If there's any good to come out the ginned-up uproar over the Confederate battle flag, it is that there are more historians putting out information on the root causes of the Civil War. And that's a good thing, because I doubt you can find anyone under the age of 40 that has read a schoolbook about that period of time that hasn't been re-written to align with the pc/sjw view of the conflict.
Ask any millennial or high-schooler why the South seceded from the Union and you'll get the same answer -- slavery. They'll tell you that because Lincoln freed the slaves, the South, full of racist monsters, fought to break away and keep their master/slave dynamic going on forever.
Problem is, that isn't true at all. The South was already working on secession before Lincoln became President and the reason is just as base, in some ways, it was over money. Or rather, punitive tariffs that Presidents from Jackson to Buchanan helped impose on the South. From the early 1830's through 1850, income from those tariffs on Southern imports and exports accounted for up to 90% of the revenue for the government.
And with the less populous Southern states overwhelmed in the Legislature by the North, there was little they could do about it. Think back to the Tea Party in the colonial days. There was a rallying cry something along the line of "Taxation without representation is Tyranny!" A complaint about England's heavy handed tactics, but equally applicable in the mid-1800s. Any wonder the South figured they could just split off and be their own country?
And oddly enough, they had sympathy from many Northerners too. The city of New York, the largest harbor in the North was ready to secede with the South as they too were enraged over the excessive tariffs imposed by the Government. The New York Tribune wrote in its editorial page on Feb. 5, 1860: "If tyranny and despotism justified the Revolution of 1776, then we do not see why it would not justify the secession of Five Millions of Southrons from the Federal Union in 1861." The New York Times just one month later stated: "There is growing sentiment throughout the North in favor of letting the Gulf States go."
Those who look upon secession as some desperate decision by the South don't know all the history of the founding of this country. No less than James Madison himself rejected a proposal during the 1787 Constitutional Convention to allow the government to suppress a secession saying: "A union of the states containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a state would look more like a declaration of war than an infliction of punishment and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound."
And while we look upon Lincoln as The Great Emancipator, it may be more accurate to view him as the first politically shrewd President. His Emancipation Proclamation was given in 1863, two years into a war the North was losing badly. The South, fighting for freedom and independence, were fighting a spirited war against a Northern army fighting because it was ordered to. With European countries like England ready and willing to assist the South because they weren't thrilled with the punitive tariffs either (at the time, England was the largest importer of cotton from America), Lincoln needed an edge. And he chose to use slavery to push away any assistance the South needed from outside counties.
In Lincoln's own words: "I view the matter (of slaves’ emancipation) as a practical war measure, to be decided upon according to the advantages or disadvantages it may offer to the suppression of the rebellion." And also this: "I will also concede that emancipation would help us in Europe, and convince them that we are incited by something more than ambition."
Not exactly the fully noble motivation we have from history books, is it?
Indeed, on other occasions Lincoln made public remarks that don't jibe with the agonized sullen image of a President torn over man's inhumanity to man. In his famous debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln is quoted as saying: "I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters or jurors of Negroes nor of qualifying them to hold office nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races, which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality." Also in the same year, writing in a letter Lincoln opines: "I have declared a thousand times, and now repeat that, in my opinion neither the General Government, nor any other power outside of the slave states, can constitutionally or rightfully interfere with slaves or slavery where it already exists."
That last quote is remarkable because most don't realize that the Emancipation Proclamation only freed slaves in those states trying to secede. This prompted Lincoln's own Secretary of State, William Seward to wonder about the President's hypocrisy on the issue: "We show our sympathy with slavery by emancipating slaves where we cannot reach them and holding them in bondage where we can set them free." Also useful to note is that Lincoln offered any seceding state that came back to the Union the right to continue to hold slaves.
Lincoln's political shrewdness, or hypocrisy, wasn't limited to slavery either. Years earlier, in 1848, Lincoln spoke these memorable words about Texas' attempt to secede from Mexico: "Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government and form a new one that suits them better. … Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can may revolutionize and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit."
The Civil War wasn't fought over slavery. The South fought for the same ideals of self-determination and freedom that founded this country. No one is saying slavery was right or good. I'm not saying that now. But the Confederate battle flag doesn't mean slavery to me, nor does it to millions of other decent Americans. It stands for courage and independence and the same spirit that made this country. I'm sorry it's been corrupted by a bunch of knuckle-dragging idiots, and I'm sorry that so many black Americans are offended by it. But rather than ripping it down and burning it, perhaps folks should be looking back at the what and why of how it came to be. We would all be better off knowing all the facts.