Contrary to popular belief, neither side of the U.S. Civil War was really into “freedom”.
They were both fighting for the power to control other people.
This tends to get skipped over in modern discussions, since the current culture war over “states’ rights” is built on an absurd attempt to re-frame the Civil War as being about Southern freedom. Which does tend to be distracting, if only for its silliness.
But it’s right there in the documents.
This is really easy to see with the Confederacy, since they said it loud and proud from the beginning.
South Carolina, the first state to secede, in its Declaration of the Causes of Secession cites “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding states to the institution of slavery” as the reason why those states were failing to fulfill their obligations under the Constitution, quoting:
“No person held to service or labor in one state, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up, on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.”https://teachingamericanhistory.org/document/south-carolinas-declaration-of-the-causes-of-secession/
This is the first cause of secession they give: Northern states, being opposed to slavery, were refusing to return escaped slaves as they were legally obligated to do.
You can argue that the Northern states were right to do that.
I certainly would: returning an escaped slave to slavery would be grossly immoral.
But you cannot argue that it was legal.
The Constitution and the Fugitive Slave Act were very clearly the law, and of what value is a State that doesn’t follow it’s own laws?
The North, on the other hand, was less forthright about what they were fighting for.
The newspapers and public speeches were full of stirring calls to defend freedom and abolish slavery.
But the actual powers in the Union were much more motivated by preventing the Southern states from seceding than they were by freeing the slaves.
Then-President Abraham Lincoln wrote to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune:
My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery.http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/greeley.htm
He actually goes on quite a bit, re-stating this in several different ways, but this sentence can stand on its own.
The North was not in the war to free slaves.
They were in it to prevent the South from exercising their self-determination and leaving a country they no longer agreed with.
Which is kinda ironic, since it was less than 100 years since the United States (as South Carolina pointed out) was founded on the principle that whenever any “form of government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was established, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government”.
But the United States has never not been massively hypocritical.
It was created amidst paeans to the glories of freedom and universal rights, but at the same time included legal slavery in its Constitution.
Both sides of the Civil War had some law on their side: the Northern states were failing at their legal obligations, and there was no basis for secession in the Constitution.
Both sides had some moral right on their side: any people have the moral right to dissolve a State they don’t wish to be part of and it’s morally reprehensible to claim ownership over another person.
Neither side of the Civil War deserves credit for their values.
They were all a bunch of authoritarian Statists struggling for power over other people, and none of them deserve respect for that.