The Civil War as Tragedy

by Henry on August 16, 2011

Ta-Nehisi Coates has been writing about whether the Civil War should be considered a tragedy or not (his take is emphatically on the ‘not’ side of the ledger). One way to think about this is to think about what would America have looked like if the Civil War hadn’t taken place? This is the kind of counter-factual that both philosophers and science-fiction writers use – and as it happens, there’s a fine and moving short story by the science fiction author Robert Charles Wilson on this topic, “This Peaceable Land: Or The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe.” (it’s first published in the Other Earths anthology, and also available in a couple of ‘Best of 2009’ round-up SF collections). The story takes place in an America where the Civil War was barely averted, and where the South saw a gradual depopulation of African Americans, hastened greatly by a kind of quiet Holocaust in which many of them were murdered as slavery ceased to be economically viable. The nub of the story is precisely the difficulty that white abolitionist liberals have in seeing that the war that was avoided may have been a lesser tragedy than the unheralded war that was not.

“That is a decent white woman,” Ephraim said when he had heard the letter and given it some thought. … “But I don’t know what she’s so troubled about … This idea that there was no war. I suppose there wasn’t, if by war you mean the children of white men fighting the children of white men. But, sir, I have seen the guns, sir, and I have seen them used, sir, all my life – all my life. And in my father’s time, and before him. Isn’t that war? And if it is war, how can she say war was avoided? There were many casualties, sir, though their
names are not generally recorded; many graves, though not marked; and many battlefields, though not admitted to the history books.”

Or as Coates puts it:

Taken together, the slave system was, itself, a Leviathan—a force with deep roots in the economic, social and political system of this country. From the black perspective it was the nation-state mobilized for more than two and half centuries as a war-machine against that which so many regard as the foundation of humanity, itself—the family. And I do not merely mean the biological nuclear family: The slave system subjected family, in all its permutations—adoptive, same-sex, parent-less, child-less—to consistent, if capricious, violence. If there is such a thing as an African-American people—and I believe there is—then it must be said that that for 250 years, that people lived in a state of war.

{ 110 comments }

1

John Quiggin 08.16.11 at 10:43 pm

Arguably, the real tragedy was the American Revolution, without which American slavery might have ended in with the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

Of course, the alternate history would have been different if the American colonies had remained inside the Empire, especially if they had Parliamentary representation, but it’s not clear whether the effect would have been to hasten or retard an end to slavery.

2

Emma in Sydney 08.16.11 at 11:06 pm

TNC’s work on the Civil War, and that of his wonderful commentariat, has completely changed my formerly ignorant way of understanding it. He’s working on a book, which will be well worth reading when it comes out.

3

PHB 08.16.11 at 11:23 pm

The great tragedy of the civil war is that it was not possible to both end slavery and the union with the South.

Had the Southern states been ejected from the union (but prevented from owning slaves) the remainder of the USA would have been a modern, progressive nation, unfettered by the ignorance and bigotry of the South.

4

Bruce Wilder 08.17.11 at 12:46 am

I’m always suspicious of the contrived nature of counterfactuals. They often seem to be based as much on the speculator’s failure to appreciate the detailed operation of conflicting forces, as they are on an insight into what might be genuine strategic points of intervention, not-taken.

Quiggin thinks American Independence might have been the problem, citing the supposed universal abolition of slavery in the British Empire in 1833. As is often the case British legal landmarks, the PR is better than the reality. Even in 1833, the British made exceptions; the prohibition had no effect in the territory of the East India Company or Ceylon, and the law made the slaves, not free men, but indentured apprentices for a term of six years (in fact, I think, dissatisfaction with that provision resulted in accelerated emancipation in 1838). Monetary compensation was appropriated for the slave owners, but, of course, not the slaves.

The political and cultural movement to abolish slavery, in fact, was an Anglo-American project throughout its late 18th and 19th century history.

The Civil War, itself, was due to the unwillingness of slaveowners in the American Deep South to accept even the distant prospect that a constitutional majority would use control of the Federal government to gradually abolish slavery. How removing the locus of Federal government functions and power from the District of Columbia, to Westminister would solve that problem is not clear to me.

In the actual event, the would-be Confederates thought that they had a good chance of persuading Britain and France to intervene in favor Confederate independence and slavery. I think they were delusional on this point, but some British politicians — including the liberal leader, Gladstone — were passionately supportive of Confederate independence.

One could well argue that the British Parliament was willing to end slavery in Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands, precisely because sugar plantations there had ceased to be a dominating economic interest in the Empire. On the other hand, cotton had become such an interest, in the meantime; the same cotton gin effect corrupted U.S. politics. Many U.S. states had prohibited slavery on terms comparable to the British act of 1833, much earlier, and they were dealing with a far more proximate economic interest, than the island of Jamaica.

5

Bruce Wilder 08.17.11 at 12:58 am

What impresses me most about the relevance of the Civil War to the 21st century shape of American politics is the lapidarian nature of institutional politics: we literally carve in stone.

The Revolutionary War generation clearly regarded slavery as a moral evil, but a minority regarded it as a practical necessity, and the majority was unwilling to press for an immediate resolution, content to rely on an expectation of incremental “progress”.

By the 1820s, there was a circle of South Carolinians, ready to organize the creation of a separte Southern national identity, dedicated to the patriotic defense of the South’s peculiar institution. They created and promoted an ideology asserting that slavery was a positive moral “good” and an ideological method of constitutional construction, which would give the Southerners the option of unilateral “secession”, to trump the inevitable assertion of northern political power, when it came. They were the Movement Conservatives of their day, and in 1860-61, they would stage an attempt at pre-emptive counter-revolution.

The ideologies and the sense of separateness in the Southern identity, which they created and promoted, would continue to influence American politics to the present day. The libertarian rhetoric of many Republicans, including especially Rick Perry, owes a great deal to the ante-bellum ideologies of the would-be Confederates, and the outline of the Confederacy shows up on maps of polling results on all sorts of modern issues.

6

A thought 08.17.11 at 1:38 am

Was the Civil War the only way to end slavery? No? Then the war was a tragedy.

Coates’ counter-factual is retarded because it assumes that the civil war had to occur in the exact manner it did (war crimes included) in order for the slaves to be emancipated. Conversely, the emancipation of the slaves expatiates all of the crimes and follies committed during the course of the war.

That’s the logic of a neoconservative. No amount of suffering is too much when it means getting your chestnuts out of the fire. It is a holy crusade.

To cite Jackson Lears: “Few Americans of any ideological persuasion are willing to question the logic of total war when it results in the victory of freedom over slavery (or Fascism).”

The simple truth is that the war lacked the moral clarity Coates’ and others are trying to inject.

7

CBrinton 08.17.11 at 1:51 am

What’s always seemed odd to me about counterfactual discussions of the US civil war is that so many people are so convinced (in what strikes me as a complete absence of evidence) that slavery would “cease to be economically viable.” I’ve never seen a remotely satisfactory explanation of why this would have been true.

As of 1860, the number of New World slaves was at a record high, and growing (basically, the increase in the USA’s slave population was outpacing the decline in that of Brazil, Cuba, and Puerto Rico). No pressure was being applied to the USA to end slavery, and it is doubtful any would have been applied to an independent CSA for many years.

Analogies to the end of slavery in Brazil are completely unconvincing. The CSA had a very high proportion of the free population diretly tied to slavery (over 1/3 of the free population of the CSA was in slaveholding families, and over 50% in wide areas of the Deep South). It had a very small free black population.

The CSA states, far from making manumission easier as was happening in most other slave societies of the time, were discouraging or even banning the practice entirely. And the CSA produced well over 50% of the export volume of cotton, one of the world’s most important cash crops.

Slavery, skilled labor, and machinery could and did coexist. The Tredegar Iron Works in Virginia used slave labor for many difficult processes requiring precision and judgment. Slave blacksmiths, coopers, and wheelwrights worked throughout the antebellum South. Slaves operated and maintained steam engines on Louisiana sugar plantations.

