North Carolinians Knew It Was a Rebellion

How many times have you been told that the proper way to refer to our civil war is the “War Between the States”? The folks who insist on it almost always assume they are speaking for their ancestors. We don’t need to go into the arguments for or against it here. In 1914, North Carolinians went to the polls to decide whether to change the name of the war to “War Between the States.”

In the end they decided that “War of the Rebellion” worked just fine. Turns out that the generation that fought the war, and their children, knew exactly what they had unsuccessfully engaged in and were comfortable acknowledging it.

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“Levinโ€™s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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15 comments… add one
  • Sam Smith Nov 12, 2014 @ 5:35

    Interesting post. If anybody wants to see the results in the paper, you can see scans at this link:
    The proposed amendment failed by a vote of 767-650, or 54% against. Not exactly a landslide, but reasonably declarative.
    What they had in Charlotte was a local example of a national campaign organized by the UDC. The next year, a similar piece of legislation was taken to the federal House, but it never got out of committee. The UDC claimed that use of the term “Civil War” or “War of the Rebellion,” was a “complete surrender of the basic principle upon which the war was waged, the right of self-government.”
    The first popular usage of the term came in 1866, when Alexander Stephens published a history using that name. A few others, such as Joe Johnston, took it up as well, but the name never quite stuck. Lee, Forrest, Vance, and many others frequently called the conflict a “civil war.”
    Perhaps most Confederate veterans thought that the name didn’t really matter. Perhaps they signed up for adventure and glory and the defense of their homes in the face of the “mercenary horde.” None of those reasons quite fits the semi-complex Constitutional stance behind the appellation of “War Between the States.” One who fights against a home invader is not fighting for legal principles, but for the defense of his family.
    The UDC deserves praise and honor for their efforts in reinterring Confederate dead across the country. I can’t bring myself to begrudge them for wanting to justify their fathers, even when their fathers didn’t think they needed justifying.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Nov 6, 2014 @ 8:08

    Well your opinion as to a “title” for the war runs contrary to what those who fought it believed it was and should be called. Enough said.

  • Jimmy Dick Nov 6, 2014 @ 6:49

    So you disagree with the people of the past who said it was about slavery and that it was a war of rebellion? You disagree with what they said and what they believed.

    This is why you are not a historian. You reject the facts in favor of your opinion which is not based upon factual evidence. You make a claim and offer nothing to back it up.

    • Jack Nov 6, 2014 @ 10:12

      I agree that the war was predominantly about both union and slavery. But those terms are other words for money and power, so I see this as much as a battle over competing economic systems as any other view.

      The free labor system is more efficient and democratic, and it provided for more broadly distributed wealth which was familiar to northerners. The slave labor system mostly enriched existing wealthy unless new land and continued demand for slave labor held.

      I’m interested in thoughts about this.

      • Kevin Levin Nov 6, 2014 @ 10:23

        But those terms are other words for money and power…

        No, for Americans in the 1860s they were words for slavery and Union.

        The free labor system is more efficient and democratic, and it provided for more broadly distributed wealth which was familiar to northerners…

        There are plenty of studies that show that slavery was far from inefficient. You should read Edward Baptist’s new book.

        • Jack Nov 6, 2014 @ 14:31

          These were competing economic systems regardless of what names were used, and their value hung in the balance of who decided the rules of terrotorial expansion.

          When I say slavery was not efficient, I mean for the following reasons: 1. the GDP for the region would be lower owing to lower per capita output of slave vs free person. 2. Lowered output of all free persons due to competition with slaves. 3. The distribution of wealth disproportionately accruing to land/slave holders.

          Thanks for the book reference.

          • Kevin Levin Nov 6, 2014 @ 14:37

            Let’s get back to the subject of this post. All of this is little more than a sideshow.

      • James Harrigan Nov 6, 2014 @ 12:17

        I agree that the war was predominantly about …
        Statements like these combine too many different questions. In my view, it is more helpful to break things apart:
        Q: Why did secession take place?
        A: Because the ruling class in the seceeding states felt that the future of slavery was threatened if they stayed in the Union (they were probably right about this).
        Q: Weren’t there other reasons, besides preserving slavery, for secession?
        A: No.
        Q: Why did the Federal government resist secession?
        A: Because Lincoln and the Republicans, and most Northern Democrats, regarded secession as unconstitutional and illegal. There was a deep attachment to the Union among Northern voters and politicians (see Gary Gallagher’s The Union War on this).
        Q: Why did ordinary Confederate and Union soldiers fight?
        A: To me this is one of the most interesting, and hard to answer definitively, questions about the Civil War. See books by Gallagher, Chandra Manning, and James McPherson on the subject.
        Q: Did the North fight to end slavery, or to preserve the Union?
        A: Initially it was mostly if not entirely about the Union, but by the late summer of 1862 ending slavery became a Federal war aim. After the Emancipation Proclamation, there was no longer a distinction – preserving the Union meant destroying slavery, and vice versa.

  • Jack Nov 5, 2014 @ 19:31

    I disagree in that both wars were about financial sovereignty, one tax and land constraints, the other mostly investment in slavery and maybe tax. Considering that other nations abolished slavery over time without firing a shot and that the South was invaded, War of Northern Aggression seems more appropriate IMO. Whether over slavery or for protecting their sister states from invasion, the federal government no longer represented the will of the southern people.

  • Eric A. Jacobson Nov 5, 2014 @ 10:56

    Great post. Yes indeed, all one has to do is read contemporary accounts, and the vast majority of post-war accounts, and it is abundantly clear that former Confederates, and even their children, understood it was a rebellion. Moreover, many quite enjoyed saying it had been a rebellion against what they perceived as tyranny. They seemed to understand what few heritage types today don’t – secession wasn’t just an isolated act, and that it would almost certainly lead to war. This is precisely what the “rebels” of the mid-1770s knew as well. They felt they had a right to rebel and the Crown felt it had a right to suppress said rebellion. Fast forward to 1860-61. Same thing.

    Plus it was never a war between States. Mississippi was never fighting Ohio, no more than New York was fighting Florida, etc, etc. The United States as a singular group was fighting to suppress an insurrection that proceeded to form their own singular group.

    It was also never the War of Northern Aggression as some heritage supporters like to call it today. But that is another subject. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Jack Nov 4, 2014 @ 16:22

    The same term was used by the British to describe the Continental Army, and it has been a natural response to a government that no longer represents its people right? Did they think it was their second revolution?

    Kevin what do you think of the current campaign literature suggesting that the KKK will rise if Republicans win in AL?

    • Kevin Levin Nov 4, 2014 @ 17:18

      It has nothing to do with this post so I will not respond.

    • Jimmy Dick Nov 4, 2014 @ 17:29

      The US government did represent the people at that time. The problem was not about the inefficiency of the government, but the fact that the incoming government was not going to support the expansion of slavery. In that regard the incoming government was representing its people.

    • jclark82 Nov 4, 2014 @ 17:33

      Don’t degrade the Continental Army by equating it with the Southern Confederacy. The colonies rebelled because they had a legitimate complaint of not being represented yet being taxed in parliament.

      The US government represented the whole nation in 1861, in fact the south had more representation than their population justified in the government. The planter class didn’t get their way in the presidential election and it ended up taking 3/4 of a million lives, but freeing four million people.

      I tried to post this a minute ago but hit send before I got all this typed.

  • Al Mackey Nov 4, 2014 @ 14:43

    No fair using actual facts, Kevin. We have to feel good about the folks who fought for the confederacy so we can’t allow actual history to get in the way of that. ๐Ÿ˜‰

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