If you haven’t, please read the first part of this essay.
In the first part of this essay I gave examples of several cases where the US government attacked people trying to leave the US government for reasons not relating to slavery. That in itself is quite sufficient to prove the thesis that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but we can go even further. We can look at some of the quotes from the leaders at the time about the war and some of the other conditions.
The official Republican party platforms of the era can give a very good idea of what Republicans, like Lincoln, were running for. The 1856 Republican platform says:
Resolved: That the Constitution confers upon Congress sovereign powers over the Territories of the United States for their government; and that in the exercise of this power, it is both the right and the imperative duty of Congress to prohibit in the Territories those twin relics of barbarism–Polygamy, and Slavery.
Here the platform essentially is stating that they oppose the expansion of slavery into new territories. At this time territory had a specific definition of land under the US that wasn’t yet a state, so they specifically mean the western territories that weren’t yet states. No where in the platform is there any mention of abolishing slavery in the places where it already existed. The position was merely that slavery should not be expanded into new states from the territories.
And we see the same policy put forth by the Republican party in 1860 (the election that Lincoln would win).
the new dogma that the Constitution, of its own force, carries slavery into any or all of the territories of the United States, is a dangerous political heresy … and we deny the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States.
In both of these platforms we see that the position held by the Republican party is not that slavery should be abolished (although there were certain abolitionist elements in the party), but rather the position is merely the position that slavery should not be expanded to new states.
Lincoln even says this himself right before the election,
We think Slavery a great moral wrong, and while we do not claim the right to touch it where it exists, we wish to treat it as a wrong in the Territories, where our votes will reach it. … in short, we think Slavery a great moral, social and political evil, tolerable only because, and so far as its actual existence makes it necessary to tolerate it, and that beyond that, it ought to be treated as a wrong.
As the president elect, Lincoln would give a similar personal reassurance in a letter to Alexander Stephens would later become the vice president of the Confederacy.
Do the people of the South really entertain fears that a Republican administration would, directly or indirectly, interfere with their slaves, or with them, about their slaves? If they do, I wish to assure you, as once a friend, and still, I hope, not an enemy, that there is no cause for such fears.
The South would be in no more danger in this respect than it was in the days of Washington. I suppose, however, this does not meet the case. You think slavery is right and should be extended; while we think slavery is wrong and ought to be restricted. That I suppose is the rub. It certainly is the only substantial difference between us.
A further point on this is the very start of the Civil War.
The United States government originally sent troops into the Confederacy in April of 1861, after the fall of Fort Sumter, while only the states in blue on the map had seceded. Lincoln and the United States government did not, in April 1861 try and do anything nor really cared about the states in purple. He even asked them to volunteer troops to help fight the deep south states that had seceded! The states in purple did not leave the Union until after Lincoln had already ordered troops to attack the Confederacy. The proclamation itself asking for volunteers doesn’t even mention slavery, but it says:
I [Lincoln] appeal to all loyal citizens to favor, facilitate and aid this effort to maintain the honor, the integrity, and the existence of our National Union, and the perpetuity of popular government; and to redress wrongs already long enough endured.
If Lincoln really wanted to end slavery then shouldn’t he of used this increased martial power he largely gave himself to enforce the abolition of slavery on the remaining slave states still in the Union?
Even well into the war we see a similar rhetoric in Lincoln. He writes one letter to Horace Greeley in August 1862 saying. Emphasis his.
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.
This attitude that Lincoln has of freeing the slaves to the point where it helps ‘saves’ the union is seen through his famous Emancipation Proclamation which would be put into effect a few months later. The Emancipation Proclamation did not free all the slaves. It was very limited in its scope. It only freed slaves in areas that were not in Union Control. So rebel states that were in effective military occupation by the Union were not affected by this policy. Only places where the Union was not present.
This made it easier for the Union to recruit black soldiers of former slaves and help in their war against the Confederacy. It was not some principled anti-slavery position. For strategic reasons is was done, not moral reasons.
I hope that we can now see that the reason why the Civil War started was not over slavery, but rather a difference between two jurisdictions who merely happened to fracture over the issue of slavery. But the main fundamental issue was the North, the Union, the Federal Government, whatever you wish to call it did not want the southern states to exercise the right of self determination and do as their great grandparents did 100 some odd years ago and declare themselves independent from another political unit. Secession is American. It is quite literally what made these United States.