The Civil War (1861-5) has spawned numerous myths and falsities.
The Republicans did not intend to abolish slavery – just to “contain” it, i.e., limit it to the 15 states where it had already existed. Most of the Democrats accepted this solution.
This led to a schism in the Democratic party. The “fire eaters” left it and established their own pro-secession political organization. Growing constituencies in the south – such as urban immigrants and mountain farmers – opposed slavery as a form of unfair competition. Less than one quarter of southern families owned slaves in 1861. Slave-based, mainly cotton raising, enterprises, were so profitable that slave prices almost doubled in the 1850s. This rendered slaves – as well as land – out of the reach of everyone but the wealthiest citizens.
Cotton represented three fifths of all United States exports in 1860. Southerners, dependent on industrial imports as they were, supported free trade. Northerners were vehement trade protectionists. The federal government derived most of its income from custom duties. Income tax and corporate profit tax were yet to be...