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Victor Davis Hanson: [‘Response to Readership’] Why did the South start the Civil War?
VDH Private Papers ^ | February 17, 2005 | Victor Davis Hanson

Posted on 02/17/2005 1:55:46 PM PST by quidnunc

Q: After having read many accounts of the Civil War, I still don’t understand why South Carolina fired on Ft. Sumter, galvanizing the North into war.  What do you think might have happened had the South continued to let these coastal forts be manned by the Union for a longer time?

Hanson: I think conflict was inevitable, because the South had little appreciation of Northern industrial power nor of the competence of a number of formerly nondescript Union officers. The best officers of the Mexican War had joined the Confederacy and there was an erroneous general impression that all superior commanders had left the Union, and with vaunted Southern courage, a big victory or two would teach the Yankees that going into the Confederacy was simply not worth the trouble, especially for the increasingly controversial idea of emancipation. …

-snip-

(Excerpt) Read more at victorhanson.com ...


TOPICS: Editorial; Extended News; Miscellaneous; US: Georgia; US: Oklahoma
KEYWORDS: bullrun; civilwar; copperheads; davis; dixie; emancipation; grant; jeffersondavis; lee; lincoln; lincolngreatestprez; manassas; northpreservedunion; northstartedit; robertelee; sherman; sicsemper; slavery; sneakattackonsumter; southdidntstartit; southstartedit; usgrant; vdh; victordavishanson; war; warbetweenthestates
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1 posted on 02/17/2005 1:55:48 PM PST by quidnunc
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To: stainlessbanner


2 posted on 02/17/2005 1:58:42 PM PST by Libertarianize the GOP (Make all taxes truly voluntary)
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To: stainlessbanner

Dixie bump...


3 posted on 02/17/2005 1:58:58 PM PST by RebelBanker (To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of the women!)
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To: quidnunc


OH MAN-
This is going to start something

FACT- The CIVIL WAR WAS OVER SLAVERY, it was also over states rights, tariffs, but a big part of it was slavery.

FACT- MOST of the white southerners were not slaveowners. In fact most of the whites were very POOR farmers.

Why did they fight?


4 posted on 02/17/2005 1:59:55 PM PST by LauraleeBraswell ( CONSERVATIVE first-Republican second.)
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To: LauraleeBraswell


I'm asking a question,


PLEASE Dont say it wasn't over slavery it was. But that was only a few of the Southerners. Most were poor. I think they were duped.


5 posted on 02/17/2005 2:01:20 PM PST by LauraleeBraswell ( CONSERVATIVE first-Republican second.)
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To: quidnunc

I think VDH is right when he says the south didn't apprectiate the north's potential. Grant and Sherman eventualy showed them what's for.


6 posted on 02/17/2005 2:01:32 PM PST by seacapn
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To: quidnunc

I'm with Hanson. Those Snotty Virginians gravely underestimated a certain alcoholic midwesterner. They were merely lucky that they got to face that clown McClellen first.


7 posted on 02/17/2005 2:03:28 PM PST by Clemenza (Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms: The Other Holy Trinity)
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To: seacapn

Bill Tecumsah is one of my heros. Destroy the infrastructure to trap your enemy.


8 posted on 02/17/2005 2:04:06 PM PST by Clemenza (Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms: The Other Holy Trinity)
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To: LauraleeBraswell

What is the point of bringing this up in this thread? There is no need. The question and VDH's answer are very limited in scope and need not be expanded into another pro/anti-Dixie brawl.


9 posted on 02/17/2005 2:05:48 PM PST by mcg1969
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To: USF

ping for later


10 posted on 02/17/2005 2:06:16 PM PST by USF (I see your Jihad and raise you a Crusade ™ © ®)
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To: quidnunc

I won't bite. The main problem today is totalitarian Islam, not who started the Civil War. It is irrelevant.


11 posted on 02/17/2005 2:06:32 PM PST by The_Media_never_lie
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To: mcg1969


sorry, I'm just learning about it. And I'm wondering.


12 posted on 02/17/2005 2:07:04 PM PST by LauraleeBraswell ( CONSERVATIVE first-Republican second.)
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To: Clemenza
if it hadn't been for John Brown's raid in 1859 the war wouldn't have lasted long. John Brown was an anti slavery activist who wanted to stir up an insurrection of slaves.

After his captures many plantation owners down South were fearful that others would try to emulate John Brown, they hired local militia's to protect their plantations. These militia's would form the backbone of the confederate army.

The gross overestimation of Confederate strength by the early union military leaders (especially the Army of the Potomac leaders) and the against the odds reverse at first Bull Run (or first Manassas, whatever your preference) meant the war lasted longer than it should have. Without the militia's the confederate army would have been weaker and with a little more competence and daring from the union generals at the time they would have inflicted an instant killer blow.

