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 Posted: Sun Apr 1st, 2012 09:11 pm
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Atmosphere for Civil War was Prepared by European Cultural Attitudes, Earlier Midwest Conflicts, Says Author

A new book from Michigan State University Press, “Apostles of Equality: The Birneys, The Republicans, and The Civil War,” provides some insights into the causes of the war, tracing some to roots in Europe and Ireland.
“The culture created by dueling, a curse that stemmed from Irish and European practices, has not been fully recognized as a cause of the war,” says the author, D. Laurence Rogers. “Under political stress, Southern gentlemen like Jefferson Davis and Howell Cobb fell back on their cultural instincts that valued pride rather than compromise. Political disputes often escalated to duels in which one party might be maimed or killed over a disagreement that could have been settled peaceably. With the election of Abraham Lincoln in 1860, there was no thought of negotiation but rather a consensus of fear in the South that Republicans would enforce an end to slavery. Thus a challenge much like that given in a duel was issued by bombardment of Fort Sumter -- and the war came.”
Northerners, by contrast, were partially motivated by campaign initiatives of the new Republican Party noting alleged Southern aims to enslave the working class, both white and black, according to the book. White slavery was a reality in that some slaves had much more white blood than black, but Southerners made no distinction, in fact adhering to the legal concept that one drop of black blood made a person a slave.
The need for aggressive and violent actions to control slaves, through slave catchers and slave patrols, resulted in invasions of the North long before the Civil War, the book points out. Slaveholding Kentuckians raided into Michigan beginning in 1807 and raids in the mid-1840s involved conflicts and arrests of the raiders in some cases.
“The Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, crafted by duelist and slaveholder Senator Henry Clay, resulted from Kentuckians invading Michigan in attempts to retrieve escaped slaves several times from the early 1800s through the 1840s,” said Mr. Rogers. “Violent responses from egalitarian Michiganians to protect the escapees and punish the invaders caused a defensive reaction by Southern legislators leading to strengthening of the fugitive slave laws. Thus, the incendiary atmosphere for war was created by intersectional conflicts that should have been mediated in civil courts.”
The book also includes an exposition of the successes of the union’s U.S. Colored troops. Black soldiers led by major generals David Bell Birney and William Birney took the race far above the first tentative queries, “will they fight?” proven by Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts at Fort Wagner, South Carolina, and other battles, to the glories of combat victories at New Market Heights, Richmond, Petersburg and Appomattox as well as destruction and confiscation of animals and goods in central Florida. These Southern-born Union leaders, perhaps because of their familiarity with slaves on plantations in Kentucky and Alabama, led by winning the confidence of their colored troops through egalitarian treatment – a concept vital to leadership in all organizations and enterprises, especially today.
“Apostles” traces the abolitionism of one the leading early antislavery politicians, James Gillespie Birney (1792-1857), a Kentucky native, to the spirit of freedom inherent in his Irish heritage. After years of indecision, Birney became an advocate of immediate emancipation and chipped away at slavery with religious and patriotic fervor.
As a state legislator in Kentucky and Alabama, Birney won state constitutional provisions ameliorating slavery. The Alabama Legislature began, under Birney’s influence, a process of voluntarily freeing a small number of slaves each year throughout the 1820s and 1830s.
”After the Nat Turner slave uprising in Virginia in 1831, and slave revolts in the Caribbean, the atmosphere changed and slave laws were tightened,” said Mr. Rogers. “From then until the Civil War, as one of James G. Birney’s sons, former Union Maj. Gen. William Birney, noted in an 1890 book, fear of servile insurrections drove Southern attitudes preparing the population for a more terrible conflict than any could have imagined.”
Four of Birney’s sons and a grandson served the Union and three sons died of disease during the war. The legacy of the Birneys lives on in the 14th Amendment, which led to the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision of 1954 resulting in desegregation of schools across the country.
Contact: MSU Press, or D. Laurence Rogers, 989-686-5544,

Last edited on Mon Apr 2nd, 2012 01:33 pm by dlaurencerogers

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