This is the year of great events in the United States as the country marks the 150-year anniversary of the Civil War. No other moment of American history has influenced more its national self-identification. The war has become an inalienable part of political mythology and a symbol of atonement as the country washed away the sin of slavery established in the society since the nation was born. It is perceived as the triumph of good over evil. In reality it was not a war to free slaves – this perception has nothing to do with real historic events and shows how hypocritical the whole US national ideology is. The free interpretation of national history to foster the self-esteem of Americans and the US prestige leads to the same attitude practiced by American researchers toward the historic heritage of other countries as well.
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There was no talk about slavery for a long time after the Civil War between the North and the South sparked in 1861. Slavery was an issue to divide the belligerents but it was not what caused the war. It’s important to emphasize that the warring sides did not take arms over this particular issue.
Abraham Lincoln got only 40% of popular vote in 1960 to become President. The «President –Liberator» did not think that slavery was an efficient economic model. He was an outspoken racist to solemnly promise not to change the established order. During the pre-election campaign he said, «I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races, that 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. And in as much as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race». (Debate at Charleston, Illinois, September 18, 1858).
In his first inaugural address on March 4, 1861 Lincoln said, «I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so. Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them». He promised to abide by law and return runway slaves from the North to the South. According to Lincoln, «There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions: No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due».
Only then generations of researchers turned the war started during the President’s tenure into «the struggle for liberty» and painted an aureole over the head of Lincoln, the Liberator – the image he did not really deserve.
The Compromise of 1850, a series of legislative bargains over the western territories and slavery, when each side promised to preserve the status quo, suited perfectly the slave-owning South as it was eyeing Central and South America (full annexation of Mexico, buying Cuba etc.). At that the South questioned the existing economic and political order. Southerners believed Washington grabbed too much power. The South and the North argued about a wide range of issues. Slavery was not one of them. Southerners believed the plight of slaves was even worse in the North. Suffice it to say that General Robert Lee, the Commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1962 to until his surrender in 1865, was a convinced opponent of slavery(1), while General Ulysses S. Grant, the Commander of the Union’s Army to become the 18th President of USA (1869–1877), was an outright racist and xenophobe.(2)
The South did not particularly like the North’s tariff policy and the dependence on the New England’s banks. The South accounted for 60% of US total cotton exports. But it had to import industrial goods. The South wanted free trade. The North tried to protect its young industry from competitors. All the ships that took cotton from Southern ports to come back with industrial goods belonged to Northerners. Financial institutes in the South were mainly under the control of Northerners who did not intervene with slavery – the source of their income.
Slaves worked to grow cotton which was exported to bring in profit. At that 40 cents out of every dollar were left in New York. Southerners did not like the dependence. One of them said that it was like financial slavery.(3) James Henry Hammond, the governor of South Carolina in 18420-1844, the state which initiated the cessation, said in his diary (August 7, 1844) that he did not see how the Union could remain intact as the North was resolutely and successfully imposing taxes on the South to pursue its interests. He said peaceful disunion was his only hope. Hammond believed that secession was inevitable. It could have been done peacefully and decently. He said back then that in a few years it would lead to bloodshed and turn the South into an enslaved land. The Democrats’ victory at the 1856 election allowed reducing tariffs to record low 17% in 1857. The same year the country was hit by economic crisis and financial panic. To large extent it was explained by the consequences of Crimean War of 1853-1855 (the US grabbed the Russia’s share of world markets but had to give ground as Russia bounced back from the devastation of war while America faced an economic slump). With Lincoln in power the tariffs increased the effective rate collected on dutiable imports by approximately 70% (Morill Tariff). There were other issues to divide the sides. For instance, there was no agreement on the status of slavery in the new Western territories and the construction of railroads there (should they be built across the Southern states or through the lands lying in the country’s north?), the distribution of state resources and the share of power in general were contentious issues dividing the South and the North. The problem of tariffs dominated the agenda to finally determine the South’s aspiration for independence.
The slavery issue came to the fore in about two years since the war started when the Confederate Army was winning the battle. A paradox: the successes achieved by the Confederate Army led by Robert Lee, not the victories held by the Northern forces led by Ulysses Grant, finally led to the liberation of slaves in America. In the spring of 1862, the Union Army of the Potomac took the offensive on the Virginia Peninsula, where its ultimate target was Richmond, the Confederate capital. Back then Lincoln did not even give a thought to the issue of slavery.
