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North and South

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.

64 comments to North and South

  • guy herbert

    I read Taki’s words with the same kind of incredulity this week. I would like to know what it is he thinks was lovely about the antebellum South.

    I suspect that the appeal for a lot of ultraconservatives is the idea of an ordered, highly-stratified, agricultural society, in which the peasants as well as the slaves knew their place, wealth was from land not commerce, atheism and skepticism were unknown, and ‘honour’ was a structural principle allied to extrajudical violence more than to rule of law.

  • Laird

    As usual, the extremists on both sides have it wrong. Clearly, the Civil Was was, at its core, about slavery. Not its immediate abolition; that wasn’t on the table. But strong northern resistance to the fugitive slave laws (in some states essentially amounting to de facto nullification) and the increasing likelihood that new western states coming into the Union would be non-slave states thus diluting the power of the slave-holding bloc, caused fear that eventually it would be eliminated at the federal level. Secession was essentially a preemptive move, to get out while they still had the power to do so.

    However, on a much deeper level it really was over states’ rights, specifically whether any state could be forced to remain in a political union which was antithetical to its perceived interests. It seems fairly clear that during the Constitutional ratification debates, many (most?) of the states thought of the Constitution as a compact among the states, dissoluble at will. I am well aware that there is a long body of legal thought which disputes the “compact theory” of the Constitution, and holds that once joining the United States the individual states forswore forever their ability to leave the union, but I do not hold to that view and think the reasoning behind it is flawed. Certainly that was not the predominant view in the very early years of the 18th century, when several of the New England states seriously considered secession; to my knowledge no one then disputed their right to do so. Nonetheless, that is the prevailing view, and was the one adopted by Lincoln.

    The result is plain: even ignoring the abuses perpetrated during the War itself (i.e., the suspension of habeas corpus, jailing of newspaper editors, the first national draft, imposition of an unconstitutional income tax, etc.) the ultimate effect was to greatly strengthen the power and reach of the federal government, at the expense of the states. What had previously been a truly “federal” system, with a central government of very limited power and the states having plenary authority over all else, was turned on its head. State sovereignty as understood by the Founders was destroyed, and the seeds of the leviathan we have today were then planted. And so we no longer have a “federal” government in any real sense, but instead a truly national one. We continue to use the term “federal” out of habit (and, I believe, in a cynical way to disguise the truth), but we honor the concept more in the breach than in the observance.

    The Civil War did free the slaves, which obviously is a good thing. But the cost was extraordinary, at so many levels. In pure dollar terms the nation could have simply paid the slaveholders for their slaves for less than the War cost, and that doesn’t include the cost of Reconstruction. The cost in lives lost is incalculable, of course. But the cost in terms of the fundamental reordering of our system of government is perhaps the highest cost of all, and it reverberates still today. In my opinion it was too high a price to pay.

  • Quite. It is salutary to remember that Lincoln was often ruthless, and broke the Constitution when it suited him. It is salutary to remember that Lee, like many Southern leaders, was a personally decent man, and the South had many brave soldiers – most of whom did not own slaves. It is salutary to remember the many ways in which the Northern side treated blacks badly.

    But, my God, calling a society “beautiful” that sold human beings at auction? The theft of people’s whole lives, the legitimised rape, the ripping apart of families – “beautiful”?

    And the whole “war not about slavery” thing has been wildly exaggerated for the sake of contrarianism, and because factions of left and right both have an interest in denigrating the idea that the US could ever do anything virtuous. Sure, it was not only about slavery, but if you look at contemporary accounts from those who fought in the war, they certainly thought that slavery was the deciding issue, the one question that could not be settled except by blood.

  • Unsmite me, evil robot!

    While waiting for my words of wisdom to reappear, Laird, I agreed with much of your post, but your final line is misconceived. “It was too high a price to pay” would be meaningful if someone had offered the US of 1860 a choice of two fully costed alternative futures, the civil war one in full knowledge of its bloodiness and the one where the slaveowners are paid compensation.

    But that ain’t how the world works, is it?

    There were plenty of plans floated to pay compensation to the slaveowners, as was done by the British Empire in the West Indies, and it was often implicit in these proposals that war might ensue if they didn’t take up the offer. But they didn’t take up the offer, because they didn’t know the future either.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Natalie, I despise Taki, but even I was surprised that he wrote those words. He’s treated as a sort of far-right jester, a bit like Rod Liddle (who keeps pretending that he is a leftie).

  • It’s interesting to see how fashions in Southern apologetics change over time.

    In the 1930s Charles Beard and his followers claimed that the evil northern capitalists forced the war on the innocent proto-socialist South. The plantations were supposed to be embryonic collective farms and slaves were mostly happy with their lot. (See the disgusting Shirley Temple film “The Littlest Rebel”

    Of course back then the Solid South was an essential part of FDR’s New Deal coalition.

  • xj

    Picking up on Taylor’s point, let’s not forget that the term “wage slave” was first coined by a Southern apologist who was arguing, with apparent sincerity, that factory workers in the North were worse off than plantation slaves in the South. From there it’s a short step to full-blown Marx.

    (And indeed, contemporary defenders of slavery used to make a big deal about how worn-out slaves would be supported in their old age by their “owners” – similar to the “but at least they have healthcare!” argument made nowadays by defenders of Castro.)

  • Fraser Orr

    The claim that the States’s rights were violated by forcing them to stay in the Union always struck me as rather shaky. Unless, by state, you mean the apparatus of government, but I think most people are thinking of the right to self determination. That is to say, a people have the right to choose their own rulers.

    In the pre civil war south probably three quarters of the population were disenfranchised, so the belief the the state government somehow represented the people seems to me plainly wrong on its face. The right of self determination was taken only from the perpetrators of a profoundly evil system. Would the slave holders have voted to stay in the union? I don’t know, but I’m going to guess yes. And if that is the case, the whole states rights argument falls apart.

  • Fraser Orr

    I apologize, that was a typo, the question is “would the slaves have voted to stay in the union.” I hope my comment makes more sense with that substitution.

  • Sunfish

    I’m just still waiting for someone to explain to me how states’ rights necessitated the fugitive slave acts. Were states’ rights protected by forcing a bunch of northern Quakers to do the South’s dirty work?

  • Thomas

    See also Confederate Vice-President Alexander Stephens’ speech of March 1861 — about three weeks before the shooting started — in which he explained the Confederacy as an explicit repudiation of Jefferson’s wished-for equality under the law.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone_Speech

    Next we should consider Charles A Dana’s Recollections of the Civil War which includes an account of a Union civilian in Pennsylvania. Confederate officers asked him why the North was fighting (this was the Gettysburg campaign in July 1863). He replied that if the South broke away the North would itself break up, leaving, if I recall the quote correctly, “a series of petty military dictatorships hereafter”. It’s hard for us to understand his reasoning today, but this was a quite sincere belief in the North, and the Confederates, according to the account, accepted it.

    The past is truly a foreign country.

  • Gary K.

    About those 600,000 deaths. About 65% were deaths from disease and might well have happened had there been no combat.

