The Internationalism of the American Civil War

by Corey Robin on January 11, 2015

One of the topics I’ve long been interested in is the traffic between the European right and the slaveholding South in the US. We know a fair amount, now, about the relationship between the abolitionist movement in the US and the European left, including Marx, but less about the impact that slavery and its defense had on the European right.

What first piqued my interest in this issue was reading Nietzsche. Nietzsche talks a lot about slavery in his work, and it’s long been the conventional wisdom that his references here are metaphorical and philosophical rather than contemporary and literal. I’ve had my doubts about that, as I’ve written.

One can hear in the opening passages of “The Greek State” the pounding march not only of European workers on the move but also of black slaves in revolt. Hegel was brooding on Haiti while he worked out the master-slave dialectic in The Phenomenology of Spirit. Though generations of scholars have told us otherwise, perhaps Nietzsche had a similar engagement in mind when he wrote, “Even if it were true that the Greeks were ruined because they kept slaves, the opposite is even more certain, that we will be destroyed because we fail to keep slaves.” What theorist, after all, has ever pressed so urgently—not just in this essay but in later works as well—the claim that “slavery belongs to the essence of a culture”? What theorist ever had to? Before the eighteenth century, bonded labor was an accepted fact. Now it was the subject of a roiling debate, provoking revolutions and emancipations throughout the world. Serfdom had been eliminated in Russia only a decade before—and in some German states, only a generation before Nietzsche’s birth in 1844—while Brazil would soon become the last state in the Americas to abolish slavery. An edifice of the ages had been brought down by a mere century’s vibrations; is it so implausible that Nietzsche, attuned to the vectors and velocity of decay as he was, would pause to record the earthquake and insist on taking the full measure of its effects?

There’s also Nietzsche’s tantalizing reference in his notebooks to Harriet Beecher Stowe as the inheritor, along with Rousseau and the French Revolution, of Christianity:
The French Revolution as the continuation of Christianity. Rousseau is the seducer: he again unfetters woman who is henceforth represented in an even more interesting manner—as suffering. Then the slaves and Mrs. Beecher-Stowe. Then the poor and the workers.

According to my friend Harrison Fluss, Domenico Losurdo’s long anticipated biography of Nietzsche, which came out in Italian years ago and is about to appear, finally, in English, discusses this and related passages (which don’t get much treatment in the literature), suggesting that Nietzsche may have been more aware of the question of slavery on this side of the Atlantic than we think.

In any event, I got a book in the mail a few weeks ago that begins to deal with the larger issue of the slaveholding South and the European right: Don Doyle’s The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. It’s about a much larger topic, as the title suggests, and I haven’t really dived into it yet, but I’ve read one chapter and the intro and have already learned some fascinating things.

First, slaveholder and race theorist Josiah Nott, whose writing I discuss in The Reactionary Mind, commissioned an English translation (for the US) of Gobineau’s Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines, one of the main texts in Europe’s developing racial ideology. (Gobineau also had an extensive correspondence with Tocqueville, who appointed the younger man to a position in the Foreign Ministry while he was serving as Foreign Minister). Nott is one of the more fascinating writers among the slaveholding South, for the way he treats African Americans versus other groups in his Instincts of Races makes clear that he believes only African Americans are creatures of their physical estate, that only they cannot rise above their biological destiny, which is what he defines a race to be in the first place. In other words, read carefully, Instincts of Races suggests that, properly speaking, there is only one race in America: African Americans. If we keep in mind the dictum that there are in fact no races, only racism, Nott’s theory demonstrates quite well how the idea of race in the US was meant to serve the cause of racialized slavery.

