There is an increasingly loud revisionist refrain echoing around the whiter parts of the internet these days that says the Civil War was not really fought over slavery, but instead was fought over . . . something else. The something else varies considerably from person to person, but all agree that slavery wasn't a big deal.
Thankfully we can turn to the primary source, to the written reasons the states gave at the time to see that yes, indeed, slavery was the chief concern.
We yield the floor to Edward Ball | Prometheus 6
I’ve heard it from women and from men, from sober people and from people liquored up on anti-Washington talk. The North wouldn’t let us govern ourselves, they say, and Congress laid on tariffs that hurt the South. So we rebelled. Secession and the Civil War, in other words, were about small government, limited federal powers and states’ rights.
But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.
South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states ... have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”
Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. ... There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.”
Georgia: “A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.”
Several states single out a special culprit, Abraham Lincoln, “an obscure and illiterate man” whose “opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” Lincoln’s election to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that “the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”
In other words, the only state right the Confederate founders were interested in was the rich man’s “right” to own slaves.
It’s peculiar, because “states’ rights” has become a popular refrain in Republican circles lately. Last year Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wondered aloud whether secession was his state’s right in the aftermath of laws out of Congress that he disliked.