The American Civil War, 1854–1876: A Marxist Perspective

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“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.” — Abraham Lincoln


The Civil War began with Bloody Kansas and ended with the defeat of the first incarnation of the KKK. This puts the dates of the war from 1854 to 1876. This statement alone will bewilder most people who have taken an interest in the Civil War, as the standard story is that the Civil War began with the first bombshells shot upon Fort Sumter in 1861 and ended when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865. If one looks to the standard of warfare, where two belligerent forces are engaging each other in pitched field battles, then the 1861 to 1865 paradigm fits. However, if one considers this conflict to be over a single issue rather a war between nations, then a longer time frame must be adopted. That is precisely what this article will argue. The American Civil War was fought over which type of slavery would exist in the United States; chattel slavery, as was practiced in the South, or wage slavery, as was practiced in the North. Prior to 1854, a number of compromises had maintained the peace between the competing economic forces that preferred one method over the other, but in 1854, violence broke out over the notion. The first shots fired over slavery were fired during the period that history refers to, presently, as Bloody Kansas. The violence of this affair continued off and on until the actual war broke out. The final shots over the notion were fired when President Ulysses S. Grant finally secured the surrender of the last members of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s guerrillas known as the Ku Klux Klan. Though this is not the way normal historians remember the story, this is truth of the affair. What follows is the tail of the Civil War told from Marxist a perspective, at least, as accurately as it can be told, but first, it would do good to clear up some definitions.

Chattel Slavery is a legal or economic system in which principles of property law are applied to humans allowing them to be classified as property, to be owned, and bought and sold accordingly, so they cannot withdraw unilaterally from the arrangement. While a person is enslaved, the owner is entitled to the productivity of the slave’s labour, without any remuneration. The rights and protection of the slave may be regulated by laws and customs in a particular time and place, and a person may become a slave from the time of their capture, their purchase, or their birth. Today, chattel slavery is unlawful in all countries, but a person may still be described as a slave if he or she is forced to work for another person without an ability on the worker’s part to unilaterally terminate the arrangement. Such situations are today commonly referred to as “practices similar to slavery.” The present form of the chattel slave trade is commonly referred to as human trafficking,but these terms are just fancy ways to get around admitting that chattel slavery still exists in the twenty-fist century.

Wage slavery refers to a situation where a person’s livelihood depends on wages or a salary, especially when the dependence is total and immediate. Where the chattel slave is forcibly sold to an owner permanently, the wage slave is forced to sell them self to an owner, generally by the hour. The term wage slavery exposes the exploitation of labour and social stratification, with the former seen primarily as unequal bargaining power between labor and capital, particularly when workers are paid comparatively low wages, e.g. in sweatshops, and the latter as a lack of workers’ self-management, fulfilling job choices, and leisure in an economy. The criticism of social stratification covers a wider range of employment choices bound by the pressures of a hierarchical society to perform otherwise unfulfilling work that deprives humans of their “species character” not only under threat of starvation or poverty, but also of social stigma and status diminution. Essentially, wage slaves are unable to explore the fullness of their human potential because they are forced to sacrifice hours of their lives for the benefit of a private individual who will never reimburse them more than the bare necessity required to survive or remain competitive versus other employers. This, then, robs them of the ability to control their own private time, and thus, eliminates the ability to express their own unique personal potential. Further, they likely never escape the cycle.

The Compromises

Anyone that has studied American history, even a little bit, knows that the battle over slavery predates the formation of the United States. So much so that when Thomas Jefferson sat down to write the Declaration of Independence, he wrote a rather powerful attack against chattel slavery in the original draft of the document:

“He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian King of Great Britain. Determined to keep open a market where Men should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or restrain this execrable commerce. And that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, by murdering the people on whom he has obtruded them: thus paying off former crimes committed against the Liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.”

