Dennis Frye – When Did the Civil War Begin?

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VIDEO: Dennis Frye – When Did the Civil War Begin? TRT: 6:00

Dennis Frye

When did the Civil War begin? When did the Civil War begin? Boy, this is an age-old question that is still so alive today. It is so debated. It’s a lot of fun to debate. Did the Civil War begin with the emphasis on when? Now, many historians would argue that the Civil War actually begins in 1619, 1619 when Jamestown is a very small, new colony. There are very few people of english descent who reside in north America and the first of african descent arrive as slaves in the Jamestown colony. Some will tell you that that is the origin of the Civil War right there: Jamestown, 1619.

Others will argue that it actually happens during the period of the development of the U.S Constitution because slavery was always that dog that was just outside the door. Sometimes, the dog would howl. Sometimes, the dog would scratch on the door. Everybody always knew the dog was there, but they didn’t pay much attention to it. It wasn’t under their feet. It wasn’t beside them. It wasn’t on their lap. The dog was there and the dog got some attention as a result of that. So, even in the Constitution, we see references to slavery compromises, compromises about slavery but never any definitive end to it, with the exception of the end of the african slave trade. So, when did it begin? Well, what I like to do is move away from this more philosophical “when,” to: “is there a point that you can say it starts here,” when do we begin war, when do we begin to fight, when do we begin to kill each other over slavery?” Now, that would take many of us right to Kansas. A civil war in Kansas erupts in 1854 and 1855 as a result of federal legislation, allowing people to decide in their own states, as they’re applying for statehood in the union – “will we be a slave state or will we be a free state?” When that popular sovereignty decision occurred for the territory of Kansas, the abolitionists were sending people in of the anti-slavery fighters. Then, the pro-slavery people – the people that wanted to extend slavery into the territories of the United States – we’re sending people there. The fighting began when John Brown arrives in Kansas as an abolitionist to fight against the extension of slavery. He’s engaged in violence there. He’s engaged in military action. He’s known as Captain Brown. He has his own band of men. We might refer to them as guerrillas who are very effective in the fighting in Kansas. Brown developed a huge reputation for himself. He became famous. He actually had a newspaper reporter with him who was recording the activities that were being reported in the northern press and so Brown became a luminary throughout much of the north, kind of the champion of the anti-slavery fight in Kansas and the captain of that fight on the battlefield that brings us to Harper’s Ferry. John Brown purposely selects Harper’s Ferry to launch his individual personal crusade war against slavery. Now Brown will assault Harper’s Ferry, but he won’t succeed. He’ll ultimately be captured. He’ll be imprisoned and tried and executed. The real significance of John Brown is, not so much what happened in those 36 hours at Harper’s Ferry, but more what happened during his imprisonment, his execution, and, in the aftermath, I would argue that no individual, up until that point had so polarized America, had so divided America, had so carved a canyon in public opinion between north and south as had John Brown. No one had. He was a sensation, whether you liked him or hated him. He was a true popular sensation and he aroused emotion. Brown’s effect on America was not an intellectual one, but an emotional one. He stabbed a knife into everyone’s heart and that knife he pierced you with was the knife of slavery. Where do you stand? How do you feel about this that ultimately led to great division politically in the United States? It completely ruptured the democratic party. they committed fraticide in 1860 and there’s no question that when you look at where did we really, really begin to focus on the hatred, the division and the engagement of emotion, north and south, that dividing line that would make us two separate cultures that would want to go to war against each other – John Brown is the spark. He is the initiator. He is the instigator of this terrible, terrible mental and emotional chasm between north and south that would lead us ultimately to Civil War. So, I think you can make an argument – a very, very strong argument – that the first shots of the American Civil War were not fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston harbor, but were fired at the army in the arsenal in Harper’s Ferry.