What Frederick Douglass Is Talking About

On the Naturalization test, Question 74 asks potential United States citizens to “Name one problem that led to the Civil War,” permitting three authorized answers: “slavery,” “economic reasons,” or “states’ rights.” They will accept both slavery and state’s rights as a correct answer. Slavery is usually the only answer given for the cause of the Civil War; yet the acceptance of two disparate answers shines a light on other reasons for it. The defeat of the Confederacy set up Reconstruction, but its pre-war promises of true freedom for former slaves and already free Blacks fell flat.

Fredrick Douglass said, “The cry of Free Men was raised, not for the extension of liberty to the black man, but for the protection of the liberty of the white.” This statement is accurate because difficulties beleaguered the country for years prior to the South’s move for succession. Not out of an interest in protecting slaves or free Black people, but the North kept the South from many of their goals that would continuously harm Black people.

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Therefore, the South had many reasons to enter into war while the North only had one. There are four reasons that support this position. First, States’ right worked well for the South to keep slaves and continue slavery, but it also gave the North the right not to support it. Second, poor Southern Whites aspired to become wealthy via owning slaves. Third, White supremacy, not just racism was rampant in the South. Last, Abraham Lincoln’s sole impetus for going to war was the preservation of the Union.

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The thought of emancipation did not come until two years into the war.

First, states’ rights worked well for the South to keep slaves and continue slavery, but it also gave the North the right not to support it. The South felt that the North had failed to fulfill their constitutional obligations when abolitionists interfered with the return of slaves who had found freedom. The South also felt anything that interfered with slavery directly interfered with their trade. In Mississippi’s secession declaration which was passed on January 9,1861, it said, “ Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of the commerce of the earth… A blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.”

Second, poor southern Whites aspired to become wealthy via owning slaves. Agricultural farmers aspired to become slave owners to elevate their social and economic status. Powered by the work of their slaves, wealthy Southern famers formed an upper class that wielded the majority of the economic and political power of the territory. They created their own standards of decorum that defined ideals of southern white civility and shaped the culture of the South. Yet in areas with few slaves, most southern Whites did not support succession. In fact, West Virginia succeeded from Virginia to stay with the Union.

Third, White supremacy, not just racism was rampant in the South. Slaves were considered 3/5 of a man and not people, but property. In the famous Dred Scott case decision, it was stated that all people of African descent, free or slave, were not United States citizens and therefore had no right to sue in Federal court. In addition, it affirmed that the Fifth Amendment protected slave owner rights because slaves were their legal property. These arguments were used to coax states Tinto leaving the Union. Georgia Supreme Court Justice Henry Benning said, “The consequence will be that our men will all be exterminated or expelled to wander as vagabonds over a hostile earth, and as for our women, their fate will be too horrible to contemplate even in fancy.”

Abraham Lincoln’s sole impetus for going to war was the preservation of the Union. The thought of emancipation did not come until two years into the war. Union permeated the entire North from soldiers to the President. In letters from Union soldiers written to family, they wrote of little else. In a letter dated August 22, 1862, President Lincoln wrote a letter to the New York Tribune that included the following: “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves, I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone, I would also do that. What I do about slavery and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.”

Once the civil war ended, the promises that were made to both slaves and free men before were seemingly null and void. For the first two years of the war, there was no thought of emancipation by anyone other than abolitionists who pushed for it long before succession. However, those same soldiers who sought to put their lives on the line to preserve the Union never thought they would be doing it side by side with Black militia. As the thought still is today, the civil war was not fought to end slavery.

Although in New England black men were able to vote and abolitionists were plenty, many in the North did not believe Blacks were equal to them. The white supremacist thoughts and feelings in the South were even worse after losing the war and having to come back into the Union, battered, broken and embarrassed. As seen during the Colfax Massacre, Reconstruction appeared to be a threat to social, economic and racist order. The free Black militia that had helped the Union win and now desired to take over the courthouse was not made up of uneducated or ignorant slaves. They were angry, trained and intent on doing to the White man what had been done to them and their women for years. So when given a chance, they committed the largest incident of racial violence in American history up to that point, leaving the bodies they didn’t blow up or mutilate in the street. As stated by LeAnna Keith in her belief that Reconstruction failed as a result of racism, she ends her argument by saying, “The white man of Louisiana would unite to defeat their enemies within, killing and dying for white supremacy and home rule.”

In the end, Frederick Douglass was correct. It is a noble thought that the North detested slavery so much that they would go to war to end it. It is conversely an ignoble thought that the South would go to war to preserve slavery. However, neither was true. The impetus for both sides to go to war in short was to preserve what they believed was theirs. The Union the North fought so hard to preserve was created by genocide, lies, slavery, rape and theft. The South went to war so they could continue to profit off of slavery and to maintain if not elevate their status as the masters of “property.”

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What Frederick Douglass Is Talking About. (2022, Jan 26). Retrieved from http://studymoose.com/what-frederick-douglass-is-talking-about-essay

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