Support for the War

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Support for the War


David F. Herr


Michael Kelly Beauchamp


Michael Kelly Beauchamp


Donald Roe

Support for the War: An Overview

The view from Northern states was alarming in the winter of 1860 to 1861: following South Carolina into secession was Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and Texas. Congress, now with a Northern Republican majority, moved frenetically to find a political solution. The result was a proposed amendment to the Constitution forbidding the federal government from ending slavery. The senators and representatives hoped their proposed measure would provide security for Southerners who saw Abraham Lincoln's recent election as the beginning of the end for their way of life. But far from assuaging Southern anger over the threat to their rights, the measure generated a rejoinder demanding the permanent legal extension of slavery throughout the American West. This struck at a fundamental plank of the Republican Party, which had consistently advocated the end to slavery's expansion outside the South. There was no compromise, and hostilities commenced.

The Lead-Up to the War

Support for the war on both sides was presaged for more than a decade by political wrangling over the Wilmot Proviso, the Compromise of 1850, and the Kansas-Nebraska Act. Positions sharpened further through fear given life by fiery Southern rhetoric and the action of the zealous abolitionist John Brown (1800-1859). In the North, citizens rightly understood the image drawn in February 1890 by presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln when he spoke of Southern threats upon the possible election of a Republican president. "In that supposed event," he said to the Southern antagonists, "you say you will destroy the Union; and then you say the great crime of destroying it will be upon us! That is cool. A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, 'Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!'" (Basler and Basler 1953-1955, vol. 3, pp. 546–547). In the South, Mississippi governor John J. Pettus (1813-1867) offered his own metaphor after the election of Lincoln when he claimed, "It would be as reasonable to expect the steamship to make a successful voyage across the Atlantic with crazy men for engineers, as to hope for a prosperous future for the South under Black Republican rule" (Dew 2001, p. 22). Secession commissioner Stephen Hale on his December 1860 mission to bring Kentucky to the Confederacy was direct arguing for support: Lincoln as president was a war declaration. The new president would destroy the South, "consigning her citizens to assassinations and her wives and daughters to pollution and violation to gratify the lust of half-civilized Africans" (Dew 2001, p. 54). The antagonistic spirit of the 1850s sectional crises convinced many their political opponents were unrecognizable, disfigured by evil intent and blind ambition. Unsurprisingly, eager, zealous support for war grew rapidly in the North and South during the secession period.

The siege at Fort Sumter ended in April 1861 with the surrender of the Union troops, but the effort was more a political show for both sides than a strategic military effort. The result was a war fever silencing almost all outward expression for caution. Unionists understood their cause as the preservation of the country—a fight for the flag. They assured themselves it was an effort not to subjugate the South, but to preserve the Constitution. Lincoln, demonstrating his strength as a leader, put the conflict into an easily grasped context:

"Our popular government has often been called an experiment. Two points in it, our people have already settled—the successful establishing, and the successful administering of it. One still remains—its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it…. This issue embraces more than the fate of these United States. It presents to the whole family of man, the question, whether a constitutional republic, or a democracy… can or cannot, maintain its territorial integrity, against its own domestic foes." (McPherson 1988, p. 309)

Southerners believed their cause was equally righteous and legitimate. They began their fight over issues of racial purity, black subjugation, state sovereignty, and their belief in a Constitution supportive of secession. Confederate leaders encouraged citizens to consider the new nation as the true heir to the Revolutionary generation. This was a fight for the right of self-government.

Support in the South

The need to maintain a defensive posture added further clear ideological goals for Southerners. Whatever one's view on self-government, Southerners knew the war would be an invasion. Home defense proved a powerful incentive early on. Images of marauding Yankees intent on plunder came easily to mind for slaveholders and non-slaveholders alike. Indeed, for many Southerners, their initial support for the war was not in defense of slavery or its expansion, but in anticipation of their community being overrun by Union troops. Slavery nevertheless presented non-slaveholding Southerners with an inescapable paradox. Potential invasion existed because the political disagreement over slavery remained.

The historian Armstead Robinson has argued that the South faced a more significant paradox that explains both its early support and later defeat. "Insurrection anxiety helped create the Confederacy as surely as this same anxiety played a major role in bringing the Southern Republic to its knees" (Robinson 1980, p. 279). The potential for slave rebellion generated by abolitionists and realized in John Brown's insurrection attempt at Harpers Ferry required a martial response, but without a quick resolution, the war would make provisions against insurrection increasingly difficult. The beginning of the war made this apparent as Confederate enlistments drained the South of the white males whose absence allowed slave resistance to grow in new, more threatening directions. Initial enthusiasm for the war crumbled within two years as the social contradictions mounted. Robinson remarked, "the South's ruling elites proved incapable of sustaining their hegemony amidst the radically altered conditions imposed by the War for Southern Independence" (Robinson 1980, p. 280). Two failures in particular set in motion changes that dampened Southerners' support. Initial military success failed to attract European recognition of the Confederacy, and a cotton embargo to Britain and France also did not compel either nation to alter their positions. The inability to provision a fighting force capable of capturing poorly defended Washington, DC, early in the war meant an increasing drain on limited supplies and personnel that would reach deep into the Southern countryside.

The costs of pursuing the fight with the Union was ultimately too high because it required destroying the very social structure Southerners defended. Robinson and other historians point to the Confederate Congress for supportive evidence. Two pieces of legislation stand out as having directly caused open hostility by Southerners against the Confederate government. During April 1862 the Confederate Congress passed a draft law requiring most white men to enlist, but also providing an exception for those who could afford to hire a substitute. The substitute provision generated sharp recriminations among regular Southerners who immediately revived latent class and wealth antagonisms. Lincoln's preliminary issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, spurred Confederate leaders to bolster their home guard in an effort to prevent insurrection efforts that might arise from the U.S. president's declaration. The notorious "Twenty Nigger Law," as it was called, passed on October 11, 1862, provided draft exemptions of one overseer for every twenty slaves. Clearly designed to benefit large plantations, the law once again laid bare stark class, economic, and wealth disparities. The war, interpreted through the implications of the law, was about preserving slavery by using the poor white non-slaveholding majority in the fight. Support for the war withered in the face of such unapologetic privilege.

