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Slavery as the Motive for Southern Secession in 1861:

Some commenters on my posts on secession (here and here) doubt my claim that the southern states seceded in 1861 for the purpose of preserving slavery. After all, they point out, Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to abolish slavery in the states where it existed. This is a common point advanced by those want to claim that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War. Indeed, it was first advanced by apologists for the Confederate cause in the immediate aftermath of the War in order to paint the Confederacy in a more positive light by demonstrating that it was fighting for "states' rights" rather than slavery. But the claim doesn't withstand scrutiny.

Confederate leaders repeatedly stated in 1861 that the threat Lincoln's election posed to slavery was the main reason for secession. In January 1861, soon-to-be Confederate President Jefferson Davis said that his state had seceded because "She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions; and the sacred Declaration of Independence has been invoked to maintain the position of the equality of the races." Davis was referring to well-known speeches by Lincoln and other Republicans citing the Declaration in criticism of slavery. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens similarly said that "slavery . . . was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution" and that protecting it was the "cornerstone" of the new Confederate government. Many other Confederate leaders made similar statements.

Why did Lincoln's election cause them to fear for the future of slavery? It is true that the Republicans did not plan to abolish slavery in the near future. But white southerners still saw Lincoln's election on an antislavery platform as a serious threat to the "peculiar institution." Whatever their position on slavery where it already existed, the Republicans were firm in their commitment to preventing its spread to the vast new territories acquired by the US in the Mexican War. That, in fact, was the main point of the Republican platform. Slaveowners believed that an end to the expansion of slavery threatened their economic interests. In addition, the creation of numerous new free states without the admission of any new countervailing slave states would erode slaveowners' influence in congressional and presidential elections and potentially pave the way for abolition in the future.

Perhaps even more important, most white southerners didn't trust Lincoln's assurances that he wouldn't move against slavery in the South. After all, this was the same man who had famously said that "this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free," and that "the opponents of slavery" should "arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction." He meant that blocking the expansion of slavery would eventually put pressure on southern states to abolish it "voluntarily." But slaveowners suspected that he and other Republicans would attack the Peculiar Institution directly if they got the chance. Within the Republican Party, Lincoln was a relative moderate. More radical Republicans wanted stronger, more immediate action against slavery. And their influence within the party might grow over time.

Finally, slaveowners feared that Lincoln's election would undermine slavery in border states such as Maryland, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and even Virginia, which already had many fewer slaves than the Deep South. By using patronage to promote the growth of Republican parties in these states and relaxing enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, a Republican-controlled federal government could eventually force these states to abolish slavery. Without strong federal enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, slaves from border states adjacent to slave states could more easily escape to the North and border state slaveowners would have incentives to sell their slaves to the deep south, where slaves couldn't run away as easily; this, of course, would undermine the institution of slavery in the border states. If the Republicans could turn the border states into free states and do the same with all the new states to be established in the West, they could create a large enough majority of free states to enact a constitutional amendment banning slavery throughout the country.

It was to head off these various threats to slavery that the southern states chose to secede in 1861. For documentation of all these points, including quotes from Confederate leaders, see historian William Freehling's excellent book, The South vs. the South.

Ultimately, slavery would probably have lasted longer if the South hadn't seceded in 1861. The Confederates clearly underestimated the North's will to fight (just as northerners underestimated that of the Confederates). Nonetheless, they did have reason to see Lincoln's election as a serious longterm threat to slavery. And that fear underlay the decision to secede.

donaldk2 (mail):
This is what I have always believed. Very well stated.
8.12.2008 7:06am
J. Aldridge:
Slavery is merely a distraction from the root cause. The Civil War was fought over the Tenth Amendment. Rebel leaders made a good case for their cause, so good that the 38th Congress decided to amend the constitution so pro-slavery men could never again fight over slave labor under the Tenth Amendment.

Also, Republicans did not come into power over the subject of slavery, but through a popular filibuster over war taxes! Ironically, it was Republican enforcement acts to secure rights for freed blacks that lead to them being driven from power within a very short time span. Democrats were being elected everywhere, including the north.
8.12.2008 7:29am
TDPerkins (mail):
J. Aldridge, the 10th amendment had nothing to do with even parenthetically. The South was worried about an amendment which outlawed slavery, and they had no case for their cause.

The war was begun because the leading class in the South wanted to stay the biggest fish in their pond, so they were going to try to make their pond smaller.

Their is no combination of causes of the war which would have sufficed without slavery being in the mix, and it and concern for the future of that institution was the greatest of any of the causes.

Legal secession is not possible absent an amendment, period.


Republicans did not come into power over the subject of slavery, but through a popular filibuster over war taxes!


Why do you think the Republicans had to come into power primarily over the issue of slavery for the war to have been about slavery?

Why do you think the Republicans losing influence 20 years after the war means the war wasn't about slavery?

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.12.2008 7:52am
Public_Defender (mail):
It's amazing that we're still fighting the Civil War. Let's face it, the Confederacy was an evil cause that rivals Al Qaida and Nazi Germany, except that the Confederate traitors slaughtered a lot more Americans than the Nazis did or that Al Qaida (thankfully) ever will. Flying the Confederate (battle) flag is morally the equivalent of flying the Nazi flag. Former Confederate soldiers need to be remembered as the traitors they were.

The Confederacy was an evil cause that deserved the crushing defeat it suffered. Get over it, and join the late 19th Century.
8.12.2008 8:00am
Mike& (mail):
The post was very good. What's sad is that you even needed to publish this post.

J. Aldridge: Be proud you're a Rebel, 'cause the South's gonna do it again! *Screams a loud "Rebel yell"*
8.12.2008 8:04am
Mike& (mail):
It's amazing that we're still fighting the Civil War.

It was the War of Northern Aggression. The United States did not have the right to invade the sovereign Confederacy. The U.S. was Russian; and the Confederacy was Georgia.
8.12.2008 8:08am
m-kel (mail):
Prof. Somin, take a look at 'Apostles of Disunion.' It's a collection of speeches given by the Southern Secession Commissioners - men who were sent by the first wave of deep south states who seceeded (SC, AL, MS) to the more moderate southern states (GA, VA, NC, etc.) It's an opportunity to see white southern men talking frankly to other white southern men ... and I'll leave it to you to surmise what their reasons for leaving the union were...
8.12.2008 8:17am
Steve Lubet (mail):
The South Carolina Ordinance of Secession referred to northern opposition to slavery -- and failure to enforce the fugitive slave act -- as "encroachments" that required and justified secession. For example, it said that the northern states had


". . . united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction."
8.12.2008 8:24am
Vacationer:
This is well said. Its worth stating that the "controversy" over whether the South's desire to preserve and protect and the institution of slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War is not about the interpretation of historical evidence. Its about the social uses of history and the (understandable) desire of White Southerners that their ancestors (who, by and large, were not slave owners) were not duped by southern politicians into wasting their lives and valor in defense of treason and slavery.
8.12.2008 8:32am
Mike& (mail):
It's an opportunity to see white southern men talking frankly to other white southern men

We could see how whites truly felt about blacks in the 1950s. Are we supposed to believe that somehow Southern whites thought more highly of blacks a century before Jim Crow?

I realize that the book your cite argues that the Civil War was not about "States' rights." I just think it's silly to even have this argument. It's like debating whether the Holocaust occurred. Whether or not the Civil War was about slavery is one of those "beyond the pale" arguments.
8.12.2008 8:32am
M (mail):
When ever I'm told that the Civil War wasn't about slavery but about "States Rights" I always have to ask, "States rights to do what?" Since the answer is, of course, "keep slaves" it's pretty clear that response is a dodge.
8.12.2008 8:39am
Pensans:
Prof. Somin implicit theory of national motivation is simplistic. To the extent that it is a sensible concept, national motivation cannot be established by selective quotes from "leaders." Do a few quotes from George Bush describe the motives for the U.S. today? This is just silly. The right of Southerners to secede is proven by the conduct of the North in the war and after it. The U.S. violated the laws of war during the war and punished the South after the war finished.
8.12.2008 9:00am
Sam H (mail):
Remember, slavery, as evil as we now know it to be, was legal. The South didn't want that to change so they were willing to leave the Union.

Say California tries to secede over the Federal enforcement of the drug laws and a hundred years from now society sees the drug laws as evil.

The Civil war wasn't needed since slavery was dieing from the industrial revolution.
8.12.2008 9:13am
no doubt:
Nice Post.

A few slavery-related motives you might have left out:

1) The end of censored mail in the south. Unified Republican control of both the legislative and executive branch was going to mean Republican postal appointees, who would have almost certainly allowed anti-slavery literature to flow through the southern mails. Which would have stoked...

2) Fear of a slave revolt. As Potter wonderfully describes in the The Impending Crisis, southern society had become, by 1861, terrified of a slave revolt along the lines of Santo Domingo in 1803. Thus the increasingly harsh laws against slave education, distribution of anti-slavery literautre, etc. Anything that even hinted at unsettling the status quo was seen not just as a possible economic harm, but as a potential revolutionary spark.

I also think some good evidence can be found in the secession convention debates during the winter/spring of 1860/1861. There were plenty of unionist southerners at these conventions (secession was rejected outside of the gulf coast in the first wave), and their main argument was that slavery could be better protected from within the union, an explicit statement that the tactic of secession was clearly tied to the strategy of preserving slavery.
8.12.2008 9:15am
Joshua:
and the Confederacy was Georgia.

Literally, in the case of that state.

On the other hand, folks in that "other" Georgia can count themselves lucky that the Russians never got around to giving Tblisi the Gen. Sherman/Atlanta treatment.
8.12.2008 9:21am
AntonK (mail):
Does anyone have figures for the number of slaves in the South in the few years prior to the Civil War?
8.12.2008 9:43am
pluribus:
Excellent post, Prof. Somin. I'm not sure that a constitutional amendment would have been required to end slavery, although of course it remained an eventual possibility. If denied the opportunity to expand, slavery would have become less successfull economically. Many Southerners already realized that it was holding the South back economically. Except for the great plantation owners, who were the equivalents of the oil sheikhs in the Middle East today, Southerners (even whites) were on the whole poorer and less educated than Northerners. Slaveholding states would have felt more and more ostracized, both within the nation and internationally. (France and England might have come to the aid of the Confederacy during the war, welcoming the opportunity to weaken the U.S., except that public opinion in those two countries deplored slavery and the South's insistence on perpetuating it.) And individual states could have ended slavery within their borders, as the Northern states did in the early part of the 19th century, and as Maryland did by popular referendun in 1864. Lincoln offered federal compensation for states that would end slavery by their own decision. He was discouraged when the offers were not accepted, but they could have been in years to come. The Republicans and Lincoln felt that slavery was in the course of "ultimate extinction." They merely had to cut off its lifeline, which was expansion to the west and south, and wait for its ultimate demise. Confederate leaders didn't want to wait, so they seceded and attacked Fort Sumter. And the war began.
8.12.2008 9:50am
darelf:
The 2nd Inaugural Address, during the Civil War:


Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."


Therein we find the real underlying reason for the War.
8.12.2008 9:52am
pluribus:
AntonK:

Does anyone have figures for the number of slaves in the South in the few years prior to the Civil War?

In 1860, the slave population was 3,953,760. The free population was 27,489,561. The total population was 31,443,321.
8.12.2008 10:02am
John Neff:
The "Memoirs of General William T. Sherman" is a good source on the causes of the Civil War. What Sherman included in his memoirs has been independently verified but he did not include everything. Before the war Sherman was the headmaster of what became LSU and he traveled extensively in the South prior to the war staying in the homes of upper class Southerners.

He told Lincoln that the Southern women were the ones that were shaming the men into continuing the war going after they had recognized it as a "lost cause".
8.12.2008 10:04am
pluribus:
Yes, darelf. Lincoln had the rare and wonderful ability in a few words to summarize whole epochs, and to make perfect sense of it all.
8.12.2008 10:05am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Of course the war was about slavery. But it is simplistic to claim that it was the only cause.

And again, Ilya ignores the point that several of the states refused to secede until Lincoln began the war by reinforcing Fort Sumter. Only then did the remaining states see that there was no hope for peace from the militarily aggressive Lincoln.

It's very disappointing that lawyers and law professors harp on such a complex issue with such a simplistic claim.

The war was about slavery. It was also about the loss of self-determination. Lincoln made it so that you either supported slavery and destroyed self-determination or destroyed slavery and supported self-determination. Neither choice was good, but Lincoln forced states to choose, and he killed 600,000 people in his mad craze to destroy self-determination.
8.12.2008 10:05am
♪:
I will concede that the South faught to keep slavery if you concede the North did not fight to end slavery.
8.12.2008 10:10am
some dude:
I have this feeling that this is the reason Federal courts co-opted the abortion issue. What would the landscape be like today if there were "abortion states" and "abolition states"? Would that be as destabalizing to the Union?
8.12.2008 10:12am
Erica_01:
I think people miss the dichotomy of the reason for "secession" versus the reason for "fighting." Secession was, as statements of the seceding leaders show, precipitated over slavery although the animosity and and derisive treatment of the southern states by the majority federal states in Congress was no small contributor. However the war, I suggest, was not over slavery. Had the confederate states been allowed to seceded, there would have been no war. That was clearly a state's rights issue. Ask yourself, if the Confederate states were allowed do secede, would the remaining United States declared war on them for the purpose of ending slavery?

Many people fought for the Confederacy's secession that would have never fought to preserve slavery. Many people fought for the federal cause, who would never have fought to end slavery (and indeed, deserted after the Emancipation Proclamation).

So to answer M above, the answer is "a state's right to secede."
8.12.2008 10:26am
Skyler (mail) (www):
Erica, don't forget that a third of the Confederacy did not secede until AFTER the war started.
8.12.2008 10:30am
Adam J:
Also, if the South was truly more concerned about these tariffs and the 10th amendment, wouldn't they welcome the end of slavery, since it would increase the south's voting power in D.C.? All slaves were only 3/4 represented, but if they were freed they would be a fully represented.
8.12.2008 10:37am
jonzyx (mail):
some dude,


I have this feeling that this is the reason Federal courts co-opted the abortion issue. What would the landscape be like today if there were "abortion states" and "abolition states"? Would that be as destabalizing to the Union?


Actually the court attempted to co-opt the slavery issue in the Dredd Scott case. However the issue was too hot for the court to settle the court lost most of the prestige that it had built up to that point. It was discredited enough that Lincoln could basically ignore it with few repercussions during the Civil War.

In response to Illya's point, I would agree that without slavery it is unlikely there would have been a war. It is also simplistic to view the war only in that light however. The South had been losing political power for years as the North population had expanded much faster than the South. This was influenced heavily by slavery as immigrants tended to avoid areas where slavery existed. (Whether out of distaste for slavery, discomfort with blacks, or possibly both is unclear.) What is clear, is that by 1860 only a few hundred thousand people owned slaves in the country and that number was declining. The South had also felt unduly disparaged by the North for years.

Combine the loss of political power, the threat of the North banning slavery, the inferiority the South already felt from the disparagement of the North and how much more successful the North had been. Since less than 10% of the South's free population owned slaves it is more likely that these issues far more than a devotion to slavery motivated much of the south to join the confederacy.
8.12.2008 10:47am
some dude:
Some commenters on my posts on secession (here and here) doubt my claim that the southern states seceded in 1861 for the purpose of preserving slavery. After all, they point out, Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans had promised not to abolish slavery in the states where it existed. This is a common point advanced by those want to claim that slavery was not the main cause of the Civil War.

Erica_01 has a point. In a way, it clouds the issue to start talking about the reasons for secession and then, a couple of turns of phrase later, tie that into the causes of the Civil War without anyone noticing a transition. Secession and war are not the same thing. It is one thing to support or oppose secession. It is quite another to decide you are going to start shooting people.
8.12.2008 10:48am
pluribus:
Skyler:

It's very disappointing that lawyers and law professors harp on such a complex issue with such a simplistic claim.

Congratulations, Skyler, for opposing simplistic claims.


Lincoln forced states to choose, and he killed 600,000 people in his mad craze to destroy self-determination.

Don't you think that Lee, Johnston, Jackson, and, yes, even Jefferson Davis, have some responsibility for the deaths? Actually, more Northerners were killed than Southerners, you know. And the violence was started by the South, not by Lincoln, you know. He didn't secede, the South did. He didn't bombard Fort Sumter, the South did.

In his First Inaugural Address, delivered before there was any violence, but after secession had started, Lincoln directly addressed the Southerners:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

I'm happy that you reject simplistic claims, Skyler.
8.12.2008 10:50am
Adam J:
Sam H - Uh, the first flaw in your argument is there's a tremendous, TREMENDOUS difference in the morality issue between illegalizing drugs and slavery. One deals with limiting a person's free will to use a substance that society believes to be harmful to them the other another is completely removing an individuals free will. They're not even in the same ballpark dude. And how exactly was the industrial revolution likely to have "killed" slavery? To this day our economy still relies very heavily on laborers.
8.12.2008 10:52am
Caliban Darklock (www):
The Southern economy would have collapsed - and, indeed, DID collapse - with the end of slavery. The end of slavery did not mean the end of prejudice, injustice, or racism. It was exacerbated; the Ku Klux Klan arguably would not have existed had it not been for the war. We fought for slavery, because without it we could not survive.

Slavery was dead already in the court of popular opinion. It would have ended within the lifetimes of the people who fought the war, many of whom would have lived much longer and happier lifetimes without that war, but the North simply could not wait for progress. Instead, it forced the issue, making profitable plantations destitute overnight. A century and a half later, the region still has not recovered. It was an economic holocaust no less contemptible than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The true battle of the war was not about ending the exploitation of human life for profit, but changing it. Slavery was not profitable in the North; what was profitable was immigrant labor at starvation wages. Slaves needed to be housed, clothed, and fed. In the urban North, that meant heat and winter coats and imported produce. In the rural South, that meant wood nailed into a rough cube, potato-sack dresses, and access to a river for fishing.

The purpose of the North in fighting the war was not to improve the quality of life for exploited human beings, but to bankrupt their competition. They continued to pay their immigrant factory workers far too little money to live such luxurious lives as were lived by slaves in the South; those workers huddled together for warmth in tiny apartments that housed multiple families, counting pennies to see how many beans they could afford for the week.

But they were white, so nobody cared. The plight of the black man was romantic and attractive. Who cared about the plight of the Polack, the Mick, or the Wop? Or, for that matter, the Russky?

Sure, we fought to keep slavery. We fought to keep the basic human right of our workers to be housed and fed and clothed, as many of those immigrant workers could not. We fought to be responsible for the continued health and well-being of our people, as the factory owner was not. And at the same time, the North fought tooth and nail for the right to treat human life as a different sort of commodity, to be rented at will instead of bought. Slavery would have gone away regardless - the economic reality was that plantations would need to fundamentally change the way they did business over the next fifty years.

But if the North had left well enough alone, the eyes of those progressive liberal socialites would have landed on industry. So they manufactured a distraction, as evil men so often do, and people continue to believe it to this day.

The South fought to keep what they had, while the North fought to take it away. It doesn't take a genius to see which of those positions is wrong.
8.12.2008 10:56am
CM (mail):
Why does the OP insist on pushing all of the Confederate states together? They did not all secede at the same time. The motivations for the border state secessions are very different from the motivations of the deep south.

The border states did not secede until they saw that Lincoln was going to violate the Constitution by using force to strip away the Constitutionally guaranteed right for a state to secede. The 10th amendment is pretty clear. Unless the Constitution specifically declares that states do not have a certain right, the states then keep that right. As of yet, no one has produced a copy of the Constitution which specifically says that states do not keep the right to secede.
8.12.2008 10:59am
jazzed (mail):
<i>He meant that blocking the expansion of slavery would eventually put pressure on southern states to abolish it "voluntarily."</i>

Perhaps we can infer this from Lincoln's comments, and it may be a fair inference, but unless Lincoln actually explained so, it's intellectually arrogant for Prof. Somin to declare the point Lincoln was trying to make. Only the man who spake the words can definitively explain the intentions of his own comment.
8.12.2008 11:03am
Andy C.:
This whole conversation reminds of the episode of "The Simpsons" where Apu becomes a U.S. citizen.

Proctor: All right, here's your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?

Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter--

Proctor: Wait, wait... just say slavery.

Apu: Slavery it is, sir.
8.12.2008 11:03am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
How terrible, Caliban... the North wouldn't simply be patient and allow another generation or two of human beings to be born into slavery. Why, all those slaves were better off than the poor factory workers, because, well, those slave-owners guaranteed a roof over their head, and clothes on their back...

Except, of course, for the "uppity" slaves that dared talk back to Master... they got the cloths whipped off their back. And the women, of course... they had "free" room and board, so long as the attractive ones spread their leg for masters, and didn't mind having their children sold away from them.

