Civil War Final Paper

Civil War Final Paper - Civil War discourse has been...

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Civil War discourse has been dominated by the idea that the North defeated a racist, slave-owning people devoid of rational culture. Recent scholarship, however, has posited that antebellum Southern society and culture, despite its affiliation with legalized racial slavery, was not backward and irrational. Instead it honored historical precedent and strove to replicate a time-tested social system. 1 Southerners based morality on their ability to adhere to and perpetuate this system. Conversely, antebellum Northern society embraced Evangelical Protestantism and “repudiated Calvinist predestination, preached the availability of redemption to anyone who truly sought it, urged converts to abjure sin, and worked for the elimination of sins from society.” 2 As a result, antebellum Northern culture underwent a radical moral transformation. Northerners increasingly understood morality not in its previous social contexts, but rather in the pursuit of new universal abstracts that could not be qualified by society. Much to the outrage of Southerners, by the first third of the 19 th century, Northerners were challenging the morality of slavery. The antebellum debate over slavery sheds light on major differences in antebellum Northern and Southern worldviews. The differences between antebellum Northern and Southern society—as perceived in the events leading up to and during the war—extended beyond slavery and could not be reconciled without civil war. The Civil War provides scholars with an example of a civilizational struggle— that is, a struggle between two societies where for one society to accept the other’s values means the destruction of what that society holds dear. 3 Indeed, opposing views on the legitimacy of African slavery, more than any other factor, fomented the Civil War. To the North, slavery was just as Jefferson had once contended, “The perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, unremitting despotism on one side and degrading submission on the other.” 4 Slavery was a moral evil that needed to be destroyed throughout the Union. Although Northerners overwhelmingly supported emancipation they were nonetheless racist. William Lloyd Garrison, on a Northern tour promoting abolition, “found contempt more bitter… prejudice more stubborn, and apathy more frozen than among slave owners themselves.” 5 To be sure, Northerners did not justify emancipation with modern notions of universal equality. In some ways Northerners were more racist than Southerners —Illinois and Iowa went as far as constitutionally denying free blacks entry in the 1840s. 6 Lincoln himself harbored feelings of racial superiority. In his famous Charleston, Illinois speech, he asserted, “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…” 7 Moreover, abolition did not upset racist ideology—Northerners believed slavery corrupted slave owners and caused an aggressive, violent, expansive conspiracy: the
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This note was uploaded on 05/26/2008 for the course PE 101 taught by Professor Kunhardt during the Spring '08 term at Hamilton College.

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Civil War Final Paper - Civil War discourse has been...

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