What Should We Call It? — 2 Views

The next issue of North and South Magazine will include an article on the naming of the Civil War by John Coski.I am confident that Coski will bring the same analytical rigor that has come to define his work on the history of the Confederate battle flag.I recently came across a microfilm reel that included a reprint of a Senate debate from 1907 on just this question.The pamphlet was put together by Edmund S. Meaning of the University of Washington for the purposes of clarifying the official name of the war.Meaning had heard Senator Benjamin Tillman present a speech in which he described the war as “The War Between the States” as the official name adopted by the federal government.Meaning contacted Tillman and asked for documents related to the Senate debate and discovered that in fact the name adopted was “Civil War.”Here are two excerpts from that Senate debate for your consideration.The first is posted below and the second will be posted tomorrow.The debate took place on January 11, 1907 and can be found in the Congressional Record of that date, pages 929 to 933.

Mr. Teller (Colorado): “So it can be said to have been a war between the states.

Then, in addition to that, those warring States, if they were warring States, entered into a confederacy and established a new government.It may possibly be stated that it was a war of the Confederacy against the United States.

Mr. President, it is not very material whether you use the term “rebellion” or whether you do not.I insist that the term “rebellion” is a proper term.It describes the condition which existed from 1861 to 1865.It may be an offensive term; and yet it was a rebellion against the Government of the United States.We have called it a civil war.At first there was a disposition to feel that those people were not entitled to be treated as warriors under the rules of national war.But it was found to be so great a war that they must be so treated.They were so treated by foreign governments, as well as by our own.

When the war closed there was no treaty between the States and the General Government.There was no recognition of State lines at all.In every respect the war was treated as a war of citizens of the United States against the General Government.It will go down in history of the world as a rebellion of States, in the first instance, because the States did act.Then it became in the highest sense of the term, a civil war, a conflict between individual citizens of the United States, and upon that theory when the war was over the Republican party declared that each of those States had practically abandoned its organization.

Upon that question I do not care to take much time.I was disposed myself, although an ardent supporter of the war, to believe that we ought to have recognized the existence of the States, upon the theory that the States had not gone out of the Union at all, and that the difficulty had arisen by the action of the individual citizenship of the States and not be the States.

However, the party in power at that time did not so recognize the condition and the States were finally brought back into the Union, as it was said, which, according to my theory, they had never been out of.

I do not think it very important whether we call it the war of the rebellion or the civil war.I do not believe that now or at any other time will we be inclined, or the people of the United States will be inclined, to change the character of the war by declaring it to have been a war between the States.It was a war against the general Government by citizens of the United States who were in rebellion against the authority of the General Government at that time.”

Check in tomorrow for the second installment.

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