The USA has become the South
Source Charles Brown
Date 05/09/17/13:02

Articles by Karl Marx in Die Presse 1861

The North American Civil War

Source: Marx/Engels Collected Works, Volume 19;

London, October 20, 1861

For months the leading weekly and daily papers of the London press have been
reiterating the same litany on the American Civil War. While they insult the
free states of the North, they anxiously defend themselves against the
suspicion of sympathising with the slave states of the South. In fact, they
continually write two articles: one article, in which they attack the North,
and another article, in which they excuse their attacks on the North.

In essence the extenuating arguments read: The war between the North and
South is a tariff war. The war is, further, not for any principle, does not
touch the question of slavery and in fact turns on Northern lust for
sovereignty. Finally, even if justice is on the side of the North , does it
not remain a vain endeavour to want to subjugate eight million Anglo-Saxons
by force! Would not separation of the South release the North from all
connection with Negro slavery and ensure for it, with its twenty million
inhabitants and its vast territory, a higher, hitherto scarcely dreamt-of,
development? Accordingly, must not the North welcome secession as a happy
event, instead of wanting to overrule it by a bloody and futile civil war?

Point by point we will probe the plea of the English press.

The war between North and South -- so runs the first excuse -- is a mere
tariff war, a war between a protectionist system and a free trade system,
and Britain naturally stands on the side of free trade. Shall the
slave-owner enjoy the fruits of slave labour in their entirety or shall he
be cheated of a portion of these by the protectionists of the North? That is
the question which is at issue in this war. It was reserved for The Times to
make this brilliant discovery. The Economist, The Examiner, The Saturday
Review and tutti quanti expounded the theme further. It is characteristic of
this discovery that it was made, not in Charleston, but in London.
Naturally, in America everyone knew that from 1846 to 1861 a free trade
system prevailed, and that Representative Morrill carried his protectionist
tariff through Congress only in 1861, after the rebellion had already broken
out. Secession, therefore, did not take place because the Morrill tariff had
gone through Congress, but, at most, the Morrill tariff went through
Congress because secession had taken place. When South Carolina had its
first attack of secession in 1831, the protectionist tariff of 1828 served
it, to be sure, as a pretext, but only as a pretext, as is known from a
statement of General Jackson. This time, however, the old pretext has in
fact not been repeated. In the Secession Congress at Montgomery all
reference to the tariff question was avoided, because the cultivation of
sugar in Louisiana, one of the most influential Southern states, depends
entirely on protection.

But, the London press pleads further, the war of the United States is
nothing but a war for the forcible maintenance of the Union. The Yankees
cannot make up their minds to strike fifteen stars from their standard. They
want to cut a colossal figure on the world stage. Yes, it would be different
if the war was waged for the abolition of slavery! The question of slavery,
however, as The Saturday Review categorically declares among other things,
has absolutely nothing to do with this war.

It is above all to be remembered that the war did not originate with the
North, but with the South. The North finds itself on the defensive. For
months it had quietly looked on while the secessionists appropriated the
Union's forts, arsenals, shipyards, customs houses, pay offices, ships and
supplies of arms, insulted its flag and took prisoner bodies of its troops.
Finally the secessionists resolved to force the Union government out of its
passive attitude by a blatant act of war, and solely for this reason
proceeded to the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston. On April 11
(1861) their General Beauregard had learnt in a meeting with Major Anderson,
the commander of Fort Sumter, that the fort was only supplied with
provisions for three days more and accordingly must be peacefully
surrendered after this period. In order to forestall this peaceful
surrender, the secessionists opened the bombardment early on the following
morning (April 12), which brought about the fall of the fort in a few hours.
News of this had hardly been telegraphed to Montgomery, the seat of the
Secession Congress, when War Minister Walker publicly declared in the name
of the new Confederacy: No man can say where the war opened today will end.
At the same time he prophesied that before the first of May the flag of the
Southern Confederacy will wave from the dome of the old Capitol in
Washington and within a short time perhaps also from the Faneuil Hall in
Boston. Only now ensued the proclamation in which Lincoln called for 75,000
men to defend the Union. The bombardment of Fort Sumter cut off the only
possible constitutional way out, namely the convocation of a general
convention of the American people, as Lincoln had proposed in his inaugural
address. For Lincoln there now remained only the choice of fleeing from
Washington, evacuating Maryland and Delaware and surrendering Kentucky,
Missouri and Virginia, or of answering war with war.

