I’m currently reading 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart. In short it’s the events of the year before the Civil War. I’m only about halfway through, but it’s given me a lot to think about.
I was never all that interested in Civil War history because most of what I have read focused mostly on various battles. I couldn’t care less about who won at Appomattox or Gettysburg or wherever. What we learn in school is basically- the South had slaves, the North didn’t, they fought a war so that there would be no slaves, the end. In the absence of any explanation of how the sides actually differed, people believe all kinds of stupid shit about why the war was fought. Even people I know, who really should know better, have tried to claim “it wasn’t about slavery, it was about economic reasons.” Yeah, uh, free labor is an economic reason, dumbass. Thankfully no one has ever tried to claim it was about “states’ rights” or tariffs to my face. Say this to me and I will slap you and you will deserve it.
The Civil War was fought over slavery. Period. Anyone who claims otherwise is not worth your time.
But there is more to it than that, and that’s why I’m really enjoying reading this book. What they don’t tell you in school is that at the time of the Civil War, America was basically two countries living uneasily under the same flag. The North was a rapidly industrializing market based economy. It was ugly, it was dangerous and nasty, but in the end it was not so different than what we have today.
The South, on the other hand, was an hierarchical agrarian economy, with plantation owners at the top and indentured servants and slaves at the bottom. As it tends to be in agrarian society, social mobility was highly limited, as a person has to have the capital to buy land (and someone willing to sell that person land) and slave labor to work the fields, especially with a labor intensive crop like cotton. Poor whites had limited access to courts. Rule of law did not exist in regards to Southern blacks.
The contrast between the mostly egalitarian North (one that would elect a homely country lawyer named Lincoln as president) and the aristocratic South really shines through in this book. The North would go to great lengths to appease the South, including the awful Fugitive Slave Act, but it wasn’t enough. Upon Lincoln’s election, several Southern states seceded before his inauguration. The North was still trying to keep the Union together, and the night before Lincoln’s inauguration, Congress passed the Corwin Amendment, which would have guaranteed slavery, forever, without no chance of Congress ever repealing it.
I’m curious if would really be possible to pass an unrepealable amendment- this strikes me as something like saying “this edit is un-editable!” but it shows the length the North was willing to go. The South was not impressed. And why would they be? The South was a thinly veiled aristocracy and its politicians were not used to having to negotiate, seeing as most of them were used to being waited on, by slaves.
Anyway, great book, I will have more on this when I’m done.