HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
THE ARMED CONFLICT OF SECTIONAL INTERESTS
THE ruling class of the South having determined upon secession, and the rulers of the North being convinced that their interests demanded a united nation, the question of which set of interests should prevail was decided by an armed conflict.
Looking back upon that conflict through the lens of later knowledge, the South seems foredoomed to the defeat it met. When the Constitution was adopted and the nation began, the two sections were almost exactly equal in area, population, and wealth. The slight shade of advantage belonged to the South. This equality continued until the industrial revolution that followed the War of 1812. From that date on the North, borne by the new machine-driven industry, began to leave the agricultural South behind.1
1 Ellwood Fisher, "The North and the South," in DeBow's Review,
Vol. VII, p. 135: "When the constitution of the United States was adopted, the
population of the two sections of the United States was nearly equal - each being
not quite two million of inhabitants, the South including more than half a
million slaves. The territory then occupied by the two was, perhaps, also nearly
equal in extent and fertility. Their commerce also was about the same; the North
exporting about $9,800,540 in 1790 and the South $9,200,500. Even the property
held by the two sections was almost exactly the same in amount, being four
hundred millions in value in each, according to an assessment for direct taxes in
1799. For the first quarter of a century of the present government, up to 1816,
the South took the lead of the North in commerce; as at the end of that period
the exports of the Southern states amounted to about $30,000,000, which was five
millions more than the Northern. At this time, in 1816, South Carolina and New
York were the two greatest exporting states of the union, South Carolina
exporting more than $10,000,000 and New York over $14,000,000.
Even in manufactures, the South at this period excelled the North in proportion to the numbers of their populations. In ,810, according to the returns of the marshals of the United States, the fabrics of wool, cotton, and linen manufactured in the Southern states, amounted to 40,344,274 yards, valued at $21,061,525, whilst the North fabricated 34,786,497 yards, estimated at $15,771,724.
1 John C. Ropes, "The Story of the Civil War," Vol. I, p. 99: "In
material prosperity the North was far in advance of the South. In accumulated
capital there was no comparison between the two sections. The immigration from
Europe had kept the labor market of the North well stocked, while no immigrants
from Ireland or Germany were willing to enter into a competition with negro
slaves. The North was full of manufactures of all kinds; the South had very few
of any kind. The railroad systems of the North were far more perfect and
extensive, and the roads were much better supplied with rolling stock and all
necessary apparatus. The North was infinitely richer than the South in the
production of grain and meat, and the boasted value of the South's great
staple-cotton-sank out of sight when the blockade closed the southern ports to
In spite of these apparently self-evident facts, the organs of ruling class interests in the South kept up a strange sort of bombastic self-deception. This exaggerated self-confidence, and indifference to impending overthrow, together with a blindness to the strength of rising classes, has been an almost universal characteristic of ruling classes. An editorial in DeBow's Review, in 1862, when defeat for the South was already written plain upon her industrial and social life, is a striking illustration of this blind overconfidence:
The North is bankrupt. Her people must migrate to the West or starve. The census of 186o will prove beyond the possibility of doubt that the states of New York and Pennsylvania and the New England states do
not produce annually enough meat and bread to feed their population for six months in the year, and (except for a little wool) produce nothing with which to clothe them. Their soil is extremely sterile, and it would require many years manuring to make it capable of supporting the present population. They cannot produce their own food and clothing and will have nothing wherewith to purchase it. The cotton and tobacco crop of the South for a single year would sell for four times as much as all the specie currency in the States we have mentioned. They will require every cent of this specie for home use, at least during the war. Their manufactures will sell only in the Northwest, and there they can sell but a few of the cheapest and coarsest kind -not one quarter enough to supply the deficiency of food and clothing. Their coarse cottons were the only articles which they could sell in the markets of the world before secession. Now the raw cotton will cost them so much that they will no longer be able to sell cotton fabrics abroad. Their local wealth, derived from houses, factories, railroads, etc., ceased to exist the instant secession became an accomplished fact. Their mercantile marine is the only thing they can sell in foreign markets, and as they will have no further use for it at home, they should sell it as speedily as possible. The South will need it all, and would buy it, to carry on that very trade which secession has transferred to her from the North.
