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IN THIS meeting of the Southern Historical Association great emphasis has been placed upon a re-examination of numerous phases of our history relating to the Civil War. While several papers have dealt with certain forces which helped bring about the Civil War, none has attempted a general synthesis of causes. This synthesis has been the task assumed by the retiring president of the Association.
Before attempting to say what were the causes of the American Civil War, first let me say what were not the causes of this war. Perhaps the most beautiful, the most poetic, the most eloquent statement of what the Civil War was not fought for is Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. That address will live as long as Americans retain their love of free government and personal liberty; and yet in reassessing the causes of the Civil War, the address whose essence was that the war was being fought so "that government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth" is irrelevant. Indeed, this masterpiece of eloquence has little if any value as a statement of the basic principles underlying the war.
The Civil War was not a struggle on the part of the South to destroy free government and personal liberty nor on the part of the North to preserve them. Looked at from the present perspective of the world-wide attempt of the totalitarians to erase free governments and nations living under such governments from the face of the earth, the timeworn stereotype that the South was attempting the destruction of free government and the North was fighting to preserve it seems very unrealistic and downright silly. In the light of the present-day death struggle between freedom and the most brutal form of despotism, the Civil War, as far as the issue of free government was involved, was a sham battle. Indeed, both northern and southern people in 1861 were alike profoundly attached to the principles of free government. A systematic study of both northern and southern opinion as expressed in their newspapers, speeches, diaries, and private letters, gives irrefutable evidence in support of this assertion. Their ideology was democratic and identical. However, theoretical adherence to the democratic principles, as veil we know all too well in these days of plutocratic influences in our political life, is not sufficient evidence that democratic government exists. I believe that I shall not be challenged in the assertion that the economic structure of a section or a nation is the foundation upon which its political structure must rest. For this reason, therefore, it will be necessary to know what the economic foundations of these sections were. Was the economic structure of the North such as to support a political democracy in fact as well as in form? And was the economic structure of the South such as to permit the existence of free government? Time does not permit an extended treatment of this subject; it will be possible only to point out certain conclusions based upon recent research. By utilizing the county tax books and the unpublished census reports a group of us conducting a cooperative undertaking have been able to obtain a reasonably accurate and specific picture of wealth structure of the antebellum South, and to some extent that of the other sections. We have paid particular attention to the distribution of capital wealth and the ownership of the means of production. As has been generally known the Northwest was agricultural and its population predominantly small farmers, though a considerable minority were large farmers comparable with the southern planters. It seems that in 1860 about 80 percent of the farmers in the Old Northwest were landowners. A fairly large fraction of the remaining farm population in that area were either squatters upon public lands or were the members of landowning families. Only a small per cent were renters. In those areas farther west the ownership of land was not as widespread because the farmers had not yet made good their titles to the lands that they had engrossed. Taken as a whole the people of the Northwest were economically self-sufficient. They could not be subjected to economic coercion and, hence, they were politically free. Their support of free government-as they understood it-was effective.
The northeastern section of the United States had already assumed its modem outlines of a capitalistic-industrial
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