The question of the principle of the American Civil War is answered by the
battle slogan with which the South broke the peace. Stephens, the
Vice-President of the Southern Confederacy, declared in the Secession
Congress that what essentially distinguished the Constitution newly hatched
at Montgomery from the Constitution of Washington and Jefferson was that now
for the first time slavery was recognised as an institution good in itself,
and as the foundation of the whole state edifice, whereas the revolutionary
fathers, men steeped in the prejudices of the eighteenth century, had
treated slavery as an evil imported from England and to be eliminated in the
course of time. Another matador of the South, Mr. Spratt, cried out: "For us
it is a question of founding a great slave republic." If, therefore, it was
indeed only in defence of the Union that the North drew the sword, had not
the South already declared that the continuance of slavery was no longer
compatible with the continuance of the Union?

Just as the bombardment of Fort Sumter gave the signal for the opening of
the war, the election victory of the Republican Party of the North, the
election of Lincoln as President, gave the signal for secession. On November
6, 1860, Lincoln was elected. On November 8, 1860, a message telegraphed
from South Carolina said: Secession is regarded here as an accomplished
fact; on November 10 the legislature of Georgia occupied itself with
secession plans, and on November 13 a special session of the legislature of
Mississippi was convened to consider secession. But Lincoln's election was
itself only the result of a split in the Democratic camp. During the
election struggle the Democrats of the North concentrated their votes on
Douglas, the Democrats of the South concentrated their votes on
Breckinridge, and to this splitting of the Democratic votes the Republican
Party owed its victory. Whence came, on the one hand, the preponderance of
the Republican Party in the North? Whence, on the other, the disunion within
the Democratic Party, whose members, North and South, had operated in
conjunction for more than half a century?

Under the presidency of Buchanan the sway that the South had gradually
usurped over the Union through its alliance with the Northern Democrats
attained its zenith. The last Continental Congress of 1787 and the first
Constitutional Congress of 1789 -90 had legally excluded slavery from all
Territories of the republic north-west of the Ohio. (Territories, as is
known, is the name given to the colonies lying within the United States
itself which have not yet attained the level of population constitutionally
prescribed for the formation of autonomous states.) The so-called Missouri
Compromise (1820), in consequence of which Missouri became one of the States
of the Union as a slave state, excluded slavery from every remaining
Territory north of 36 degrees latitude and west of the Missouri. By this
compromise the area of slavery was advanced several degrees of longitude,
whilst, on the other hand, a geographical boundary-line to its future spread
seemed quite definitely drawn. This geographical barrier, in its turn, was
thrown down in 1854 by the so-called Kansas-Nebraska Bill, the initiator of
which was St[ephen] A. Douglas, then leader of the Northern Democrats. The
Bill, which passed both Houses of Congress, repealed the Missouri
Compromise, placed slavery and freedom on the same footing, commanded the
Union government to treat them both with equal indifference and left it to
the sovereignty of the people, that is, the majority of the settlers, to
decide whether or not slavery was to be introduced in a Territory. Thus, for
the first time in the history of the United States, every geographical and
legal limit to the extension of slavery in the Territories was removed.
Under this new legislation the hitherto free Territory of New Mexico, a
Territory five times as large as the State of New York, was transformed into
a slave Territory, and the area of slavery was extended from the border of
the Mexican Republic to 38 degrees north latitude. In 1859 New Mexico
received a slave code that vies with the statute-books of Texas and Alabama
in barbarity. Nevertheless, as the census of 1860 proves, among some hundred
thousand inhabitants New Mexico does not yet count half a hundred slaves. It
had therefore sufficed for the South to send some adventurers with a few
slaves over the border, and then with the help of the central government in
Washington and of its officials and contractors in New Mexico to drum
together a sham popular representation to impose slavery and with it the
rule of the slaveholders on the Territory.

