The Civil War Wasn’t About Slaves. On the Anniversary of the Lawrence Pogrom

On May 21, 1856, supporters and opponents of slavery clashed in Lawrence, Kansas.

Where it all began

This is one of those cases where there is a date for the start of the war, but the date of the beginning of the armed conflict is not easy to establish. It probably began to take shape at the beginning of the 19th century, as it was then that contradictions between the North and the South, which could not be solved by negotiations and votes, became apparent. Therefore, they decided to simply freeze them in the so-called Missouri Compromise (1820).

The Civil War was not about slaves. On the anniversary of the Lawrence pogrom.

The essence of the agreement:

a) slavery was prohibited in territories not organized into states (Missouri territory on the map);

b) Missouri (not to be confused with Missouri territory) was accepted in the USA as a slave state;

c) further states were to be admitted to the USA only in pairs (free and slave).

In this form the situation lasted until the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854). In violation of the compromise, it was decided that the inhabitants of the new states would determine their attitude toward slavery by ballot. The passage of the law led to a series of skirmishes known as the Kansas Civil War of 1854-1858.

During one of them, supporters of slavery (in general and in Kansas in particular) attacked the town of Lawrence, where their opponents lived predominantly. There they burned a hotel, looted several houses and shops, and organized a pogrom in the newspaper offices. The attack became a topic of discussion in Congress, and a fight occurred there as well. In response, the abolitionists killed five of their opponents. To calm the situation, the federal government brought in troops. The pacification took two months, and 50 more people were killed in the clashes. In general, in this spirit of political struggle and was held until the vote on the Constitution of Kansas (1859), which prohibited slavery in the state. A year later, South Carolina announced its secession from the United States, later followed by 12 other states that formed the Confederate States of America in early 1861. In April, the North and South were already fighting.

The reasons why the South could not win the war are outlined by Rhett Butler, a character in the novel Gone with the Wind:

  • Have any of you gentlemen ever considered the fact that there is not a single gun factory south of the Macon-Dixon railroad line? Or how few foundries there are in the South at all? Just as there are weaving mills, and wool spinning mills, and tanneries? Have you ever considered that we have not a single warship and that the Yankee fleet can blockade our harbors in one week, after which we cannot sell a single bale of cotton across the ocean?…? The trouble with us Southerners is that we do not travel much in the world, or take little observation out of our travels…. As for me, I was born in Charleston, but I’ve spent the last few years in the North. And I’ve seen a lot of things that none of you have seen. I’ve seen thousands of immigrants willing to fight on the Yankee side for a piece of bread and a few dollars, I’ve seen factories, mills, shipyards, mines and coal mines, all the things we don’t have. All we have is cotton, slaves and hubris. It is not we who will defeat them, but they who will defeat us in one month.

Only the estimate of the length of the fighting is inaccurate here, but quite rightly there is no mention of slavery as a cause of the war or a cause of defeat.

Difficult question

It was not at all the Civil War that raised the question of abolishing slavery in North America: it had existed long before it began. It would be wrong to characterize Southerners as violent slave traders and Northerners as staunch supporters of slave emancipation.

It should also be noted that the movement to abolish slavery was very heterogeneous. For example, back in 1816, the American Colonization Society emerged in the United States to buy back slaves, who were then sent to Africa – to today’s Liberia, which was founded by them. The members of this society did not stand for progressive and humane ideals. On the contrary, they were racists who believed that two races could not get along together.

In addition, seven northern states abolished slavery between 1777 and 1804. Before that, however, most slaves were simply taken to the South and sold to slave owners there.