    Slavery(involuntary servitude) is an interesting concept. It might be said to be being forced to give up the fruits of your labors with out your having an option in the matter. In this case it would be of no matter who was the ‘master’ and collected the fruits of your labor against your desires.

    Sounds a lot like being forced to pay taxes on your income to the national goverments.

    Slavery still exists under a different name.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    Taki is a classic example of the frivolous rich. For his kind a lovely society is one in which there are lots of exciting parties for the aristocracy to enjoy. It would not occur to him to ask how anyone else lived. Such people also tend to support conservative and isolationist viewpoints because they want to avoid any significant social or political change in case it affects their own position.

    But their politics is always about their own class interest and does not involve any real commitment to conservatism, liberalism, or anything else. For example, we see the same attitude at work in Vogue’s notorious fawning profile of Asma al-Assad, wife of the Syrian dictator. You can be sure that Vogue editor Anna Wintour has to adopt a “liberal” persona in Manhattan society. So it’s just wannabe aristos schmoozing with people who look like them.

  • Andrew Zalotocky

    The Timothy Sandefur links in this post seem to be mostly about Ron Paul and the people he has associated with. I see Paul as a politician who has followed the strategy of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” and ended up being hugely harmed by it.

    This approach is essentially a form of political tribalism, in which you take everyone who is anti-government and try to unite them through an “us and them” mentality. The problem is that the neo-confederates and neo-Nazis and neo-GodKnowsWhat types all have their own agendas. So the more groups you try to bring into “us” the smaller the common ground between them. It becomes a kind of ideological homeopathy in which the original libertarian message is diluted until it is no longer detectable, but is somehow still deemed to be effective.

  • Laird

    Fraser, I disagree with your analysis. Yes, by “state” I do mean “the apparatus of government”, which is precisely what it meant to the Framers. After the Revolution the states were essentially sovereign nations. They banded together under the Articles of Confederation and, later, the Constitution, but both of those documents were specifically agreements among the states qua states. That’s the whole reason why the powers delegated to the federal government were specifically delineated, for the existence of the 9th and (especially) 10th amendments, for the selection of Senators by the state governments (before the exceedingly ill-considered 17th Amendment), and for the existence of the Electoral College. “Self-determination” of the individual inhabitants of a state did not enter into it; that was a matter for each state to determine for itself (except for the provision in the Constitution that each state would be guaranteed a “republican form of government”). The states were, and had intended to remain, sovereign entities. The Civil War ended that, and fundamentally changed what the United States was. For the worse, in my opinion.

    Natalie, perhaps that last line should have been “In retrospect it was too high a price to pay.” I’m aware that compensation was never offered to the slave-holders. It should have been, and I suspect would have been had Lincoln known what the true cost of the War would be.

  • Robert Speirs

    Has anyone seriously considered what the USA would look like today if African slavery had never been accepted, if no slaves had ever been brought over here? It seems a complex alternate reality. Preferable or not?

  • I have to wonder to what extent the bad things that the North did during the war, especially against civil liberties were inevitable in any war in the industrialized age. (roughly 1770 – 1980) The highly efficient printing press combined with the telegraph and photography, forced governments to develop ways of controlling the press and oppressing their foes if they want to win their wars.

    Lincoln didn’t behave any worse than Bismarck or Napoleon the Third, in fact he behaved a lot better.

    I note that Robert Redford has just come out with a movie whose message about Lincoln seems to be summed up in the old lynch mob phrase “He needed killin’” after all he was a Republican.

  • thefrollickingmole

    Theres another interesting wrinkle in the civil war lead up.

    The democrats were the party of the south, and had held most of the levers of power for decades.
    But the slave states could boost thier voting “bloc” by importing more voters any time they wanted.
    the 3/5ths law (Link) This law effectively gave the slave states more funds for that “lovely society”, at the expense of the free voters of the north.

    It is easy to be romantic about the underdog in a fight, but the south was a politicaly, moraly, and humane cesspool.

    Not liking Lincon for the actions he took (wong and unconstitutional as many were) is moral vanity.

  • Spectre765

    I would like to point out that the Civil War was mis-named. It was a war between governments, the CSA vs. the USA. All of that “brother taking up arms against brother” rhetoric was an exaggeration. People forget that it was actually the Confederacy’s war for independence, which they lost. It is more properly called the “War Between the States”.

    An interesting question is, “What if Lincoln had taken the long view?” What if he had realized that slavery was doomed, the Confederacy had a life span of perhaps twenty years, and that before the turn of the century the two countries would re-unite? What if the North’s response to the departing states was a yawn, and a “You’ll be back.” attitude?

    Was the entire war unnecessary?

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Didn’t the South have plans to extend slavery to neighbouring countries, like Mexico and the Caribbean Islands? Even if it had survived, it would have gone down fighting when it was overtaken by industrial civilisations!

  • Fraser Orr

    Laird, I take your point, however, I was making more of a moral argument than a legal one. South Carolina’s government cannot make a legitimate (moral) claim that their state wants to leave the union when they have solicited the opinion of a tiny unrepresentative fraction of South Carolinians. As to whether they have the legal right to do so, I will leave for people who spend more time with books than I do.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    And who says an independent South would have rejoined the North? Canada has stayed free from the USA- the Southern Confederacy might have become a separate region, with the blacks as the working class.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Like Laird, I look at it from a cost-benefit perspective. However, can we put a price on the suffering of the slaves if we wait for natural/economic forces to emancipate them? What if the South owners simply refused to emancipate even if they were reimbursed by the North?

    This sort of calculation is the stuff of nightmares. Just let it go, and look to the future.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    If I may, let me support Laird, and perhaps add a factor. Slavery was a factor in the 1861-1865 war; be it denominated Civil War, War between the States, or the War of Northern Aggression as it is sometimes styled. But it was not the sole factor by any means.

    The legal theory up until the late 1850′s was that the states were sovereign. Functionally, they had hired an agent [the Federal government under the Constitution] to perform certain limited functions as strictly delineated in the Constitution for them. The states could leave that agreement at any time, fire the agent, and hire another.

    I am more than passing fond of old books. The second oldest in my collection is a text on Constitutional Law, published by Harvard University in 1850, and used in their law school. It conforms to the above. Which is not surprising, given that 5 New England states including Massachusetts attempted to secede from the Union in 1815, being stopped by the sudden and unexpected end of the War of 1812, which left the Federal army at loose ends and able to march north. I reference the Hartford Convention of December 15, 1814–January 4, 1815.

    The controversy over slave -v- free states did involve slavery. But it also involved the most basic drive of all, the attraction of politicians to money.

    Prior to the Civil War, the primary tax receipts the Federal government received came from import duties. For a number of reasons having to do with export markets and the lack of an international banking system; about 80% of those revenues came from the South. Then there was the matter of how those revenues were spent. The arguments over the majority in Congress over slavery were also a proxy fight over who had the votes for appropriations. Keep in mind that until the post-Civil War Amendments, slavery was still legal and unmolested in the Northern states. As to where the money went; the South’s strategic position as far as trade, roads, railroads, etc. during the War compared to the North and West argues strongly that the South was short-changed on the infrastructure spending that was the majority of the Federal budget.

