Ante Bellum South photo

Antebellum South


The South had developed a unique society and a sense of Southern nationalism. The conflict with the North and the secession were an attempt to create an independent nation.

Also a contrast, the South had developed a class system whereas the North was characterized by a social structure.

Ante Bellum South

A Southern ideology -based on aristocracy- justified slavery. Many (crazy) explanations were put forward like: “the African race is biologically inferior” or “physically and mentally under-developed”.

Through slavery, they could adjust to a better kind of life, be taught new morals and the “true religion”. All that was part of the Southern ideology: “some people must work and sweat to provide those in charge with leadership”.

Southern society is hedonistic when the North advocates the puritan ethic (moral – virtue – hard work, according to the Bible).

After 1830, abolitionists societies began violent campaigns against slavery. Garrison was an extremist abolitionist who printed/invented sensational stories about how cruelly black slaves were treated in the South.

Slaveholders were depicted as monsters and, in the North, slavery was seen as a sin against God (move on to the religious ground). Garrison wanted the “purification of the Nation from the guilt of slavery”.

Slavery is the apparent cause of the Civil War: it was the spark that ignited the powder-keg. Yet, it should be obvious that the real cause of the conflict was the incompatible and irreconcilable economical, political, social, and ideological difference between the two sections.

The South’s economy relied on agriculture. The North kept taxing the Southern imports from Europe, hoping that the South would buy Northern products that were overpriced and more poorly manufactured.

In retaliation, Europe raised prices on its imports, making it very expensive to purchase Southern cotton and tobacco. Since the US Government had a Northern majority in the legislature, the South could do nothing except to be taxed.

Before the outbreak of the war, Southern planters were paying 87% taxes on their goods. Enraged by only being able to keep 13% of their profits, the Southerners knew the government would not help and that they had to act.

As the 19th century slipped by, North and South drifted further and further away until the moment they had nothing left in common, not even a President. This is when the war broke out.

Five years later, the South was defeated, conquered, occupied, Southerners were humiliated and slavery was at last abolished.

The situation of the South was not unlike that of Nazi Germany at the end of World War II. Southerners were despised and shamed.

The same questions were asked: how could people be slaveholders/nazis? Hence a feeling of guilt in the South.

On the other hand, many Southerners did not acknowledge their inhumanity and monstrosity. In order to justify themselves, they idealized the “Old South”.

This theme will later be picked up in literature, for instance in Gone with the Wind or in the personality of Faulkner”s characters, who cannot overcome their guilt but who realize they are the descendants of a cursed race.

Events leading to secession

In response to the events in Kansas (with the creation of the Republican Party), extremist parties began to emerge. Before the KKK, there has been a party with a strange name, the “Know-Nothings”, which originated from secret political orders.

The movement originated in New York in 1843 when it was called the American Republican Party. It spread to other states as the Native American Party and became a national party in 1845.

In 1855 it renamed itself the American Party. The origin of the “Know-Nothings” term was in the semi-secret organization of the party. When a member was asked about its activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.”

They were organized to oppose the political influence of immigrants (mainly Irish and Germans) and the political machine allowing such immigrants to vote.

As a nationalist anti-foreign movement, it organized later under the name “American Party”. It was hoped it would become a national party but as a matter of fact, it disintegrated after the elections of 1856.

In 1856, the Democrat James Buchanan was elected President. He favored popular sovereignty and won an easy victory over his opponent.

Several events during the Buchanan administration convinced the Southerners they would not be able to protect their interests any longer against the majority of Northerners. Secession seemed to be the solution.

The Dred Scott case of 1857 and the Missouri Compromise judged unconstitutional delighted the South. The Republicans denounced it as partyism since several justices in the Court were Democrats. As the decision had no legal justification, the North refused to accept it. It alarmed the South.

1857: panic, sharp depression. The South suffered much less than the industrial North, gained confidence and asserted that this proved the “superiority of Southern economy”.

During the elections of 1857, the North strongly voted Republican and gave this party the lead in the House of Representatives.

The series of debates between Lincoln and Douglas for the senate elections centered on the slavery question. Douglas was the incumbent senator and Lincoln the challenger.

At Freeport, Lincoln tried to embarrass Douglas by asking if the people of the territories could legally exclude slavery. Douglas, in his response called the “Freeport Doctrine”, replied that people of the territories could keep slavery out by not passing local police regulations, necessary for its existence.

Douglas won but his answer did not satisfy the South and helped to widen the growing split between North and South Democrats.

