reading the thoughts
and impressions of the many accomplished writers who have taken on
different aspects of this. I haven't been writing much lately, so I think
I'll take the time and go on for a bit here.

What we all keep trying to get at is this: Why did this dispute have to
descend into such awful bloodshed to be resolved? What motivated
so many men, young and old alike, to sacrifice their lives in it? Why
were hundreds of thousands of Americans willing to die for this conflict?
And why is the memory of it so strong with us, even today?

We talk about the usual scapegoats, such as slavery, or economics, or
tarriff policy, or even political power - but in the end, none of those are
the kind of things that men will lay down their lives en masse for. A few
people like John Brown, yes, but an entire nation? They were all pieces of 
the puzzle, but none of those were the real heart of the dispute. Why were 
so many thousands upon thousands of men willing to walk hundreds and thousands 
of miles in good weather and bad, live in miserable conditions with bad food 
and disease, and end up dead in an unmarked shallow grave in some barren 
wheatfield or bloody orchard stripped of it's leaves somewhere? Why did they 
do it? You read the letters of the soldiers on both sides, and you realize 
that most of them knew they were probably going to die a brutal, hard death. 
Through all of 1864 and spring of 1865, the Southerners knew they were going 
to lose - and yet they were still willing to fight and die - Why?

To me, there can be only one answer, only one passion that could inspire
a devotion even unto death. This war was fought to decide for all time
not only what America was going to be, but to decide on the most
fundamental level what it was going to mean to be an American from
that time forward. This War, not the revolution of 1776, was the
watershed in our history. This is when everything was decided and
fixed, this is when we became the People that we are, even to this
day. Up until this point in our history there had been many competing
ideas of what America was and what Americans were, almost as many
competing ideas as there were individuals. That War ended all of that.
And the men who were fighting knew that it would.

It was the competition between the two most powerful ideas of what
America should be that was the fault line along which the war developed.
And, as happens so often in life, neither side ever truly understood the
motivations and beliefs of the other. It was almost as if the two sides
were from different planets - but the fact that this inability to communicate
happened between brothers made it a tragedy of biblical proportions.

Sometimes it's easiest to explain concepts by personifying them, and
I know of no better men which personified their respective sides than
Lincoln and Lee. And I believe it's justified to use them as examples
of the beliefs and attitudes of their nations because each one had the
military and political power to put their beliefs into action, and to cause
masses of men to follow them. Of course Davis was the Southern President,
but he was weak - men didn't fight for him, they fought for Lee. And
Lincoln - without Lincoln the Northern effort would have collapsed
within 3 months, if it had started at all. Just as without Lee the
Southern effort would have collapsed within 6 months.

Why did Lee fight for the South? Because he believed that his forbears
had created an America that had a limited government, that it was
dependant on local control and local representation, and that any
attempt by some higher Federal level of government to impose it's
will on the day to day actions of the people was the same form of
tyranny that his grandfather, Lighthorse Harry Lee, had fought against
in 1776. His entire life and training demanded that he stand up against
what he believed was tyranny, and even more that he owed his primary
duty to his State, not to some nebulous concept of a Nation - to Lee
and those who followed him, his State *was* his Nation, and the federal
level of government was simply something to which the State belonged
and which the State could leave.

Did he fight for personal gain? His own house was in the middle of
Washington DC! He *knew* that by fighting for Virginia he would
lose everything he owned! And yet his sense of duty, of ethics, of
morality itself demanded that he sacrifice all personal considerations
when he was called to serve. Just as the men who followed him into
battle believed. They, all of them, were fighting for what they believed
that Washington, and Jefferson, and Hamilton, and all the others had
bequeathed them. They felt they had no choice.

Those were Lee's motivations - what motivated Lincoln? Countless
books have been written on this topic - I believe his motivation was
at the same time simple and yet profound. When he became President,
he had taken an oath to preserve and protect these United States. He
was not a man who took oaths lightly, and he dedicated every fiber of
his being to upholding that oath, or die trying. And there was more than
that - in his writings and speeches, such as the Gettysburg address and
his second inaugural, you can see that he saw a completely different
America than those who opposed him. Wheras they saw a land full
of individuals free to do what they wanted with very little governmental
control, Lincoln saw a Nation that should be a beacon to the world.
His entire life he had believed that America was the last, best, hope for
all mankind, that America represented a completely new way of
governance, a new society, to use Jefferson's phrase, America was
the "novus ordo seclorum", the new world order. To allow the United
States of America to be fractured would destroy it's ability to change
the world forever, and Lincoln saw that as a tragedy so great that he
would do anything to keep that from coming about. As he said, if
he could preserve the Union by freeing the slaves, he would do it,
and if he could preserve the Union by keeping slavery, he would do
it. *Nothing* was more important than guaranteeing that the Union
endured, not philosphy, not economics, not his own life, not even the
blood of a million men.