Second, Doyle opens with a fascinating discussion of the efforts of the North and South to convince the world that their cause was the one that ought to be supported. What’s especially interesting about Doyle’s argument is how much these efforts look like what will later be called the “cultural Cold War,” that is, the conscription of writers, artists, and intellectuals throughout the world on behalf of the cause of the United States against international communism and the Soviet Union. As Doyle points out, both sides, but especially the North, quickly learned that outright propaganda was not particularly effective at generating international support. While neither side was above hiring journalists and editors to plant stories or circulate rumors, the North especially understood that “the most effective” agents for their cause “were not hired pens but volunteers who wrote and spoke with conviction and appealed to the fundamental values, ideals, prejudices, and fears of their people in their own idiom.” It’s an inexact analogy—we’re not talking about showcasing modernist art as an emblem of the Free World—but it anticipates some of the principles that underlay the CIA’s secret funding of magazines like Encounter.

Third, it’s clear that early on the North faced a major legitimation problem. The South had framed its appeal to the world in liberal terms: they stood for free trade and national self-determination, while the North was an imperial conqueror, set on protecting its markets from Europe and preventing the southern (white) people from governing themselves. The North, by contrast, had initially framed its position, at least internationally, in excessively legalistic terms. The promise of Lincoln, in his First Inaugural, not to interfere with slavery wherever it existed in the South, harmed the Northern position. Though crafted by Lincoln and Seward as a sop, in part, to international opinion, Doyle writes,

…it cost them dearly, and over the next four years, the Union’s greatest challenge overseas would be to retrieve the valuable moral capital that had been sacrificed to this early argument for a causeless rebellion.

But republicans, radicals, and revolutionaries in Europe pushed the argument, publicly, that the future of liberty everywhere hinged on the success of the northern cause. These radicals helped to make the cause of the North the “last best hope of earth,” not just in the US but throughout the world. While the slaves themselves as well as radicals and Republicans in the US obviously were critical to that shift, Doyle claims that the international left played an important role as well.
Learning from the transatlantic dialogue on the American question, Union advocates put aside their legalistic arguments against secession and fashioned an appeal to ideals of human equality and liberty against those of aristocracy.

While it’s too early for me to say anything about this definitively, Doyle’s introduction immediately made me think of Mary Dudziak’s argument in Cold War Civil Rights. There, Dudziak shows that a critical factor in moving American jurisprudence and policy in the 1950s was the Cold War, specifically the competition with the Soviet Union over the hearts and minds of the decolonizing world. While anticommunism often helped suppress activism on civil rights, it also proved to be an ironic ally to the movement. Forces in the State Department and the Eisenhower administration understood that the persistence of Jim Crow made it awfully difficult, particularly in Africa and Asia, for the United States to claim for itself the banner of democracy.

One of the things that is most fascinating, and usefully disorienting, about the African American struggle in the US is the way it reverses a trope of American exceptionalism and American imperialism. Where America’s hagiographers like to see the US as a City on the Hill, as a light unto the nations, African Americans have often upended that formulation, claiming that the United States is a laggard compared to the rest of the world. As Frederick Douglass claimed in his “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” speech:

There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.


Or, as Martin Luther King drily observed in Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.

The ongoing freedom struggle of African Americans demonstrates that when it comes to democracy, the United States often needs teachers, rather than students, from abroad.

{ 139 comments }

1

Anderson 01.11.15 at 11:18 pm

I see no reason to doubt Nietzsche endorsed literal slavery; no slaves, no masters, & he would invert Lincoln in that regard: there *must* be masters; therefore …

2

FredR 01.11.15 at 11:26 pm

“Gobineau also had an extensive correspondence with Tocqueville, who appointed the younger man to a position in the Foreign Ministry while he was serving as Foreign Minister.”

Although most of this correspondence seems to have been Tocqueville telling Gobineau his ideas were crazy.

3

stevenjohnson 01.12.15 at 12:49 am

Access to sources is very limited for most of us, despite inflated claims for the internet.
It seems improbably that intellectual influence and connections between the slavery defenders and the European right occurred only after the outbreak of general war in 1861.
Thus it’s always seemed to be a question whether the likes of Samuel George Morton and George FitzHugh and Louis Agassiz had some precedence over de Gobineau in the racist lineage. (And of course Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia existent very early on.) Does Doyle briefly treat the prologue to the Civil War?