    As I said above, slavery was an issue between North and South, but not the only point of contention.

    Along with the election of Lincoln in 1860, Congress was elected. After the 1860 election, the Republicans had an absolute veto-proof majority in both Houses. Southern Democrats had 31.4% of the Senate and 24.6% of the House compared to the Republicans and their Unionist Party allies. It was not irrational for the South to assume that since they could neither pass any legislation of their own, nor slow any legislation against it [absolutely no chance of stopping it], that there was no hope or point in participating in the national government. The Southern states fired their agent, and hired another.

    Imagine how patriotic Americans would have felt if Obama and the Democrats would have had absolute veto-proof majorities in both Houses. I suspect gun sales would have been even higher, and they would have been used by now.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Richard Thomas

    Consider also, slavery being disgraceful, of course, that the war firstly meant that the slaves were released into a society that now had a grudge against the whole emancipation thing (try coming to the south and visiting places that were destroyed in the war. That kind of thing leaves grudges that don’t die quickly) and secondly that the economy they were released into was trashed.

    Then consider the continuing implications. Economic refugees, ghettoization, endemic racism.

    I guess it depends on how soon you believe slavery had left before it would have been ended anyway but quite possibly this war was disastrous for black people in the US.

  • A curse on you Richard Thomas ;-)

    That was pretty much the point I was going to make! The “emancipation” proclamation was little more than paper freedom. The US Army in WWII was still segregated.

    A couple of folks – such as Laird – have rightly – brought up the cost/benefit aspect of this. The cost in blood, treasure and destruction (railroads destroyed, Atlanta burnt to the ground etc) was tremendous and should not be ignored but then neither should the social and political cost that ensued from it. And that cost is the fact that a century later Rosa Parks still couldn’t sit where she wanted on a bus, that the Klan were still burning churches and lynching people and that Alabama had it’s first mixed marriage in 1973* and even more recently a lot of black Americans felt the election of Obama was necessary to draw the ultimate line under the whole thing.

    Now I don’t know what would have happened if Lincoln had followed a different path – perhaps modelled on how the British Empire abolished slavery or maybe as someone here argued merely allowed the CSA to exist before crawling back when the wheel came off but what did happen as the result of the civil war was a truly long walk to freedom.

    *The year I was born!

  • Ed Snack

    I remain unconvinced, Laird, by your statement that the States had the right to decide who could and could not vote to anything like the extent that they did. Of course the judgements come from a different era, but the Supreme Court has overturned attempts to restrict the franchise, and slavery was certainly a restriction writ large. One could say, which part of “all men created equal” did they not understand.

    Certainly by our standards they were not representative, and maybe even by their own if one takes a strict interpretation of the constitution that they derived their legality from.

  • llamas

    Methinks that the amiable idiot is in love with a movie-inspired fantasy about antebellum society, just as he was once in love with a movie-inspired fantasy about life in 1940-41 Paris, where he would have wanted to be a Wehrmacht officer or a US ex-pat.

    He would not have done well in the antebellum South at all – a wag like him would have found himself at the sharp end of the Southern code of honour very swiftly.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Johnathan Pearce

    NickM, it remains sobering to reflect that only a few years ago, Tiger Woods, say, would have been barred from most of the golf clubs in the South because of his colour. Okay, purist libertarians might argue that golf clubs are private property, freedom of association, etc, etc, and of course they would be right to do so. But I think if liberty is to flourish, it is good that such attitudes erode and are challenged.

  • Laird

    Ed, that’s just wrong; you’re reading modern concepts into the mid-nineteenth century. Remember, this is the same Supreme Court which had recently issued the Dred Scott decision and upheld the fugitive slave laws. They perfectly well understood the inconsistency of those laws with the aspirational “all men are created equal” (which, by the way, is in the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution), but from the very beginning the Constitution was a balancing act between that aspiration and political reality when it came to slavery. Hence the Constitutional prohibition on any law interfering with the slave trade for 20 years after enactment, the 3/5th rule, etc. Everyone understood that, and had since 1787.

    Also, keep in mind that this was prior to the “Civil War Amendments”, notably the 14th. At that time the Constitution was still very much a compact among the states, and very little of it (and none of the “due process” features) applied to individuals. The states had essentially plenary authority within their borders, and could (and did) define their voting rights as they saw fit.

    You can’t read the situation then with 21st century eyes. It was a different time, a different Constitution, and very much a different country.

  • “Alabama had it’s first mixed marriage in 1973*

    *The year I was born!”

    I ought to point ought that these are not related issues – otherwise I’ll have to ask my parents some very difficult questions this Easter :-)

    JP,
    Yes. Although quite frankly these days I’m not sure I’d let Mr Woods in my club – though of course for completely other reasons which are so widely documented that I feel I don’t have to go into… Suffice to say seeing as Mr Woods claimed “sex addiction” he probably shouldn’t be allowed near a carefully manicured area with a lot of holes (including the “back nine”.

    Sorry, the imp of the perverse strikes me again! My first comment was a very serious one. Richard Thomas beat me to the punch (so he’s not joining my club either) but any cost/benefit for the US Civil War has to take into account the incredible wake of racism it left, intensified or failed to curtail until extremely recently. What I am saying is that whilst we may debate the causes of that war and the extent to which it was fought against slavery what I always keep coming back to is that if it was fought for the slaves they obtained precious little from that victory and it took generations for their descendants to taste the fruit of freedom. If it was a war primarily about slavery conceptually then fine, whatever but if it was a was about the equal rights under the law of black Americans then it is an epic fail. Or at least a very slow one to bear the afore -mentioned fruit.

  • Fraser Orr

    I think that the economic analysis of this is missing something entirely. How much is freedom worth? Is it a good exchange to allow one free man to die that a slave might no longer be a slave? I’d say that was a net negative. But what about one free man’s death for the emancipation of ten slaves? It is hard to put a comparative value on these things, and the benefits of emancipation have to pay not just for the massive property destruction but also the deaths of half a million free men.

    Nonetheless, there were a lot of slaves freed. Not just slaves freed at the time of the war itself, but also the hundreds of millions who did not become slaves because their ancestors were emancipated. The payment in lives and treasure was huge, but the benefit was also extremely large.

    I don’t know if there was a more efficient way to bring about the positive end, and I am largely of the opinion that one single bullet in Ford’s theater was largely responsible for the very bad way reconstruction went, and the fruit of that mess — the Jim Crow laws, and Tiger Woods’ limited golfing opportunities.

  • How much is freedom worth?

    In the context freedom wasn’t worth much was it? Not if Rosa Parks a hundred years later still had to sit at the back of the bus.

    Thanks Fraser! I now have it in a line.

  • Fraser Orr

    NickM, it is easy to dismiss the value of freedom when you have it. Rosa Parks certainly didn’t have all the freedoms she should have, but she was a lot better off due to the war.

    When she came home from her job, she had money that she could spend however she liked. She could own or rent property — perhaps not always where she wanted, but she could still find a nice place. If she made a mistake at work, she might get fired, but she was unlikely to get whipped. If her employer forced her to have sex she would have a legal complaint (though she might have a hard time enforcing it.) Certainly, society would not approve. Her kids could go to school.

