The Negro and the Nation: A History of American Slavery and Enfranchisement

By George S. Merriam | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XXIII
WHY THEY FOUGHT

Now, when the issue was about to be joined, let it be noted that Secession based itself, in profession and in reality, wholly on the question of slavery. There lay the grievance, and for that alone a remedy was to be had even at the price of sundering the Union. Later, when actual war broke out, other considerations than slavery came into play. To unite and animate the South came the doctrine of State rights, the sympathy of neighborhood, and the primal human impulse of self-defense. But the critical movement, the action which first sundered the Union and so led to war,--was inspired wholly and solely by the defense and maintenance of slavery. The proposition is almost too plain for argument. But it receives illustration from the great debate in the Georgia Legislature, when Toombs advocated Secession and Stephens opposed it. Toombs, evidently unwilling to rest the case wholly on slavery, alleged three other grievances at the hands of the North--the fishery bounties, the navigation laws, and the protective tariff. Stephens easily brushed aside the bounties and navigation laws as bygone or unimportant. As to the tariff, he showed that the last tariff law, enacted in 1857, was supported by every Massachusetts member of Congress and every Georgia member, including Toombs himself. What further he said belongs to a later chapter. But he was unquestionably right, and all rational history confirms it, that the one force impelling the South to Secession was the imperilled interest of slavery.

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