Anyone who has read the final draft of the document knows that this passage is not present. This was the very first compromise made over chattel slavery in what would be the United States of America. The Southern colonies refused to sign the Declaration of Independence with this clause present. As the Northern colonies were dependent on their participation in the rebellion, this clause was removed, and chattel slavery survived the day, as thirteen colonies rebelled against King George III, instead of only six. It is key to note that as of 1776 chattel slavery in the Northern states, while it did still exist, was quickly being replaced by wage slavery, as the northern states were following England’s path into a more commercial and industrial economy.

The next time that the issue of chattel slavery was compromised over was in 1789, with the adoption of the U.S. Constitution. As for whether or not a state could practice chattel slavery, this power remained in the hands of the states, as it was granted by the Articles of Confederation in 1777. The compromise over slavery in the Constitution was over how slaves were to be counted for the purpose of representation in the National Congress created by the Constitution. Article One, Section Two, Clause Three of the original Constitution, determined that each slave living in the United States would be counted as three fifths of man for the purpose of Congressional representation. To appease the Northern states, who had all mostly abolished the trade, Article One, Section Nine indicated that as of 1808, the United States’ role in the Atlantic slave trade would come to an end.

It was not long after this that the competition between chattel slavery and wage slavery truly began. New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to abolish chattel slavery. They abolished it by amending their state constitution in 1804. After this point, all compromises over chattel slavery were made in relation to its expansion. The competition was also heated up by the purchase of the Louisiana Territory just a year before that. This gave both the North and the South needed space to expand their form of slavery. The Louisiana Purchase was probably one of the biggest sparks early on for the both sides of this conflict, as it provided for the potential expansion of either form of slavery into the heart of the North American continent. This competition, however, was not an easy one, and it brought the country near to conflict as early as 1820. The result of this early competition was the Compromise of 1820, better known as the Missouri Compromise.

The Missouri Compromise was attained through legislation passed by the 16th Congress of the United States on April 2, 1820. The measures provided for the admission of the District of Maine, formerly a part of the state of Massachusetts, as a free state and the Missouri territory as a state without restriction on slavery. In addition, it outlawed slavery north of the 36°30′, now referred to as the Mason-Dixon on account of who sponsored the bill, parallel within the Louisiana Purchase lands; thereby committing the largest remaining portion of the territory to wage slavery. South of the parallel no slavery restrictions were imposed. President James Monroe signed the legislation on April 6, 1820. The compromise bills served to quell the furious sectional debates that had first erupted during the final session of the 15th Congress. On February 3, 1819, Representative James Tallmadge, Jr., a Jeffersonian Republican from New York State, had submitted two amendments to Missouri’s request for statehood. The first proposed to federally prohibit further slave migration into Missouri; the second would require all slave offspring, born after statehood, to be freed at twenty-five years of age. At issue among southern legislators was the encroachment by their northern free state colleagues into what they considered a purely sectional concern, chattel slavery versus wage slavery.

Northern critics including Federalists and Republicans, objected to the expansion of slavery into the Louisiana Purchase territory on the Constitutional inequalities of the three-fifths rule, which conferred Southern representation in the federal government, derived from a states’ slave population. Nonetheless, the more populous North held a firm numerical advantage in the House. Jeffersonian Republicans in the North ardently maintained that a strict interpretation of the Constitution required that Congress act to limit the spread of slavery on egalitarian grounds. Another very important compromise came out of this legislation. From henceforth, until another deal was struck, anytime a free territory filed for statehood, a slave state also had to be available for statehood. The same was required in the reverse. This compromise was meant to keep the number of senators equal. If there were eleven slave states, they would have twenty-two senators, and the same would go for free states. This was meant to compensate for the population imbalances created by slavery and the three-fifths compromise written into the Constitution. This arrangement was workable for just about another thirty years. It began to fall apart after the United States acquired Texas, in addition to, what is now the American Southwest from Mexico after the completion of the Mexican-American War. This land acquisition would require yet another compromise to prevent the commencement of immediate hostilities between the North and the South. During this period the first cries of secession were voiced in the South.

