Thursday, June 9, 2011

The South's Economic Argument for Secession

New Orleans Daily Crescent published an editorial titled "Economic Reasons for Secession" on January 21, 1861. It expressed indignation that the North should be so rude as to object to secession, while the South would be quite happy to let the North secede ("as in common decency they ought to do seeing that they are so unhappy about the countenance the Union is supposed to give to the institution of slavery...").

The writer then explains the reasons that the North is so angry at the idea of secession: because although the South is constantly called uncivilized and barbaric and poor, it is in fact the source of most of the Union's wealth, and secession would deprive the North of the "rich feast upon which they have so long fed and fattened." Since Northerners are descended from Puritans, they have a "love of mean tyranny and cold-blooded, inexorable oppression."

I can quite understand Southerners' anger and defensiveness at the constant accusations of barbarity; no one enjoys being called names even if they're true. However, given that slavery actually was a barbaric institution, the bits about feeding off the wealth of others and cold-blooded, inexorable oppression are painfully ironic.


Henry Cate said...

Some times I wonder about the Civil War. I was surprised to learn that the United States was the only country in the Americas that went to war to end slavery. Andthe truth is Lincoln went to war to perseve the Union.

I'm not sure it was worth killing a million soliders to force the South to give up slavery. The economics was destroying the value of slavery and I think in another decade or two the South would have worked out something.

Jean said...

I don't know. I think maybe both sides were too angry at each other to be rational--maybe it was two completely different life philosophies that couldn't deal with each other any more. Nobody could know that the Industrial Revolution was going to make slavery obsolete anyway, but I don't know that the South would have given it up easily.

I'm not at all qualified to make a judgement, given that the whole point of this blog is to fight my ignorance of American history!

Thanks for your comment. :)

Henry Cate said...

I don't feel like I know what the right answer is, but over the last couple decades I have become very dissatisfied with the way the Civil War was taught in school.

You are totally right about how extreme people became. Many in both the North and the South came to hate the other side.

Traditionally government schools teach that it was right and good that the North kept to Union together and eventually got rid of slavery.

They rarely mention how after 1850 because of a larger population the North controlled both the House and the Senate and started passing laws that heavily favored the North. For example the North created huge taxes on importing finished products. This meant the South had to pay billions more to buy cheaper products from England. And it make the North's products more attractive.

In some ways the Civil War is a marriage that went bad and the abused wasn't allowed to leave.

Jean said...

Maybe so. Certainly the North didn't use its power well after the war, and the repercussions of that have lasted. But I wonder if the South could have survived well on its own. And if secession had gotten established as an acceptable solution to interstate problems, I wonder how far it would have gone?