The Civil War Was Never a Civil War

There is a great deal of arguing and tempers are running high in the United States in regard to such things as the Confederate flag and statues of figures such as General Robert E. Lee. None of this is necessary, but it is primarily caused by a lack of knowledge. I’ll explain, but let me start by saying that the Civil War, which is what all of this revolves around, was misnamed. It wasn’t a civil war at all.

“Civil war” implies that the war had to do with slavery. However, that wasn’t at all what the war was about. It did have to do with blacks in a round about sort of way but didn’t directly relate to slavery.

The disagreement stemmed from the uneven power between the north and the south. As it is today, congressional votes were highest in areas with the greatest population. At the time, blacks weren’t counted in the census. This meant that the north had more voting power than the south. This naturally didn’t make the people in the south very happy.

When they tried to gain more equality by having the blacks counted, the north firmly resisted. Not doing so would have been the same as giving power away. Few people with power willingly give it away.

To get proper representation, the south sought to use its rights, given years earlier by the continental congress, to succeed from the union. That would have been huge because well over half of the goods and resources at the time were in the south. Wheat, tobacco, and cotton were southern crops, the most important ones in the nation back then and still important. Industries of the north were just getting some headway, so they relied on the southern crops.

If succession had occurred, many of the businesses of the north would have failed. At the same time, the South would lose most of the finished goods that were supplied by the North. In other words, a succession of the South would have hurt everyone, in different ways.

President Lincoln sought to prevent succession and that was actually caused what has been come to be known as the Civil War. Lincoln was against slavery, but he didn’t want to bring that issue into the conflict. In fact, Lincoln didn’t believe that he had the legal right to abolish slavery.

The Confederate flag was the symbol of the South, and again, it had nothing to do with slavery. It had to do with fair representation and succession, both of which had been guaranteed by the Continental Congress, to begin with.

As for Robert Edward Lee, who came to command the Confederate army, this was a man who graduated very high from West Point and who served the Union Army with distinction during the Mexican-American War. Lincoln offered him the command of the Union Army during the war of the states. General Lee declined because he had a greater loyalty to his home state of Virginia than he did to the Union.

Once again, that had nothing to do with slavery. Lee was personally opposed to slavery and he was also against succession.

It is rather interesting that so many people consider the Confederate flag and General Lee as ’emblems’ of racism when the flag had nothing to do with slavery and when Lee was totally against both slavery and succession.

This is the reason I mentioned that the current bickering is due to a lack of knowledge. People are making assumptions that are based on fallacies. General Lee’s statue should actually be honored by those who feel racially oppressed. For that matter, the Confederate flag should be, too, because the representation it stood for was the first time a serious attempt was made in the US to count blacks as people.

This has a surprising conclusion. The people who are wanting to remove the Confederate flag and statues of Lee are basically saying that they agree with slavery. None the less, slavery wasn’t the reason the Civil War was fought. Because of this, the Civil War wasn’t a civil war. It would more properly be called the war of the states.


What do you think?

11 Points

Written by Rex Trulove


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    • It hasn’t been, you’re right, and it shouldn’t be. It wasn’t about slavery, but many mistakes were made in the past and anytime a society takes steps to ignore those mistakes or remove the reminders, they are destined to make the same mistakes again.

    • I’m sure that not everyone will agree with it, even if they read the Lincoln letters and do the research. It is understandable in a way. At the time, not everyone agreed about what the war was about, after all. For that matter, not everyone agrees what WWI, WWII, the Korean War, the War in Vietnam, etc were about, either. AND the war between the states did end up having something to do with slavery. It wasn’t just blacks that were slaves, either, and slavery continued in many countries and in Africa long after it was abolished here (though little is ever said about that, either.)

  1. thanks for sharing…great article. had a long talk with a historian. Professor at black college back in NY sat down for hours. Was surprised to learn what really happened was different than what we learned in school.

    • Yes. I suspect that what was originally taught in school was an effort to instill an attitude of revulsion in regard to slavery. That isn’t a bad thing, though history shouldn’t be rewritten for that purpose. I also learned the truth from a college professor, who was also an expert in the war between the states and had written text books about it. (He had a PhD in History.) I actually enjoyed his classes a lot because he made history fun to learn.

    • In a way, that is true. More to the point, the North didn’t want to give the South fair representation in D.C. It amounted to a numbers game, and that hasn’t changed much in many respects. It could also be thought of as the industrial states against the agricultural states, which is something many countries have been acquainted with through the years.