However, this convenient method did not prove applicable in other
Territories. The South accordingly went a step further and appealed from
Congress to the Supreme Court of the United States. This Court, which
numbers nine judges, five of whom belong to the South, had long been the
most willing tool of the slaveholders. It decided in 1857, in the notorious
Dred Scott case, that every American citizen possesses the right to take
with him into any territory any property recognized by the Constitution. The
Constitution, it maintained, recognises slaves as property and obliges the
Union government to protect this property. Consequently, on the basis of the
Constitution, slaves could be forced to labour in the Territories by their
owners, and so every individual slaveholder was entitled to introduce
slavery into hitherto free Territories against the will of the majority of
the settlers. The right to exclude slavery was taken from the Territorial
legislatures and the duty to protect pioneers of the slave system was
imposed on Congress and the Union government.

If the Missouri Compromise of 1820 had extended the geographical
boundary-line of slavery in the Territories, if the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of
1854 had erased every geographical boundary-line and set up a political
barrier instead, the will of the majority of the settlers, now the Supreme
Court of the United States, by its decision of 1857, tore down even this
political barrier and transformed all the Territories of the republic,
present and future, from nurseries of free states into nurseries of slavery.

At the same time, under Buchanan's government the severer law on the
surrendering of fugitive slaves enacted in 1850 was ruthlessly carried out
in the states of the North. To play the part of slave-catchers for the
Southern slaveholders appeared to be the constitutional calling of the
North. On the other hand, in order to hinder as far as possible the
colonisation of the Territories by free settlers, the slaveholders' party
frustrated all the so-called free-soil measures, i.e., measures which were
to secure for the settlers a definite amount of uncultivated state land free
of charge.

In the foreign, as in the domestic, policy of the United States, the
interest of the slaveholders served as the guiding star. Buchanan had in
fact bought the office of President through the issue of the Ostend
Manifesto, in which the acquisition of Cuba, whether by purchase or by force
of arms, was proclaimed as the great task of national policy. Under his
government northern Mexico was already divided among American land
speculators, who impatiently awaited the signal to fall on Chihuahua,
Coahuila and Sonora. The unceasing piratical expeditions of the filibusters
against the states of Central America were directed no less from the White
House at Washington. In the closest connection with this foreign policy,
whose manifest purpose was conquest of new territory for the spread of
slavery and of the slaveholders' rule, stood the reopening of the slave
trade, secretly supported by the Union government. St[ephen] A. Douglas
himself declared in the American Senate on August 20, 1859: During the last
year more Negroes have been imported from Africa than ever before in any
single year, even at the time when the slave trade was still legal. The
number of slaves imported in the last year totalled fifteen thousand.

Armed spreading of slavery abroad was the avowed aim of national policy; the
Union had in fact become the slave of the three hundred thousand
slaveholders who held sway over the South. A series of compromises, which
the South owed to its alliance with the Northern Democrats, had led to this
result. On this alliance all the attempts, periodically repeated since 1817,
to resist the ever increasing encroachments of the slaveholders had hitherto
come to grief. At length there came a turning point.

