While Flaggers, neo-Secessionists and other fringe groups continue to justify the Lost Cause, most thoughtful students of the Late Unpleasantness generally agree that preserving the Union was generally a good thing. A modern corollary to this is the dogma that the cause of the War was slavery and slavery alone; all else was just rhetoric or propaganda to justify the unjustifiable. I am simplifying here, but I think most intellectuals and academics would basically subscribe to that premise, albeit with a few ifs, ands and buts. Certainly preservation of slavery was a root cause of the War and among the Slavocracy that dominated the political and social fabric of the South–and much of the Federal government–that was certainly their main reason for Secession; but it was hardly the only cause of the war.
I have long felt that other factors paved the downward road to Secession as well and that in 1861 in both the North and the South there was a broad spectrum of motives for siding with one side or another. Quite a few Federal officers–including Ulysses S. Grant’s family–were slave owners for one thing. Moreover, a number of Confederate officers later claimed that they would not have gone to war solely to defend the Peculiar Institution, while I think it could fairly be argued that very few in the North would have volunteered to go to war had it been presented as a war to abolish slavery in 1861. Lincoln himself was on record on a number of occasions as saying he placed preservation of the Union over the destruction of slavery.
While slavery was an underlying factor, for some groups other motives lay behind their decision to cast their lot with the Confederacy. It is in this context that I reproduce below the declaration of war by the Cherokee Nation, dating to October of 1861. It is true that the Native American tribes in Oklahoma were slave-owners as well, but their economy and well being were hardly dependent on the institution. It is clear from their statement of purposes that their motives were far different than, say, the South Carolina plutocrats or the Cotton aristocracy of the Cotton Belt. Of course, behind all the Cherokee justifications looms the Trail of Tears and an innate distrust of the Federal government and its promises. Some Native Americans did side with the North; many did not; more than a few did not give a rat’s ass about the war. Following is the Cherokee Nations explanation of its “inexorable necessity” for siding with the South:
Declaration by the People of the Cherokee Nation of the Causes
Which Have Impelled Them to Unite Their Fortunes With Those of the
Confederate States of America.
When circumstances beyond their control compel one people to sever the ties which have long existed between them and another state or confederacy, and to contract new alliances and establish new relations for the security of their rights and liberties, it is fit that they should publicly declare the reasons by which their action is justified.
The Cherokee people had its origin in the South; its institutions are similar to those of the Southern States, and their interests identical with theirs. Long since it accepted the protection of the United States of America, contracted with them treaties of alliance and friendship, and allowed themselves to be to a great extent governed by their laws.
In peace and war they have been faithful to their engagements with the United States. With much of hardship and injustice to complain of, they resorted to no other means than solicitation and argument to obtain redress. Loyal and obedient to the laws and the stipulations of their treaties, they served under the flag of the United States, shared the common dangers, and were entitled to a share in the common glory, to gain which their blood was freely shed on the battlefield.
When the dissensions between the Southern and Northern States culminated in a separation of State after State from the Union they watched the progress of events with anxiety and consternation. While their institutions and the contiguity of their territory to the States of Arkansas, Texas, and Missouri made the cause of the seceding States necessarily their own cause, their treaties had been made with the United States, and they felt the utmost reluctance even in appearance to violate their engagements or set at naught the obligations of good faith.
Conscious that they were a people few in numbers compared with either of the contending parties, and that their country might with no considerable force be easily overrun and devastated and desolation and ruin be the result if they took up arms for either side, their authorities determined that no other course was consistent with the dictates of prudence or could secure the safety of their people and immunity from the horrors of a war waged by an invading enemy than a strict neutrality, and in this decision they were sustained by a majority of the nation.
That policy was accordingly adopted and faithfully adhered to. Early in the month of June of the present year the authorities of the nation declined to enter into negotiations for an alliance with the Confederate States, and protested against the occupation of the Cherokee country by their troops, or any other violation of their neutrality. No act was allowed that could be construed by the United States to be a violation of the faith of treaties.
But Providence rules the destinies of nations, and events, by inexorable necessity, overrule human resolutions. The number of the Confederate States has increased to eleven, and their Government is firmly established and consolidated. Maintaining in the field an army of 200,000 men, the war became for them but a succession of victories. Disclaiming any intention to invade the Northern States, they sought only to repel invaders from their own soil and to secure the right of governing themselves. They claimed only the privilege asserted by the Declaration of American Independence, and on which the right of the Northern States themselves to self-government is founded, of altering their form of government when it became no longer tolerable and establishing new forms for the security of their liberties.