It’s true that many more slaves were employed in cotton fields than factories, but there was a perfectly obvious economic explanation for this: due to the cotton boom of the 1840s and 1850s, the cotton growers were the high bidders for slave labor.

On another note, cotton production turns out to be quite difficult to mechanize. It was not until the 1930s that a practical mechanical cotton picker was developed.

8

Justin Van Wormer 08.17.11 at 2:45 am

@6

Well, it wasn’t Coates’ counterfactual. So that’s one thing. (Also, good job using the hard “R” word). The other is that time is a factor in your calculus isn’t it? Maybe it would have taken decades to end slavery in the US without war, and that would have meant millions upon millions of human hours of slave labor, whole generations born into bondage perhaps. Is that not worth the casualties? Coates’ point in the linked post is that the equivalent of war was being waged against the slaves the entire time. The amount of violence used to kidnap and keep an entire population of people in slavery was no different than a total war. The war wasn’t four years of carnage, it was the last four years of centuries of carnage. In as much as it happened, it is only a tragedy that it didn’t happen sooner – and yes, it’s tragedy that it didn’t happen more peacefully – and therefore save more people from the total war waged in America since 1619.

Your first question invokes a counterfactual that Coates does not entertain because it is ahistorical. “Was the Civil War the only way to end slavery?” To end slavery at that place in time, it was necessary. Imagining that there was a peaceful solution in 1861 is, as a I said, ahistorical. To entertain counterfactuals on this is to enjoy a privilege to which no slave in America in could have had access.

9

Jim Harrison 08.17.11 at 3:25 am

Radical secessionists did fear that slavery would gradually disappear, but for political rather than economic reasons. Slavery was far less valuable in the border states than the deep South so that it would have been quite possible that states like Delaware, Maryland, and Kentucky would end slavery by normal political means. If you read some of the long quotes from William Freehling’s Road to Disunion, you find that what the South Carolina conspirators feared from Lincoln was not immediate emancipation by force but the gradual growth of Republican power through federal patronage. In the cotton belt, however, slavery was extraordinarily profitable, which is precisely what made the risks of Civil War worth it to the planter class and their supporters. After real estate, I believe, slaves were the single most valuable economic asset in the antebellum U.S.A. Without the war, slavery would have been a very long time departing assuming that it would have ever gone away.

10

dr ngo 08.17.11 at 3:47 am

In some ultimate philosophical/moral sense, it probably doesn’t matter, but one thing that tends to tip opinion toward the view that the US Civil War was a tragedy was that it lasted so long, and was so costly in human lives and economic and social destruction. Which it was.

But if we’re playing with counterfactuals, how about one simple one: Robert E. Lee takes the offer to head the Union Army instead of the Confederate one, thereby giving the North competent generalship from the outset, instead of the long series of total incompetents who headed the Grand Army of the Republic. The war is – as some predicted – over by Christmas (1861), with the North triumphant. If we’re looking a parallels to later US Wars, it’s more Grenada than Vietnam. (Or it’s Shay’s Rebellion, albeit on a much larger scale, and who today worries about whether Shay’s Rebellion was “tragic” or not.) Far fewer lives lost are on both sides than in the “factual” war; far less time to dig deep wells of bitterness and long legends of betrayal, etc. Unfortunate, but no “tragedy,” most would say, I suspect.

If there is any truth in this scenario, it serves as a scary reminder of the role that empirical unpredictability plays in affecting the outcomes of what we would like to think of as moral decisions. If success turns out to be cheap and quick, we have Iraq I. If it’s expensive and interminable, there’s Iraq II.

As I say, it probably doesn’t (shouldn’t) matter in an ultimate sense, but if there is any consequentialist element in one’s moral thinking, I suspect it does.

YMMV.

11

Tom T. 08.17.11 at 4:04 am

Re: #9, there’s an additional twist to consider, though, which is that a quick and easy Northern victory might not have brought an end to slavery. Under those circumstances, the North might have been satisfied simply with an end to secession (and perhaps an end to slavery’s expansion). Remember that the Emancipation Proclamation came about as a way of invigorating the war effort in response to stalemate on the battlefield; without such a stalemate, the North might have seen no such need.

12

geo 08.17.11 at 4:15 am

PHB @ 3 is on to something. Clearly the ideal outcome would have been disunion plus abolition. Perhaps it’s not too late.

dr ngo @ 9: Gore Vidal considers Shay’s Rebellion a tragedy, and so do I. It was a genuine popular insurrection, unlike secession, which was imposed on the South by the planter class.

Like others here, I’m wary of, but fascinated by, counterfactuals. Ultimately, of course, they’re fruitless and logically contradictory. But it’s a long way to ultimately, and I’m as helpless to refrain from indulging in them as everyone else. Has any philosopher ever definitively laid the ghost of counterfactual reasoning?

13

Gene O'Grady 08.17.11 at 4:23 am

I’m not sure Robert E Lee was really offered command of the Union army, and based on his Confederate performance in 1861 I doubt he would have ended the war quickly. And he was lacking in the skills that Grant Sherman Thomas etc. won the war with, which was mastery of moving units in coordination over a wide area while handling the necessary logistic and administrative arrangements. (And give California’ much maligned Henry Halleck some credit in there too.)

On the other hand, Mr. Coates’s single-handled campaign to put things every American should know in front of public consciousness is thoroughly admirable, and I hope what he is doing spreads. But then it’s a shame that Union story has fallen so out of mind. I took my daughter to Gettysburg a year ago, and rather to my surprise she was fascinated, and then when we met up with one of her old classmates (from a third world country) the two of them spent an hour wondering why the Civil War had never been taught to them in grade school.

14

David 08.17.11 at 4:48 am

I’m sorry, I seem to be missing something fundamental here. I would have thought that any war, no matter how justifiable, should be regarded as a tragedy. Silly me.

15

William Timberman 08.17.11 at 5:12 am

David, Lincoln himself probably said it best:

If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? 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.”

A tragedy? Yes, but one should be able to understand why Ta-Nehisi Coates might want to distance himself from all the weeping at Confederate memorials that goes on — as Bruce Wilder alludes to above — in the South and elsewhere to this very day. When I was in college in 1965, I got a job in a laundromat in Memphis, TN, which had a sign on the wall: Maids in Uniform Only. Being from the North, I had to puzzle over that seemingly innocuous phrase a while before I could figure out what it meant. When I did, I remember thinking to myself that I’d have been glad to enlist and fight in any army which proposed to put an end to such things. Fortunately, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had already provided us with a tool that made another literal war unnecessary. More than 40 years later, though, I haven’t changed my mind about about that sign.

16

bad Jim 08.17.11 at 7:35 am

My favorite part of TNC’s interleaved ruminations on Moby Dick and the civil war was this contribution by an unnamed correspondent:

If whales make good tacticians, then our whole theory of whaling is wrong

the point being that Moby Dick was a very good tactician indeed.

17

J. Otto Pohl 08.17.11 at 10:08 am

As Bruce Wilder has noted the British abolition of slavery looks better on paper than in reality. The slave trade actually picked up for a while out of West Africa after formal abolition. But, slavery inside West Africa legally continued for quite some time. In 1874 the British formally abolished it in the Gold Coast Colony, but that only included the southern coast of modern day Ghana at the time. Americans like to think that slavery was primarily an American evil. But, the actual capturing and shipping of slaves to the US, Brazil, Jamaica, Cuba, and other places involved a lot of European powers. The Danish, the Dutch, the British, and the Portuguese were all heavily involved in the slave trade. The British role did not end in 1833 so whitewashing their later involvement in order to pillory the US strikes me as odd.

