The US Civil War, a bloody conflict in which more than half a million people perished, started earlier this month, 150 years ago. I have occasionally written before about how historians, given their regional or ideological opinions, have revised the accounts of what happened, and some of the revisionists – especially from the Confederacy -friendly side, have been counter-attacked themselves. A book that stands in the revisionist tradition but which avoids some of the sillier forms of name-calling against Lincoln, while not downplaying the centralisation of power that came after the war ended, is a very fine study by Jeffrey Rogers Hummell, which I have started to read.
I see that Taki, the mega-rich columnist for the Spectator who is very much a part of the isolationist, paleocon Right, repeats the accusation that slavery, as an issue, never really emerged as a causus belli in the war until at least two years after the conflict started. That may well be true: the idea that the fight between the Union and the Confederacy was some sort of simple war between the forces of Northern good against Southern evil is wrong, or at least does not recognise the genuine grievances that some on the Southern side felt. Let’s not forget that war histories tend to get written by the victors. I can even see why some libertarians, for instance, look favourably upon the Confederacy in terms of the issues of states’ rights – if not the evil of slavery, obviously. But there are times when the enthusiasts for the Confederacy do make fools of themselves, and Taki does it with this little line in his Spectator column this week (behind a subscriber firewall)(page 55): “Lincoln did everything for effect, and his death even got him on the back of the five-dollar bill, whereas in my opinion he should have been tried in absensia for the crimes he committed during the war and the destruction he caused to one of the loveliest societies that ever existed, the antebellum south.” (Emphasis: mine). It is tempting to write Taki off as a bit of joke, a sort of ultra-conservative clown. Any man who can write of a society in which a large number of people were owned as slaves and subject to all the humiliations of slavery, as “one of the loveliest societies that ever existed”, deserves to be treated with the utmost contempt.
The scars of the Civil War still exist, and the issue has also roiled the libertarian movement in recent years. A case in point being the observations about the Lew Rockwell crowd by Timothy Sandefur, for instance.
Update: Sandefur has more thoughts.