Throughout the Confederate States we saw this great revolution effected without violence or the suspension of the laws or the closing of the courts. The military power was nowhere placed above the civil authorities. None were seized and imprisoned at the mandate of arbitrary power. All division among the people disappeared, and the determination became unanimous that there should never again be any union with the Northern States. Almost as one man all who were able to bear arms rushed to the defense of an invaded country, and nowhere has it been found necessary to compel men to serve or to enlist mercenaries by the offer of extraordinary bounties.
But in the Northern States the Cherokee people saw with alarm a violated Constitution, all civil liberty put in peril, and all the rules of civilized warfare and the dictates of common humanity and decency unhesitatingly disregarded. In States which still adhered to the Union a military despotism has displaced the civil power and the laws became silent amid arms. Free speech and almost free thought became a crime. The right to the writ of habeas corpus, guaranteed by the Constitution, disappeared at the nod of a Secretary of State or a general of the lowest grade. The mandate of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was set at naught by the military power, and this outrage on common right approved by a President sworn to support the Constitution. War on the largest scale was waged, and the immense bodies of troops called into the field in the absence of any law warranting it under the pretense of suppressing unlawful combination of men.
The humanities of war, which even barbarians respect, were no longer thought worthy to be observed. Foreign mercenaries and the scum of cities and the inmates of prisons were enlisted and organized into regiments and brigades and sent into Southern States to aid in subjugating a people struggling for freedom, to burn, to plunder, and to commit the basest of outrages on women; while the heels of armed tyranny trod upon the necks of Maryland and Missouri, and men of the highest character and position were incarcerated upon suspicion and without process of law in jails, in forts, and in prison-ships, and even women were imprisoned by the arbitrary order of a President and Cabinet ministers; while the press ceased to be free, the publication of newspapers was suspended and their issues seized and destroyed; the officers and men taken prisoners in battle were allowed to remain in captivity by the refusal of their Government to consent to an exchange of prisoners; as they had left their dead on more than one field of battle that had witnessed their defeat to be buried and their wounded to be cared for by Southern hands.
Whatever causes the Cherokee people may have had in the past, to complain of some of the Southern States, they cannot but feel that their interests and their destiny are inseparably connected with those of the South. The war now raging is a war of Northern cupidity and fanaticism against the institution of African servitude; against the commercial freedom of the South, and against the political freedom of the States, and its objects are to annihilate the sovereignty of those States and utterly change the nature of the General Government.
The Cherokee people and their neighbors were warned before the war commenced that the first object of the party which now holds the powers of government of the United States would be to annul the institution of slavery in the whole Indian country, and make it what they term free territory and after a time a free State; and they have been also warned by the fate which has befallen those of their race in Kansas, Nebraska, and Oregon that at no distant day they too would be compelled to surrender their country at the demand of Northern rapacity, and be content with an extinct nationality, and with reserves of limited extent for individuals, of which their people would soon be despoiled by speculators, if not plundered unscrupulously by the State.
Urged by these considerations, the Cherokees, long divided in opinion, became unanimous, and like their brethren, the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, determined, by the undivided voice of a General Convention of all the people, held at Tahlequah, on the 21st day of August, in the present year, to make common cause with the South and share its fortunes.
In now carrying this resolution into effect and consummating a treaty of alliance and friendship with the Confederate States of America the Cherokee people declares that it has been faithful and loyal to is engagements with the United States until, by placing its safety and even its national existence in imminent peril, those States have released them from those engagements.
Menaced by a great danger, they exercise the inalienable right of self-defense, and declare themselves a free people, independent of the Northern States of America, and at war with them by their own act. Obeying the dictates of prudence and providing for the general safety and welfare, confident of the rectitude of their intentions and true to the obligations of duty and honor, they accept the issue thus forced upon them, unite their fortunes now and forever with those of the Confederate States, and take up arms for the common cause, and with entire confidence in the justice of that cause and with a firm reliance upon Divine Providence, will resolutely abide the consequences.
Tahlequah, C. N., October 28, 1861.
President National Committee.
Clerk National Committee.
Speaker of Council.
THOMAS B. WOLFE,
This text is reproduced from The Cherokee Nation official website: Cherokee Declaration of Causes 1861 , where you may learn more about their perspective on things. The document itself is in public domain.