    But here is the ultimate freedom: if she really hated Jim Crow so much, she could up and move to New York, or Chicago or Spokane. And if she did so, no-one would send the dogs to track her down, and no northern state would send her back as a fugitive.

    I would not like to be Rosa Parks, my life is better than hers, but I would like to be her a lot more than I would like to be Dred Scott.

    Personally, I think that limited freedom is worth a lot, bus seating arrangements notwithstanding.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Once again, in supporting Laird. May I offer that the role of the historian and political scientist should be to understand how and why things worked out the way that they did; in terms of the world that the events occurred in. We cannot demand that our ancestors who lived in an entirely different economic, social, and political world than we; have made their day to day decisions in terms that apply today. Our ancestors were quite thoroughly occupied trying to cope with their world, and did not shape their actions and words to try to please the sensibilities of their descendants 150 years later who lived in a world that they could not conceive. We may disagree with the choices that they made, but to blame them for not agreeing with our world view is pointless. Unless those of us writing here, are of course willing to have our writings and entire lives judged and condemned by our descendants a century and a half from now based on fragments surviving.

    And when looking back, it would be good to keep certain basic rules in mind.

    1) The victors always write the bulk of the history.
    2) Of the historical and archeological evidence that is created, the vast bulk of it does not survive the ravages of time to be available for discovery and interpretation.
    3) Of that which survives, the vast bulk of it is not found for examination and interpretation.
    4) Of that which is found, the vast bulk of it is interpreted according to the historical fashion of the times. That can include selection bias’ in relation to the evidence at hand, as to what to emphasize and what to discount. And that bias changes on a generational basis, and according to the societal framework of the time.
    5) Historical interpretation is also tied up in personal reputations and careers. There is an academic and pedological inertia involved that is engaged in stifling the examination of new discoveries or making new interpretations.
    6) The overwhelming majority of any population, even the educated elites, are abysmally ignorant of history beyond the popularly accepted mythos; and even when presented with countervailing information are not willing to try to integrate it into their world view.

    I do Living History presentations at schools, sometimes as a Confederate private [usually as a Union artilleryman or a pre-war Dragoon]. Even with the Advanced Placement History classes; I get total incomprehension from students and teachers when I mention the Hartford Convention. They cannot relate the attempted secession of 5 states in the North in the generation before the Civil War, or the Ordinances of Nullification in the South in the lifetimes of the politicians in power in 1861 with the idea that the Federal government was not created specifically to be all-powerful. When I ask the classes where the Federal government got their tax money before the Civil War, I universally get “income tax”, even from the teachers and even after I point out Article I section 8 Clause 1 and Section 9 Clause 4. And I get “slavery” as the sole cause of the war, “because the book says so”.

    Mention is made of Reconstruction. I agree with Fraser Orr’s: … I am largely of the opinion that one single bullet in Ford’s theater was largely responsible for the very bad way reconstruction went, and the fruit of that mess — the Jim Crow laws, and Tiger Woods’ limited golfing opportunities. The thing is, most Americans do not realize how bad the first two years of Reconstruction were. No, it was not as bad as the Soviet conquest of Berlin; but the moment when Union general Joshua Chamberlain saved the country from years of guerrilla warfare was squandered by a deliberate policy of Federal lawlessness in the South and sanctioned revenge on the civilian population. I don’t have space here to detail it; but the original source materials do exist to confirm it, here and in the reports of contemporary British newspapers.

    We could not make real progress in reuniting as a nation until not only those who fought for the South had died out, but actually until those who survived Reconstruction died out.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Laird

    I also agree with Fraser Orr. Much as I have issues with Lincoln’s prosecution of the War, I very much doubt that he would have been as vindictive to the vanquished as were his successors (notably the Congress; Andrew Johnson simply couldn’t control it.) I believe he would have done all he could to put the past behind them and accellerate the healing process. The War itself was a trajedy; his assassination made it doubly so.

  • Richard Thomas

    However, Fraser Or’s statement that Rosa Parks was better off because of the war is an unsupported assertion and requires that slavery could be ended no other way. The point I and others are making is that quite possibly it would have been ended through peaceful means anyway and the outcome would have been far better.

    As for moving to New York (and other areas) to escape the tribulations of coloured people in the South? By my understanding many did. That hasn’t had a hugely successful outcome and has arguably exacerbated racial tensions.

    As to whether things would have been better had Lincoln not been assassinated? Hard to tell. however, I will point out that his assassination was a result of the war and the kind of war he had fought. Of course, “lone gunman” type scenarios don’t play well into making broad predictions but it is what it is. Unintended consequences and all that.

  • Russ Roberts has an EconTalk podcast, On Slavery, with Stanley Engerman, co-author of Time on the Cross. Engerman says Adam Smith never visited a slave plantation, and he got the economics of slavery wrong. The plantations were quite profitable, and Engerman sees no reason why slavery couldn’t have continued indefinitely without outside intervention. The war really does seem to have been necessary.

  • Hypothetical: in pre-Jacksonian times the planters end slavery – never mind how for this thought experiment. Would the Civil War have still been inevitable? Ending slavery doesn’t change the fact that North and South were rival economic blocs.

    There would have still been a Tariff of Abominations and ensuing Nullification Crisis, since slavery was totally irrelevant to Northern protectionism. The North wanted to force the South to buy certain goods from Yankees instead of from Brits. A tariff compromise was reached, but how long would that last? Di the death of HillaryCare doom the future of centralized health insurance policy in America? Political landscapes change.

    I believe that North vs. South power struggle over the territories would have still occurred, because control over Congress was at stake. The Yankee politicians may not have been Lord Voldemort, but they weren’t Harry, Ron and Hermione, either. Especially not the ones groomed by Tammany Hall.

  • @Alan K. Henderson: I’m with Natalie Solent on this one. “…slavery was … the one question that could not be settled except by blood.”

  • Subotai Bahadur

    Peter A. Taylor @ 0253 hrs

    … no reason why slavery could not have continued indefinitely …

    If I may, I submit that this is not quite right. First, slavery was only economically feasible in parts of the South. It required a mass production, high value, monoculture crop to make the process work. That functionally meant tobacco or cotton. Both of which exhaust the land. Slavery was fading in those areas in Virginia where those crops had flourished, because the soil was exhausted. The center of gravity of slavery was moving south to the newer Gulf states. It would not have been a rapid process, taking a generation or two; but pure economics would have forced the end of slavery. I am, by the way, not being either utopian or optimistic about that end. The social and economic dislocations attendant on a large, uneducated, and despised population with neither economic place nor ability to fit into the society would have led inevitably to widespread violence, and the end state would be in doubt. But that which cannot continue indefinitely, will not.

    From the admitted position of being able to look back, the adoption of the first tractors and mechanized farm implements in the early 1900′s would have coincided with the increasing obsolescence of slavery in the South, making the process even more unpleasant.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Peter A. Taylor,

    The point of my post is that civil war was most likely unavoidable, slavery or no slavery. The economic factionalism was inevitable. Not to mention cultural – Puritans and Quakers in the North vs. Cavaliers and “rednecks” in the South. Moralists and egalitarians vs. aristocrats and leave-us-the-hell-alone types.