4

bob mcmanus 01.12.15 at 12:52 am

I got some internationalization fer ya

The Age of Reactionary and Realist Revolutions Stirling Newberry 2011

British Empire: Indian Rebellion 1857-1858
United States of America: American Civil War 1860-1865
Germany: German Unfication 1860-1871
France: February Revolution 1858
Meiji Restoration/Boshin War 1867-1869
il Risorgimento 1858-1871
(Taiping? Crimea?)

“Each of these revolutions was a reactionary revolution, which simultaneously defeated the highly decentralized feudal and early aristocratic systems of complex tenure, and held at bay the forces of liberalism and socialism.”

5

bob mcmanus 01.12.15 at 1:15 am

I am somewhat interested in the influence of what was happening in America on Japan say 1853-1870, but can’t find enough about it. They were certainly scared shitless of the barbarians.

I also can’t remember anyone claiming that Meiji/Boshin was about or for the liberation of the peasant class, although that is exactly what happened in countless ways. It was about the rationalizing and industrialization of the economy under a new formation of an ideological nation-state, conscript healthy army, etc. Some of the discourse of liberalism had to be managed and controlled for the sake of empire-building.

Japan obviously wasn’t the only state industrializing and expanding its consolidated area in the last half of the 19th. Trying to be gentle here.

What does “internationalizing” mean to y’all?

6

Bruce Wilder 01.12.15 at 3:38 am

Though crafted by Lincoln and Seward as a sop, in part, to international opinion, Doyle writes, …it cost them dearly

I am unclear on what “it” is. What was crafted as a “sop” to international opinion?

7

Harold 01.12.15 at 4:28 am

The Sepoy rebellion (1857) greatly contributed to making scientific racism respectable. See Ter Ellingson, “The Myth of the Noble Savage”.

8

Glen Tomkins 01.12.15 at 4:58 am

I’ve only read his published works, and know next to nothing about his private life — haven’t read letters to friends and relatives and so forth — but from those published works, Nietzsche seems such a complete ironist that I don’t think any statement in those works can be taken at all, even a little bit, straight.

9

js. 01.12.15 at 4:59 am

BW @6:

I could be wrong, but it looks like the reference is to “fram[ing] its position, at least internationally, in excessively legalistic terms.” (Tho frankly, rereading this now, and having not read the Doyle, obviously, I can’t really make sense of the “causeless rebellion” bit at the end of the quote.)

10

William Timberman 01.12.15 at 5:18 am

Doesn’t causeless rebellion refer to the promise Lincoln was making that the fugitive slave law would be enforced as well as anyone could enforce it when the majority in the North was opposed to it, and that the southern states would not be asked to give up slavery on their own territory, but only to forego extending it beyond their borders? As he said near the end of his first inaugural address:

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

11

js. 01.12.15 at 5:34 am

WT, yeah that makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

12

geo 01.12.15 at 5:51 am

BW: What was crafted as a “sop” to international opinion?

This: “The promise of Lincoln, in his First Inaugural, not to interfere with slavery wherever it existed in the South”

13

Meredith 01.12.15 at 6:37 am

This puts me in mind of the earliest Puritans in MA, who didn’t expect to stay in this wilderness forever, or at least to be building a new world HERE. Rather, they thought themselves to be creating a model for the Puritans and others at “home,” in England, the place that really mattered. Things didn’t quite work out that way, of course, and their children and grandchildren who had no memory of England or Holland didn’t carry on in exactly the same way. But when has America not been engaged in a larger, “international” conversation, full of maneuvering and miscalculation? In general, there’s not a moment in American colonial history, from various religious groups to what kind of bonnet to wear, when we haven’t been part of an international conversation. (Not to mention the role of the Caribbean v. NA v. East Indies in English and European calculations.)

Bravo for calling attention to this truth, with roots deeper than the 19th century, in the very roots of modern colonialism and of capitalism (and socialism, for that matter — the terms in which we today think the world).

