Friday, April 10, 2015

Kit's Thoughts: "The South was Wrong!"

by Kit
Since this is week was the 150th Anniversary of the Surrender at Appomatox I figured I should do a post expounding on why the South was wrong to secede. Now, with National Review being firmly pro-Lincoln this is not a controversial task but anti-Lincolnism and pro-Confederacy ideas still rear their heads from time to time, especially in an era of federal over-reach.

So here, in probably my longest post for this site so far, I state just why I believe the South was wrong.

Secession is Illegal

This is often the heart of the pro-Confederate arguments. The argument goes as follows: America was founded in an act of secession since the colonies did secede from Britain. Indeed, they claim, secession is a right enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and in the Constitution.

First, by declaring independence from Great Britain the colonists were committing Treason, which was punishable (like many crimes at the time) by death. The act of seceding from Great Britain was as illegal as if we had tried to send an assassin to London to shoot George III. It is a fact that just about every single movie, book, and documentary about the Declaration of Independence and the American Revolution seems to recognize from 1776 to History Channel’s The Revolution to Bruckheimer’s National Treasure where Nicholas Cage listed the various penalties the Signers faced for putting their signature to that document.

he Founding Fathers seemed to recognize this when Ben Franklin said, “We must all hang together or we will all hang separately.”

Democracy requires some level of authority. The national government of any nation must have some right in maintaining its sovereignty over the lands within its borders. If any part of the country, any town, province, municipality or state, can remove itself from the authority of the parent government you have anarchy. States can use the threat of secession as a form of extortion to stop laws from being passed or to ensure laws favorable to them are passed. Something which the South had been doing for several decades prior to the Civil War —successfully.

As for its legality, I would only point out that the US Constitution, though it never mentions secession, grants Congress the right to “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions” and it states that “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” It also defines Treason as “levying war against [the United States].” So, we have at least two instances of the Constitution granting the federal government the right to suppress attempts to overthrow its authority.

What further definition does one have of “rebellion” and “insurrection” than a group of states (1) declaring themselves independent, (2) seizing federal military installations and armories, and (3) firing on those installations that refuse to comply? If that is not insurrection then the word has no meaning.

Imagine if California seceded and Jerry Brown sent the National Guard, or some military force he raised, to seize the various military bases along the West Coast? How would you expect the federal government to react? Sit by, idly or sent the rest of the military in to bring California back into the fold? (stop laughing)

Right of Secession vs. Right of Revolution

That brings us to the basic difference between the revolutionaries of 1776 and the secessionists of 1860; the Right of Revolution vs. the Right of Secession. As, Harry V. Jaffa points out that the Right of Revolution is articulated in the Declaration of Independence. It is summed up in the vast part of the document’s second paragraph:

“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.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. 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.” LINK

In sum: Individuals are created equal with “certain unalienable Rights” that governments must exist to secure and protect and when a government repeatedly acts to deprive the people of those rights then they have a right, a “duty,” to overthrow the government and replace it with a better one.

It makes no claim of a legal right to overthrow the government or to declare independence enshrined somewhere in the laws of Great Britain. Instead, it claims a moral right, one outside of the written law, based instead in the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.” James Madison, who has president would send troops to Pennsylvania to enforce a Supreme Court ruling, himself recognized this difference in a letter to Daniel Webster on Mr. Webster’s speech against nullification, i.e., a state’s right to nullify, or declare itself exempt from, federal laws at will; when “the claim to secede at will,” and “the right of seceding from intolerable oppression,” pointing out that “The former answers itself, being a violation, without cause, of a faith solemnly pledged. The latter is another name only for revolution, about which there is no theoretic controversy.” LINK

Thus, since the act of secession is illegal, the question comes down to whether or not the motivations and reasons behind the act are right. It is not enough to say they were “well-meaning”. We must ask whether there had been a “long train of abuses and usurpations” by the government they were rebelling against or their actions were motivated by “light and transient causes.”