Throughout 1861–62, Lincoln made it clear that the North was fighting the war to preserve the Union. In late 1862 freeing the slaves became a war measure to weaken the rebellion by destroying the economic base of its leadership class. Abolitionists criticized Lincoln for his slowness, but on August 22, 1862, Lincoln explained: «I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be «the Union as it was». … My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that». (Letter to Horace Greeley, August 22, 1862).(4) The issue of slavery became important when in summer and autumn General Lee repelled all the attacks by Northerners and moved to Washington. Anti-war feeling grew stronger among the people of Northern states. They resisted the 1862 conscription. The French Foreign Minister said that by September 1862 no serious politician in Europe believed that the North could have won.(5)
Under the critical circumstances the President signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. Lincoln and his advisors limited the proclamation’s language to slavery in states outside of federal control as of 1862, failing to address the contentious issue of slavery within the nation’s border states. In his attempt to appease all parties, Lincoln left many loopholes open that civil rights advocates were forced to tackle in the future. Slavery lasted till the end of war in the territories under the Northern control and the adjacent slave states that stayed in the Union (Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland and Delaware). Only America’s propensity to «double thinking» allowed this war to be called «the war against slavery». The North had to abolish slavery for the simple reason of having around 200 thousand blacks under arms in the Union’s army by 1865. They made the Union’s victory possible. Actually blacks liberated themselves. On August 1863, when the tide of war turned in favor of the Union, General Grant wrote to Lincoln: «have given the subject of arming the Negro my hearty support. This with the emancipation of the Negro is the heaviest blow yet to the Confederacy. The South raves a great deal about it and professes to be very angry. But they were united in their action before and with the Negro under subjection could spare their entire white population for the field. Now they complain that nothing can be got out of their negroes».(6)
The Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude was passed by the Senate on April 8, 1864, and by the House on January 31, 1865. The amendment was ratified by the required number of states on December 6, 1865. On December 18, 1865, Secretary of State William H. Seward proclaimed its adoption. It was a forced measure. Blacks never got real freedom. We can witness it today. According to historian William Gillette, the majority of white Americans had absolute belief in the superiority of their race. This attitude doomed any effort to really guarantee the rights of black people. Whites perceived blacks as lower race which was not ready or able to fully participate in the country’s life. In their eyes the war that had just ended had no relation to the struggle for liberty. All attempts to grant blacks equal rights were misunderstood and only evoked exasperation.(7)
The US has its own vision of how the Civil War between the North and the South is interrelated with the contemporary war in Ukraine. The stereotypes of the confrontation between the forces of «good and freedom» and the forces of «evil and enslavement» are deeply enrooted in people’s conscience. This fact is taken advantage of.
Alexander Motyl, a Ukrainian-American Political Scientist, Rutgers University, has been working for Western research centers since a long time ago. According to Huffington Post, Motyl is angry that «Many journalistic accounts – as well as the Kremlin’s propaganda machine – depict the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donbass region and the Crimea as an aggrieved ethnic minority clamoring for nothing more than greater autonomy and cultural and language rights. Seen in this light, Kiev and ethnic Ukrainians are the victimizers. The Donbass and its Russians are the victims. To put the conflict in American terms, Kiev is white America and the Russian-speaking regions are black America». To counter such vision of things Motyl resorts to the double standards he has learned in the United States. For instance, he says that it were Russians who neglected the physical needs and civil and cultural rights of the peninsula’s Crimean Tatars and ethnic Ukrainians since 1991. According to him, the two Donbass provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk have also had «de facto autonomy» from Kiev. Since the 1930s, they’ve been the bastions of «Ukraine’s Stalinist Communist Party», which remained highly influential until the revolution and war of 2013-2014. That’s why, as he puts it, «both the Crimea and the Donbass witnessed the absolute hegemony of Russian language and culture». This way the Russian language is declared to be «the language of «oppressors» and «the followers of Stalin». Motyl affirms that Russians in Ukraine belonged to «white race, while Ukrainians were «blacks». More to that, Motyl emphasizes that Russians «have also proven to be the most reactionary, intolerant and illiberal population within Ukraine». American Ukrainian Motyl does not even wink an eye comparing the supporters of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics with Ku-Klux-Klan and the racists of American Deep South. He also draws parallels between «peaceful Maidan protesters» and Martin Luther King. He says the right-wing Svoboda party’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, has sounded remarkably like Malcom X Tyahnybok, a fighter for the purity of race, will hardly feel happy about such a comparison.
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The ideology of «Hypocrisy Empire» spills over beyond the borders of the United States to other countries becoming even more destructive and perverse.
(1) James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom.
(4) James M. McPherson, The Battle Cry of Freedom.
(7) Daniel J. McInerney, A Traveller’s History of the USA
Source Strategic Culture Foundation