Some idea of the value of knowledge transmitted through class interests is gained when it is remembered that the writer of this was the Commissioner of the census in 186o and was generally looked upon as one of the ablest students of economic and political conditions.
The Southern rulers did not believe that a united North would resist separation. Much dependence was placed upon the strong ties of commercial interest that bound whole sections of the North to the South. This dependence was by no means wholly misplaced. Throughout the war there were many sections of the North where the tide of Southern sympathy ran high. In every case it will be found that these sections were bound to the South and to the system of chattel slavery by economic ties.1
When broad class interests are sharply threatened, such exceptions become of small importance. In time of great class conflicts, the representatives of dominant class interests are ruthless in their suppression of divergent individual or group interests, whether these be of "Tories," "copperheads," or" scabs." If public opinion does not suffice to suppress all expression of revolt against the general class interest, then this opinion is at once reenforced by all the measures of group defense. This is the reason why the firing upon Fort Sumter caused such an instantaneous crystallization of "union" sentiment in the North and of "Southern patriotism" in the slave states.
As soon as the two systems of industry were definitely pitted against each other, the tremendous superiority of the wage-labor system appeared.
Chattel slavery in America was an historical atavism, and not a stage in social evolution. It came many generations after the disappearance of the era of which chattel slavery was an essential foundation. It came because of the great profits which the raising of one
1 Brown, "The Lower South in American History," pp. 59-60.
crop in the midst of an otherwise capitalist society produced. This social reversion made the South industrially dependent upon the capitalist societies that were its workshops. When the access to these workshops was stopped, the South became almost helpless. It was not quite helpless. The first effect of isolation and war was, as always, to hasten industrial evolution, and especially to force artificially the growth of machine production.1
No opportunity was offered for even this accelerated evolution to produce any important results. Time was not given to construct mills and machines and to develop the skilled artisans and to organize the industrial and distributing machinery essential to capitalized industry. From the first the Northern campaigns were directed toward the disorganization and disintegration of all germs of industrial life.
The Mississippi was the great artery of internal Southern trade. When armies to the north and the blockade on the sea had stopped foreign trade, the possession of that river by the Federal forces prevented
1 Walter E. Fleming, "Industrial Development in Alabama during the Civil War," in South Atlantic Quarterly, July, 11904, p. 267: "Both the state and the Confederate government encouraged manufactures by legislation. . . . Factories were soon in operation all over the state, especially in central Alabama. In all places where there were government factories there were also factories conducted by private individuals. In 1861 there were factories at Tallahassee, Autauganville, and Pottsville, with 23,000 spindles and 800 employees, which could make 5000 yards of good cloth a day. And other cotton mills were established as early as 1861. The federals burned these buildings and destroyed the machinery. There was the most unsparing hostility displayed by the Northern armies to this branch of industry. They destroyed instantly every cotton factory within their reach."
even the local circulation of commodities which would have maintained at least a semblance of industrial life.
The army of the West under Grant captured Vicksburg in July, 1863, and the Mississippi became a Union stream. This also separated the eastern and larger section of the Confederacy from its granary and provision supply - Texas.1 With the essential foreign trade cut off and the principal channels of internal trade disrupted, the industrial destruction of the South was completed by Sherman's "march to the sea," which destroyed the beginnings of the factory system and the already imperfect railroad system.
Military strength rests upon an industrial base. The Civil War was decided far from the noise of exploding powder and blaring bands and flowing flags. In the South the industrial base was a miserable makeshift at the best, a crumbling hulk at the finish.
Modern industrial society is built upon an iron framework. Nothing is more characteristic of the weakness of Southern industrial life than the futile, frantic efforts made to secure iron.
"In a paper read before a railroad conference in Richmond," says Rhodes, "it is suggested that the government make a public appeal for all the cast and wrought iron scrap on the farms, in the yards and houses of the Confederacy, and that it establish a system for the collection from the country, cities, towns, and villages of `broken and worn-out plows, plow points, hoes, spades, axes, broken stoves, household and kitchen utensils,' with promise of adequate compensation. The rails of the street railroad in Richmond were taken up
1 Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. IV, pp. 119, 122.
to be made into armor for a gunboat. The planters of Alabama, in the very regions where iron ore existed in abundance underground, could not get iron enough to make and repair their agricultural implements."