The South fought for Slavery AND its Extension

Many like to point to the various actions of Lincoln’s administration, the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland, the burning of Atlanta, and the raising of armies; all actions that occurred after the first couple of states had seceded and begun seizing federal installations. That is, after the war had already begun to kick into gear. Therefore, we must look to events that occurred prior to secession to see if the South was on the right side, especially the event that triggered the first wave of secessions; the election of Abraham Lincoln to the Presidency.

When one looks at the election one does not see, as today, two big parties with a couple of minor parties, such as the Libertarians or Greens, that never attract any large numbers of votes. You see, starting with the biggest vote getter; Lincoln for the Republicans, Breckinridge for the Southern Democratic Party, John Bell for the Constitutional Union Party, and Stephen A. Douglas for the Democratic Party. The reason is what happened at the Democratic convention and the answer as to why the South seceded. And this is where it gets lengthy.

The primary issue of the election of 1860 was not the existence of slavery in the Southern states but the existence of slavery in the territories. Just about everyone in the North except for a slew of abolitionists thought the federal government had no right to abolish slavery where it existed or even wanted it abolished. Indeed a number did not want it abolished in the South for fear of freed black slaves moving north to take their jobs and rape their women (I never said the North wasn’t racist). But they did oppose the extension of slavery. Abolitionists, concentrated mainly in places like Boston, opposed it for obvious reasons, and the Free Soilers, concentrated more in the Mid-West, opposed it largely on the grounds that black slaves would soak up available jobs for whites and massive plantations (Big Plantation) would push out white farmers. The Southerners wanted it extended to the territories because it would allow slavery to extend.

By the 1850s the country had slowly but uncomfortably settled on Popular Sovereignty; letting the territories themselves decide. However, In the recent Dred Scott decision the Supreme Court had ruled that Congress had no power to bar slavery in the territories, thus making Dred Scott a slave, and, further, it did not have the power to grant the territories the right to deprive slave owners of their right to property. Though this last part was non-binding as it had nothing to do with the case itself, it was clearly setting the stage for any future rulings should the issue of Popular Sovereignty come before the court.

The Republican Party, representing Free Soilers and Abolitionists on the slavery issue, flatly opposed extending slavery to the territories and Lincoln pledged he would treat the Dred Scott decision as unconstitutional. The Democrats, however, were more divided on the issue. The Northern Democrats, under Douglas, supported a platform of keeping Popular Sovereignty but the Southern Democrats wanted a Democrat platform that would protect slavery in the territories. An impasse was reached and the Southerners bolted and formed their own party, the Southern Democrats.

Thus the showdown of 1860:Lincoln running on a halting of slavery’s expansion won most of the North and the Southern Democrat’s Beckinridge, running on the aforementioned platform of a de facto extension of slavery to all of the territories won most of the South and Maryland with Bell’s Constitutional Union Party winning Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and the Democratic Party’s Douglas winning only Missouri.

Several Southern states had threatened secession if Lincoln won the election and, starting with South Carolina, did just that. Seven of them seceded before Lincoln had even reached the Presidency. Many people claim economic issues such as the tariff were the cause of the South’s secession. But a simple reading of South Carolina’s declaration reveals that the word “tariff” does not appear once but the word “slavery appears 6 times and the word “slaves” appears 5 times and cites “an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery” and then spends the next several paragraphs citing attempts by the Northern states to thwart the Fugitive Slave Act and says “A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have 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.”

We can go further, Vice President Alexander Stephens made his “Cornerstone” speech in March of 1861. He discussed how the Founding Fathers saw slavery as a moral wrong but one “they knew not how to deal with” but felt it would eventually fade away and, therefore, founded the United States upon the assumption of “the equality of the races.” The Confederate States, Stephens argues, is built on a different idea (emphasis mine):

“Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” LINK

For State’s Rights and the Tariff, indeed. So the question comes back, did the South have the Right of Revolution? Was it worth it for the South to start a war, and they did start it by seizing federal installations, over the right to extend the enslavement of human beings into the territories, even if those who lived there opposed it? Did they have the right to secede because an election did not go their way?