    (I remember an old bumper sticker that epitomizes the rednecks: “You’re in Texas, now go home.” I’ll bet the Scots and Welsh have their own variants.)

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Alan, I disagree. The South wanted to maintain its’ feudal structure and agrarian lifestyle- but it could only do that economically by slavery! If slavery had been given up before Lincoln, then the South would have had to become a mechanical culture. I don’t think they wanted that. They wanted to preserve what they had, even if they called it “States’ Rights.”

  • “(I remember an old bumper sticker that epitomizes the rednecks: “You’re in Texas, now go home.” I’ll bet the Scots and Welsh have their own variants.)”

    I can beat that.

    In Georgia I once saw a bumper sticker that went,”This country was built by white men with guns”.

    Subotai makes a very pertinent point as to the ecological factors. This can be argued as to be the proximate cause of the war. Slave agriculture had to move and that meant slaves had to move – potentially up the Miss. and Abe was from Illinois… Many Northern farmers were threatened by slavery – because they perceived it as under-cutting them.

    As to my example of Rosa Parks. Yes, limited liberty is better than none but my point is the unacceptable length of time it took for even that. As to the various Jim Crow laws etc… What shocked me when I saw them in the Civil Rights Museum in Atlanta was the extent to which they pertained to whites. At least one State (Florida?) had made it illegal for anyone to publish anything challenging segregation which is surely contra the 1st. Surely?

    So much to say and ask! But life calls! I’m really enjoying this thread though. This is SI at it’s best.

  • @Subotai Bahadur: IIRC, one of the points that Stanley Engerman made in that podcast was that slaves can work in factories, too. The Germans used slave labor in WWII. I recall visiting Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and seeing a display about a slave who specialized in making nails.

  • amallia

    @ Peter Taylor. Yes, the Germans did use slave labor but they just exploited a stagnating resource. Other than the deadly working and living conditions of say Pennemuende, there wasn’t much different between forced labor for POWs and slave labor.

    The Germans didn’t have to educate and rear their slaves as the Southern slaveholders would have had to. Factory workers even today need to be educated. Creating factory slaves is just not economically feasible. Makes sense for the Germans with millions of Slavs and Jews to chew through, but not for the Confederates.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Laird: in the very early years of the 18th century, when several of the New England states seriously considered secession; to my knowledge no one then disputed their right to do so.

    This is the usual distorted legend of the Hartford Convention of 1814. It is false in several points.

    No state considered secession at all.

    The Hartford Convention was a conclave of New England Federalists. Only the Massachusetts and Rhode Island delegates officially represented their states. The Connecticut delegates were appointed by the governor over the objections of the legislature; the Vermont and New Hampshire delegates were chosen at party caucuses.

    The Convention met in secret and kept few records of its proceedings. There is some evidence that secession was discussed in private gatherings, but not in the Convention itself.

    However, the charge that the Convention was a secessionist plot was extremely useful to the (Jeffersonian) Republicans. The association of the Federalists with secessionism (through the Convention) was an excellent stick to beat them with. This was because the vast majority of Americans despised secessionism.

    By 1816, the Federalist Party was all but destroyed; the Presidential election was effectively uncontested.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Laird: in the very early years of the 18th century, when several of the New England states seriously considered secession; to my knowledge no one then disputed their right to do so.

    This is the usual distorted legend of the Hartford Convention of 1814. It is false in several points.

    No state considered secession at all.

    The Hartford Convention was a conclave of New England Federalists. Only the Massachusetts and Rhode Island delegates officially represented their states. The Connecticut delegates were appointed by the governor over the objections of the legislature; the Vermont and New Hampshire delegates were chosen at party caucuses.

    The Convention met in secret and kept few records of its proceedings. There is some evidence that secession was discussed in private gatherings, but not in the Convention itself.

    However, the charge that the Convention was a secessionist plot was extremely useful to the (Jeffersonian) Republicans. The association of the Federalists with secessionism (through the Convention) was an excellent stick to beat them with. This was because the vast majority of Americans despised secessionism.

    By 1816, the Federalist Party was all but destroyed; the Presidential election was effectively uncontested.

  • jhc

    However, the charge that the Convention was a secessionist plot was extremely useful to the (Jeffersonian) Republicans. The association of the Federalists with secessionism (through the Convention) was an excellent stick to beat them with. This was because the vast majority of Americans despised secessionism.

    Whether they despised it or not I’m not sure. The key issue is whether the ability to opt-out of a union you have joined is something that makes sense as a general rule. I think that it is. Consider divorce: even in Christianity, where divorce is almost completely condemned, it’s still provided for in extreme circumstances. Further, I think that the granting of a power logically implies the power to revoke it. I also think it makes sense as a last resort against tyranny.

    Of course, in the case of the first Southern states to secede in 1861 it doesn’t seem like it was truly a last resort. I doubt Jefferson himself would have countenanced it.

  • Paul Marks

    Guy Herbert mentions the appeal of the South for “ultra conservatives” – Guy may be right now, but it is worth remembering that AT THE TIME the leading Southern States (and the Confederacy itself) were anything but “ultra conservative”.

    Slavery itself rested on legal innovations in the Common Law – true they were innovations made in the late 1600s and early 1700s but they were still innovations.

    The Common Law traditionally held that someone could agree to indentured servitude (for a period of years), but one certainly could not be born into it. Indeed “slavery” is a series of Common Law crimes (false imprisonment, assault, and so on) and rested on a vast body of STATUTE LAW in States like Virginia.

    Although the original perversions of the Common Law had occurred in States in the north, most notably Massachusetts. Although it was also in Mass that Judge Sewall’s passionate attack on slavery “Selling of Joseph” was published in 1700 (sadly history remembers Judge Sewall as the judge of the Salem witch trials – although he publicly repented of that, and lived with the shame if it for the rest of his life, it should also be remembered that it was hard to accept that such seemingly innocent young girls could make up such terrible lies about people).

    All this was known during the Civil War – and indeed was stated endlessly by such men as Salmon P. Chase (the so called “slaves’ lawyer” and later Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).

    It is true that the Republican Convention did not choose Chase as its candidate in 1860, opting for the more moderate Lincoln instead (and, by the way, Lincoln was indeed a Henry Clay Whig in his economic opinions – whereas Chase was a free trader), but his opinions on slavery were not out of the mainstream of the party.

    On the Southern side – we see RADICAL CHANGE.

    The generation of Washington, Jefferson and Madison (and so on) all assumed that slavery was an evil (an unnatural innovation against the natural law of God) and would go.

    ALL these men talked of freeing their slaves – and some actually did so. Including George Washington – who, like Aristotle, freed his slaves in his will, and even set aside money for the education of their (free) children and their care in their (free) old age.

    The TERRIBLE MORAL FAILURE of this generation is that so many of them failed to put their beliefs into practice – because they feared the financial loss for their families. The fear of poverty for their children is not a sufficient defence for failure to what is right and Jefferson and the others knew it. “I fear for my country when I remember that God is just” (Jefferson on slavery) is not the comment of a man who did not know his duty (however much he failed to do it).