13 posted on 02/17/2005 2:07:47 PM PST by William of Orange (I'm a DU troll pretending to be a FReeper, how am I doing?)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
LauraleeBraswell wrote: I'm asking a question, PLEASE Dont say it wasn't over slavery it was. But that was only a few of the Southerners. Most were poor. I think they were duped.

in the antebellum United Strates, most people, especially in the South, considered themselves to be first and foremost citizens of their states and only secondarily, Americans.

The non-slave-owning southerners fought because their primary allegiance was to their home states rather than to the Union.

14 posted on 02/17/2005 2:08:26 PM PST by quidnunc (Omnis Gaul delenda est)
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To: quidnunc

I'm surprised. VDH didn't answer the question - one which I too have had.

Firing on Ft. Sumter gave Lincoln all that he needed to justify invasion of the south.

Had the south not fired on Union troops, would Lincoln have acted preemtively? Would he have retained the high moral ground if he had?


15 posted on 02/17/2005 2:08:44 PM PST by jackbill (``)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
Why did they fight?

It's a two part answer. Why did the individual fight? Because his country was at war. Why was his country at war? Because his political leadership believed that it was the only way to protect slavery.

16 posted on 02/17/2005 2:11:04 PM PST by Non-Sequitur
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To: mcg1969; LauraleeBraswell
mcg1969 wrote: What is the point of bringing this up in this thread? There is no need. The question and VDH's answer are very limited in scope and need not be expanded into another pro/anti-Dixie brawl.

There are no stupid questions.

This is a perfectly appropriate thread to pose the question.

17 posted on 02/17/2005 2:11:19 PM PST by quidnunc (Omnis Gaul delenda est)
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One of the ironies of the war was that a Sherman, Grant, and, yes, Lincoln himself, had far greater strategic sense and tactical competence than either a Jefferson Davis or perhaps even a Robert E. Lee.

That'll push 'em over the edge...

18 posted on 02/17/2005 2:11:49 PM PST by Diddle E. Squat
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To: jackbill

Lincoln was smarter than the Confederate leaders. I believe that under no circumstances could they have trapped him into striking first.

The value to the Union cause of the South firing the first shots cannot be overestimated. Among other critical points, if the Union had fired first, it would probably have tipped both MO and KY over the edge into successful secession. And Lincoln himself said that if those two states had gone the other way, the job would have been two big. Secession would have succeeded.


19 posted on 02/17/2005 2:12:30 PM PST by Restorer
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To: quidnunc

Yes the war was over slavery. Poor Southern whites fought because they were patriotic. They were Texans, they were South Carolinians, they were North Carolinians, etc. - they fought for their state. They fought for honor, duty, patriotism. In the North, they fought for honor, duty, patriotism - Americans all.


20 posted on 02/17/2005 2:12:58 PM PST by rhombus
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To: jackbill
Firing on Ft. Sumter gave Lincoln all that he needed to justify invasion of the south.

That's like saying that the bombing of Pearl Harbor gave Truman all the justification he needed for nuking Nakasaki. The south initiated the war by firing on Sumter. Lincoln purued the war, and yes, most of it was fought in the southern U.S.

21 posted on 02/17/2005 2:13:27 PM PST by Non-Sequitur
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To: seacapn
I think VDH is right when he says the south didn't apprectiate the north's potential. Grant and Sherman eventualy showed them what's for.

In the South's defense, there was no way for them to appreciate the nature of the new type of war they were about to wage. Lee might have been the greatest general of the Napoleanic era, but Grant and Sherman were the first generals who really understood the new age of total war.

22 posted on 02/17/2005 2:13:44 PM PST by Modernman ("Normally, I don't listen to women, or doctors." - Captain Hero)
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To: Diddle E. Squat
That'll push 'em over the edge...

I'm sure that their mouths are foaming even as we speak.

23 posted on 02/17/2005 2:14:44 PM PST by Non-Sequitur
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To: LauraleeBraswell

Grant was quoted as saying "If this war was over slavery I would offer my sword to the other side"


24 posted on 02/17/2005 2:15:52 PM PST by MattinNJ (Stop voter fraud-enact voter ID cards with photos w/ magnetic stripes that prevent multiple voting)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
MOST of the white southerners were not slaveowners. In fact most of the whites were very POOR farmers. Why did they fight?

The elite all the way down through the middle class were slave-owners, and it is the elite that set political policy in the state capitals. The elite explicitly acted to protect slavery as an institution and said so openly. The key issue to them was an effort by the north to make future western states free-only. They knew that this rigged the game and that they would very quickly be outvoted if they allowed that to happen.