There is where I must end things. I am already well past 2,000 words and I think it best to wrap it up. There are plenty of legitimate criticisms of the methods and strategies Lincoln used to end the Civil War from the suspension of habeas corpus in Maryland to the burning of Atlanta. There are also many legitimate criticisms that can be leveled at some of the strategies America and the CIA employed in the Cold War against the Soviet Union and International Communism, but that does not mean America was not right to oppose the Soviet Union, nor does it mean Lincoln was not in the right to oppose secession and slavery.

The South was fighting for slavery and they were willing to fight not only to preserve it but to extend its practice at the very least from the Atlantic to the Pacific. A practice that was truly abhorrent in its very nature; it proclaimed an inequality of men under the law and gave the right of one man to own another human being. As the film Amazing Grace put it, slavery said “you belong not to God but to a man.”

The Civil War, along with smashing slavery and secession, it firmly established something else; the idea that America is a country of the Middle-Class. You see, before the Civil War some in the South were promoting the idea of the “Mudsill Theory,” an idea that proclaimed a need for a lower-class to work so that the upper classes can do the job of thinking for civilization, LINK, a quasi-feudal notion. Lincoln described it as follows:

“By some it is assumed that labor is available only in connection with capital -- that nobody labors, unless somebody else, owning capital, somehow, by the use of that capital, induces him to do it. Having assumed this, they proceed to consider whether it is best that capital shall hire laborers, and thus induce them to work by their own consent; or buy them, and drive them to it without their consent. Having proceeded so far they naturally conclude that all laborers are necessarily either hired laborers, or slaves. They further assume that whoever is once a hired laborer, is fatally fixed in that condition for life; and thence again that his condition is as bad as, or worse than that of a slave.”

Translation: Civilization requires great men of capital to put the little men to work as labor and thus it requires little men to work in perpetuity for the great men. Lincoln called this nonsense, pointing out that:

”Even in all our slave States, except South Carolina, a majority of the whole people of all colors, are neither slaves nor masters. In these Free States, a large majority are neither hirers or hired. Men, with their families -- wives, sons and daughters -- work for themselves, on their farms, in their houses and in their shops, taking the whole product to themselves, and asking no favors of capital on the one hand, nor of hirelings or slaves on the other. It is not forgotten that a considerable number of persons mingle their own labor with capital; that is, labor with their own hands, and also buy slaves or hire freemen to labor for them; but this is only a mixed, and not a distinct class. No principle stated is disturbed by the existence of this mixed class.”

Trans: Most people are neither workers. A truth that Marxists can never comprehend. He goes further, bringing up the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” view of America:

“The prudent, penniless beginner in the world, labors for wages awhile, saves a surplus with which to buy tools or land, for himself; then labors on his own account another while, and at length hires another new beginner to help him. This, say its advocates, is free labor -- the just and generous, and prosperous system, which opens the way for all -- gives hope to all, and energy, and progress, and improvement of condition to all.”

And on that note, I really do end things. Have a great weekend.

Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson
—Harry V. Jaffa’s writings and speeches on the Civil War. I will point you to his debate with anti-Lincolnite Thomas DiLorenzo, here: LINK and his interviews with Peter Robinson here and here.
—PBS’ documentary series The Abolitionists for the story about Angelina Grimk√©
—The various writings cited above; the Declaration of Independence, James Madison’s letter to Webster, and the Cornerstone Speech.
—I also used wikpedia as an occasional source. So, sue me.


Kit said...

The treat:
Salon Headline o’ the Week

I promised a treat and here it is! A new feature I am doing: Every week I will try to find the wackiest or funniest headline from the left-wing, progressive tabloid-that-pretends-to-be-a-smart-journal, Salon. This week, we begin with this article, posted jointly by Salon and Alternet:

The orgy that changed my life
I never realized I preferred sleeping with women until I rolled on the ground with a half dozen of them


And before anyone say anything, no, I do not wish this woman or anyone who writes at Salon or Alternet harm. In fact, I wish them to keep publishing these kinds of articles because they have become quite a highlight of my week. So I obviously do not condone, and in fact condemn, any death threats or harassment, especially that which is intended to intimidate them into silence.