18

ajay 08.17.11 at 10:41 am

The Civil War, itself, was due to the unwillingness of slaveowners in the American Deep South to accept even the distant prospect that a constitutional majority would use control of the Federal government to gradually abolish slavery. How removing the locus of Federal government functions and power from the District of Columbia, to Westminister would solve that problem is not clear to me.

The argument is presumably that a British South wouldn’t have dared to try to secede because it would have known it would lose in short order against the combined military forces of the rest of the empire. (See: India, 1857-8.) One of the reasons that the South started a war was that it thought it could win.

19

Chris Williams 08.17.11 at 10:47 am

#7 ISTR that Fogel and Engerman’s _Without Consent or Contract_ notes the point that in the late 1850s, the abolitionists managed to convince quite a few people that slavery was economically unviable. F and E’s conclusion was that (a) they were wrong, but (b) their successful propaganda campaign had the effect of galvinising opinion against slavery. There’s an interesting moral dilemma in there.

As it happens, the US Civil War is one of the very few I can think of that was entirely justified under the circumstances, and graced by the victory of the goodies. I feel the same way about people flying Confederate flags as I do about people flying swastika flags.

20

Barry 08.17.11 at 11:51 am

Dr. NGO: “But if we’re playing with counterfactuals, how about one simple one: Robert E. Lee takes the offer to head the Union Army instead of the Confederate one, thereby giving the North competent generalship from the outset, instead of the long series of total incompetents who headed the Grand Army of the Republic. “

I believe that this has been covered on TNC’s discussions. In short – there was no way that Lee would have stayed in the US Army. He was a hard-core Confederate and supporter of slavery (see his personal life). The myth of Lee’s agonized deliberation was just that, a post-war myth.

As for the length of the war, the US faced a major challenge, that of large scale force projection over thousand-mile ranges. The US Civil War was the first industrialized total war for a reason, and gearing up for that would take a while.

IMHO, a few glorious victories at the beginning (e.g., replacing MacClellan (sp?) with a competent battle general) would not have ended the war earlier; the Confederacy was capable of raising more armies. As it was, it took the long attrition and obliteration of Lee’s Army in the East, combined with a blockade and multiple western campaigns which destroyed the western Confederate armies and then trashed the heartlan.

21

chris y 08.17.11 at 1:44 pm

One of the reasons that the South started a war was that it thought it could win.

More exactly as I understand it, the south thought it could call the government’s bluff and avoid a protracted war. But once it came to that, they weren’t unreasonable in expecting to achieve their war aims; it’s been pointed out often that it’s a lot easier to maintain a consolidated territory than to overrun one.

The British role did not end in 1833 so whitewashing their later involvement in order to pillory the US strikes me as odd.

For goodness sake, why? Do you imagine that the British are unique among nations in not amending their history to conform to their prevailing ideology?

22

Louis Proyect 08.17.11 at 2:07 pm

23

ajay 08.17.11 at 2:20 pm

More exactly as I understand it, the south thought it could call the government’s bluff and avoid a protracted war.

Well, yes. I didn’t mean that they thought they could overrun the North; just that they thought they could rapidly inflict enough damage on the North to make Lincoln accept secession.

once it came to that, they weren’t unreasonable in expecting to achieve their war aims

Debatable; once it became clear that they weren’t going to score a quick knockout, they were unreasonable to think they could continue. The North had vastly more population, vastly more industrial capacity, and – most important of all – naval supremacy. (IMO the war wasn’t won at Gettysburg or at Atlanta, but at New Orleans and Vicksburg. Sea power, and later river power, in action.)

24

J. Otto Pohl 08.17.11 at 2:29 pm

Chris:

I find it odd that Dr. Q, an Australian, would overlook the fact that more slaves were shipped out of West Africa each year by the British and other Europeans after 1833 than before. His motive apparently being to make the US look bad in comparison to the British.

25

Pub Editor 08.17.11 at 2:50 pm

ajay @23:

Debatable; once it became clear that they weren’t going to score a quick knockout, they were unreasonable to think they could continue. The North had vastly more population, vastly more industrial capacity, and – most important of all – naval supremacy.

But don’t forget that, from the South’s perspective, the CSA didn’t have to win every battle or match the USA bullet for bullet; they mainly had to convince the population of the Northern and Western states that the Union should stop fighting. The Union could withdraw its armies and/or pursue a negotiated peace if it wished, but that initiative lay with the Union.

Some Southerners may have been banking on Lincoln losing the election in 1864 and being replaced by a president (say, McClellan) willing to discuss a negotiated peace that included secession recognized by the Union.

26

roac 08.17.11 at 3:14 pm

@24: For that matter, labor recruitment for the Queensland sugar industry, into the 20th century, wasn’t a whole lot different from slave trafficking. The victims were Pacific islanders rather than Africans. Google “blackbirding.” Or read Mark Twain’s Following the Equator, which I just finished.

27

MPAVictoria 08.17.11 at 3:18 pm

“I find it odd that Dr. Q, an Australian, would overlook the fact that more slaves were shipped out of West Africa each year by the British and other Europeans after 1833 than before. His motive apparently being to make the US look bad in comparison to the British.”

In fairness the British Government did attempt to stop the trade.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blockade_of_Africa

28

ajay 08.17.11 at 3:47 pm

27: I think the “and other Europeans” bit is doing a lot of work in Otto’s frankly rather odd-sounding comment.

29

LFC 08.17.11 at 4:37 pm

geo @12
Clearly the ideal outcome would have been disunion plus abolition

I’ve never really thought about disunion being part of “the ideal outcome,” but perhaps the fact that I haven’t reflects the subtle or not-so-subtle messages delivered by the standard treatment of US history in American schools. In any case, such a supposedly “ideal outcome” was never available. Moreover, I can imagine a Southerner (which I’m not) observing that the South did make some contributions to American culture, esp. literary, which might not have been made had the country split up. No doubt geo would have some deeper thoughts than I (and I mean this seriously not sarcastically) about that angle.

30

Jim Demintia 08.17.11 at 5:09 pm

Just FYI about that ideal disunion: George W. Bush is actually from New England.

31

Bruce Wilder 08.17.11 at 5:28 pm

We can hope, in an alternate history, that George H W Bush would emigrate, taking little George W with him.

32

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 5:58 pm

On John Quiggin’s point, it could be said that just as the British Empire abolished slavery eventually, similarly, the Empire eventually voluntarily granted the rights of self-government to its former colonies.

I do think we would have been much better off without the ridiculous attempts (in recent memory) to present the Southern financial and social elites as if they were a put-upon ethnic minority oppressed by the Wicked Blob of the North.

33

skidmarx 08.17.11 at 6:30 pm

Harry Harrison has his hero say in “Rebel in Time”:
When you here you jus’ one mo’ slave.’

The quiet description cut Troy to the heart, penetrated deeper than any insult or threat. The realization
that black people were slaves here, that slavery was still legal. This man had spent his life in slavery…
For the first time he could understand at least one of the reasons why the Civil War had been fought—and just what the
victory was that had been so painfully won.

34

skidmarx 08.17.11 at 6:32 pm

“Think”, rather than “say”.

35

Reality Cheque 08.17.11 at 7:13 pm

The Southern financial and social elites were a put-upon minority oppressed by the Wicked Northerners, but those Southerners were pretty wicked too.

Simply put, despite revisionism, the uncivil war had little if anything to do with slavery. One consequence of the Southerners continuing their War of Independence against the North after Lincoln’s emancipation ultimatum (which was that any State that did not surrender, by such and such a date, would have their slaves declared free) was that Southern slaves were proclaimed free. Of course, the President didn’t have that power, but law has never been important in the USA anyway. The ultimatum was issued only after it was clear that for the North, the war was won. Hence, the ultimatum was very much an afterthought, and should be recognised as the expedient it was, an attempt to bring that war to a more speedy conclusion.

More importantly, as there was not a great interest in North about the freedom or welfare of the slaves or former slaves, the freeing was to a great extent nominal, just as their right to vote in the South quickly became nominal.