14

Bruce Wilder 01.12.15 at 7:43 am

geo

sop – a thing given or done as a concession of no great value to appease someone whose main concerns or demands are not being met.

I think it is generally agreed by historians that Lincoln was offering the promise not to interfere with slavery as a “sop” to certain strains of domestic American opinion, real or imagined. I’m not getting how it would be in any way a sop to international (European) opinion.

Europe generally, and Britain very strongly, was committed to an antislavery position and policy. So, though slavery was the supreme controversy of American politics at the mid-point of the 19th century, it was not a point of controversy at all in Britain or France.

What was controversial in Europe was electoral, representative democracy in a republic, without a privileged ruling class. This had been uncontroversial in the U.S. since the advent of Jacksonian Democracy.

Lincoln was legalistic in his first inaugural, because he was a lawyer facing a constitutional crisis. I cannot imagine that the constitutional crisis would be much understood in monarchical, aristocratic Europe.

15

bad Jim 01.12.15 at 9:10 am

Fred Clark of Slacktivist has long emphasized that Southern Baptism had its roots in the justification of slavery, continued in the same fashion to justify segregation, and in recent memory mutated into opposition to abortion, and to birth control in general, which makes scant sense as a logical progression but is easily understood in terms of the politics involved.

The justifications once offered for slavery, that the white race was inherently superior and was doing the lesser race a favor by subjugating it, are being repeated today by the wealthy who think that the poor are luxuriating in the hammock of dependency. As Clark points out, rich people know better, but they’re comforted by the thought that it’s not their fault that people go hungry.

16

Peter T 01.12.15 at 9:29 am

re Bruce @ 14,

I would imagine, though, that Lincoln would have had concerns that the Confederacy might secure some degree of recognition from Britain or France, which would complicate Union policy immensely. So he was concerned to paint the issue as one of unjustified rebellion – which neither Power could countenance, rather than as an internal political issue about which opinions might be reasonably divided.

17

Stephen 01.12.15 at 10:54 am

Bob McManus@4: are you entirely certain that, when the high-caste sepoys and rural landowners of Bengal rose against the East India Company in 1857, the rising could really be described as something “which simultaneously defeated the highly decentralized feudal and early aristocratic systems of complex tenure, and held at bay the forces of liberalism and socialism”? Were these really either the intentions, or the effects, of the mutiny?

That it was “a reactionary revolution”, yes, certainly. But surely the revolutionaries wanted to restore the highly decentralised systems, etc: and could hardly affect the forces of liberalism and socialism in India, there then being none. Unless you count EIC rule as liberal, which does seem a rather unusual use of the term.

18

Stephen 01.12.15 at 11:28 am

Bruce Wilder@14: Harry Flashman points out, somewhere in his memoirs, that Lincoln was committed to the interesting proposition that the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire, because that was what most people in the colonies wanted: but the Confederate states were wrong to secede from the United States, even though that was what most people in the Confederacy wanted.

I don’t know how widely this paradox was perceived at the time.

19

Ebenezer Scrooge 01.12.15 at 12:01 pm

IIRC, the Emancipation Proclamation was largely about nailing down foreign opinion: i.e., shifting the Union’s war ideology from legality to antislavery.
Of course, Lincoln was a good enough lawyer to match his legalisms to his policies, rather than the other way around. In 1861, antislavery opinion in the North was pretty weak. To the extent it had any strength, it was fear of slave labor being exported to the North and West and competing with free labor and free (at the expense of Native Americans) farming. Lincoln had to work with what he had.

20

Malaclypse 01.12.15 at 12:17 pm

but the Confederate states were wrong to secede from the United States, even though that was what most people in the Confederacy wanted.

I see no reason to accept slaveholders’ definition of “people.”

21

Adam Roberts 01.12.15 at 1:32 pm

@20 That also applies to the Declaration of Independence, though, doesn’t it?