There's a reason the immigrants didn't consent to slavery... they preferred freedom to enslavement. Nobody ever volunteered to be a slave, and most folks, however "well fed" they were, were willing to risk a great deal to escape their bondage. Your materialist philosophy is pathetic and sad, and it demeans you and all who follow it.
8.12.2008 11:07am
PatHMV (mail) (www):
This thread is starting to scare me. Slavery was morally repugnant, and the people and states who practiced and condoned it were morally repugnant. And to try to hide behind procedural issues, even weighty ones such as secession, to defend such a profoundly evil practice, is disgusting. The ONLY "states' right" that the Southern states wanted to protect was the right to enslave other human beings. One cannot judge the War without admitting that fundamental fact. These procedural questions do not exist in a vacuum. There is a difference between seceding over the right to enslave fellow humans and seceding over, say, some taxation or tariff issue.
8.12.2008 11:11am
Per Son:
The Civil War was entirely States Rights. . . . A state's right to have slaves.
8.12.2008 11:12am
Randy R. (mail):
Caliban: "Sure, we fought to keep slavery. We fought to keep the basic human right of our workers to be housed and fed and clothed, as many of those immigrant workers could not. We fought to be responsible for the continued health and well-being of our people, as the factory owner was not."

Wow! Slavery as a humanitarian institution! It just makes you wonder why those stupid slaves didn't realize how good they had it, and always kept trying to escape to the north.

I say, let's bring back compassion for our fellow man and allow us all to have a couple of slaves. Why, I love a slave from Brazil because the guys there are so hot. Since I would own them, I can have as much sex with them as I like, just like that wonderful caretakers of the South did. And you know, sex with me, just like with those white southern plantation owners, is SO FANTASTIC, I'm doing them a favor. Really.
8.12.2008 11:15am
pluribus:
The stubborness with which certain posters (on this site and elsewhere) argue against the clear historical evidence demonstrates that there is some other reason than an honest pursuit of truth in play. The same arguments are made over and over again, effectively disproven, and then made again and again, contrary to the historical evidence, and despite the overwhelming weight of scholarly opinion to the contrary, in the South as well as the North. I suggest that some of it is local or regional sensitivity, an attempt to bolster current political arguments about state rights, yes, even some racial animosity. For whatever reason or reasons, the deniers will never be convinced. It is a sad commentary on a tragic era in American history and an even sadder commentary on human psychology.
8.12.2008 11:16am
KenB (mail):
Growing up as I did in Texas, I was taught that slavery was not the main cause of the war, that the main cause had more to do with discriminatory tariffs and such. As an adult, I began to wonder about it. I pulled up Texas's articles of secession to see what they talked about. It was all about slavery.

It seems to me that what people talked about in the articles of secession is the best evidence we have of what their motivations were. History is often not pretty.
8.12.2008 11:17am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Of course the war was about slavery. But it is simplistic to claim that it was the only cause.
I suppose few events have exactly one cause. However, it is accurate to say that slavery was both necessary and sufficient for the war, while no other proposed "cause" was either.
And again, Ilya ignores the point that several of the states refused to secede until Lincoln began the war by reinforcing Fort Sumter. Only then did the remaining states see that there was no hope for peace from the militarily aggressive Lincoln.
I think you're a little confused. Sending supplies to American soldiers at an American fort is not "beginning a war," nor is it "militarily aggressive." On the other hand, assaulting said American fort is both.
8.12.2008 11:19am
trad and anon:
I have this feeling that this is the reason Federal courts co-opted the abortion issue. What would the landscape be like today if there were "abortion states" and "abolition states"? Would that be as destabalizing to the Union?
No. Abortion isn't remotely the issue today that slavery was then. Probably one of the major reasons for this is the absence of major economic interests who would benefit from its preservation or abolition.
In response to Illya's point, I would agree that without slavery it is unlikely there would have been a war. It is also simplistic to view the war only in that light however. The South had been losing political power for years as the North population had expanded much faster than the South. This was influenced heavily by slavery as immigrants tended to avoid areas where slavery existed.
I agree that it's simplistic to view major events like wars as having only one cause. Slavery was the most important cause—no slavery, no war. But there were others as well.
The war was about slavery. It was also about the loss of self-determination. Lincoln made it so that you either supported slavery and destroyed self-determination or destroyed slavery and supported self-determination. Neither choice was good, but Lincoln forced states to choose, and he killed 600,000 people in his mad craze to destroy self-determination.
The power to self-determine what? Slavery.

And I think it evinces a kind of moral blindness to compare slavery to whatever loss of "self-determination" the South might have suffered absent the war. It's like comparing the loss of liberty in the U.S. today to the loss of liberty in Russia under Stalin.
8.12.2008 11:22am
Jeffrey Quick (mail):

it was first advanced by apologists for the Confederate cause in the immediate aftermath of the War in order to paint the Confederacy in a more positive light by demonstrating that it was fighting for "states' rights" rather than slavery.


False. During the war, the reasons for it were debated in the English press (both the US and CSA press were censored at the time). The tariff and states rights argument was pressed by Charles Dickens, while John Stuart Mill was the chief supporter of "it's about slavery."

The correct answer is "all of the above". And in a historical debate, it seems silly for Northerners to get all self-righteous about Southern slaveholding when slavery was legal in many Northern states.
8.12.2008 11:22am
Adam J:
Caliban- I don't even know where to begin... good luck selling that snake oil. So apparently we should have kept slavery because it would have kept the bigots that joined the KKK happy. So the South would have given up slavery eventually, but they would pay with millions of lives to keep it for just a little while longer.... right.
And seriously, there's all the difference in the world between being "rented at will" and being "bought"... the key word being "will" and the right for individuals themselves to decide what's best for them. Sure there were Northern immigrants that were being horribly exploited... but they had the power to change this with vote and with their market power (which they eventually did with the formation of unions). That's why even the most miserly of factory owners was better then the fairest slave owner- the employees of one had free will to improve their lot if they were dissatisfied, the slaves of the other could not. Just a side note, it's pretty reprehensible argument that attempts to justify slavery on the grounds that you were interested in "the basic human right of our workers to be housed and fed and clothed" and "the continued health and well-being of our people."

CM- So they succeeded because they were worried about losing their right to succeed? Wow... that would be completely asinine if true. And I know of no country that ever granted any of its lesser jurisidictions a right to succeed, so its pretty amazing to think that it could this right would be implied by a broad clause like the 10th amendment, and not explicitly stated.
8.12.2008 11:25am
SATA_Interface:
This reminds me of Lee Atwater's explanation of the anti-black strategy over the years; how it changed from overt bigotry into something couched into other neutral terms to cover the real intent to punish or separate the black population.
8.12.2008 11:26am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
Lincoln made it so that you either supported slavery and destroyed self-determination or destroyed slavery and supported self-determination. Neither choice was good....

The latter choice passes muster with me.
8.12.2008 11:26am
Frog Leg (mail):
Caliban: Sure, we fought to keep slavery. We fought to keep the basic human right of our workers to be housed and fed and clothed, as many of those immigrant workers could not. We fought to be responsible for the continued health and well-being of our people, as the factory owner was not.

Well then, it is obvious what was needed. There needed to be large government-run social programs to make the transition easier, such as

1) massive re-training programs for African-Americans to give them the know-how to be effective citizens.

2) government-run economic development programs for the South, to provide for an efficient transition of plantations to a free-worker status.

If the welfare state had existed in the mid-19th century, there would have been no need for the Civil war. The best of both worlds would have been possible.
8.12.2008 11:28am
pete (mail) (www):

Slavery was dead already in the court of popular opinion. It would have ended within the lifetimes of the people who fought the war, many of whom would have lived much longer and happier lifetimes without that war, but the North simply could not wait for progress. Instead, it forced the issue, making profitable plantations destitute overnight. A century and a half later, the region still has not recovered. It was an economic holocaust no less contemptible than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.


Wow. Just wow.

People who support the slavery and murder millions of people probably should not be complaining about a "holocaust". Oh the horror of a plantation built on the back of slave labor suddenly becoming unprofitable.
8.12.2008 11:35am
byomtov (mail):
The war was about slavery. It was also about the loss of self-determination.

The "self-determination" you talk about is not self-determination at all. It's the right of a white slave-holding oligarchy to retain power and to continue to deny self-determination to a very large number of people.

To provide some further information on population:

The population of the Confederacy was almost 40% slaves. Slaves were a substantial majority in SC and MS, and around 45% in AL, FL, GA, and LA.

These figures in themselves destoy the notion that the Confederacy can reasonably be considered an expression of popular will in the South.
8.12.2008 11:35am
Sarcastro (www):
Caliban Darklock is like a genius! I had no idea the South were dirty Commies!

Does this mean we're in World War V now?
8.12.2008 11:39am
Matthew K:
Eigth Note: "I will concede that the South faught to keep slavery if you concede the North did not fight to end slavery."

I'd agree with this. The South's fight was certainly about slavery and the North's fight was about preservation of the Union. The South believed, i would argue correctly, that preservation of the Union would eventually lead to the destruction of slavery, but the North was not actively fighting for the extinction of slavery until after the Emancipation Proclamation (before someone says "IT WAS SELECTIVE!!!!" allow me to preemptively point out that you simply can't abolish slavery in Georgia and leave it in Maryland, not for any length of time).
8.12.2008 11:44am
Floridan:
Caliban: "We fought for slavery, because without it we could not survive."

We?
8.12.2008 11:47am
Adam J:
Jeffrey - Presumably you mean Maryland and Delaware, which is not exactly many... and I believe both of these states abolished slavery during the Civil War. Also, I don't know what you mean about self-righteousness... this all happened long before any of us entered this earth- there's nothing having to do with one's "self" involved in this debate. You and Caliban there seem to identify yourself way too much with the Civil War South, you weren't involved in the traitorious decisions of the South, why are you so desperate to justify them?
8.12.2008 11:50am
subpatre (mail):
Following up on Steve Lubet's post, just how many electoral votes did Lincoln get from the southern states?

Zero. None. Nada.

The next time we hear a "Bush isn't my president" or "selected not elected" remember that the 1860 election; Lincoln was not on the ballot in most southern states, and got less than 0.5% of the vote from all the southern states combined.
8.12.2008 11:53am
Skyler (mail) (www):
You know, you can't have an intelligent debate about a controversial issue when trolls like Caliban come along and pretend to argue that slavery was worth defending.

I never said that or implied it and I want no part of it.

I'm just saying that it is morally dubious to think that the only way to free the slaves was by killing 600,000 people. This war was precipitated by Lincoln purposefully choosing to not evacuate only one fort, and he chose Fort Sumter because he knew that South Carolina was the most hot headed state. A true statesman would have found another way, or at least attempted it.

It was this invasion that convinced the other states that Lincoln was a mad man intent on establishing a dictatorship. Whether this was true is irrelevent, his actions gave them cause to believe it.

So, yes, self-determination included the right to continue slavery. I didn't say that this was good. I said the tragedy is that the two goods, ending slavery and protecting self-determination, were put into conflict with each other. The snarky comments that this makes it all about slavery is correct, but it was not exclusively about slavery. Just as it was all related to slavery, it was also all related to self-determination. You can't separate the two.

The tragedy is that in ending the institution of slavery, we threw away our right to self-determination at the same time.
8.12.2008 11:53am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
David M. Nieporent:

And again, Ilya ignores the point that several of the states refused to secede until Lincoln began the war by reinforcing Fort Sumter. Only then did the remaining states see that there was no hope for peace from the militarily aggressive Lincoln.

I think you're a little confused. Sending supplies to American soldiers at an American fort is not "beginning a war," nor is it "militarily aggressive." On the other hand, assaulting said American fort is both.

It's kind of hard to believe that this even needs to be pointed out.
8.12.2008 11:56am
subpatre (mail):
pluribus whines "...And the violence was started by the South, not by Lincoln, you know. He didn't secede, the South did. He didn't bombard Fort Sumter, the South did."

The violence was started by one state, South Carolina. There was no "South" at the time. SC bombarded a federal-occupied island.

Then Lincoln invaded Virginia, a state that rejected secession previously, sending troops westward to cut off and capture their transportation.

That was the moment "the South" was born; not before.
8.12.2008 12:01pm
MarkField (mail):

Prof. Somin, take a look at 'Apostles of Disunion.' It's a collection of speeches given by the Southern Secession Commissioners - men who were sent by the first wave of deep south states who seceeded (SC, AL, MS) to the more moderate southern states (GA, VA, NC, etc.) It's an opportunity to see white southern men talking frankly to other white southern men ... and I'll leave it to you to surmise what their reasons for leaving the union were...


These are available on line here.


I also think some good evidence can be found in the secession convention debates during the winter/spring of 1860/1861.


Many of the states kept no record of their debates. However, 4 states issued declarations of the causes which in their minds justified secession. Those can be found here.
8.12.2008 12:01pm
MarkField (mail):

I'm just saying that it is morally dubious to think that the only way to free the slaves was by killing 600,000 people. This war was precipitated by Lincoln purposefully choosing to not evacuate only one fort, and he chose Fort Sumter because he knew that South Carolina was the most hot headed state.


There were many forts at issue, since the seceding states claimed ownership of federal property. FL had also blockaded a fort and the re-supply of that one was in contemplation. For various logistical reasons, Lincoln chose to re-supply Sumter first.


Then Lincoln invaded Virginia, a state that rejected secession previously, sending troops westward to cut off and capture their transportation.


I don't know where you get this idea. Lincoln's response to the attack on Fort Sumter was to call for volunteers. VA's response was to secede. Anderson surrendered the fort on April 13. VA seceded on April 17. Lincoln didn't even have time to "invade" VA, nor did he have the troops to do so.
8.12.2008 12:07pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Wuzzagrunt,

When the fort is on state sovereign territory and the state asks the feds to leave, then they are supposed to leave. At least that's what the law was back then. The feds left every other fort in every other state as they should have, but Lincoln decided that he would violate South Carolina sovereignty by refusing to leave that one fort and then reinforcing it.

It was a clear and unnecessary provocation and fully intended to start the war.

South Carolina was not blameless, but retaking a South Carolina fort that is occupied by federal troops who refuse to leave is not entirely unreasonable.

When Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Ukraine, etc. parted from the USSR, would they have been just expected to allow the Russian military to stay there? Some allowed it because they simply couldn't do otherwise, but they were all perfectly justified in forcing the Russians to leave. For the same reasons the South Carolinians were justified in expelling the Feds from their harbor.

Lincoln knew this, and intentionally provoked them. This made the slave states who had refused to secede realize that they were dealing with a mad man who intended to use force to control the union, and so they then seceded. Until he did that, these states were looking to stay with the union, knowing that they would probably have to give up the institution of slavery.
8.12.2008 12:09pm
VincentPaul (mail):
Not that this matters, but just how many free states would it have taken to ratify an amendment making slavery unconstitutional if all slave holding states would not have ratified said amendment?
8.12.2008 12:15pm
Andy C.:
Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't most of the hard-line emancipators believe that the North should secede from the South, and that secession was a right that they possessed? William Lloyd Garrison sticks out in my mind on this point.

Also, after the first batch of states seceded, didn't Congress pass a (proposed) 13th Amendment which stated that the federal government would never abolish slavery?
8.12.2008 12:16pm
Adam J:
Skyler- "This war was precipitated by Lincoln purposefully choosing to not evacuate only one fort, and he chose Fort Sumter because he knew that South Carolina was the most hot headed state. A true statesman would have found another way, or at least attempted it." Wow, just wow... so you think it would have been an effective bargaining tactic to fold and give up your own fort in the opening move? Appeasement typically is a poor bargaining method. Please explain how that wouldn't have further emboldened the South. I also find it amazing that you think Lincoln's abandoning the fort should have been done to avoid the war, yet don't argue that the South should have abandoned slavery to avoid the war.
"It was this invasion that convinced the other states that Lincoln was a mad man intent on establishing a dictatorship." Please explain how not abandoning a fort is a) an invasion, and b) the act of a madman.
8.12.2008 12:21pm
Adam J:
Skyler- "When the fort is on state sovereign territory and the state asks the feds to leave, then they are supposed to leave. At least that's what the law was back then."
Please cite!!!
8.12.2008 12:25pm
pluribus:
subpatre:

Then Lincoln invaded Virginia, , , ,

Excuse me. "Invaded?" If a president of the United States sends troops into one of the states, that is an "invasion"?

Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution gives Congress the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions." Congress did that, authorizing the president to call forth the militia to supress insurrections and repel invasions, and that is just what Lincoln was doing in Virginia.

In 1957, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 U.S. Army paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division to Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the integration of Central High School. Was this an "invasion" of Arkansas?

In 1957, Arkansas was a part of the U.S. In 1861, Virginia was (in the minds of Congress, Lincoln, and ultimately the Supreme Court) still a part of the U.S.

Putting down an insurrection inside a country is not an "invasion."
8.12.2008 12:27pm
Caliban Darklock (www):
@Skyler: "you can't have an intelligent debate about a controversial issue when trolls like Caliban come along and pretend to argue that slavery was worth defending."

Yeah, because there's nothing that needs defending more than a dying system that doesn't work and would have ended within fifty years anyway.

The real problem is that you can't have an intelligent debate with people who can't be arsed to pay attention to what you write.
8.12.2008 12:28pm
Hoosier:
Eigth Note: "I will concede that the South faught to keep slavery if you concede the North did not fight to end slavery."


Can't agree completely. The North initially fought for the Union. If Jeff Davis and co. had comke to their senses sometime before Antietam, they may well have been readmitted without emancipation. After some time fighting, however, the abolition of slavery did become a significant Union goal in the war. One sees this in the diaries and letter home written by Federal soldiers.

Thus, the Northern political goals in the war changed over the course of the war. So it is not accurate simply to say that the the Federals were not fighting to end slavery. You have to specify when you are talking about.

In any event, anti-slavery men like Lincoln were convinced from the beginning that the defeat of secession would mean the end of slavery, even if Washington did not compel emancipation. So even in that sense, Lincoln was fighting a war that he knew would bring the end of the institution.
8.12.2008 12:30pm
Benjamin Davis (mail):
Having driven through Pennsylvania from Ohio earlier this month, I took the liberty to visit Gettysburg for the first time in my life. I want to encourage all Americans to go there and see those fields, the obelisks and honorary plaques put up, and to read the descriptions of what happened in that battle.

The question of Southern secession surely has to be thought of in the context of the whole 80 year period from the Constitution to the Civil War. The Constitution had so many aspects of it that were there to permit slavery to be preserved - 3/5th, commerce clause not reaching intra-state trade, Federal government to put down insurrections (read slave insurrections), and no export taxes (Paul Finkelman has some excellent work on this). The provision calling for the banning of importation of slaves in 1807 was a careful part of getting Southern state support for the new Constitution. So we need to see how very prominent slavery's role had been in that period.

As to North and South, you have to understand that coffee, tea, and sugar and the rest of it on Northern tables had its orgins in Southern and Caribbean slavery. There is a wonderful PBS special called Traces of the Trade recently shown where she described the three generations of her ancestors actively involved in the slave trade in the 18th and early 19th century (including slave smuggling post the 1808 abolition of importing slaves into the United States). There is a picture of some kind of agricultural machine that was manufactured in Buffalo, New York and being used on a slave plantation in the South or Caribbean (sorry do not remember). Persons had stores open in the north concerning the buying and selling of slaves like you have dry goods stores on main streets.

And, of course, the Civil War had lots of machinations around it that does not make it just about slavery.

But, the Civil War comes in that 80 year period from the Constitution that included in the early 19th century a broad effort to end the slave trade - one of the most extraordinary efforts in international law. How that norm developed from pressure from civil society to become accepted by England and leading to the banning of the slave trade is one of the most remarkable stories of the past 200 years. I encourage you to read International Legitimacy and World Society by Ian Clark who describes clearly that process.

Also, Justice Scalia once told me to get over slavery when I challenged originalist thinking on a personal level - an ancestor owned by a Founder (as others here might have seen in earlier posts). While we are refighting this history, I am not so sure that should surprise us. At that dinner with Scalia the wife of a judge in Toledo spoke to me with very clear emotion about the story of her great-grandfather I believe who had fought for the Union and had only been saved by a bullet hitting his belt buckle. Her emotion and pride in that ancestor was very real and actual.

So, like I felt at Gettysburg, the ghosts are there and here now.

As to the legacy of slavery, one of the things that I found remarkable is that the Royall bequest that was done to start Harvard Law School was the result of the Royall's selling off some slaves they had in Antigua at the time. If you go to the Harvard Law School site you will see the school's insignia - it is not three stacks of wheat but three stacks of sugar cane - the coat of arms of the Royall family.

