Slavery was their cause -- Confederate leaders said it clearly

Slavery was their cause -- Confederate leaders said it clearly

This letter was published in the Beaver County Journal of Beaver City, Utah. It's reposted here with the permission of the author Shawn Gillard.

Frequent contributor Adrian Arp of Filer Idaho in a recent letter stated, in bold type, "The Civil War was fought over States Rights. Slavery was a secondary issue." He might let those who led the Confederacy speak for themselves, because they did, and they very much disagree with him.

Every state that joined the Confederacy adopted a Declaration of Secession, and many, in the manner of our Declaration of Independence, stated their reasons. They all stress as strongly as possible that, for them, it was first and foremost about slavery.

Mississippi's Declaration opens with," Our position is thoroughly identified with slavery." Texas insists that government was "established by the white race, for themselves and their posterity," and that "servitude of the African race is mutually beneficial to both bound and free." The Arkansas Secession Convention lists, in Section One, "Northern hostility to the institution of African slavery."

And so on. These Declarations can easily be found online and I omit listing websites lest I be suspected of cherry picking.

Toward the end of the war, facing defeat, there were suggestions of offering freedom to any male slave, and his family, if he would join the Confederate Army. (See General Patrick Cleyburn.) This would have brought thousands of highly motivated solders to the defense of the South, and undercut the motivation of Blacks fighting for the North. But the response was overwhelmingly negative. General Clement Stevens seemed to speak for most when he said that if they had to give up slaves to win the war, "Then I take no more interest in the fight." Congressman Henry Chambers said, "Even victory itself would be robbed of its glory if shared with slaves." They were fighting above all for slavery and even Confederate independence was secondary to that.

But State's Rights did play a role. True, no violations of Southern State's Rights were mentioned in the Declarations. Rather, they complained that Northern states did things, in the North, that Southern states disapproved of. Some would not let Southerners enter with their slaves. Some passed Personal Freedom laws making it harder to chase runaways. They allowed Abolitionist Societies to exercise free speech; something strictly prohibited in the South. Delegates at the Arkansas convention offered to stay in the Union if the Constitution were amended to prohibit states from allowing Blacks to become citizens and vote. The complaint was not that the Federal Government violated State's Rights, but that it permitted them.

Rather than second guessing people's motives in the Civil War, we would do better to let their actions and words speak for themselves.

Milford, Utah

November 2017