Kit said...

Ok, I deleted the promise, but it is still a feature I might be doing.

Robert L. Hedd said...

Kit.....Great write-up. As someone who's family went West in the 1850's from the Boston area, my direct relatives never had much dealing with the recent unpleasantness. I'm sure some branches fought for the North during this time though. So, not having a family dog in this fight, I have always been partial to the Southern strategy of F you to Washington.

I believe the South knew exactly that its actions would lead to war, and still said bring it on. Like most wars throughout history, it was the working populace that ended up getting killed in the slaveowners rebellion.They however, like Lee, appeared to have a stronger affinity and love for their state than for the federal gov't in Washington (ask any southerner today and you'll find the same mentality). That is what the South's leaders took advantage of, and like the feds, drafted their young men to fight their battles.

Unlike the 1776 Revolution (pbuh) few leaders on either side pledged their lives and honor for their cause and were so publicly "traitorous" (D of I signers).

Anyway, you just ignited a posting-bomb-worthy article. Good for you. The South shall rise again!!


Critch said...

As a Southerner and the descendant of many Confederate soldiers I have to mainly agree with you. The South was threatened economically by a North that hated slavery. I still hold to the notion however that slavery was on it's way out, it was just too expensive to maintain as new inventions came along. Slavery died out on it's own in many area, Brazil comes to mind. I think where many discussions go wrong is the idea that Northerners gave a damn abouit the Negro, they didn't. They might find slavery unsettling, but do not think that the average Northerner was liberal by any means. The NY Draft riots are a good case in point. You also have such a patchwork of support for the War on both sides. Twenty thousand Illinoisans fought for the South, abouit the same number of Alabamans fought for the North. it was an economic war, that slavery was part of, but it sure wasn't some ideological crusade by the North. If Lee had taken Lincoln's job offer the war would have never happened.

AndrewPrice said...

Kit, Excellent analysis!

I'm going to comment on this from a different angle. First, the idea of succession is anathema to a democracy. In a democracy (or republic for you nitpickers), each group participates in the vote and they agree to stand by the results of that vote. When you claim a right to succeed just because you don't like the result, then you are not acting in good faith.

Historically speaking, the South had dominated the federal government pre-Lincoln. With the election of Lincoln, they suddenly found that they had lost that power. And what they were doing with succession was essentially declaring that either they were going to be in charge or they were going to take their football and go home... it was a naked power play. That's not good faith and it's made worse by the fact they hung in there so long as they were in charge and then they even took part in the election.

So succession was not a principled or legal stand of any sort, it was an attempt to highjack democracy. And there can be no room for that in a democracy.

Anyway, what troubles me is not the actions of the South... they got what they deserved and they paid a huge price for it (essentially they wouldn't be able to join the first world until the 1970s). What troubles me is (1) the "the South was right" crowd today and (2) the other idiot succession movements all over the country.

The South was right argument is one conservatives need to stop embracing. First, while conservatives love to tell themselves the Civil War was about states' rights, it wasn't. States' rights was largely a pretext for the South. The argument wasn't "we believe in state's rights," it was "we believe in states' rights to the extent it lets us keep slavery." Proof of this comes from the laws they pushed through forcing the North to return runaway slaves, i.e. they did not extend the idea of states' rights to the northern states. In other words, the states' rights they fought for were their own rights to impose their will upon the majority. And what they wanted to impose was the acceptance of slavery. Consequently, slavery really was the issue.

And even if you could somehow make a clear distinction between those two issues as the "the South was right" crowd often tries, slavery was still the primary motivating cause of the South's actions. Hence, when conservatives talk up the South, they are seen to be embracing slavery.

That comes across very poorly for our side. Not only does it make us backward looking, living in the past, but it suggests an underlying racism or at least a blindness to what slavery was and who suffered. It doesn't help either that the kind of people who embrace this argument are often the ones who whip out comments equating blacks to welfare or crime.