As to secession, isn't the issue one of internal self-determination or not. The southerners clearly had the power of internal self-determination in the constitutional process. They were not an occupied land. They were not escaping some kind of colonial past from the North. I agree with those that say secession is legitimate when it is by consent or by acquiescence by the remaining state (that acquiescence may come after a war sometimes). Clearly, secession was not by consent and any possible peaceful acquiescence that might have occurred by the North was impossible or at least extremely unlikely after Fort Sumter.

One might hold the war was about preserving the Union. Certainly, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote at some point about the extraordinary image for him of these men fighting and dying for an idea.

Of course this year is the bicentennial of the abolition of the importing of slaves to the United States. I am organizing a conference on this at University of Toledo College of Law on October 25, 2008. Persons interested in presenting a paper or bearing witness should send an abstract to me by August 15, 2008 at ben.davis@utoledo.edu.

Best,
Ben
8.12.2008 12:33pm
pluribus:
Andy C.:

After the first batch of states seceded, didn't Congress pass a (proposed) 13th Amendment which stated that the federal government would never abolish slavery?

No. During the waning days of the Buchanan administration, Congress proposed an amendment (called the Corwin Amendment) that stated that the Constitution could not be amended to give Congress the power to abolish or interfere with slavery within any state. The text was:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.

Buchanan called this an "explanatory amendment," because he believed (correctly) that it did not change the Constitution, but merely "explained" it. Under the existing Constitution, Congress had no power to abolish or interfere with slavery within any state. The Republican Party platform agreed. The Corwin Amendment did not alter the power of Congress to control (even abolish) slavery in the territories or in the District of Columbia. Nor did it prevent an eventual amendment simply abolishing slavery throughout the country. It simply made it clear that Congress would not have the power to abolish or interfere with slavery within any state. The Corwin Amendment was an effort to placate the South. The South was not placated. The Amendment was not ratified.
8.12.2008 12:39pm
byomtov (mail):
So, yes, self-determination included the right to continue slavery. I didn't say that this was good. I said the tragedy is that the two goods, ending slavery and protecting self-determination, were put into conflict with each other.

This is positively Orwellian. Your version of "self-determination" includes having the power to enslave. Think about that. It makes no sense. It's a borderline psychotic idea.

Supose I have a business that uses slaves. If I fight to retain the right to use slaves would you I am fighting for "economic freedom?" Of course not.

This whole argument is best summarized by the old saying,

"When someone says it's not about the money, but the principle of the thing, it's about the money."
8.12.2008 12:41pm
EH (mail):
From The Simpsons:

Through another sea of protestors, Apu takes the written [citizenship] exam, then the oral exam.

Proctor: All right, here's your last question. What was the cause of the Civil War?

Apu: Actually, there were numerous causes. Aside from the obvious schism between the abolitionists and the anti-abolitionists, there were economic factors, both domestic and inter--

Proctor: Wait, wait... just say slavery.

Apu: Slavery it is, sir.

-- "Much Apu About Nothing"
8.12.2008 12:42pm
Dave N (mail):
Adam J,

Missouri and Kentucky were both slave states that did not secede though both provided some soldiers to the Confederacy. Additionally, though there were few slaves, the western portion of Virginia refused to secede when the rest of the state did.

In other words, at the start of the civil war, 4 slave states did not leave the union.

I have often wondered if slavery would have survived the 19th century without the Civil War. It was a dying institution within the western world. Brazil abolished it in 1888 without war.

However, I believe that slavery was entrenched enough that it would not have ended as easily in the United States as it did in Brazil.

For the commenter who analogized slavery and abortion and who suggested that without Supreme Court intervension, abortion could have been just as divisive, I think the analogy is backwards.

The Dred Scot decision radicalized both sides. By holding that blacks slaves were never free, even through long residence in free states, it thrust the issue to the forefront, since Dred Scot declared the Compromise of 1850 to be unconstitutional.

As a result of Dred Scot, the rush to war accelerated--and civil war was unavoidable. In other words, the judicial activism evidenced by Dred Scot was like throwing gasolene on a pile of dry wood. All it took was for something, anything, to light the match.
8.12.2008 12:43pm
Anderson (mail):
The stubborness with which certain posters (on this site and elsewhere) argue against the clear historical evidence demonstrates that there is some other reason than an honest pursuit of truth in play.

Indeed.

At best, as one commenter noted above, southerners are taught in school that the war wasn't really about slavery, and not many trouble to educate themselves on the subject afterwards.

We thus get books like Why the South Was Right.

Doubtless, Hitler and Himmler will have been similarly rehabilitated in 100 years.

In fact, I saw in the bookstore where Pat Buchanan was at work on that.
8.12.2008 12:44pm
Hoosier:
Ben--

Thanks for the post!

My current research bears on the abolition of the slave trade, and the complicated American diplomacy that resulted. I agree that it was extraordinary. Also, it is a forgotten part of our history: The US actually had an "Africa Squadron," the goal of which was to seize slave ships. Who remembers that?

As I'm sure you know, the issue of what what one does with the seized slaves proved to be the trickeist part of this-- Aside from the "not dying of malaria" part, that is. The Navy couldn't bring the slaves from a captured ship to the US. But to offload them at the port where they were sold in the first place . . . ? Not a good idea. And one needs to keep in mind that British anti-slave trade efforts were not efforts at abolition. Slavery conitnued to be leagal in British New World colonies. So those also were not a safe haven.

The "Colonization" movement has gotten a bad rap, since its advocated wanted to send freemen back to Africa. But another motivation for the project was the problem I just mentioned: There was need for some place in Africa where impounded human cargoes could be brought, without risking resale to another trader.

I'd love to attend the conference. But my disabling back pain has kept me from travelling for quite some time now. Too bad: Sounds great. And at a lovely campus as well.

Argh!
8.12.2008 12:44pm
Hoosier:
Your version of "self-determination" includes having the power to enslave.

This is what I find odd about the argument. The right of self-determination seems to come from an idea of natural law. So: Who had the inherent right to self-determination? If human beings, then there is no justification for slavery in the first place. it is not something that the state is justified in guaranteeing.

Yet the argument seems to be that states have a right to self-determination. That's why some people see in this issue a conflict of rights situation.

Now, I admit that I'm skeptical about natural law. That said, how can a human construct--say, the state of South Carolina--have any "natural" rights?
8.12.2008 12:51pm
Connecticut Lawyer (mail):
David Nieporent has it exactly right: "[I]t is accurate to say that slavery was both necessary and sufficient for the war, while no other proposed "cause" was either." In legal terms, we could say that slavery - the South's desire to preserve the institution of slavery - was the proximate cause of the war.

Try this thought experiment. Suppose that there was no slavery in the South. While there might have been other disputes between the Southern states and the Northern states, does anyone think that any of those issues would have been sufficient to bring about the Civil War? Of course not. Slavery was the sine qua non of the war; the "but-for" cause of the war.

While we are doing thought experiments, here's another. What would it have cost for the Federal Government to have condemned every slave, taken them all by eminent domain, and then freed them? Whatever the cost (fair market value for each), surely that would have been less than the cost in blood and treasure of the Civil War. Could perhaps an amendment outlawing slavery, combined with a fair market value forced purchase of all slaves, have been a compromise that both sides could have lived with? I suggest this because most of the wealth of the South was tied up in slaves, and surely the prospect of forfeiting that wealth without compensation was one of the prime motivating factors behind seccession.
8.12.2008 12:53pm
Andy C.:


I have often wondered if slavery would have survived the 19th century without the Civil War. It was a dying institution within the western world. Brazil abolished it in 1888 without war.


Jeffrey Rogers Hummel wrote a very persuasive book on the topic of whether the Civil War was necessary because slavery would have died out anyways. It was entitled, "Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War."
8.12.2008 12:54pm
DangerMouse:
Abortion isn't remotely the issue today that slavery was then. Probably one of the major reasons for this is the absence of major economic interests who would benefit from its preservation or abolition.

Depends on what you define as "major," I guess. I think that there are plenty of major economic interests in favor of abortion: planned parenthood, the pr0n industry, and basically any media, studio, or company dependent on the increasing sexualization of teenage girls. There isn't, however, a large economic interest on ending abortion, since it's even more of a moral issue than slavery was. There's no economic plus to ending abortion, as there is for ending slavery.

As for the other comments on this thread, let me just say that I agree with Anderson when he says that southerners are indoctrinated from birth to see the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression." You'd be surprised how stupid people can be over this, even people you'd think would know better. But tribalism is a natural instinct for humans, and Southerners just flat out refuse to deal with their past.
8.12.2008 1:00pm
Adam J:
Dave N- Jeffrey was remarking on northern slaveholding states, Missouri &Kentucky typically aren't considered "Northern".
8.12.2008 1:03pm
Skyler (mail) (www):
Adam J circled:

Wow, just wow... so you think it would have been an effective bargaining tactic to fold and give up your own fort in the opening move?


Your statement is circular. You're right once there is a war then Lincoln should seize and defend forts. But this was before a war existed and before a war was assured. He purposefully made this provocation to ensure that there would be a war and eliminate any chance of avoiding one.

Hoosier, you're exactly right. States do not have natural rights, but the people of the state do. The people of a state have the right of self-determination. That this right was put in conflict with the abolition of slavery is the entire tragedy of the war.
8.12.2008 1:03pm
Orson Buggeigh:
Man's inhumanity to man remains well established, I see. The notion that the war was about states rights or self determination is a cop out. The states in question desired the right determine the correctness of allowing a traffic in human beings. In a word, slavery. There is no escaping that this was, indeed the root cause of the war. The notion that the war was one of 'northern aggression,' or for states rights is the sort of 'usable history' crap we normally expect from people like Michael Bellesiles. As someone noted above, the states rights / northern aggression thesis isn't following the historical evidence, it is manipulating history to serve a social and or political agenda.

Could slavery have been abolished in the USA without the war? Perhaps. But I don't think it was too probable, given the increasing stridency of the southern defense of their 'peculiar institution' from the 1780s through 1865. In some places, Britain, for example, slavery's abolition was accomplished without resort to war. But the number of slave holders was very small, the number of slaves was tiny, and it had little effect on the national economy. Much of the southern agrarian economy depended on slave labor, making this a more difficult process. I agree, it was inevitably going to die out, as the USA's economy moved from being primarily an agrarian one to an industrial base. But we really can't know if this would have happened peacefully,or if there would have been violence associated with it.

Slavery was legal in the USA in 1860. It was repulsive then, and many people, throughout the world, were calling for its abolition. Even though slavery had been a near universal fact in the sense that it was practiced in many societies, from the beginnings of recorded history until the 19thcentury, slavery was practiced by some Indian tribes in the Americas, by Africans against other Africans, and even classical Greece and Rome. The amazing thing, really,was the universal recognition developing in the 18th and 19th centuries that slavery was inherently evil. Given such a sea change, it is perhaps reasonable to at least recognize that some of our ancestors fought for this cause based on sincerely held beliefs. What I cannot countenance, however, is suggesting that these were good and positive social values,and that the war was for some noble cause. The so called noble lost cause was the ability to own human beings. I can find nothing noble or redeeming about it. I think U. S. Grant summed it up well, by remarking that he admired the valor and respected the courage of his foe, who fought bravely for a cause they believed in, though Grant believed that cause to be one of the worst men ever fought for.

No nation that allows itself to self destruct remains a nation for long. Lincoln noted that he had an obligation to defend and protect the nation and the constitution. The maintenance of existing federal forts is not an act of aggression. The south seceded,then fired the first shots of the war. Lincoln had little choice. He either had to defend the union, or preside over its destruction. Lincoln was willing to allow slavery to be gradually abolished when elected, but by 1862, the military advantages of emancipation began to look increasingly practical. The south, in their effort to protect slavery by destruction of the union, only hastened its abolition as part of the war effort. The fact that so many union men died to protect the union and also,after 1863, to bring about the destruction of slavery is one of our prouder moments in history.

Parallels between the Confederacy and Nazism or Communism are, however, unfair. Firstly, slavery was generally accepted world wide before the 18th century, Communism and Nazism are very recent developments (19th, 20th centuries). Slavery was predicated on the bondage of people; Nazism and Communism have depended on repression of people to work, and both Communism and Nazism have practiced the wholesale liquidation of people it found undesirable because of who they were. This feature is not found in the Confederacy,where the undesirable classes were slaves. Slavery, repugnant as it is, is generally considered to be a better fate than death. None of these systems are desirable systems to live under.

Secession was a bad idea, and it was undertaken by the southern states in support of a loathsome social system.
8.12.2008 1:04pm
Andy C.:
If England had won the Revolutionary War, how many of us would regard George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, et al. as traitors? How many of us would say that they were merely slaveholders looking to maintain their property?

Wasn't it Samuel Johnson who said, in reference to the American colonists, "How is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of the negroes?"

Would slaves have been better off if England had won the Revolutionary War?
8.12.2008 1:06pm
pluribus:
Connecticut Lawyer:

What would it have cost for the Federal Government to have condemned every slave, taken them all by eminent domain, and then freed them?

Lincoln estimated that it would cost $300,000,000. This works out to about $750 per slave, which was close to the market value at the time. He said this would be less than the war would cost, and thus it would be a good bargain. However, he did not believe the federal government had the authority to force this on the South. Where in the Constitution is the federal government given the power to condemn private property for the purpose of racial justice? He offered this as an inducement to any state that would voluntarily end slavery within its borders. He had hopes particularly that Kentucky would accept the bargain. The state would abolish slavery, and the federal government would compensate each slaveholder for his or her lost property. Kentucky said no, and Lincoln despaired of achieving emancipation in this way.
8.12.2008 1:07pm
Hoosier:
Hoosier, you're exactly right. States do not have natural rights, but the people of the state do. The people of a state have the right of self-determination. That this right was put in conflict with the abolition of slavery is the entire tragedy of the war.

If the people have an inherent right to self-determination, then slavery has to be abolished "to secure these rights." No tragedy there.

But if you meant the white people of a state, then we have a problem.
8.12.2008 1:09pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
IME--In my experience--the idea that the Civil War was not about slavery is an outgrowth of the "there shall be no good thing about America" view of historical education.
We see it explicated above.
Nothing noble is allowed, even if we have to rewrite history.
Despicable.
8.12.2008 1:09pm
pluribus:
Orson Buggeigh, well stated.
8.12.2008 1:11pm
Hoosier:
Would slaves have been better off if England had won the Revolutionary War?

Slightly, perhaps. Slavery didn't really end in British colonies until about 1840.

But the American Revolution probably accelerated that decision. Loss of the territories in North America, and loss of shipping from New England ports especially, reduced the value of the slave-based Atlantic trade for the Brits. So: no independence, no abolition? Not exactly, but the timing may have been affected.
8.12.2008 1:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The plantation aristocracy tried to ape the "County" society of Britain. Among other things, that meant you couldn't go into trade, nor learn one, for that matter, outside of law.
But you could be a soldier (officer, of course) either in the US Army or the local militias. Ditto in Britain.
And you could be, should be, good at riding, hunting, shooting. Also duels, "affairs of honor". Ditto....
The idea that this bunch was not going to take the war course is nuts.
8.12.2008 1:17pm
byomtov (mail):
States do not have natural rights, but the people of the state do. The people of a state have the right of self-determination. That this right was put in conflict with the abolition of slavery is the entire tragedy of the war.

Hoosier answers this well, and I would emphasize that in the slave South a large minority of people were denied the right of self-determination.

To take the most extreme case, 57% of the people of South Carolina were slaves. That means the conflict you talk about was non-existent. The Confederacy was fighting for slavery and against the right of self-determination.

Further, no one was against the right of the slaveholders to self-determination, it was their power to deny self-determination to others that was at issue.
8.12.2008 1:21pm
Sarcastro (www):
Andy C What if Germany won World War II? We'd totally love Hitler! Reletive morality is fun!

Richard Aubrey I had no idea so many modern confederates were hardcore America hating liberals! They hide it so well!

And those Marxist history profs hide their secret involvement in rewriting race out of the history books too! I'd think they're obsessed with keeping race in there! But they're not!
8.12.2008 1:21pm
TerrencePhilip:
The 1860 election made it clear the south was encircled- they were never going to carry another national election as long as they were slave states. The growth in population and economic might of the western states and territories, along with the growing might of the north, made their position impossible. The handwriting was on the wall- they were going to lose slavery and become economically and politically isolated. In the circumstances they felt they had little to lose.
8.12.2008 1:22pm
Seamus (mail):
Whatever their position on slavery where it already existed, the Republicans were firm in their commitment to preventing its spread to the vast new territories acquired by the US in the Mexican War. That, in fact, was the main point of the Republican platform. Slaveowners believed that an end to the expansion of slavery threatened their economic interests.

It's hard to see how secession--which meant renouncing any title to the Western territories--was going to make expansion of slavery into the territories more likely.

By using patronage to promote the growth of Republican parties in these states and relaxing enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act, a Republican-controlled federal government could eventually force these states to abolish slavery.

Again, it's hard to see how secession was going to make it *more* likely that the Fugitive Slave Act would be enforced, and slaves sent back to border or Deep South states.

I don't know where you get this idea. Lincoln's response to the attack on Fort Sumter was to call for volunteers. VA's response was to secede. Anderson surrendered the fort on April 13. VA seceded on April 17. Lincoln didn't even have time to "invade" VA, nor did he have the troops to do so.

Lincoln didn't invade Virginia until May 24, the day after Virginia voted to ratify the Ordinance of Secession which had been passed by the Virginia Convention on April 17.
8.12.2008 1:22pm
pluribus:
The claim that the South was merely fighting to preserve its liberties (or as some here say, its right of "self-determination) is transparent. As usual, Lincoln said it better than most of the rest of us can:

We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others, the same word many mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men's labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name - liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names - liberty and tyranny.

-- April 18, 1864 - Address at Sanitary Fair, Baltimore, Maryland
8.12.2008 1:25pm
Hoosier:
The 1860 election made it clear the south was encircled- they were never going to carry another national election as long as they were slave states. The growth in population and economic might of the western states and territories, along with the growing might of the north, made their position impossible. The handwriting was on the wall- they were going to lose slavery and become economically and politically isolated. In the circumstances they felt they had little to lose.

"No fair! The Constitution sucks!" Jeff Davis, letter to Varina Davis (1861).
8.12.2008 1:27pm
Sarcastro (www):
Hoosier dude, don't look now, but I think Jeffy Davis may be a commenter on this site...
8.12.2008 1:33pm
MarkField (mail):

When the fort is on state sovereign territory and the state asks the feds to leave, then they are supposed to leave.


Fort Sumter was NOT on state territory. SC had given the land to the federal government in 1832 pursuant to Art. I, Sec. 8, cl. 17.


Not that this matters, but just how many free states would it have taken to ratify an amendment making slavery unconstitutional if all slave holding states would not have ratified said amendment?


There weren't enough free states to do that. Of the 31 states at the time, 13 were slave states. That means 39 states were needed to ratify such an amendment, which would mean 52 states in the Union. Obviously impossible.


Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't most of the hard-line emancipators believe that the North should secede from the South, and that secession was a right that they possessed? William Lloyd Garrison sticks out in my mind on this point.


Some of the abolitionists did believe this. Most didn't. Some also thought the North should let the South go.


IME--In my experience--the idea that the Civil War was not about slavery is an outgrowth of the "there shall be no good thing about America" view of historical education.


Not at all. The Lost Cause myth goes back to the 1860s. It was the dominant historical school for most of the 20th C, and it was northerners like Dunning who propagated it. Not until th 60s or even the 70s did you see a real change in the emphasis by many historians. Indeed, I grew up in CA and went to high school here in the 60s, and even then I was taught that the War was not about slavery. Fortunately for me, I also learned to read.
8.12.2008 1:34pm
Adam J:
Skyler- still not cite huh? And you're argument is the completely illogical... you say Lincoln shouldn't defend his fort before the war. A fort is always defended, in case there is war, that's the entire point of forts! For a sovereign country to give up a fort to avoid a potential conflict would be completely asinine, one doesn't give up away ones' tools of war to a potential enemy when conflict is brewing. And I'm still confused what you think was the provocation before the war... not giving up one's own under threat of force is considered provocation now?

Also, Lincoln didn't seize any forts, the Federal government rightfully owned these forts. SC seceded, and a few months later attacked US federal government property... yet it was Lincoln who was aggressor... riighhhht

Finally, "The people of a state have the right of self-determination." To use self-determination as a justification for upholding slavery (an institution that takes away any any right of self-determination whatsoever) is the definition of hypocricy!!
8.12.2008 1:34pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
If not slavery, then what? Certainly not states' rights. The only state rights that were disputed were (1) related to slavery or (2) the right to secede--but no one ever got divorced just to prove he could.