22

Stephen 01.12.15 at 2:05 pm

Malaclypse@20: black slaves were a minority even in the Confederacy, surely?

23

Toby 01.12.15 at 2:30 pm

The Emancipation Proclamation was largely about nailing down foreign opinion: i.e., shifting the Union’s war ideology from legality to antislavery.

There was was a bit more to it than that. Lincoln’s Proclamation was also a statement that this was a war to the end – no settlement short of complete victory would be considered. Up until that time, it was possible to believe (and many did, like General McClellan) that the war might end with the seceded states back in the Union, slaves and all. It was a tantamount to a demand for unconditional surrender from the Confederacy, and consequently gave heart to the section of the North who wanted the war prosecuted vigorously and punitively.

It also made a large resevoir of black males available to the Union war effort, and denied them to the South. When the Confederates started shiftily to discuss offering freedom to blacks in exchange for military service in late 1864, it was much too late and that horse had bolted.

It is tantalising to think what might have happened if the Confederates emancipated their slaves first – but the war for them was to preserve slavery, and not primarily about national independence.

Lincoln, in fact, had been actively undermining slavery from his first days in office, though he had to rein in those who were moving too fast (like General Fremont). The best book on Lincoln’s both elegant choreography is Allen C. Guelzo’s Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

24

Toby 01.12.15 at 2:40 pm

Harry Flashman points out, somewhere in his memoirs, that Lincoln was committed to the interesting proposition that the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire, because that was what most people in the colonies wanted: but the Confederate states were wrong to secede from the United States, even though that was what most people in the Confederacy wanted.

See Lincoln’f First Inaugaural Address and Harry Jaffa’s A New Birth of Freedom. Lincoln argued that the British Empire was a tyranny, but the Union was a Compact freely entered into by the people (not the states) which could not be broken unilaterally. He could cite previous slaveowning Presidents like Madison and Jackson in support.

He could have also asked (but didn’t) if the Confederates demanded a Right of Secession for themselves, would the concede a Right of Revolution to the slaves?

25

Theophylact 01.12.15 at 3:11 pm

It should be remembered that Harry Flashman, however vivid a character he may have been, was a fictional one.

26

rea 01.12.15 at 3:14 pm

black slaves were a minority even in the Confederacy

Wikipedia has a helpful demographic chart. Slaves were a majority in South Carolina and Mississippi; 39% of the Confederate population overall.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_of_America#Demographics

it is generally agreed by historians that Lincoln was offering the promise not to interfere with slavery as a “sop” to certain strains of domestic American opinion, real or imagined.

Way too simplistic. Lincoln did not have the constitutional authority or the votes to abolish slavery outright. The slavers, though, recognized that they were losing control of the veto-points in the federal system–they’d lost control of the Senate in 1850 with the admission of California as a free state, and the election of a Republican administration meant that they were not going to get Kansas. The Republican program included admission of new free states in the West, appointment of Supreme Court justices to overrule Dred Scott, repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, managing foreign trade in favor of Northern industry at the expense of Southern slaver agriculture, and a refusal to engage in land-grabs in slaver-friendly locations like Cuba or Central America. The slaver leadership elected war, not because they thought Lincoln would abolish slavery, but because Republican policies meant that slavery was doomed in the long or even medium term.

27

MPAVictoria 01.12.15 at 3:18 pm

“He could have also asked (but didn’t) if the Confederates demanded a Right of Secession for themselves, would the concede a Right of Revolution to the slaves?”

Indeed….

28

William Timberman 01.12.15 at 3:37 pm

Lincoln laid out his case clearly enough in the 1st inaugural. Although it appears to me to have been intended largely for domestic consumption, he may well have has an eye also on the interventionists in England, particularly given the importance of imported cotton to their ongoing industrial revolution. The historians I’m familiar with seem to think that anti-slavery sentiment in England was strong enough to prevail over commercial interests, but how certain Lincoln was of the balance of forces in the English parliament at the time, I have no idea.