The Civil War was fought, then, over the western territories. This is why Lincoln's offer to leave slavery untouched in the southern states was not sufficient to stop secession.

The poor farmers who made up the bulk of the southern army fought because their leaders led them to, and they fought for the honor and sovereignty of their state, and they fought to keep outsiders from dictating how they would run their societies. The oligarchy made war for slavery; the officers and men fought for honor, but the practical effect of that obviously was that they also fought for slavery.

25 posted on 02/17/2005 2:15:59 PM PST by marron
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To: LauraleeBraswell
FACT- The CIVIL WAR WAS OVER SLAVERY, it was also over states rights, tariffs, but a big part of it was slavery.

FACT- MOST of the white southerners were not slaveowners. In fact most of the whites were very POOR farmers.

100% Correct. Some sanity at FreeRepublic.

26 posted on 02/17/2005 2:17:16 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
Why did they fight?

They only had Southern newspapers to relay one side of the story. About over reaching, meddling federal government and a loss of their way of life.

Of course, tradition had a lot to do with it.

27 posted on 02/17/2005 2:17:20 PM PST by writer33 ("In Defense of Liberty," a political thriller, being released in March)
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To: LauraleeBraswell

>> Why did they fight? <<

Hint: it wasn't slavery... 8^>


28 posted on 02/17/2005 2:18:06 PM PST by RobRoy (They're trying to find themselves an audience. Their deductions need applause - Peter Gabriel)
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To: quidnunc
Actually, it had more to do with some excited Citadel cadets and some really strong alcoholic punch...
Artillery and alcohol just don't mix...
29 posted on 02/17/2005 2:18:33 PM PST by Little Ray (I'm a reactionary, hirsute, gun-owning, knuckle dragging, Christian Neanderthal and proud of it!)
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To: Clemenza
He is my hero. I named my son after him. :-)

He saved many lives. He was the equivalent of a Hiroshima as his actions in saved Confederate and U.S. lives and accelerated the inevitable.

30 posted on 02/17/2005 2:18:59 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: Clemenza
He is my hero. I named my son after him. :-)

He saved many lives. He was the equivalent of a Hiroshima as his actions in saved Confederate and U.S. lives and accelerated the inevitable.

31 posted on 02/17/2005 2:19:06 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: quidnunc
There are no stupid questions.

Not true.

Questions like: Why are conservatives such racist pigs?

Wouldn't that qualify as stupid? :) Hehe!

32 posted on 02/17/2005 2:19:21 PM PST by writer33 ("In Defense of Liberty," a political thriller, being released in March)
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To: quidnunc

Just finished reading, "Born Fighting," by James Webb, it was very enlightening on the topic of why the South fought. It is well worth the read for those wishing to understand this issue.

You are correct on your answer. The book's main emphasis is on the Scots/Irish and how they are the invisible ethnic group that made the South and Midwest what it is.

Anyway...a good read.


33 posted on 02/17/2005 2:19:39 PM PST by WHATNEXT? (That's PRESIDENT BUSH (not Mr.)!!)
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To: quidnunc

By definition, the civil war was not really a civil war. The South was not fighting for control of the US. They were fighting to secede from the US.


34 posted on 02/17/2005 2:19:50 PM PST by RobRoy (They're trying to find themselves an audience. Their deductions need applause - Peter Gabriel)
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To: seacapn

Jefferson pointed out, accurately, that slavery tends to create arrogance in the masters. The South over-estimated its own prowess and under-estimated that of the North. But it was a very close thing. The South could easily have won.

Interestingly, the war took place during a very narrow window of opportunity for a long, bloody war.

In 1850 the infrastructure, especially railroads and industry, necessary to support the invasion of the South did not yet exist. And the disproportion in manpower was significantly less. The South wins in a rather short war.

By 1870 the preponderance of power on the Union side would have resulted in a short war, with the Union winning.

This is actually the most logical reason that you can come up with for secession. Southern leaders could read the handwriting on the wall -- it was now or never. Their chance of success could only deteriorate. This is also perhaps the major reason Germany flung itself into WWI, leading to the conclusion that wars launched for this reason have a habit of turning out to be a poor idea.


35 posted on 02/17/2005 2:20:10 PM PST by Restorer
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To: quidnunc

Please refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression.


36 posted on 02/17/2005 2:20:12 PM PST by Feiny ( I own many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany.)
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To: William of Orange
The fairest, most neutral Way of referring to the battles seems to be to refer to Confederate Victories by their name (Mananas) and U.S. victories by their's (Antietam).
37 posted on 02/17/2005 2:21:28 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: marron; LauraleeBraswell
The poor farmers who made up the bulk of the southern army fought because their leaders led them to, and they fought for the honor and sovereignty of their state, and they fought to keep outsiders from dictating how they would run their societies. The oligarchy made war for slavery; the officers and men fought for honor, but the practical effect of that obviously was that they also fought for slavery.