By the time of the Civil War the railroad had already become the most important tool of an industrially interdependent society. In railroads the South was at a miserable disadvantage in the beginning, and every day aggravated that disadvantage. Mileage, already too little, grew less before the ravages of Northern armies and the paucity of Southern resources. The war dissolved the loose beginnings of systems into their feeble isolated elements.' A defective and scanty equipment quickly deteriorated from its original low standard into almost complete uselessness 2 The workshops for the manufacture and repair of equipment were in the North, and the South was unable to improve or even maintain the scanty rolling stock possessed at the time of secession.
The postal system of the North looks poor when
1 Schwab, "The Confederate States of America," pp. 272-273.
viewed from to-day's vantage point. It was infinitely superior to that of the South. The Confederate constitution required the postal service to be always selfsupporting. To meet this condition letter postage was placed at five cents per half ounce for less than five hundred miles and ten cents for greater distances. When even these rates failed to pay expenses, they were doubled.
In the financial resources which are drawn from industrial development the South was even more strikingly inferior. Although this section had the sympathy of the European industrial and commercial rivals of the North, England in particular, yet this sympathy did not lead them to purchase Confederate bonds in large quantities. There was no powerful banking class in the South to gain profits for its members and furnish resources to the government by great financial operations such as are essential to the conduct of a great war.
The one important Southern asset was cotton. Later writers, with that wise foresight that comes so clearly after the events are long past, have often pointed out that had the Confederate government seized all the cotton possible during the months after secession, and before the blockade was declared, and shipped it to England, that cotton could have been drawn against for many millions of much needed dollars. But Southern economic philosophy was as atavistic as its social system, and, with a strange revival of a long dead Mercantilism, the Confederates imagined they could compel the weaving nations to come to their relief by withholding the raw material for the looms. So the South fell into the trap of its opponent, and aided the Northern
blockade by forbidding the export of cotton. By the time the foolishness of this policy had become apparent the tentacles of the Northern navy had tightened until the harbors of the South were closed save to the highly hazardous and expensive commerce of the blockade runners.
Since there was no class of profit-takers at home or abroad, both able and willing to purchase Confederate bonds, the government was soon compelled to fall back upon the forced loans of fiat money. Later this was supplemented by an economic reversion to the stage of barter and commodity currency. Bonds were exchanged for and taxes collected in commodities (especially cotton, of course), and the government accumulated great quantities of commodities whose market was barred by Federal gunboats.1
When defeat was seen to be inevitable the whole Confederacy collapsed. The currency lost all value, and nearly as many soldiers deserted and returned to their homes as remained to be surrendered to Federal generals. There are rumors that these general desertions were due to the spreading of the idea that "this is a rich man's war and a poor man's fight," and that non-slaveholding soldiers left because they had come to realize their noninterest in the war.2 Unfortunately there seems to be little contemporary evidence of such intelligence. The South was defeated because its social life rested upon a lower, more undeveloped, less perfectly organized and more essentially atavistic industrial base than that of the North.
1 "Cambridge Modern History," Vol. III, p. 610.
There was one fact which, had there been any to read its significance in the light of historical evolution through class struggles, would have been seen to be darkly portentous for the negro. This was the fact that there were no slave revolts during the war.1 The goblin that had kept the South in trembling terror for a half a century was seen to be the phantom created by a guilty conscience. The fact was more sinister in its significance for the black. His inaction in time of crisis, his failure to play any part in the struggle that broke his shackles, told the world that he was not of those who to free themselves would strike a blow.