Also, the Confederacy was willing to forcibly try to include Kentucky and Maryland in the Confederacy against the express will of their voters and duly elected governments. In the case of Kentucky there's not even an argument that the voters were coerced. So its hard to say that the Confederacy was really about states' rights and not about slavery and sectional nationalism.
8.12.2008 1:35pm
pluribus:
Seamus:

It's hard to see how secession--which meant renouncing any title to the Western territories--was going to make expansion of slavery into the territories more likely.

Where did you get the idea that the Confederate states renounced the Western territories? That of course was one of the illogical assumptions of secession--that all of the property acquired by the Union over the years could be neatly divided by the passage of ordinances of secession. The common property of the Union would have been fought over if the South had won. And very likely would have led to wars over the territories. One war would have settled all the outstanding disputes? Not likely. It would have taken many, maybe in the style of the warring republics of Central and South America. During the Civil War, the Confederates invaded New Mexico and Arizona (yes, "invaded"), claiming a right to those territories (in which, of course, they proposed to install slavery). And they made it clear time and again, that they wanted to annex Cuba, possibly other parts of Mexico, even Central America. Yes, they were just as expansionist as they had been before the war, and just as convinced that war was the way to achieve their goals. It took Appomattox to persuade them otherwise.
8.12.2008 1:36pm
MarkField (mail):
Sorry, I got the number wrong just above. There were 15 slave states, not 13. An amendment was even more impossible.
8.12.2008 1:37pm
pete (mail) (www):
pluribus:


Where in the Constitution is the federal government given the power to condemn private property for the purpose of racial justice?


So Kelo came 150 years too late to actually do any good. They could have just called the slaves blighted or that freeing them would raise local tax revenues.

Anderson:


At best, as one commenter noted above, southerners are taught in school that the war wasn't really about slavery, and not many trouble to educate themselves on the subject afterwards.


I had a girlfriend in college from Louisiana who told me she did not figure out until high school that the civil war and war of northern aggression were the same thing. And she was born in the late 70's and I think was fairly liberal politically. However, for the most part I think this has died out at least in Texas and in the younger generations. I have lived in the south for the last 13 years and have only met one person who even remotely thought (or at least said out loud) that the civil war was not primarily about slavery, and that was in Mississippi and I think also he was relatively liberal and was just being contrary.
8.12.2008 1:41pm
trad and anon:
I think that there are plenty of major economic interests in favor of abortion: planned parenthood, the pr0n industry, and basically any media, studio, or company dependent on the increasing sexualization of teenage girls.
Planned Parenthood is a 501(c)(3), and although it has a budget in the upper hundreds of millions, it's nowhere near, e.g., Google's $11.5 billion annual expenditures last year. As for the rest of them, even if you were right about them (dubious), their relation to the economy today isn't remotely comparable to the importance of slavery to the Southern economy. Or, more importantly, to the importance of slavery to the then-wealthy Southerners.
8.12.2008 1:48pm
trad and anon:
Finally, "The people of a state have the right of self-determination." To use self-determination as a justification for upholding slavery (an institution that takes away any any right of self-determination whatsoever) is the definition of hypocricy!
Right. It's not as though the slaves (or free blacks) got any say in the matter.
8.12.2008 1:51pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
While its true that the Upper South states didn't secede until Lincoln called for volunteers, its also true that
(1) some of the Upper South states had only *conditionally* refused to secede before, as they were waiting to see what would happen with the Crittenden Amendments, a strengthened fugitive slave act, repeal of personal liberty laws, and other efforts to give slavery more security
(2) coincidentally only those states that had a large percentage of slaves were interested in defending the lower South's 'right to secede' and, coincidentally, within those upper South states regions that had the most slaves were the most pro-secessionist and regions that had the least slaves were the most Unionist. Ever heard of West Virginia?
8.12.2008 1:56pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
It's hard to see how secession--which meant renouncing any title to the Western territories--was going to make expansion of slavery into the territories more likely.

The Knights of the Golden Rim. Filibustering. Cuba. Not that the South's secession was all that rational, but it was at least a tiny bit rational.
8.12.2008 1:57pm
pluribus:
pete:

So Kelo came 150 years too late to actually do any good.

The condemning power in Kelo was the City of New London, not the federal government. So the constitutional analysis of a proposed condemnation of all slaves would be somewhat different. Where in the Constitution would the federal government derive such a power of condemnation? I suppose it would be under the necessary and proper clause as related to some other enumerated power, but haven't analyzed it. It became moot instanter anyway, because it was a political no go. Slaveholders weren't interested in giving up their slaves, even if they were compensated for them. So instead they gave them up without compensation.
8.12.2008 1:57pm
guest:
Many Southern officers, including Robert E. Lee, were against slavery. And Lincoln made it perfectly clear that he could care less about whether the slaves were freed.

Why struggle to make this such a complicated issue, when it is so simple? DO we really need to whitewash history? The "civil war" was a war for southern independence and it's chief causes were TAXES and NORTHERN OPPRESSION.
8.12.2008 2:01pm
DangerMouse:
Planned Parenthood is a 501(c)(3), and although it has a budget in the upper hundreds of millions, it's nowhere near, e.g., Google's $11.5 billion annual expenditures last year. As for the rest of them, even if you were right about them (dubious), their relation to the economy today isn't remotely comparable to the importance of slavery to the Southern economy. Or, more importantly, to the importance of slavery to the then-wealthy Southerners.

Oh, that's no doubt true. The slave economy was much bigger than the abortion-economy is today, even if you include all of Hollywood in the abortion-economy. That's why I said it depends on how you define "major." If you include a lot of the entertainment industry, which depends on the increasing sexualization of teenage girls that depend on access to abortion, then your view of how major the abortion-industry could change. Of course, it might still be minor in comparison to entities like Microsoft and Google, but it's all about perspective. Abortion-doctors aren't the only ones who have an economic interest in preserving the sacrifice to Moloch.
8.12.2008 2:01pm
DangerMouse:
I had a girlfriend in college from Louisiana who told me she did not figure out until high school that the civil war and war of northern aggression were the same thing. And she was born in the late 70's and I think was fairly liberal politically. However, for the most part I think this has died out at least in Texas and in the younger generations. I have lived in the south for the last 13 years and have only met one person who even remotely thought (or at least said out loud) that the civil war was not primarily about slavery, and that was in Mississippi and I think also he was relatively liberal and was just being contrary.

A college roommate of mine who I thought was a decent guy went all batshit-crazy one day when one time talk wandered onto the civil war. The irony was, we were in the College Republican club and were talking about Lincoln (the first Republican president), and he refused to see Lincoln as anything other than a brutal dictator who destroyed the South. Then he said, not jokingly, "The South will Rise Again." Underlying everything he mentioned was a tacit acceptance that "states rights" meant "slavery" and that it was wrong and unfair for the South to have been forced at the point of a gun to end slavery.

The stupid thing is, he grew up in Maryland, not the deep south, and should've known better. I wrote him off, chalked up his stupidity to base tribalism, and never spoke to him again.
8.12.2008 2:06pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Is it possible that both of the following propositions are true?:

1) Slavery is morally reprehsible.

2) The southern states/people also had a legal right to secede.

If so, what does it take to justify infringing upon that legal right? In my mind, slavery is about as bad a it gets, so if slavery doesn't qualify, then you probably believe there's an absolute right to secede (at least for U.S. states).

It is often said that the First Amendment is meaningless if it only protects popular/moral speech. Only unpopular speech needs legal protection. Likewise, the majority would likely find any justification for secession immoral, or at least incorrect, so the right to secession seems meaningless if you can't secede unless the majority blesses it. In fact is seems like it's a tautology. The group desiring to seceed probably wouldn't be doing so if not for some substantive disagreement with the majority.

Generally, I think that unpopular speech should be protected. However, I wouldn't have minded someone punching those Westboro Baptist church members right in their stupid faces, and then walking with no punishment. It also doesn't bother me much that the south's legal rights may have been violated, which lead to the end of slavery.

Then again, I find it hard to square that position with my reluctance to intervene in Darfur and other cluster-f***s.
8.12.2008 2:07pm
Adam J:
guest- "Many Southern officers, including Robert E. Lee, were against slavery." Seeing as Lee was a documented slaveholder, it's kinda hard to make that stick. Of course... it also is documented he intended to grant them freedom when he died... just like the fella he inherited them intended to do... Being "against slavery" doesn't just mean you'd be willing to give slaves freedom when you croak, it implicitly means not owning slaves and freeing them if they did come into your possession. Lee didn't do this, and therefore pretty clearly wasn't against slavery.

"DO we really need to whitewash history?," says the fella trying to argue the South wasn't rebelling to uphold slavery and making false claims that Lee was against slavery.
8.12.2008 2:09pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Why struggle to make this such a complicated issue, when it is so simple?

Literacy and the ability to read source documents isn't a "struggle" for most of us.

Many Southern officers, including Robert E. Lee, were against slavery.

Robert E. Lee was a great man in many ways but he was not an opponent of slavery. He owned slaves and defended the institution as a necessary evil.
http://radgeek.com/gt/2005/01/03/robert_e/

Robert E. Lee was more ambivalent about secession than he was about slavery.
8.12.2008 2:09pm
Peter Zavodnyik (mail):
I think the author comes very close to answer when he wrote of the use of patronage to turn border states against slavery.

Before the Civil War, federal patronage played a huge role in the party system, and it centralized the political system to an extraordinary degree that is not often recognized.

Most newspapers survived on public contracts of some kind, ie contracts to print the laws or govt advertising. Many newspaper editors were also postmasters or had postal delivery contracts. Federal officials used federal offices to control and build up local parties.During the 1850's, southern politicians and the Pierce/Buchanan administrations used federal offices to stifle free soil sentiment among northern Democrats.

I think proslavery southern politicians feared that the Republican administration would build Republican state parties in the South on the strength of federal offices and contracts, and weaken the domination of slaveowners in those states. Southerners had been successful up to that point in keeping antislavery thought from entering their states, and they rightly viewed this control as endangered by a Republican administration that was unlikely to be reticent in using federal power to spread an antislavery message. That is why the southern states rushed to get out before Lincoln took office--antislavery federal officials, ie collectors of customs, postmasters, land office personnel--would have begun showing up in their states in a matter of days.
8.12.2008 2:10pm
Ursus (mail):
Look it's really simple--millions of NON-SLAVE-OWNING southerners fought in the civil war. Why would they risk their lives for the right of some aristocrats they did not know who actually did own some slaves?

Slavery was certainly a factor, but it was not the cause. Lack of equal representation of slave states is a much larger cause than the precise owning of slaves. Changes in tax policy were also linked to that, since the south was still agricultural while the north was industrializing. There were many reasons.

If you had to sum it all up into a single line, you would be closest if you said that cessation occurred because the minority felt it was losing its political defenses. The equivalent today would be for the heartland states to get dictated to by the numerous and large coastal states on everything that mattered to them, and then told to lump it... at some point they will say "bite me" and leave.

Another piece of news for the liberally educated crowd--Lincoln did not free the slaves, nor was it a requirement for southern states to rejoin the union (which they all did voluntarily). Slavery was not abolished until the 13th amendment was ratified, and there were many northern states that took their sweet time on ratifcation--New Jersey rejected it on first pass and had to take a do-over a year later. Slavery continued in the northern states during the civil war too.

Sorry to burst the brainwashing... good day
8.12.2008 2:11pm
Adam J:
My mistake, Lee did eventually free his slaves, although it should be happened this didn't occur until the war had already begun and holding the slaves for several years (and selling other slaves to boot).
8.12.2008 2:14pm
Adam J:
Ursus - Um, I don't know about the millions number, and just because a southerner didn't own a slave didn't mean he didn't have aspirations (as we all do) of greater success, which generally in the South meant owning a nice plantation (with slaves to run it of course). If a bunch of interloping Northerners suddenly trampled on those dreams they might be a bit upset.
8.12.2008 2:17pm
pete (mail) (www):

Look it's really simple--millions of NON-SLAVE-OWNING southerners fought in the civil war. Why would they risk their lives for the right of some aristocrats they did not know who actually did own some slaves?


Becuase if slavery was abolished you would now have millions of free black people. Millions of "NON-SLAVE-OWNING southerners" could still be opposed to that for reasons like not wanting to compete with freed black labor to the most obvious reason: these same southerners were racists and wanted to keep the black man in his place and away from things like ballot boxes, white women, and guns.
8.12.2008 2:22pm
LN (mail):
Why would they risk their lives for the right of some aristocrats they did not know who actually did own some slaves?


This sort of logic applies to basically every war ever fought. Why did French peasants pick up guns and sacrifice their lives to kill German peasants during World War I, and vice versa? Because freedom and democracy and cute kittens and pie were at stake, right?
8.12.2008 2:23pm
Roque Nuevo (mail):
Here's my line on why this is relevant to today's national security debates. Lincoln's stated justifications for the war were preserving the union and abolishing slavery. This is the synthesis of realism (ie, preserving the union) and idealism (abolishing slavery). "Preserving the union" meant expanding the union after the South seceded. Realism, for the US, has always meant expanding, but hardly ever in the territorial sense, as in the Civil War. Idealism has meant different things according to the times: freedom of the seas (the "Barbary Pirates" war); independence of Latin America (the Monroe Doctrine); freedom (Truman Doctrine); and so forth. I think that the expansionist aspects of these national security doctrines are obvious. In every case, expansionism has meant survival for the US. In the case of the Civil War, this "expand or perish" imperative meant that the North could not survive for long on its own. For one, the South was expansionist itself and they would have used their independence and military power (in a militarized society to boot) to expand into Latin America at least and later, well... why not expand into the North itself? That aside, it's impossible to imagine a nation composed of the Northern States surviving for long as an independent nation in the sea of sharks that was world politics in the 19th century.

The Bush Doctrine (if I can call it that) falls into this tradition and in fact updates it for the challenges we face today. Idealism, or the spread of democracy and human rights is joined with realism, or the expansion of our influence into the Islamic world means our survival according to the doctrine, "expand or perish". The Islamic world gets to be democratic and people get to have their rights respected while we protect our commerce on the high seas, as I think Washington proclaimed as our national interest. I should say that we get the business and especially the oil business, to make it even clearer. It's a win-win proposition. Win-win unless one hates the US, which I surely do not.
8.12.2008 2:28pm
Ubu Walker (mail):
*sigh* The Civil War and the events leading up to it, have complex causes. Slavery was an issue that was framed by the debate over States rights and sovereignty and the balance of power in the United State between the North and the South. Of course civil war era politicians talked about slavery...the same way that George Bush talks about WMDs and democracy. Its easy to convey and everyone understands it. But historians recognize that it wasn't just slavery or WMDs that cause war...there are economic factors like access to ports and oil that are important as well.

Law professors should stick to interpreting laws, not history.
8.12.2008 2:28pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
The liberal brainwashing I got at Brigham Young University and in the National Review still hasn't quite burst:

Lack of equal representation of slave states is a much larger cause than the precise owning of slaves.

Number of Senators per free state -- 2.
Number of Senators per slave state -- 2.

Number of Representatives per 10,000 citizens in the free states - 1.
Number of Representatives per 10,000 citizens in the slave states - More than 1.

Changes in tax policy were also linked to that, since the south was still agricultural while the north was industrializing.

Number of tax policy changes Lincoln made before the Confederacy seceded-- 0.
Number of states that seceded in the 1832 tariff crisis, which really was about tax policy-- 0.
Number of soldiers South Carolina risked before it caved on the tariff issue in 1832-- 0.

There were many reasons.

Sure-- the issue of slavery in the territories, the issue of a federal slave code in the territories, northern liberty laws, a strengthened fugitive slave act, fears of abolitionism, fears of slave revolt, annexation of Cuba with its 400,000 slaves, fears of "Black Republican" federal office holders, etc. These were all reasons.

Lincoln did not free the slaves

The emancipation proclamation freed a great many slaves, de jure and de facto. Probably an absolute majority.

nor was it a requirement for southern states to rejoin the union (which they all did voluntarily).

Voluntarily? One wonders what the fighting was about. Emancipation was de facto a requirement.

Slavery was not abolished until the 13th amendment was ratified

Which happened shortly after the Civil War and wouldn't have happened without it.
8.12.2008 2:29pm
LN (mail):
expand or perish

Right; we're just defending ourselves by being aggressors. Also, war is peace and ignorance is strength.
8.12.2008 2:30pm
MarkField (mail):
Peter Zavodnyik, your explanation is very good. William Freehling makes a very similar argument in Vol. II of his "The Road to Disunion".
8.12.2008 2:30pm
AnneS:
Ursus - You're joking, right? Lack of equal representation of slave states? Have you read the original constitution? You know, the part where slaves (who weren't citizens, had no civil rights, and were otherwise treated as glorified livestock) got counted - albeit fractionally - in determining the size of slave states' congressional delegations. I admit, they didn't get to quite have their cake and eat it, too, but I would say "having" 60% is pretty darn good. The slave states were upset that they might not get to maintain the same proportionate size of the "slave block" as the country expanded, but that in no way makes the representation they did have and would have continued to have "unequal". What they wanted was to continue their dominance, not their equality or their "fair" share.

Unless, of course, you mean that they were liking losing their ability to block any effort to amend the Constitution to stop slavery or otherwise undermine slave owners' interests, which brings us back to . . .
8.12.2008 2:30pm
Roque Nuevo (mail):
As for "Why would they risk their lives for the right of some aristocrats they did not know who actually did own some slaves?" you should look at Edmond Morgan's American Freedom/American Slavery. He makes the point that slavery existed in the early years of the colonies independently of race in the form of indentured servitude. He says that the racist ideology was created to divide the slave class.

So the answer to the question is "because they were racists".
8.12.2008 2:34pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
Finnaly, a thread where there is no way to blame something on Bush.
8.12.2008 2:37pm
Sarcastro (www):
Seriously, Ubu Walker , interpreting laws has NOTHING to do with history.

Could we please get back to discussing abortion and it's connection to the porn industry?
8.12.2008 2:38pm
Roque Nuevo (mail):
LN:

Right; we're just defending ourselves by being aggressors. Also, war is peace and ignorance is strength


Right and double right. That's a good way to put it. I put it in an overly abstract way so thanks for your input. Your way, it's very clear how realism (or power politics) and idealism interact to reinforce one another.

Would you say, then, that Lincoln was a victim of Orwellian doublethink?
8.12.2008 2:41pm
Ursus (mail):
"Lack of representation" is in reference to new free states w/out slave states as balance. After the tax problems it was clear that the south was going to get dictated to and be unable to stop it.

The emancipation proclamation freed a great many slaves

It declared freedom for slaves in states that were not part of the union, and exempted confederate states that were under union control.

Slavery did not end until the 13th amendment was ratified. Period.
8.12.2008 2:46pm
Seamus (mail):
The common property of the Union would have been fought over if the South had won.

Only if a war was fought in the first place. If the North had followed Greeley's advice and "let the erring sisters depart in peace," the South would have had no excuse to take any of the territories.
8.12.2008 2:46pm
Sammy Finkelman (mail):
I think it is correct that the south did not secede because of a danger to slavery. There was no immediate danger to slavery, and they knew it. (That is not to say this was not used to gain support for secession)

The south seceded because the rise of the republican Party, and the general opinion abouyt slavery in the North, meant that no southern politician could hope to hold national office. They cerated a separate country in order t create positions for themselves, although most of the fire-eaters - the people who started it - never got the high positions. White people in the south had beciome intimidated. They had become intimidated from arguing against slavery - and then in 1860/1861 this was extended also to arguing against secession.

It is probably also true, of course, that the contempt with which slaveholders were held in the North might mean that the south would lose every important vote that divided sectionally, especially the tariff, and that this would get worse with the admission of new states -
but I do not beleive this was a reason for secession - the extremely dismal career prospects of southern politicians at the highest level was the reason. They would be in a permanent despised minority and could not hope for a Cabinet position or any recignition in Congress (No southern politician could even contemplate trying to move his constituency back toward a little toleration of opposition to slavery so taht way out was out)
8.12.2008 2:51pm
Ursus (mail):
While you guys are reaching for excuses as to why NON-SLAVING-OWNING peoples fought a war that is supposedly about the right for a few aristocrats to own slaves...

Why do you suppose the south made such a big deal about calling their union the CONFEDERATE States? What is a confederation the opposite of?
8.12.2008 2:53pm
Adam J:
Brian G- It also seems to be completely unpartisan too! Just a bunch of Lost Causers (although I suspect they are[ironically] predominately Republican) getting their arguments crushed.
8.12.2008 2:57pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
This was influenced heavily by slavery as immigrants tended to avoid areas where slavery existed. (Whether out of distaste for slavery, discomfort with blacks, or possibly both is unclear.)

