That is what a speaker in the South Carolina House of Representatives called the Civil War: “the War of Northern Aggression.” I don’t know how ironic he was being, but there it was, one more name for the Civil War, a name that still resonates for some.
Some names for the great conflict include The War Between the States and The Brothers’ War. There are a dozen or more names that combatants and others have used, some in an attempt to remain “objective,” others in an attempt to assign blame. And to re-ignite still burning embers.
The optimal causes, the immediate causes of the war, were two-fold: firing on Fort Sumter was a clear act of war and the Union did not blink. Secession was the other immediate cause. Was secession a possible act under the doctrine of states’ rights? As long as this was being debated, it was an exercise in free speech. But the Confederate states’ official acts of secession were immediate causes of the war.
Slavery and states’ rights were enduring arguments from the first moments the terms of the Constitution were being argued, nearly 75 years before the outbreak of the Civil War. So in themselves neither slavery nor states’ rights were operative causes of the War. But firing on a government fort and the political acts of secession were optimal causes of the war. Still, slavery was the underlying reason for the argument in the first place, the underlying cause of the war. The South fired the first shot, the South split apart the Union, the South precipitated the Brothers' War.
But what does “The War of Northern Aggression” tell us? It tells us what we have long suspected, that the Civil War, and its underlying arguments (slavery, and even states’ rights), are not settled issues among all Americans. Gridlock in Washington, DC and the partisan passions across America are proof that as a nation we are not one people, one more argument that democracy cannot work in today’s fractured political environment. <sigh>