The real freeing of the slaves didn’t start to happen until the 1950s and even today with an African American in the White House that long walk to freedom is far from finished. How much further there is to go has been demonstrated by the birther movement and the success of the meme that Obama is a Muslim.

36

StevenAttewell 08.17.11 at 7:16 pm

A few points:

I take strenuous opposition to PHB’s comments at 3 – we know what abolition under Southern “home rule” looks like; we saw it for nearly 100 years between the end of Reconstruction and the Civil Rights Act of 1964/Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The case against Southern secession is the same now as it ever was- the nations’ poor overwhelmingly live in the South, and left to their own devices, the Southern political class will abuse and neglect them as much as they can get away with. Without the Federal government, the Southern poor is disarmed in the midst of their enemy.

Next, given the nature of the “Virginia plan” for gradual emancipation (the plan called for “freed” slaves to become the property of the state, who would then be hired out until they had earned enough to pay for their deportation to Africa, extended no rights to freedmen unlike in Pennsylvania, and allowed sale out of state prior to emancipation), it’s highly unlikely that the 1832 counterfactual (Virginia passes gradual emancipation, leading to the border/upper South becoming free states and politically isolating the Deep South, leading to emancipation via constitutional amendment) would have led to legal equality.

Indeed, I think that’s the ultimate case against any counter-factual: without a total Civil War, you may have gotten the 13th amendment, but you never would have gotten a 14th or a 15th.

37

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 7:40 pm

Hm @Steven Attewell: Even ignoring the in-between states, there are plenty of what could be called Southern-sympathizers in the blue states, at least in many regards–even if they can’t stand one another, in superficial ways–and in the end would probably align with blue-state liberals, if they were forced to choose.

38

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.17.11 at 8:30 pm

To me, PHB 3 seems illogical, along the lines of A-thought @6. If what you want is to expel backward southern states from the union (fair enough), then, once that’s been done, you shouldn’t be overly concerned (except for general condemnation, obviously), about their internal practices. These practices were, after all, the reason why you decided to expel them in the first place.

So, it seems to me, the choice is: start a war, kill a whole lot of them, process the rest in re-education camps, and keep them – or expel them, and forget about it.

39

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 8:55 pm

@Henri Vieuxtemps: Not keep them in the Union, let them do whatever they want in the geographical areas they’re assigned (including dominating minorities and poor whites alike), then start a movement to devote the entire nation’s culture to the examination of how much better their culture–which somehow happens to be based entirely in its entire and total victimization by the rest of the nation–is than anything else that’s available in our benighted Union that’s so dominated and brutalized by capitalism that non-Southerners may as well be grunting imbeciles? (Okay, exaggerating a little.) But and don’t forget oppose capitalism . . . and “communism” . . . and university-based “elitism” . . . and “yuppie” consumer culture. Oh yes and Freud too.

40

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 9:06 pm

(Understood, of course, that “their culture” was “theirs” like Sir Walter Scott and the world of his novels was the Grangerfords’ in Huckleberry Finn.)

41

A thought 08.17.11 at 9:12 pm

“So, it seems to me, the choice is: start a war, kill a whole lot of them, process the rest in re-education camps, and keep them – or expel them, and forget about it.”

So this either/or straightjacket is your great lesson in logic? It turns entirely on a reading of Southern society at the time that is entirely reductionist and essentialist. “This is the way it was, this is the way it would have always been.”

Let me ask again, how many Middle Eastern countries do you people want invade?

42

StevenAttewell 08.17.11 at 9:18 pm

bianca steele at 37 – I’m not quite understanding you. What does the presence of conservatives in the blue states have to do with the presence of poor people in Southern states, which is what I was pointing to?

On a different note, isn’t the ultimate Civil War counterfactual “what if Thaddeus Stevens been the Speaker of the House?” (i.e, won on greenbacks, land redistribution, explicit voting rights, etc.)

43

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 9:33 pm

Not much to do with the existence of poor people (of course, there are poor people in the North, too, though mostly in cities, and possibly, at least in the past, greater job prospects, at least for many of them–for obvious reasons, though, there are more people sleeping out of doors or in “inadequate” housing in the warmer parts of the country), but with the idea that the policies liberals object to could be deprived of support by separating the Northeast or the Pacific Coast from the rest of the country (which is what your link seems to say is the main present-day reason for considering secession). Without red-state style conservatives to oppose, blue-state conservatives and rightwingers might–though they probably wouldn’t–form a parallel Right at home. Their interactions with red-staters, at home or in the South, probably push them further towards their home-state liberals, just on the basis of whom they feel more comfortable with, who they’re used to and who they know how to deal with.

44

StevenAttewell 08.17.11 at 9:41 pm

bianca steele – it’s less about political support (after all, we usually are in the minority in the Red States, so we’re not picking up a lot of Electoral College votes, etc.) than it is about who needs the help and what would happen to them. Separating the Northeast and the Pacific Coast would create a political culture that is more pro-anti-poverty policy, but only the poor in those areas would benefit. At the same time, because any countervailing force from the national government would disappear, the situation of the poor in the red states would get much worse.

45

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 9:55 pm

So, all of the anti-poverty activists are in the blue states–and have great enough numbers in those states to get into power, as long as their parties don’t have to pander to the red states? Yet, in order to affect the red states, to affect anti-poverty policy there, they have to pander to the red states, on anti-poverty itself or on other issues that presumably also affect the poor? This isn’t convincing to me. (But as I said, my objection to the argument you linked is to question whether the change in dynamic would really be that simple, once the relationship between the relative right in the blue states and their natural political allies in the red states was altered from what had been the case previously.) Maybe more detail would make it convincing; I don’t know.

46

StevenAttewell 08.17.11 at 9:59 pm

I didn’t say “they have to pander to the red states” – I’m saying, in order to be able to enact policy, you need sovereignty over that territory. Secession prevents you from enacting policy in seceded areas, full stop.

Hence, blue states cannot simultaneously allow secession and hope to actually affect poverty in red states.

47

bianca steele 08.17.11 at 10:15 pm

Okay, well, secession isn’t going to happen, is it? Right, theoretically, if a country splits into two, each of the two new countries doesn’t have any influence on the other, policywise. And, sure, the poor people in one country might be best served by accepting that their situation has to get worse in order for the people in the other country to be able to build a better tomorrow. But the poor people in one country aren’t going to be helped just because the rich people in another country (or in their own) submit to temporarily supporting an unjust system to a greater degree than is really necessary–the logic that submitting to a system (i.e. refusing to secede from it) gives you some real, policy-making power over it is as nonsensical for the rich as it is for the poor themselves. Maybe I’m missing the point; again, I don’t quite understand what you’re arguing.

48

Natilo Paennim 08.17.11 at 10:28 pm

As far as counterfactuals go, it’s interesting to me that so few of them involve a vigorous abolitionist movement. John Brown staked out an extremist position in 1859, one that was repugnant to many white Northern liberals, but many of those same people had cheered him during Bleeding Kansas. If the Civil War had somehow been averted in the early 1860s, there still would have been a strong dissatisfaction with the Fugitive Slave Law, growing communities of free blacks in the North and in Canada, lasting bitterness about Kansas, and continued distaste in the North for high-handedness by Southern politicians and planters. Maybe there weren’t a lot of fire-breathing abolitionists in 1859, but if slavery had lasted till 1869, or ’79?
In our history, the North boomed after the 1860s — the growth of industry in the Midwest, increased agricultural production that followed, an ever-widening export trade and the development of a complex and widespread system of higher education all seem to argue for the differences between the South and North to be intensified, not reduced over time.
As to the “tragedy” of the Civil War, the tragedy is that so many people who should have known better continued to collaborate with the Slaveocracy for years while their fellow humans were being raped, tortured and murdered as a matter of government policy.

49

StevenAttewell 08.17.11 at 11:01 pm

bianca – apologies for being unclear.

