In the course of researching for my current work in progress, FOR THE CAUSE OF FREEDOM, I stumbled across this book written by a Marylander who joined the Confederate States Army. Of course I am aware of the controversial nature of this post, but hope that my readers will approach it with earnest curiosity to understand an era long gone which can best be explained to us by those who lived during it.
George Wilson Booth first published his memoir in 1898, thirty-three years after the Civil War had ended. I found his reasons for enlisting with the CSA to be most interesting.
He writes: "With the greatest regard for truthfulness, I can say that never for one moment did the question of slavery or the perpetuation of that institution enter into the decision of my course. When the first blow was struck at Sumter, and men were forced to take sides in the approaching conflict, that which impelled my decision was the love of freedom, and the vindictiveness of the northern politician and his hatred of our southern brethren, as evidenced in the disregard of public faith and the coercive measures which were being set on foot to bring them under the rod.
In current times, the Civil War is understood to be Anti-Slavery versus Pro-Slavery, and while the institution of slavery was certainly and undeniably a key factor in the development of the war, the fullness of the discord between North and South were far more complex. Slavery as the defining character of the war did not emerge until 1862 and the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed only the slaves within the states of the supposed rebellion. At the outbreak of the war, the South was fighting for the right of the States to create and maintain their own laws, with the intention of maintaining the original intent of the constitution that the federal government existed not to dictate to the individual states but to oversee and protect them. The North's position was that it was unconstitutional for the states to secede from the Union, stating that the language of the constitution implied that the states which had joined the Union had done so to perpetuity.
George Booth explains it this way: "My early reading and associations led me to take views of the great questions which agitated and disturbed the public mind, in the days of 1860, by enlisting most strongly my sympathies in favor of rights of the States under the constitution, and in opposition to efforts and the dominant purpose of the north to violate the express terms of that compact, and to destroy the principles of home government. With all this, in common with most Marylanders, was held in sacred reverence the love of the Union and the glories of our common country. The dissolution of the Union was looked upon as a threatened evil, to be averted by mutual concession and forbearance, and the efforts of those patriotic statesmen who so earnestly strove to prevent this dire calamity found in my heart a most responsive sentiment. After the lapse of many years, during which the crude thoughts and convictions of these earlier days have matured in character and strength, and in judgment which comes after experience, having been sanctified by trial and suffering, it is in no sense of vain-glory or boasting that I solemnly record that my mind and heart the more strongly justify the views of my youth, and my only regret is, that my slender abilities did not permit me to be more efficient in the defense of those principles which are the very foundation and bulwark of a State, whose chief glory and power comes from a government with the consent of its people."
Now, so far removed from these events, and having only the echoes of the past to enlighten us as to the fullness of both positions, I view myself as a detective attempting to uncover and understand both sides of the war. For the record, I would like to be clear in my personal view that slavery was a despicable institution and that God created all human beings, regardless of gender or skin color, in His image. As such, the sanctity of all human life should never be questioned.
I believe we can all stand in agreement that it was a blessing for slavery to be abolished within the United States, but a tragedy that it had to come as such a high cost. The question of how much power is constitutionally given to the federal government remains a relevant question to this day, and the effects of this war ripple down to us from history. If compromises could have been reached in 1860, consider what a different nation we would have today.
My hope and my prayer for our country is that we can learn to come together for the greater good and put aside the differences which could so easily divide us, but do so at the detriment of all involved. As citizens of the United States, each of us, regardless of our political affiliations, will have to face the future we create with the decisions we make today and justify the consequences to our children.