Representatives of a ruling class, both North and South, have praised him for his "loyalty" and "fidelity" in a time of danger. At the same time this same ruling class has shown its contempt for him by taking from him many of the rights tossed him as incidental to the game of war. Among the rights so tossed him was freedom from chattel slavery. Emancipation was not granted to help the negro, but to hurt the South. That it came too late to have much effect even in that direction may be judged from the fact that the Confederate Congress long debated the question of freeing, and even arming, the slaves as a means of gaining European sympathy. Not only were Northern resources vastly superior at the beginning of the war; but war under wage labor, unless pushed to a degree of exhaustion not attained even by the stupendous struggle of the Civil War, so far from impoverishing or weakening, actually enriches and strengthens the dominant class. The panic that began in 1857 reached its most acute
1 Rhodes, "History of the United States," Vol. V, pp. 460-464.
and depressing stage at the outbreak of the war. It is this fact that is largely responsible for the "hard times" that are associated with the first years of the war. At the very time when the military outlook was darkest for the North, industrial recovery began.1 The momentum of the upward movement was much accelerated by the military operations. The vast armies in the field, averaging a million and a half men from the North alone,2 and making no account of the large numbers indirectly connected with military operations and withdrawn from productive industry, created a tremendous market "foreign" to the direct industrial process. This unproductive mass absorbed such a quantity of the products of labor, that a surfeited market was almost impossible. Consequently the surplus value produced by the workers who remained in the fields and the factories, using the newly invented machinery with multiplied productive power, flowed in gigantic streams into the pockets of the Northern capitalists.3
The Civil War brought the era of great manufacturing plants. It made iron and wool the rulers of the industrial world, and therefore the political rulers, and the makers of tariffs and masters of appropriation bills for two generations. The demand for uniforms and blankets for the armies guaranteed an almost exhaustless market for cloth of an unchanging character. Mill after mill ran month after month exclusively upon goods for the armies in the field. Cotton mills were remodeled to enable them to weave wool. Hundreds of new establishments were built. All paid great dividends upon the capital in
1 Rhodes, loc. cit., Vol. V, pp. 198-199.
vested. The following table shows the sudden increased consumption of wool by American mills during the Civil War:1
The production of profits and the creation of new industries in connection with wool was not confined to the process of weaving. The necessity for making such great quantities of identical suits brought into existence the ready-made clothing industry. The mechanical foundation for this industry had been laid by the invention of the sewing machine, which had been in process since 1840, and been perfected to a practicable working machine by Elias Howe in 1849.2
The great profits in the production of genuine woolen goods could not fail to create a fraudulent imitative industry. The war, with its scarcity of cotton and high price for wool, created the great American "shoddy" industry.3Iron and steel completed their conquest of the industrial field during, and largely because of, the Civil War.
1 Statistical Abstract 1900; Bolles, "Industrial History," pp.
382383; Census of 1890, "Manufactures," p. 8; Levasseur, "The American
Workman," p. 26.
The demand for small arms and artillery, wagons, railroad supplies, and ironclads made this the Golden Age of profits in iron. Not only did existing mills find their capacities taxed at exorbitant prices; new ones were erected almost by the hundreds, and the earth was searched for ore supplies. In this search the great ore beds of Lake Superior, the possession of which insured the establishment of a world-wide steel trust in the future, were discovered and opened up on a large scale.1
The wage system gains much of its power from its ability to substitute machines for men. The armies taken from industry left an increased demand for labor power. This demand was met by increasing the productive power of those left behind through improved machinery. The records of the patent office show that a quick response was made to the premium that was thus placed upon invention. In 1861 there were 3340 patents granted. Four years later, when the patents from the inventions made during the war were reaching the patent office in large numbers, and while the Southern states were outside the Union and more than a million of the men at the North were in military service, the remnant left behind took out 6220 patents.2
1 "One Hundred Years of American Commerce," p. 325; Bolles,
"Industrial History," pp. 208-200; J. H. Kennedy, "The Opening up of the Lake
Superior Iron Region," Magazine of American History, Vol. II, P. 357.
