The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry

Portraying Union Soldiers of the Civil War









Why did the North go to War in 1861?

Probably the most debated theme in American History revolves around the questions "What was the cause of the Civil War? Why did the North and South go to war? Why did individual Northern and Southern men go to war? What motivated politicians, soldiers and civilians, educated and uneducated - indeed all classes of American society - in moving over this precipice?"

The honest answers may have begun experiencing political "spin" in some sectors even before the war ended and certainly did so almost immediately upon its conclusion. It is an unfortunate trend even today when the historic period of 1861-1865 is so highly politicized and hemmed in by "correctness" that it is a virtual necessity to go back to first-person sources to discover the true beliefs and motivations of those involved.

In 1889 the state legislature of Minnesota approved a bill commissioning a report, an "official historical narrative", of Minnesota's role in the Civil War of 1861-1865 and Indian War of 1862. The following is an excerpt from the report which was compiled from the testimony of many eyewitnesses representing a wide sampling of Minnesota's participants. The excerpt is refreshingly honest in its appraisal of why the North (and therefore Minnesota) went to war against the Confederacy. Slavery is mentioned as one of several points of aggravation which preceded the war but not as THE cause for war. Ditto for cultural differences between North and South and ditto again for "political clashings." Both "meddlesome" northern antagonists and "arrogant" southern antagonists are held equally responsible ("equally willing") for bringing things to a point of crisis. What we call "states rights" is discussed as dating to the Founding Fathers ("statesmen of the Revolution") and therefore legal but seems to be seen by the author as a weakness contributing to arrival at said point of crisis. Secession is not condemned as being either illegal or treason. In fact the legality of secession is asserted as also dating back to the Founding Fathers. (It must be remembered that over the six decades prior to 1861 nearly all threats of secession had come from northern states and that none other than Abraham Lincoln himself had argued in favor of a state's right to secede while a member of congress in 1848.) But the excerpt does claim that the southern seizure of Ft. Sumter was what we today might label a "wake up call" to the North illustrating that the danger of an independent Southern nation as a likely rival to the United States makes for a very clear justification for war (1 below) and also makes clear what the objective of the war must be (2 below) - the subjugation of The South to the point that it will be forced into a new form of Union framed according to northern interests.

1) A new southern nation could become a dangerous rival to the (northern) United States for domination of the American continent. (This was, after all, an era still imbued with the spirit of Manifest Destiny.)

2) To prevent such a dangerous state of affairs the Confederacy must be "compelled" by "absolute force" into a newly formed "solidified" Union (a "more perfect Union" in Lincoln's words) that will correct the perceived flaws of the nation created by the Founding Fathers (such as the right of secession) and establish the domination of northern culture and perspectives over southern in a nation that will be indivisible.

Whatever one's opinion may be of the reasoning represented in this document there is no denying that the thoughts expressed are both brutally honest and convincingly logical as an expression of the Northern perspective of 1861.

Was it imperialistic? Yes, undoubtedly. But (in fairness) many civilized nations of the time (and some uncivilized) had imperialistic pretensions. (Certain individuals in The South too had imperialistic dreams though most southerners were philosophically committed to limited, constrained (and mostly local) government as the ideal.)

Was it a betrayal of the vision of the Founding Fathers? Quite possibly. At the very least it represented a major and significant shift in philosophy - and power.










































Flag of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry







































2008 All Rights Reserved. No copying or distribution without express written permission.

This site is best viewed at an aspect ratio of 16:9 and a screen resolution of 1920 x 1200.