The "Civil War" Was NOT About Slavery

By: Jonathan Harris

Perhaps the most oft-repeated inaccurate historical assumption about American history to have been foisted upon the public by so great a class of educators ranging from ignorant to prejudiced is the idea that the “‘Civil War’ was about slavery.” Packed into this conveniently vague statement are all the stereotypical assumptions concerning racism and slavery as “moral questions” painted upon a political canvas. To the victor goes the spoils, including historical interpretation—or in this case—down-right falsification. But a noble reason must be given to justify the taking of 750,000 lives.

The war itself was over one question—Does an American state have the right to leave the union (as the thirteen original colonies left Great Britain). This is why Southerners commonly say the war was over “State’s Rights.” Secession itself was over a number of conflicts that separated two very different worldviews—that of the orthodox Christian and traditionally conservative South, and the increasingly humanistic and progressively utopian North.

Spiritually, secession was over Biblical Authority. Christian denominations split over Northern insistence that a moral law outside of Scripture declared the relationship between master and slave to be sinful in and of itself. Southern Christians supported scriptural restrictions on the institution, but it was a bridge too far for them to accept the spiritual authority of a section of the country hypocritically benefitting from the profits of the transatlantic slave trade, while simultaneously beginning the adoption of Darwinism and higher criticism. Southerners could look for political ways to end the slave trade, something the Confederate constitution directly restricted, but they could not call sin what God had not called sin.

Socially, secession was over Northern aggression. In the years leading up to the war, Southerners became increasingly worried that radical elements in the North were hell-bent on vilifying and subsequently destroying the South. The Postal Crisis, the effect of anti-southern publications, the tolerance for and even championing of “slave insurrections” all served to fan the flames of sectional division. Southerners found themselves portrayed as the source of the national sins of backwardness, ignorance, and slavery. Why could the North not focus on its own flaws? The conditions for children and immigrants in Northern factories, the kind of prejudice that existed against free blacks, and the dehumanization that came with commercialism were out of step with the agrarian South. Yet the South did not seek to re-make New England in its image. The favor however was not returned and the South did not want to be New England.

Politically, secession was over the implications of Northern dominance in the general government. The South had long been in a political struggle with New Englanders dating back to the 3/5 compromise. The South favored Agrarianism, free trade, and Constitutional originalism. The North championed industrialism, social programs, and a generous reading of the constitution. Perhaps both sections could have lived in peace if it were not for one thing—The North wanted the South to pay for its “American System,” even if it meant subverting the Constitution. The North had threatened to secede many times before the war based on the fear that the West would alliance with the South and dominate the general government. Now it was the South’s turn to fear. In 1828 South Carolina narrowly dodged an invasion of federal troops over the states nullification of the “Tariff of Abominations,” which as one contemporary said, gave the North in effect 40 out of every 100 bales of Southern cotton. Between this event and the war, the North and South were in a death struggle to see if New England commercial interests would be allowed to dominate the country. It is at this point that the question of slavery enters the discussion—not as a moral question, but as an economic one. The question was not over the “expansion of slavery.” Outlawing slaves from entering the territories did nothing to effect the total number of slaves. What it did do however was keep influential Southerners from moving into the territory, thus ensuring that when it became a state, it would have been under Northern influence. What it also did was keep blacks from competing with white labor and becoming an undesirable presence in the community. The North cared about subjecting the South, not the plight of blacks. With the dreaded “Morrill Tariff” on the horizon and the election of a president who was more than happy to enforce it while restricting Southern influence in the West—The South knew it was doomed. The war and subsequent Northern victory only confirmed that its suspicions were correct. The “Civil War” was NOT about slavery.

For more info on slavery as a political question, check out Brion Mcclanahan’s podcast this week!


Movie Review- Chariots of Fire

By: Jonathan Harris

When it comes to entertainment, my primary conviction is to engage in stories that are not a waste of my time. Stories, especially those paired with visually stimulating scenes and musical hooks, are quite capable of dominating the human mind for days after they are experienced. Sometimes I wonder what beneficial thought could be taking the place of the irrelevant film I viewed the night before, if only I had not viewed it! Chariots of Fire is not a story I have to ask this question of. In fact, it is quite the opposite. A film that stimulates the mind to ask beneficial questions—questions such as, “Am I wasting my life pursing the desires before me?” or “Where does true joy come from?”—is a film worth watching. A film that teaches you about yourself and the world around you as it really is a story deserving your time.

Eric Liddell was born in 1902 in the village of Tienstin, China. Though of Scottish stock, his parents were missionaries, and that desire to be a missionary was very much on Liddell’s heart as he grew older. At the age of six, Liddell was enrolled in a boarding school in London, and there he discovered a skill that would set him apart as one of the world’s greatest athletes. He was fast. Very fast. An ability that served him well as a Rugby player, but also a skill that would catapult him into the light of international stardom. The film picks up Liddell’s story right at the point of decision—will he go to China and take over the mission, or will he continue to pursue Athletics. It is not a plot spoiler to inform the reader that Liddell did in fact go back to China, dying in 1945 in a Japanese prison camp, but not before he did something else for the Lord. That “something” is what the film is about. Liddell is faced with more than one crossroad in both the film and real life. What we see in Liddell is a desire to honor God in all things, even above king and country. Was it more pleasing to God to pursue missions over athletics? He is seen quipping, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” But what about running on the Sabbath?

Harold Abrahams was born in 1899 to two Jewish parents, his father being an immigrant from the Russian empire, and his mother being of Welsh-Jewish stock. Abrahams has his mind set on one thing—winning. It consumed him. It controlled him. Abrahams wanted to win the Gold Medal for 100 meters sprint, but more than that, he wanted to be the fastest man in the world. One scene in the film portrays Abrahams as being more afraid of winning than of losing, though he feared them both. What will he do with his life once he “made it?” Abrahams is portrayed as trying to prove himself to the world by rising above his Jewish lineage, a conditions he sees as a disadvantage. He’s after acceptance, but it’s not the kind of acceptance a gold medal can bring him. Nor is it the kind of condition a romance can kiss away. Abrahams has internal conflict, just like Liddell, but his goals and therefore the questions he asks of himself are completely different. He doesn’t shake the hands of his fellow competitors before a heat like Liddell does. He doesn’t feel the joy of winning, losing, or even living like Liddell. The question “Why?” needs to be asked.

Both Liddell and Abrahams believe in version of immortality. Abraham’s pursues it by trying to win a medal and break a record. Liddell already knows immortality is his in Christ. He does not have to do anything. Abrahams sees his cultural differences as a weakness to be overcome. Liddell sees his as an opportunity to be used by God. Abrahams is willing to sacrifice anything for the sake of winning. Liddell has some non-negotiables. How they ultimately respond to their circumstances is something for the film to show you. Who really wins the race of life in the long run? So grab some popcorn and let a story run through your mind with eternal implications. (Side note to those especially with children. There is one scene in a locker room in which the backside of a man can be seen in the distance. I don’t think most people would notice it, but it is worth noting in case you plan to watch it as a family.)

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