The Price of Northern Victory in the Civil War
About 620,000 died during the American Civil War, more than all the American deaths in all wars combined. The war started in 1861 and ended in 1865. It was caused by a clash of political and economic ideals held between the North and South. The immediate reason for war was the secession of the Southern states. The root causes are buried much deeper.
The South seceded because they thought they were being used by the North. Southern agriculture made up nearly three-fourths of entire U.S. exports. The North decided to place a heavy tariff on these exports, enabling the North to consume large quantities of Southern cotton. The South didn't see the justice in this. The tax pushed many Southern landowners to the brink of bankruptcy, while it only benefited the North. There were many other taxes like this that were designed to oppress Southern planters and make Northern manufacturers rich. By then, the South was paying about three-fourths of all federal taxes, which were mostly used in the North. This caused resentment to grow among Southerners.
Not only was the South suffering from heavy taxes, they also had to deal with a new, powerful national government. The South was told they would have to give up their states' rights, which they peacefully enjoyed and which were defended by Jefferson in his Kentucky Resolutions. The South was outraged by this. They saw the North defying the Constitution in everything they did. Aside from unfair tariffs and import duties, the North denied the South the right to transport their property, slaves, anywhere they wanted. The North also ignored Southern laws, saying the new national government overruled any state laws. This national government took away a state's right to nullify federal laws deemed unconstitutional. When it seemed like government reform would be futile, the South seceded.
The election of 1860 was the last straw for Southerners. The Republican platform called for another high protective tariff, it opposed the Dred Scott decision, and it put doubt in the minds of Southerners whether states' rights could survive with a national government that was hostile to the South. South Carolina was the first to secede after Lincoln was elected. Six other states followed suit. They justified their claim by saying the federal government wasn't protecting their rights, and so they were breaking away from it to regain liberty. They saw their situation similar to the colonists under King George III. Many Southerners even call the Civil War the "War for Southern Independence."
The North argued that the South didn't have the right to secede, and therefore, were still part of the U.S. This sparked war. The North needed the South. Without it, there would be a huge blow to their economy. Who would pay all the taxes? Lincoln gathered support from fellow Republicans under the resolve to restore the Union, and later the destruction of slavery, and attacked the newly formed Confederate States of America to gain back what he had lost.
The war started on April 12, 1861 when Confederate soldiers attacked Fort Sumter, a Union fort in the Confederacy that the Union refused to give up. Both the Union and Confederacy had distinct strengths in the war. The Union had more soldiers, more money, railroads, and industries to provide arms. The Confederacy was fighting on their homeland, and they had a greater cause for fighting: their freedom.
Union general William Sherman proposed the idea of total war that was immediately put into action. This meant the North wasn't fighting a war just against Southern soldiers, but the whole South. Union soldiers would destroy everything in sight; houses, buildings, crops, and thousands of innocent people. Soldiers even killed slaves who refused to give out Confederate positions. Sherman wanted to totally annihilate the South.
Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This did not initially free any slaves. It only freed slaves in the Confederacy, which had declared itself its own country and was therefore independent of U.S. laws. What the Proclamation did do was gain national and foreign support. The North had started to lose interest in the war. And up until then, most other Western countries sympathized with the Southern cause of independence. But now they refused to recognize the Confederacy because of their slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation changed what the Union was fighting for. It made the Union cause a moral crusade to free slaves.
For the most part, the Union and Confederacy were equally matched. The union won a number of key battles, including the battles of Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and Atlanta. Confederate general Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appottamox on April 9, 1865. He chose to surrender rather than continue fighting a war that could have lasted for many more years. The rest of Southern resistance collapsed within a month. The Union was victorious.
The impact of the Civil War was tremendous. Aside from the many deaths, there were very high economic costs. The South experienced most of this, and it ruined their economy. The end of the war signified the beginning of the U.S. as a major industrial nation. The most important effect was the destruction of states' rights. The South may still be holding onto their cause, but the national government has never been challenged like it was then.
Union victory led the path for Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs and many more social programs that we enjoy – or loathe. The Civil War established a national government in replace of several states joined together. Today, this government protects us and provides for us, rather than protecting our rights and the rights of states. Whether we love it or hate it, we can thank Lincoln and the Union for our very powerful national government.