The Compromise of 1850 was a package of five separate bills passed by the United States Congress in September of 1850, which defused a three year political confrontation between chattel slavery and wage slavery states regarding the status of territories acquired during the Mexican–American War, which was fought from 1846 to 1848. The compromise, drafted by Whig Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky and brokered by Clay and Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois, reduced sectional conflict. Controversy did arise over the Fugitive Slave provision, though. The Compromise was greeted with relief, although each side disliked specific provisions. First, Texas surrendered its claim to New Mexico, as well as its claims north of the Missouri Compromise Line. It retained the Texas Panhandle and the federal government took over the state’s public debt. Second, California was admitted as a free state with its current boundaries. Third, the South prevented adoption of the Wilmot Proviso that would have outlawed slavery in the new territories, and the new Utah Territory and New Mexico Territory were allowed, under the principle of popular sovereignty, to decide whether or not allow slavery within their borders. In practice, these lands were generally unsuited to plantation agriculture and their settlers were uninterested in slavery. Fourth, the chattel slave trade, but not slavery altogether, was banned in the District of Columbia. Finally, a more stringent Fugitive Slave Law was enacted.

The compromise was only made possible after the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor, who, although a slave owner, had favored excluding slavery from the Southwest. Whig leader Henry Clay designed a compromise, which failed to pass in early 1850, due to opposition by both pro chattel slavery southern Democrats, led by John C. Calhoun, and pro wage slavery northern Whigs. Upon Clay’s instruction, Douglas then divided Clay’s bill into several smaller pieces and narrowly won their passage over the opposition of those with stronger views on both sides. This was followed, four years later, by the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 created the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. It was drafted by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois and President Franklin Pierce. The initial purpose of the Kansas-Nebraska Act was to open up thousands of acres to new farms and make feasible a Midwestern Transcontinental Railroad. The popular sovereignty clause of the law led chattel slavery and wage slavery elements to flood into Kansas with the goal of establishing a government that favored their ideals. This resulted in what history now knows as Bloody Kansas. The violence never reached anywhere near the scale that it would begin to reach just seven years later; however, this is the period when the first shots over the conflict of chattel slavery and wage slavery were first fired, and it pitted Southerners versus Northerners. Thus, this must be considered the actual beginning of the American Civil War, as by this point, the will to compromise, at least for the people on the ground, had long since been cast aside

Bloody Kansas, 1854–1861

Bloody Kansas, also referred to as Bleeding Kansas, or the Border War, was a series of violent political confrontations in the United States involving wage slavery, “Free-Staters” and chattel slavery, “Border Ruffian,” elements in Kansas between 1854 and 1861, to include the “Bleeding Congress.” The Kansas–Nebraska Act of 1854 called for “popular sovereignty,” which meant that the decision about slavery was to be made by the settlers who made their way into the state rather than outsiders like Congress. It would be decided by votes, or more exactly which side had more votes counted by officials. At the heart of the conflict was the question of whether Kansas would be ruled by wage slavers or chattel slavers, and thus enter the Union as what was known at the time as a “slave state” or a “free state.” Chattel slavery forces said every settler had the right to bring his own property, including chattel slaves, into the territory. Wage slavers, or “free soil” forces said the rich chattel slavers would buy up all the good farmland and work it with black slaves, leaving little or no opportunity for the wage slavers. As such, Bloody Kansas was a conflict between wage slavery forces from the North and chattel slavery forces from the South over the issue of which slavery would be dominant in the United States. The term “Bloody Kansas” was coined by Republican Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune; its violence indicated that compromise was unlikely, and thus it presaged the Civil War.

Through the Missouri Compromise of 1820, Congress kept a tenuous balance of political power between North and South. In May of 1854, the Kansas–Nebraska Act created, from unorganized Native American lands, the territories of Kansas and Nebraska. This permitted U.S. citizens the right to enter the regions to seek residency, which would then allow them to determine their state’s slavery status and seek admission to the Union. Immigrants supporting both sides of the question arrived in Kansas to establish residency and gain the right to vote. However, Kansas Territory officials were appointed in 1854, by the pro chattel slavery administration of President Franklin Pierce, in office from 1853 to 1857, and thousands of non-resident pro chattel slavery Missourians entered Kansas with the goal of winning the elections. They captured territorial elections, sometimes by fraud and intimidation. In response, Northern abolitionist elements flooded Kansas with “free-soilers.” Wage slavery Kansas residents wrote the first Kansas Constitution in 1855 and elected the Free State legislature in Topeka. This stood in opposition to the pro chattel slavery government in Lecompton. The two Territorial governments increased as well as symbolized the strife of Bloody Kansas.

