American History Series: Deliverance Politics

In light of the tension in the air and the feeling of dread about the possible approach of Civil War 2, we’re taking a look back tonight at Civil War 1.

The following excerpts come from an interesting new book by Elizabeth R. Varon which I recently bought called Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War:

The North

The Yankees saw themselves as the liberators of oppressed blacks and White Southerners from the grips of the “Slave Power” conspiracy which had dissolved the Glorious Union:

“Northerners imagined the Civil War as a war of deliverance, waged to deliver the South from the clutches of a conspiracy and to deliver to it the blessings of free society and of modern civilization. Northerners did not expect white Southerners to rise up en masse and overthrow secession. But they did fervently believe that as the Union army advanced across the South, Southerners, especially from the non-slaveholding majority, would increasingly welcome liberation from Confederate falsehood and despotism …

The image of the Confederate people as the deluded dupes of scheming leaders tapped a deep vein in antebellum politics: the charge that a “Slave Power conspiracy” of ambitious planter-oligarchs and truckling Northern Democratic politicians exercised unseemly control over national politics, subverting democracy and imposing their proslavery agenda on the majority or Americans North and South. Abolitionists warned of such a conspiracy as far back as the 1830s, as slaveholders coalesced around an aggressive campaign to expand slavery and to defend it as a “positive good” and a state’s right.”

The South

Southerners saw themselves as fighting for deliverance from the peril of Black Republicanism which was thought to be a symptom of the chronic, incurable and contagious disease of Radicalism that was perceived as a mortal threat to the Southern social order and which afflicted Northern society and was pushing the country toward ever greater extremes of liberty and equality.

“This book offers a new perspective on Confederate politics. Confederate war aims were no less complex than Union ones. Confederates sought to achieve the independence of their slaveholding republic, and independence entailed the securing of territorial integrity (meaning the exercise of political control within the new nation’s borders); the cohesion of all the slave states, including those in the border South; the recognition of the Confederacy as a legitimate nation-state on the international stage; and the establishment of a new national identity and culture. Confederates pursued these aims through military and political institution-building and formal diplomacy, and also through cultural production in the realm of literature and the arts. As historian Paul Quigley has put it, “Proving that southerners were truly different from northerners – so different as to mandate political separation – formed the central problem in the Confederacy’s quest for national legitimacy …

The longstanding anxieties of Southern whites about abolitionist infiltration crested in the late 1850s as slave resistance, especially flight through the Underground Railroad, converged with the rise of the antislavery Republican party to destabilize the electoral system. Secessionists called upon white Southerners to close ranks, conjuring dystopian images of race war, race competition, and race mixing as the fate that awaited the South should the “Black Republicans” come to power. “If the policy of the Republicans is carried out,” warned a Deep South secessionist in the spring of 1861, “the slave-holder and non-slaveholder must ultimately share the same fate – all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country.” Tapping their own distinct tradition of proslavery constitutionalism, Southern nationalists defended secession, by turns, as a conservative recourse to a constitutional right and as a revolutionary rejection of tyranny, echoing the colonists’ defiance of the British. Modern scholars have also emphasized that secessionists dreamed not only of independence but also of empire: seeing themselves as the leading champions of slavery in the Western Hemisphere, and trumpeting the profitablity of “King Cotton,” secessionists imagined that their new republic might eventually absorb slaveholding Cuba and expand into Latin America.” …

Confederates invoked “deliverance” as a political theme in their own distinct ways. They often spoke in providential terms of the “day of their deliverance” – of divine intervention against the Yankee foe. At times, in a seeming mirror image of the North’s “Slave Power conspiracy” rhetoric, Confederates described the Northern public as dupes of an antislavery conspiracy and expressed hope that they might disenthrall conservative Northern Democrats from Radical Republican influence. …

The premise of the Union war was that white Southerners could be redeemed; the premise of the Confederate war was that Northerners and Southerners could never again be countrymen. Thus in their quest for unity Confederates relentlessly played up two themes: Northern barbarity and Southern victimization. Confederate rhetoric portrayed Yankees as infidels and heretics, foreign mercenaries, condescending and hypocritical Puritans, money-grubbing materialists, and socialistic radicals intent on overturning both patriarchy and white supremacy. In the 1840s and 1850s, European immigrants had flocked to the North’s towns and cities, where they could find wage work, rather than to the rural South; the resulting ethnic diversity of the North and of the Union army was taken by Confederates to be a sign of degeneration, a dangerous and volatile mixing of foreign peoples and ideas. Some commentators claimed that the Yankees were themselves of a different race or ethnicity than white Southerners, Anglo-Saxon “Roundheads” to the Southern Norman-descended “Cavaliers.” Confederates generally saw abolitionists as representative of Northern society and of the “Yankee character.” In their own resort to medical metaphors, Confederates described Northern culture as afflicted with the chronic, incurable, and highly contagious disease of radicalism.”