And let me be clear, I am not saying Republicans are racist. I know that very few are -- far fewer than on the left. But flirting with arguments like this gives a home to the racists and helps the left feed the idea that we are all racists. This hurts us with minorities of all colors and genders.

It also feeds the idea that conservatives live in the past, which hurts us with the public, who worry that conservatives want to impose some lost society on them. In fact, let me quote an Alabama song to present the public's attitude on all of this: "Gone, gone with the wind, ain't nobody looking back again."

We need to understand that.

Kit said...

"I still hold to the notion however that slavery was on it's way out, it was just too expensive to maintain as new inventions came along."

True, in a way. But the South was fighting bitterly to keep it and extend it. Read the Cornerstone speech I cited.

Critch said...

I agree with you. it's just rare that issues are ever really black and white...Southerners however are, in my opinion, more attached to their states than are Northerners. if you ask a Southerner where they're from they will say, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas etc...Northerners generally answer with their city. Southerners of the time were even more loyal than they are now to the idea of "their state", you only have to look at the Declaration of Independence and the First Constitutional convention to understand that. The founding Fathers, all of them were adamant that some things belonged to the states and some things to the Feds. Many of us feel that the Federal government has usurped power in many areas over the years. We are a Federal republic after all. I do like the idea of governance staying as local as possible, but the Feds and the States have slowly encroached on areas that were always local, education comes to mind. Frankly, the track record for Federal programs is for the most part pretty bad, expensive, bloated bureaucracies that accomplish nothing. Education, energy and health have all gone downhill since DC got so heavily involved in them in the 60s and 70s.

Back to the War. Only about 10% of the Confederates actually owned slaves, my fathers people didn't. They were merchants and saw millers. It would seem that they just didn't care to have Northern troops on Tennessee soil. I really believe that if Lincoln had not been assassinated he would have been able to really heal the country, his death was the worst thing that could have happened to the South.

AndrewPrice said...

Critch, I agree. I think the disappearance of federalism is a serious problem that needs to be fixed. What I don't think helps is trying to pin that idea to the Civil War. We should be hitting it straight up talking about the problems it creates today... of which there are many. When people consider what problems need to be fixed and how to fix them, they rarely care about history lessons -- especially disputed history lessons.

I agree with you about southerners v. northerners and their loyalty to their states. It matters in the South, but not really in the North.

And I agree, the Civil War was about many things and different things to different people

Kit said...

People forget that for about 40+ years after the Civil War, things more or less remained the same in terms of the relation between the federal government and the states.

The decline of federalism really started with Wilson and then, after a brief reprieve under Coolidge, went into hyperdrive with FDR and the New Deal. In fact, it was largely FDR who tore down federalism.

The federal government shrunk a lot after the Civil War. Northerners recognized the need for a large government during the Civil War but did not see a need for one in 1870.

Kit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kit said...


Ok, I've calmed down, now. Relaxed a bit. Here is my take on the whole thing involving federalism and the Civil War.

The US is, ideally, a federalist system, with certain rights and responsibilities granted to the states and local governments and others granted to the federal government.

The maintenance of such a system requires a delicate balance of the two, keeping both the federal government AND the states from gaining too much power. Today, the problem is too much power in the hands of the federal government but in 1860 I would say the problem was too much power in the hands of the states, or a chaos in the way that power was rationed.

The Civil War was a struggle, by the north, to maintain a federalist system, just against a different threat; the threat of secession and anarchy.

A Federalist system cannot work if any state or province can secede at will because of an election they did not like (especially after 8 years of friendly government) and can use the threat of secession as a form of black mail.

Lincoln and the Union Army saved the federalist system, just from a different threat.

BevfromNYC said...

Excellent, Kit!!! I will add my two cents later this weekend, but I just wanted to add this now.