    However, a new generation came up in the South with strange new ideas – men who walked not in the ways (or rather the beliefs) of their fathers.

    Slavery was upheld as a POSITIVE GOOD (a radical innovation indeed), and a lot of original thinking went into destroying the true difference between freely choosing to work for pay and being a slave.

    John C. Calhoun is, of course, the best known defender of slavery – slavery not as regrettable violation of the natural law of God and the traditions of the Common Law, but slavery as a positive good.

    What is less well known is that Calhoun’s defence of slavery was based on the labour theory of value – and an attack on the industrial system very similar to Kevin Carson’s “Contract Feudalism” attack.

    Does this still sound “ultra conservative”, Guy?

    But nor is this the worst of it – for, at the time, the most “logical” writer in defence of slavery was not the relatively restrained John Calhoun of South Carolina – but the total unrestrained George Fitzhugh of progressive Virginia (it is often forgotten that pre war Virginia was a progressive State – but it was).

    George Fitzhugh in his book “Cannibals All!: Slaves Without Masters” (1854) took the “freedom is really slavery, so slavery is really freedom” argument to its “logical” conclusion.

    Not only do we get the line of Harrison Berry in his pamphlet “Slavery and Abolitionism, as viewed by a Georgia Slave” (yes Mr Berry was a slave) that “a Southern farm is the beau idea of Communism” (with Communism being seen as a positive good thing) where “the slave consumes more than the master …. and is far happier, because although the concern may fail he is always sure of support”.

    With Fitzhugh the standard “northern freedom is the true slavery” line (common to all defences of slavery – freedom is slavery, so slavery is true freedom) is taken to its logical conclusion – and without a hint of irony or satire.

    All whites should be enslaved also – a totally communal economy should be created.

    Thus there would be “slaves without masters” there would be an end to “false freedom” and the triumph of true freedom – communalism (or mutalism – if you wish.

    There would also be no state in the “capitalist” sense – as the communal economy would undertake its functions.

    The Abbe de Mably (the collectivist influence of Rousseau), Rousseau himself (with his idea that working for pay was slavery – but being under collective control was true freedom) and Karl Marx with “advanced communism” all find echos here.

    And, IT MUST BE REMEMBERED, that whilst other defences of slavery did not go to this extreme they rested on “logic” that naturally goes to this.

    George Fitzhugh was only strange in that he took the principles used to defend slavery (and attack freedom – as “false freedom” or “true slavery – to the capitalists” the standard propaganda line of the South) to its logical conclusion.

    But it is not “just” a matter of slavery.

  • Laird

    Rich, my point was not that any state formally considered secession at the Hartford Convention. Rather, it was merely that it seems clear, both from the surviving accounts of that Convention and other earlier events, that the concept of secession was seriously discussed without (to my knowledge) anyone disputing its legality. This was 20-30 years after Ratification, well within the lifetime of the drafters of the Constitution and the participants in the ratification debates. If anyone understood the issue it would have been these people.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Paul, Laird, others: I recommend Sandefur’s (Link)latest salvo on this whole issue of succession, and whether there was a recognised right to secede, as is argued. I am not a consitututional scholar but his points seem very powerful, and very strongly sourced.

  • Paul Marks

    My previous comment will appear in due time – but I must get on.

    Then as now Republicans were often denounced as religious fanatics (indeed even before the Republican party was created the anti slavery movement was dominated by “religous fanatics” going all the way back to Judge Sewall back in 1700) and critics love it when they find corruption (hypocrasy) in the supposed “men of God”.

    And, of course, corruption will be found.

    Today the media jump for joy whenever they find a Republican engages in corruption (of any sort). The fact (and it is a fact) that both sexual and financial corruption is far more common among Democrat politicians is, grudgingly, admitted – but is excused with the line “but they do not claim to be moral – there is no HYPOCRISY involved”.

    Of course Democrats often do claim to be moral, and even claim to be relgious – but their supporters give them a pass on that.

    As Bill M. said on his television show “of course Barack is a centerist – in the same way he is a Christian” words greeted with wild laughter by his “liberal” auidence.

    Are people who will lie and cheat and, indeed, commit any crime, really superior to people who try and live up to high moral standards and sometimes fail?

    However, be that as it may – the charge against Republicans was often true.

    The charge being that under their high talk of freedom and signing of Christian songs, they had their hands in the till.

    A desire for money – even if it came from the taxpayers, via padded military contracts (and so on).

    Also there was a faction in the Republican party (indeed the MAJORITY faction in 1860) who took their economic ideas straight from Henry Clay and Whigism.

    Now the economic policy positions of the Henry Clay tradition (which was indeed the tradition of Lincoln) are moderate by the standards of modern staism – but they are interventionist, they are not pure free market opinions.

    Indeed the first time a Republican won the office of President on a “roll back the state” free market platform was as late as 1920 (Warren Harding). Before then Republicans believed that a LIMITED government (they were never statists in the modern sense) could do some good.

    And the critics are correct – “some good” normally meant “some good for my business – or for the business enterprises of my friends”. For example, by putting taxes on imports, to aid domestic enterprises. There was always a free trade faction in the Republican party – but it was a minority faction. The first free trade Republican President was elected as late as 1952 (Ike). Although some relatively free trade Republicans had been nomintated before then.

    Unlike the British Conservative and Liberal parties – the Republican party really was dominated by men of business, and there is a bad side (as well as a good side) to that.

    This picture of greedy businessmen singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” (whilst dreaming of their profit margins on military contracts) has been used against Republicans for 150 years (and is still being used) and there is more than a grain of truth in it – although, it should be pointed out, the idea that “greedy capitalists” caused the various major wars America has faught is BULLSHIT.

    Anyway the picture looks bad compared to the honourable (and independent) gentleman of the South in their butternut uniforms dancing with their elegant ladies (whist the northern Republicans are at yet another church meeting – with “no doubt” someone’s hand trying to sneak money OFF the collection plate).

    But was the south really like that?

    Or was the noble Confederacy really the “Slave Holding States of America” (that is what it says on its Constitution) with plans to set up a vast slave empire not confined to the borders of the United States.

    The “Confederacy” (like all foes of the United States – bar Britain) gets off very light in the examination of people like Murry Rothbard – things that Lincoln and the North get attacked for, go unnoticed if the South does them.

    One does not have to believe in all the “paranoid” theories of Salmon P. Chase about the “SLAVE POWER” to understand that the South was not defensive at all.

    Even those documents that have survived (a lot were burned) show that the political leaders of the South were full of expansionist plans – they were not the passive victims of “Northern aggression”.

    Indeed the Confederates even attacked other slave States.

    For example the Commonwealth of Kentucky had doubts about leaving the United States and joining this new country called the “Slave Holding States of America” – but then found itself invaded.

    Invaded by CONFEDERATE troops – come to “protect” them.

    Hardly surprisingly, the government of Kentucky then declared for the Union (all this history seems to have gone down the memory hole).

    Lincoln is strongly attacked for his violations of CIVIL LIBERTIES.

    But what happened in the South is ignored.

