The federal government’s revenue before the Civil War came mostly from tariff taxes on imports, the majority of which were collected from Southern ports, like Charleston, South Carolina. There was no federal income tax. Tariffs made foreign goods more expensive, resulting in people buying domestically produced goods from Northern factories.
But the tariff taxes that helped the North, hurt the South, as the South had few factories to protect. Southern economy experienced a downturn with the exhaustion and erosion of the soil causing diminishing cotton crops. The South exported cotton, primarily to Britain, but it was experiencing a glut of cotton as imports increased from India, Egypt and Brazil.
The South had fewer banks and limited gold supplies with which to back its currency. Southern farmers struggled under great debt, resulting in threats to stop collecting tariffs. Federal troops were sent to Charleston’s harbor to force them to collect the tariffs.
Southern economy was agricultural, mostly cotton and rice, which relied heavily on slave labor. Slavery existed in America prior to the arrival of Europeans with various tribes enslaving captives for labor, ritual sacrifice or cannibalism.
Muslim slave traders and Barbary pirates enslaved an estimated 180 million Africans, as well as enslaving over a million Europeans. Britain sold a half-million Irish Catholics into slavery in the 1600s. The first African slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1619, brought by a Dutch ship who had seized them from a Spanish ship. They were treated as other indentured servants and freed after a period of servitude.
Slavery gradually extended into the agriculture-based colonies of the South. Through the influence of Quakers, Methodists and other Christian denominations, slavery was prohibited in seven of the original 13 States at the time of the Revolution.
Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration of Independence condemned King George III, as: “He has waged cruel War against human Nature itself, violating its most sacred Rights of Life and Liberty in the Persons of a distant People who never offended him, captivating and carrying them into Slavery in another Hemisphere, or to incur miserable Death, in their Transportation thither. This piratical Warfare, the opprobrium of infidel Powers, is the Warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. He has prostituted his Negative for Suppressing every legislative Attempt to prohibit or to restrain an execrable Commerce, determined to keep open a Market where Men should be bought and sold, and that this assemblage of Horrors might want no Fact of distinguished Die.”
In 1807, Congress passed an “Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves,” the same year the Christian statesman William Wilberforce helped pass Britain’s “Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.”
The second Great Awakening revival fueled an abolitionist movement which led to 19 of the 34 states prohibiting slavery. Most Southern families did not own slaves. Less than one-fourth of the southern white population held slaves in 1860.
With the Louisiana Purchase of 1803 adding 828,000 square miles and the Mexican Cession of 1848 adding 529,000 square miles, there was renewed effort by Democrats to expand slavery into the new territories. Congress attempted to resolve the issue with the Missouri Compromise of 1820, but this was effectively repealed with Democrat Senator Stephan Douglas’ 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act.
This led to the founding in 1854 of the Republican Party, with its original platform being to preserve marriage as one man and one woman and to end slavery: “to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism – Polygamy and Slavery.”
Tensions increased when Chief Justice Roger Taney, appointed by Democrat Party founder Andrew Jackson, issued his infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision. This decision caused an uproar in the 1860 Democrat Party Convention, resulting in 51 Southern Democrats leaving in protest and starting the Southern Democrat Party.
In the general election of Nov. 1860, the candidates were:
- Stephan Douglas, Democrat
- John C. Breckinridge, Southern Democrat
- John Bell, Constitutional Union
- Gerrit Smith, Liberty (Union) Party
- Abraham Lincoln, Republican
With the highest voter turnout in American history to that date, 81.2 percent, Lincoln won with only 39.8 percent of the vote. Seven states seceded before Lincoln was sworn into office on March 4, 1861.
Nearly forty days after Lincoln took office, Union Major Robert Anderson received a demand from Confederate Brigadier General Pierre Gustave Toutant-Beauregard to surrender Fort Sumter:
Fort Sumter, S.C., April 12, 1861, 3:20 A.M. – Sir: By authority of Brigadier-General Beauregard, commanding the Provisional Forces of the Confederate States, we have the honor to notify you that he will open the fire of his batteries on Fort Sumter in one hour from this time. We have the honor to be very respectfully, Your obedient servants, James Chestnut Jr., Aide-de-camp. Stephen D. Lee, Captain C. S. Army, Aide-de-camp.
Anderson refused, and at 4:30 a.m., April 12, 1861, General P.G.T. Beauregard opened fire upon Fort Sumter, beginning the Civil War. Shortly after the firing upon Fort Sumter, four more States seceded.
The war started which both sides expected would only last a few weeks. Dragging on into years, the Confederate Army had the advantage of better trained military leadership. Being nearly unstoppable, they twice won battles at Bull Run, Virginia, just 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Union troops had fled in panic to the fortifications of the U.S. Capitol.
The tide of the war did not to turn until Lincoln claimed the moral high ground by recasting it as a war to end slavery by issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. This caused European support for the Confederacy to evaporate, as no country wanted to be accused of supporting slavery.
On Nov. 15, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke with Pastor Byron Sunderland of the First Presbyterian Church of Washington, D.C.: “If it had been left to us to determine it, we would have had no war. And, going further back to the occasion of it, we would have had no slavery. And, tracing it still further back, we would have had no evil. … On both sides we are working out the will of God. Yet, how strange the spectacle! Here is one half of the nation prostrated in prayer that God will help them to destroy the Union and build up a government upon the cornerstone of human bondage. And here is the other half equally earnest in their prayers and efforts to defeat a purpose which they regard as so repugnant to … liberty and independence. … And they are Christians and we are Christians. They and we are praying and fighting for results exactly the opposite.”
On March 4, 1865, in his second inaugural address, just 42 days before he died, President Abraham Lincoln stated: “Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. … Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. … If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God … He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came. … so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'”
President Calvin Coolidge, on May 25, 1924, at the Confederate Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, stated: “It was Lincoln who pointed out that both sides prayed to the same God. When that is the case, it is only a matter of time when each will seek a common end. We can now see clearly what that end is. It is the maintenance of our American ideals, beneath a common flag, under the blessings of Almighty God.”
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