The consequences of the two laws emerged most obviously in the form of desertions and draft resistance. The six months of protest and wrangling between the two acts proved the undoing of Southern support. Desertion rates jumped after the October law. One Confederate colonel reported that half his troops had deserted by December (Robinson 1980, p. 294). The Confederate leadership knew the measure would be unpopular, but they believed that the dire circumstances required it. Reports came in across the South about the unsettled state of slaves and their increasing potential for violence. Evidence from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi indicate plots were uncovered and others suspected after the news of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Unfair draft laws were not the sole factor in destroying the South's support for the war. Deprivation among the civilian population came quickly and hurt common whites substantially worse than the upper classes. Food shortages were exacerbated by rampant inflation and poor crop yields. Conditions in many areas grew so bad that civilians turned to banditry, violence, and riots. North Carolinians were perhaps the most willing to strike against the conditions under the Confederacy. The governor had to dispatch troops to the Piedmont region on several occasions to manage draft dodgers, deserters, and violent Unionists. Food riots occurred in both ends of the state in 1863. Increasingly, the populace sanctioned illegal activities and ceased viewing perpetrators as criminals. The historians Jeffery Crow and Paul Escott have noted that women began to use their culturally defined roles as caregivers to justify illegal actions: In January 1865 in Yadkin County "A Band of women, armed with axes [made] a raid…on Jonesville." They "came down on the place to press [seize] the tithe corn etc [the government's tax-in-kind] brought wagons along to carry it off." Despite initial failure, these female bandits soon succeeded at Hamptonville, taking "as much as they wanted without meeting any resistance" (Escott and Crow 1986, p. 395).

Northern Support

While worsening conditions eroded Southern support for the war until lawlessness gained social sanction, conditions in the North followed a similar pattern. Northerners entered the war with gusto under the impression the fighting would be brief and the Union easily preserved. The Lincoln administration and Congress maintained a neutral stance toward slavery in 1861. Even abolitionists restrained themselves. William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879) cautioned his peers to "'stand still, and see the salvation of God' rather than attempt to add anything to the general commotion" (McPherson 1988, p. 312). The first indication the conflict might run a different course occurred on July 21, 1861, with a humiliating rout of Union troops at Bull Run. Shocked by their army's failure, Northerners received torrents of bad news in the coming months. The army was plagued with crippling problems. Many officers were elected to their posts not by a measure of military experience, but for political reasons or in recognition of their local status. They immediately proved highly ineffective. The Northern press called for the military to launch an immediate campaign to take the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, but supply and manpower shortages stalled efforts throughout the summer of 1861. Matters grew grave as thousands of enlisted men who had signed up for the standard ninety-day term walked away at the end of their short service.

Lincoln revised Union strategy immediately after Bull Run, encouraging the navy to redouble their efforts to create an effective blockade, ordering the army to properly train its troops while preparing to move against Richmond, and pressing the Confederacy on the western front under the command of the newly appointed commander, General John C. Frémont (1813-1890). Although Lincoln believed Frémont's reputation as a solidly experienced officer, the general mired himself in controversy. After losses in Missouri, Frémont shocked the North with his August 1861 Missouri proclamation declaring martial law, the death penalty for guerillas, and the freeing of all slaves belonging to Missouri Confederate sympathizers. With a show of gigantic restraint, Lincoln asked Frémont to revise the orders, and the general, with remarkable hubris, refused, sealing his fate. Lincoln removed Frémont from command, but the damage was done. The general had placed slavery back into public view, and antislavery Republicans began to press for shifting war aims to the emancipation of the slaves. Frémont had given them the new argument that such action was a military need. Slaves were aiding the Confederacy with their labor, and Congress responded to the argument by passing the Confiscation Act on August 6, 1861. The legislation made slaves who had been working for the Confederacy and taken into Union lines "contraband," or confiscated property. The question of their freedom was unanswered, but the law opened a breach in what had been a bipartisan war effort.

Northern Democrats found themselves in an increasingly difficult position during the opening years of the war. If they expressed support for their former allies in the South, Republicans branded them "Copperheads"—those who would lead the Union to defeat through disloyalty. Most Northern states had two Democratic factions: those who advocated a negotiated peace with the Confederacy and those who viewed the Confederacy as the enemy, but also opposed Lincoln's policies. Although the positions did not allow much cooperation, the Confederate sympathizers were generally too few in any state to wield power. Connecticut was the exception. There the two groups were of similar size, and the conflict was serious. After the Union defeat at Bull Run, Democratic Confederate supporters in Connecticut celebrated and were met with violent attacks by war supporters (Cowden 1983, p. 543). Protests and violence continued throughout the war, but were most acute when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862. Democrats of both stripes throughout the North were enraged by this shift in war aims.

War support was not an issue only for the Democratic Party. Northerners' support for the war, like civilian Southerners', was built around social and economic interests. The low point came during 1862 and 1863. Protests against Secretary of State William H. Seward's overzealous efforts to jail anyone suspected of aiding the Confederacy marked the closing months of 1861. Lincoln shifted internal security to the War Department in February, and the trampling of constitutional rights eased. The spring appeared to offer an end to the war with the taking of Richmond, but Union efforts went terribly wrong. The Seven Days Battles (June 25 to July 1, 1862) cost the Confederate army dearly, but its effect on Northern morale was devastating. The Army of the Potomac's failure and lucky escape convinced many that the tide had turned for the Confederacy. Only the incentive of bounties—paid in part immediately after enlistment—helped maintain Northern fighting strength.

Lincoln, recognizing the need for total war and the impossibility of gaining support for gradually ending slavery in the border states, began preparations in summer 1862 for the Emancipation Proclamation. The public debate about freeing the slaves was hot during the summer, and it was clear that many Northerners were not supportive. The initial announcement in September of the abolition of slavery and the subsequent official proclamation in January generated significant resistance. Issues of race focused the debate for those who believed that blacks belonged permanently on the mudsill. Working-class whites in major cities believed freed slaves would soon arrive to take their jobs, and they showed their discontent with protests and riots.