An outstanding answer. And what I was trying to get at. Thanks, marron.

38 posted on 02/17/2005 2:21:30 PM PST by writer33 ("In Defense of Liberty," a political thriller, being released in March)
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To: Restorer

Exactly right.


39 posted on 02/17/2005 2:22:39 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: Restorer

Exactly right.


40 posted on 02/17/2005 2:22:40 PM PST by NJ Neocon (Democracy is tyranny of the masses. It is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner)
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To: feinswinesuksass
Please refer to it as the War of Northern Aggression.

I'm a traditionalist. I prefer the old War of Southern Rebellion.

41 posted on 02/17/2005 2:24:20 PM PST by Non-Sequitur
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To: writer33
writer33 wrote: (There are no stupid questions.) ,Not true. Questions like: Why are conservatives such racist pigs? Wouldn't that qualify as stupid? :) Hehe!

If the question was sincerely posed then the question would not be stupid, though the questioner would be.

42 posted on 02/17/2005 2:25:27 PM PST by quidnunc (Omnis Gaul delenda est)
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To: RobRoy
By definition, the civil war was not really a civil war.

It's the "Civil War" (capitalized) rather than a "civil war" (no-caps). In legal parlance, it's a defined term referring to a particular conflict. Sort of like World War I, which nobody at the time called World War I.

43 posted on 02/17/2005 2:26:35 PM PST by Modernman ("Normally, I don't listen to women, or doctors." - Captain Hero)
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To: quidnunc
If the question was sincerely posed then the question would not be stupid, though the questioner would be.

So what are you trying to tell me? :)

By the way, thanks for posting the commentary last night.

44 posted on 02/17/2005 2:27:25 PM PST by writer33 ("In Defense of Liberty," a political thriller, being released in March)
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To: quidnunc

good distinction


45 posted on 02/17/2005 2:28:17 PM PST by King Prout (Remember John Adam!)
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To: LauraleeBraswell
"PLEASE Dont say it wasn't over slavery it was. But..."

The first part of your post disallows the second part.

I think Hanson's response to the original question is quite lucid; why don't you log in and ask him the question more appropriately, as in "Was it slavery or was it not slavery?".

PS: I don't think you'll like the answer.

46 posted on 02/17/2005 2:28:56 PM PST by norton (build a fence and post rules at the door.)
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To: quidnunc
This is the true story of how the war between the states began.

A bunch of evil men in the Northeastern U.S. decided they could maintain power by dividing the South and Midwest who were natural partners.

They were the fore-runners of modern day Communists in that they wanted centralized power which allowed them to maintain just that, Power.

They used the issue of slavery to inflame passions against the South. This was the wedge they used to keep the two sections apart.

The fact that they were the ones who had brought the slaves to the U.S. was forgotten.

The real start of the war was when Lincoln asked for 75,000 volunteers to subjugate the seceeding states.

The South tried to avoid attacking Ft. Sumpter but it was a necessity to have control of it as it basically controlled access to the main port of the Confederacy.

Now when you say the South attacked the North do you even stop to think? Ft. Sumpter is in the South not the North. The South simply wanted to be left alone. The North invaded the South, and for awhile the South would not even allow it's soldiers to attack the North.

47 posted on 02/17/2005 2:29:27 PM PST by yarddog
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To: jackbill
Firing on Ft. Sumter gave Lincoln all that he needed to justify invasion of the south...Had the south not fired on Union troops, would Lincoln have acted preemtively? Would he have retained the high moral ground if he had?

Lincoln used Ft. Sumter as the catalyst. He was looking for one. Had the Confederates not fired he would have found another. Lincoln had a vision that was so many decades beyond most of his contemporaries. He was the fuse. Still he needed something to be the dynamite.

I'm not positive the North had the moral "high ground" until the Emancipation Proclamation. While that was but a political document to keep the Europeans at bay, it was a symbolic one that put the fight on an entirely new plane.

48 posted on 02/17/2005 2:30:32 PM PST by stevem
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To: yarddog

I just noticed I spelled Ft. Sumter as Sumpter, not once but twice.


49 posted on 02/17/2005 2:31:27 PM PST by yarddog
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To: Clemenza
I'm with Hanson. Those Snotty Virginians gravely underestimated a certain alcoholic midwesterner. They were merely lucky that they got to face that clown McClellen first.

I don't think Grant was an alcoholic.

50 posted on 02/17/2005 2:34:22 PM PST by stevem
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