This is what Texans say when secession discussions come up - Neener, neener, neener...Texas actually CAN secede legally because we are the only state that entered the union by treaty and not put THAT in your pipe and smoke it...well, unless you are in New York where smoking is banned in most indoor space, public parks and beaches.

Now you can get back to this fabulous discussion!

Kit said...


That still didn't stop them from being re-absorbed back into the Union in the Civil War.

BevfromNYC said...

By choice...;-P

Along these same lines of discussion, what do you think of the possibility of border counties seceding from one state and annexing themselves to another state? I know that it will go nowhere, but we have two Upstate western counties in New York who are announced that they will secede from New York and annex themselves to Pennsylvania because of Gov. Cuomo's ban on fracking. These two counties are smack dab in the middle of the Marcellus Shale region and desperately in need of jobs and right over the border in PA they are fracking like maniacs...

Critch said...

So was it legal for West Virginia to secede from Virginia? Some of this stuff is murky.

Kit said...


"So was it legal for West Virginia to secede from Virginia? Some of this stuff is murky."

Let me explain Lincoln's, and by extension the federal government's, position on this at the time and, yes there was a huge controversy over this.

As far as the US government was concerned, the Confederacy was a legal fiction and its laws were null and void, and they worked hard to make sure other countries adopted a similar view of the Confederacy, or at least refused to recognize it. This is why Lincoln and the cabinet threw a fit when the Vatican referred to Jefferson Davis in a letter, replying to one Davis sent, as the "Honourable President of the Confederate States of America."*

After the secession of Virginia a separate legislative body formed that was loyal to the Union. They issued a declaration more or less stating that the secession was void and that by seceding the original Virginia legislature had voided itself, and was therefore no longer the legal governing body of Virginia. They called themselves the Restored Government of Virginia.

They were recognized by Lincoln as the legitimate government of Virginia.
Similar to how the British government recognized Free France as the legitimate government of France in exile instead of the Vichy French government.

This was the government that allowed western Virginia to secede, by popular referendum, from Virginia. So that is why it was considered legal.

I hope that helps.

*Note: the Vatican never officially recognized the Confederacy but this has not stopped multitudes of people from claiming it did just that.

Kit said...

Both the Union and the Confederacy claimed that Missouri was a part of them and the state also had two governments.

When Kentucky joined the Union a pro-confederate government was set up and recognized by the Confederacy.

Virginia's is not as well known because through much of the war they were really only able to exert control over the parts of Virginia that became West Virginia.

Critch said...

Missouri considers itself to have seceded...our legislature passed a Bill of Secession and had to promptly leave due to an embarrassing number of Union troops. However, Missouri was put under military rule so it makes sense that the Union felt we seceded also. Southern Missouri where I live was trying to stay out of it, but a Union General named Franz Siegel came down here raping, pillaging and killing and driving most of Southern Missouri into the arms of the Confederacy...The military government over Missouri was harsh, unreasonable and larcenous....the county clerk in my county hid all the land records in a cave to keep the Yankees from altering them to give land to their friends. Jesse and Frank James, the Youngers and many others are considered is General Quantrill. I know what ya'll's history books say, but you need to read what the Union did here...Siegel BTW is mainly noted for keeping Rebel troops in shape by chasing his soldiers from many battlefields....his last battle was at New Market, VA where a regiment of VMI Cadets beat his butt...

It would have been disastrous is the South had won the War, however, I still doubt that any large group of Union boys went off to fight to stop slavery; like many young Southerners, they were probably bored with following a mule around a field. They wanted to see The Elephant.

Kit said...

"It would have been disastrous is the South had won the War, however, I still doubt that any large group of Union boys went off to fight to stop slavery; like many young Southerners, they were probably bored with following a mule around a field. They wanted to see The Elephant."

I agree. I think I acknowledged above that many Northerners were also very racist.

Kit said...


More in-depth.

I, too am the descendent of Confederate soldiers and, yes, I will acknowledge incredible bravery and heroism on their part, like Union general Grant did and like Chamberlain did when he ordered his soldiers to salute them at Appomattox. They fought bravely even if it was in a bad cause.