The efforts of Peace Democrats—those who favored negotiating with the Confederacy—were gaining traction in the spring of 1863, and Clement Vallandigham (1820-1871) had positioned himself as the leader of their efforts. Raising the temperature of his rhetoric, Vallandigham castigated the administration and called the war an act of despotism. He drew the ire of General Ambrose Burnside (1824-1881), who, without the knowledge of the president, had him arrested for treason. The case drew national attention and laid bare the growing loss of support for the war. A military commission sentenced Vallandigham to prison for the war's duration, immediately making him a martyr for antiwar supporters. Lincoln commuted the sentence to banishment. Although they had averted further disturbance from Peace Democrats for the time being, Lincoln and Congress would face more protests against the war when the Enrollment Act of March 1863 passed.

The new draft was unnecessarily complex and open to fraud. Two exceptions existed to avoid the draft: One could hire a substitute, or pay a $300 commutation fee. Democrats railed against the effort, but they were not alone. The Northern lower class, immediately recognizing that the wealthy could avoid service, mounted strong resistance, and nowhere was this more evident than in New York City. Irish Catholics living in squalor and working for low pay feared job competition from blacks. When enlistment officers entered their neighborhoods it proved enough to start a conflagration. During summer 1863 four days of mob violence gripped the city and left hundreds dead as draft dodgers launched mayhem. The racial implications of the resistance did not pass unnoticed by the administration, but the Union war effort remained a total effort, including the destruction of slavery. Matters might have escalated further had the military not had some significant successes. The early spring was grim with defeat at Chancellorsville, but pressures on the Lincoln administration eased and support for the war rebounded in July with almost simultaneous victories by General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg and General George Meade at Gettysburg. The war had turned in favor of the Union, and although it would grind on for another two years, it was increasingly clear that the Confederacy was broken.


Basler, Roy P., and Christian O. Basler, eds. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. 9 vols. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955.

Cowden, Joanna D. "The Politics of Dissent: Civil War Democrats in Connecticut." New England Quarterly 56, no. 4 (December 1983): 538-554.

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Dupree, A. Hunter, and Leslie H. Fishel, Jr. An Eyewitness Account of the New York Draft Riots, July, 1863." Mississippi Valley Historical Review 47, no. 3 (December 1960): 472–79.

Escott, Paul D., and Jeffrey J. Crow. "The Social Order and Violent Disorder: An Analysis of North Carolina in the Revolution and the Civil War." The Journal of Southern History 52, no. 3 (August 1986): 373–402.

Man, Albon P., Jr. "Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863." Journal of Negro History 36, no. 4 (October 1951): 375-405.

McPherson, James B. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Robinson, Armstead L. "In the Shadow of Old John Brown: Insurrection Anxiety and Confederate Mobilization, 1861-1863." Journal of Negro History 65, no. 4 (Autumn 1980): 279-297.

David F. Herr

Prosecessionists/Southern Nationalists

Prosecessionists or Southern nationalists were advocates for the secession of Southern states from the United States government based on the theory that, as the Southern states predated the formation of the union, they had the right to leave the union. Secessionists largely based their argument for secession on the need to protect the institution of slavery, which they felt was increasingly threatened by a free North that would move to stop slavery from expanding into the western territories and thereafter doom the institution to a gradual death in the South. Nonetheless, the constitutional thought they drew on to justify secession had a heritage that predated the crisis over the expansion of slavery.

States' Rights

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and James Madison (1751-1836), as the authors of the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions in 1798, laid the constitutional basis for the doctrine of secession by arguing that states could decide which acts were constitutional. States had the power to interpose themselves between the people and the federal government and argued in the Kentucky Resolution that states could nullify federal acts if the believed them to be unconstitutional. The Virginia and Kentucky resolutions effectively outlined a compact theory of government, which argued that states had formed the national government and were the ultimate authority on what was constitutional and in the best interests of their people. Federalists in New England weighed the option of secession numerous times under the same compact theory after the election of Republican presidents, most notably at the Hartford Convention in 1815. Thus secession as a constitutional option had a history that predated the Southern concerns.

John C. Calhoun (1782-1850), as a senator from South Carolina and vice president to Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) would, in order to combat the Tariff of 1828, use these precedents to argue that nullification was a state's constitutional right. Calhoun argued that a state convention could be called to nullify a law, at which point the law could remain void or a constitutional amendment could be passed to enact it. South Carolina nullified the federal tariff in 1832, which it felt gave advantages to the industrial North while causing higher prices for consumers in the South. Nullification placed South Carolina at odds with federal law and authority under President Andrew Jackson. Ultimately violence failed to break out as Senator Henry Clay (1777-1852) engineered a compromise that lowered the tariff and gave Jackson the power to use force; South Carolina in turn rescinded its nullification of the tariff. The failure to secede despite calls from many leaders in South Carolina was also in part due to the failure of other states to join South Carolina in its protests over the tariff. As a practical matter South Carolinians realized that they could not accomplish secession alone. Still, South Carolina continued to be a nursery for secessionist thought and established a political movement and an intellectual tradition that persevered in ensuing years.

New Territories, Heightened Tensions

The series of political battles that erupted over the territories taken from the Mexican War (1846-1848) transformed secession from a largely elite and theoretical argument into a mass movement in the South. The efforts of Northerners to bar slavery from the territories taken from the Mexican War further exacerbated tensions and calls for secession in the South. The Compromise of 1850 failed to settle the issues at play as rabid secessionists called "fire-eaters" continued to promote the idea. A prominent fire-eater was Robert Barnwell Rhett (1800-1876), a senator from South Carolina and one of the early advocates for Southern secession. Rhett had advocated secession over the tariff and was a delegate to the Nashville Convention in 1850, which contemplated secession if Congress passed legislation barring slavery from the territories, though the convention ultimately failed to support such a course. William Lowndes Yancey (1814-1863) of Alabama and Virginian Edmund Ruffin (1794-1865) similarly were early advocates of secession, opposing attempts by any level of government to limit slavery and supporting Southern cooperation to expand slavery and to protect it where it already existed. Ruffin actually moved to South Carolina given his own state's failure to take the lead among Southern states in the protection of slavery.

