Misrepresenting the Civil War

David Goldfield’s article “Avoid the Carnage of War” (June 29 Viewpoint) may be provocative reading, but it is bad religious history. Goldfield does not like war, and he thinks the American Civil War could and should have been avoided. He labels the Civil War a “war of choice brought on by the insidious mixture of politics and religion.” In this thinly veiled screed, summarizing some basic ideas from his recent book “America Aflame,” Goldfield thus interprets the Civil War as a cautionary tale for America today.
Who was essentially to blame for the war? Goldfield demonizes Northern evangelicals and the group he sees as their political arm, the Republican Party. Driven by their need to expiate America’s sins, in particular slavery and the presence of the Roman Catholic Church, Northern evangelicals wrote the script for the Republicans and a “messianic” Abraham Lincoln.

Read more here: charlotteobserver.com/2012/07/14/3381519/misrepresenting-the-civil-war.html#storylink=cpy

From the article: “Goldfield is guilty of one misrepresentation after another.”

My history professor defined history as, “lies the living tell about the dead.” It seems to be appropriate here.

There was some thought on the idea that slavery was dying out and would have gone out of existence on its own due to economic factors. This was lent some credibility by de Tocqueville’s 1833 book Democracy in America where he observed a vast difference between the prosperities of two adjacent states, Ohio and Kentucky, separated by only a river. He concluded that slavery held back economic progress. It doesn’t take too much imagination to reach this conclusion because a person will naturally work harder if he is the major beneficiary of his labors rather than someone else.

Activity that is rewarded is likely to be repeated.

There is a proverb that says something alone the lines of “History is written by the victor” Much of history is false. Simply because its recorded by man. It falls outside the divine protections of the Holy Spirit within the Church so there won’t ever be a such thing as an “infallible” historical account in secular society.

I’m not buying what I understand to be Mr. Goldfield’s argument. I think the cause of the war is the same as most wars, politics or the desire of men for power and wealth. Religion was of course brought in to encourage those who were asked or forced to sacrifice their lives in the war. In my view religion is rarely the cause of war but it is often harnessed by political leaders.

Lincoln was made a messiah not for religious reasons but political. When you make war on half the country in order to prevent them from exercising the rights proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence then you need to find a way to redeem the leader of that cause.

The words in bold above really jumped out at me. They are still applicable they are today.


Lincoln practiced divinations and held seances yet is treated as some high moralist by the majority of this nation. Davis, IIRC, was a practicing Episcopalian yet during his youth went to Catholic school and very badly wanted to convert to Catholicism. He even set a delegate to the Vatican for recognition of the Confederacy.

One of the primary motivations behind wars is usually an economic one, is it not? I do not see anti-Catholicism as being a main factor in the Civil War. Lincoln sought to preserve the Union and it was the slave-holding states that appealed for secession (S. Carolina being the first after Lincoln’s election, I believe). So yes, it was because of southern defiance that the Civil War began, even if the reasons went far deeper than mere idealism and the moral questions regarding the institution of slavery. The South’s entire economy depended on slavery, and while many leaders of the Confederacy were opposed to it on a moral scale, they feared a loss of economic power if the republicans were to abolish it. In addition, if the Free States gained even more power, it would have caused an unablance in Congressional representation for the slave-holding states.

While there is evidence that shows many in the Catholic Church were sympathetic to the Confederate side (Pope Pious IX’s letter to Jefferson Davis danvilleartillery.org/popeletter.htm, the recognition of a Confederate government by Archbishop William Henry Elder of Natchez, etc), I understand from my own readings that the Catholic Church took no official side; rather, Catholics in the US did not separate over moral conflict so much as they tended to pledge their allegiances to the governments of the states in which they resided, respectively. This would mean that most Catholics in the north fought for the Union (with the backing of their bishops) and those in the south fought for the Confederacy (with the support of most of their clergymen). For this reason, I do not see “Northern Evangelical hatred of Catholics” as the main push of the war.

The War of Northern Aggression has always been misrepresented.

But slavery was still evil.

Indeed. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation did not free slaves except in confederate states.

So the EP was in the service of evil? What is your point, exactly?

The EP was not evil at all. Just Came Back’s point was that Lincoln is portrayed as the abolisher of slavery in general, when in fact abolition was only sought for specific states that defied the Union. If slavery is evil, it should be condemned for everyone - not just those that are in political opposition.

Thank you!

More than really about slavery, the Civil War was more about two varying views of the Constitution that stretched back to the actual ratification of the document itself (namely, how much power to the states hold? Can they go as far as nullifying decision made by the federal government?).

Southerners in particular also felt that the North was being given undue economic advantages. Slavery was indeed debated, but really only insofar as it was an issue of contention between North and South. And slavery itself fit into the wider political debate over the Constitution.

Although Lincoln seemed to imply that he would respect slavery where it existed in the South (and conceded it was constitutional and therefore legal), many Southerners feared he would simply abolish it upon entering office.

He was President, not King. Not everything can be done via executive order. The 13th Amendment was passed by both House and Senate in Lincoln’s presidency, and had he not been assassinated it would have been ratified during his presidency.

I think the insinuation here is beyond feeble.


I’m sure it would have eventually been ratified as well. I’m not sure what you think I’m insinuating - I thought my post was pretty straightforward.:confused:

The EP was written to make it clear to potential Confederate allies in Europe that abolishing slavery was a major war aim. However, Lincoln couldn’t alienate loyal border states that still allowed slavery ( and supplied a lot of soldiers). The EP made it clear that if the North won slavery would be abolished but still held the Union states together. Lincoln was a master politician, even timing the release of the EP after a Union victory so it wouldn’t appear to be a desperate ploy for international support.

In the book The Cousins’ War, the author make the case that the Revolutionary War was a direct result from the English Civil War and the American Civil War was the final curtain of the English Civil War. The same cast of characters fought against each other.


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