The following was written by my wife. I agree with her on the matter. This is not to justify the sins of the North which were many before, during, and after the Civil War. It is to point out that the main reason that that the Southern States, and the South as a culture fought the war was to preserve an unbiblical form of slavery that was race-based, permanent, did not give effect to slaves becoming Christians, and was based on kidnapping (a capital offense).
Because of those that still defend the honor of the South among Christians, there is a need for repentance among churches that defend the motives of the South in the Civil War, and their peculiar type of slavery which exceeded the evil of most other nations in its design.
And now, what my wife wrote:
Southern Slavery and the Civil War
The more I look into these issues, the more upset I get about 1) Christians defending the sin and evil of Southern slavery and 2) Christians distorting history about why the Civil War was fought.
Part 1 Southern slavery was unbiblical, wicked and cruel.
The slavery of the Old Testament was similar to indentured servants, not Southern slavery. A debtor became a slave for 7 years to work off his debt. At the end of 7 years, he was liberated with a gift of material goods to help him get restarted in life. He was a human being with rights. He could not be beaten to death. If a master had sexual relations with a female slave (where did all the “mulatto” slaves come from?) he had to marry her.
Southern slavery existed because of kidnapping. Kidnapping is an offense of the 6th commandment, Thou shalt not kill, and is punishable by death. Life for life- you steal someone’s life, you lose your own. Southern slavery was in perpetuity, down through the generations. At minimum, slaveholders should have released slaves who became Christians and thus brothers, sending them off with material gifts. Biblically, it was a great sin to have a slave who was a brother Israelite for more than 7 years. (Bill Edgar states that slaveowners even denied baptism to their Christian slaves.)
So how would you like to be kidnapped, taken to another continent, permanently separated from your family, and forced into a life of hard labor for the rest of your days . If you marry and have children, then they will also live lives of bitter hard labor and their children too. The grand majority of slaves were forced to work on cotton or sugar plantations, doing only what their master tells them to do, getting only what he chooses to give them. They were kept in line by fear of whipping, execution, or their worst fear, separation from their families- wives permanently separated husbands, small children permanently separated from parents- this was commonly done. A minority of slaves who had proven they were cooperative were rewarded with the easier life of a house slave, slave craftsman or personal servant. These slaves had an incentive to serve well, otherwise they would be demoted back down to field slaves.
Would you say to these brethren, yes, your situation is lamentable, it is a tough providence, but you’re in the system now, you’ll just have to make the best of it? Or would you try to correct the injustice, as Scripture commands us to do and seek to free the oppressed?
People also give the ridiculous argument that these were slaves taken in war. Maybe this could be considered if Americans actually fought a war with Africans and brought the slaves home as booty. It cannot refer to Europeans, Arabs, and Africans raiding African villages to capture Africans, in order to get rich selling them into slavery, a market incentive provided by America. This counts as kidnapping, not taking slaves in war. (Do these same people who say Southern slavery was legitimate because the slaves were taken as booty in war think it would have been fine to bring back Germans from WWI and WWII as booty to be our slaves? Or is it only acceptable in modern times if it’s blacks who are enslaved?)
People also make the ridiculous statement that most masters were kind and most slaves were happy. Some were happy with their masters providing for them, many desperately wanted to be free. You can read the memoirs of slaves after the Civil War, as well as consider how many were killed trying to escape or executed after recapture. The greatest fear of the slaveholders was a slave revolt- hardly a picture of happy, loyal slaves. Yet even if we can picture kind masters and happy slaves, unjustly depriving a human, made in the image of God, of liberty is cruel.
Virginia was one of the states where it was against the law to teach slaves to read, thus keeping blacks in a subservient role, not allowing them to advance intellectually. (Everyone knows that with education comes a greater yearning for freedom. ) I find this particularly abhorrent because it denied slaves the opportunity to read the Bible. As the Puritans said, the most important reason to learn to read is to be able to read the Bible.
The slave market in America and the Caribbean was huge. The world had never before seen kidnapping on such a grand scale. Nothing in history can compare with the size of the system of slavery in place in America and the Caribbean, not to mention the African Holocaust- millions dying in the forced overland march, left unburied, millions dying on the ocean voyage, chained in their own feces and urine. For over 300 years. And it was a system that was entirely race-based. Most Southerners, and some Northerners, despised all blacks, considering them an inherently inferior race and fit only for servitude. Read the speeches and writings of Southerners in the 1800’s. (And this is why even poor Southern whites who did not own slaves supported the institution.)
How can people be so up in arms over the tyranny of Lincoln, when the tyranny of the Southern plantation owners was much more horrible? Scripture is full of scathing condemnation of those who build their wealth by oppressing those who cannot defend themselves. The opulent lifestyle of the Southern upper class was built on the backs of those who were unjustly in bondage. The great hypocrite, Thomas Jefferson, so eloquent about all men entitled to the right of liberty, admitted that he could not free his slaves because it would mean financial ruin. While it is commendable that a few godly men like Stonewall Jackson taught their slaves the Bible, they should have also freed them and sent them off with material gifts, according to Biblical pattern. If it left them impoverished, it is better to be poor in this world then be guilty before God of the oppression of unjustly denying liberty to a fellow Christian.