Yes, there were problems on the part of the North in the way of corruption. This was also a problem in the US government's policy towards the Indians (one of many, unfortunately). So the idea that the Missouri military government would engage in corruption does not surprise me.

Just curious, what are your favorite books on the Civil War?

Anthony said...

My take is that the South fought for slavery, the North fought for union. There was antislavery sentiment in the North, but it was not so widespread or strong that a war would have been waged. A useful point of comparison is the Taliban. Few in the U.S. approve of how they treat women and minorities, but we didn't feel so strongly about it we would have waged a war solely to save their victims.

Kind of like with Afghanistan North won the war but lost the peace. Reconstruction was followed by Redemption, Jim Crow and a more limited but even more vicious form of slavery. Nominally it was prisoner renting, though once the system got comfortable it skipped minutia like accusations, trials and sentences and just rounded up blacks when a local individual or company willing to pay 'court fees' gave the sheriff a list of who or how many people they wanted.

Torture, mutilation, murder and rape (for the women) were even more frequent under the new system due to the way it was set up (renting was cheaper than buying, renters weren't expected to have the property for long and nobody cared what condition the property was returned in or even if it was returned at all). That system lasted into the 1940s. Once again as with Afghanistan the North wasn't thrilled by locals resorting to form, but not so bothered by it that they were willing to fight another war.

For the sake of maintaining the peace years after the war the North and the South ignored what the South did after the war and treated the war as a football game (placing more emphasis on battlefield tactics anything, emphasizing that both sides played a good game, even if one side made a practice of killing the black players of the other side).

Anthony said...

As for America's tendency to centralize power, it's just the nature of the beast. People want to impose their own visions on the world. A Republican administration in 2016 would support states' rights because they would be handing power to overwhelmingly Republican legislatures and a Republican dominated Supreme Court would decide exactly what constitutes a right. If by some mischance Democrats controlled the majority of legislatures and Republicans held the federal government, Republican enthusiasm for local autonomy would wane and that of Democrats would wax.

'State's rights' are an abstraction almost nobody cares about in real life, the issues people truly care about are linked to it but more tangible (Jim Crow, school curriculums, gay marriage and what have you).

Koshcat said...

Great post. The more I read about slavery in the US and the Civil War, the messier and more confusing it gets.

Over the centuries, slavery was a different institution than what was practiced in the 19th century. Most slaves were only so for a set period and then were freed. Owners were responsible for their slaves and were expected to treat them well. Slaves could even bring legal action against their owner for mistreatment. Many were forced to enter into slavery to pay off debts owed either individually or by his family.

When the US was being colonized, many from Europe, especially England, were enticed to come over either to pay off debt or to eventually own land or both. The problem was the attrition rate was astronomical usually due to malaria. Africans were generally more resistant to malaria and those who reached adulthood had already lived through the worst parts. Many of the earlier people brought over were able to eventually become free. This wasn't a problem until it became more difficult to bring in new recruits. Then things got messy with breeding programs and selling and trading. They went from becoming men with desirable attributes to property. They only way to do that successfully is to dehumanize them.

This doesn't happen overnight but by the 19th century it was complete. To understand how a people could protect slavery, you have to dehumanize it and consider the slaves like a plow or a mule. No one has the right to steal your mule and if it runs away you have a right to get it back. And no government several states away should have the right to tell you how to use your mule.

As sickening as it is, I can at least fathom the idea that this was a piece of your property and worth fighting for. But this really only accounts for a small number of people who actually did the fighting. That part is still confusing to me. I fear that many fought for less than concrete ideals: bravery and honor bullshit. After awhile most realized it was bullshit but by then it was a quagmire and the leaders on both sides refused to quit without a total victory. Much like WWI.

The Union had a much more difficult war to fight than the Confederacy. The latter had to just be nasty enough to make it too expensive in cost and lives to want to bring them back into the Union. The Union had to defeat the Confederacy completely so that any other wacky group would think twice and perhaps three times before they would secede.

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