Among the first immigrants to Kansas Territory were citizens of pro chattel slavery states, notably neighboring Missouri, who came to secure the expansion of chattel slavery. Pro chattel slavery forces settled towns including Leavenworth and Atchison. At the same time, citizens of the North, many aided by the New England Emigrant Aid Company, moved to Kansas to make it a free, pro wage slavery, state and settled towns including Lawrence, Topeka and Manhattan. It was rumored in the South that thousands of Northerners were arriving in Kansas. Believing these rumors, in November of 1854, thousands of armed pro chattel slavery men known as “Border Ruffians,” mostly from Missouri, poured into the Kansas Territory and swayed the vote in the election for a non-voting delegate to Congress in favor of pro chattel slavery candidate, John Whitfield. The following year a Congressional committee investigating the election reported that 1,729 fraudulent votes were cast compared to 1,114 legal votes. In one location only 20 of the 604 voters were actual residents of the Kansas Territory. In another, 35 there were residents compared to 226 non-residents.

In October of 1855, John Brown came to Kansas Territory to fight the pro chattel slavery forces. On November 21, 1855 the so-called “Wakarusa War” began when a Free-Stater, a wage slaver named Charles Dow, was shot by a pro chattel slavery settler. The war had one more fatality, when another free stater, Thomas Barber, was shot and killed near Lawrence on December 6. On May 21, 1856, Missourians invaded Lawrence and burned down the Free State Hotel, destroyed two newspaper offices, and ransacked homes and stores. The violence continued to increase. Ohio abolitionist John Brown led his sons and other followers to plan the murder of settlers who spoke in favor of chattel slavery. At a pro chattel slavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek on the night of May 24, the group seized five pro chattel slavery men from their homes and hacked them to death with broadswords. The pro chattel slavery Territorial government, serving under the guidance of President Pierce, had been relocated to Lecompton. In April of 1856, a Congressional committee arrived there to investigate voting fraud. The committee found that the elections were improperly influenced by non residents. President Pierce refused recognition of its findings and continued to authorize the pro chattel slavery legislature anyways, which the pro wage slavery people called the “Bogus Legislature.”

On the Fourth of July in 1856, proclamations of President Pierce led to nearly five-hundred U.S. Army troops arriving in Topeka from Ft. Leavenworth and Ft. Riley. With their cannons pointed at Constitution Hall, and the long fuses lit, Colonel E.V. Sumner, cousin to the senator of the same name who was beaten on the Senate floor just weeks before during a heated debate on the issue, ordered the dispersal of the Free State Legislature. In August of 1856, thousands of pro chattel slavery men formed into armies and marched into Kansas. That same month, Brown and several of his followers engaged 400 pro chattel slavery soldiers in the “Battle of Osawatomie.” The hostilities raged for another two months until Brown departed the Kansas Territory, and a new territorial governor, John W. Geary, took office and managed to prevail upon both sides for peace. This was followed by a fragile peace broken by intermittent violent outbreaks for two more years. The last major outbreak of violence was touched off by the Marais des Cygnes massacre in 1858, in which Border Ruffians killed five pro wage slavery men. In all, approximately fifty-six people died in Bloody Kansas by the time the bulk of the violence ended in 1859, though there were several more scuffles between lesser known elements on either side. Essentially, from 1854 right up to the outbreak of the Civil War, chattel slavery and wage slavery were the center of armed conflicts in Kansas, and the territorial government regularly switched back and forth from pro chattel slavery to pro wage slavery. Kansas finally entered the union as a wage slavery, or “Free State” in January of 1861, but blood was spilled to make that happen. This was the real beginning of the Civil War.