It was about available jobs, areas of growth (especially cities), enclaves of similar immigrants - not about the presence of slaves. Congratulations on your modern liberal "education".

He [Lincoln] didn't bombard Fort Sumter, the South did.

"He" forced the issue by deliberately attempting to resupply Ft. Sumpter no matter the response.

Make no mistake about it. Abraham Lincoln was responsible for the deaths of over 600,000 people for a cause in the same way as the states seceded for a cause. That was a choice he made in response to southern actions. There were other choices.

The sanctimonious of the 21st century would unconditionally condemn the South for the legal existence of slavery there in the 19th century and smugly dismiss all other relevant factors, justifying the deaths and deliberate acts of destruction imposed on a civilian population to feed their self-righteousness. I am unimpressed.
8.12.2008 2:58pm
FlimFlamSam:
Well, I think it was more about the economics of the agrarian South than slavery per se. Southerners weren't particularly committed to slavery as the be-all and end-all of human existence. They believed--with some justification--that without slavery, the southern economy would go to hell. Now that is no excuse for enslaving people, but if the purpose of this post is to understand the motivation of the secessionary South, then it's worth some consideration.
8.12.2008 2:58pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
"Lack of representation" is in reference to new free states w/out slave states as balance.

So . . . the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, it was just about the fact that new *slave* states weren't being created anymore, which made the *slave* states worried about the survival of *slavery.* Huh.

And it doesn't really wash to say that when you said *slave* states you meant agricultural states that would be opposed to industrial tariffs. Agricultural states were being admitted left and right. In fact, the South blocked the Homestead Act, which would have led to the creation of more agricultural states. Why? Because the South was worried that the Homestead Act would create more free states.

It declared freedom for slaves in states that were not part of the union, and exempted confederate states that were under union control.

So what? It still remains a fact that the Emancipation Proclamation led to the freedom of an absolute majority of slaves, de jure and de facto, before the 13th Amendment was ever passed.
8.12.2008 2:59pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
He" forced the issue by deliberately attempting to resupply Ft. Sumpter no matter the response.

He did? Why, why, why, the villain! [Splutters. Indignantly.]
8.12.2008 3:01pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Also, its Ft. Sumter. Sumpters are merchants who travel with armies to sell them food and merchandise. Which makes sumpters evil, just like A. Lincoln.
8.12.2008 3:03pm
AnneS:
Ursus - What Mr. Mandias said. Also, slick of you to misquote yourself. Your original phrasing was "lack of equal representation", which I assume you admit is a clearly indefensible statement. The three-fifths compromise ensured that slave states had, and would have maintained, their disproportionate representation in national government (Congressional seats and electoral votes) regardless of how many new free states were formed.
8.12.2008 3:06pm
SATA_Interface:
Good work P Rich, you explained why the poor non-slave-owning Southerners were fighting - for jobs. They were worried that non-slave blacks would take their jobs. So they willingly fought the North with their unshackled arms, whereas their black slave neighbors could not even make the decision to choose a job or an owner. But blame Lincoln - that makes much more sense to me.
8.12.2008 3:07pm
Ursus (mail):
It still remains a fact that the Emancipation Proclamation led to the freedom of an absolute majority of slaves

First of all, I don't know that it's a fact, all I've seen on the point of a "majority" is your back of the envelope math.

The demonstrable "fact" is that Lincoln did not "end" slavery. The proclamation actually exempted states, meaning slavery was allowed to continue in some states. That is not an "end" to slavery.

The 13th amendment, did however "end" slavery, was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states, and many of them did so sooner than the northern states
8.12.2008 3:08pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
While we are doing thought experiments, here's another. What would it have cost for the Federal Government to have condemned every slave, taken them all by eminent domain, and then freed them? Whatever the cost (fair market value for each), surely that would have been less than the cost in blood and treasure of the Civil War. Could perhaps an amendment outlawing slavery, combined with a fair market value forced purchase of all slaves, have been a compromise that both sides could have lived with? I suggest this because most of the wealth of the South was tied up in slaves, and surely the prospect of forfeiting that wealth without compensation was one of the prime motivating factors behind seccession.
Setting aside the fact that the Federal government didn't really have the power to do this, the problem is twofold:

1) There was no time when such an offer would have made sense to them. They didn't know there was going to be such a long, bloody, expensive war until after it happened, and by then it was too late.

2) The South didn't want freed slaves, whether paid for or not. (To be fair, the North wasn't particularly welcoming either.) We're not talking about 10 or 50 free blacks; we're talking about 4 million. For a mass manumission plan to work would have required that (forced) "colonization" be part of the plan as well.
8.12.2008 3:10pm
Adam J:
p.rich.- "He" forced the issue by deliberately attempting to resupply Ft. Sumpter no matter the response. What does this mean "no matter the response"? Golly gee, and here I thought supplying a fort was ordinary practice... So apparently Lincoln couldn't resuppy a federally owned fort because South Carolina would attack the fort if resupplied? And I suppose we're And that's Lincoln's fault!?!? Let's apply that logic to the modern day... we must immediately change our nation to a Muslim religious theocracy in order to avoid any further war with terrorists. After all, this choice would avoid further attacks by terrorists and promote peace and harmony forever!!! Let's weigh the two choices here... on one side we have a federal government that refuses to surrender your own property (or defacto surrender by abandoning the fort). On the other side we have a state government intent of seizing the fort so they prevent federal interference in slavery. Gee, you're right, Abe's actions are completely reprehensible.

It's ashame and all that the South wasn't politically empowered enough to protect their institution, but they did make a bargain by signing the Constitution. Maybe it ended up being a poor choice for them, but please let me know when did slaves get a similar choice?
8.12.2008 3:11pm
AnneS:
p. rich - Stop the presses, Abe Lincoln and Abe Lincoln alone was responsible for over 600,000 deaths. Don't you think that the Southerners who "forced the issue" by (a) seceding, (b) blockading a U.S. Army fort, and (c) attacking said fort when the United States had the temerity to resupply it, might possibly have shouldered at least, say, half the responsibility? Along, of course, with the responsibility for attempting to perpetuate and expand an institution that caused untold suffering to millions of slaves? Or do slaves lives not count?
8.12.2008 3:11pm
Ursus (mail):
the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, it was just about the fact that new *slave* states weren't being created anymore

I had hoped this site's commentators had outgrown the strawman.

As I wrote, if you want to sum it up, you could say that the southern states felt they were losing their political defenses. The addition of free states is part of that, not the sum total of it.
8.12.2008 3:14pm
Anderson (mail):
was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states

With Reconstruction legislatures.

Except for Mississipi, which did indeed voluntarily ratify the 13th Amendment ...

(wait for it)

... in 1995.
8.12.2008 3:14pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Is it possible that both of the following propositions are true?:

1) Slavery is morally reprehsible.

2) The southern states/people also had a legal right to secede.
It's hypothetically possible for there to be such a world -- there's no logical conflict between them -- but they're not both true in this world; there was no legal right to secede. And that means that #2 would have to be rewritten to say "The southern states/people had a moral right to revolt." And that is logically in conflict with the first point, since their reason for revolting was to preserve slavery, which obviates any moral argument they may have.

(Contrast that with the American Revolution; although slave states were among those revolting, they were not doing so for the purpose of protecting slavery.)
8.12.2008 3:14pm
Ursus (mail):
there was no legal right to secede

1) Where does the constitution expressly prohibit secession?

2) What does the 10th amendment say about powers that are not expressly granted to the federal government?

3) How do you conclude that secession was illegal?



The civil war was not about the right to secede, ether.
8.12.2008 3:19pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
I take it that you are admitting that the Emancipation Proclamation did, in fact, free slaves? Those of us who aren't pro-slavery ideologues would see that as a good thing.

The 13th amendment, did however "end" slavery, was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states, and many of them did so sooner than the northern states

Sure. The reconstituted southern states that the Union armies put together at the end of the Civil War excluded a great many Confederates from voting, allowed blacks to vote in many case, had a lot of carpet-bagger voters, were occupied by Union armies, and no longer had an interest in protecting slavery elsewhere since the emancipation proclamation had largely ended slavery within their own territories. How this shows that the secessionist states didn't originally secede because of slavery, I do not know.
8.12.2008 3:20pm
pete (mail) (www):

The 13th amendment, did however "end" slavery, was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states, and many of them did so sooner than the northern states


No, president Johnson required that the states ratify the ammendment in order to be let back into the Union. That is hardly voluntary.

Also president Lincoln supported ratification of the 13th ammendment and incorporated that position into the 1864 Republican party platform:


we are in favor, furthermore, of such an amendment to the Constitution, to be made by the people in conformity with its provisions, as shall terminate and forever prohibit the existence of Slavery within the limits of the jurisdiction of the United States.
8.12.2008 3:22pm
Ursus (mail):
was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states

With Reconstruction legislatures.


They did not all have them. Tennessee rejoined the union on their own will, and voluntarily ratified the 13th amendment before Connecticut, New Hampshire, Oregon, California, New Jersey, and Delaware (who did not pass it until 1901).
8.12.2008 3:23pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Don't you think that the Southerners who "forced the issue" by (a) seceding, (b) blockading a U.S. Army fort, and (c) attacking said fort when the United States had the temerity to resupply it, might possibly have shouldered at least, say, half the responsibility?

In fact, Jefferson Davis explicitly ordered the attack on the basis that it would start the war and this would bring the wavering upper South states in the Confederacy. Secessionists in the South had been urging him to "strike a blow" using precisely this reasoning.
8.12.2008 3:23pm
Erica_01:
David, I think another question that your post raises, is does the legal right to secede depend on your reason for exercising that right?

Obviously it does not... no more than the right to speech will be curtailed (by the law) for people who want to exercise that right for "morally reprehensible" purposes, such as proposing slavery be reinstated.
8.12.2008 3:23pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
James McPherson touched on this in his Drawn with the Sword: Reflections on the American Civil War. My recollection is that he suggested that the dominant Southern factions (which were naturally pro-slavery) felt their political control of the South vs. other Southern factions was threatened by a Northern anti-slavery President.

The South at the time was hardly monolithic, even about slavery. There were major anti-slavery forces there, as shown by the large number of Southern volunteers for the Union army during the Civil War. And the dominant Southern factions feared an alliance of their domestic opposition with Northern anti-slavery factions would eliminate their control of the South.

The dominant Southern factions had, among other things, used slavery and its related security needs as a justification for suppressing political freedom in the South among whites, i.e., to suppress domestic political opposition to their control of the South. The moral issues created by slavery in particular required the suppression of Southern anti-slavery political expressions.

Those same moral issues also made Northern anti-slavery political expression a threat to both slavery and the domestic power of the dominant Southern factions, who used the Dred Scott decision as a vehicle to impose slavery in the North and further justify slavery in the South (this was a recognizable psychological game, and not merely political). That in-their-faces over-reaching among the Northern electorate resulted in anti-slavery forces there uniting behind a Presidential candidate who won election by promising to keep slavery out of the North.

Lincoln was quite correct in stating that the nation could not exist half-slave, and half free, but he wasn't talking merely about slavery of blacks, and this was McPherson's point. Slavery could exist only by eliminating the political freedom of whites. Slavery proponents, and the dominant Southern factions, felt so threatened by both their inability to suppress the anti-slavery agitation made possible by the political freedom of whites in the North, and the prospect that a Northern-controlled federal government would give voice to dissident whites in the South, that the South seceded.

It wasn't merely that the South was a slave to slavery of blacks, but that the slave system and the dominant Southern factions whose political power was dependent on slavery rightly felt directly threatened by the political freedom of whites.

Basically the dominant Southern factions just couldn't stand to be Americans anymore. The essence of America was freedom, and that threatened their power. So they seceded from America.

I highly recommend McPherson's book.
8.12.2008 3:25pm
Adam J:
Ursus - "The 13th amendment, did however "end" slavery, was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states, and many of them did so sooner than the northern states." It's becoming clear that this all a case of trying to prove my dad is better then your dad where you're trying to prove that the 19th century South was somehow more moral then the 19th century North. Maybe you should focus more on the present then trying to whitewash the past. And while I don't really want to exacerbate this, I should point out it I don't believe the state governments in power at the time weren't democratically elected, so I don't think you get any points for that one.
8.12.2008 3:25pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Tennessee rejoined the union on their own will

Britain recognized America's independence of its own will. Japan unconditionally surrendered in WWII of its own will.
8.12.2008 3:26pm
Adam J:
Erica_01- No government has ever granted its citizens a legal right to secede... secession can only be justified morally. The founders knew this, they didn't try to argue they had legal justification, they made their case based on morality.
8.12.2008 3:28pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
the Civil War wasn't really about slavery, it was just about the fact that new *slave* states weren't being created anymore

I had hoped this site's commentators had outgrown the strawman.

As I wrote, if you want to sum it up, you could say that the southern states felt they were losing their political defenses.
Political defenses of what, Ursus?
8.12.2008 3:29pm
Ursus (mail):
you're trying to prove that the 19th century South was somehow more moral then the 19th century North

Seriously, where do you get this shit? I said nothing about morality anywhere. It's a real pity that you cannot respond to the points that are raised and so you have to make up your own conversation. We can't help you with that, mkay?
8.12.2008 3:29pm
deepthought:
Since none of the posts above reference sources outside the posters own thoughts, I would like to suggest three books: The Road to Disunion: Volume I: Secessionists at Bay, 1776-1854 and Volume II, Secessionists Triumphant 1854-1861 both by William Freehling (Singletary Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at the University of Kentucky and author of several histories about the politics of secession in the antebellum South), and which show the complexity of the secessionist issue. Successionists Triumphant in particular looks at at the collision between the ideals of freedom and democracy and the strong desire of Southern slave owners and their supporters to defend white enslavement of blacks.

Sounds like secession was over slavery and not the 10th Amendment to me. But, as I have noticed in myriad posts on VC, facts never seem to get in way of good argument.
8.12.2008 3:30pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
1) Where does the constitution expressly prohibit secession?
Asked and answered many times. See this post and this one for two of the more recent answers.
8.12.2008 3:31pm
deepthought:
I meant to say "two books." Also, I see Thomas_Holsinger has struck a blow for source citation. Excellent.
8.12.2008 3:33pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
deepthought,

Freeling and McPherson seem to be in agreement on this:
"... the collision between the ideals of freedom and democracy and the strong desire of Southern slave owners and their supporters to defend white enslavement of blacks."
8.12.2008 3:34pm
Ursus (mail):
1) Where does the constitution expressly prohibit secession?

Asked and answered many times. See this post and this one for two of the more recent answers.


The first link does not show express prohibition. In fact the author says "There are a number of Constitutional provisions that could be read to imply that secession is unconstitutional, none of them decisive", and then cites mention of rebellion. Secession is not at all about overthrowing the government, it is instead about separating from the government and making your own government on a separate land mass.
8.12.2008 3:37pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Also see No Doubt's post here:
"A few slavery-related motives you might have left out:

1) The end of censored mail in the south. Unified Republican control of both the legislative and executive branch was going to mean Republican postal appointees, who would have almost certainly allowed anti-slavery literature to flow through the southern mails."
8.12.2008 3:40pm
Adam J:
Ursus- If I missed your point I apologize, it certainly seems like you're trying to make a case of how the South acted better then the North regarding slavery (The North not prohibiting slavery in the non-seceding slaveholding states), signing the 13th amendment quicker then many Northern states. Anyways, I did respond to your point as well, that I don't believe it the Southern governments were democratically elected (I believe they were post war "occupation" governments set up the Feds) when they signed the 13th amendment.
8.12.2008 3:41pm
Bleepless (mail):
The Confederate constitution contained three substantive provisions which were not in the American one. It gave the President a six-year term, it established a line-item veto and it guaranteed "property in human beings."
Nothing about tariffs here. Just slavery.
8.12.2008 3:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
The first link does not show express prohibition.
If you mean, "Where does the Constitution use the word 'secession'?", then the question need not be asked since you already know the answer. It certainly does show express prohibition. "Supreme law of the land" means "supreme law of the land," not "supreme law except when we say otherwise."
In fact the author says "There are a number of Constitutional provisions that could be read to imply that secession is unconstitutional, none of them decisive", and then cites mention of rebellion. Secession is not at all about overthrowing the government, it is instead about separating from the government and making your own government on a separate land mass.
No; that's called emigrating.
8.12.2008 3:45pm
Colin (mail):
As to the legacy of slavery, one of the things that I found remarkable is that the Royall bequest that was done to start Harvard Law School was the result of the Royall's selling off some slaves they had in Antigua at the time. If you go to the Harvard Law School site you will see the school's insignia - it is not three stacks of wheat but three stacks of sugar cane - the coat of arms of the Royall family.

Citation? I have never heard that Royall's gift was funded with the sale of slaves--I thought it was a testimonial bequest. You are certainly mistaken about the crest, which features three sheaves of wheat, not sugar cane. HLS took them from the Royall crest.
8.12.2008 3:45pm
trad and anon:
Well, I think it was more about the economics of the agrarian South than slavery per se. Southerners weren't particularly committed to slavery as the be-all and end-all of human existence. They believed--with some justification--that without slavery, the southern economy would go to hell. Now that is no excuse for enslaving people, but if the purpose of this post is to understand the motivation of the secessionary South, then it's worth some consideration.
Isn't this obvious? It was less about a devotion to slavery in the abstract (though there was some of that too) as to the economics of slavery, preserving the wealth of the Southern ruling class, and white workers' fear of competition from free labor. Perhaps slavery was, on its own, not a sufficient cause of the war, but it was definitely a necessary (i.e., but-for) cause.
8.12.2008 3:47pm
Adam J:
Ursus- "Secession is not at all about overthrowing the government, it is instead about separating from the government and making your own government on a separate land mass." That's kind of ludicrious distinction... rebellion seeks to overthrow the entire government from all land it controls and secession only seeks to overthrow it from some of the land it controls. So if you want to avoid all those clauses regarding rebellion, you just claim you're not intending to overthrow rhode island, just the rest of the country. Also, those clauses imply that succession is unconstitution are far more explicit then what state rights are encompassed by the 10th amendment.
8.12.2008 3:48pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
The Confederate constitution contained three substantive provisions which were not in the American one. It gave the President a six-year term, it established a line-item veto and it guaranteed "property in human beings."
Nothing about tariffs here. Just slavery.


To be fair, the Confederate constitution also specified that tariffs were only allowed for the purposes of raising revenue.
8.12.2008 3:48pm
trad and anon:
Or, to clarify my point, I don't think "it was about the economics of slavery" establishes that it wasn't about slavery. Rather, it establishes that it was about slavery.
8.12.2008 3:49pm
Orson Buggeigh:
Sadly, it isn't just the people who post on libertarian law blogs who include a fair number of southern sympathizers. I've encountered a number of them at public universities. Young people, who you would hope would know better.

While it is easy to argue that the south just wanted to be left alone, it is also important to recognize how the tide of public opinion was running. As Hoosier notes, Britain didn't finally abolish slavery in its colonies until 1840. But, again, the English intellectuals were drawing the distinction between the north American colonists demanding liberty and the fact that some were slave owners who wanted lower taxes on their products. As I say,a shift in public opinion was well under way, and the success of the American revolution probably helped support the calls for abolition. the call for abolition was, moreover, world wide, and not just a phenomenon of the USA.

Would slavery in Brazil have been peacefully abolished in 1888 if the USA had not had a civil war? No one can really know. But it is certain that an event less than thirty years earlier would have been relatively fresh on the minds of slave owners. Also, this is not the place to get into it, but the differences in the practice of slavery in predominantly Catholic Latin American countries and in the predominantly Protestant USA may be worthy of further study, though Frank Tannebaum did just that half a century ago. Those differences may have impacted the way abolition occurred in Brazil, but not in the USA.

Blaming Lincoln for the 600,000 Civil War dead is very much a case of blaming the victim. It is also, I think the worst sort of historical revisionism - buying the 'noble lost cause' thesis popularized in many secondary works from 1870 to 1940 without bothering to read the primary source material from the 1850 - 1861 period.

And one last thought - the war really did change how American citizens thought of themselves. (Or at least most of us - the moonlight on the magnolias crowd still weeping for states rights may still think of themselves as citizens of their home state.) Before 1861, many thought of themselves of citizens of their state, as did Robert E. Lee. He was personally opposed to the war,but he felt honor bound to stand with his state when it seceded. After 1865, most people increasingly thought of themselves as citizens of the American republic - the United States of America, of which their state was imply one part of the larger whole. How much of this was facilitated by the war,and how much by unifying projects like the transcontinental railroads of the 1860s through 1880s is something I leave for the social historians.
8.12.2008 3:51pm
trad and anon:
As for whether the Constitution circa 1860 gave states a right to secede: who cares? The war ended slavery: that is more than sufficient justification in my eyes, whatever the original Constitution (an agreement with death and covenant with hell) had to say about it.
8.12.2008 3:53pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
trad,

It was more about the politics of slavery - the whole system which perpetuated it, rather than the economic benefits to slave-holders.
8.12.2008 3:54pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
trad,

Cross-posted. I see you already corrected it.
8.12.2008 3:56pm
Erica_01:
The Constitution does state that all rights, not given to the federal government or forbidden from the states are reserved to the states. So unless the Constitution says otherwise, the right to secede is a right the states have. It is irrelevant that no "government" has given a right to secede before.