      In the end, neither side was really happy with the outcome, which is a pretty good definition of a true compromise.

  2. Great article, Rex. When I was in grade school we were taught the Civil War was fought over slavery. I was an adult before i discovered that this was not the case.

    It’s interesting to note that Blacks fought on both sides of the war. Those who fought for the North were placed in segregated units. Those who fought for the South fought right along side the Whites. No segregation.

    • You are entirely right, Gary. There are a lot of people who haven’t yet discovered that the war wasn’t about slavery, though. I suspect that part of it is that a lot of people lack interest. LOL In a way, I can understand that. It can be a challenge to get interested in something that happened 150 years ago, especially if a person doesn’t find history interesting, to begin with.

  3. What you have written Rex Trulove is an elaborate fantasy crafted by apologists for a failed racist state. The South did not have equal representation because it disenfranchised millions of human beings and treated them as property. If the black population of the southern states had full suffrage in 1860, they would have more representation. they also would have legislated away the social evil of slavery that was at the crux of the problem.
    The majority of Confederate monuments in the south were constructed years after the civil war as an effort to intimidate people of color during the introduction of the South’s apartheid like “Jim Crow” era and again in the 1960s as a reaction to the growing civil rights movement in the United States. They are an obscenity and deserve to be swept into the dustbin of history.

    • I’m sorry that you feel so badly about the truth. I really am. Until people realize that the war wasn’t about slavery and keep on trying to rewrite or ignore history, there will continue to be sporadic problems.

      Also, remember that being counted as a person isn’t the same thing as having equal rights. It was merely the first step in the process. It even took women a great deal of time to achieve some measure of equal rights, though not entirely even today. The fact that they have had voting rights for a while now, but still haven’t got total equality shows the fallacy of thinking that things would have changed as rapidly as by 1865, at the end of the war. Blacks were counted but also didn’t get voting rights until the 15th Amendment was passed in 1870. Even then, there was discrimination, legally, until the voting rights act was passed in 1965, a full century after the war ended. Even today, there is discrimination in voting (not just for blacks, but many others as well), but it isn’t legal.

    • The problem is that so many people have been taken in by the hype of the few that they don’t want to believe the truth when it is presented. This has been shown so many times throughout our history, even fairly recent history. It takes next to no research to see that the Republican party has always been the champions for racial equality, for instance. That is a matter of record and there are some rather absurd statements that have been made in a vain attempt to say it isn’t so. Likewise, with the civil war, Lincoln wrote many letters, as have others, and there is plenty of stuff out there that show that what I said is the case. Some of that information takes a little digging is all. lol

      Of course, like most wars, I did over-simplify it. It was much more complex, but still wasn’t about slavery.

    • You are very welcome. As for the racial part of it, there were atrocities on both sides and it would be hoped that as a people, Americans will always remember them so that they are never repeated again. There *are* still some racists, a small minority, but they exist in every state and, for that matter, in nearly all countries. It is a pity because there is only one race.

  4. I have read a few books concerning the war, one was a memoir of a troop. They received nothing towards the end of the war. They were rather independent and fought hard for their rights as human beings! It was touching to experience their struggle from their point of view. All the way to the Kennesaw mountain battlefield, they just knew that it would turn around. I also think that this unique black unit, who were all born in the states, received high recommendation and an honorable monument.

    • The same was true of Native Americans. Since the actual goal was to have fair representation, it didn’t change the conditions for the blacks, Indians (and later the Chinese, Irish, and other similar immigrants who were basically forced to be impoverished.) Had the war actually been about slavery, there would have been a bit more change, but that wasn’t what it was about. Unfortunately, way too many people today think that it was about slavery.

  5. This is not accurate.


    The Three-Fifths Compromise was a compromise reached between delegates from southern states and those from northern states during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention. The debate was over whether, and if so, how, slaves would be counted when determining a state’s total population for legislative representation and taxing purposes. The issue was important, as this population number would then be used to determine the number of seats that the state would have in the United States House of Representatives for the next ten years. The effect was to give the southern states a third more seats in Congress and a third more electoral votes than if slaves had been ignored, but fewer than if slaves and free persons had been counted equally, allowing the slaveholder interests to largely dominate the government of the United States until 1861.[1] The compromise was proposed by delegates James Wilson and Roger Sherman.


    Three successive designs served as the official national flag of the Confederate States of America (the “Confederate States” or the “Confederacy”) during its existence from 1861 to 1865.

    What you have written is propaganda by racists.

