Thursday, January 23, 2020

The "deliverance" theory of Northern motivation in the American Civil War

From the post Varon: Union Forces Sought South’s Salvation in U.S. Civil War :

Varon shares the modern scholarly consensus that the Confederacy was formed to defend slavery. At the same time, she wanted to explain why the Union forces fought. Scholars have disagreed on Northern war aims, with some emphasizing that Northerners wanted to preserve the nation, while other scholars assert that the North fought to abolish slavery. Varon notes that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, was able to mobilize a broad coalition of Northerners and anti-Confederate Southerners, including African Americans, around a theme of “deliverance.”

“‘Deliverance’ was a key word in 19th-century Northern wartime discourse that you find appearing again and again, in all these firsthand sources,” Varon said. “Northerners believed they were fighting a war to deliver the Southern masses from the dominance of an elite slaveholding oligarchy – a ‘slave power conspiracy’ as Northerners put it, that had retarded the South’s moral and material progress.”

According to this Northern theory, elite slaveholders – who were a tiny minority of the Southern population, but held the overwhelming balance of power and wealth – terrorized, seduced and duped Southerners into seceding against their best interests.

Varon points out that Northerners underestimated how deeply white Southerners were invested in slavery, how deeply even non-slaveholders had bought into the idea that slavery was a system of social control and of economic gain that was central to their way of life.

“My challenge in the book became to explain in a sense why Northerners bought in so tenaciously to the idea that they could save the South even in the face of massive evidence that the Confederates didn’t want to be saved,” Varon said. “In a sense, the book is about a war of ideas and ideologies. I tried to explain how deliverance rhetoric fulfilled political needs, spiritual needs and emotional needs, and thereby helped Northerners sustain their morale and momentum.”


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