Lincoln was the first leader this nation had who conceptualized of
America, the nation, in what can only be called religious terms.
This was his great, original gift - he took the values, the morals of 
religion and harnessed them to the service of the Nation, and in return 
he receieved a devotion that up until his time had been expressly
reserved for religion. The footsoldiers of the Army of the Potomac all
referred to him not as "President Lincoln", but as "Father Abraham". And
this was not done lightly - just as Abraham of the Old Testament had called
on his son to be sacrificed to God, this modern day Abraham called on them,
the sons of America, to sacrifice themselves for their nation. And they
responded to his visions and to his call, by the millions. Lincoln 
successfully fused religion and the concept of America as a Nation for the 
first time, with explosive results. To him, and to those who followed him, 
the nation called the United States of America became a thing of devotion 
that it had never been before. To Lincoln, *That* was where all devotion, 
and duty, and dedication belonged. Not to a state, not to any individual, 
not even to a document such as the Constitution. America was made up of
all of these things, but America itself was a greater, higher, nobler thing 
than any of them, and superseded all of them. 

Lincoln was not just a President - he became, in effect, the new High Priest 
of our secular religion. (Just as every President since Lincoln has had to be) 
To Lincoln, America was not just a country, but the Last, Best, Hope of all 
Mankind, and the sword that would one day remake the entire World in it's own 
image. Lincoln believed this to the depth of his soul, and he imparted this 
belief to all those who followed him. And for that reason, Lincoln was
determined that he could never compromise, never surrender - to him, the fate 
of the entire world, of all mankind, rested on him, personally, succeeding in
this struggle. I believe the weight of that belief is what aged him so 
remarkably those last 5 years, and was why when he dreamed of his own death 
2 weeks before his assasination, he saw it as a great relief, not as something
to be feared. He felt that he carried the weight of the world on his back,
and in a real sense he did.

Read the Gettysburg address again - and you will see this belief, this 
Religion of America, the Nation, peeking out of every line. How could he do 
anything other than what he did, believing this?

And in light of this, we can finally appreciate the true depth of the conflict 
between these two men, and two sides. It was not their base emotions such as 
greed or hatred that drove them to fight, but rather, it was *both* sides 
deepest concepts of Morality, Ethics, Duty, and Devotion which told them that 
this fight had to be undertaken no matter what the cost. It was their essential
*goodness* which led them inevitably to so much slaughter and so much destruction, 
and *That* is what makes the story a Tragedy in the greatest sense of the word. 
That's a lesson that underlies one of the greatest paradoxes of humanity - only 
men devoted to their respective ideas of *good* could have wreaked such havoc, 
men devoted to their own ambitions or well being would all have quit long, long 
before things ever went as far as they did.

Having put forth these two sides, I must say that intellectually, it's far 
easier to poke holes in Lincoln's justification for the fight. He didn't have 
the backing of the Constitution, and in a large sense the South was right - they 
saw that what Lincoln envisioned was a radical rethinking of everything America 
was and was going to be, and they didn't want any part of it. Even in Lincoln's 
defense, one has to admit that Lincoln's dedication came more from his own faith 
in the destiny of the Nation, which was self-justifying, than from anything else.

And yet, having admitted those intellectual points, I look at history from that 
point forward, and I see the unified Nation Lincoln believed in filling out the 
continent, and becoming the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the world. 
I see Lincoln's America as being the only nation in the world with the strength 
to defeat Hitler and his visions of a totalitarian Nazi Empire; I see Lincoln's 
America as the only nation in the world as having the strength and the fortitude
to then hold fast through a 50 year cold war and defeat Stalin and his followers
visions of a totalitarian Communist empire, and now I see Lincoln's America as 
the only nation with the strength and the will to stand against the Islamic 
fundamentalists and their new visions of power and Empire. Who else would have 
stood in our place if we had not been here? I decry Lincoln's seizing of power, 
of his willingness to ignore the Constitution when he needed to, of the bloody 
carnage that he accepted as inevitable, of his tacit acceptance of the belief 
that if the ends are great enough, then any means are justified; and yet in my 
heart, I look at the last 137 years of history, and I have to say: 

Lincoln was right. 

I cannot deny it. It almost seems to me as if he was one of those incredibly 
rare men who somehow *knew* what effect his actions were going to have on
history. Because again, I know in my heart, that no matter how much I deplore 
some of the things he did - Lincoln was right.

Lincoln believed that the United States of America was the last, best hope of 
mankind. He believed that this nation was literally the peak of all human 
civilisation up until his time, and he believed that this Nation would one 
day reshape the entire World into it's own image. Just as Lincoln saw himself
as the Savior of his Nation, he saw his nation as the Savior of *all* mankind, 
not just of it's own citizens. And this faith, this belief in America as an 
agent of History itself, is Lincoln's greatest and most lasting legacy to us. 
I told Sergey once that to truly be an American you had to be an idealist - he 
didn't understand what I was talking about. Maybe no non-American can. And yet 
ever since Lincoln, these beliefs have become part of America's soul. Why do 
Americans especially feel the need to make sure that the world is safe from men 
such as Hitler, and Stalin, and Saddam, and all the others like them?
Because Lincoln taught us that it was our destiny to do just that.

What was the Civil War about? It was about the fate of all mankind, about the 
destiny of the entire World itself. We continue to fight that war every day; 
and we fight it with the belief in our strength and our destiny that Lincoln
gave to us.

Without him, who knows what world we would be living in?


'The farther back you can look, the farther forward you can see".
- Winston Churchill

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