- Art I (8): One of the purposes for which the militia may be used, is to "suppress Insurrections".

Insurrection is a an attempt to take over the government... not an attempt to leave it and become independent.

- Art I (9): One of the cases when the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended is in cases of rebellion.

Rebellion is likewise, not an attempt to leave and become independent.

- Art I (10): "No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation".

And once a state leaves the Union, it is no longer a "state."

Does the federal government have the right to use force to compel the states comply with the Constitution? Yes. The clauses cited by others can just as easily be read to state that complying with the Constitution and being a state are coordinate -- if you are a state, you must comply. So ceasing to be a state releases that political subdivision from being bound by the Constitution.

So L.S., I don't see the Constitution as "grant[ing] the federal government the power to wage war to resist such a secession" as you claim. It grants the right to act against a state that is STILL A STATE and violates the Constitutional obligations.

We are back to can a state secede.... and I'm not convinced that legally, the Constitution prohibits secession... thus is is a right reserved to the states.
8.12.2008 3:58pm
SeaDrive:

Then he said, not jokingly, "The South will Rise Again."


Given presidents from Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas, and well-entrenched congressional leadership from many southern states, I would say that the South has achieved by political methods what it failed to achieve militarily.
8.12.2008 3:59pm
Ursus (mail):
it certainly seems like you're trying to make a case of how the South acted better then the North regarding slavery

Actually it is meant to demonstrate that they had about the same level of morality on the subject of slavery, which puts lie to the belief that the south essentially acted out of ingrained racism. If we can demonstrate as fact that many northern states had slavery during the civil war, and that the southern and northern states ratified the 13th amendment at roughly the same pace, then this is evidence to me that southern opinions towards slavery were not substantially different enough from the northern opinions towards it, and therefore are not sufficient to explain why they seceded or why so many of them willingly gave up their lives to defend an attributed opinion that was shared by most of the enemy.
8.12.2008 4:00pm
Joe Gator (mail):
He was personally opposed to the war,but he felt honor bound to stand with his state when it seceded. After 1865, most people increasingly thought of themselves as citizens of the American republic - the United States of America, of which their state was imply one part of the larger whole.

I think it was Shelby Foote who said that the War Between the States transformed the way people viewed the country. He had a quote, I think it was, the United States are...became the United States is....

While I agree that slavery was the essential cause of secession, I find it hard to look disparagingly on the individual CSA soldier. It was a different time, and I imagine most of them viewed an army from New York as a foreign invader. Much like we would view a French army today.

I also think many who disparage the South do so for the purpose of absolving the North. After all, if the South didn't have a right to leave the Union, then it stands to reason that the United States permitted slavery, and is a stain of history that should be borne by everyone.
8.12.2008 4:08pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
OK, but:

-you have to show that the states ratifying the 13th Amendment are a good proxy for the states in 1860-61. Which you really can't do, given the intervening Civil War and the occupation by federal troops and the mostly unrepresentative reconstruction governments in the South.

-you have to show that the percentages of slave-owning in the North and South were roughly equal, or at least didn't correlate very well with secession. But you can't do that. The slave-owning states that stayed Union had a lower percentage of slaves and slave-owning than the slave-owning states that went south. In fact, if you break secession votes down by county, there's an even tighter correlation.
8.12.2008 4:09pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
I also think many who disparage the South do so for the purpose of absolving the North. After all, if the South didn't have a right to leave the Union, then it stands to reason that the United States permitted slavery, and is a stain of history that should be borne by everyone

??? By this logic, shouldn't we be arguing that the South did have the right to leave the Union, in order to absolve the North?
8.12.2008 4:10pm
Adam J:
Erica_01- You're distinction is illogical- Leaving the government is crossing the border to Mexico. And rebellions don't seek to take over the government, you do that by winning an election, they seek to overthrow the government. You think it's not a rebellion just because they only wanted to overthrow the Fed's authority over half the country? As I said before, under this logic apparently the key to avoiding being called a rebellion is declaring you don't seek to take over Rhode Island. The South sought to overthrow the Federal Government's Constitutionally granted authority over them. Sounds like a rebellion to me. And to claim that States can't enter into confederations only when they are states... wow, that basically makes the clause an even more toothless tiger then the second amendment was. Basically a prohibition unless the state decides to ignore it.
8.12.2008 4:17pm
Dave N (mail):
Given presidents from Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas, and well-entrenched congressional leadership from many southern states, I would say that the South has achieved by political methods what it failed to achieve militarily.
To a point. However, Bush41 is indisputably a northern migrant who saw the potential for earning wealth in the South--and no one is ever going to confuse either Midland or Houston, Texas with Mobile, Alabama or even Atlanta.

Actually, in the same way that the first President Bush is a northerner, despite what his driver's license might say, President Woodrow Wilson was a southerner, having been born in Virginia and growing up in Georgia before finally moving to the north for his academic career.

But overall, the point is well taken. The 100+ years that the South was basically one-party, combined with a seniority system that promoted longevity over talent gave Southern politicians a disproportionate amount of power for a long, long time.
8.12.2008 4:23pm
Ursus (mail):
you have to show that the states ratifying the 13th Amendment are a good proxy for the states in 1860-61. Which you really can't do, given the intervening Civil War and the occupation by federal troops and the mostly unrepresentative reconstruction governments in the South.

Well I could do that I guess, but for arguing on the Interwebs I'll use the data at hand--Tennessee was not under military reconstruction, its democratically elected representatives were seated in the US congress, and its democratically elected representatives voluntarily ratified the 13th amendment sooner than some of the northern states (much sooner in the case of NJ and DE).

you have to show that the percentages of slave-owning in the North and South were roughly equal

The northern states had begun to change economies though... if you could compare agri to agri, now that would be interesting.
8.12.2008 4:25pm
Joe Gator (mail):
Mandias, I butchered the wording of my post (Should always preview).

My point is this...if you are a Yankee arguing that the South did not have the right to secede, then you should not lay the sins of slavery solely at the feet of the South.

The North profited from slavery, as well.
8.12.2008 4:28pm
A.W. (mail):
The only wrong thing there in the post is there isn't nearly enough. There were a few more wrinkles missed.

First and foremost, the election of Lincoln represented a threat because up until then, every president was acceptable to the South on the subject of slavery. Part of the election of Lincoln was to test to see if the South could stand to lose for once. That was part of why the north considered secession to be such an affront—because it was the south saying, "well, if we can't win the election, then we will leave." It meant the South's unnatural dominance of this nation's politics—propped up in part by the 3/5 compromise—was at an end.

Second the election of Lincoln threatened slavery in the South because it gave him the power of patronage. The fear was he could use that power to create a Southern Republican party that would eventually overthrow slavery state-by-state. You have to understand that while Stephen Douglas professed not to care if slavery was voted up or down, the advocates of slavery did, and states even created barriers designed to ensure that no abolitist held office. For instance, you could not hold office in South Carolina unless you owned 10 slaves, a requirement which the average abolitionist would have trouble meeting.

Third, the additional fear was that any future John Browns would be tolerated and encouraged. The South was thoroughly convinced that the radical abolitionists were behind Brown's raid at Harper's Ferry, and honestly, they might be right. Its hard to know. But whatever the truth was, they expected to see more and more of that sort of thing under Lincoln.

And any tolerance of slave revolt on the part of the federal government would be playing with fire in some states. In South Carolina, about 2/3 of the people were slaves and in Mississippi, about half were. And slaves showed a great deal of knowledge of current affairs by what Lincoln termed the "Grapevine Telegraph." For instance, at first when the Civil War started, a lot of slaves fled their plantation. Whenever they ran into union soldiers, they generally rounded them up and returned them to their masters, because Lincoln believed at that point the key to winning the war was kindness to the masters in the south. Some slaves were shot by union soldiers, trying to escape. Quickly word got around that the Union was not going to free them and the escape attempts slowed. Later Lincoln decided the best way to win the Civil War was to reach out to the slaves. When that happened, in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation, more and more slaves started to run off again, and on the plantations themselves, massive passive resistance broke out.

The point is if you were a South Carolinian plantation owner circa 1860, you had every reason to believe your slaves would know that an anti-slavery man was president and that Lincoln might not have it in him to put down a slave rebellion if one arose. How well would you sleep at night, knowing those things?

Further, you touched on the resistance to the fugitive slave act. It had turned violent in Christiana, Pennsylvania. Basically a bunch of slave hunters tried to catch one man and every free black man from miles around came to resist with arms and farm implements. At one point 3 white Quakers passed by and the U.S. Marshal asked for their help. I'm not sure how to say "Go to hell" in Quaker talk, but that was more or less their response. The Marshal decided this wasn't worth dying for, for a few slavers decided otherwise and got killed. There was a trial and basically jury nullification won the day; none of the resisters were punished and the Fugitive Slave Act was essentially a dead letter in Pennsylvania. Under Lincoln you could expect to see more of that sort of thing happening; and indeed, the Federal Government might not be interested in enforcing the Fugitive Slave Act at all.

None of which is meant as a defense. Slavery in all its faces was an evil on the level of the holocaust. And bluntly, it was a threat to the democracy of all Americans, not just the black ones. But you have to try to understand that the South had good reason to feel slavery was threatened by the election of Lincoln and the general ascendency of the Republican party. And frankly, it was a threat.

Two more points need to be touched on in order to finish framing the issue. There are two other common arguments raised. The first is a positive assertion: "no, no, this was really about state's rights." The second is a negative one: most southerners didn't own slaves, so why did they fight for something they don't own.

Let me take them out of order. Slavery meant a lot more to people in the South than just property. First, it was mythologized as a status product. Just like having a car is important to a young man, owning a slave was considered evidence that you were better than other people. Second, you have to understand that by the time of the civil war they had come to consider the black people to be irredeemably savage. They believed that if the slaves were freed, they would go on an orgy of violence, murder and rape the likes of which are hard to imagine. So in a real way, even the southerner who didn't own slaves supported slavery much in the way we all willingly pay taxes to house people in prison. Which is not to equate slavery with prison, but on this metric they served a similar purpose: to protect the public from a dangerous group. That is why most communities in the South had mandatory Slave Patrols requiring service by every able-bodied adult white male, and even slaveless whites willingly served.

Finally, as for the claim that state's rights was behind it, I challenge those who make this claim to show me one time that the south showed support for states' rights when asserted against slavery. I can say that the personal liberty laws, designed to resist the flagrantly unconstitutional Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, should have been seen as a model application of the principles of state's rights. And yet the South opposed them. Likewise, if a state has a right to secede, a state also has a right not to secede. Yet Ralph Korngold documents how the states of Virginia and Tennessee were both abducted out of the union against the will of the people, an act so appalling that Andrew Johnson refused to join in that secession or recognize that it even occurred and remained as a Senator for Tennessee until Lincoln tapped him to be veep; and enough people were infuriated enough in Western Virginia to secede from Virginia—to secede from secession—forming the modern state of West Virginia. Any principled defender of states' rights should have been appalled. Given that the South supported only those states' rights that supported slavery and every federal power invoked in slavery's defense, its hard to see how one can plausibly claim that state's rights was the "real" issue. They had no fidelity to it. Its like you see Bill cheat on Hillary enough times, you have to start wondering whether he cares about her at all; ditto for the South "cheating" on state's rights.

I could go on and on, but I figure this is enough for now.
8.12.2008 4:34pm
Adam J:
Ursus - I don't think anyone is suggesting that racism wasn't rampant in both the North and South back then. I don't think this is particularly controversial. Racism and slavery are two different animals however- as evidenced by the racist views prevalent in a number of abolitionist writings- one is the belief that all men should be free and the other is that blacks are inferior. They both relate to African Americans, they're both immoral and backwards beliefs, but they are obviously two seperate and distinct ideas. You might use the later to buttress your support for the former, but most Northerners believed the freedom took precedence.

Also, Yyou can't really demonstrate there was slavery in the North, since slavery only existed in two (nominally) northern states, delaware and maryland. I believe the lack of slaves is largely due not being profitable, not any superior morality of the north (although I believe there was significant religious opposition) The difference between the North and South was that Northerners weren't economically dependent on slaves and therefore it was much easier to do the moral thing. Money always seems to get in the way of morality, as it did for many 19th century southerners. And as for those that didn't make money from slavery, the non-slaving owning population was probably indoctrined by the elite slave owning population to believe slavery was good. (note no doubt's excellent earlier post relating to southern fears of uncensored mail).

Anyways, the Southern states signed the 13th with basically a gun to their heads, and quite vicious white supremicist movements developed soon thereafter, so it doesn't really seem like all southerners were eager to put their peculiar institution behind them.
8.12.2008 4:39pm
MarkField (mail):

My point is this...if you are a Yankee arguing that the South did not have the right to secede, then you should not lay the sins of slavery solely at the feet of the South.


Lincoln made this point many times. He always refused to blame Southerners, telling Northern audiences that men were the same everywhere.

Well done A.W.
8.12.2008 4:43pm
DangerMouse:
A.W. wins the thread. Home run!
8.12.2008 4:47pm
Randy R. (mail):
Thanks, AW (Rootbeer?) for an excellent analysis.

What's amazing regarding this discussion about secesation is that Georgia at one point tried to secede from the Confederacy. Now, if you found your new nation upon the right to secede, you can hardly complain when a state want's to secede from your new nation. So did Georgia have the right to secede from the Confederacy or not? That I don't know.

As for slavery the cause of the war, heck, even our founding father's predicted that slavery would eventually cause a war, because they saw the handwriting on the wall -- the south (which some people don't think existed until the Civil War) was never going to give up slaves voluntarily, and the north was increasingly against it. When you found a nation upon the freedom of men, you really can't enslave men.

Sure, looking back, the war was expensive and perhaps there would have been better outcomes if Lincoln had tried other means to end the problem of slavery. But at the time, the beginning of the war in 1861, both sides were confident the war would be over by corn planting time. No one envisioned that it would last four years and cost so many lives.

As for why would non-slave owning whites fight for the Confederacy? well, many did not -- many joined the north. This is why sometimes brother fought against brother (so legend tells us). But as I recall, there were plenty of non-slave owning whites (they were the only kinds back then) who fought for segregation laws in the 60s. Now why would they do that other than the fact that they were afraid of eating at the same lunch counter as blacks do? In other words, it is correct to assume that even non-slave owner whites wanted blacks "in their place."

Ursus: We have all noticed that you have conveniently overlooked the historical record. As many commentators have linked to already, the primary documents of the time clearly demonstrate that secession was to protect the institution of slavery. How do explain their own proclamations?
8.12.2008 4:48pm
btwnc:
Re secession - wasn't it true that during the 1850's and 60's that secession was considered a perfectly reasonable course of action for any state - and that this opinion was prevalent even in the North?

Since the fed govt was created by the States (not vice versa), it seems bizarre that any federal clause could expressly prohibit secession.

Since the mid 19th century we have become subjects of a monolithic, behemoth top-down centralized government. The states are nothing but pesky keepers of jaywalking laws, sucking at Washington's teat and begging for handouts. Welcome to The Hamiltonian System.
8.12.2008 4:50pm
trad and anon:
Also, Yyou can't really demonstrate there was slavery in the North, since slavery only existed in two (nominally) northern states, delaware and maryland.
I'm not sure about Delaware, but Maryland stayed in the Union because Lincoln stuck cannon on a hill facing Baltimore, arrested the legislature, and placed the state under martial law.
8.12.2008 4:52pm
Tom952 (mail):
When a myth is passed from the parent to the child, who files it away in their mind as one of life's survival lessons, it is very difficult for logic and reason to prevail against it. I think that effect helps explain the obdurate persistence of the myth that the Civil War was not fought over the issue of slavery..
8.12.2008 4:54pm
Randy R. (mail):
Adam J: "And as for those that didn't make money from slavery, the non-slaving owning population was probably indoctrined by the elite slave owning population to believe slavery was good. "

And of course we have people like Caliban Darlock who still believe that slavery was good, and even preferable. Hats off to Caliban for proving your point.

Also, why didn't Lincoln just do eminent domain on the slaves and free them? I suspect people in the north would have seen this as 'rewarding' slave owners with cash. Plus, they would have had many qualms about their tax dollars used to the benefits of slave owners.

As for the South, we also have to remember that the religious institutions supported slavery as well. They truly believed that God intended them to enslave the savage black man and were doing God's work. Many people fight wars on behalf of God, you know, so it isn't a stretch to see non-slave owners fighting for this right.
8.12.2008 4:56pm
pete (mail) (www):

- Art I (9): One of the cases when the writ of habeas corpus may be suspended is in cases of rebellion.

Rebellion is likewise, not an attempt to leave and become independent.


So the american colonists never rebelled against the British since they did attempt to leave and become independent. Better tell King george that.

So Chechnya never rebelled against Russia. So Kosovo never rebelled against Yugoslavia. Etc.
8.12.2008 4:58pm
FlimFlamSam:
I don't understand how one can say--as some posters have implied--that slavery was a political issue instead of an economic issue. It was certainly both.
8.12.2008 5:01pm
byomtov (mail):
Southerners weren't particularly committed to slavery as the be-all and end-all of human existence. They believed--with some justification--that without slavery, the southern economy would go to hell. Now that is no excuse for enslaving people, but if the purpose of this post is to understand the motivation of the secessionary South, then it's worth some consideration..

This argument is self-defeating. If a plantation can't exist economically without slave labor it is already not viable economically. An economy based on that kind of business is already a wreck. The only thing it does is steal from the slaves for the benefit of the slaveholders.

The economy you talk about protecting is just a criminal enterprise. It is not a productive economy, since it does not produce enough to justify the labor it uses. If it did, it would survive simply by paying market wages to free workers, and would not need slaves.
8.12.2008 5:01pm
Randy R. (mail):
Indentured servents were basically slaves, although they had at least a hope of eventually getting free. I was taught that the north had many slaves early during the colonial period, but it wasn't too common, and it was gone by the time of the Revolution.

Slavery itself wasn't particularly profitable in the south until the invention of the cotton gin. Since cotton is grown only in the south, it meant that slavery would exist only there. And since cotton was required for the British textile mills, the Brits eventually refused to buy cotton from the South.

Now, refusing to buy cotton is a very serious issue -- that's aggressive, oppressive, and a direct and deliberate action aimed at the economic heart of the south. It's far more economicaly threatening that any action Lincoln took. So why didn't the south go to war with Britian if the war was really about taxes and oppression, and not slavery?
8.12.2008 5:01pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Re secession - wasn't it true that during the 1850's and 60's that secession was considered a perfectly reasonable course of action for any state - and that this opinion was prevalent even in the North?
It is true that some people thought this way everywhere. It is not true that this was "prevalent," certainly not by the time of the Civil War.
Since the fed govt was created by the States (not vice versa), it seems bizarre that any federal clause could expressly prohibit secession.
The first statement is wrong, and the conclusion wouldn't follow even if it were right.

The first statement is wrong because most states were indeed created by the federal government, not vice versa as you suggested. Only the original 13 colonies "created" the federal government. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Texas -- none of them "created" the federal government; it predated them.

The conclusion is wrong because, well, it's not at all bizarre. Enter into a contract with me. (I want to reiterate that I'm not actually saying that the Constitution was a contract; I'm just using a contract as an example.) Can you leave just because you feel like it, simply because you're the one who created it? No.
8.12.2008 5:01pm
AntonK (mail):
Guffaw at Caliban Darklock all you want, but the following portion of his critique:

The true battle of the war was not about ending the exploitation of human life for profit, but changing it. Slavery was not profitable in the North; what was profitable was immigrant labor at starvation wages.

They continued to pay their immigrant factory workers far too little money to live such luxurious lives as were lived by slaves in the South; those workers huddled together for warmth in tiny apartments that housed multiple families, counting pennies to see how many beans they could afford for the week.
...is part of the standard Marxist critique of Capitalism. It is too much to place the North as vastly morally superior to the South; somewhat superior perhaps, but not absolutely so.
8.12.2008 5:02pm
AnneS:
Randy - In fact, the proposal of paying slave owners to free their slaves (whether via a legal mandate or through a voluntary program) was floated in the years prior to the Civil War. The hard core abolitionists opposed it for just the reason you cited. This opposition might have been got over, since hard core abolitionists were a very small portion of the population, if not for the fact that the slave owners and their representatives opposed such a program. Also, there was significant opposition to the idea of such an expenditure, on constitutional and fiscal grounds.
8.12.2008 5:05pm
Ursus (mail):
secession was to protect the institution of slavery

Secession was to provide the departing states with the power to control their own future. Slavery was a very large part of that, no question about it. However it was not the singular defining factor that created a sudden overnight compelling need to GTFO from the union because zomg Lincoln got elected.