The Southern political class didn’t trust Lincoln — felt that they couldn’t afford to trust him no matter what he promised publicly — and in that they were probably right, as his assurances were conditioned to a large extent by the demonstrably volatile political forces in the North. In any event, they talked themselves into a war which in hindsight they had little chance of winning, much as the Japanese did in the late 1930s. As a private citizen, and therefore cannon-fodder, it always makes me nervous when the disease of conviction starts to spread among the upper classes. I wonder how many white southerners felt that way before 1st Manassas. I suspect there were more than Shelby Foote could ever allow himself to concede.

29

Stephen 01.12.15 at 3:40 pm

Theophylact@26: as far as I know, the only people to have taken Harry Flashman for a real, Victorian person have been professional American historians. His fictional nature does not affect the paradox.

Toby@24: could it not equally well be argued that the relationship between the colonies and Britain was a compact freely entered by the original colonists, which could not be broken unilaterally?

I agree that the situation from the Confederate point of view was equally paradoxical. However, I can quite see why Lincoln might not have wished to advocate a right of revolution to the slaves.

30

David J. Littleboy 01.12.15 at 3:55 pm

@22: Malaclypse@20: black slaves were a minority even in the Confederacy, surely?

I read somewhere just the other day that slaves made up perhaps as much as 40% of the population. That sounded high to me, so I remembered it. Ah. Here’s Wiki on it, which says 39%.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederate_States_of_America#Demographics

So it seems that there were lots of people who were neither slaves (39%) nor slaveholders (6% of “free” population). It’s not inconceivable that a majority of the residents of the confederacy would have preferred abolition…

31

Adam Hammond 01.12.15 at 3:59 pm

With the “sop” Lincoln was arguing (to Europe) that the South had no grounds for secession. As rea@26 points out, the slavers new that political realities would eventually doom them. They had been preparing for rebellion for 2 decades, and Lincoln’s promises to uphold current law was never going to dissuade the fire eaters.

It is interesting to understand that Lincoln’s argument backfired. His support of contemporary slave law hurt him (apparently) more deeply on the left, than undercutting the South’s cause helped him with anybody. Although, given that Europe didn’t fully recognize the South as legitimate, it is hard to evaluate the severity of the misfire.

32

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 4:02 pm

#23 Toby

It is tantalising to think what might have happened if the Confederates emancipated their slaves first – but the war for them was to preserve slavery, and not primarily about national independence.

Yes. I think there would not have been time to do it right, even if they wanted to. (Which of course they didn’t.) Free the slaves, and they’d have a transition period that could get too disorganized.

But imagine, just for a completely ahistorical fantasy — they free the slaves and they somehow treat them well enough to get their loyalty. Then they don’t need garrisons to prevent slave revolt, so they have more troops and more supplies available for the fight. Plus black troops, their loyal population 60% bigger….

They still wouldn’t have the industrial strength to win the war. But without the slavery moral issue to keep them from getting allies and aid, with Britain slavering at the chance to shatter the USA and play the pieces off against each other, without the slavery issue to divide the people of the border states, they might have had a fighting chance.

33

MPAVictoria 01.12.15 at 4:11 pm

“They still wouldn’t have the industrial strength to win the war. But without the slavery moral issue to keep them from getting allies and aid, with Britain slavering at the chance to shatter the USA and play the pieces off against each other, without the slavery issue to divide the people of the border states, they might have had a fighting chance.”

Sure. Maybe. But if they were willing to give up (and arm!!!!) their slaves there would have been nothing to fight about and no civil war in the first place.

34

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 4:12 pm

#31 Adam Hammond

It is interesting to understand that Lincoln’s argument backfired. His support of contemporary slave law hurt him (apparently) more deeply on the left, than undercutting the South’s cause helped him with anybody.

I’m sure my reasoning is too simple, but Lincoln had already won his election when he gave the inaugural speech, 7 states had already seceded, and 6 weeks later the war started. People who were upset that his speech was too wimpy would still support the war effort.