For hardly had the Kansas-Nebraska Bill gone through, which wiped out the
geographical boundary-line of slavery and made its introduction into new
Territories subject to the will of the majority of the settlers, when armed
emissaries of the slaveholders, border rabble from Missouri and Arkansas,
with bowie-knife in one hand and revolver in the other, fell upon Kansas and
sought by the most unheard-of atrocities to dislodge its settlers from the
Territory colonised by them. These raids were supported by the central
government in Washington. Hence a tremendous reaction. Throughout the North,
but particularly in the North-west, a relief organisation was formed to
support Kansas with men, arms and money. Out of this relief organisation
arose the Republican Party, which therefore owes its origin to the struggle
for Kansas. After the attempt to transform Kansas into a slave Territory by
force of arms had failed, the South sought to achieve the same result by
political intrigues. Buchanan's government, in particular, exerted its
utmost efforts to have Kansas included in the States of the Union as a slave
state with a slave constitution imposed on it. Hence renewed struggle, this
time mainly conducted in Congress at Washington. Even St[ephen] A. Douglas,
the chief of the Northern Democrats, now (1857 - 58) entered the lists
against the government and his allies of the South, because imposition of a
slave constitution would have been contrary to the principle of sovereignty
of the settlers passed in the Nebraska Bill of 1854. Douglas, Senator for
Illinois, a North-western state, would naturally have lost all his influence
if he had wanted to concede to the South the right to steal by force of arms
or through acts of Congress Territories colonised by the North. As the
struggle for Kansas, therefore, called the Republican Party into being, it
at the same time occasioned the first split within the Democratic Party

The Republican Party put forward its first platform for the presidential
election in 1856. Although its candidate, John Fremont, was not victorious,
the huge number of votes cast for him at any rate proved the rapid growth of
the Party, particularly in the North-west. At their second National
Convention for the presidential election (May 17, 1860), the Republicans
again put forward their platform of 1856, only enriched by some additions.
Its principal contents were the following: Not a foot of fresh territory is
further conceded to slavery. The filibustering policy abroad must cease. The
reopening of the slave trade is stigmatised. Finally, free-soil laws are to
be enacted for the furtherance of free colonisation.

The vitally important point in this platform was that not a foot of fresh
terrain was conceded to slavery; rather it was to remain once and for all
confined with the boundaries of the states where it already legally existed.
Slavery was thus to be formally interned; but continual expansion of
territory and continual spread of slavery beyond its old limits is a law of
life for the slave states of the Union.

The cultivation of the southern export articles, cotton, tobacco, sugar ,
etc., carried on by slaves, is only remunerative as long as it is conducted
with large gangs of slaves, on a mass scale and on wide expanses of a
naturally fertile soil, which requires only simple labour. Intensive
cultivation, which depends less on fertility of the soil than on investment
of capital, intelligence and energy of labour, is contrary to the nature of
slavery. Hence the rapid transformation of states like Maryland and
Virginia, which formerly employed slaves on the production of export
articles, into states which raise slaves to export them into the deep South.
Even in South Carolina, where the slaves form four-sevenths of the
population, the cultivation of cotton has been almost completely stationary
for years due to the exhaustion of the soil. Indeed, by force of
circumstances South Carolina has already been transformed in part into a
slave-raising state, since it already sells slaves to the sum of four
million dollars yearly to the states of the extreme South and South-west. As
soon as this point is reached, the acquisition of new Territories becomes
necessary, so that one section of the slaveholders with their slaves may
occupy new fertile lands and that a new market for slave-raising, therefore
for the sale of slaves, may be created for the remaining section. It is, for
example, indubitable that without the acquisition of Louisiana, Missouri and
Arkansas by the United States, slavery in Virginia and Maryland would have
been wiped out long ago. In the Secessionist Congress at Montgomery, Senator
Toombs, one of the spokesmen of the South, strikingly formulated the
economic law that commands the constant expansion of the territory of
slavery. "In fifteen years," said he, "without a great increase in slave
territory, either the slaves must be permitted to flee from the whites, or
the whites must flee from the slaves."

As is known, the representation of the individual states in the Congress
House of Representatives depends on the size of their respective
populations. As the populations of the free states grow far more quickly
than those of the slave states, the number of Northern Representatives was
bound to outstrip that of the Southern very rapidly. The real seat of the
political power of the South is accordingly transferred more and more to the
American Senate, where every state, whether its population is great or
small, is represented by two Senators. In order to assert its influence in
the Senate and, through the Senate, its hegemony over the United States, the
South therefore required a continual formation of new slave states. This,
however, was only possible through conquest of foreign lands, as in the case
of Texas, or through the transformation of the Territories belonging to the
United States first into slave Territories and later into slave states, as
in the case of Missouri, Arkansas, etc. John Calhoun, whom the slaveholders
admire as their statesman par excellence, stated as early as February 19,
1847, in the Senate, that the Senate alone placed a balance of power in the
hands of the South, that extension of the slave territory was necessary to
preserve this equilibrium between South and North in the Senate, and that
the attempts of the South at the creation of new slave states by force were
accordingly justified.