The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 further heightened sectional tensions by overturning the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that had barred slavery from territories North of the 36° 30' parallel. Instead slavery in the territories would now be decided by popular sovereignty, the choice of the majority of the voters in a territory. As a result the North and South now competed to spread their systems to the western territories, resulting in vigilante violence throughout Kansas as Northern and Southern immigrants fought one another. The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the U.S. Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision (Dred Scott v. Sanford), which ruled that Congress could not bar slavery from the territories, resulted in Northern fears of an aggressive Southern policy that seemed to have captured the federal government with the intention of spreading slavery. As a result the Republican Party, which opposed the expansion of slavery into the territories, was in an excellent position to play on these Northern concerns and, with the decline of the Whigs, rise to become one of the two dominant political parties. The Republican Party, given its membership and opposition to the expansion of slavery, raised concerns throughout the South, which resulted in significant gains for secessionists throughout the region as the population turned against Republican Party policies.

The Breaking Point

With the election of Republican President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) in the election of 1860 a series of Southern states began to hold secession conventions, as South Carolina had in 1832. In 1860 South Carolina was the first state to secede in response to Lincoln's election. Southern states in the Lower South were the first to hold secession conventions, and Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas all seceded from the United States. Majorities had voted within these states to nominate the delegates that led them out of the convention. Native-born Americans who were slave-owners were far more likely to support secession, while those from areas of the South that had less of a connection to the institution were more likely to oppose secession, as were first and second generation immigrants in the South. The Upper South similarly appeared far less likely to support secession than its Gulf Coast cousins. The Lower South formed a government and adopted a constitution on February 7, 1861. Once hostilities broke out with the firing on Fort Sumter the Upper South moved to join its Southern brethren. Virginia seceded on April 17 and Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina then followed, joining the Confederate States of America, the capital of which was transferred to Richmond shortly after Virginia left the Union.

The Southern state conventions argued that the election of the Republican Party endangered their constitutional rights. The Convention in South Carolina in its Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union wrote of the Republican victory in 1860:

This party will take possession of the Government. It has announced, that the South shall be excluded from the common Territory; that the Judicial Tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States. The Guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy. (p. 10)

In attempting to persuade Virginia to secede and combine with the Lower South, C. G. Memminger, acting as the commissioner from South Carolina to the authorities of the state of Virginia, noted in his 1860 address the common bonds of the South and the failure of the North to respect Virginia pointing to John Brown's raid into Virginia at Harper's Ferry: "That very North, to whom she had surrendered a territorial empire—who had grown great through her generous confidence—sent forth the assassins, furnished them with arms and money, and would fain rescue them from the infamy and punishment due to crimes so atrocious" (p. 7). Secession commissioners would focus on the aggressions of the North and a common Southern heritage, but slavery remained at the heart of their arguments. As Charles B. Dew points out in his 1861 book Apostles of Disunion:

The commissioners sent out to spread the secessionist gospel in late 1860 and early 1861 clearly believed that the racial fate of their region was hanging in the balance in the wake of Lincoln's election. Only through disunion could the South be saved from the disastrous effects of Republican principles and Republican malevolence. Hesitation, submission—any course other than immediate secession—would place both slavery and white supremacy on the road to certain extinction. (p. 80)

Thus, slavery lay at the heart of the Southern secessionist movement. Despite the long history of the compact theory of government, it was unlikely that without the slavery issue the South would have chosen the course of secession.

Many Southern nationalists and secessionists took up their course reluctantly and saw the Confederacy as far more in line with the original Constitution of the United States than the course they feared the Republicans would pursue once in power. Thomas Ruffin of North Carolina, as a member of the House of Representatives, addressed this point, arguing in an 1861 speech that the issue at hand was whether Southern states and Southern institutions were to be treated as equals:

They are to decide whether they will tamely and quietly submit to the arrogance, the tyranny, the usurpation of a hostile, unprincipled, and reckless majority, fatally bent on the destruction of their institutions, or whether they will assert their rights, and maintain them by all the means in their power. Devotedly attached to the Constitution and the Union, as the people of the South have ever been, and ardently hoping that a change in the public sentiment of the North would prevent a further persistence in the wrongs practiced upon the minority section, they have exercised the most extraordinary forbearance. (p. 1)

With Lincoln's election many Southerners felt that the rights of individuals were about to be violated— specifically the rights to take their property into the western territories—but more importantly Southern citizens saw the election of Lincoln as leading to their region's movement into a permanent minority status within the nation, a nation that, in Ruffin's view, would be increasingly willing to violate the rights of the minority party.

Contributing Factors

There were other motives for secession. In the 1861 publication The Effect of Secession upon the Commercial Relations between the North and South, and upon Each Section, issued shortly before the start of the war, a motive for secession explored the federal government's use of the tariff, which appeared to benefit the North at the expense of the South:

For nearly half a century South Carolina, the author of the movement, has been dissatisfied with the policy of the General Government as to the mode of raising its revenue. In 1832, this dissatisfaction very nearly broke out in open rebellion, but was awed into submission by the determined attitude of General Jackson then President of the United States; but, the question was not settled—only postponed by the adoption of the compromise of Mr. Clay. (pp. 3–4)

While the issue of expansion of slavery into the territories was the primary issue of the day, the work raises an important point: that the secession movement in the South began not over slavery, but rather the issue of the tariff. As an issue it continued to be of importance for the Southern economy and conceivably to the advantage of Southern consumers if secession could be accomplished.

During the war M. J. Michelbacher's 1863 work A Sermon Delivered on the Day of Prayer reiterated Southern fears over how the Northern majority endangered the practice of slavery in the South. Michelbacher expressed the Southern feelings of inequality for their region within the union and how that necessitated secession and the war:

We have fought, and are now fighting, by reason of a virtuous resolution to live apart from those, who for many years marred our peace and increased our anxiety for the preservation of our institutions and our safety, and, who down to the moment of our separation, derided our solemn protests against their repeated violations of our sovereign rights, and have converted a Federal government into a central one, for the purpose of founding a despotism, that we may more speedily receive the lash of a tyrant. (p. 8)

This Southern impression of the North as an overreaching entity was at the center of secessionism and the increasing sense of Southern nationalism. Given the feared violation of Southern institutions the Southern states believed they could withdraw from the union and have authority devolve to the state governments, which predated the union. The governor of South Carolina, F. W. Pickens in his 1861 statement The Governor's Message and Correspondence with the Commissioners from Virginia wrote: "We have been forced to resume our original power of government, and to assert our separate sovereignty as a State, in order to seek that protection which we were compelled to believe would not be given to us and to our people, under the power of such a party and such a Chief Magistrate" (p. 4). Southern nationalism was at first largely state-centered rather than focused on the Southern region. The creation of the Confederate States of America and the war itself would create a stronger sense of Southern nationalism than had existed before the war.