It was this power of the North to produce, this peculiarity of the wage system that draws strength from the murderous waste of war, that gave that section its power. The war, was won as much by the industrial workers who toiled in the shop (and whose death rate and percentage of injured was fully as high as that of the workers in the military ranks) as by those who carried guns. Yet pensions and glory are reserved exclusively for those who took up the trade of killing. Perhaps the strongest battalions in this industrial army that fought for the North were on the farms. It has been said that "the war was won by the McCormick reaper," and the statement is more nearly true than most popular generalizations on history. It was not alone that the new horse-drawn machinery multiplied the power of the workers in the fields. It transformed the aged, the women, and the children, whom the marching armies had left behind, into producers more effective than strong men had been with the former tools. So it was that the wartime crops, raised by the weakest fraction of the industrial population, were greater than any raised by adult skilled farmers in former years.1
1Commissioner of Patents, Report for 1863, p. 21 : "The most striking fact connected with this class (agricultural implements) is the rapid increase of applications filed. Notwithstanding half a million of our agriculturists have been withdrawn from the farm to engage in military service, still the number of applications for patents on agricultural implements (exclusive of reapers, beehives, horse hay-forks, and h0rse hay-rakes) has increased from 35o in 1851 to 502 in x863. At first thought such a result would seem an anomaly, but it is this large drain upon the laboring classes which has caused a greater demand than usual for labor-saving machinery. The increased demand for farm products, and their higher price in consequence, have also doubtless helped to increase the number of labor-saving machines."
These bountiful crops found a ready market at high prices. To the increased demand from the unproductive armies in the field was added an extra call from Europe due to poor harvests. The farmer, like the industrial capitalist, drew prosperity from the war. His influence in government was still considerable, as is seen by the establishment in 1862 of a national department of agriculture and the subsidizing the state agricultural colleges.
The influence of the war, through its effect upon manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture, had far-reaching effects upon the movements of population and the relative strength of sections and cities.
That the states around the Great Lakes were not mistaken in deciding that their material interests united them with the system of wage labor is evidenced by the fact that to no other section did the Civil War bring such great material growth. When the Mississippi was completely closed to traffic and the South was cut off as a market, the lake ports became the only gateways for the tremendous commerce of the broad agricultural Hinterland.' Chicago and Cleveland leaped at once
1 Fite, "Social and Industrial Conditions in the North during the Civil War," p. 67. Speaking of Chicago : "This city had the unique distinction among the growing western cities of possessing no railroad indebtedness, while her rivals, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and some smaller cities, weighed down by debts to obtain the few railroads they had, were even compelled to call upon their respective states to issue many millions of dollars of bonds in their aid. The railroads created Chicago, not Chicago the railroads. It was a natural trade center to which in the short space of ten years seven new trunk lines from the South, West and North were built, and from which three trunk lines and the Lakes led eastward. As late as 1850 the city celebrated the arrival of the first train. In 1864 it was entered by over ninety trains daily." James F. Rhodes, in American Magazine of History, II, p. 837: "The turning point of the material development of Cleveland was reached in 1860.... In 1860 the coal and iron industries had only begun to be developed, and the war stimulated these manufactures at Cleveland as elsewhere. . . . The war found Cleveland a commercial city and left it a manufacturing city."
from trade centers to great crude industrial centers. The flow of agricultural products called into existence the outline of that great radial system of railroads that now feed those cities, and has been responsible for their growth. The manipulation of war finances poured such a golden flood into the vaults of a clique of New York bankers as to give them domination within the capitalist ranks.1 Inflation of the currency with the accompanying opportunity to gamble in gold, the manipulation of internal revenue taxes, vied with corrupt military contracts and contraband trade in cotton in contributing to that "primitive accumulation," upon which American fortunes are based.2
So tremendous was the graft in connection with contracts for military supplies that most historians draw
1 A. S. Bolles, "Financial History of the United States," Vol. III,
p. 20, tells of a meeting of New York bankers with the assistant Secretary of the
Treasury, where the arrangements were made for the handling of the war bonds, by
which these bankers controlled the sale of the securities.
back in horror when they have lifted but a corner of the thick blanket of concealment that those who profited by the plunder have drawn over the mess. One Congressional committee, headed by Robert Dale Owen, son of Robert Owen the Utopian Socialist, uncovered frauds of $17,000,000 in $50,000,000 worth of contracts.
