This Week in History: Congress Declares the Civil War has Nothing to do With Slavery

This week, over 150 years ago, the United States Congress passed legislation that declared the Civil War was being fought over the reunion of the states, not to abolish slavery.

The American Civil War is often described as the war the Union couldn’t have lost. Before a single gun had been fired, they already had more than twice the population, nine times the industrial capacity and control of the navy.

But statistics only go so far in warfare. The South had resourcefulness and home advantage on its side, as well as some excellent generals.

On top of that, many in the North simply weren’t prepared to fight and kill their fellow Americans over the rights of slaves. Lincoln became very concerned that the slave states of Missouri, Kentucky and Maryland would leave the Union to fight for the Confederacy if the war became simply about this issue.

This couldn’t be allowed to happen. Losing these states may not have appeared that damaging on paper, but it would leave Washington D.C. completely surrounded by Confederate territory and likely lead to the loss of the Ohio River, a crucial waterway that kept Ohio, Illinois and Indiana economically afloat.

To combat this, and ensure these key states would stay put, Congress passed the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution. This act clearly stated that the war would not be waged “in any spirit of oppression, but to… preserve the Union with all the dignity and rights of the several States unimpaired.”

The act sailed through Congress in July 1861 with huge support from both houses. Although the same resolution would later be defeated in December due to a massive shift in public sentiment, the war wouldn’t officially be fought over slavery until Lincoln’s famous Emancipation Proclamation in September 1862.


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