Secessionists and Southern nationalists drew on a rich intellectual tradition in the compact theory of government in order to justify secession. South Carolina's earlier attempt at secession in 1832, in particular, was a turning point in that it created a radical minority that persevered in its calls for secession. It would not be until the series of crises between the North and the South arising out of the lands taken in the Mexican War, however, that secession became a live option for the majority of Southerners. The issue of slavery was the primary incentive for secession, and the Confederacy throughout the war struggled in its efforts to form a strong sense of Southern nationalism, as states' rights doctrines continued to hamper the Southern war effort.


Dew, Charles B. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

The Effect of Secession upon the Commercial Relations between the North and South, and upon Each Section. [1861] Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2001.

Memminger, Christopher Gustavus. Address of the Hon. C.G. Memminger, Special Commissioner from the State of South Carolina: Before the Assembled Authorities of the State of Virginia, January 19, 1860. [U.S., s.n., 1860?] Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Michelbacher, Maximilian J. A Sermon Delivered on the Day of Prayer: Recommended by the President of the C.S. of A., the 27th of March, 1863, at the German Hebrew Synagogue, "Bayth Ahabah." Richmond, VA: Macfarlane and Fergusson, 1863. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Pickens, F. W. The Governor's Message and Correspondence with the Commissioners from Virginia. Charleston: Evans and Cogswell, 1861. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Ruffin, Thomas. State Rights and State Equality: Speech of Hon. Thomas Ruffin, of North Carolina, Delivered in the House of Representatives, February 20, 1861. [Washington, DC: H. Polkinhorn's Steam Job Press, 1861.] Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

South Carolina. Convention. Declaration of the Immediate Causes which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union: and the Ordinance of Secession. Charleston: Evans and Cogswell, 1860.

Michael Kelly Beauchamp

Proslavery Advocates

Proslavery advocates defended the institution of slavery from increasing attacks by Northern abolitionists. These advocates vigorously argued for slavery's expansion into the western territories and also into the Caribbean and Latin America, while defending its preservation where it already existed. Proslavery arguments tended to take three different tacks. Some argued for the justness of the institution based on the racial inferiority of African Americans. Under this argument, slavery was justified as natural and a positive good for blacks that lifted them up from a degraded state. Other advocates of slavery chose to contrast the civilization of the South with the abuses of the increasingly industrialized North to illustrate the superiority of a patriarchal civilization based on slavery. Other advocates based their defense of the institution on Christian scripture and history.

The revolutionary generation of the South felt that slavery was an evil that would be eliminated in time, though they themselves failed to deal with the issue. Founders such as Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) and James Madison (1731-1826), while slaveholders themselves, had little problem acknowledging the detrimental effects of the institution, not just for the slaves but for whites as well. Many Southerners in the first decades after the American Revolution (1775-1783) hoped to gradually abolish the institution in the South and to resettle the former slaves elsewhere, with Africa or Latin America as the most popular choices. This commitment to ending slavery was demonstrated in many members of the elites' decisions to free their slaves either late in life or upon their death. This active antislavery movement in the South in the early nineteenth century began to decline after 1832, when Virginia's state legislature failed to pass a law that would have led to the gradual emancipation of slavery in the state, similar to legislation that had occurred in New York and other states.

Over the course of the 1830s and 1840s, Southern opposition to slavery or even to criticism of the institution began to disappear. This Southern attitude mirrored and was in part a response to a more vigorous abolitionist critique from groups in Northern states. The large corpus of abolitionist literature elicited a response from numerous Southern authors. For instance, Harriet Beecher Stowe's (1811-1896) antislavery novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, published in 1852, resulted in responses from numerous Southern writers, most notably, novelist William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870) and his novel The Sword and the Distaff. Proslavery advocates across the South made it increasingly difficult for those Southerners who were abolitionists to remain in the South if they expressed their views publicly.

Some proslavery advocates defended the institution as beneficial for the slaves themselves. This argument was based on the supposed inferiority of African Americans. William Henry Holcombe argued that the natural inferiority of African Americans made it acceptable for whites to put them in a state of slavery in order to improve their lot in life. He believed this to be the natural order ordained by providence itself, as he argued in his 1860 book The Alternative: A Separate Nationality or the Africanization of the South. In reference to the slave trade, Holcombe wrote: "It was permitted by God in order to teach us the way in which the dark races are to be elevated and civilized. Jamaica and Hayti [sic] have also been permitted, as timely and salutary warnings, not to desert the path which was marked out by Providence" (p. 6). Holcombe viewed the inferiority of blacks as a result of natural differences, but differences ordained by God. He illustrates his point by pointing to the failure of black nations such as Haiti to achieve a semblance of stability. Advocates of this view argued that blacks were incapable of taking care of themselves and needed the guidance of their white masters. Thus, slavery not only provided whites with economic benefits but also, in the view of many Southern proslavery advocates, helped to advance the black race. Holcombe, like many other slavery advocates, became as a matter of course a secessionist. Holcombe in the same work wrote that the Republican Party was intent on freeing slaves of the South and thereby allowing them to Africanize the region through natural propagation. The idea of a biracial society based on equality was absurd to Holcombe, as he believed it would degenerate into violence. Earlier Southern leaders had also pointed to this problem, such as Thomas Jefferson, who argued that should the slaves be freed, whites and blacks would be incapable of living peacefully with one another.