My argument is this: progressives should not support secession because were it to be achieved, many poor people would be trapped in a political system that tries to deny them any form of assistance.

By contrast, within a single nation-state, national policies like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, EITC, SSI, Unemployment Insurance, Disability Insurance, wage and hours legislation, etc. can and have been enacted which provide assistance to the poor which otherwise they would not receive from their state governments.

Secession is counter-productive for progressives if progressives want to fight poverty.

50

geo 08.17.11 at 11:36 pm

LFC@29: Thanks for your confidence, but I’m afraid it’s misplaced. I was just being shallowly sarcastic — a flaring of blue-state chauvinism probably elicited by the hideous prospect that Rick Perry might become a serious contender for the leadership of the world’s largest and oldest democracy. In my heart, I’d love to expel Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina, and other political areas of darkness; but Steven’s argument @49 is, alas, compelling.

51

purple 08.18.11 at 12:54 am

The South wanted to expand slavery into the new territories, not let it wither. There was a Missouri Compromise for that reason alone.

52

purple 08.18.11 at 12:56 am

And for that reason the Union victory was a triumph, one etched in the Constitution as a nascent equal rights amendment.

53

Barry 08.18.11 at 1:42 am

Reality Cheque 08.17.11 at 7:13 pm

” The Southern financial and social elites were a put-upon minority oppressed by the Wicked Northerners,”

Thank you for starting with a lie; that saves reading the rest of your lies.

54

StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 3:18 am

Just wanted to correct something I saw:

Reality Cheque 08.17.11 at 7:13 pm

Simply put, despite revisionism, the uncivil war had little if anything to do with slavery. One consequence of the Southerners continuing their War of Independence against the North after Lincoln’s emancipation ultimatum (which was that any State that did not surrender, by such and such a date, would have their slaves declared free) was that Southern slaves were proclaimed free. Of course, the President didn’t have that power, but law has never been important in the USA anyway. The ultimatum was issued only after it was clear that for the North, the war was won. Hence, the ultimatum was very much an afterthought, and should be recognised as the expedient it was, an attempt to bring that war to a more speedy conclusion.

This isn’t accurate:
1. The South seceded explicitly to preserve slavery and to create a nation state in which slavery could be expanded into the Southwest and Caribbean. The North opposed secession on the grounds that the entire United States (territories and states alike) belonged to a Federal government elected by the majority with a mandate to oppose the opposition of slavery, and that secession was an illegal attempt to overthrow the outcome of the election of 1860 by force of arms. That made it a war “to do with slavery” period.
2. The power to emancipate slaves was entirely within the power of the President under his powers as commander in chief (seizing property of the enemy to deny them war materiel), which was enhanced further by his obligation to enforce the First and Second Confiscation Acts.
3. The Emancipation Proclamation was issued well before the war was clearly won – it was initially drafted in June of 1862, as McClellan was losing the Seven Days Battle and issued five days after a defensive victory at Antietam. The Army of the Potomac was still to lose at Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg and Grant’s capture of Vicksburg were over a year in the future, and Atlanta, Winchester, Mobile Bay, and the breakthrough at Petersburg were even further in the future. Politically, it was a major risk and Republicans took big hits in the 1862 midterm elections.

55

StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 3:19 am

* first full paragraph should be in blockquotes.

56

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.11 at 6:04 am

My argument is this: progressives should not support secession because were it to be achieved, many poor people would be trapped in a political system that tries to deny them any form of assistance.

Assistance to the poor, huh. Is ‘progressive’ synonymous with ‘left-neoliberal': libertarianism plus government-enforced charity?

57

Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 6:19 am

Ok Steve. We will have to disagree. Clearly we are accessing different realities. The ultimatum did not ‘free the slaves’. The failure of all the ‘rebel’ states to rejoin the union by the anointed date resulted in the threat contained in the ultimatum being carried out in the proclamation. The North, using its majority in Congress, had been shafting the citizens of the South for years. Of course, as with the break of the thirteen colonies from Britain, deeds are always dressed first in fine words, noble words with lashings of morality thrown in. Rarely do you hear in politics, “We are going to do this simply because we are just a bunch of rapacious scumbags devoid of morality, decency, or any sense of justice”. No, there is alway great purpose, and claim of greater good. If you want to believe the civil war was about ‘freeing the slaves’ fine. Join the others.

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StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 8:10 am

The Emancipation Proclamation freed 50,000 slaves on the spot, and paved the way for 4 million more to be freed by Northern armies of liberation.

“The North, using its majority in Congress, had been shafting the citizens of the South for years.” – This is fantasy. As James McPherson points out:

“During forty-nine of the seventy-two years from 1789 to 1861, the presidents of the United States were Southerners–all of them slaveholders. The only presidents to be reelected were slaveholders. Two-thirds of the Speakers of the House, chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee, and presidents pro tem of the Senate were Southerners. At all times before 1861, a majority of Supreme Court justices were Southerners…Southern politicians did not use this national power to buttress state’s rights; quite the contrary. In the 1830s Congress imposed a gag rule to stifle antislavery petitions from Northern states. The Post Office banned antislavery literature from the mail if it was sent to Southern states. In 1850 Southerners in Congress plus a handful of Northern allies enacted a Fugitive Slave Law that was the strongest manifestation of national power thus far in American history.”

(I’d also point to a filibustering of homestead, land grant college acts, etc. as well) So how exactly were Southerners shafted?

I’ve laid my cards on the table. Your turn.

Henri – left neoliberalism? don’t be facetious. Assistance, as I point out @49, includes social insurance, minimum wage and maximum hours legislation, public health insurance, and the Wagner Act while I’m at it. The New Deal, the Great Society, etc. all could not have happened without a national government.

59

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.11 at 8:42 am

Steven, yes, but on the other hand some good things could’ve happened without the national government, in the north specifically, that haven’t happened because of it. Not to mention the brutal war that had to be fought to maintain the central government. Not to mention a bunch of other wars (Vietnam, for example) initiated by the national government.

So, from the utilitarian perspective (which is how you frame it), a more detailed/nuanced calculation seems necessary.

60

blah 08.18.11 at 11:20 am

@27
This is also instructive:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abolition_of_slavery_timeline
Lots of treaties between Britain and some other power concerning the abolition or at least restriction of the slave trade.
But note that Northern Nigeria, arguably the second biggest slave society of that time, only got abolition in 1936. Lord Lugard did not want to upset the emirs…

61

ajay 08.18.11 at 11:23 am

the hideous prospect that Rick Perry might become a serious contender for the leadership of the world’s largest and oldest democracy.

Rick Perry is running for Prime Minister of India? Well, you can’t fault him for lack of confidence.

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Leinad 08.18.11 at 12:03 pm

Well, they have Congress there too, and he’s familiar with their peace pipes and whatnot.

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Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 12:44 pm

The proclamation only came about after none of the Southern state fell into line as demanded by the ultimatum. Legally, the Proclamation freed no slave, neither the President, nor the Federal government had that power. It was the amendment that did it. From Wikipedia, nevertheless correct:

“The Emancipation Proclamation is an executive order issued by United States President Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, during the American Civil War under his war powers. It proclaimed the freedom of 3.1 million of the nation’s 4 million slaves, and immediately freed 50,000 of them, with the rest freed as Union armies advanced. On September 22, 1862, Lincoln announced that he would issue a formal emancipation of all slaves in any state of the Confederate States of America that did not return to Union control by January 1, 1863. None did return and the actual order, signed and issued January 1, 1863, took effect except in locations where the Union had already mostly regained control. The Proclamation made abolition a central goal of the war (in addition to reunion), outraged white Southerners who envisioned a race war, angered some Northern Democrats, energized anti-slavery forces, and weakened forces in Europe that wanted to intervene to help the Confederacy. Total abolition of slavery was finalized by the Thirteenth Amendment which took effect in December 1865.”

