EDITOR’S NOTE: In commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War, Dr. Gary Loudermilk of Brownwood has written a column of historical facts relating to the War Between the States.
The conflict known as the Civil War has a long and checkered nomenclature.
To this day many patriotic Southerners wince at the term, “Civil War.” These partisans usually favor “The War Between the States” and some organizations of descendants of Confederate warriors use this term under their by-laws, and none other.
In the 1920, a Senate Committee proposed “The War Between the States” as the best and most descriptive name for the war, but the full Senate never voted to approve the name.
There are over 30 different names for the war. Some of the more common names are: The War for Southern Independence, The Southern Rebellion, The Second War for Independence, The Brothers’ War, The Civil War between the States, The War for the Union, The War for Southern Freedom, The War of the North and South and The Lost Cause.
One other name that is commonly heard (and used by some historians) is “Mr. Lincoln’s War.”
Beside the natural connection of Lincoln to the war as the Commander-In-Chief of the Union forces there is also another obvious and logical tie between old Abe and the war. Regardless of the causes for secession (slavery, tariffs, agriculture versus industry, etc.), secession was a legal remedy and had the Southern States been allowed to depart peacefully there would have been no war.
Therefore it follows that it was Lincoln’s initiation of hostilities at Sumter and his call up of 75,000 men that triggered the war.
Earlier in Lincoln’s career he was very clear about his belief that secession was legal and a proper solution to problems between groups of citizens. Even before the organization of the Republican Party, Mr. Lincoln proclaimed his faith in the right of secession. On the 13th day of January, 1848, from the floor of Congress, Mr. Lincoln declared for the right of states to secede from the Union.
“Any people anywhere,” said Mr. Lincoln, “being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and to form one that suits them better. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may make their own of such territory as they inhabit. More than this, a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting down a minority intermingling with or near them who oppose their movements.” — Appendix to Congressional Globe, 1st Session 30th Congress, page 94.
Lincoln’s view on secession was certainly not without precedent. It was considered a basic right of any state and had often been considered.
For example, every few years something occurred which made New England declare it was high time for her to get out of the Union.
When the Louisiana Territory was purchased, and again when Louisiana was made a state, New England declared it was time for her to quit the Union.
During the whole two years this country was waging its second war with Great Britain, New England preachers, newspapers and politicians were anxious for secession, declaring it was high time New England was out of the Union, anxious for New England to make a separate treaty of peace with old England.
Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, in his life of Webster, says: “It is safe to say there was no man in this country, from Washington and Hamilton on the one side to George Clinton and George Mason on the other, who regarded our system of government, when first adopted, as anything but an experiment entered upon by the states, and from which each and every state had the right to peaceably withdraw, a right which was very likely to be exercised.”
A convention in Ohio in 1859 declared the Constitution was a compact to which each state acceded as a state, and as an integral part, and that each state had the right to judge for itself of infractions and of the mode and measure of redress.
So what changed Lincoln’s mind so dramatically; why should there have been a flash of loyalty to the central government?
No party in America at that time thought that more loyalty was due to the Union government than to the state governments. This doctrine was never declared until Lincoln inaugurated war on the South, on the pretext that she was disloyal to the Union. Up to the very hour of that war Lincoln’s own party held that the South had the right to secede, the right to independence.
Lincoln, Seward, Wade of Ohio, Philips of Massachusetts, and hosts of other high Republican speakers had publicly declared the South’s right to secede.
Perhaps no one will ever know exactly what Lincoln was thinking but it helps to remember that Lincoln was first and foremost a politician.
The South had become in many respects the “cash cow” for the North and maybe when he realized what the loss of that revenue and goods would mean to the U. S. and how it could affect high-placed men to whom he was indebted, the “good old boy” politics clicked in and ruled his thought processes.
Of course that is pure speculation but unfortunately much of what we know about the man is speculative. We do know that the war was not about slavery; Secession may have had everything to do with slavery but the war was about Lincoln’s reasons for saving the Union.
We do know that the South’s secession fulfilled every requirement laid down by Lincoln.
The South had the right and she exercised it with decency and dignity. She did not rise up and shake off the Union government in a turbulent manner; she quietly withdrew.
How did Lincoln react? He called for 75,000 armed men on the pretense of defending his Capitol; he falsely asserted and deceived the people of the North into the belief that the South was eager for war and intended to invade the North.
Given these facts, maybe the best name for this saddest and bloodiest time in the history of our nation is after all “Mr. Lincoln’s War!”
Dr. Gary M. Loudermilk has been active in Confederate Heritage groups for over thirty years. He is a past Commander of the Texas Society, Military Order of Stars and Bars and currently serves as National Communications-General and Scholarship Chair for the MOS&B. His formal education includes a Ph.D. in Adult Education Administration. For more information, visit www.militaryorderofthestarsandbars.org.