Maybe it didn’t actually hurt him that much.

35

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 4:19 pm

#33 MPAV

But if they were willing to give up (and arm!!!!) their slaves there would have been nothing to fight about and no civil war in the first place.

It depends. The Yankees were doing economic colonialism, treating them as a place to get cotton and some other raw materials and then sell manufactured goods to. Mildly inhibiting slavery wasn’t the only way the US government was keeping them poor, and the other stuff didn’t stop until after WWII.

If we’re talking fantasy in which the South was willing and able to give up slavery, they might have understood the situation enough to want their independence anyway.

36

MPAVictoria 01.12.15 at 4:32 pm

“It depends. The Yankees were doing economic colonialism, treating them as a place to get cotton and some other raw materials and then sell manufactured goods to. Mildly inhibiting slavery wasn’t the only way the US government was keeping them poor, and the other stuff didn’t stop until after WWII.”

You are really buying into a particular narrative of the causes of the civil war written by Southern apologists. When in fact the ONLY important reason for the war was Treason in Defence of Slavery.

The first paragraph of Virginia’s ordinance of secession:

The people of Virginia in their ratification of the Constitution of the United States of America, adopted by them in convention on the twenty-fifth day of June, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight, having declared that the powers granted under said Constitition were derived from the people of the United States and might be resumed whensoever the same should be perverted to their injury and oppression, and the Federal Government having perverted said powers not only to the injury of the people of Virginia, but to the oppression of the Southern slave-holding States.

Also the Cornerstone Speech given by the Vice President of the Confederacy. Here is the money shot:
“Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone 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”

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

37

Theophylact 01.12.15 at 4:39 pm

Stephen @ #29: I suggest that the words and behavior of fictional characters are evidence for exactly nothing.

An author can choose exactly what to leaves out of a character’s argument as well as what to put in, and can provide that character with both a platform and weak or no opposition.

The Devil does tend to get all the good lines; that doesn’t mean either that he’s right or that he’s meant to be right.

38

Seth Gordon 01.12.15 at 4:59 pm

In 1860, the total value of slaves held in the South was almost half of the total value of all Southern wealth (see table 4 here). I have a hard time imagining what, short of warfare, would have inspired Southern aristocrats to effectively take half their money and set it on fire.

(Even compensating the slaveholders for the loss of their “property” would have been infeasible. In 1860, the national debt was about $65 million and the market value of the slaves was over $3 billion.)

39

rea 01.12.15 at 5:11 pm

Lincoln had already won his election when he gave the inaugural speech, 7 states had already seceded, and 6 weeks later the war started.

Well, the inaugural address was pretty consistent with the Cooper Union speech of 1859:

http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/cooper.htm

40

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 6:31 pm

#36 MPAV

“It depends. The Yankees were doing economic colonialism, treating them as a place to get cotton and some other raw materials and then sell manufactured goods to. Mildly inhibiting slavery wasn’t the only way the US government was keeping them poor, and the other stuff didn’t stop until after WWII.”

You are really buying into a particular narrative of the causes of the civil war written by Southern apologists.

No, not at all. I’m creating a fantasy. I do not claim that the stupid ignorant southerners understood anything about economics or realized what was being done to them. I merely point out that if we create a fantasy where they were smart enough to actually give up slavery, they might in that fantasy case still prefer not to be ruled by the Yankees, to the point that they would defend themselves if attacked.

In reality, their wealthiest people cooperated with the exploitation, and when they created their own government they did nothing to fix the problems. They made no attempt to set up a financial system that could begin meet their needs. They printed money without collecting taxes because the problems of tax collection were beyond their capabilities, and there was every reason to expect that confederate money would wind up like Continentals did — even if they had somehow not lost the war.

41

MPAVictoria 01.12.15 at 6:34 pm

So why create the fantasy? I mean we could fantasize about anything but why write it down as a blog comment and share it with the world?

42

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 6:44 pm

#41 MPAV

I mean we could fantasize about anything but why write it down as a blog comment and share it with the world?

