Part two can be found here.
In the comments section of a recent post, an argument (if you can call it that) rages on as to why the North and South fought the Civil War. The main thrux of the argument begins with this comment from David Tatum:
“I don’t wish to demonize white southerners…I just want them to own up to the real heritage of the Confederacy”
I’ve read my ancestors letters and the writings from the men who served with him, They were fighting to save their homes from an invading army !So what did your ancestors have to say about the war ?
It’s that ageless pseudo-paradox, “my ancestors didn’t own slaves/didn’t fight to defend slaves, so how was the war fought over slavery?” Well for starters, it is very seldom that a soldier expresses the same reasons for war that a governing body does. According to Azar Gat’s analysis (which I’ll rely in since my German is not yet perfect), of Carl von Clausewitz’s On War (Vom Krieg), Clausewitz gave three stand out essentials about war. One of these deals with war and its purpose.
War must never be seen as having any purpose in itself, but should be seen as an instrument of Politik – (A German word that conflates the meanings of the English words policy and politics: “War is not merely a political act, but also a real political instrument, a continuation of political commerce, a carrying out of the same by other means.”
In short, war is merely a continuation of policy. If we apply Clausewitz’s teachings to the Civil War, it is painfully obvious that the Confederacy fought a war to preserve slavery and the social order (i.e. slave society) slavery created. Numerous historical sources reinforce this. The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States (Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas) draw heavily on political conclusions about the North’s aggression towards the institution of slavery and that institution’s ability to expand into new territories. The Florida Declaration of Causes relies on the same arguments. The case is universal for all states involved in the first wave of secession. I could bring in the Cornerstone Speech of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens but I think at this point it would be redundant. I realize of course that these views represent merely the political atmosphere of individual states, but I think it is important to remember that these states all shared the same purpose and then unified in defense politically, ideologically and militarily. Jefferson Davis introduces this position of the newly established Confederate States of America, in his inaugural address:
Montgomery, Alabama, February 1861.
Sustained by a consciousness that our transition from the former Union to the present Confederacy has not proceeded from any disregard on our part of our just obligations, or any failure to perform every constitutional duty — moved by no intention or design to invade the rights of others — anxious to cultivate peace and commerce with all nations — if we may not hope to avoid war, we may at least expect that posterity will acquit us of having needlessly engaged in it. We are doubly justified by the absence of wrong on our part, and by wanton aggression on the part of others. There can be no cause to doubt that the courage and patriotism of the people of the Confederate States will be found equal to any measure of defence which may be required for their security. Devoted to agricultural pursuits, their chief interest is the export of a commodity required in every manufacturing country. Our policy is peace, and the freest trade our necessities will permit. It is alike our interest, and that of all those to whom we would sell and from whom we would buy, that there should be the fewest practicable restrictions upon interchange of commodities. There can be but little rivalry between us and any manufacturing or navigating community, such as the Northwestern States of the American Union.
It must follow, therefore, that mutual interest would invite good will and kindness between them and us. If, however, passion or lust of dominion should cloud the judgment and inflame the ambition of these States, we must prepare to meet the emergency, and maintain, by the final arbitrament of the sword, the position we have assumed among the nations of the earth. We have now entered upon our career of independence, and it must be inflexibly pursued. (Jefferson Davis’s Inaugural Address can be read in its entirety here)
The position assumed is one of the 19th century South’s agrarian society. Thus, the defense will be for such a position. The South attempted secession on the basis of protecting slavery and rejection of Abraham Lincoln’s lawful election in 1860. Why? Because Southern politicians felt the election endangered the ‘peculiar institution.’ The secession would be peaceful as long as the United States government allowed the rebellion to go unchecked. Government policy for the U.S.A. and the C.S.A. collided in the political realm of negotiation, each side hesitating to escalate to the instrument of war. Once the dispute over Federal landholdings in the Charleston Harbor reached cataclysmic proportions, the C.S.A. enhanced the instrument of policy to one of war, thereby escalating violence. Not once did political policy change, merely the instrument of that policy. The policy remained consistent through secession to the establishment of the C.S.A. But what of the rank and file?
There are numerous reasons why a soldier goes to war. A soldier can, in fact, be of the same opinion and advocate the same policy as the government. You might see this more in a leadership form but even still this represents a minority of soldiers. Other reasons might include, but are not limited to, conscription, defense, to “see the elephant,” maintain a way of life, and perhaps a display of courage. Very few of these reasons have an immediate connection to slavery. If so few soldiers fought for reasons connected to slavery, how then can the war be “fought” over slavery? This is because “fighting” or “war” is merely an instrument. If a man represented the state, this man might brandish his shiny saber as the instrument of war, a continuation of his policy. The soldiers of that state represent the cutting edge of the state’s blade. Regardless of the blade’s intent, it is still wielded by the state. The South’s soldiers fought for the state, and thus the states’ policy. But what of the question posed? What did Union soldiers fight for?
Update: Andy Hall did an excellent job of adding even more depth to this argument. He demonstrated that southern states such as Virginia, as a part of the second wave of secession, seceded because of their strong sociological and economic ties to other slave holding states. This strengthens the argument that Southern, Confederate, policy was the preservation of slavery.