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  • Jake Wynn

A Pennsylvania newspaper's scornful reaction to a Southern prediction of civil war - 1860

Why did the Civil War break out?

This is the question that continues to cause breathless arguments among Americans. Yet, evidence is abundant that the South's "peculiar institution" - slavery - was the most important factor in sparking the nation's bloodiest conflict.

The Confederate flag flying over Fort Sumter after its surrender in April 1861 (LOC)

Look no further than the words expressed by a Southern magazine editor in June 1860 - 10 months before the actual outbreak of hostilities at Fort Sumter. In this short paragraph, cited by the Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph of Harrisburg on June 26, 1860, J.A. Turner lays it all out for everyone to see. This is the rhetoric that led Southern states to secede one after the other in the wake of Abraham Lincoln's election in November 1860. This is the rhetoric that led Southern militia forces to fire on Federal military garrisons in April 1861. This is the rhetoric that deluged the country in blood.

Radical Southern Sentiments -

A new Southern Quarterly Journal entitled the Plantation, has just been established at Eatonville, Georgia, edited by J.A. Turner. From the salutatory we annex a few extracts characteristic of radical Southern sentiment:

"In less than twelve months this country may be deluged with blood. We have no idea the government can survive the election of a Black Republican President. We have no idea that it ought to survive it. We have no apology to make for slavery in the Southern States, but stand up boldly, and in the face of the world proclaim that it is a just, a human, and a useful institution, having the sanction both of nature and of nature's God." [emphasis in original]

Let those who have been disposed to object to Senator Sumner's recent speech as too strong, read these expressions of a sentiment that is daily gaining ground in the South, and say whether some such emphatic rebuke of these infamous and treasonable utterances - which are no worse than Southern men in Congress use in the public debates of that body - was not demanded.

The Telegraph's commentary referred to negative reactions to Senator Charles Sumner's June 1860 speech, "The Barbarism of Slavery."

The "debate" about the Civil War's origins will continue despite the mountains of evidence pointing to chattel slavery in the South as the root of the sectional dispute. For those who talk of "states' rights," "tariffs," or the myriad of other causes bandied about by Southern apologists, we highly recommend a deep dive into the primary sources from 1860 and 1861.

Political cartoon from July 1860 criticizing Southern Democrats for nominating John C. Breckinridge and beginning the path toward secession by making election a referendum on the future of slavery. (Harper's Weekly)



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