Thanks to these debates, Lincoln was popularized and won the presidential nomination in 1860. 1859: John Brown’s raid. After his execution, the North made a martyr of him.

1860: the elections were the last event before the war. The Democrats met in the Supreme Court. There, the Southern extremists demanded that the party ask Congress to guarantee slave property in the territories. The North under Douglas defeated the demand and adopted Douglas” policy of popular sovereignty. The South made a clash.

The Republicans met in Chicago. Lincoln was chosen because he was the most moderate candidate. His platforms promised to exclude slavery from the territories.


Lincoln won every state in the North (except New Jersey) but he gained only a minority of popular votes. Another candidate won a state in the lower South. The rest was won by extremist candidates.

The South declared that Lincoln’s election would be the signal for secession. Lincoln was elected and the South proceeded to secede.

Birth of a Nation photo

USA: Birth of a Nation


After France’s defeat in Canada, Britain remained the only power left in Eastern North America. The colonies were now free to spread over the vast continent and increase their wealth.

Therefore, for the British Government, it was natural that the colonists, whose prosperity was increasing, should contribute to the British economy.

The financial measures affecting trade and the arbitrary taxes decided in London soon became intolerable to the colonists. They now have the opportunity and the financial means of standing on their own feet and managing their own affairs.

Instead of being treated as equal partners, the American colonists were considered by the Prime Minister as second-rate citizens or children :

“This is the mother country. They are the children, they must obey and we prescribe”. (William Pitt)

More than a rebellion against patriarchal authority, the War of Independence, was in fact the first modern political revolution.

It started with the universal democratic slogan: “no taxation without representation“.

By rising against Britain the colonists exploded the myth of English liberty while using at the same time the principles that the people of England themselves had established one century before in the Glorious Revolution.

Origins of the Revolution

Several circumstances had put a strain on Anglo-American relations in the 18th century.

First, Britain merchants manipulated the House of Commons into voting a series of protective acts that were detrimental to the colonial economy.

Further restrictions were imposed through arbitrary taxation decided in London.

Another dissatisfaction came from the costs of the British European wars to which they were forced to contribute.

1763: the Royal Proclamation prohibited any British settlement west of the Appalachians, which created a major land problem in the colonies and restricted economic expansion.

So economic and patriotic motivations were closely linked in creating a feeling of rebellion.

The insurrection in New England

In May 1765, the Virginia Colonial Assembly voted a series of resolutions to tax the colonists. The latter started to organize themselves into activist groups such as the “Sons of Liberty” led by Samuel Adam.

Britain answered by a demonstration of strength and sent mercenary troops to various American cities. Several resistance groups denounced that measure as a hostile invasion.

In March 1770, the Boston”s Sons of Liberty attacked the British local garrison. British soldiers opened fire upon the crowd. This tragic incident, known as the Boston Massacre, is one of the triggers of the War of Independence against Britain.

In 1772, a new tax was imposed on tea: the Tea Act was interpreted as another demonstration of authority from the part of Britain.

A group of Bostonians wearing Indian costumes went on board a tea clipper in Boston harbor and managed to throw several thousand pounds of tea into the sea: the “Boston Tea Party” was followed by severe punishment.

A continental congress of the colonies answered by prohibiting British imports and militias were formed to resist British troops.

The Loyalists, i.e. the colonists who wanted to remain British were very often badly treated by the Patriots: they were caught, whipped, tarred, and feathered to expose their shame.

The first real battle took place in June 1775, outside Boston at Bunker Hill. There, the American volunteers managed to resist and to succeed over British troops for the first time.

The Spirit of 1776

In January 1776, the Englishman Thomas Paine published a pamphlet against Britain: it launched the spirit of 1776.

His book, Common Sense questions the necessity for America to remain within the British colonial empire:

“Does America be America of shop-keepers and farmers benefit by remaining under British rule? The plain answer of common sense is no.”

Thomas Paine, Common Sense

The book immediately sold over 120,000 copies.

In May, the American Congress adopted a resolution inviting the colonists to establish independent State Governments.

In June, the delegates for Virginia submitted to Congress a resolution for independence.

Therefore, the Founding Fathers appointed a committee to elaborate a Declaration of Independence.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft in his highly rhetorical style. A revised version was finally approved by Congress on July 4th, 1776, by the delegates of all the 13 colonies, except for two New York representatives who abstained.

The Meaning of the Declaration of Independence

The American Declaration of Independence represents a revolutionary vision both of mankind and its institutions.