God hears the groaning of His children who are unjustly enslaved, even as He heard their groaning in Egypt. The Southern Presbyterians, rather than remaining silent or participating in such a great evil, should have denounced Southern slavery and excommunicated slaveholders, as the RPCNA did. And Scripture calls us to repent of and ask forgiveness for the sins of our forefathers.
Part 2 To say that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery is to perpetrate a lie and attempt to rewrite history.
Yes, the North fought the war initially and primarily to preserve the Union. But the South seceded primarily over the fear that slavery would be not only limited, but abolished. That is what they themselves said. Anyone can read the primary source documents.
Along with their Articles of Secession, four states issued Declarations of Causes, to explain their reasons for secession. (Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, and Mississippi) Look them up on the internet and read them. The predominant reason given is the fear that slavery would be abolished.
She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery– the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits– a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time.
In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color– a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.
By consolidating their strength, they have placed the slave-holding States in a hopeless minority in the federal congress, and rendered representation of no avail in protecting Southern rights against their exactions and encroachments. They have proclaimed, and at the ballot box sustained, the revolutionary doctrine that there is a ‘higher law’ than the constitution and laws of our Federal Union, and virtually that they will disregard their oaths and trample upon our rights.
We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.
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. 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. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin. That we do not overstate the dangers to our institution, a reference to a few facts will sufficiently prove.
South Carolina’s Declaration goes on at length about states’ rights. After several paragraphs they explain the state right that is threatened- the right of negro slavery, which they say was guaranteed them in the Constitution.
According to themselves, the Confederates were fighting to protect the institution of slavery. Fearing the North was going to abolish that institution, they were fighting for their state right to own slaves.
Here is a quote from a speech given at the Virginia Secession Convention. From Wikipedia:
At the Virginian secession convention in February 1861, Georgian Henry Lewis Benning, who would later go on to join the Confederate army as an officer, delivered a speech in which gave his reasoning for the urging of secession from the Union, appealing to prejudices and pro-slavery sentiments to present his case. He outlined the reasons why Georgia had decided to declare secession from the Union, and urged Virginians to do the same:
What was the reason that induced Georgia to take the step of secession? This reason may be summed up in one single proposition. It was a conviction, a deep conviction on the part of Georgia, that a separation from the North-was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery. … If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery is to be abolished. By the time the north shall have attained the power, the black race will be in a large majority, and then we will have black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything. Is it to be supposed that the white race will stand for that? It is not a supposable case … war will break out everywhere like hidden fire from the earth, and it is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back. … we will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth; and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate in imagination. That is the fate which abolition will bring upon the white race. … We will be completely exterminated, and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks, and then it will go back to a wilderness and become another Africa… Suppose they elevate Charles Sumner to the presidency? Suppose they elevate Frederick Douglass, your escaped slave, to the presidency? What would be your position in such an event? I say give me pestilence and famine sooner than that.
As for our discussion about why Virginia seceded, there was no imminent invasion by Lincoln of Virginia at that point. There wasn’t a federal army at that point. They voted to secede in response to Lincoln calling up volunteer militias from each state, including Virginia, after the ‘fire eaters” (i.e. hotheads) in South Carolina fired on Fort Sumpter (preempting those on both sides who were trying to negotiate. The” fire eaters” forced the hand of both sides into a war that especially devastated the South.) Virginians stated they could not go to war against another Southern state. It seems their decision was driven by regional loyalty, as opposed to state loyalty or national loyalty.
What prompted the South to secede was the election of a president- a president they loathed the way we loathe Obama. Ideologically, what they feared was the abridgement of their right to own slaves, upon which their economy and lifestyle depended and upon which their social order depended (i.e. their sense of superiority) Ironically, Lincoln and the Republican Party were not at the time at all interested in interfering with slavery in the South, only in its expansion to new states and territories. Perhaps the South was correct in fearing that total abolition would eventually come, but the Southerners who pressed for secession actually hastened the demise of slavery as a result of the Civil War.
“The South felt like a colony of the North.” They were being outvoted (even when counting slaves as 3/5 of a person) Nobody likes to be outvoted, but it is constitutional. Before the Civil War, nothing had been done that was unconstitutional. Except that the South viewed slavery as a constitutional right. And they also wanted the North to do a better job of returning their runaway slaves and to better enforce the Fugitive Slave Act – an act which made it dangerous for even legitimately free blacks in the North. They could be captured and enslaved, with no legal recourse.
I agree with Lincoln, that the Civil War was a judgment on the nation for tolerating the wicked institution of slavery. I also think that the tyranny of an expanded federal government is part of that judgment. But as a tiny side note, since everyone decries Lincoln’s occupation of Maryland, did you know Confederate troops occupied parts of Tennessee and Alabama to keep them in the Confederacy?
Much as I support states’ rights, I would not have fought in a war to protect my state’s right to slavery, just as I would not fight a war to protect my state’s right to abortion. Like our Covenanter forefathers, I also would not have fought in a war to keep the South in the Union. But again, like them, I would have helped the Underground Railroad, just as Christians helped Jews escape in WWII and Christians now are involved in the fight against abortion. Scripture calls us to fight for those who are unjustly oppressed.