Slavery, Secession, and War

This is a reply I made to a blog post on Reason.com:

http://reason.com/blog/2011/04/12/more-on-libertarianism-and-the#comment_2250036

The amusing thing about the Yankee is how susceptible he is to his own propaganda. What’s also amusing is the hysteria exhibited by some when faced with arguments that secession did not need to lead to war, that different portions of the South seceded for different reasons, that there were better ways to end slavery than killing a million Americans, that Lincoln was an inept bungler who missed a golden opportunity to peaceably end slavery in the South by simply refusing to return their runaway slaves. There seems to be an idea that all antebellum Southerners (and, indeed their modern descendents) loved Slavery for its own sake, rather than as a means to an end, and that they always would cling to the institution; that they were, as the trope goes, “always chaotic evil”, and thus deserved to be murdered by invading armies. It’s interesting that those espousing such a view cannot see how odious it is, and presume that any “right thinking person” would gladly join in their violent beliefs (as in “Praise generals Sherman and Grant for every slavery defending southerner they killed. May they [presumably the southerners, not the generals] burn in hell”). There’s also a curious unwillingness to consider the possibility that technological advances would have driven slavery into oblivion as an expensive anachronism, when a cracker with a tractor could work a farm that outyielded the slaveholder with his giant plantation and many slaves.

There is much criticism here for the Southern states’ seceding in order to preserve slavery; I see little criticism for the Northern politicians attempting to preserve slavery in order to stop secession. They passed a Constitutional Amendment (the Corwin Amendment), through both houses of Congress, that preserved slavery forever (it wasn’t ratified, though). I see derision for arguments that the Northern states, opposed as they were to Slavery, did nothing to eradicate it in the slave states that remained in the Union. The much-vaunted “Emancipation Proclamation” merely said that any state willing to give up the fighting, and return to the Union, could keep slavery forever. It’s hard to reconcile that the purpose of the war was to end slavery, when the invading states kept promising never to end it, if the South would just give up on the idea of independence. This point also refutes the argument that the expansion of slavery in the west was the real cause; the purpose of extending slavery into the west would be to maintain power in the FedGov so as to preserve slavery; if the Northern states were willing to pass Constitutional Amendments that preserved slavery forever, then the need to maintain power–for the purpose of preserving slavery–is lessened.

THE IMPORTANT POINT FOR LINCOLN’S DEFENDERS TO MAINTAIN IS THAT THE WAR WAS INEVITABLE. Any argument otherwise stains the North’s invasion as severe injustice. However, there was in fact no need for war. The South could have seceded peacefully, and then dropped futher and further behind economically, socially, politically, until, hat in hand, it begged for readmittance. Arguments against secession at this point in the discussion usually include conspiracy theories about European political interference and conquest, but these are not persuasive.

If you want a reason for the (lower) South’s secession, look at their secession declarations, and you will see the reason was slavery. If you want, however, to see the reason for the war, look at Lincoln’s first inaugural address, where he endorses the Corwin Amendment, and then proceeds to say that there would be no need for bloodshed, except for the purposes of tax collection. In one of his famous quotes, Lincoln declared his aim was “to save the Union”; whether slavery could be abolished in the process was an ancillary issue. The South did not invade the North. “Fort Sumter! Fort Sumter!” I can hear the critics yell. Well, what possible use was Fort Sumter to the FedGov, once the South had gone its own way? It was not necessary to hold the fort against foreign invasion; I seriously doubt that the Federals intended to use it as a base to assist runaway slaves. It was instead a political maneuver to hold a fort in Southern territory; the obvious intention of this maneuver (to all except the self-deluding Yankee) was to incite an attack and thus start a war that could be blamed on the other side. And, of course, the CSA very stupidly played right into the trap. The point is, though, that firing on a fort that could be potentially used by the FedGov for reconquest purposes was not the same as marching on DC and trying to wrest control of the government away. It was not a war of “rebellion”, but of “independence.”

And people of that day (except the self-worshipping Yankees who started it) saw it as a war of independence.

Lord Action, to Gen. Robert E. Lee after the war: “Without presuming to decide the purely legal question, on which it seems evident to me from Madison’s and Hamilton’s papers that the Fathers of the Constitution were not agreed, I saw in State Rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of the sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy. The institutions of your Republic have not exercised on the old world the salutary and liberating influence which ought to have belonged to them, by reason of those defects and abuses of principle which the Confederate Constitution was expressly and wisely calculated to remedy. I believed that the example of that great Reform would have blessed all the races of mankind by establishing true freedom purged of the native dangers and disorders of Republics. Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo.”

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