Not much new could possibly be added to this discussion. There are more history books written by Americans about the Civil War than any other topic. And, thanks to the "Lost Cause" tradition of bitter Southerners after the war, there are still two sides to this debate.
There are those who understand clearly that the Civil War was about slavery. That this issue was a threat to the Union before the Constitution was even written. That the pre-war writings of everyone involved bears this out, and only the post-war revisionism disagrees.
The argument from people who are raised in the South, or by Southerners, is that the North was the aggressor. That Lincoln was an evil despot who wanted greater Federal power, and would gladly sacrafice the lives of millions to gain it. That the war was about "States Rights", without further admitting that the only "right" in question was the ownership of other men.
This intellectual failing, to me, is far more heinous than Holocaust Deniers. More people were killed by slavery than Nazis, and to forgive the South of this sin, by casting the North as the bad guy, is unforgivable. We should try to help these people, and distance ourselves from those who refuse the help.
So, how do we help them? One side can quote pre-war evidence, and the other side can quote some of the massive output from the "Lost Cause" tradition. I think the best place to look is the source. Instead of pretending to know what the States were thinking when they seceded, why not just go to the documents they wrote to justify their leaving?
But wouldn't this be unfair to the people who think the Southern States were wrong? Why would we just take their word for why they were leaving? Because, they weren't even moral enough to know that what they were doing was an ethical travesty. They didn't even try to hide it.
From Mississippi's Declaration of the Cause of Secession:
(I am not cherry-picking, this is the VERY BEGINNING of the document. As per legal and literary tradition, the most important and germane bits go up top)
Okay, so, for Mississippi, the Civil War was about slavery. No doubt about it. So we can no longer tolerate anyone saying that the "South" seceded because of States' rights. They now have to name which States did so, because clearly all of them didn't.In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.
Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.
Let's look at South Carolina. South Carolina's Declaration of Secession is the one that these Holocaust Deniers go to most often. And for good reason. 80% of the document details the fact that the Union of States was entered into voluntarily, and therefore, each State should be able to leave voluntarily. There is some history about the Civil War, and some Constitutional law regarding the Federal powers over State commerce. So, did South Carolina leave because they sought State autonomy?
Holy shit. South Carolina's first statement of causation for secession was a WEAKENING FEDERAL GOVERNMENT! This is just too much. They are complaining that the states listed were daring to assert their own rights! It goes on:The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution. The States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, have enacted laws which either nullify the Acts of Congress or render useless any attempt to execute them.
Clearly, South Carolina did not revolt because of any right of the State other than to own slaves. This is the only beef to be found in the entire document. No other non-slavery wrong is listed. Damning evidence.In many of these States the fugitive is discharged from service or labor claimed, and in none of them has the State Government complied with the stipulation made in the Constitution. The State of New Jersey, at an early day, passed a law in conformity with her constitutional obligation; but the current of anti-slavery feeling has led her more recently to enact laws which render inoperative the remedies provided by her own law and by the laws of Congress. In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.
The Texas document I love, because they at least show some racism towards their Hispanic neighbors before launching into the meat of why they left:
Holy shit. Texans do everything big, don't they? Such venom and hate, which was not a product of their time (other countries had already abolished slavery, including the North). No, the real culprit is seen right in this very document. God was telling them that slavery was right. It's in the Old Testament.In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
For years past this abolition organization has been actively sowing the seeds of discord through the Union, and has rendered the federal congress the arena for spreading firebrands and hatred between the slave-holding and non-slave-holding States.
By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments.
They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a 'higher law' than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.
They have for years past encouraged and sustained lawless organizations to steal our slaves and prevent their recapture, and have repeatedly murdered Southern citizens while lawfully seeking their rendition.
The first two lines of the Georgia document contains a clue. See if you can spot it without me bolding anything:
Did you find it? The clear pronouncement of why they are leaving?The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery.
People, these are the LEGAL REASONS given for secession. All the crap about "States Rights" comes from a movement of racist Southerners called the "Lost Cause". It is a system which is founded on the worshiping of General Lee, the damning of Lincoln, and the substitution of "States Rights" for "Racism". Every sober historian knows this, and yet the lunacy persists. Please try to help educate those who are ignorant, so we can recognize those who are left. They are the racist amongst us.