“Of all the ongoing debates over the Civil War,” writes my guest Elizabeth Varon, “perhaps none has proven so difficult to resolve as the issue of Northern war aims.” Some historians have emphasized, particularly in the last few years, the important point of consensus between many Republicans and Democrats that the Union needed to be saved. Others have emphasized the growth of the antislavery movement in the Republican Party as the force that gave coherence to the North’s war effort. But each of these approaches, observes Varon, “focuses on only part of the broad Northern political spectrum.”
Varon’s suggestion is that “deliverance” is the concept that unites all the different northern perspectives. Northerners believed that they were bringing deliverance to the South: to the poor whites who were economically controlled by the wealthy slaveholders; to a region blighted with chattel slavery; and to the enslaved themselves. And of course Southerners also believed in the narrative of deliverance, only they believed that they were delivering themselves from those who would take their property; and their chief war aim was to deliver the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland from Federal oppression.
Elizabeth Varon is the Langbourne M. Williams Professor of American History at the University of Virginia. She is the author of numerous books; Armies of Deliverance: A New History of the Civil War is her most recent, and it’s the focus of our discussion.