A Comprehensive Review of
It Wasn't About Slavery, Exposing the Great Lie of the Civil War by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.
Part One of Five
Regnery History (Washington, DC, 2020); 240 pages, 381 end notes, 169 sources in the bibliography, excellent index, numerous pictures, available from the publisher and other places in hardback, softcover, ebook, audiobook, and audio CD; hardback ISBN: 978-1-62157-876-5.
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. has a remarkable ability to cut right to the chase when analyzing history. It no doubt comes from his extensive knowledge and perspective gained from a lifetime of writing (over 40 books) and reading about the events of the past which define us today.
The text of the inside front cover of Mitcham's It Wasn't About Slavery, Exposing the Great Lie of the Civil War starts with "If you think the Civil War was fought to end slavery, you've been duped."
That sentence identifies the book all over the Internet, which is excellent marketing for a book that does not just deserve a review, but deserves a "comprehensive" review. (I had put a sticky note to myself on the front of my copy to go through all of Dr. Mitcham's notes and bibliography and buy all the books he referenced for my library).
It Wasn't About Slavery goes way beyond the slavery issue. It is well argued and documented so that it is hard to question any of it.
Here's Dr. Mitcham's bio from the inside back cover:
Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr. received his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee. A university professor for twenty years, he is the author of more than forty books, including Bust Hell Wide Open: The Life of Nathan Bedford Forrest; Vicksburg: The Bloody Siege That Turned the Tide of the Civil War; and Desert Fox: The Storied Military Career of Erwin Rommel. A former army helicopter pilot and company commander, he is a graduate of the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College and is qualified through the rank of major general. He is a holder of the prestigious Jefferson Davis Gold Medal for Excellent in the Researching and Writing of Southern History.1
The book starts with several pages of endorsements by historians and one by Phil Robertson, Duck Dynasty patriarch and Dr. Mitcham's fellow Louisianan.
There is an introduction and 15 chapters. Each chapter has a nice epigraph by an historical figure or document appropriate to the chapter such as this one for Chapter III, Secession: The Constitutional Issue:
The principle, on which the war was waged by the North, was simple this: That men may rightfully be compelled to submit to, and support, a government that they do not want; and that resistance, on their part, makes them traitors and criminals.----Lysander Spooner, abolitionist leader
This review, Part One of Five, covers the Introduction and Dr. Mitcham's background, which gets us into it.
In the Introduction, Mitcham writes:
The victor, as Churchill said, writes the history, but these "historians" have abused the privilege. What passes for history today is cultural and intellectual nihilism, especially when it comes to the myth of the Enlightened and Noble Federal Cause. Their aim is not the truth (which should be the ambition of every legitimate historian) but to serve an agenda. They are saying instead: "Forget the past unless it fits the narrative of which we approve because everything that occurred before us is irrelevant and inferior to our views and therefore should be forgotten, modified, 'corrected,' contextualized, or destroyed altogether."2
Is it possible to be more narcissistic?
Mitcham goes on to say that the primary purpose of his book is "to help bring some balance to the debate about what happened in the pre-Civil War era."
He states that our war of 1861-65 was definitely not a "civil war" which is defined as two factions within one country fighting for control of the government. Southerners left the Union democratically by their people debating the issue and voting in convention to secede as was proper according to the Founding Fathers.
Mitcham likes the term "War for Southern Self-Determination" but he uses Civil War because it is well-known though he says, when he writes it, it is shorthand for War for Southern Self-Determination.
He states that "Freeing the slaves was a result of the war, not the casus belli." The cause of the war was money as it is for most wars.
I agree with Dr. Mitcham completely. In the case of the North, it was to keep the money flowing out of the South and into the North by preventing the establishment of a powerful, free-trade confederacy on its southern border, a confederacy with economic and military alliances with England and the rest of Europe. The South, in such a situation, with 100% control of King Cotton, would not buy inferior, overpriced goods from the North and would soon be unbeatable, militarily, by the North.
That's why Lincoln started his war as quickly as he could. He announced his blockade around Southern ports before the smoke had cleared from the bombardment of Fort Sumter and the reason was to chill the South's relationship with Europe, which would be game-over for Lincoln, and he knew it. Money, power and control is what Lincoln and the North wanted.
The one thing that can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt is that the North did not go to war to free the slaves. The vast majority of their statements, actions and documents in the first two years of the war such as the War Aims Resolution, which states that they are fighting to preserve the Union and not to end slavery, prove it conclusively.
The Northern economy was based mostly on manufacturing for its captive Southern market and shipping Southern cotton. Without the South, the North was dead.
Without the North, the South was in great shape.
The South would start manufacturing for itself. Southerners put a low 10% tariff in their constitution vis-a-vis the North's astronomical 47-60% Morrill Tariff, and Southerners forbid protective tariffs. Northern ship captains were beating a path to the South while goods rotted on New York docks. The South was for free trade as it always had been. The North was for extreme protection for its own industry and artisans.