They made it a confederacy by design. Poor people gave up their lives to defend it.
8.12.2008 5:06pm
trad and anon:
The first statement is wrong because most states were indeed created by the federal government, not vice versa as you suggested. Only the original 13 colonies "created" the federal government. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida, Texas -- none of them "created" the federal government; it predated them.
Wasn't Texas briefly an independent republic before it became part of the U.S.? So it seems wrong to say the U.S. created it (though it obviously didn't create the U.S. either). But you're right as to the rest of them.

Incidentally, the Constitution purports to have been established by "We the People," rather than by the states.
8.12.2008 5:09pm
Randy R. (mail):
This whole debate reminds of the Brits in the early 19th century. Hypocracy exists everywhere. At the time, China was a rich and powerful country, and it exported many luxury goods that were sought after in the west, particularly tea, porcelain, and silk. Britiain, in particular, bought up a lot of these goods.
The problem is that China didn't want to buy anything from the west, so Britain had to pay for these goods in silver bars.

The Brits couldn't stand for this, because it was draining the economy. They finally hit upon something that the Chinese would buy: Opium. So they got the country addicted to this drug, and now the balance of payments was reversed, with China paying for the drug in silver bars.

The emperor decided to put an end to this, as China didn't have the money for basic needs anymore, and destroyed the stocks of opium. When the Brits realized this, they debated in parliament about what to do.

Now, what was the debate in parliament? Was it that the Brits should have the right to get millions of chinese addicted to opium and then sell it to them? No! The debate was framed as one of 'free trade.' The Chinese were unfair! They won't allow free trade!

So Britain went to war with China, the first of the Opium Wars, to force China to allow opium into their markets. Of course China lost all those wars, was subjected to humiliating defeats and consequences, and became impoverished.

But the Brits were the moral ones, because they fought for free trade, right? At least, that's what taught in Britain. However, I can bet that the Chinese have a slightly different idea of the cause of the wars.

My point? It's always about money. Anyone can justify even the worst practices (often with religion) as long as you are making money. You just cloak it in highminded ideals (states rights, fighing an oppressor) and you can ignore the underlying problem, be it slavery or opium.
8.12.2008 5:10pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Secession was to provide the departing states with the power to control their own future. Slavery was a very large part of that, no question about it. However it was not the singular defining factor that created a sudden overnight compelling need to GTFO from the union because zomg Lincoln got elected.
That's not what the Southern states themselves said.
8.12.2008 5:11pm
Adam J:
"They believed--with some justification--that without slavery, the southern economy would go to hell." I love that line... it's like saying we should legalize mafia protection rackets because they might not be economically viable if outlawed.
8.12.2008 5:11pm
Randy R. (mail):
Ursus: "However it was not the singular defining factor that created a sudden overnight compelling need to GTFO from the union because zomg Lincoln got elected. "

Then please enlighten and tell us what WAS the singular defining factor that created a sudden overnight compelling need to GTFO from the union.
8.12.2008 5:13pm
Melancton Smith:
State's Rights cannot trump Human Rights. 'Nuff said!
8.12.2008 5:14pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Wasn't Texas briefly an independent republic before it became part of the U.S.? So it seems wrong to say the U.S. created it (though it obviously didn't create the U.S. either). But you're right as to the rest of them.
Texas was an independent republic for a decade before it became a state. So was Vermont, for that matter. Hawaii was for many years an independent kingdom. California was an independent republic for a very short period of time, sort of.

But Texas as a state was created by the federal government's (friendly) annexation thereof. So you can look at it either way. But one thing you can't do, obviously, is say that Texas created the federal government.
8.12.2008 5:15pm
DangerMouse:
My point? It's always about money. Anyone can justify even the worst practices (often with religion) as long as you are making money. You just cloak it in highminded ideals (states rights, fighing an oppressor) and you can ignore the underlying problem, be it slavery or opium.

Randy, you know that while money is usually the 900 pound gorilla in the room, it might not ALWAYS be about money. Sometimes, people do have clear philosophical differences.
8.12.2008 5:18pm
Randy R. (mail):
Ursus: "They made it a confederacy by design. Poor people gave up their lives to defend it."

Your point seems to be that because poor people, non slave owners, fought in the war, that they could not possibly be defending slavery because they didn't have any slaves. Therefore, it must be for some other reason.

First, that implies that the confederate army was solely volunteer, and there was no conscription. Is that true? I don't know.

But more importanly, aside from the fact that you keep ignoring explanations of why even non-owners would defend such an institution, let's examine the north. Why did those soldiers fight? If it wasn't about slavery, then why did any northern soldiers join the blue army?
8.12.2008 5:19pm
trad and anon:
Could the union possibly have afforded to buy up all the slaves? A commenter above provided Lincoln's esimate of $300,000,000 to buy them up. If I've done my calculations right, that would come to $6 trillion in 2000 dollars.
8.12.2008 5:19pm
Randy R. (mail):
Dangermouse: "Randy, you know that while money is usually the 900 pound gorilla in the room, it might not ALWAYS be about money. Sometimes, people do have clear philosophical differences."

Well, that's true. I should have said that money is often the hidden motive. My belief is that for the southerners, it was more about money than they are willing to admit (slaves were capital, afterall). In the north, I think it was more about principles, since the abolishists were gaining much ground throughout the antebellum period.
8.12.2008 5:21pm
Dave N (mail):
Ursus wrote:
Well I could do that I guess, but for arguing on the Interwebs I'll use the data at hand--Tennessee was not under military reconstruction, its democratically elected representatives were seated in the US congress, and its democratically elected representatives voluntarily ratified the 13th amendment sooner than some of the northern states (much sooner in the case of NJ and DE).
Actually, no. Tennessee was occupied militarily and until the 1864 election, its military governor was Andrew Johnson.

According to Wikipedia, the Tennesse Legislature passed the 13th Amendment on April 7, 1865. Its congressional delegation was not seated until July 24, 1866. While it is true that Tennessee did not have a Reconstruction government, Johnson had been military governor from March 12, 1862 until March 4, 1865. His successor, though not designated a "military governor," (and not even recognized as Governor by some) turned over Tennessee to its "elected" Governor only 2 days before Tennessee ratified the 13th Amendment.

A.W. (thank you RandyR for making A.W.'s pseudonym impossible to forget) did yeoman's work with his post and I applaud it as well (my only minor minor quibble is that Johnson resigned from the Senate to become military governor, but that is a trivial detail that does not detract from his larger point).
8.12.2008 5:22pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
if you are a Yankee arguing that the South did not have the right to secede, then you should not lay the sins of slavery solely at the feet of the South.

I'm a New Mexican descended from a long line of New Mexicans and Arizonans. During the Civil War my ancestors were all either out here or in the South. In any case I do not lay the sins of slavery solely at the feet of the South. This is not a thread about whether the South was uniquely wicked or immoral. This is a thread about whether slavery was a principal or primary motive for secession in 1861. The weight of learning and of evidence says that it was, and so do I.
8.12.2008 5:22pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
AW,
good work. The only thing I'd add is that the Confederacy tried to forcibly take both Kentucky and Maryland into the Confederacy, against their vote. At least in the case of Kentucky, you cannot argue that this vote was coerced. So as with the other examples you bring out, Kentucky shows that the South was motivated by something other than states' rights, some mysterious X factor. We have no idea what it is and can only speculate. Maybe it was a peculiar institution or some unique mode of labor or social arrangment? Who knows?
8.12.2008 5:27pm
MarkField (mail):

Re secession - wasn't it true that during the 1850's and 60's that secession was considered a perfectly reasonable course of action for any state - and that this opinion was prevalent even in the North?


DMN already answered this, but I'm going to re-phrase his answer more strongly: prior to 1860, secession was generally considered illegitimate by a strong majority of the American people, including Southerners.
8.12.2008 5:29pm
Ursus (mail):
Then please enlighten and tell us what WAS the singular defining factor that created a sudden overnight compelling need to GTFO from the union.

Perhaps there was no singular defining factor? Perhaps it was a sequence of events, such as imposition of tariffs, the addition of unbalanced free states, and the long-term outlook of living under a Lincoln that contributed to the decision that they would be better off under some other flag. That being able to control their own destiny would actually be worth going through all the hassle of establishing an alternative union.
8.12.2008 5:33pm
Joe Gator (mail):
Mr. Mandias,

I agree with you. I believe my original post said as much.

Your point seems to be that because poor people, non slave owners, fought in the war, that they could not possibly be defending slavery because they didn't have any slaves. Therefore, it must be for some other reason.

Is anyone aware of the predominant justification cited by ordinary CSA soldiers in diaries and letters home as to why they were fighting?

I suspect many resented (what they saw as) a foreign government telling them what to do. I'm sure others supported slavery. Some may have done so because their brother or neighbor joined.
8.12.2008 5:37pm
Ursus (mail):
First, that implies that the confederate army was solely volunteer, and there was no conscription. Is that true? I don't know.

[...] let's examine the north. Why did those soldiers fight? If it wasn't about slavery, then why did any northern soldiers join the blue army?


Both armies had conscription according to http://www.civilwarhome.com/conscription.htm
8.12.2008 5:38pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
Actually, no. Tennessee was occupied militarily and until the 1864 election, its military governor was Andrew Johnson.

Lets put aside for a moment the way the war itself changed people's minds. Johnson, for example, started the war as slaveholder but became more and more of an emancipationist as the war went on, as slavery increasingly became associated with treason.

But lets put that aside and just ask whether the population that voted for the Civil War government was the same population that voted for the secessionist government? The answer is clearly no.

Actually, no. Federal authorities imprisoned or banished those who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the Union; many secessionist citizens fled; many of the most ardent secessionist men were in the Confederate military; secessionists refused to acknowlege the legitimacy of the occupation government by participating in the elections; and much of the pre-war election machinery was not functioning in rural areas. See here. On top of this, most of the slaves in Tennessee had already been forcibly liberated by federal troops or had escaped, so Tennesseans were no longer slaveowners. In short, the folks who voted for the 1865 legislature that approved the 13th Amendment were not representative of the 1861 population that voted on secession.
8.12.2008 5:41pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
DMN already answered this, but I'm going to re-phrase his answer more strongly: prior to 1860, secession was generally considered illegitimate by a strong majority of the American people, including Southerners.
Didn't even Buchanan reject the legitimacy of secession, (though he obviously stood by and let it happen)?
8.12.2008 5:41pm
Adam J:
DangerMouse- Sure, it's not always about the money, which is why the abolition movement was so strong in the North- they didn't have financial reasons for upholding the peculiar institution, so it was relatively easy for them make the moral choice. However, if you were raised a free man in the South back then you mostly either were a) wealthy thanks to slavery and therefore rationalized that slavery was okay (and its the rare person who puts principle first) cause you were doing what is best for african americans or b) indoctrinated by the politically elite a to believe their rationalizations. The Northerners only benefited from slavery indirectly, so they didn't have as much cause to rationalize the evil practice.
8.12.2008 5:42pm
Hoosier:
URSUS: The 13th amendment, did however "end" slavery, was voluntarily ratified by all of the southern states, and many of them did so sooner than the northern states

No. The Federal troops occupying the South "ended" slavery.

Why do you suppose the south made such a big deal about calling their union the CONFEDERATE States? What is a confederation the opposite of?

The Confederate Constitution is an interesting document. You might want to read it. It has something to say about constitutional "supremacy." Wanna guess what it says?
8.12.2008 5:45pm
Hoosier:
Didn't even Buchanan reject the legitimacy of secession, (though he obviously stood by and let it happen)?

Yeah. He thought that secession was unconstitutional, and that the president had no authority to prevent it.
8.12.2008 5:47pm
btwnc:

secession was generally considered illegitimate by a strong majority of the American people, including Southerners.



On what do you base this? Is this the same "strong majority" who disagrees with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence?
8.12.2008 5:48pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
On what do you base this? Is this the same "strong majority" who disagrees with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence?
Sigh. Once agan: the second paragraph of the DoI is about the natural right of revolution, not the legality of secession.

Thomas Jefferson didn't write, "There's a law which says we can become our own country whenever we feel like it." He said that it is the right of people to alter or abolish despotic government.

Southerners certainly couldn't argue that they had the natural right to revolt to prevent despotic government, because the ones trying to secede represented despotic government.
8.12.2008 5:53pm
Hoosier:
btwnc:

Is this the same "strong majority" who disagrees with the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence?

Which part of that paragraph? Southerners certainly didn't believe in this:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Or the part where Jefferson actually spells out the fact that there really is only one reason for separation?:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

Now, I know that secessionists claimed that Lincoln wanted to establish dictatorship over them. But this was not a serious argument.

So I'm not sure how the Declaration of Independence supports the secessionist claim.
8.12.2008 5:58pm
A.W. (mail):
Well thanks to everyone for the kind words on the subject. And the nit is well taken and correct, Johnson was a military governor for a while, too.

But I would add two more points on larger subject. First, which is I never get mad any more at Southerners who miss what the war is about (and even some northerners—the first time I heard the states' right version of it was in Pennsylvania). I have lived in, and been educated in both the North and the South. There is a whole industry out there designed to lie to Southerners about their history. Why? Because overwhelmingly Civil War buffs tend to be Southern. Not all, of course, but most. So market forces push in a certain direction.

The modern Southerner may not know what his ancestors fought for, but I can say with confidence that the values of the average modern Southerner would have utterly appalled their ancestors, and vice versa. If you somehow transported General Lee from his time to our time, and let him watch TV for a day, I swear his head would pop like a grape. I picture it would go something like this: "The Republicans nominated an Irishman? And the Democrats have nominated a black man?! *pop*" Having been lied to about what the war was about for so long, the South has been able to reject Confederate values, at least on the subject of race. In a perverse way, then, the persistent myth of states rights as the cause of the war may have served a purpose.

So I don't get angry about it, but right is right and it is time for us to recognize who were the real heroes of that era. The South fought and died for evil. Its not a happy thought, if those are your ancestors. I admit I am proud that my family both avoided serving the confederacy and the German government in the two world wars, but I know a fair amount of luck was involved in that.

But conversely, the North fought and died on the side of angels. Which is not to say they were angels, or even entirely self-sacrificing. The average white northern soldier believed that his (or in a few rare cases, her) freedom was on the line, too. They believed that there was a Slave Power Conspiracy that endangered their freedom. And bluntly, they were right, mostly. There was no conspiracy, just a group of people who worked to keep slavery secure at the expense of the freedom of whites.

What really changed between the founding of our nation and the Civil War was that the nation shrunk. Not literally (it literally expanded all the way to the pacific coast), but with the improvements of transportation and the invention of the telegraph, the nation shrunk and what was said far up north was heard far down south, and vice versa. The North was appalled at the lack of respect for freedom in the South, and the South was afraid of all this freedom talk being overhead by their slaves. Those who are free tend to want to see others liberated, and that is the mortal threat to tyranny. So long as they can't talk to each other, everything works. So suddenly the house divided could no longer stand—it had to become all slave or all free.

Which matters today because I think the world has shrunk again. Today we might see commenters from as far away as Japan in this very thread. I might pick up a copy of madden and deliver the smackdown to someone in Russia or Iraq. We are able to talk to each other like never before. And in that atmosphere, freedom becomes a mortal threat to tyranny. So we see all the arab countries urging the world to adopt anti-blaphemy laws (with the unsaid threat of terrorism if we don't comply) and china tries to trade access to its country for censorship. Not only did google bite (censoring themselves for China's benefit), but so did Comedy Central when they refused to show a reportedly inoffensive cartoon of Mohammed on South Park, but moments later showed Jesus and George W. Bush defacating on each other, on random people and on the American flag. (By the way, a few commentors think that the creators of South Park deliberately created this contrast, knowing that Comedy Central would chicken out of showing Mohammed—and I tend to agree with that theory.)

The point is, folks, I suspect now the whole world is exactly where America was in 1860. This house can no longer persist as half-slave and half-free. It will become all one thing or the other.
8.12.2008 6:10pm
btwnc:

Sigh. Once agan: the second paragraph of the DoI is about the natural right of revolution, not the legality of secession.


One is a natural right and one is an illegal act. Got it. Better tell the King.
8.12.2008 6:16pm
Adam J:
btwnc- If you can't see the distinction I feel really sad for you. Both were obviously rebellions, however one was a rebellion against oppression, and one is rebellion to uphold oppression.
8.12.2008 6:23pm
Mr. Mandias (mail) (www):
One is a natural right and one is an illegal act. Got it. Better tell the King.

Even lots of Southerners got this distinction. Its not that hard. Many Southerners argued that the 'right to secession' was eyewash and that the South should straightforwardly admit that it was undertaking a second revolution. Like Robert E. Lee, for instance. You've probably heard of him.
8.12.2008 6:30pm
Hoosier:
"In a perverse way, then, the persistent myth of states rights as the cause of the war may have served a purpose. "

I would agree, were it not for Civil War reenatcors. I mean, ick. All VCers who trust my judgment (i.e, 'Hi, mom!'): Read "Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War," by Tony Horwitz. Just a fascinating book.
8.12.2008 6:35pm
MarkField (mail):

On what do you base this?


Without trying to get into the historiography (this being a blog, after all), look at the issue like this:

The vast majority of Northerners clearly and obviously opposed secession. That was their principle motivation for fighting prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln even gets criticized today for his emphasis on saving the Union, when many think he should have been advocating a crusade to abolish slavery.

Of the 15 slaveholding states, 4 (DE, MD, KY, and MO) remained in the Union. I think we can safely say that the majority of those states also opposed secession (perhaps arguable in the case of MO). That's a clear majority in 20 of the 31 states.

In the Confederacy itself, the entire new state of WV voted with its feet on the secession issue. Eastern TN was very anti-secession; that's where Andrew Johnson had his political base. At least a minority of white southerners in the Confederate states also opposed secession, and I think we can safely add in the 4 million slaves. Add it all up and it spells duh.
8.12.2008 7:07pm
MarkField (mail):
Just to add, a fair number of slave state citizens fought on the Union side. This number happens to include my g'g'g'father (pride and patriotism showing here), who was a Unionist Democrat from Bracken Co. KY. He wasn't alone among the white population by any means, and of course tens of thousands of former slaves fought in the Union army.
8.12.2008 7:11pm
Andy C.:

btwnc- If you can't see the distinction I feel really sad for you. Both were obviously rebellions, however one was a rebellion against oppression, and one is rebellion to uphold oppression.

Of course, both were rebellions by slave-owners...
8.12.2008 7:20pm
Randy R. (mail):
Ursus: "Perhaps it was a sequence of events," Perhaps, so let's take a look-see, huh?

"such as imposition of tariffs" Please name any. The constitution strickly forbids treating one state differently from another. Others have pointed out that there were no tariffs targeting the south that preceeding the war. If you know of any, please list them..

"the addition of unbalanced free states," Really? Ever hear of the Missouri Compromise? One free state, and one slave state would be admitted to the union. What's the problem?

Oh yeah. Some of the new states wanted to be free. So big deal. What sort of threat is that to the South?

" and the long-term outlook of living under a Lincoln that contributed to the decision that they would be better off under some other flag."

What exactly was the problem with Lincoln? Did he have some maniacal hatred towards the south? He hated fried green tomatos? What was the problem that Lincoln had with the south.

Oh, yeah, that little thing called slavery.

" That being able to control their own destiny would actually be worth going through all the hassle of establishing an alternative union."

To control their own destiny? What, to build railroads? They already had them. To raise their own taxes? Each state can do that. To string telegraph lines across the state, to prohibit prostitution, to allow gun ownership? What specifcally were they worried about that they thought they would not be able to control?

Oh yeah. That's is. The ability to continue slavery. Which you admit as much when you suggest that there was an inbalance of power with the new states. Now, if you have some other issue that the south was worried about regarding their own destiny, please list it.
8.12.2008 7:48pm
Ursus (mail):
To control their own destiny?

Such a long and hostile post for such a simple question.

There is a difference between being ordered to abandon something that is central to your economy and choosing how to deal with it yourself, wouldn't you agree
8.12.2008 9:34pm
MarkField (mail):

There is a difference between being ordered to abandon something that is central to your economy and choosing how to deal with it yourself, wouldn't you agree


The first slaves came to VA in 1619. Just how long do you think would be "fair" to let the slaveholders "deal with it themselves"?