Other proslavery advocates defended the institution by contrasting it with what they viewed as the industrial abuses of the North. Lawyer and plantation owner George Fitzhugh (1806-1881) argued that slavery was a far more humane institution than wage labor in factories in that slaves were cared for in their youth, in old age, in sickness, and in health, whereas the industrial workers of the North when elderly or unproductive would be unemployed with no one to care for them. Fitzhugh's 1854 work Sociology for the South argued that free market capitalism as a system benefited the strong while degrading the weak. Slavery for Fitzhugh benefited blacks, who otherwise would be exploited by the industrial system, but also poor whites who thereby secured a higher social and economic status while avoiding the perils of an industrial work force. Fitzhugh's second book, the 1857 Cannibals All, described Northern industrial society as "wage slavery." Fitzhugh went beyond just a simple defense of the institution of slavery to a critique of the inequalities found in modern industrial society. He believed the South through slavery represented an older and more just agrarian form of civilization when compared to the harsh realities of the capitalistic industrial North.

Many Southern advocates of slavery defended the institution through Christian doctrine. In order to justify the practice they tended to turn to biblical passages in both the Old and the New Testaments that emphasized obedience and respect to masters. In addition, Christian apologists for slavery noted the ancient Israelite patriarchs use of slavery. These Christian defenses of slavery ultimately led to the division of several denominations as abolitionist Christians in the North and proslavery Christians in the South disagreed as to the morality of the institution in the eyes of God. In 1844, the Methodist Episcopal Church split into Northern and Southern branches over slavery. Similarly, the Baptist church in the United States split over the issue of slavery, leading to the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845. Presbyterians bridged the divide until the onset of the Civil War. When the split did occur, however, Southern Presbyterians explicitly defended slavery. The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America, in its 1861 Address to all the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the Earth, rejected the notion that slavery could be a sin given the lack of a scriptural condemnation of it, a position its recently-connected Northern brethren had held to until the political separation:

Shall our names be cast out as evil, and the finger of scorn pointed at us because we utterly refuse to break our communion with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, with Moses, David and Isaiah, with Apostles, Prophets and Martyrs, with all the noble army of confessors who have gone to glory from slaveholding countries and from a slave-holding church, without ever having dreamed that they were living in mortal sin, by conniving at slavery in the midst of them. (p. 13)

The Southern Presbyterians made a historical argument that the church and scripture heretofore had not made a judgment as to the evils of slavery, and that for the North or other churches to do so at his moment was extravagantly overreaching, given the history of the church and the words of the scriptures on the issue.

Protestant Southern ministers were among some of the most strident proslavery advocates. Presbyterian ministers such as Benjamin M. Palmer, James Henley Thornwell, and Robert Lewis Dabney, who was also an influential theologian, defended slavery. Benjamin M. Palmer, in an address to his congregation of the First Presbyterian Church of New Orleans entitled The South: Her Peril and her Duty on November 29, 1860, explicitly argued that secession was a necessity given the importance of slavery for Southern civilization, an arrangement justified in the Bible: "Need I pause to show how this system is interwoven with our social fabric? That these slaves form parts of our household, even as our children; and that, too, through a relationship recognized and sanctioned in the scriptures of God even as the other?" (p. 8). Augustus Baldwin Longstreet (1790-1870) similarly defended slavery and the Southern cause as a Methodist minister, as did Baptist minister Thornton Stringfellow. Even Northern born Episcopalians such as Samuel Seabury would produce slavery apologias.

British observers of the American Civil War discerned Southern motivations for the war and investigated Southern defenses of slavery. Sidney E. Morse, in his 1863 work A Geographical, Statistical and Ethical View of the American Slaveholders' Rebellion, gave the Southern defenders of slavery a sympathetic treatment, taking their religious arguments on slavery quite seriously:

Not only Abraham and other Jewish patriarchs, but some of the men most distinguished for Christian virtues in the time of Christ and his Apostles, were slaveholders, none of whom were rebuked for holding their fellowmen in slavery, while on one of these slaveholders, who was also an officeholder in the army of an absolute military despot, Christ bestowed the highest eulogy, and that too immediately after this slaveholder had openly avowed that he held and exercised absolute power over his fellow-men in both of these relations. (p. 6)

Thus from a strictly scriptural point of view, outside observers acknowledged the Southern defense of slavery had some validity.

Upon the end of hostilities, many Southern secessionist advocates began to subtly shift their position, attributing secession not to the issue of slavery but to states' rights. Nevertheless, after the Civil War, Southern proslavery apologists in their histories, while concentrating on states' rights far more than slavery, continued to point to slavery as a beneficial institution. Edward Alfred Pollard in one of the first such Southern histories on the war described slavery as a pretext seized on by the North to justify its sectional animosity against Southern civilization. Even so, Pollard in his 1866 work The Lost Cause still engaged the Northern argument against slavery on its own merits:

That system of servitude in the South which was really the mildest in the world; which did not rest on acts of debasement and disenfranchisement, but elevated the Africans, and was in the interest of human improvement; and which by the law of the land, protected the negro in life and limb, and in many personal rights, and, by the practice of the system, bestowed upon him a sum of individual indulgences, which made him altogether the most striking type in the world of cheerfulness and contentment. (p. 49)

Thus, even though Pollard contested that the morality question was really not what the war was about, he notes that it was a beneficial institution. Similarly, Alexander Hamilton Stephens (1812-1883), who at the beginning of the conflict had vociferously identified slavery with the Confederacy in speeches as the vice president of the Confederacy, focused on issues of state sovereignty rather than slavery in his treatment of the issue after the war. Stephens, in his 1868 A Constitutional View of the Late War Between the States, wrote how he thought Southerners who opposed Northern centralization were identified with proslavery forces: "By their acts, they did not identify themselves with the Pro-slavery Party (for in truth, no such Party had, at that time, or at any time in the History of the Country, any organized existence). They only identified themselves, or took position, with those who maintained the Federative character of the General Government" (p. 11). Stephens and other Southerners soon after the war's conclusion began the process of revising the Southern cause not as a defense of slavery, but rather as a defense of states' rights. Yet these first revisionists could not avoid making at least a theoretical defense of slavery that shares an intellectual history with the arguments made by earlier proslavery advocates.