The Traditional Civil War, 1861–1865

What caused this traditional range of the conflict to set off? Most historians will enumerate five basic reasons. First, the North and the South had two distinctly different economic systems, agrarian versus a budding commercial industry. Second, the role of states rights to govern their own affairs, versus the right of the federal government intervene in those affairs was important. Third, the various sectors were constantly fighting over the expansion of slavery. Fourth, the private Abolitionist Movement in the North was fighting a constant propaganda campaign against the South and slavery, and finally, Abraham Lincoln, a man whom the South believed would take their slaves from them was elected President of the United States at the end of 1860. There is a problem with this, as these five problems are really a unnecessary division of a single problem. From a Marxist perspective, here is the true cause of the main stage of the American Civil War. The Union, or the North, had developed an economy based on wage slavery; whereas, the Confederacy, or the South, had retained chattel slavery. These two economic system were both subdivisions of Capitalist economics, or the private ownership of the means of production. Theoretically, it is impossible for these two subsystems to coexist peacefully in any economy; so, an ultimate conflict to determine the future of capitalist production was inevitable. The remainder of the circumstances are naturally absorbed by this reality.

Next, very quickly put, the traditional American Civil War began with the First Battle of Fort Sumter which opened on April 12, 1861, when Confederate artillery fired on the Union garrison. These were the first shots of the traditional war, and continued all day, watched by many civilians in a celebratory spirit. The fort was positioned in the center of Charleston Bay in South Carolina. Its supply line was swiftly cut off, and the Union Commander, Brigadier General Robert Anderson, surrendered the installation the next day. It effectively ended with the surrender of General Robert E. Lee, of the Confederate Army, to General Ulysses S. Grant, of the Union Army, at Appomattox Court House, on April 9, 1865. Its formal completion came when the Confederate Congress, now moved Montgomery, Alabama, issued its formal surrender to the United States Congress on May 9, 1865. To transition in to the next section of this article, there were people who did not accept either of these surrenders as legitimate, and they would soon make their discontent known in the form of the first incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Guerrilla Campaign, 1865–1876

Six Confederate veterans from Pulaski, Tennessee created the original Ku Klux Klan on December 24, 1865, during the Reconstruction of the South after the Civil War. The group was known for a short time as the “Kuklux Clan.” The Ku Klux Klan was one of a number of secret, oath-bound organizations using violence, which included the Southern Cross in New Orleans, also founded in 1865, and the Knights of the White Camellia, founded in 1867, also in Louisiana. Historians generally classify the KKK as part of the post-Civil War insurgent violence related not only to the high number of veterans in the population, but also to their effort to control the dramatically changed social situation by using extrajudicial means to restore white supremacy. In 1866, Mississippi Governor William L. Sharkey, a Republican, reported that disorder, lack of control, and lawlessness were widespread. He complained that in some of his counties armed bands of Confederate soldiers roamed at will. The Klan used public violence against African Americans and their allies as intimidation. They burned houses, and attacked and killed African Americans, leaving their bodies on the roads, as an example for all to see.

At an 1867 meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, Klan members gathered to try to create a hierarchical organization with local chapters eventually reporting to a national headquarters. Since most of the Klan’s members were veterans, they were used to such military hierarchy, but the Klan never operated under this centralized structure. Local chapters and bands were highly independent. Former Confederate Brigadier General George Gordon developed the Prescript, which espoused white supremacist beliefs. For instance, an applicant should be asked if he was in favor of “a white man’s government,” “the reenfranchisement and emancipation of the white men of the South,” and “the restitution of the Southern people to all their rights.” The latter is a reference to the Ironclad Oath, which stripped the vote from white persons who refused to swear that they had not borne arms against the Union. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was named the first Grand Wizard, claiming to be the Klan’s national leader.