But was the North's victory for better or for worse? Was it good that the North won, or would we have been better off if the South had won? What if Great Britain and France had supported the Confederacy during the Civil War? Would America be greater than it ever was… or a complete disaster?
The main weakness of the South was their lack of industry. The South was built on agriculture. To get many kinds of machinery like guns and weapons, they had to import them. Although Great Britain and France sympathized with their cause, they didn't do much to help the Confederacy. They were still too upset about past wars, like the War of 1812, to feel like helping the U.S. much. But if they had helped the Confederacy, it would have had enough arms to defeat the Union. This would have had to be done towards the beginning of the war, before international support turned to the Union because of the Emancipation Proclamation. If Great Britain and France had supported the South, it would have had more advantages than the North that would have eventually led to their victory.
After the Confederacy had won, the U.S. would have been two distinct countries. But it is improbable that this would have lasted long. The North and South needed each other. They were really fighting about how America should be governed. And since the South won, they would have eventually reached a compromise that allowed the two countries to become one again if states' rights were once again supreme.
After the two countries merged, a period similar to Reconstruction would have taken place. Confederate president Jefferson Davis would have likely taken the place of Abraham Lincoln. Those who didn't agree to follow states' rights policies would have been kicked out of Congress for favor of ex-Confederates. Tariffs and laws would have been destroyed until the U.S was back to following the Constitution strictly. Special protections would have been made against runaway government spending, excessive taxation, and harmful protective tariffs. It is likely that an amendment would have been made guaranteeing states' rights and also the right of secession. The South would have taken over America until Northerners learned to agree with them.
America would not have become a slave nation if the South had won. The South was in the process of freeing its slaves before the war even started. Many great Southern heroes strongly opposed slavery, including Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and Joseph E. Johnston. Lee called slavery a "moral and political evil", and Johnston called it "a curse." Jefferson Davis was in support of emancipation and would have done so eventually if he had been president. Civil Rights also wouldn't have had as many objections if Southerners had freed blacks by their own will. Everything would have worked out eventually, and for the better.
If all this had happened, we would be living in a much different America; and arguably a better America. For one thing, our morals would not be in decline. Traditional values would have been upheld. Abortion and same-sex marriage wouldn't even be issues. It would be wrong for anyone to do either of them. We would be governed by Christian leaders who would make sure justice and our morals were preserved. Christianity wouldn't be under constant attack. Minorities wouldn't be praised while the majority is slandered. Our freedom of speech would still be here. There would be no Affirmative Action. Minorities wouldn't have any special rights. Everyone would just be equal. That's what the Constitution states, and that's how it should be.
Our economy would be considerably better than it is now. There would be lower taxes and less of them. The rich wouldn't be taxed excessively high. Taxes would be equal percentages, no matter what your income. By not taxing the rich more, they will have more to spend. That money is used to buy things sold by those who aren't as well off. This would improve the position of all people while boosting the economy. Instead of raising taxes, the government would cut spending in times of crises. Everything would be better for everyone.
Most importantly we wouldn't have an intrusive national government. We would have a limited government like was set in the Constitution. States would decide things, not the federal government. This makes sense. Don't the states know the needs of the people better than the government? Democracy is supposed to protect our rights. The best way to do this is to let the states govern themselves. This would be true if the South had won the Civil War. There wouldn't be any social programs that directly aid people instead of solving the problem. We would be forced to solve our own problems instead of depending on the government. This would ensure our liberty.
If the South had won, we would have entered both World Wars right away to stop the forces of socialism. We would be a strong nation, not because of a strong government, but because of our strong sense of liberty. We would be a beacon of light leading the way for other countries. We would still have problems, but they would be nothing we couldn't handle. Although some people may have continued to resist states' rights, they never would have been questioned like they were during the Civil War. The Constitution would always be followed. The South would be there to ensure that. The Confederate battle flag would be a symbol of the heroic struggle to save America.
But sadly, that is not what happened. Great Britain and France did not support the South during the Civil War. The South did not win. The South was forced back into the Union against its will. It was forced to endure the hardships brought on it by the strong national government. Lincoln's dream has come true. We now have a huge national government that taxes excessively and tries to solve all our problems. The states don't have any say in this. Our liberty is slipping away and only Southerners who remember the glory days care. Northern victory freed the slaves. But since they would have been freed anyway, was it really worth it?
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