A Dec. 24 letter about the Civil War misstated history. Here are facts from secessionist writings in 1860-61 and other sources.
1) It was the War of Southern Aggression, not Northern, as the Confederacy started it by attacking Fort Sumter, which was national property.
2) Besides serious legal problems with secession per se, the 1860 presidential election was, in slavery states, a secession referendum and the secessionist candidate, John Breckenridge, lost the popular vote (about 540,000 out of 1.11 million). He got a majority overall in the Deep South, but not in Louisiana (less than 23,000 out of about 50,500) or Georgia, nor Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky. (South Carolina had no popular vote).
3) Secessionists responded with organized campaigns that used fear-mongering, dirty tricks, coercion and violence to bulldoze Unionists where they were a majority or large minority.
4) Many Southern clergy used their considerable influence to sermonize for secession to defend slavery. Clergy wrote about half of antebellum slavery defenses, often calling abolitionists “atheists” for opposing a God-given, Bible-justified institution.
Historians credit sermons by New Orleans’ Presbyterian the Rev. Benjamin Morgan Palmer and Episcopalian the Rev. W.T. Leacock with swaying undecided Louisiana leaders toward secession. Palmer thundered: “Last of all, in this great struggle, we defend the cause of God and religion. The abolition spirit is undeniably atheistic.” Powerful interests subsequently packed Louisiana’s convention with secessionists.
Slavery clearly caused secession. Historians say other factors increased national tensions, but only slavery created the emotional frenzy that swept the South:
The detailed state secession declarations (South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas) focused on slavery as the sole or primary issue. The brief Virginia statement cited “the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States.” Louisiana secessionists denounced the election of an “abolitionist” (Abraham Lincoln was anti-slavery but not an abolitionist as the term was used then).
The Confederate Constitution mostly copied the U.S. Constitution, but added protections for slavery.
Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens’ popular “Cornerstone Speech” called slavery the foundation of the Confederacy.
Soldiers North and South said slavery was the cause. In “What This Cruel War Was Over,” (2007) historian Chandra Manning used soldiers’ writings to document their pro- or anti-slavery attitudes. She found that nonslave-holding Southern soldiers were driven by fear/anger at the idea of sharing legal/social equality with black people and the fear that white women would be endangered. She noted that soldiers on both sides came of age when slavery was front-page news, notably “Bleeding Kansas” and John Brown’s Raid.
Some slavery defenders argued that ex-slaves either would be exterminated in a racial war or whites would abandon the South as a new, savage Africa.
William Sierichs, Jr.