In its preamble, it insists on the vital necessity of separation and independence, seen as part of the natural evolutionary process inherent to human nature:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary to separate…

It also clearly states the principle of “equality” and the rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as natural human rights.

Yet, Jefferson”s intention of putting slavery out of law as contrary to human rights was not carried into the final version because of the opposition from the Southern states.

The text of the Declaration of Independence consists of a list of criticisms against the British state, represented by the King. The form of this document is the same as the British Bill of Rights of 1689.

Moreover, both texts protest against autocracy, religious and political tyranny, and unfair representation. The conclusion finally declares the united colonies as “free and independent states”.


Thanks to the Declaration of Independence, a decisive step was taken towards the future, as one of the Founding Fathers, John Adams stated it: “the river is passed, the bridge is cut away”.

But the conflict with Britain lasted for 7 more years before General G. Washington”s victory, thanks to French help, brought about Britain”s final acceptance of the colonies’ independence at the Treaty of Paris on September 3rd, 1783.

The 13 states were formerly acknowledged as one nation, whose territory extended from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River.

A federal constitution was made public in 1787: it established a model of interstate relationships according to the principle of divided sovereignty. It also set up a republican system in which no branch of the government could exercise any despotic authority over the others.

Yet, the major contradiction remained in the nation of the rights of man in the late 18th century: the first modern democracy had 20% of slaves in its population.

Sommaire de la série From the Reformation to the birth of the American nation (1534-1776)

  1. The Reformation in the British Isles
  2. English Expansionism
  3. The Glorious Revolution of 1688
  4. The American colonies : Religion and Politics
  5. USA: Birth of a Nation
Definitions : the State, the Nation, Home Rule and Devolution photo

Scotland: the State, the Nation, Home Rule, and Devolution

The State and the Nation

For Benedict Anderson, Nations are “imagined communities”: it means that there is a will of the people to do things together and this group of people is so large that people cannot know every member: hence, they imagine the other members like them, sharing the same value.

The State is an independent polity, a political unit with a fully independent legislature. Scotland is not a State but she is a Nation.

Until 1999, Scotland was described as a “stateless nation”. Now it has a legislature: she is referred to as a “partially-stated nation”.

Home Rule – Devolution

“Home Rule” is a concept developed by the Liberal Party at the end of the 19th century. The whole concept was “Home Rule All Around” (i.e. Home Rule in the UK).

Then, it meant self-government (independence, autonomy), and later: devolution proposals of the Labour Party.

For Scotland, Home Rule means Scotland governed by Scots in Scotland: it underlines Scotland’s sovereignty. On the other hand, devolution underlines the sovereignty of the British State.

Vernon Bogdanor defines devolution as “the transfer of powers from a superior to an inferior political authority. Devolution may be defined as consisting of three elements:

  • the transfer to a subordinate elected body
  • on a geographical basis
  • of functions at present exercised by ministers and Parliament

The Scotland Act of 1998 set up the Scottish Parliament, its rules etc. Section 28: “this section does not affect the power of the British Parliament to make laws for Scotland”.

In theory, the British Parliament can still make laws for Scotland in Education for instance. The Scottish Parliament is subordinated to the British Parliament.

  • Devolved areas: education, health, environment…
  • Reserved areas: defence, foreign affairs, constitution…

Differences between the 2 electoral systems

England uses the single ballot simple majority system, also known as “the first-past-the-post” system: one round is always sufficient since the party which gets the largest number of votes wins.

This system was designed for only 2 political parties at the time. If there is more than 2 parties, it is unfair for parties whose electors are not located in the same area.

Example : General Election in Scotland in 1997 for the British Parliament:
Conservatives:    17.5%     0 seats (they never came first)
Liberals:                13%     10 seats (they came first several times)

The British Parliament is bicameral (2 chambers: House of Lords and House of Commons). Scotland uses a completely different system: there are 129 seats in the Scottish Parliament:

  • 73 seats for the 1st vote: first-past-the-post system (vote for a candidature),
  • 56 seats for the 2nd vote: additional member system. It restores some balance between the votes cast and the number of candidates: adds up some proportional representation.

The Scottish Parliament is unicameral: decisions are usually made quicker than in the British Pt since it is more constructive and consensual.

Therefore, the Scottish Parliament is more representative of the people of Scotland than the British Parliament is.

Sommaire de la série Scottish Politics: devolution

  1. Scotland: the State, the Nation, Home Rule, and Devolution
  2. Scottish Home Rule
  3. The Act of Union of 1707
  4. The rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP)
  5. The Scottish Parliament