The answer to
the question, Why did the Confederate States fight the
war?" is glaringly obvious: Self-defense. They fought to repel an armed
There would have been no war
had the Confederate States not declared independence, so the real
question to address is "Why did the Confederate States declare
independence (secede from the Union)?"
There were certainly
other factors which contributed to the climate of distrust and war, among
them the issue of slavery and the slavery status of the new western states
and territories. But as discussed in the previous section, the
Northern states intended to hold the southern states for economic
reasons. The South wanted independence for economic
reasons. Follow the money!
Simply put, it was a tax revolt. In the
early years of the American Republic, the federal government lacked the
power to fully enforce its revenue laws. That was rapidly changing
in the early to mid-19th century.
South Carolina defied
the United States in 1832 in protest of the Tariff of
Abominations(1828). Senator John C. Calhoun argued that the
vast majority of federal revenues were paid by the South, yet the vast
majority of the expenditures were for the benefit of Northern industry---driven, of course, by the Northern majority in
Congress. South Carolina nullified
the tariff in 1832
, that is, declared the tax unconstitutional and therefore void in
South Carolina. President Andrew Jackson threatened to use force to
collect the tax. Only the Great Compromise of 1833 averted
The Democrats gradually reduced the unfair tariffs
through the 1840s and 1850s, but
opposing forces were brewing. The Democratic Party split in 1860 (Douglas
and Brickinridge) and a new Constitutional Union Party emerged. The
result was that Lincoln won with only 40% of
the popular vote. Even without the split, Lincoln would have won in the
Electoral College due to the advantage of the populous North.
The North finally had a completely sectional (Northern) party in control.
Radical abolitionists from the North had no doubt
electified the climate for war with their hateful rhetoric and constant
impugning of the character of slave-owners and southerners in
general. There were abolitionists in the South, too, but they fell
silent once John Brown and other Northern-sponsored terrorists began their
campaigns of violence and their attempts to incite violence in the
South. Abolition was merely an irritant and not a real incitement to
war. Republicans used the abolitionists as "useful idiots" to incite
Northern distrust and anger towards the South, but abolition was not the
driving concern for those controlling the northern Republican party.
Political dominance and economic exploitation via tax policy was their
goal. Now that the Northern Republicans held the
power, they were determined to keep it