    And what happened is that (with the exception of North Carolina under Governor Vance) the traditional rule of law broke down almost at once (and I am talking about for white people).

    Far from being a “conservative” or “ultra conservative” state – the “Confederacy” quickely became an arbitrary state, where all the traditional practices of the rule of law died.

    Lincoln abused and violated the traditional principles of law – Jefferson Davis and co torn them up totally. Jefferson Davis (and so on) basically set up a modern state where the arbitary whims of officials (what is called “delegated legislation”) controlled every aspect of human life.

    The United States Congress and the United States courts were real during the war – the Confederate Congress and the COnfederate Courts offered no protection at all for citizens.

    This was not a “noble Republic of gentlemen” – the “Confederacy” was a land of unlimited Executive power, no better than the despotism that one finds in modern Britian or the United States.

    And this can be seen in ecnomic policy also.

    YES “your hero” (as Salmon P. Chase is sometimes described by people who do not like me very much) was the very man who issued fiat money during the war (although, as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he later ruled it was unconsitutional – remember what I said about whether people who try to live up to high standards and sometimes fail, are really worse than people who have no standards at all – who are like pigs in a farmyard).

    But the South also issued fiat money – and it issued far more.

    The North had a economic tax – but so did the South, and the Southern one was both higher and more “Progressive”.

    The North had many regulations – but the South had far more regulations, indeed it had swarms of officials who could do anything they liked to businessmen or farmers. Much in the way that modern governments can.

    And this was no great depature for the South – as both Virginia and North Carolina were known as progressive interventionist States even before the war.

    Indeed West Virginia broke away from Virginia partly to get away from its “internal improvements” and the taxes needed to pay for them (by the way – government internal “improvements” of all kinds are upheld in the Constitution of the “Slave Holding States of America”).

    Not stuff one is likely to read in a mainstream history book – with the “South was conservative” bullshit line.

    A line that does not come from Murry Rothbard – it in fact comes from WOODROW WILSON.

    Wilson hated black people (as President it was Wilson who introduced segregation to the Federal government – and Wilson also wrote that ending slavery was a terrible error) – so the last thing he wanted was to say the war had been faught to free them.

    But, although a Southern person, Wilson was pro national government – largely because (from an early age) he dreamed of controlling it himself.

    So another reason for the war had to be found – so Wilson INVENTED one.

    The “conservative” South opposed the modern statist ideas of the north – and so had to be defeated in war in order for this noble statism to win out. Wilson used the self justifying post war writings of Jefferson Davis and others to try and support his claim – but, in large part, it was INVENTION.

    I wonder how many libertarains understand that the “free market Confederacy” they have in their minds is an invention of Woodrow Wilson (a hater of the free market, lover of unlimited government, and a fanatical racist) – in reality it never existed.

    The web of regulations produced by the Confederate government did more harm to the Southern economy in the early stages of the war than the North did at that time – indeed the officials unintentionally HELPED the northern blockaid by demanding that ships dock at certain ports (it is hard to see how the blockaid could have worked as early as it did – if ships had been allowed to come ashore anywhere). Indeed the officials even tried to ban cotton exports.

    The idea went something like this – if Europe does not get our cotton, they will be angry at the North (which is indeed trying to stop us exporting cotton) and then they will come to our aid.

    Such is the twisted “logic” of the statist mind.

    And in their final insanity the officials actually de facto nationalized all production of goods and distribution in the South – George Fitzhugh’s prewar dream.

    In the businessman dominated North such a policy would have been impossible.

    However – only impossible then.

    People attack Lincoln as the creator of the modern Federal government – but this is nonsense (Henry Clay Whig though he was).

    Even decades after the death of Lincoln the Federal government was within the lines laid out for it by the Constitution.

    No one but a fool would (for example) say that the United States had “big government despotism” in say 1885.

    No, if the modern government had a father (or rather two) it was Woodrow Wilson and his follower Franklin Roosevelt (who restored Wilson’s work – after Republicans in the 1920s got rid of a lot of it).

    No more would the government of the United States be limited. Freedom would not mean “freedom from the govenrment” there would be a “New Freedom” a “postive freedom” of being part of the government – part of the holy collective (for there would be a new Christianity also – one centered on this world, not on individual survival after death).

    This “New Freedom” (with the “old” freedom being denounced as simply the evil wealth of the “capitalists”) might have seemed to Salmon P. Chase the vindication of his theory of the “Slave Power” – how evil collectivists (and racists) would gain control of the United States government and use it to subvert American civilization (including American reglion) down the path of tyranny.

    But, of course, that would be “paranoid”.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    The South was right- machines are EVIL!!!! Quick- turn off that Skynet computer, before it reads these words! And add another Commandment to the Good Book- though shall make no machine that have its’ own power source, or burneth oil or useth magnetism in any way!
    There, the future is fixed.

  • Robert Speirs

    Perhaps the problem with slavery was not that men were enslaved, but that Africans were introduced in large numbers to the New World. This could never have worked out for the best and indeed has not. To go further back, what was it about the Africans that led Europeans to think they could be profitably enslaved? Why was transportation and exploitation so relatively easy? Perhaps abolitionism was not so much anti-slavery as anti-African?

    So the question remains: what would modern America look like, be like, if Africans had never been brought over to work on southern plantations? Better or worse?

  • Chris Durnell

    Hurray for Paul Marks. He laid out many of the things Confederate apologists often ignore. I could also add many more, especially in the run up to secession where many of these so-called “states rights” advocates gleefulyl supported all sorts of measures to deny the free states their ability to actually not allow slavery.

    And for those people who claim it was no Civil War, they have to somehow explain the support for the Union against the Confederacy during the war in certain parts of the Confederacy – western Virginia, eastern Tennessee, northern Alabama, the Texas Hill Country, and many others. All those areas are notable for being in places in the south where slave plantations were rare, and its inhabitants and local elites were yeoman farmers who did not see any advantage in fighting for the Confederacy. Over 100,000 fought in Union blue (and this number would be far larger if the Union had been able to recruit from the local population throughout the war as compared to only after Federal troops secured the area). The issue of Southern Whites fighting for the Union is not one the Confederate apologist likes to address.

  • Paul Marks

    “It was about the right to secede Paul – you SUPPORT the right to secede, so you must support the Confederacy”.

    Well I do support the right to secede – now those words are going to be taken out of context, but was the war REALLY about “the right to secede”.

    If it was – why was the very first military action of the Slave Owning States of America (the formal name for the Confederacy) the armed invasion of the Commonwealth of Kentucky?

    Now Kentucky was a slave State – but it had not tried to secede from the United States, so the Confederate military went in to “protect” them.

    They did not think they were being “protected” – so they declared for the Union.

    General George Thomas of Virginia (one of the best UNION Generals of the war) would not have been shocked by the above – even if some people now are.

    Nor would the people of West Virginia – and if they are not freedom loving “Redneck” (by the way my own neck is red at the moment – and for the same reason their necks are red, I am pale, poor and I work in the sun) who is?

    If Virginia can secede from the United States – why can not West Virigina secede from the high taxes and “internal improvements” of Virginia? Particularly as they went to benefit a bunch of slave owners anyway.

