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The South Was Right by Samuel Augusta Steel, pp. 12-14, published in 1914

The South Was Right, pp. 12-14
S. A. Steele
(Samuel Augusta Hawkins Steel)

Alexander H. Stephens called it "The War Between the States," and I am sorry to see that this name has been recommended as the proper name by the Legislative Committee on the revision of the Constitution of North Carolina. This name conveys a wrong idea of the war. It was not a war between the States, but between the United States and the Confederate States, each acting as a nation. It is glaringly inaccurate and misleading. 

By some it is called "The War Between the Sections." The objection to this name is that it is too vague, and gives no idea of what the war was about. It is not a name, only a label.

By some it has been called "The War of Secession." The objection to this name is that it implies that the South was responsible for the war, and this is not true. The North was the aggressor from first to last. For years before the war, it began and carried on an agitation hostile to the South, and when the South sought to protect itself by peaceable withdrawal, it invaded the South with fire and sword. That name is misleading.

The name most generally used, and which Congress has decided shall be the official name, is the "Civil War." I can not agree with Congress. A civil war is a war between two factions contending for the control of the same government, like the war between Caesar and Pompey in Roman history, or the war between the Houses of Lancaster and York in English history. It is evident that this was not the character of our war. If the Southern States had fought in the Union it would have been a "civil war;" but they withdrew from the Union, and organized a separate government. Whether they had the right to do this does not affect the case; the fact is they did it, and that fact makes the phrase "civil war" untrue when applied to our struggle. It was a war between two nations. For the four years that it lasted, the Confederate States was a real government, possessing all the attributes and exercising all the powers of government. It was acknowledged and supported and defended by its citizens ; it issued money, levied taxes, waged war, and was recognized as having belligerent rights. I can understand how this name is satisfactory to the North, for it concedes all they have claimed about the war. The plain logic of it makes it a war of "rebellion," the Southerners "rebels," Davis and Lee and Jackson "traitors," who escaped the usual fate of traitors only through the clemency of their conquerors. But I can not understand how such a name can meet the approval of intelligent Southerners. It can be justified only on the basis of Napoleon's sarcastic definition of history as "Fiction agreed upon." I never use it, and I teach my children not to use it. Its brevity may pass it with people who- are in too big a hurry to tell the tinith; but I have passed that point. I prefer to take a little more time and be right.

None of these names fit the facts in the case. Then what is the proper name for the war? It is this: THE WAR FOR THE UNION. That name states the truth about it. The North declared this to be the purpose of the war; it was begun, continued, and finished to preserve the Union; President Lincoln repeatedly asserted that this was the paramount issue, to which all others were subordinate; to "save the Union" he deliberately went outside of the Constitution in the exercise of arbitrary power; and if you had asked the men in blue what they were fighting for, nine out of ten of them would have said "to save the Union." 

Moreover, this name expresses the result of the war; for it not only brought back into the Union the States that had gone out, but it made a new and different Union from, the one we had before. It puts the responsibility, too, where it belongs, on the North—a responsibility which they are proud to accept, and which we ought to be perfectly willing to concede to them. The South acted from first to last on the defensive; the North was the aggressor. It is all now far back in the past, and the clouds of passion have floated away, so let us be brave enough to be fair and do each other the justice to admit the truth. We will never do that when we call the war "the civil war," for that indicts the whole South. Whatever Congress may say, I shall call the great struggle the War for the Union.

Samuel Augusta Steel, The South Was Right (Columbia, S. C.: The R. L. Bryan Company, 1914), 12-14.


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