...but was slavery the REAL issue for the North?

The history of the era that generated the Confederate flag is revealing.The US Civil War has often be mis-characterized as a war against slavery, whose central goal was the liberation of African Americans from the yoke of oppression. However, it is crucial to note that the US Civil War began in 1861 and the Emancipation Proclamation - only freeing slaves in the Confederacy, not the Union! - was only issued in 1863. Indeed, as Lerone Bennet establishes in Forced Into Glory, Abraham Lincoln was a reluctant crusader against slavery, pushed by the North's dire military situation.

The abolition of slavery was a means by which to weaken the South economically. Moreover, the influx, role and sacrifice of 200,000 Black soldiers, sailors and other military personnel was indispensable and decisive in ensuring the victory of Union forces. This Black man- and women-power was critical to the North's triumph.

The Civil War was primarily a struggle between the Northern industrial and financial class against the Southern slaveholders for control of southern resources and labour. Lincoln was forced by the weight of circumstances to transform the war into a moral crusade against slavery in order to rally international and domestic public opinion to the side of the North.

Poignantly, English dock workers refused to load and off-load ships coming from or bound for the British-backed Confederacy.

As to the South, it is imperative to emphasize that there was much disaffection and reluctance to fight. As historian Howard Zinn observes, Confederate soldiers began "to suspect they were fighting for privileges of an elite they could never belong to." Indeed, it was not the sons of the rich that were sent to die: plantation owners received exemption from military service for themselves and their children. Thus, beneath the facade of white unity, the Confederacy was riven with conflict. Two thirds of whites did not own slaves, with the plantation class numbering a few thousand families. As Zinn notes "millions of southern whites were poor farmers, living in shacks or abandoned outhouses, cultivating land so bad the plantation owners had abandoned it."

Hence, side by side with the oppression, exploitation and revolts of enslaved Africans, we must also place the other internal divisions of the South that set slave holder against non-slaveholder. Moreover, the acclaimed historian Eugene Genovese argues that it was these "deepening class antagonisms, which spurred pro-slavery extremists to push for secession as a way of disciplining the white lower classes."

In the South, at the war's end, Reconstruction is launched. Although cut short in 1877 by reaction, including the formation of the Ku Klux Klan as a secret terrorist organization of the plantation owners, it enfranchises African Americans for the first time - but only nominally - in many of the oldest slave-owning states. -Isaac Saney


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