Let’s Get Our Casus Belli Straight

by Daniel Russ on January 23, 2011

Alexander Stephens, Vice President Confederate States of America

I have written quite a bit about the notion that there may one day be several countries on this continent, not just two. But when talking about Civil War, it is important to note that we entered into this conflict primarily on moral reasoning. The Americans who lived in the north by and large felt that slavery was abominable and had to be stopped, and that this nation could not go forward with this.

New York Times EJ Dionne reminds us who said what and why we fought the war.

When the war started, leaders of the Southern rebellion were entirely straightforward about this. On March 21, 1861, Alexander Stephens, the Confederacy’s vice president, gave what came to be known as the “Cornerstone speech” in which he declared that the “proper status of the Negro in our form of civilization” was “the immediate cause of the late rupture.”

Thomas Jefferson, Stephens said, had been wrong in believing “that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature.”

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea,” Stephens insisted. “Its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical and moral truth.”

Our greatest contemporary historian of the Civil War, James McPherson, has noted that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a major slaveholder, “justified secession in 1861 as an act of self-defense against the incoming Lincoln administration.” Abraham Lincoln’s policy of excluding slavery from the territories, Davis said, would make “property in slaves so insecure as to be comparatively worthless . . . thereby annihilating in effect property worth thousands of millions of dollars.”

South Carolina’s 1860 declaration on the cause of secessionYear of Meteors,” his superb recent book on how the 1860 election precipitated the Civil War, the South split the Democratic Party and later the country not in the name of states’ rights but because it sought federal government

E.J. Dionne

mentioned slavery, slaves or slaveholding 18 times. And as the historian Douglas Egerton points out in “guarantees that slavery would prevail in new states. “Slaveholders,” Egerton notes, “routinely shifted their ideological ground in the name of protecting unfree labor.”


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Douglas January 23, 2011 at 10:28 am

Very true — in fact the South shouted out from the ROOFTOPS that it was the SPREAD of slavery they demanded.

Under promise of war — they demanded the SPREAD of slavery. Not just the protection of slavery, the SPREAD of slavery by force.

Go see http://fivedemands.blogspot.com/, the five Southern Ultimatums, as proudly and loudly announced by Southern newspapers at the time.
March 21, 1861, headines in Richmond were “THE TRUE ISSUE” — and then they showed the Southern ULTIMATUMS.

All five SOuthern ULtimatums were about one thing — the SPREAD OF SLAVERY. SPecifically the first Ultimamtum was that the territories (they meant Kansas) must “accept and respect slavery” and the legislatures and US COngress must allow slavery and the people there must “respect” slavery.

The US must spread slavery into Kansas! Kansas had just fought a four year bloody war against slavery. The people of Kansas had just voted 98% to 2% to keep slavery out forever. But the Southern leaders first ultimatum? Kansas must accept slavery.

Furthermore, no state could pass any laws about slave issues, within their own state!

All five of the Ultimatums were as goofy as goofy can get. Yet these weren’t the rantings of some drunk hooligans, these were the exact same demands the South had insisted on for 60 years! These were the demands they made when they force the “Compromise” of 1820, which was as much of a compromise as an armed robbery at a 7-11. These were the same demands slavers made in the “Compromise” of 1850. Each time the slavers came back and insisted on MORE — and MORE – and MORE.

The Ultimatums in 1861 were nothing more than demands that worked for them before. Only this time, they demanded the US Congress and the state and territorial legislatures force slavery down the throats of people out West. The slavers had tried to use thugs and terrorists in Kansas, but Kansas people kicked their butt. You want real history? This is real history.

When the Southern slave owners saw that their pretense of “state’s rights” wouldn’t fly anymore — they just issued Ultimatums that totally suppressed states rights. Each of the Five Southern Ultimatums was a total repudiation of State’s Rights. They weren’t even pretending that nonsense anymore. They demanded ONE thing — the spread of slavery AGAINST the will of the people. AGAINST the states wishes and AGAINST Congress wishes.

The Five Ultimatums should be taught in every history class in the USA, along with the Gettysburg address. Put them side by side.

Google the Southern Ultimatums — or see this blog –http://fivedemands.blogspot.com/

Daniel Russ January 23, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Wow. First time I ever even heard of them. Thanks though and please stop by more often.

Gary Neman January 28, 2011 at 4:23 am

Why our side is not equally motivated to save the Union from FOX News voters will always baffle me. Stopping 53% of state legislatures falling into Republican hands and therby giving them power to redraw districts is sufficient motivation to vote, in my point of view.

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