Amazing Fact: The Civil War was fought over slavery

Myth: The Civil War was not fought over slavery.

Supporting myth: Lincoln was okay with slavery, and he declared war.

“Proof” of myth: Slavery wasn’t ended until after the war, because Lincoln couldn’t do it earlier because the North would have stopped fighting, and wouldn’t do it because he was pro-slavery.

The Civil War was fought over slavery. That’s just all there is to it.

I didn’t grow up hearing this. When I was in K-12, in the 1970s and early 1980s, I got the old saw that the Civil War was fought because the North and South were just so darn different. The South was agricultural and rural, while the North was industrialized and urban. The North wanted tarriffs on imports, while the South didn’t. Their stands on banking, railroad subsidies, and other economic matters were what made the North and South so dangerously different. Slavery was just a side issue, really a small part of southern life, and one to which northerners were completely indifferent.

It never occurred to me, as a youth, to wonder how differering positions on banking could drive a nation to Civil War. Could opposing ideas on where to place the intercontinental railroad really divide a nation? But the textbooks I was given (and this was in a northern state) rushed me right past that to the start of the war and the issue of states’ rights.

This argument says that southern states seceded not to protect slavery, but to stand up for their constitutionally given rights to chart their own internal course, without interference from Congress. The southern states resisted efforts by the federal government to limit state power, goes the argument, and they did so for the benefit of all states, north and south. The federal government was violating the Constitution and threatening democracy, and the liberty-loving southern states could not live with this. They seceded, thus preserving their states’ rights. And the Constitution says they could.

Well, as you know from my About page essay, this whole package was still being pushed very recently by the K-12 publishers. And in fact, someone I know who is 73 gave me the same story recently. Slavery didn’t cause that war, he said; northerners didn’t care, there was no difference between northern and southern boys fighting, and the whole war was a shame. This man’s grandfather fought for the Union. Yet this man is ashamed of the whole thing, because he was fed the same amazing pack of lies about the Civil War that I was; lies that damage America today.

This is the first in a series of posts, because the myth of the Civil War is so big and so insidious. Next time, I’ll begin to show how slavery drove the nation to war. And before I’m done, the unforgivable and obvious lie applied to Lincoln–that he was proslavery–will be demolished.

Next: what did make North and South so different?

6 thoughts on “Amazing Fact: The Civil War was fought over slavery

  1. Interesting, I just wrote an almost completely opposite article on the civil war (hence why your post came up). I grew up hearing it was about slavery and just now for the first time am hearing the other side and am convinced of the opposite. I’m sure you have a great deal more experience than I do, but I cannot agree.


  2. Yes Civil War was about slavery.

    The South said it was. What are putting on to show it? There is plenty to show.

    Show the Declaration of Causes -they say slavery. Show the speeeches by the leaders of the Confederacy — they say it was slavery.

    Yes so much of this has been covered up — for 150 years the South has been to embarrassed to deal with the SOUTH’S own documents and words.

    Show what they were saying and doing. Reading their own stuff is like reading Hitler’s Mien Kampf.

    YOu gotta put proof of your position.


  3. I always laugh at anyone that says that the Civil War was about states rights not slavery.

    I mean anyone with common sense knows that these so called “states rights” that the South was fighting for was about the state’s right to slavery!!!

    The two terms are not mutually exclusive no matter how much those still stuck in 1865 try to put it.

    Usually when I hear someone say that the Civil War was not fought over slavery I start to tune out. I refuse to listen to some uneducated hick or some jerk trying to hold onto old Confederate fantasies.


    1. I’m wowed. Please stop. The proclamation only pertained to the states that had declared secession and that’s a fact. Another major fact omitted is that the Russian Czar Alexander II required Lincoln to proclaim emancipation before he would declare he was siding with the union. If Lincoln had not made that proclamation France and England were prepared to assist the confederacy. It was the Russian presence that kept France and England out of the war. Lincoln stated many times how he felt about slavery and also pointed out that if he could save the union without freeing one slave he would. What’s with this religious type research? If you’re gonna do research try to stick to the facts. Even the new movie Lincoln is a shameless attempt to thwart the truth. His statements and actions alone conflict with every claim your article makes.


      1. Hello Tony; thanks for writing. We would be glad to see your sources for the Russian angle on all this.
        Lincoln did indeed state many times “how he felt about slavery”; of course, this feeling changed over time, from resigned acceptance to abolition. When Lincoln said that he would free enslaved people if it would win the war, this was an enormous step. No president had ever said he would end slavery for any reason. As we say in our post the Victory of the Emancipation Proclamation, it would be like a president today saying that if he could bring peace to the Middle East without using nuclear weapons, he would, but if he had to use nuclear weapons he would. People would ask, when on earth did nuclear weapons get on the table?? That’s how Americans reading Lincoln in 1862 felt—when on earth did abolition get on the table for a U.S. president? Americans at the time saw it as the cataclysmic statement it really was.


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