The Only Thing That Could Save the North Was War
by Gene Kizer, Jr.
Major Robert Anderson, Union commander inside Fort Sumter, emphatically blames Lincoln for starting the war Lincoln had to have to save the North.
(This post is Chapter Seven of my book, Slavery Was Not the Cause of the War Between the States, The Irrefutable Argument., available on this website)
Lincoln needed to start the war as fast as he could before Southerners completed trade and military alliances with England and other European countries, which they had been pursuing with great enthusiasm for months. With every second that went by, the South got stronger and the North got weaker. Lincoln knew there was no advantage, whatsoever, to waiting.
He also worried greatly about free states joining the South. The Confederate Constitution allowed it. Slavery was not required. Slavery was up to an individual state, and Southerners anticipated that many free states with economic ties to the South, especially along the Mississippi and in the West, would join the Confederacy.
The Boston Transcript saw what was happening and realized that the protection to slavery that the North was quite willing to give was not what the South wanted:
[T]he mask has been thrown off and it is apparent that the people of the principal seceding states are now for commercial independence. They dream that the centres of traffic can be changed from Northern to Southern ports. The merchants of New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah are possessed of the idea that New York, Boston, and Philadelphia may be shorn, in the future, of their mercantile greatness, by a revenue system verging on free trade.i
The South wanted to be INDEPENDENT just as the Colonists had wanted to be independent in 1776. The South wanted freedom and self-government. It was tired of the confiscation of its hard-earned money by the North and the federal government. It was tired of 10 years of Northern hatred and terrorism.
Northern panic and Southern jubilation grew steadily until they reached a crescendo on April 12, 1861, and the orchestra wore gray in the forts and batteries encircling Charleston Harbor, and it wore blue inside Fort Sumter, led by Union Major Robert Anderson.
Anderson saw the events of the day clearly and put the blame squarely on Abraham Lincoln for starting the war that Lincoln had to have to save the Union and the North. Lincoln and Secretary of War Simon Cameron wrote to Anderson and informed him that warships and a military mission to reinforce him were en route.
Anderson and the Southerners in Charleston were standing face to face, each with a cocked gun on a hair-trigger aimed at the other's head. It had been this way for weeks, but Lincoln couldn't wait any longer. He was anxious to get a blockade set up around the ports of the South that would slow the European rush to military and trade treaties with the South. This was a critical thing for Lincoln or suddenly it would have been like the French in the American Revolution who came to the aid of the Colonists and helped mightily to secure American independence.
Once Lincoln got the war started, he could throw up his blockade and force Europeans to take a wait-and-see attitude.
Lincoln knew that sending his warships and soldiers to Charleston during the most critical hour in American history would start the war. That's why it was well publicized nationally, so everybody could get ready. He hoped the Confederates would fire first. Everything he did was designed to get that result. See Charles W. Ramsdell's famous treatise, "Lincoln and Fort Sumter,"ii Part III of this book, for proof that Lincoln started the war.
Anderson was at ground zero on April 12, 1861 and could judge both sides and pass judgment on who started the war, and he clearly blames Lincoln. This is what he writes in his response to Lincoln and Cameron:
. . . a movement made now when the South has been erroneously informed that none such will be attempted, would produce most disastrous results throughout our country. . . . We shall strive to do our duty, though I frankly say that my heart is not in the war which I see is to be thus commenced. . . . (Bold emphasis added.)
Anderson sees that the war "is to be thus commenced" by Abraham Lincoln, who had to hurry up and get it started or soon the South with European trade and military alliances would be unbeatable.
Northern greed, hatred and terrorism drove the South out of the Union and cost the North its huge captive manufacturing market in the South. It also cost the North unfettered access to bountiful Southern commodities needed in manufacturing.
More Northern greed in the form of the Morrill Tariff threatened to destroy the Northern shipping industry and send Northern ship captains South where protective tariffs were unconstitutional. The Morrill Tariff guaranteed that the Northern economy would not recover.
Northern leaders knew that they were headed for an unimaginable disaster and at the same time would have to face the South as a major competitor owning most of the trade of the United States, strongly backed militarily and financially by Europe, and with control of the most demanded commodity on the planet: cotton.
Abraham Lincoln, the first sectional president in American history, was president of the North and the North was clamoring for war. There was gloom, despair and extreme agitation in the North. Hundreds of thousands were unemployed, angry, in the street. The "clangor of arms" had been heard. Every day that went by the South got stronger and the North got weaker. There was no advantage whatsoever to waiting a second longer, so, after agonizing for weeks, Lincoln saw a way to get the war started without appearing to be the aggressor, and he took it. This was the view of several Northern newspapers as Charles W. Ramsdell points out in Part III in "Lincoln and Fort Sumter."
The threatened annihilation of the Northern economy and the rise of the South are what drove all actions in that fateful spring of 1861. Certainly not any mythical desire on the part of the North to end slavery.
The North's choices had been clear: descend into economic hell and mob rule, or fight.
If they fought, because of their overwhelming advantages at that point in history (4 to 1 in native manpower plus unlimited immigration - 25% of the Yankee army ended up being immigrants while close to 100% of the Confederate army were native-born Southerners - perhaps 200 to 1 in weapon manufacturing, an army, navy, etc.), they knew they had an excellent chance of winning everything and gaining total control of the country.
If they didn't fight, the South would surely ascend to predominance.
Of course they were going to fight and use their advantages before they lost them.
Lincoln figured the North would win easily but First Manassas proved him wrong, thus we had the bloodiest war in American history with 800,000 deaths and over a million wounded. The South was invaded and destroyed but fought until it was utterly exhausted before it was all over. It had nothing left to give or the war would certainly have continued on.
It was World War II, seventy-five years later, before the South began to recover from the destruction, but it is a certainty that if 1861 rolled around again and Southerners had the opportunity to fight for independence, they would. To the South, 1861 was 1776 all over. They believed the Founding Fathers had bequeathed to them by the Declaration of Independence, the right of self-government, and they would pay any price to achieve it.
Basil Gildersleeve, still known today as the greatest American classical scholar of all time, was a Confederate soldier from Charleston, South Carolina. He sums it up nicely in The Creed of the Old South, published 27 years after the war:
All that I vouch for is the feeling; . . . there was no lurking suspicion of any moral weakness in our cause. Nothing could be holier than the cause, nothing more imperative than the duty of upholding it. There were those in the South who, when they saw the issue of the war, gave up their faith in God, but not their faith in the cause.iii
i The Boston Transcript, 18 March 1861, in Adams, When in the Course of Human Events, 65.
ii Charles W. Ramsdell, "Lincoln and Fort Sumter", The Journal of Southern History, Volume 3, Issue 3 (August, 1937), Pages 259 - 288.
iii Basil L. Gildersleeve, The Creed of the Old South, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1915; reprint: BiblioLife, Penrose Library, University of Denver (no date given), 26-27.