The Thirteen Amendment was required because the President and the Federal Government did have the legal power to free the slaves, but they did have the power of force which has always trumped law.

If you want to have your own facts, fine. Seems extremely fashionable nowadays.

Interestingly, there had been an earlier proclamation during the war involving the thirteen rebel colonies – Dunmore’s Proclamation. Again, wikipedia:

“issued on November 7, 1775, by John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, royal governor of the British Colony of Virginia. The Proclamation declared martial law and promised freedom for slaves of American patriots who left their masters and joined the royal forces. Dunmore expected such a revolt to have several effects. “

Hence, by your logic the British fought the rebel colonies to free the slaves! I think I will now tell people that. After all, it is a great story, (and nowadays that is all that matters) and has as much factual basis as the story that the civil war was about slavery. I like it!

64

MPAVictoria 08.18.11 at 3:13 pm

“Rick Perry is running for Prime Minister of India? Well, you can’t fault him for lack of confidence.”

Well India is the largest but hardly the oldest. The oldest would be what? Switzerland? The United Kingdom? I guess it depends on what you count as a “democracy”. If universal suffrage is a requirement than maybe New Zealand?
/Sorry for the off topic post.

65

Barry 08.18.11 at 3:44 pm

Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 6:19 am

” Ok Steve. We will have to disagree. Clearly we are accessing different realities. “

No. You’re lying, pure and simple.

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Gene O'Grady 08.18.11 at 4:18 pm

Steve in #54 is making good points, but I don’t believe he meant to say that the Army of the Potomac lost the Battle of Gettysburg. Contrary to Southern legend that Lee lost, Meade and his army won by outfighting the Confederates over three days and pretty much showing better leadership, and especially command coordination, over that period. George Pickett’s famous quote summed this up better than I could.

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StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 4:31 pm

Reality Cheque –

From your own quote: “immediately freed 50,000 of them.”
Again, the First and Second Confiscation Acts are clear exercises of warmaking power – unless you can point to any evidence of their unconstitutionality.
Dunmore’s proclamation was one British governor offering a limited emancipation to those who “joined the royal forces” – the Proclamation was the President of the entire country offering freedom to all in rebel territory, and followed the First and Second Confiscation Acts and the election of 1860. Not the same case at all.

Gene O’Grady – I didn’t mean to say that. It should read “The Army of the Potomac was still to lose at Fredericksburg, AND Chancellorsville; Gettysburg and Grant’s capture of Vicksburg were over a year in the future.”

68

LFC 08.18.11 at 4:54 pm

Reality Cheque maybe should be informed that there was a v. long thread here not that long ago on the question (among others) of the extent to which the Civil War was ‘about slavery’.

69

Natilo Paennim 08.18.11 at 5:06 pm

To expand further on alternate timeline thoughts: What if John Brown had died early in 1859 of natural causes — a hero to some, but a martyr to none? It seems very unlikely that without that precipitating incident, the secessionist diehards could have brought along so many fence-sitters. Remember, secession was a pretty close thing — the mountain regions of the upper South were pretty dead set against it on both a popular and ruling-class level, even with the Harper’s Ferry raid. It seems fairly likely then that Lincoln could have pursued a policy of appeasement, losing some support from the furthest left abolitionists, but not enough to hurt his electoral chances much. In fact, an electoral challenge in 1862 or 1864 from the hardcore abolitionists might have seriously weakened the political chances of that movement, splitting out moderates who would vote Republican. Imagine too that frustrated secessionists, unable to pursue their goals in Congress, went underground and formed something like the Klan (there was already plenty of that kind of thing going on before the war of course, just not very heavily ideologized). That would have given moderates on both sides a boost. Then we get into the real growth of Northern industrial power in Chicago and the other Rustbelt cities, the opening up of the West, with San Francisco coming to prominence as something close to a Second City, and pretty soon you are talking about a scenario where there is a likelihood of a negotiated political abolition of slavery. But that would have taken several decades, during which time the rape, torture and murder would have gone on unchecked.

70

StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 5:25 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps – “some good things could’ve happened without the national government, in the north specifically, that haven’t happened because of it.” Do these compare to the liberation of four million slaves? I doubt it.

And what makes you think that a revanchist Northern government would have been less prone to fighting wars after losing territory? Or that a Confederacy would not have attempted imperialist wars in Niceragua, Cuba, etc.? History suggests otherwise.

71

Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 5:50 pm

Looks like you wish to continue with your science fiction version of the North’s crushing of the South’s war of independence. As I have demonstrated, the version of that war as a war to ‘free the slaves’ has less factual basis than a version of the British war against its thirteen rebel colonies being about the British desire to free the slaves.

As discussants seem addicted to a fantasy version of history replete with its own ‘facts’, and nothing I have said has been refuted, I don’t think I need say more.

Next you will be claiming the thirteen colonies rebelled because of ‘no taxation without representation’.

72

Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 5:59 pm

How about an alternative reality in which the British won against the thirteen rebel colonies, over 100,000 slaves were freed immediately, and as a consequence the British banned the slave trade even earlier?

A much more credible SF alternative history that the one of Ta-Nehisi Coates. Unfortunately, in writing his SF, Ta-Nehisi Coates has brought in to the official US history American kids are taught, which is as self serving and fictional as the history of WWII taught in Japan.

73

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.11 at 7:09 pm

Do these compare to the liberation of four million slaves?

I have no idea. I watch The Wire, and I find it hard to judge. When you’re a slave, you are, at least, someone’s property; people tend to take care of their property. Not to mention that right now in the US over 7 million people are being controlled by the justice system, held in various forms of bondage. How many people find themselves in these unfortunate circumstances in the alternative universe? Who knows.

74

MPAVictoria 08.18.11 at 7:21 pm

“I have no idea. I watch The Wire, and I find it hard to judge. When you’re a slave, you are, at least, someone’s property; people tend to take care of their property.”

Henri I am endeavouring to be more polite on the internet so I am going to assume that you don’t really mean any of this post. If you do mean it I would suggest that you do a bit more research into the living conditions of slaves in the South in the period before the Civil War. I think you will find it very illuminating.

75

Gene O'Grady 08.18.11 at 7:31 pm

Victoria,

It may be hard for obvious reasons to research the living conditions of slaves in the ante bellum South, but it’s quite easy to get a sense of what the slaves, once they could be free agents, thought about them from the numbers who crossed over to the Northern lines and the numbers who fought in the Union army. Jeff Davis and his brother thought of themselves as benevolent masters and were shocked (insert relevant Casablance quote) when the slaves deserted en masse.

76

Henry 08.18.11 at 7:53 pm

Reality Cheque – as you have noted above, you have made your ‘point’ and you ‘needn’t say any more.’ Let me help you in your admirable desire to refrain from further commenting by promising to delete any further comments that you make on this thread, should you be so unfortunate as to yield to temptation and start commenting again.

77

SamChevre 08.18.11 at 8:04 pm

The First and Second Confiscation Acts are clear exercises of warmaking power …

I look forward to discussions applying this principle (we beat them, we get to take their stuff) in contemporary conflicts.

78

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.11 at 8:10 pm

you do a bit more research into the living conditions of slaves in the South

What about living conditions in US jails and city ghettos? The point is that if you’re making a utilitarian argument, that’s fine, but I don’t think ‘the liberation of slaves’ is sufficient. What happened to the slaves, what sort of improvement in conditions?

79

MPAVictoria 08.18.11 at 8:34 pm

“What happened to the slaves, what sort of improvement in conditions?”

Wow…

80

CBrinton 08.18.11 at 8:42 pm

“Reality Cheque”‘s departure, although not to be missed, will deprive of of his particular explanation of why, in a war that “had little if anything to do with slavery”, the initial aggressors claimed, over and over, that it did. Evidently they were among the stupidest people who ever lived, and how they came to acquire this stupidity might be worth knowing.