In an 1868 newspaper interview, Forrest stated that the Klan’s primary opposition was to the Loyal Leagues, Republican state governments, people such as Tennessee governor William Gannaway Brownlow, and any other “carpetbaggers” and “scalawags,” who sought to destroy the Southern way of life. He argued that many southerners believed that African Americans were voting for the Republican Party because they were being hoodwinked by the Loyal Leagues. One Alabama newspaper editor declared “The League is nothing more than a ‘nigger’ Ku Klux Klan.” Despite Gordon’s and Forrest’s work, local Klan units never accepted the Prescript and continued to operate autonomously. Additionally, there were never any hierarchical levels at the state level, either. Klan members used violence to settle old personal feuds and local grudges, as they worked to restore general white dominance in the disrupted postwar society. The historian Elaine Frantz Parsons describes the membership:

“Lifting the Klan mask revealed a chaotic multitude of anti-black vigilante groups, disgruntled poor white farmers, wartime guerrilla bands, displaced Democratic politicians, illegal whiskey distillers, coercive moral reformers, sadists, rapists, white workmen fearful of black competition, employers trying to enforce labor discipline, common thieves, neighbors with decades old grudges, and even a few freedmen and white Republicans who allied with Democratic whites or had criminal agendas of their own. Indeed, all they had in common, besides being overwhelmingly white, southern, and Democratic, was that they called themselves, or were called, Klansmen.”

Historian Eric Foner observed:

“In effect, the Klan was a military force serving the interests of the Democratic party, the planter class, and all those who desired restoration of white supremacy. Its purposes were political, but political in the broadest sense, for it sought to affect power relations, both public and private, throughout Southern society. It aimed to reverse the interlocking changes sweeping over the South during Reconstruction, to destroy the Republican party’s infrastructure, to undermine the Reconstruction state, to reestablish control of the black labor force, and to restore racial subordination in every aspect of Southern life.”

To that end they worked to curb African American’s access education, economic advancement, voting rights, and the right to keep and bear arms. The Klan soon spread into nearly every southern state, launching a “reign of terror” against Republican leaders both African American and white. Those political leaders assassinated during the campaign included Arkansas Congressman James M. Hinds, three members of the South Carolina legislature, and several men who served in constitutional conventions. The Klan attacked African American members of the Loyal Leagues and intimidated southern Republicans and Freedmen’s Bureau workers. When they killed African American political leaders, they also took heads of families, along with the leaders of churches and community groups, because these people had many roles in society. Agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau reported weekly assaults and murders of African Americans:

“Armed guerrilla warfare killed thousands of Negroes; political riots were staged; their causes or occasions were always obscure, their results always certain: ten to one hundred times as many Negroes were killed as whites. Masked men shot into houses and burned them, sometimes with the occupants still inside. They drove successful black farmers off their land. Generally, it can be reported that in North and South Carolina, in 18 months ending in June of 1867, there were 197 murders and 548 cases of aggravated assault.”

Klansmen killed more than one-hundred and fifty African Americans in a single county in Florida, and hundreds more in other surroudning counties. Freedmen’s Bureau records provided a detailed recounting of Klansmen’s beatings and murders of freedmen and their white allies. Milder encounters also occurred. In Mississippi, according to the Congressional inquiry:

“One of these teachers, a Miss Allen, of Illinois, whose school was at Cotton Gin Port in Monroe County, was visited between one and two o’clock on a cool spring morning in March of 1871, by about fifty men mounted and disguised. Each man wore a long white robe and his face was covered by a loose mask with scarlet stripes. She was ordered to get up and dress which she did at once and then admitted to her room the captain and lieutenant who in addition to the usual disguise had long horns on their heads and a sort of device in front. The lieutenant had a pistol in his hand and he and the captain sat down while eight or ten men stood inside the door and the porch was full. They treated her gentlemanly and quietly, but complained of the heavy school tax, said she must stop teaching and go away and warned her that they never gave a second notice. She heeded the warning and left the county that day.”