Now, let's re-phrase that question a bit more realistically: Under what theory of justice should someone be allowed to delay, even for a single day, giving up the claim to "own" another human being whose ancestors were kidnapped and taken forcibly from their homeland across the ocean, where they were held as property under threat of beatings, rape, and other torture?
8.12.2008 10:20pm
TDPerkins (mail):

Basically the dominant Southern factions just couldn't stand to be Americans anymore. The essence of America was freedom, and that threatened their power. So they seceded from America.


The Southern leadership wanted to stay the biggest fish in their pond by making their pond smaller.

I confess I'm not sure why that concise phrase doesn't catch on.

Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
8.12.2008 10:47pm
Jack Blundell:
I always thought the Civil War was one of those voter initiatives that got out of hand.
8.12.2008 11:07pm
MarkField (mail):

I confess I'm not sure why that concise phrase doesn't catch on.


I like it.
8.12.2008 11:39pm
Perseus (mail):
Now, let's re-phrase that question a bit more realistically: Under what theory of justice should someone be allowed to delay, even for a single day, giving up the claim to "own" another human being whose ancestors were kidnapped and taken forcibly from their homeland across the ocean, where they were held as property under threat of beatings, rape, and other torture?

I don't regard any theory of justice that omits prudential political considerations (particularly one that cannot countenance a delay of one day) as being very realistic or just.
8.13.2008 12:16am
A.W. (mail):
By the way, if anyone wants to understand why the Declaration of Independence doesn't allow for secession, actually it does, but not for the Confederates. Secession is boiled down to a form of rebellion, and of course rebellion is a right. But it is not a value-neutral right. The founders almost universally understood the Declaration to be a condemnation of slavery. So why no right to secede for the South? Because the cause was immoral. There is no right to rebel in order to oppress others, or to maintain that oppression.
8.13.2008 12:23am
MarkField (mail):

I don't regard any theory of justice that omits prudential political considerations (particularly one that cannot countenance a delay of one day) as being very realistic or just.


That's not very persuasive when the delay has already been 140 years.
8.13.2008 12:30am
LM (mail):
TDPerkins:

The Southern leadership wanted to stay the biggest fish in their pond by making their pond smaller.

I confess I'm not sure why that concise phrase doesn't catch on.

Why does Windows run the world? How does Coke beat Pepsi? Where did millions of poor people get the insane idea that Republicans care about them more than Democrats do?

Marketing.
8.13.2008 12:31am
LN (mail):
There is a difference between being ordered to abandon something that is central to your economy and choosing how to deal with it yourself, wouldn't you agree

Those bastard northerners wanted to enslave the southerners!
8.13.2008 12:49am
Perseus (mail):
That's not very persuasive when the delay has already been 140 years.

You're still abstracting from the concrete political situation, which is why I prefer Lincoln to the radical Abolitionists.
8.13.2008 12:55am
ManBearPig:

The Southern economy would have collapsed - and, indeed, DID collapse - with the end of slavery. The end of slavery did not mean the end of prejudice, injustice, or racism. It was exacerbated; the Ku Klux Klan arguably would not have existed had it not been for the war. We fought for slavery, because without it we could not survive.

Slavery was dead already in the court of popular opinion. It would have ended within the lifetimes of the people who fought the war, many of whom would have lived much longer and happier lifetimes without that war, but the North simply could not wait for progress. Instead, it forced the issue, making profitable plantations destitute overnight. A century and a half later, the region still has not recovered. It was an economic holocaust no less contemptible than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The true battle of the war was not about ending the exploitation of human life for profit, but changing it. Slavery was not profitable in the North; what was profitable was immigrant labor at starvation wages. Slaves needed to be housed, clothed, and fed. In the urban North, that meant heat and winter coats and imported produce. In the rural South, that meant wood nailed into a rough cube, potato-sack dresses, and access to a river for fishing.

The purpose of the North in fighting the war was not to improve the quality of life for exploited human beings, but to bankrupt their competition. They continued to pay their immigrant factory workers far too little money to live such luxurious lives as were lived by slaves in the South; those workers huddled together for warmth in tiny apartments that housed multiple families, counting pennies to see how many beans they could afford for the week.

But they were white, so nobody cared. The plight of the black man was romantic and attractive. Who cared about the plight of the Polack, the Mick, or the Wop? Or, for that matter, the Russky?

Sure, we fought to keep slavery. We fought to keep the basic human right of our workers to be housed and fed and clothed, as many of those immigrant workers could not. We fought to be responsible for the continued health and well-being of our people, as the factory owner was not. And at the same time, the North fought tooth and nail for the right to treat human life as a different sort of commodity, to be rented at will instead of bought. Slavery would have gone away regardless - the economic reality was that plantations would need to fundamentally change the way they did business over the next fifty years.

But if the North had left well enough alone, the eyes of those progressive liberal socialites would have landed on industry. So they manufactured a distraction, as evil men so often do, and people continue to believe it to this day.

The South fought to keep what they had, while the North fought to take it away. It doesn't take a genius to see which of those positions is wrong.


Doubtful i'm a genius, but i'll tell you the wrong position was the position of those fighting to keep their slaves--not the ones fighting to take them away.

Slavery wasn't dead in the court of public opinion—if it was, the practice would have been dead too. It's a bizarre claim given that there was no method of testing public opinion at that time. I think the best evidence that slavery wasn't moribund is that the south was willing to fight a war for it. I know that others have claimed that it was fought for the Tenth Amendment, self-determination, etc., but those are just euphemisms for slavery. There is no way to argue any of these points without the issue returning to slavery. It is ridiculous how easily, 150 years later, people are still falling for southern propaganda.

You can't argue (intelligently, morally) that slavery was a moribund institution and therefore fighting to end it was not a moral position. You don't know that it would have ended during the lifetimes of those people that fought the war. Fighting it, moreover, was a moral imperative. It is not a moral position to say that slavery might end in the amorphous future, therefore it is moral to sit back and wait for such cessation rather than fighting to end the practice. The north absolutely had to force the issue—regardless of the fact that it was an economic holocaust. Moreover, just as neither the bombing of Hiroshima, nor the bombing of Nagasaki was contemptible given the situation, it cannot be said that any "economic holocaust" resulting from the immediate cessation of slavery is contemptible either. No one gets time to get their economic house in order, if it means maintaining slavery in the process.

Saying that racism wasn't ended (and was exacerbated) or that the KKK wouldn't exist without the civil war is not even tangential to the arguments supporting fighting to end the institution of slavery. That sort of argument and the arguments supporting the war are two ships passing in the night. So are arguments that there was any morality in the practice of slavery based on the conditions of labor in the north—either comparative or independent of such comparisons. It's also tenuous to suggest that the greater expense of slavery in the north had any causal relationship with abolition of the practice in the north. Somehow northern laborers managed to survive (literally)—as such it must be that the wages earned by northern labor were sufficient to survive. Therefore, keeping northern labor as slaves must have been feasible as matter of cost. Finally, even though slavery was more expensive in the north than the south, that doesn't mean that it was more expensive than would be non-slave labor in the north.

The North, furthermore, as you put it, wasn't fighting to bankrupt their Southern competition. The North was England's competition. The South was rural—their products were used by the "urban north" to make a final product. North : South :: General Motors : Delphi Corporation. The North's interests, therefore, lay in having the cheaper labor that southern slavery provided. If, moreover, using immigrant labor was cheaper, then any rational southerner would have the cheaper labor. Regardless, Northern labor practices aren't even in the same Hemisphere as Southern.

There's so much foolishness in your post I can't address it all fluently. Suffice it to say, just about everything said above was wrong and some of it heinous.
8.13.2008 1:34am
psychdoc (mail):
I suppose it is a testament to the idealism of Washington and Jefferson or the irrational exuberance of the Southern voting population that the South agreed to the Constitution to begin with. There presumably was an opportunity to form a slaveholding confederacy before it. The Southern side always holds out as being on the side of the superego. It is the other way around. The Southern side calculated that it could damage the North enough that the North would withdraw, not an unreasonable idea when you see, for instance, how McClellan was so casualty averse and then almost successfully ran against Lincoln when replaced. As Mary Chestnut, the wife of the South's Secretary of State said when it appeared the South would lose slavery, it would lose "with it ease," a material and not a moral position. It was probably only facing the depressed inclined Lincoln for whom ideals made life possible and whose guilt ultimately led him not to take adequate precautions that the South found an adversary who would not 'realistically' weigh the costs. For victory, the South should have adopted the strategy of a son of the South, Muhammed Ali, adopted the rope-a-dope strategy: let Lincoln takes his best shot with the measures noted in previous comments, not challenging the law, let the North wear itself out and wait for another president who would look more 'realistically' at the costs of opposing secession. To 'take their best shot' would be the response of a slave and not the 'masters' of the South however.
8.13.2008 2:19am
h0mi:
But if the North had left well enough alone, the eyes of those progressive liberal socialites would have landed on industry. So they manufactured a distraction, as evil men so often do, and people continue to believe it to this day.


If the North waited too long, the Europeans, which were already meddling in Mexico around this time, could've easily done the same to a CSA that also owed them money and was similarly insolvent.
8.13.2008 6:03am
Benjamin Davis (mail):
Hoosier,
Thanks for the kind words and sorry about the back! We are encouraging folks who can not come for various reasons (visa difficulties for example) to send a short video of 5-10 minutes bearing witness. So think about doing that and participating that way. Any further information, please contact me at ben.davis@utoledo.edu
Best,
Ben
8.13.2008 8:03am
Hoosier:
Ben--I will contact you. Thanks again for organizing this.

I won't plan on coming due to the sciatic nerve, so I will not propose a paper. But if I end up with some improvement with the sciatica, I'll at least show up.
Like I said, this topic is part of my current book project. And you are only a few hours away.
8.13.2008 10:22am
Hoosier:
There is a difference between being ordered to abandon something that is central to your economy and choosing how to deal with it yourself, wouldn't you agree

Those bastard northerners wanted to enslave the southerners!


And yet that was the argument that they made. Jeff Davis was not known for his rollicking sense of humor. (I don't think that even his wife actually liked him).

But Judah Benjamin was Jewish, so he, at least, should have seen the irony.
8.13.2008 10:25am
A.W. (mail):
Caliban

I have not followed every comment, but your comment was so wrong I am truly stunned. Let's start toward the end, when you say this:

> The South fought to keep what they had, while the North fought to take it away. It doesn't take a genius to see which of those positions is wrong.

Right, because no one ever has anything that is bad or evil. So if a man has a 13 year old girl in his basement he is beating and abusing, and the government takes that away from him, then clearly it wrong. If a government has all its Jews in camps and another country takes those Jews out of the camps and frees them, that is wrong. And so on. Indeed it doesn't take a genius, but it takes a twisted logic to argue that liberating 4 million people was a wrongful act.

Lincoln once said "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep is a black one." I find it stunning that in 2008 I can actually find people who advocate for the wolves.

The rest of your arguments are based on factually untrue claims and paternalistic claims. Your claim that the northern worker was abused, for instance, utterly discounts the fact that they were choosing their abuse—a luxury that the Southern slave didn't have. If it was so unremittingly awful to be a blue collar worker in the north circa 1860, then why did so many people agree to do it? Indeed, thousands of people fled Europe to come to here and be abused, according to you.

The claim that the slaves were better off was so wrong as to border on evil. I suppose you thought Aushwitz was a happy day camp, too. So, if given the choice, you would prefer to be beaten, prefer your wife, your daughter to be made the unwilling concubine of another, to see your children sold away from you, rather than be a Northern worker in that time? I can tell you there were no Yankee workers going down south and asking how they can apply for the job of slave. I guess they were not as well informed as you. To hear you say it, this was an invidious discrimination against white northerners that they could not enjoy the "pleasure" of slavery, and indeed during the debate over the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Thaddeus Stevens made a "modest proposal" that this discrimination should be ended by allowing white people to be enslaved. There were no takers.

[In case it is not exceedingly obvious, Stevens was joking, just as Jonathan Swift was in his Modest Proposal. Stevens was mocking the concept that slavery was good for the slaves in the same terms I did, by pointing out that no one chose this supposedly charmed lifestyle.]

A few other factual points:

> The Southern economy would have collapsed - and, indeed, DID collapse - with the end of slavery.

Actually, the endless "free" labor from slavery depressed the wages for everyone outside of the plantation system and generally led to the stifling of the economy. If there is one truth proven again and again, it is that a free economy beats a tyrannical economy every time. Look at the U.S. v. Mexico, South Korea v. North; Taiwan v. Mainland China; Eastern Europe under the soviets and Western Europe; and, hell, even East Germany and West Germany. While the Plantation owner would have undoubtedly been worse off (not to mention losing his godlike power over other men and particularly women), the average quality of life and the economy of the South as a whole would have been better without slavery.

> The end of slavery did not mean the end of prejudice, injustice, or racism. It was exacerbated; the Ku Klux Klan arguably would not have existed had it not been for the war.

Um, actually that is wrong. As of 1776, most southern planters admitted slavery was bad and had to go. By 1860 they argued it was a positive good to restrain the irredeemably savage black people who would go on a murder and rape spree if not restrained, and therefore slavery had to stay. There is a term for that attitude: propaganda. It was created in order to sell slavery and as often happens in tragic history after a while even the propagandists believed its transparent lies—lies, which you happily repeat today. That is what led to and exacerbated the prejudice.

As for the KKK, all it really was, was an extension of the Slave Patrols begun under slavery, or at least the principle of it.

> Slavery was dead already in the court of popular opinion.

Wrong, it was far from dead. It was being argued to be a positive good, needed to restrain the "dangerous negro." That was an important shift in popular attitudes from 1776.

Maybe if you mean in America as a whole, you would arguably be right. But the constitution pretty clearly allowed states to choose slavery, so it wasn't the national consensus that mattered, but the consensus of the slave-holding states. And if anything, Southern attitudes toward slavery backslid away from freedom as time went on.

Too many people think history goes in on direction. They think once you have women liberated, gays out of the closet, etc. you can't go back. Ask the women of Iran if progress can be undone. Ask the gays of the Weimar republic if change only goes in one direction. You may think it is natural as the falling rain that slavery would eventually die, but there was no evidence on the ground to back up your faith on this point.

> It would have ended within the lifetimes of the people who fought the war

There is absolutely no evidence of that. instead rather than shifting from talking about gradual emancipation in the founding era, many states were making voluntary emancipation illegal. If anything, in the South slavery was becoming more entrenched, not less.

> but the North simply could not wait for progress.

The North had waited "four score and seven years" for progress. Not one single southern state had ended slavery, and in the meantime the Supreme Court had the balls to claim that slavery could not even be banned in the territories. Meanwhile a congress had the balls to pass the fugitive slave act of 1860, which allowed for people to be conscripted against their will and over their moral convictions, into helping to capture slaves, and where a free black man could be declared a slave based on nothing more than an affidavit presented at a special hearing where he was not allow to offer any evidence, and where the judge was paid by the decision: $10 if the man was declared a slave, $5 if declared free. As one abolitionist said (paraphrase), it set the price of a black man's freedom at $10 and a white man's conscience at $5. And it was as flagrant a violation of due process as you are likely to see. There is a lot that can be debated about due process but no one can seriously question the notion that a person whose liberty is threatened deserves 1) a chance to be heard and 2) an unbribed judge.

You put that in with everything else: the overthrow of representative democracy in Kansas. The murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy when he was defending his presses from an anti-abolitionist mob. The beating of Senator Charles Sumner because he said the wrong thing, effectively denying Massachusetts one of its chosen senators for years to come, and the universal praise in the South for that act, including newspapers who advised beating other anti-slavery and abolitionist foes. If you were a white man living in the North at that time, you had every reason to see slavery as growing more aggressive and not less, and becoming more and more a threat to your freedom as well.

> Instead, it forced the issue, making profitable plantations destitute overnight.

By forcing the issue, you mean they elected a man who wanted it to end in the territories and was otherwise unacceptable to the south. As for making the plantation destitute, that only happened after years of war, when Lincoln's attempt to reach out to white people in the south failed, after not only returning slaves to their masters in the middle of war, but having those who tried to escape from union troops shot, then Lincoln said, more or less, "f--- it" and decided to reach out to black people instead. The real issue Lincoln forced was whether the South could stand to lose an election for once, and the answer was "no."

> A century and a half later, the region still has not recovered.

Bull on that. The South is doing better today than much of the North. Ask Mark Steyn.

> It was an economic holocaust no less contemptible than the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Good to see you always know which side to be on. Do you want to sympathize with bin Laden too, and go for the trifecta?
8.13.2008 10:38am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Forty-plus years ago, a guy named Stanley Elkins wrote on slavery. "An American Institutional and Intellectual Dilemma", iirc.
One of his points was that slaves, due to the circumstances of their slavery, actually came to manifest some of the behavioral characteristics which are considered either racist or stereotyping. He used, among other things, the experience of the slave labor camps. Bruno Bettelheim wrote on the same issue, with different conclusions.

What Elkins and Kenneth Stampp both alluded to, sort of as a ricochet, was the need for Southerners to become racist in order to justify slavery.

Once slavery was morally condemned, it had to be morally justified. Once condemned as a matter of practicality, it had to be shown to be practical. Once associated solely with race, it had to be shown that it was best for the enslaved race.

Before all this, slavery had been considered a matter of bad luck--for the slave. "Better you than me, buddy."

After the abolitionists started to have an impact, slavery had to be justified and supported on other grounds.

And the apologists, whether they believed it or not, whether they were simply were trying to turn the abolitionists' arguments around for tactical purposes, began long before the Civil War.

Just for fun, look up the death rate for the Royal Navy in its anti-slavery work, aka "The West Africa Station". Called "Death but no glory." Or, "Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin. There's one comes out for forty goes in."

It would be strange if a movement which was willing to sacrifice so much to end slavery here and abroad did not generate enormous resistance from those benefiting from slavery, who had rationalized their support of a system the abolitionists had condemned so thoroughly.

All before the Civil War.
8.13.2008 11:27am
Hoosier:
Just for fun, look up the death rate for the Royal Navy in its anti-slavery work, aka "The West Africa Station". Called "Death but no glory." Or, "Beware and take care of the Bight of Benin. There's one comes out for forty goes in."

Yep. There's been some suggestion that the US Africa Squadron was stationed at Cape Verde in order to prevent it from having any impact on the slave trade.

In fact, this choice was a result of the commander's decision not to lose half his men to malaria within six months. Before quinine prophylaxis, being stationed on the West African coast was close to a death sentence. Until quinine was broadly adopted, the first year death rates for Europeans were 250-750 per thousand, depending on location, weather, and so on.
8.13.2008 11:52am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Hoosier.
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first post-colonial leader said he thought downtown Accra needed a monument to the anopheles mosquito. The whites didn't get very far inland around the Bight.

Anyway, the point is that a polity which is sufficiently interested in the question to sacrifice so much would have, as a side effect, a heavy impact on the arguments pro and con, mostly con.

And the arguments would have to be countered. We have an easy but false connection between slavery and race. In fact, it is only in the US that we made it so.
8.13.2008 6:54pm
Golda:
"We have an easy but false connection between slavery and race. In fact, it is only in the US that we made it so."

I see what's easy about it but I don't see what's false. Slave codes throughout the New World distinguished and protected "negro" and "indian" chattle slavery.
8.13.2008 7:46pm
Hoosier:
Richard Aubrey

Great anecdote. (Or "antidote," as we say in Inidaner).

And yet, the monument was built to Nkrumah.
8.13.2008 11:54pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Golda. What's false--I apologize for shorthanding my thought--is that slavery and race are inevitably intertwined, that you can't have the first without the second.
In fact, we (apologists for slavery) invented our particular brand of racism in order to counter the anti slavery arguments of abolitionists. Elkins is interesting in this.

In many historical situations, slaves were of a different race than the slaveholders only because it's cheaper to capture them elsewhere than enslave your neighbors. They might object, as would their relatives.
Or their owners.
But, especially in less organized times, a slave is a guy who got enslaved by somebody with more spears. Race was irrelevant.
This is not exactly thread drift. One of the concerns southerners had was what would happen if the entire slave population was suddenly freed. Would they be (justifiably) pissed? Were they savages? Could they take care of themselves? Would they be a drag on the society? Due to the efforts of the apologists, some southerners resisted the end of slavery for the simple reason that they could not see how it would work out other than as a catastrophe. Because the apologists made it clear that the Negro race was not best enslaved, in great detail. The reasons that was so made freeing them look like catastrophe.
After that, the plutocracy of the south used race to set poor white against poor black when both should have been opposing the economic structure. That became even more vicious.
8.14.2008 1:38am