It is seductively easy to be certain about one’s analysis of controversial issues if you simplify them to the point of distortion. This is what politicians do, and it is often impossible to tell whether they are trying to deceive, just don’t understand the issue at hand, or are deliberately ignoring inconvenient facts to advance an agenda. Sometimes it is all three. The Civil War, as the recent debate over Confederate statues again illustrates, is a classic example of this phenomenon, and has been since the war itself began. Southerners saw their cause as just, because they were fighting for the right to determine the shape of their own culture, a right they felt was embodied in the Constitution itself. Since that culture included slavery, to assert that the South had a measure of law and ethics on its side has routinely dismissed as, and simplifies as, sympathizing with slaveholders. (As an aside, I wonder if the censorious Left will redouble its efforts to get “Gone With The Wind” exiled from television permanently. I’m betting yes.)
Arguments about what the Civil War was fought over have been taking on the tenor of the old Miller Beer commercials: “Less filling!” “More taste,” or perhaps the Certs ads: “Certs is a breath mint!” “Certs is a candy mint!” “STOP you’re both right!” To his great credit, texagg04 accepted the challenge of trying to clarify the complexities of the “root causes of the Civil War” confusion in a concise comment (the topic has filled long scholarly books). He did an excellent job, and as he wrote as he began his explanation, the complexities matter. They usually do.
Here is texaggo4’s Comment of the Day on the post,Yes, Virginia, There Is A White Supremicist Teacher Principle:
…The South seceded to defend against what it believed would be the Republican plan to eradicate slavery via the National level of government.
Slavery is why the South seceded – Slavery could be said to be a type of Final Cause of secession.
But that said, slavery was merely the topic of the question, “Who has final authority to make significant economic decisions within the individual states: The States or the National level of government?” State powers — those not delegated to the Union — was the issue to be answered as it pertained to slavery. So “States Rights” could be said to be a type of Formal Cause of secession.
There was NO war at that point, because secession, prior to the Civil War, was widely regarded as a perfectly legal course for States *voluntarily* part of a Union to do.
Stopping secession, that is preserving the Union status quo, is *why* hostilities began.
Opposing a perceived invasion against their home states’ legal authority to function as a state is *why* Southerners flocked to the Army of the CSA.
There is a wide combination of “causes” or “reasons” for the Civil War, the absence of a single one sufficient to prevent the Civil War – but pared down in a line of causation, the Civil War boils down to TWO causes (or One, depending on how it is worded or whether or not the righteousness of secession can be found in the Constitution): Preservation of the Union status quo and the right of States to Secede.
Secession itself had the Formal cause of “states rights” and the Final cause of the “slave-based economic system.”
So, yes, it is phenomenally more nuanced than “the Civil War was about slavery.” That’s the easy summary because a wide number of un-tested constitutional structures were brought to the surface over the topic of slavery. But easy answers are often incomplete.