Greetings Cosmic Americans!
As you all know (because I talk about it incessantly) I am a big fan of Civil War message boards, discussion forums, Youtube comment sections, and the like. One of the persistent themes on the various outlets - usually emanating for the neo-Confederate camp, is that the war had nothing to do with slavery...that the institution was somehow - incidental to the conflict. The usual tidbit of evidence cited in support of this claim is that most Confederates did not own slaves.
Well - I have addressed that somewhat problematic contention ad nauseum so I see no need to repeat myself here. But another thread runs through the argument as well - that some people owned slaves and nevertheless sided with the Union. Even U. S. Grant owned slaves, they say...so the war could not possibly have been about slavery!
Well let's take a step back and look at that for a sec. Yes, U. S. Grant at one point is his life owned a slave - one William Jones, who was acquired from Grant's father-in-law in the 1850s. Soon after, Grant signed the paperwork and gave Jones his freedom. That's the end of Grant's dealing with the institution.
Now I am not apologizing for Grant or patting him on the back for releasing Jones. I am illustrating a bigger point. Of course some people who lived in the North or sided with the Union had at one point owned slaves. The United States of America was a slave-holding country until 1865. But singling out an individual one-time slaveholder who fought to preserve the Union as evidence that the war was not about slavery is what I would call bad history.
The funny thing is, if you want to "prove" something in this way it's pretty easy. Step one - come up with an argument before you ever look at any evidence. Step two - go back into the historical record and find a couple of examples illustrating your argument and viola! You have done it.
Except writing history doesn't really work that way. Using this method you can support almost anything. My advice to those who still hang on to the old slavery-not-the-cause stuff: Go back and look at all the evidence (or as much as you can) before you draw any conclusions. I'll bet you will see some patterns emerge. Patterns such as widespread concern over the future of the institution of slavery - something that drove eleven southern states to secede.
Then get back to me. If you still think the war was about something else, we can talk.