I have long been fascinated by the variety of Confederacy-defenders. People calling themselves southern traditionalists, libertarians, avowedly racist white nationalists, and paleo-conservatives all manage to find different ways of defending the CSA.

Curiously, many of the same people (although probably not RC) also defend Imperial Japan. It’s an odd correlation.

Gene O’Grady raises an interesting point:

“Jeff Davis and his brother thought of themselves as benevolent masters and were shocked (insert relevant Casablance quote) when the slaves deserted en masse.”

Actually, I suspect the shock of the Davises (and of many other slaveowners whose “property” took the opportunity to flee when it presented itself) was quite genuine. The will to believe is a powerful thing, and a lot of slaveowners thought of themselves (and deeply wanted to think of themselves) as benevolent despots whose subjects were grateful for their firm-but-fair rule. Their slaves often told them this, when asked. The fact that the only rational option, when questioned by someone who holds the power of life and death over you, is to say whatever that person will want to hear, was overlooked by the slaveowners.

I once read parts of the diary of an officer of the Army of Northern Virginia. He was accompanied in the field by his personal bodyservant and valet, who had been serving him for about five years, starting well before the war. The officer often remarked on the resourcefulness and initiative the slave valet displayed. The valet had a good sense of direction and was quite capable of going on long trips alone.

One day the officer sent the valet on an errand that, as it turned out, brought him close to Union lines. The valet did not return. In his own diary, the officer wrote for several days about how his slave must have been injured or become lost, and took at least a week before even considering the possibility that he had run off (as, in fact, proved to be the case).

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StevenAttewell 08.18.11 at 8:46 pm

At this point, Henri is just trolling. Don’t engage.

82

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.18.11 at 9:05 pm

If it’s trolling, it’s a pretty common form of trolling, actually, and you should give it a name. See here, for example: http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/slavery-mass-incarceration-role-prisons-american-society

What makes the racial intercession of the carceral system different today is that, unlike slavery, Jim Crow and the ghetto of mid-century, it does not carry out a positive economic mission of recruitment and disciplining of the workforce: it serves only to warehouse the precarious and deproletarianized fractions of the black working class, be it that they cannot find employment owing to a combination of skills deficit, employer discrimination and competition from immigrants, or that they refuse to submit to the indignity of substandard work in the peripheral sectors of the service economy—what ghetto residents commonly label ‘slave jobs.’

83

Reality Cheque 08.18.11 at 11:21 pm

My prediction proved correct. Your hypocrisy, so predictable, Henry. Much like American foreign (and domestic) policy!

Trolling seems to be the introduction of unpalatable facts to citizens of the “Home of the Brave”. Of course, that home used to be the Home of the Braves!

84

Reality Cheque 08.19.11 at 9:30 am

Reality Cheque – when you are banned from commenting on a thread, and continue commenting, you are liable to get a permanent sitewide ban. Consider this your final warning.

85

El Cid 08.19.11 at 12:41 pm

Most of the time when I think of something like the Civil War, or the attack on and destruction of post-Civil War political freedom and economic development of African Americans, as a “tragedy”, it’s with reference to what might have happened had somehow people and governments done the right things without a war.

It’s still okay to know the overwhelmingly fixed context within which such events arise and yet regret that humankind followed such stupidity and evil. I think that this capacity to understand the possibilities of a better world despite it involving the same people and humans in general is what grounds many who struggle for a cause for a better and more just world despite the apparent odds.

86

MPAVictoria 08.19.11 at 1:20 pm

“I agree with you, Henri Vieuxtemps.”

Henri if you needed further proof that perhaps you should rethink your stance….

87

Henri Vieuxtemps 08.19.11 at 1:31 pm

I don’t have a stance. As far as the war being fought “to save the Union” rather than “to save or to destroy slavery”, frankly, I thought that was a well-established fact. I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.

88

alph 08.19.11 at 1:50 pm

Do not confuse two questions:

1) Why did the southern states start the war?
2) Why did the federal government prosecute the war?

It is a well-established fact that the answer to 2) is “in order to save the union”.

It is an equally well-established fact that the answer to 1) is “in order to preserve and extend slavery.”

89

geo 08.19.11 at 2:00 pm

the world’s largest and oldest democracy

Sorry for this inaccurate phrase. Still depressed about Rick Perry, though.

90

Reality Cheque 08.19.11 at 2:55 pm

Go on ban me then and show exactly what you are! Do you actually think I care?

91

roac 08.19.11 at 2:59 pm

Second the motion.

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CBrinton 08.19.11 at 5:24 pm

alph:

” 1) Why did the southern states start the war?
2) Why did the federal government prosecute the war?

It is a well-established fact that the answer to 2) is “in order to save the union”.

It is an equally well-established fact that the answer to 1) is “in order to preserve and extend slavery.””

The idea that these two things were separate in the political context of 1860-61 is simply ahistorical, though. Everyone in the USA knew that disunion was threatened only because of the activities of a particular group of people, the southern slave expansionists. Stopping their designs, in particular their plans to extend slavery into the territories, was an integral and inseparable part of “saving the union.”

93

Rob in CT 08.19.11 at 5:38 pm

You didn’t win the argument, you incredible tool. You’re wrong, and anyone who has actually studied the Civil War honestly knows it. Further, anyone who has ever been involved in an online discussion of the Civil War knows that engaging you or your arguments is an excercise in futility, because your arguments aren’t honest. Here follows such an exercise, because now I’m annoyed:

Secession was a pre-emptive strike to preserve slavery as it was and protect the “right” to expand it to the territories (ponder, if you will, if the Union had let them go. Wither the territories? How does that question not result in war? Hell, it already had in Kansas). The founders & leaders of the Confederacy made this as clear as they possibly could. The proclaimations of the various states as they seceeded lay this out, as do numerous speeches by politicians, newspaper articles, diaries, letters, etc. It’s out there if you have the guts to look.

The North was concerned with both preserving the Union and having it out with “Slave Power” over the expansion of slavery (including not only the fight over the territories but also things like the Fugitive Slave Act). Some few were outright abolitionists and an even smaller group of those actually wanted equality. Many others weren’t concerned with the welfare of the slaves at all.

These views evolved over the course of the war and ultimately emancipation became the desired policy. The more Union soldiers got down into the deep South and saw slavery for real, the more became abolitionists (though not necessarily favoring full equality). The views of the leadership also changed. Lincoln famously toyed with recolonization schemes. Grant certainly moved from an ambivelant attitude toward slavery to a solid abolitionist stance.

The claim that you’ve made about the Emancipation Proclamation being issued only once the war was won is simply incorrect. Lincoln did wait until he had a major battle that could be called a victory (it was more of a draw), but the war was FAR from won. After all, it dragged on for 3 more years, and a defeat in the 1864 elections followed by negotiated peace was a real possibility. If you want to view Union victory as inevitable, then it was no more true after Sharpsburg than right after the war began.

It’s true that the (leaders of the) South, under the “Redeemers” managed to thwart/rollback reconstruction and that it wasn’t until the middle of the twentieth century that this began to be put right. This doesn’t change the fact that the Civil War was fought over slavery. The Civil War simply doesn’t happen w/o slavery. The leadership of the South knew that full well, and didn’t start to argue otherwise in any way until long after the war they started and lost.

The idea that the *South* was shafted by the Federal government in the antebellum period is absolutely hilarious (granted, many Southerners at the time believed this, but it was a steaming pile of crap). The South wielded disproportionate power in the Federal government from the Founding right up until the Civil War. It was only when they thought they were going to lose that disproportionate power (via pop growth in the North + the addition of more non-slave states from the territories) that they rebelled and tried to leave.

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StevenAttewell 08.19.11 at 9:24 pm

Yeah, the name is Louiq Wacquant leftier-than-thou trolling, but it’s still trolling. The empirical evidence for post-slavery being better than slavery is so abundant that it’s like asking for evidence of sunshine.