The original designated purpose of the Klan, as per the writings of Nathan Bedford Forrest and some other top figures of the Klan, was to destabilize the federal occupation of the South so that it would possible to reform the Confederate Government, end Reconstruction, and declare independence from the United States again. This is why the top Klan leaders put so much effort into the formation of a “National” hierarchy. Their second plan was to re-establish the institution of chattel slavery. As history portends, they were not able to resurrect the Confederacy, nor were they able to bring back chattel slavery. However, they were able to force Reconstruction to an end. Militarily, the Klan was beaten into submission by President Ulysses S. Grant by the middle of 1876; however, even after this the Klan did win a certain victory. The US Congress was growing tired of spending so much money fighting a guerrilla war in the South, so when the 1876 election came around, they were ripe for a deal to end the money well, as they saw it. The 1876 election was stacked with ethical problems. So, Southern Democrats made a deal with Northern and Southern Republicans. Congress had to end Federal Reconstruction in the South, pull out all federal troops from the south, and Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican candidate, could win the election.

In a slightly modified manner the people that had run the KKK also got what they wanted. They did not get chattel slavery or a new Confederacy, but they did get a new South, in which those African Americans who remained, were entered into a modified form of wage slavery, which also served to keep them at the bottom of the Southern socioeconomic ladder. They were entered into Crop Sharer contracts, where they were paid by the poundage of raw materials harvested in exchange for a small plot of land upon which to grow their employers cash crops and their own gardens for survival. As growing seasons always varied, if they could not mach their harvest in a given year, they were loaned money to pay off what they owed. Usually, they never paid the employer off and remained in a cycle off debt until they either died or tried to skip town, which could also get them killed. This was backed up by new “Jim Crow” state laws that backed up the economic arrangement with state’s laws. This arrangement spelled the end of chattel slavery in the South, even though it did not alter the reality that the primary occupation in the South was agriculture. All it did was take wage slavery and modify it to the given conditions. In the end, after a twenty plus year conflict, wage slavery won the day in the United States. The defeat of the Ku Klux Klan also engineered the end of this extended version of the American Civil War.


This extended version of the American Civil War, 1854 to 1876, shines a very important light up on what the Civil War was actually fought for. It shows the build up, the core action period, and the slow down period, which all point clearly to the reality that the Civil War was fought over how capitalist labor would evolve into the future. As the North was able to ensure the death of chattel slavery, it is quite obvious that wage slavery won the day, even though it still operated differently between the factory jobs that developed up North and the sharecropping program that developed down South. One thing that this extended look at the Civil War also shows is that though they were no longer chattel slaves, the African Americans that remained in the South were still slaves of a sort, wage slaves, bound to the land that they were working by a cycle of debt. Using fear, intimidation, and domestic terrorism, the KKK was able to help the White planter class ease its way into wage slavery, so that they would still be able to maintain the lifestyles that they were accustomed to, thus helping hem to remain at the top of the social hierarchy of the post Civil War South. Looking at the Civil War from this perspective must, ultimately, bring one to an interesting conclusion. The South did not lose the Civil War. They may have lost in Kansas, and they have lost the fight for chattel slavery, but in altered form, at least, they managed to keep slavery alive in the South. They just had to adopt their program to the reality that wage slavery was now proper way of doing business in the United States. Well into the twentieth century, the old plantation class was till the dominant political force in the American South, a victory in itself. This is a Marxist understanding because it recognizes that the Civil War was actually nothing more than a protracted economic struggle between two very different forms of capitalist production; wage slavery versus chattel slavery.

Refuse to Cooperate

We are working to empower people with the knowledge of self…

Kent Allen Halliburton

Written by

Senior Editor at Refuse to Cooperate (

Refuse to Cooperate

We are working to empower people with the knowledge of self governance along the Marxist-Leninist line of thinking. We, the Working Class, are the masters of our own destinies. The present social and economic elites are meant to answer to us, not the other way around.

Kent Allen Halliburton

Written by

Senior Editor at Refuse to Cooperate (

Refuse to Cooperate

We are working to empower people with the knowledge of self governance along the Marxist-Leninist line of thinking. We, the Working Class, are the masters of our own destinies. The present social and economic elites are meant to answer to us, not the other way around.

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