Was the Civil War about slavery? Yes.

But you don’t have to take our word for it — just ask the Vice President of the Confederacy what his reasons were in 1861:

The new [Confederate] constitution has put at rest, forever, all the agitating questions relating to our peculiar institution β€” African slavery as it exists amongst us β€” the proper status of the negro in our form of civilization. This was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution . . . The prevailing ideas entertained by . . . most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically. . . Those ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of . . . the equality of races. This was an error . . .

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner–stone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery β€” subordination to the superior race β€” is his natural and normal condition.

β€” Alexander H. Stephens, March 21, 1861, reported in the Savannah Republican, emphasis in the original

More ways we know the Civil War was about slavery

  • The state secession declaration documents mention the words “slave”, “slavery”, and “slave-holding” over 150 times, along with a number of related words including abolition, abolitionist, race, African, white race, and negro among yet others.
  • The Constitution of the Confederate States of America is almost identical to the US Constitution; in most of the several places that had been modified, the subject of the change regarded slavery and the claimed rights of Southern white men to own black human beings as a captive labor force.
  • Contemporaneous speeches given by Southern leaders at the time leading up to the war and during the war uniformly named the question of slavery as the core animus for their fight.
  • The Confederates rejected the idea floated internally of enlisting blacks to replace the much-drained manpower of the South even though the final year of the war — despite ample evidence of the capabilities of black fighting forces as evidenced by their use by the Union to rout Southern Armies in bloody battle after bloody battle.
  • The secessionists even hampered their own ability to get diplomatic recognition, by refusing to clarify any sort of end date for slavery or apologia for the moral failings of the peculiar institution to a Britain and France who saw the practice as barbaric by that time. In other words, they chose slavery over independence when push really literally came to shove.

Property vs. People, all the way down

Or capital vs. labor, oligarchs vs. plebes, plutocrats vs. proles, rich vs. poor — however you want to narrate it, the property vs. people struggle continues on in new and old ways, each and ere day.

Here in America, the plutocrats have devised many clever methods of hiding the class struggle behind a race war smokescreen, that is both real and manufactured — instigated, exacerbated, agitated by the likes of schlubby wife abusers like Sloppy Steve Bannon, wrinkly old Palpatines like Rupert Murdoch, and shady kleptocrats like Trump and Putin.

The United States has nursed an underground Confederacy slow burning for centuries, for sociopathic demagogues to tap into and rekindle for cheap and dangerous political power. Like The Terminator, racist and supremacist troglodytes seem always to reconstitute themselves into strange and twisted new forms, from slavery to the Black Codes to sharecropping to convict leasing to Jim Crow to Jim Crow 2.0 — the psychopaths want their homeland.

The political left loves people, and our extremists for the most part destroy capital or property that insurance companies will pay to make shiny and new again — unlike the right wing extremists who bomb federal buildings, killing hundreds of people and costing taxpayers’ money to replace.

Meanwhile, the right wing claims to be the righteous party for its extreme fixation on life before birth, yet its regulation-allergic capitalists destroy people and the natural world more broadly, from factory farming to deforestation, the destruction of habitats, strip-mining and other toxic extraction practices, and on into climate change itself. Being in fact the chief architects of manmade atmospheric devastation, they have managed to make themselves invisible from the deed by simply (wink wink!) denying it exists.

WWJD?!

Certainly, not anything the Republican Party is up to. Jesus would be sad.

Tulsa Race Massacre

On May 31, 1921, a mob of murderous whites descended on the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma dubbed Black Wall Street, and razed it to the ground. They dropped homemade bombs in the first ever domestic aerial attack on American soil, during the Tulsa Race Massacre following the end of World War I.

Over three hundred Blacks were murdered and hastily buried or burned. Police and other state officials were complicit; no one was ever charged for the crimes and insurance companies refused to honor Black business owner’s claims from the destruction of their livelihood and senseless slaughter of their friends, families, and community. A generation of wealth was wiped out overnight, with deep economic repercussions passing down to ensuing descendants.

Whitewashing, literally

The Confederates managed to memory hole the Tulsa Race Massacre event clean out of history for the most part, until the 100-year anniversary of the event — arriving at a time of perhaps maximum racial polarization and most extreme partisanship in this country since the civil rights era. Nor is it the only example of mass murder and destruction of Black property and assets — there are plenty others we’ve never heard about in school. That’s why it’s so important to bear witness, and to remember, and to tell and retell the stories of our past — even the painful ones. Especially the painful ones.

Lost Cause religion

The whitewashing of the Civil War to assuage white Southern guilt, Lost Cause refers to the historical gaslighting of the former Confederates. New mythology reinvented our nation’s greatest internal conflict as if it had been more of a technocratic war over states’ rights and the limits of federal power, instead of the truth — which is that the seditionists first seceded, then started a war against the northern states, to preserve their right to own human beings as slaves.

When they lost the war, they never accepted defeat, or put down their conviction that white people (conveniently, them) ought to “naturally” rule over the dark people (conveniently, not them) because, you know, God said so. It is known. Many people are saying.

The Ghost Confederacy

Nevertheless, the South did have to put up with the ignomy of federal occupation for several years before they were able to expel the godless globalists and return to their safe, secure, sadistic ways of slavering. It sent the Confederates’ sense of wounded pride soaring when they could finally recreate slavery under other names, after the short-lived era of Reconstruction gave way to the terrifying age of southern “Redemption.”

Peonage, convict leasing, sharecropping, and other forms of neoslavery persisted all the way through at least 1954, when the Sumter slavery case was one of the last judicial prosecutions of involuntary servitude in the United States.

1954.

The Confederacy, and with it the idea of Black servitude, stayed alive in the hearts and minds of the former Confederates — many of whom were pardoned and later went on to sit in Congress making decisions about the direction of the “union,” all the while harboring seditious views, biding their time, and awaiting the next opportunity to viciously strike. This sort of “fantasy football” fanfic version of a hallucinatory alternate history where the South won the Civil War is not just alarming, but very very dangerous.

That the Confederates were given only light slaps on the wrist before being allowed to reassume the mantle of legitimate power is bad enough. But worse — they lashed white supremacy to the mast of white southern Christianity in efforts to shore them both up, forever interweaving and corrupting a certain strain of red state Evangelical zealotry into something consciously or unconsciously celebrating white supremacy and harboring fever dreams of a white theocracy in America.