    • Actually, it isn’t propaganda at all, Jaylar. The actual facts are there for anyone to read, but the current turmoil is the fallacy, written by the thankfully tiny minority to want to cause dissension. Unfortunately, a large number of schools refuse to teach the actual history. There are racists in every state, though, and by people of every skin color. (There is only one race; the human race.)

      • I didn’t bother to paraphrase, I posted facts. You don’t want to believe them, fine. Suppose you’re one of Trump’s very fine people.

        The problem is this; certain things become ‘charged’ when specific groups adopt them. For example, the Swastika was an ancient religious icon used in the Indian subcontinent, East Asia and Southeast Asia, where it has been and remains a sacred symbol of spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism.

        Having been adopted by the Nazis it now is ‘charged’ with a different meaning.

        The Civil War and Confederate Flag is ‘charged’ by the KKK and those of its ilk, so has become white supremist, racist, and the support of slavery.

        The recent situation in Charlottesville confirmed this ‘charge’, for those who marched hold Nazi flags, wearing KKK costumes sent a message.

        • Police in Charlottesville have already come forward and admitted that it was all a setup, which was the reason they didn’t do anything.

          At any rate, I’ve presented the facts above. People should really read the letters by Lincoln. Some are dry reading, but they give insights that people lack today. At any rate, people can believe whatever they want, of course, and will probably continue to think it was a slavery thing, regardless of the facts that show otherwise.

  6. Rex, I think you misunderstand what “civil war” means. It is defined as a war that takes place within the borders of a nation, as opposed to one fought between nations. The English Civil War, fought between Royalists and Parliamentarians in the 1640s, was a prime example – and it had nothing to do with slavery!

    By the way, I think you mean “secession” not “succession”.

    On the question of statues and Confederate flags, it puzzles me that recognition is being given to people whose intention was, by seceding, to destroy the nation of which they were a part. Does that not make them traitors? What nation celebrates past traitors?

    • You are quite right about secession, John. As for the statues and Confederate flag, they are emblems of a culture and of history. In both cases, they represent ideals that were noble. The people of many states are proud, rightly so, of being confederate states. The idea of fair representation was also honorable, lest one group ends up with the majority of the power over all.

      Lee, in particular, was a brilliant man who spent half his life fighting for America, both for the north and for the south. He never saw a true distinction between the two and there really isn’t one, save the part about representation. Interestingly, in a perverse way, the college that made a big deal about wanting to remove Lee’s statue was the college Lee founded.

      A huge point can also be made that if the secessionists were traitors, the other side was, too. In a representative republic like ours, everyone should be represented equally, and if they aren’t, it is a sign of repression. Still, the majority of the people who fought really didn’t know what they were fighting for. They fought for their state, and it wasn’t much more complicated than that.

      There is no way to tell for sure, but I suspect that if the South had one, and they very nearly did, that they wouldn’t have actually withdrawn from the union. It would have hurt them as much as anyone else. However, it certainly did bring the issue of representation to the attention of everyone, and in that, it was successful. That is really where slavery came into it, in a much-delayed sort of way. Slavery was abolished primarily in order to give the South proper representation. That was the only way that blacks could be counted in the census, which was exactly what the South wanted.

      Even that is fairly obvious, though many Americans don’t think about it. Just because they were free didn’t give them the same rights everyone else had. That came much later. What is interesting in a different way, blacks actually finally got their due rights before the Native Americans did. (I’m Cherokee.)

      • I think that what confuses foreigners like me is that in the term “United States” the two words are equally important. I did a course in American history at school and I remember references to “States Rights” being made. The USA is a curious thing – probably unique in the world – in that it is in some respects a nation and in other respects a federation. I think you need a special sort of university degree to fully understand what it is!

        • Don’t feel bad. It is confusing to a lot of the people who have lived here all their lives. In fact, a huge number are under the mistaken notion that the US is a democracy when it is actually a representative republic. You’re right, too. In many ways, it is a federation of states.

          To be fair, a very large number of Americans are baffled by England’s government and the role of royalty. lol

          • And one instance of that bafflement is the use of “England” when “United Kingdom” is meant! England as such does not have a government, and not even a Parliament or Assembly, which the other constituent parts of the UK have.

            We often chuckle when Americans talk about the “Queen of England” – there hasn’t been one of those since 1603!

          • Exactly. Many Americans can’t understand why there is such a fuss when Queen Elizabeth sneezes or Prince William does anything at all. It is also difficult for most to keep all the princes straight. Of course, I feel the same way about some of the celebrities in the US, like the Kardashians.

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