Graft rendered the very weapons of warfare as dangerous to those who held them as to those against whom they were supposed to be directed. Carbines, that before the outbreak of hostilities had been condemned by the War Department, and sold as condemned weapons at the almost nominal price of $3.50 each, were resold by the buyers to the very government that had condemned them for $22.00 each.1
Rivaling even the military contracts as a source of "primitive accumulation" by corruption, treason, and theft, was the contraband trade in cotton carried on by Northern merchants in illegal collusion with Federal army officers. To prevent the exportation of cotton was one of the main objects of the Federal campaign. To assist in the marketing of that cotton was treason, "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." But cotton was less than ten cents a pound in the South and more than fifty cents a pound in New England. Before such a profit capitalist patriotism has never yet stood unscathed. Soon "permits" began to be issued for cotton to pass through the Northern lines. Then the floodgates of corruption broke and the carnival of profit was on. Congressman Ten Eyck of New Jersey stated upon the floor of the House of Representatives:
We have . . . prolonged the rebellion, and strength
1 Rhodes, "History of United States," Vol. V, pp. 213-221.
ened the arm of traitors by allowing the very trade, in consequence of which not only union men and women, but rebels of the deepest dye, have been fed and have had their pockets lined with greenbacks, by means of which they could carry on the rebellion. Under the permission to trade, supplies have not only gone in, but bullets and powder, instruments of death which our heroic soldiers have been compelled to meet upon almost every field of battle in which they have been engaged in the South.... I am greatly afraid that in some quarters the movements of our armies have been conducted more with a view to carry on trade . . . than to strike down the rebels. . . . The whole valley of the Mississippi along the line of the permitted trade has been debauched; not merely the Treasury agents, . . . but men engaged in carrying our flag, not only upon the land but out upon the sea."
The financing of the war not only created a whole set of banking institutions1 and placed them in the control of a small clique,2 but an enormous national debt was contracted that was to maintain a class of bondholders for a generation and more to come. A. S. Bolles, in his "Financial History of the United States," estimates the total expenditures of the war at $6,189,929,908. At the close of the war the national debt was $2,773,236,174. The workers who had been fighting in the field were now compelled to join an army of industrial toilers engaged in producing the interest with which the class of bondholders were supported.
Workingmen made up the military armies and the industrial armies alike, but they obtained few benefits
1 The present system of banking was established Feb. 25, 1863. See "Cambridge Modern History," Vol. VII, p. 571. 2 Bolles, "Financial History of the United States."
from the war. Some of the few organized workers of the time saw this and protested against the war.1
The "antidraft riots" that took place in many cities, and especially in New York, partook of many of the characteristics of a labor movement.2 They began with a general strike, or an attempt at such a strike. The spokesmen of the movement were insistent in their denunciation of the "exemption clauses" that enabled rich men to escape the draft. There were many who demanded that "money as well as men should be drafted."3
On the other hand, the more far-seeing and consciously revolutionary element among Northern workers realized that chattel slavery stood in the way of progress. The German immigrants, especially, who were filled with the "spirit of '48," enlisted in the Union army almost en masse. The presence of large numbers of these men at St. Louis is commonly recognized as being responsible for the defeat of secession in Missouri.
In Europe the Socialists, and nearly the whole wageworking class, were with the North. It was the cotton spinners of Lancashire who, believing that the war would
1 Jas. C. Sylvis, "Biography of Wm. H. Sylvis," p. 42: "Among the
workingmen, a few choice spirits, North and South, knowing that all the burdens
and none of the honors of war are entailed upon labor, were engaged in an effort
to frustrate the plans of those who seemed to desire, and whose fanaticism was
calculated to precipitate hostilities."
end chattel slavery, starved rather than see work come through lifting the cotton blockade. When the capitalists of England, more eager to defend their immediate profits than even the broad interests of their class, would have interfered in behalf of the Confederacy, it was these workers who stood in the way of such action, and not the least of those who were responsible for this steadfast position of the English workers was the founder of modern scientific Socialism - Karl Marx.1 He worked tirelessly to this end, and as a result of his efforts the International Workingmen's Association (the "Old International") sent a resolution of sympathy to President Lincoln. When we remember the strength of this organization at this time, its widespread influence in Europe, and the critical moment at which that influence was exerted, it seems probable that it had as much to do with the outcome of the Civil War as many factors to which historians have given much greater weight.
Out of the Civil War was born the elements of present society. It created the great capitalist and the great industry and the mechanical foundation upon which these rest. It placed these in control of the national government, and for the next generation capitalism was to find its greatest development in the ,nation the war had maintained as a unit.
1 John Spargo, "Life of Karl Marx," pp. 268-270.