Next Time They Say the Civil War Wasn't About Slavery...

Next time someone says the Civil War wasn't about slavery, show them the Mississippi Articles of Secession

It seemed to me like an indisputable fact. A truism going all the way back to elementary school--like ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c.’ The Civil War was fought to decide the issue of slavery.

But when I started writing about race and history, some people retorted, “The Civil War wasn’t about slavery, it was about states’ rights.”

They tried to frame the nation’s bloodiest war as a battle over jurisdiction. They claimed the federal government had overstepped its Constitutional boundaries and were telling the people of the South how to run their own local governments and communities.

If someone says the Civil War was about states’ rights you can tell them two things:

  1. Yes. The Civil War was about state’s rights--the supposed right of states to enslave human beings for life and treat them like property.

  2. Actually, “history has the receipts.”™ If you look at what the Confederate states actually said about why they broke from the Union, you’ll see in their own words that the issue was about the fate of race-based chattel slavery.

Mississippi was the second state to secede from the Union after South Carolina. On January 9, 1861, the state legislature put its reasons for separation in writing.

Here’s what this group of white men said…

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth.

Did you catch that? Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery.

The Mississippi legislature made it clear that the main reason they wanted to break the Union and soon go to war had everything to do with slavery, or in their words, the greatest material interest of the world.

The Articles go on to state that people of African descent were uniquely suited to slavery because they could endure the hot and humid climate of the South.

These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun.

Notice also the copious references to racial capitalism.

People were willing to go to war over slavery because money was at stake. They said, “a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Many people say that racism is America’s original sin. It would be more accurate to say that racism is America’s original symptom and its original sin is greed.

The pursuit of a bigger bottom line justified slavery as well as convict-leasing, debt peonage (sharecropping), and many other kinds of economic exploitation and unfree labor.

Wealthy white plantation owners most feared the loss of their human chattel. They understood it as a question of property rights and whether the federal government had the authority to abolish a lucrative industry. These white supremacist capitalists conveniently elided the fact that their wealth came through the brutalization and dehumanization of fellow human beings.

We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. 

So, in order to preserve the institution of race-based slavery and, thus, a massive source of income, wealthy white people and legislators chose to break off from the Union and go to war on the side of the Confederacy.

In a word--the Civil War was fought over the issue of slavery.

Don’t take my word for it. Read the Mississippi Articles of Secession. And if you live in another former Confederate state, link to your state’s articles of secession or quote from it in the comments below.