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Henry 08.19.11 at 9:37 pm

Your wish is my command. Consider yourself permanently banned from commenting on Crooked Timber. Any future comments you make here will be deleted, disemvowelled, Swedish chef-ized, replaced with random text from the Eye of Argon or otherwise mutilated in appropriate ways, dependent on the whim of the management. I do have to say though that it is quite a while since I have seen a troll explicitly say (as you did in one of your deleted comments), “you can’t handle the truth.” Goodbye. You won’t be missed.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.20.11 at 7:31 am

Nobody says it wasn’t better. What I said was that “it liberated the slaves, so shut up!” is not a very convincing argument. No more than “look, Iraq is now a democracy!”.

Generally, in these civil war discussions, passionate nationalism of some of the northerners seems just as dogmatic as that of many of the southerners.

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CBrinton 08.20.11 at 6:12 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps:

“What I said was that “it liberated the slaves, so shut up!” is not a very convincing argument.”

I don’t see anyone who made that argument. Some did point out (correctly) that you have given no reason for anyone to think that living conditions for black people in 2011 would be better had the CSA been allowed to enact its program.

Since slavery was quite bad for those subjected to it, and the CSA would have kept it in place for a long time if allowed to do so (and also attempted to spread it to the western territories and into Mexico), it seems pretty obvious that the utilitarian calculation is in favor of a policy of containing slavery. Even if it can lead to destructive war.

If you have a contrary calculation, please present it (or give a reference to where it might be found).

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.20.11 at 7:29 pm

Look, 97, I don’t even believe in utilitarian calculations. But if we do have to play this game, the calculation is not: ‘slavery bad – second class citizenship better’. For one thing, there is a brutal war in between. Then, as I mentioned earlier, there is a small matter of the south dragging the rest of the country down, for many decades, and in a whole lot of ways.

So, you have to compare, on one hand, the difference between slavery and post-slavery, and, on the other hand, the war plus all the negative influence of the south to the rest of the country. And, in this formula, the details of post slavery situation become extremely important, don’t you think? If the result of the war is Alabama turning into Denmark – that’s one thing; Alabama turning into, well, post-war Alabama, that’s something else.

Your calculation doesn’t seem to be exactly utilitarian, but mostly ideological. You strongly object to slavery; owning people is absolutely evil, completely unacceptable, while merely renting them cheaply (and housing the excess in jails) feels sort of normal. Well, fine, but that’s a different argument. If it is an argument.

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CBrinton 08.20.11 at 8:30 pm

Henry Vieuxtemps: “I don’t even believe in utilitarian calculations”

Sorry, I did not realize that, having been misled by your previous comment that

“So, from the utilitarian perspective (which is how you frame it), a more detailed/nuanced calculation seems necessary.”

I agree with you that the “details of the post slavery situation” are important. They show that blacks overwhelmingly preferred not being slaves, even when not given the full rights of citizens.

If you are not arguing for some “utilitarian calculation” to be made, what exactly are you arguing?

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.20.11 at 9:40 pm

I’m saying that you fail to be convincing even within your chosen logical framework.

That blacks overwhelmingly preferred not being slaves is not particularly enlightening; they probably overwhelmingly preferred not being second class citizens either. Nevertheless, even negligibly small amount of violence (compared to the civil war) perpetrated by black militants in the 1960s and 70s is considered beyond the pale. So, why does one kind of overwhelming preference justify a half-million deaths – and another kind of overwhelming preference doesn’t justify any violence at all?

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CBrinton 08.20.11 at 9:53 pm

I haven’t said anything about “violence . . . perpetrated by black militants in the 1960s and 1970s.” Nor did I bother to repeat all I said in previous postings about the likely results of surrender to the slave expansionists.

I have said that as of 1860 a policy of containing slavery, and of resisting the slavocrats’ efforts to spread it, was justified, even at the risk (and result) of war. This is because the results of not opposing these designs were overwhelmingly likely to be extremely bad and long-lasting.

Again, what argument are you making? I can’t discern one.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.20.11 at 10:19 pm

…surrender to the slave expansionists…

See, you’re very heavy on rhetoric; emotional rhetoric, that has no basis in reality (what surrender?); you’re emotionally involved. That was a long time ago, I’m surprised at the passion.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.20.11 at 10:36 pm

…take Chechnya, for example, a southern Russian province that practiced slavery, seceded, and, after a brutal war, was brought back. Is this also a clear-cut story, or do you see nuances there?

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Bruce Wilder 08.20.11 at 11:56 pm

Can there be a coherent cost-benefit analysis of strategic conflict over a constitutional order?

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Andrew F. 08.21.11 at 12:26 pm

I read TNC’s discussion with some bemusement. The narrative he is attacking – that the Civil War wasn’t really about slavery – is a minority view, a view (I believe) no longer in fashion among academic historians generally, and certainly one not endorsed by popular culture. I agree with him that it’s also an incorrect view.

As whether the Civil War was a tragedy… it does seem likely, had the Civil War not occurred, and the US remained united, that slavery in the South would have dissipated. Northern and Western populations were not great proponents of racial equality, but they did oppose slavery. Slavery in the South could not last long surrounded by a mass of easily accessible free states without a Fugitive Slave Act, and the Fugitive Slave Act could not last long in a country dominated by free states.

That said, one doesn’t have to say whether we could have ended slavery without the Civil War to mourn the destruction wrought by that war.

As to the interesting question of the course of the Civil War had Lee, or someone like him, assumed leadership of the Union Army from the start… it would have been a much shorter war.

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Gene O'Grady 08.21.11 at 3:13 pm

Andrew F, the population of the West, even California, wasn’t very large in 1860 and could easily have been moved in a pro-slavery direction (as it almost was — probably Starr King doesn’t have any resonance for you but he was important in his time) by immigration from places with slavery or Northerners who wanted to run a slave economy. It isn’t an accident that two of the largest mining boom towns were called Virginia City.

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Bruce Wilder 08.21.11 at 5:14 pm

The Civil War was a constitutional crisis. Ta-Nehisi Coates is not as sharply focused as the historian, James McPherson, on how and why slavery posed such a profound constitutional issue for a white man’s republic, but he does pick up on the “centrist pablum” aspect, which in celebrating the Civil War as tragedy, hides slavery as tragedy and oppression.

Counterfactuals are fantasies, and not evidence of anything except the priors and prejudices built into the perspectives assumed by our inner eyes.

History as a distant mirror may be showing us the truth of our own era, in which a vicious oligarchy has staged a counter-revolution against constitutional democracy, and found no resistance.

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CBrinton 08.21.11 at 6:23 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps: “I’m surprised at the passion”

Well, I’m surprised anyone would still bother to trot out the old “I’d explain my reasoning, but you’re obviously too overwrought to understand it” line of pablum. Bonus points for doing so without even trying to point out any supposed factual errors. (There was no surrender; that’s kind of the point I was making).

As for Chechnya, as with 1960s black militancy it’s not something I’ve discussed and you haven’t shown it’s of any relevance to the topic at hand. In the interest of saving time, I’ll point out that I’ll also be declining to opine in this thread on the merits of string theory, which actor did the best James Bond, or where the tastiest pizza may be found.

Gene O’Grady makes another good point. An independent CSA would certainly have tried to acquire more western territory, quite possibly including California. The demands presented by the slave-state leaders in 1860-61 were the beginning, not the end, of the process of forming the CSA.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 08.21.11 at 6:43 pm

An independent CSA would certainly have tried to acquire more western territory

So what? The CSA would have tried to acquire more western territory, the USA would have tried to acquire more western territory, Canada would have tried to acquire more western territory. What’s your point?

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peter ramus 08.21.11 at 7:06 pm

…the population of the West, even California, wasn’t very large in 1860 and could easily have been moved in a pro-slavery direction…

This book by Leonard L. Richards has all the details.

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