In his book, McPherson presents an in-depth look into the reasons why northerners and southerners fought in the Civil War. Although slavery was certainly a clear, central topic of contention between the two sides, there were deep ideologies on each side concerning freedom for which men risked their lives and fought against their countrymen. Southerners were committed to keeping their culture, traditions, and economy.
Some may think that southerners only fought to keep the system of slavery. You need to consider how slavery was part of a much greater issue: the complete social and economic culture of the South. The differences in economic systems of the North and South became more and more apparent by the late 1700’s, as northern states became more metropolitan, modernized, and industrialized. While getting some machinery and industry, the South remained more dependent upon their cash crops (especially cotton and tobacco), as well as free labor, to succeed. Slavery, and the social division between whites and African-Americans, became ingrained in southern culture. Southerners vehemently defended their choice to keep their property of slaves (as property is protected in the First Amendment), as well as the economic system of slavery, year after year.
In contrast, many of the cities in the North had more immigrants flowing in, changing the culture and population of northern areas, as well as ideologies and perspectives. New groups of people brought new notions about many American living. Consider how other nations’ movements to abolish slavery affected America. For instance, as the North moved away from slaves to machinery for production, abolitionists in the North called for an end to the slave system tied to farming and cash crops of the South. Southerners viewed these demands as threats. Social, physical, economical, and philosophical differences between the two areas of the nation continued to grow in the decades leading to the Civil War. McPherson states, “Confederates fought for independence, for their property and way of life, for their very survival as a nation.” Southerners viewed the American federal government as a threat to their personal and regional freedoms; therefore, they believed in the legitimacy of forming a new nation.
The Civil War was fought over differing ideologies concerning the freedoms won in a different war, the American Revolution. McPherson establishes how both sides of the bloody Civil War became determined and resolute to keep the freedoms they believed defined America. Southerners believed they had the right to secede from the Union and form the Confederacy, as they thought America no longer protected state sovereignty (and the ability to determine whether or not to keep slavery) that was established in the Constitution. Southerners fought for the right to determine what was best for their area of the nation, even if that meant creating a new nation of freedom.