I realize that I am using a controversial example to illustrate the point of this post, so let me start by making this perfectly clear: I oppose slavery — in every form!
That said, it is a matter of fact that the North was in the wrong, and the South was (is) justified to call it “The War of Northern Aggression.” The right to secede from the Union was clearly stated by the men who wrote and ratified the Constitution. But, because the South seceded over the issue of slavery, the issue has become so clouded by emotion that no one can see that the Civil War really was about States’ rights.
Let us first understand that the founding fathers understood that the States were free to leave the Union:
If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation… to a continuance in union… I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.’
“Each State, in ratifying the Constitution, is considered as a sovereign body, independent of all others, and only to be bound by its own voluntary act. In this relation, then, the new Constitution will, if established, be a FEDERAL, and not a NATIONAL constitution”
“If the States were not left to leave the Union when their rights were interfered with, the government would have been National, but the Convention refused to baptize it by that name.”
Let us also understand that those who took the time to learn and understand the principles upon which this nation was originally founded also understood that the States had the right to secede:
“The Union was formed by the voluntary agreement of the states; and these, in uniting together, have not forfeited their nationality, nor have they been reduced to the condition of one and the same people. If one of the states chooses to withdraw from the compact, it would be difficult to disapprove its right of doing so, and the Federal Government would have no means of maintaining its claims directly either by force or right.”
–Alexis de Tocqueville
This means that the Confederate States were exercising their Constitutional Right to leave the Union. So, when the North attacked, it was in the wrong. Yes, the South was wrong to cling to slavery. This is because, at its core, slavery tramples individual free will. However, if the People of the South vote to secede and the People of the North attack to prevent that, then the majority in the North is using government to trample the free will of the majority in the South. That is a violation of the same principle the North claimed to be fighting to end: the trampling of individual free will.
But the North did something far worse than the South. Had the South been left alone, Natural Law would have eventually corrected the moral crimes of slavery. Industrialization of farming would have made slavery less efficient, and thus, too expensive to continue. The issue would have been resolved by running its natural course. But by forcing the South back into the Union, the ‘Union’ was destroyed. Before the Civil War, the United States was a Federation. Every State stayed in the Federation voluntarily. This is in accordance with the Natural Right to Contract. But after the Civil War, the States were not free to secede, which means the Federation was ended and a National Government was established — in direct defiance to the letter and spirit of the Constitution. In short, the North destroyed the Constitution as it was ratified. This trampled the free will of the South and North, as it destroyed the Social Contract among all members of the United States — in the North and South.