The Cause of the Civil War according to Edward Everett

On this July 4th of 2011, my thoughts were back to that great battle fought 148 years ago at the little town of Gettysburg. Most scholars agree it was a “turn of the tide” kind of event. Most agree that it was a “high tide” for the South. My mind also contemplates the consecration of that cemetery that occurred afterward on November 19th 1863. Of course, President Lincoln was there to provide his “few appropriate remarks.”  Every school child practically knows the “Gettysburg Address” by heart. But as history tells us, Mr. Lincoln was not the “key-note” speaker that day. That honor belonged to Edward Everett.

If you have never read the speech by Mr. Everett, it is worth the time to do so. Copies of it are reproduced for purchase. I bought mine on Accounts note that Lincoln was highly pleased with the speech. Yes, it took Everett two hours to deliver it. However, it is a masterpiece of oratory. As I re-read the speech today on this July 4th, I am reminded that Everett included in the text an explanation of how the (or perhaps why) the Civil War started. For your reading consideration, here is a portion of what he said:

“Of this stupendous rebellion, planned, as it originators boast, more than thirty years ago, matured and prepared for during an entire generation, finally commenced because, for the first time since the adoption of the Constitution, an election of President had been effected without the voice of the South, (which retained, however, the control of the two other branches of the government,) the occupation of the national capital, with seizure of the public archives and of the treaties with foreign powers, was an essential feature. This was in substance, within my personal knowledge, admitted, in the winter of 1860-61, by one of the most influential leaders of the rebellion; and it was fondly thought that this object could be effected by a bold and sudden movement on the 4th of March, 1861. There is abundant proof, also, that a darker project was contemplated, if not by responsible chiefs of the rebellion, yet by nameless ruffians, willing to play a subsidiary and murderous part in the treasonable drama. It was accordingly maintained by the Rebel emissaries in England, in the circles to which they found access, that the new American Minister ought not, when he arrived, to be received as the envoy of the United States, inasmuch as before that time Washington would be captures, and the capital of the nation and the archives and muniments of the government would be in possession of the Confederates. In full accordance also with this threat, it was declared by the Rebel Secretary of War, at Montgomery, in the presence of his Chief and of his colleagues, and of five thousand hearers, while the tidings of the assault on Sumter were traveling over the wires on that fatal 12th of April, 1861, that before the end of May the flag which then flaunted the breeze, as he expeessed it, “would float over the dome of the Capitol at Washington.”

At the time this threat was made, the rebellion was confined to the cotton-growing States, and it was well understood by them, that the only hope of drawing any other slave-holding States into the conspiracy was in bringing about a conflict of arms, and “firing the heart of the South” by the effusion of blood. This was declared by the Charleston press to be the object for which Sumter was to be assaulted; and the emissaries sent from Richmond, to urge on the unhallowed work, gave the promise, that, with the first drop of blood that should be shed, Virginia, would place herself by the side of South Carolina.

In pursuance of this original plan of the leaders of the rebellion, the capture of Washington has been continually had in view, not merely for the sake of its public buildings, as the capital of the Confederacy, but as the necessary preliminary to the absorption of the Border States, and for the moral effect in the eyes of Europe of possessing the metropolis of the Union.

I allude to these facts, not perhaps enough borne in mind, AS A SUFFICIENT REFUTATION OF THE PRETENSE ON THE PART OF THE REBELS, THAT THE WAR IS ONE OF SELF-DEFENSE, WAGED FOR THE RIGHT OF SELF-GOVERNMENT. IT IS IN REALITY A WAR ORIGINALLY LEVIED BY AMBITOIUS MEN IN THE COTTON-GROWING STATES, FOR THE PURPOSE OF DRAWING THE SLAVE-HOLDING BORDER STATES INTO THE VORTEX OF THE CONSPIRACY (emphasis mine), first by sympathy,-which in the case of Southeastern Virginia, North Carolina, part of Tennessee, and Arkansas, succeeded-and then by force, and for the purpose of subjugating Maryland, Western Virginia, Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee, and Missouri; and it is a most extraordinary fact, considering the clamors of the Rebel chiefs on the SUBJECT OF INVASION, THAT NOT A SOLDIER OF THE UNITED STATES HAS ENTERED THE STATES LAST NAMED, EXCEPT TO DEFEND THEIR UNION-LOVING INHABITANTS FROM THE ARMIES AND GUERILLAS OF THE REBELS” (emphasis mine).

Food for thought my friends. Happy July 4th. May we ever have a Union of these United States. God bless us all and God bless America.


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