Holcombe, William H. The Alternative: A Separate Nationality, or the Africanization of the South. New Orleans: Delta Mammoth, 1860. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Morse, Sidney E. A Geographical, Statistical and Ethical View of the American Slaveholders' Rebellion. New York: A. D. F. Randolph, 1863. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Palmer, Benjamin Morgan. The South: Her Peril, and Her Duty: A Discourse, Delivered in the First Presbyterian Church, New Orleans, on Thursday, November 29, 1860. New Orleans: True Witness and Sentinel, 1860. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from http://

Pollard, Edward Alfred. The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates: Comprising a Full and Authentic Account of the Rise and Progress of The Late Southern Confederacy. New York: E. B. Treat and Co., 1866. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America. General Assembly. Address of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America to All the Churches of Jesus Christ throughout the Earth. [Augusta, GA.]: By order of the Assembly, [1861]. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Stephens, Alexander Hamilton. A Constitutional View of the Late War between the States: Its Causes, Character, Conduct and Results: Presented in a Series of Colloquies at Liberty Hall. Philadelphia, PA: National Pub. Co., 1868-1870. Sources in U.S. History Online: Civil War. Gale. Available from

Michael Kelly Beauchamp

Northern Support for the War

Few scholars would argue today that a moral objection to slavery was the direct cause of the American Civil War. There were those, however, including contemporary Northerners, who supported the war in belief that it amounted to a moral crusade to destroy slavery. In a speech on March 3, 1863, at the Statehouse in Albany, New York, George I. Post of Cayuga castigated those who insisted that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War. Post explained, "Sir, the cause of this controversy [Civil War] is slavery. The cause of the disregard of the obligations of laws and Constitution is slavery. The cause of disrespect of constituted authority has grown out of slavery" (Post 1863, p. 2). Peter Cooper, a Christian patriot, was highly disturbed that conditions in the South would require the Federal Government to use its power and authority to maintain slavery. He believed that"… the enslavement of human beings has so far infused its insidious poison into the very hearts of the Southern people [and] that they have come to believe… evil of slavery to be a good…" (Cooper 1863, p. 2).

Some who supported the war on a moral basis were abolitionists who filtered their views through a prism of religion and righteous indignation. Other abolitionists in the North, black and white, viewed the war effort from a more practical basis. They noted the contradiction between the declaration of the equality of all men in the preamble to the United States Constitution and the nation's toleration of the existence of a large slave population. In addition, these abolitionists believed that it was impossible for the United States to continue to exist as a half-slave and half-free polity. Their support in waging war against the South was both moral and pragmatic. While the moral legitimacy of slavery was not the direct cause of the Civil War, as Peter Cooper believed it was, slavery affected and poisoned the moral, economic, social, cultural, and political climate of the United States. Had slavery not existed, it is unlikely that there would have been an American Civil War.

Concept of the Union

There were other issues of significance for some Northerners who had pragmatic reasons for supporting the war. Much of the white Northern population in general cared less about the abolishment of slavery than about the breakup of the federal union of the states. They were willing to compromise on the question of abolition provided that the South rejected secession as a political solution to the issue of slavery. Furthermore, many Northern industrialists and businessmen thought that slave labor was inefficient and hindered industrial development. They too would have preferred a compromise that involved monetary compensation for slaveholders in exchange for abolishing slavery. After all, a large pool of low-paid black industrial workers would have been profitable for Northern capitalists.

Slavery and Westward Expansion

Slavery also became a highly charged political issue relating to sectional development as immigrants crossed the Mississippi River and settled in the Western Territories. Neither the North nor the South wanted the other to gain a political advantage in Congress. Therefore, the question of the extension of slavery into the West became a political issue of the highest order. To a number of both antislavery and proslavery politicians in the North, the issues related to slavery in the Western Territories were as much about political power as they were about the moral dimension of slavery. If Congress had allowed the unrestricted expansion of slavery into the Western lands, the balance of power would have favored the slaveholding Southern states and likely would have resulted in the establishment of a permanent slavocracy. The Western Territory remained important to Northerners after the beginning of hostilities due to the number of Southern sympathizers living there. An 1864 Army intelligence report noted that"…it has been generally known… that a secret treasonable organization affiliated with the Southern Rebellion, and chiefly military… has bee extending itself throughout the West" (U.S. War Department 1864, p. 1).

The political crises precipitated by the Missouri Compromise (1820), which allowed slavery in Missouri while Maine entered the Union as a free state; the Compromise of 1850, which permitted slavery in the New Mexico and Utah Territories while California became a free state; and the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), which based the existence of slavery in Kansas and Nebraska on popular sovereignty, were efforts to maintain political parity between the antislave North and the proslave South. However, the bloody internecine war in Kansas ("Bleeding Kansas") in 1856 between proslave and antislave factions; the brutal beating that Radical Republican leader Charles Sumner (1811-1874) received in 1856 at the hands of a Southern representative, Preston Brooks (1819-1857), on the floor of the Senate; and the decision in the Dred Scott case (1857), declaring slaves chattel, exacerbated fears in the North of a Southern conspiracy to make slavery legal supported by then-President James Buchanan (1791-1868). Northern papers and other publications frequently published what they purported to be Southern outrages against antislavery Northerners in the South and West. Conversely, John Brown's antislavery activities in Kansas and ultimate raid on the federal arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia (1859), and abolitionist fervor in the North made Southerners fear a pro-black Republican conspiracy to abolish slavery and subjugate Southern whites. In fact, William H. Holcombe, a Southern physician, went so far as to accuse the North of purposely Africanizing the South. Holcombe contended that "If the Republican Party is permitted to get into power, the Africanization of the South will be gradual, but it will be sure" (1860, p. 9).

Northern Attitudes toward Abolition

Abraham Lincoln, who came to national prominence in 1858 after the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates with Senator Stephen A. Douglas (1813-1861), was not a fervent abolitionist bent on destroying the "evil" system. Lincoln was a pragmatist whose first priority as president was to find common ground between the North and the South to prevent fragmentation of the Union. When castigated by the journalist and abolitionist Horace Greeley (1811-1872) for his timidity in denouncing slavery, Lincoln replied in a public letter to Greeley that "My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery" (Rhodes 1907, p. 74). After the Civil War began in April 1861, abolitionists continued to press Lincoln to abolish slavery but he refused to do so. Furthermore, most Northern Democrats did not support war with the South for any reason. These so-called Copperheads accused President Lincoln of violating the Constitution and claimed, with some justification, that the Civil War was a poor man's war. Others were against secession. For example, a Northern Democrat, in a letter to W. G. Brownlow, the Whig editor of a Knoxville newspaper, praised Brownlow's proslavery but antisecessionist views by saying that "The classes of Northern people have no feelings but the most friendly toward their brethren of the South and are ready to concede to them all their rights" (Ash 1999, p. 56).