As the most prominent economist of the time, Thomas Prentice Kettell said in this famous book, Southern Wealth and Northern Profits, the South was producing the wealth of the nation with cotton and other commodities but the North was taking all the profit. Southerners were paying 75% of the taxes but 80% of the tax revenue was being spent in the North.
Mitcham says that if "culture is defined as the total way of life of a people, they [North and South] had distinct cultures from the beginning. Only with the evolution of modern historical thought, heavily influenced by the ideas and tactics of Marx and Stalin, did the Civil War become 'all about slavery.'"3
Mitcham does not address the right of secession and the resulting accusation that Confederates were traitors but he states unequivocally that secession was a right understood by all. No Confederate leaders were tried for treason because they would have won their cases.
Mitcham says when Jefferson Davis was in prison after the war, the hated radical Republican senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, who had been caned by S.C. Representative Preston Brooks in 1856, wrote to Supreme Court chief justice Salmon Chase stating "to try him [Davis]. . . would be the ne plus ultra of folly".
Chase agreed. He wrote to his former colleagues in Lincoln's cabinet in July 1866: 'If you bring these [Confederate] leaders to trial, it will condemn the North, for by the Constitution secession is not rebellion.'.4
Confederate president Jefferson Davis was released from his Yankee torture chamber May 11, 1867, where lights had been kept on 24 hours a day with guards marching loudly nearby as a measure of spite for two years since it was known Davis was only able to sleep in total darkness.
Davis had wanted a trial but Yankees knew they would lose in a court of law what they had won on the battlefield because of their four-to-one population advantage and their 100-to-one gun advantage. That's why Lincoln started his war in the first place. His advantages had been so overwhelming he had been seduced into thinking it would be a quick war.
Abraham Lincoln, president of the North, did achieve his mission which was to keep the money flowing into the North from the rest of the country so New York and Boston would be great cities while the rest of the country be damned. No "consent of the governed" in Lincoln's mind.
The South suffered in abject poverty until World War II but their legacy of honor, valor, blood and sacrifice in their great war for independence is unsurpassed in world history. Few nations are as good. None are better.
Of course, Mr. Lincoln's war of invasion killed 750,000 men and mutilated over a million who suffered from lost limbs, eyesight and other injuries their entire lives.
A Comprehensive Review of
It Wasn't About Slavery, Exposing the Great Lie of the Civil War by Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr.
Part Two of Five
1 Another bio, this one from All American Entertainment, which books top-notch speakers nationwide for special events states that Dr. Mitcham "is also a former visiting professor at the United States Military Academy. At the University of Louisiana at Monroe, he was named 'My Favorite Professor' four times by the Baptist Student Association despite not being a Baptist. He was also named Freshman Honor Society's Professor of the Year." He "has also written dozens of articles and appeared on the History Channel, CBS, National Public Radio and the British Broadcasting Network. He is the former adviser to General Norman Schwarzkopf on the CBS Special D-Day." And, in the private sector "Mitcham is also the former president and CEO of TelSon Communications, a private $7 million corporation that provided local exchange service in seven states." https://www.allamericanspeakers.com/speakers/437206/Samuel-W.-Mitcham,-Jr. Accessed October 26, 2021.
2 Samuel W. Mitcham, Jr., It Wasn't About Slavery, Exposing the Great Lie of the Civil War (Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2020), xv-xvi.
3 Mitcham, It Wasn't About Slavery, xvii.
4 Mitcham, It Wasn't About Slavery, xix.
Gene, Another wonderful article. I will be purchasing this book. Your question to me regarding Chase’s quote “secession is not rebellion” is answered by Dr. Mitcham in your review! Small world. If you take the statement “Lincoln wanted money, control and power” and replace it with “Biden”, you have both the cause and exigency for another “civil war”.
Dr. Mitcham nails it when he says, plain and simple, that money was the
cause of the War Between the States for the North. They were receiving 80%
of the tax revenue of the country of which 75% was generated by the South.
It goes beyond that because Lincoln was thinking about the future. A
free-trade South with a land-mass the size of Europe and 100% control of
King Cotton, would, in no time, economically crush the North.
The North grew to great size and power in the antebellum era by
manufacturing for the South and shipping Southern cotton. Without the South,
the North’s manufacturing market was gone because Southerners would
manufacture for themselves and buy better goods at cheaper prices from
The Northern shipping industry was being obliterated overnight because of
the South’s low tariff of 10% for the operation of a small federal
government in a States Rights nation, versus the North’s astronomical
Morrill Tariff of 47 to 60%. Northern ship captains were beating a path to
the South so Northerners were watching not only their manufacturing market
disappear, but their shipping industry, and all of it overnight.
Add to that the fact that with European trade and military alliances, which
the South was aggressively pursuing, the North would not be able to beat the
So, Lincoln figured to use his four-to-one population advantage and his
100-to-one gun advantage and start the war ASAP because every day that went
by, the South got stronger and the North got weaker.
As Mitcham said, money was the cause of the North’s barbaric invasion of the
South though they inflicted a fearsome price on North America in 750,000
overall deaths and over a million maimed in the War Between the States.