Finally, the number of actual slaveholders in the South of the Union does
not amount to more than three hundred thousand, a narrow oligarchy that is
confronted with many millions of so-called poor whites, whose numbers have
been constantly growing through concentration of landed property and whose
condition is only to be compared with that of the Roman plebeians in the
period of Rome's extreme decline. Only by acquisition and the prospect of
acquisition of new Territories, as well as by filibustering expeditions, is
it possible to square the interests of these poor whites with those of the
slaveholders, to give their restless thirst for action a harmless direction
and to tame them with the prospect of one day becoming slaveholders

A strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain, therefore, was bound
according to economic law to lead to its gradual effacement, in the
political sphere to annihilate the hegemony that the slave states exercised
through the Senate, and finally to expose the slaveholding oligarchy within
its own states to threatening perils from the poor whites. In accordance
with the principle that any further extension of slave Territories was to be
prohibited by law, the Republicans therefore attacked the rule of the
slaveholders at its root. The Republican election victory was accordingly
bound to lead to open struggle between North and South. And this election
victory, as already mentioned, was itself conditioned by the split in the
Democratic camp.

The Kansas struggle had already caused a split between the slaveholders'
party and the Democrats of the North allied to it. With the presidential
election of 1860, the same strife now broke out again in a more general
form. The Democrats of the North, with Douglas as their candidate, made the
introduction of slavery into Territories dependent on the will of the
majority of the settlers. The slaveholders' party, with Breckinridge as
their candidate, maintained that the Constitution of the United States, as
the Supreme Court had also declared, brought slavery legally in its train;
in and of itself slavery was already legal in all Territories and required
no special naturalisation. Whilst, therefore, the Republicans prohibited any
extension of slave Territories, the Southern party laid claim to all
Territories of the republic as legally warranted domains. What they had
attempted by way of example with regard to Kansas, to force slavery on a
Territory through the central government against the will of the settlers
themselves, they now set up as law for all the Territories of the Union.
Such a concession lay beyond the power of the Democratic leaders and would
only have occasioned the desertion of their army to the Republican camp. On
the other hand, Douglas's settlers' sovereignty could not satisfy the
slaveholders' party. What it wanted to effect had to be effected within the
next four years under the new President, could only be effected by the
resources of the central government and brooked no further delay. It did not
escape the slaveholders that a new power had arisen, the North-west, whose
population, having almost doubled between 1850 and 1860, was already pretty
well equal to the white population of the slave states -- a power that was
not inclined either by tradition, temperament or mode of life to let itself
be dragged from compromise to compromise in the manner of the old
North-eastern states. The Union was still of value to the South only so far
as it handed over Federal power to it as a means of carrying out the slave
policy. If not, then it was better to make the break now than to look on at
the development of the Republican Party and the upsurge of the North-west
for another four years and begin the struggle under more unfavourable
conditions. The slaveholders' party therefore played va banque. When the
Democrats of the North declined to go on playing the part of the poor whites
of the South, the South secured Lincoln's victory by splitting the vote, and
then took this victory as a pretext for drawing the sword from the scabbard.

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave question. Not
in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing slave states should
be emancipated outright or not, but whether the twenty million free men of
the North should submit any longer to an oligarchy of three hundred thousand
slaveholders; whether the vast Territories of the republic should be
nurseries for free states or for slavery; finally, whether the national
policy of the Union should take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico,
Central and South America as its device.

In another article we will probe the assertion of the London press that the
North must sanction secession as the most favourable and only possible
solution of the conflict.

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