It’s amazing how little has changed.

The issues have changed but it is still the same beef. The South is motivated by the same apocalyptic racial fears it was in the 1850s and the North by the same abstract ideological nonsense. The Great Awokening has reinflamed the old utopian religious fervor which became passé after Antietam.

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  1. If the South was fighting over apocalyptic racial fears and the North for some abstract ideological nonsense, and the South still got her ass kicked, what does it say about the character of the Southerners?

    But the truth is a bit more complex than that. Both Southerners and Northerners were fighting for what they believed to be their sectional interests. The idealism of the abolitionists was not shared by most Northern people. Their true feelings were expressed by Sherman when he said, “Gentlemen, niggers and cotton caused this war, and I wish them both in hell.”

    Your theory that the Yankees were ideological fanatics is as much contradicted by history as your claim that the Southerners were a pragmatic people. Remember, it was the Southerners who childishly believed their own propaganda about “King Cotton” and imposed cotton embargo on themselves! The stereotype “dumb southerner” had some basis in reality.

      • So far as I know, the South had almost no industrial base at all.

        The North pretty much won on logistics. Basically, it was an industrial power vs. a pre-industrilal, agrarian power. Unless the Europeans had helped the South massively with material aid, or the South had done something decisive and unexpected like captured Washington early on and done so with enough rapidity to actually capture Lincoln, I don’t see how they had much of chance.

          • “-the premise of the Confederate war was that Northerners and Southerners could never again be countrymen.”

            They never were in the first place. They aren’t now. The differences are more than just those between two dialects of the English language.

            For various reasons, some of them having to do with the war, most non -Leftist Whites simply don’t want to cooperate with other Whites in other parts of the country.

      • And no Navy.

        The lack of a navy thing was the strategic dead end. If they’d secretly built a flotilla or fleet before secession…landlubbers to the end.

      • Not in the battlefields, no. In most battles the number of men engaged were more or less the same on both sides.

        The south indeed had less factories and industry, but that was their own fault.

    • There were fewer of us and we had less factories.

      That might be the understatement of the year. Here is a relevant excerpt from R.L. Dabney’s The United States as a Military Nation, which appeared in The Southern Review, Baltimore, Oct., 1869.:

      “The work which the North had to do, therefore, was only to beat forces of one-fourth their own number, or less; and these untrained to war. They should have found the Confederate armies almost as little formidable in their quality as in their size.

      Fifthly. The credit of the North for this exploit must also be affected by this fact, that while they had at the outset twenty-two millions (22,000,000) against five millions (5,000,000), and during the real crisis of the war, twenty-two millions (22,000,000) against three million eight hundred thousand (3,800,000), they did not deem these odds sufficient, but eagerly sought the aid of the rest of the world.

      They believed themselves, if we may infer from their actions, unable to crush this feeble adversary, without drawing from the Southern slaves armies as large as all those of the Confederacy, and from Europe hundreds of thousands of her proletaries. The Federal Secretary of War tells us that he mustered out of service about one hundred and seventy thousand (170,000) negro combatants. These were recruited almost exclusively from the slaves of their enemies.

      When Gen. McClellan, during the Presidential canvass of 1864, ashamed of so savage and disgraceful a dependence, promised that he, if made President, would disband the negro troops, Lincoln himself ridiculed his promise; saying that this would deprive the Union cause of the aid of two hundred thousand (200,000) men, and would thus render its success hopeless. That is to say, the head of the Federal Union judged that its twenty-two millions (22,000,000), backed by all the mercenaries of Europe, would be unable to conquer these three million eight hundred thousand (3,800,000) Confederates, without the aid of two hundred thousand (200,000) partially reclaimed, black savages!”

      • “We wuz outnumbered” is the excuse of the Lost Causers. But in many Western battles, Confederates actually outnumbered the Union forces and still got beaten, like Mill Springs, Pea Ridge, Luka, Corinth, Chattanooga, Atlanta etc.

  2. ““the slave-holder and non-slaveholder must ultimately share the same fate – all be degraded to a position of equality with free negroes, stand side by side with them at the polls, and fraternize in all the social relations of life; or else there will be an eternal war of races, desolating the land with blood, and utterly wasting and destroying all the resources of the country.”

    Words spoken by a prophet.

  3. Today we have the same risk: people are talking more of Civil War, but less about Partition, which is the best outcome.

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