There were in fact many Northerners who had little sympathy with or interest in abolitionism and the problems of either slaves or free blacks. A Democratic Pennsylvania state senator, Hiester Clymer (1827-1884), for example, adamantly opposed a bill in Congress during the Civil War to emancipate slaves in the District of Columbia. Clymer insisted that its passage would "…afford a place for harboring and concealing free Negroes and runaway slaves [and]…where arms can be put into the hands of slaves…from which tumult, rebellions and insurrections may be—and will be—incited in the State of Maryland" (Clymer 1862, p. 4). One popular slogan of the time was "We Won't Fight to Free the Nigger." Recent immigrants in particular tended to support the views of antiwar Copperheads. Northern Democrats who supported Lincoln were interested in restoring the Union and were adamantly against emancipating the slaves. They petitioned Lincoln often in an attempt to obtain equal consideration of their views as an alternative to those of the Radical Republicans and free blacks who urged the President to abolish slavery outright. Quite simply, many white Northerners did not want to wage a war for the benefit of African Americans.

Northern and Southern racists fueled the flames of Negrophobia in the North with wild stories about hordes of emancipated slaves arriving in the North and posing a threat to the safety of white women. Moreover, many Northern Democrats feared that emancipation would result in competition for jobs, housing, and other resources at the expense of whites. Like Democrats, Northern Republicans were not unified on the issue of emancipation. Conservative Republicans did not favor the emancipation of slaves or providing assistance for their welfare. In addition, they were against arming blacks and recruiting them into the Northern army. The Radical Republicans, on the other hand, advocated the confiscation of Southern land for the use of freed slaves and supported their participation in the military in defense of the nation. In the end, President Lincoln's issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, applicable to those Southern states in rebellion against the Union, occurred when the war was not going well for the North.

Costs of the War

As is the case for any war, the longer it lasts the more support for it dwindles. The Civil War proved to be a hardship for Northern soldiers and civilians alike. It was the most costly war in terms of lost lives in the nation's history. The North suffered 140,414 battle deaths; 224,097 deaths as a result of disease, poor medical care, accidents, and other causes; and 281,881 nonfatal casualties out of a total population of only 22 million in 1861 (World Almanac, 1996, p. 166). Understandably, the high casualty rate caused disenchantment with the war.

Further, the 1863 draft in the North was not applied equally; the law allowed some men to hire substitutes, including mercenaries, for the draft. Wealthy Northerners could pay a $300 exemption fee and skip military service. These practices further eroded support for the war in the North and led to violent antidraft riots in New York in the summer of 1863. In addition, as a result of increased resentment of blacks, the rioters, primarily Irish immigrants, assaulted, burned and even lynched a number of black New Yorkers.

African Americans in the North came closest to giving President Abraham Lincoln's policies unconditional support and backing. However, while Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and other black abolitionists supported war against the South, their emphasis was on destroying the institution of slavery. They were less concerned about the criticism of Lincoln as a tyrant for suspending civil liberties in violation of the Constitution. They understood that Lincoln's critics were not talking about the rights of African Americans. Chief Justice Roger Taney (1777-1864) had articulated the majority view about blacks in the Dred Scott decision when he said that blacks had no rights that whites are bound to respect. Furthermore, Douglass himself on many occasions had referred to the Constitution as a proslavery document.

Senator James A. Bayard, Jr. (1799-1880) of Delaware, a border state, apparently agreed with Douglass. In protest against the emancipation of slaves in the District of Columbia, Bayard reminded his Senate colleagues of the Fifth Amendment, which states in part that no person should ". be deprived of life, liberty, or property [slaves] without due process of law; nor shall private property [slaves] be taken for public use without just compensation" (Bayard 1862, p. 9). In light of such views, black support for Lincoln and waging war against the secessionist states was predicated on the abolition of slavery.

African Americans in general wanted to participate in the war to abolish slavery. There was, however, widespread resistance in the North relating to the recruitment of so-called colored troops. While much of this resistance was based on pure racism—the belief that blacks were inferior, undisciplined, and prone to running in the face of danger, there was also alarm and fear in the North about arming large numbers of African Americans. Nonetheless, the political reality of the North's tenuous military position was apparent by the late summer of 1862, and the military began to recruit colored soldiers. Following the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation in January 1863, Lincoln authorized the recruitment of colored troops with white leadership in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. The Fifty-fourth Massachusetts Infantry Regiment was among the first black regiments to be formed in the North. In July 1863, the regiment launched a courageous but ultimately ill-fated attack against Confederate forces at Fort Wagner in South Carolina. Nevertheless, even in defeat the black soldiers achieved a victory in demonstrating their courage, effectiveness, and patriotism.

The support in the North for war against the Confederate States reflected the bitter divisiveness of the Civil War. While a majority of the Northern populace approved of the war to save the Union, a significant number were ambivalent about the abolition of slavery and the cause of African Americans. Nonetheless, the support of blacks was a crucial factor in the ultimate victory of the North. Ironically, participation in a largely segregated Northern military did not bode well for African Americans in achieving full equality in either military or civilian life. Some 200,000 blacks served in the Union Army during the Civil War but still faced pervasive racism (World Almanac, 1996, p. 162). Black soldiers were most critical about receiving less pay than white soldiers. A soldier from Pennsylvania expressed black sentiment on the issue eloquently in a letter to the Christian Recorder in February 1864. He stated, "I am a soldier, or at least that is what I was drafted for in the 6th USCT … and it made me feel proud to fight for Uncle Sam… our officers tell me now that we are not soldiers… that the government just called us out to dig and drudge, that we are to get but $7.00 per month" (The Christian Recorder, 1864). Nonetheless, African American soldiers supported the North during the Civil War and would continue to fight in the nation's wars. They served primarily in racially segregated units until President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) signed an Executive Order in 1948 outlawing racial discrimination in the military.


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Donald Roe

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