    The real history of this period has got so twisted (really starting with Woodrow Wilson’s writings – which took the self serving words of Jefferson Davis and then went vastly beyond them) that the truth is buried so deep I doubt most people in Kentucky or West Virginia know that most of their forefathers faught on the United States side (still less why they did).

    However, it is all much more simple than this.

    In 1861 various States demanded “their freedom” and they should have been given a simple reply.

    “Sure you can have your freedom – just as soon as you give the slaves their freedom”.

    Then we would have seen how much this was all a noble struggle for the “right to secede”.

  • Paul Marks

    By the way – the poisoned legacy of “the Civil War was about the right to secede” makes it much HARDER to secede today (not less hard).

    The United States in 1860 did not have a massive Federal government – in fact it was tiny.

    It went back to being tiny after the Civil War (so much for Lincoln as the inventor of a proto totalitarian state) – indeed in 1885 it was tiny, it was only 2% of output as late 1912 (that is right – TWO PERCENT), and only 3% as late as 1928 (before Herbert “The Forgotten Progressive” took charge).

    NOW there is a vast unconstitutional government – but not then.

    The compact of a LIMITED Federal government had NOT been broken in 1860 – there was no Constitutional reason to secede.

    Now the Constitution of the United States has been turned into a piece of toilet paper.

    But if anyone tried to secede now – they would responded to as follows…..

    “racist, racist, racist – neo confederate, neo confederate, neo confederate…”

    That is the final crime of the Confederacy – they have made secession (even when it is constitutionally warrented – which is was not then, as the Federal government had not destroyed its limits) very difficult – if not impossible.

    People who want to treat secession as a serious option need to deal with this – not shy away or pretend it is not so.

    I suggest that (if the final hope, 2012, fails) the lead States in any secession be WESTERN (not Southern) States.

    States like North and South Dakota – States that have no “Southern taint” (sorry Laird – but it will be used on you)

    Southern States can come in later – but it is Western States than must take the lead.

    Better – let pro liberty freaking well win in 2012, then this whole discussion becomes moot.

  • Laird

    Paul, nice job with the straw man, but no one (here, anyway) has argued that the Civil War was about “the right to secede.” It was about slavery, in one way or another, and (again) no one here is arguing that that was anything other than a vile cause. Nor is anyone arguing that the Confederacy was a libertarian paradise.

    Nor, for that matter, has anyone ever argued that secession is “constitutional”. Indeed, it is expressly extra-constitutional*, just as were the actions of the colonists in throwing off English rule in the previous century. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, . . . That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” Those words were as true in 1861 as they were in 1776 (and, indeed, today).

    I am not, and have never, argued that the reasons for southern secession were noble ones. I merely argue that it was their right to leave the Union, whatever their reasons. That right was thwarted by the oldest “right” of all: sheer military power.

    And say what you like about Wilson and Hoover (I don’t dispute any of it), the fact remains that the seeds of our leviathan government were planted during the Civil War. They may have taken another century to reach full flower, and others may have been previously preparing the soil, but that was its true beginning.

    Johnathan, thanks for that link to Sandefur’s article. I shall have to spend more time with it.

    * Note that I didn’t say un-constitutional, as the Constitution is (properly, and necessarily) silent on the point.

  • Laird, that link Jonathan provided is part 2 – part 1 is here, where I find this:

    First things first: secession was and remains totally illegal; Lincoln was in the right to put it down by force; the southern states can lay no claim to the right of revolution articulated in the Declaration of Independence, because they acted not in self-defense, but to defend and perpetuate slavery. The Confederacy initiated force, against a lawful government, for no justifiable reason, and in support of an institution of systematic rights-violation.

    It seems to me he is mixing two separate issues: one is the right to secede (or lack thereof), the other are the motives of that particular secession. Such mixing seems less than helpful.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Alisa, actually, Sandefur argues that the two issues are intimately connected in this case. For him, equality under the rule of law – ie, no slavery – trumps any “rights” of an individual slave-owning state to secede in order to continue oppressing people.

    All of Sandefur’s articles on this subject are worth reading. He ought to do this as a book.

  • Paul Marks

    “Strawman” Laird?

    If the Civil War was NOT about the right to secede (as the Ludwig Von Mises institute people and so on claim) then the whole arguement falls apart.

    And if it was about a “right to secede” in what way had the Federal government violated the Constutional pact?

    Not in 2011 – there you are strong legal ground (the Federal government has turned the Constitution into toilet paper – and has been doing so for decades) but in 1860 (I say 1860 – because the South did not wait to see what sort of President Lincoln would actually be after March 1861, they were trying to leave the Union already).

    Also what of the Southern plans to expand into Latin America?

    Not all the evidence got burned in that fire in Richmond – quite a bit of documentary evidence exists that the “Slave Empire” was no paranoid delusion of Salmon P. Chase, leading Confederates actually wanted to expand both south and WEST taking free lands and putting them under slavery.

    Does not sound like a “right to secede” argument to me.

    But then that is a “strawman”.

    O.K. so what was the war about? It must be about SLAVERY then.

    Just the possiblity that Lincoln might not act in the best interests of slavery at all times (remember he had not actually done anything) was enough to make Jefferson Davis and the others go nuts.

    Although, when Davis was writing his self justifications, (after he lost) it was not really about slavery – it was about the right to secede.

    Remember it was his strawman – not mine.

    By the way I repeat I am no Lincoln fan.

    I am certainly not a Henry Clay Whig.

    I would have opposed “internal improvments” at all times.

    I think a “national bank” stinks (“stinks on ice” as Brother Glenn would say).

    And I think the protective tariff was a vile idea.

    But that includes the tariff of 1815 (a certain young Warhawk by the name of John C. Calhoun was fine with that one) and 1824 (as well as any tariff that Lincoln might have pushed for – even in peacetime).

    But even the tariff of 1828 (abomination it was) was not enough to justify war – at least in the view of President Andrew Jackson, he worked to reduce it, but he would tolerate no armed revolt against it.

    Of course the above means that the “seeds of the present state” (which I agree have grown into a vast and evil tree) where planted long before Lincoln.

  • “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery– the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization…”

    The first paragraph of Mississippi’s justification of secession.

    My own anger at Lincoln is that he didn’t just shut down the Confederacy’s borders and wait. It might have taken four years, but probably two years of zero imports and exports would have broken the Confederacy’s will, in the absence of war which inflames people to accept privations they would never even approach in peace time. And if Congress had passed the right import tariff, perfectly constitutional.

  • “I would like to point out that the Civil War was mis-named. It was a war between governments, the CSA vs. the USA. All of that “brother taking up arms against brother” rhetoric was an exaggeration. People forget that it was actually the Confederacy’s war for independence, which they lost. It is more properly called the “War Between the States”.”

    Forgive me, but this is what the war was about. The so-called Confederate States of America, like the USA before it, could proclaim anything they wanted, but it had to prove its independence in battle. This they failed to do. So yes, the “Civil War” is entirely the proper name.

    Or, as I told a North Carolinian friend some years ago “You don’t get to name it, ’cause you lost. Dig?”