I enjoyed it and hoped other people would too.

Imagine we somehow handled the slavery issue without a fight, and then it turned out that the result was a longer, more bitter, more devastating civil war. Apart from the idea that the south actually could get rid of slavery, which I can’t really imagine, the rest looks kind of plausible to me.

43

bob mcmanus 01.12.15 at 6:48 pm

You are really buying into a particular narrative of the causes of the civil war written by Southern apologists. When in fact the ONLY important reason for the war was Treason in Defence of Slavery.

Forgot one. In 1861 Tsar Alexander II freed Russian serfs.

See comment 4 upthread for the others. I just cannot accept all these coincidences of political, economic, and agrarian restructuring on a global basis within 10-20 years of each other, and need for myself to look beyond “American Exceptionalism, Hell yeah, even if we are exceptionally evil, well not us, the evil Southrons were exceptionally like totally different from all the quasi-feudalistic landowners in the world. And they started it for no good reason.”

I also expect “Well, serfs aren’t peasants aren’t slaves etc. Etc.”

Mostly I expect “WTF are you talking about?”

44

parse 01.12.15 at 6:58 pm

I merely point out that if we create a fantasy where they were smart enough to actually give up slavery, they might in that fantasy case still prefer not to be ruled by the Yankees, to the point that they would defend themselves if attacked.

In what sense were they ruled by Yankees? Southern whites were disproportionately represented in Congress because of the 3/5 Compromise. And where does the part about defending themselves if attacked come in? The Confederacy initiated aggression to start the Civil War.

45

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 6:59 pm

#5 Bob McManus

It was about the rationalizing and industrialization of the economy under a new formation of an ideological nation-state, conscript healthy army, etc.

Do you figure maybe a lot of important people realized that new technology would allow a new form of warfare, so they had to get ready? Because anybody who didn’t get ready fast enough was going down….

Or was it something else? I tend to sympathize with military explanations because with anything else you can possibly just ignore it. Like if we don’t get a functional alternative energy it will be hard for us but it’s the ones who have the dregs of the oil (and later the coal) who can keep efficient armies functioning so they win. Therefore alternative energy isn’t a necessity. But if something changes to make something else a key to military victory — suicide troops, flocks of tens of thousands of cheap drones, whatever — then either you master the new methods or you lose.

46

Bernard Yomtov 01.12.15 at 7:19 pm

Stephen @22,

Malaclypse@20: black slaves were a minority even in the Confederacy, surely?

In addition to the figures provided by rea you should note that reasonable numbers of white southerners opposed secession. I think it is hard to claim that the majority of southerners actually favored secession.

47

Bruce Wilder 01.12.15 at 7:21 pm

What’s “internationalizing” mean? Some scattered thoughts that might bring the thread back in the direction of the OP.

1848, the Year of Revolution in Europe, cast a long deep shadow on the American Civil War. 1848 was, itself, a great internationalizing of politics, as crises spread across the globe, synchronizing local politics with international politics even more dramatically than in the developments circa 1828-32. This rhythm of global politics would be repeating in the aftermath of the American Civil War, in the momentous reforms of 1867-71, and in the cosmopolitan emergence of modernism in the later century, and in the world wars of the 20th century.

Britain did not have a revolution in 1848, but the year did mark one of the peaks in the Chartist movement. The Corn Laws were repealed in 1846 under Peel, author of the 1834 Tamworth Manifesto and the epitome of a spirit of reforming conservatism. (Arguably, Lincoln, Seward and the Republican Party also represented a kind of reforming conservatism in U.S. politics.) William Cuffay, mixed race son of a black slave and a radical leader of the Chartist movement up till 1848, when he was transported to Tasmania, has become a celebrated figure in recent years and might be an interesting reference point for conservative reaction.

The European Potato failure that spread rapidly across northern Europe in 1845-46, caused a subsistence crisis that persisted through the remainder of that decade. It was, by far, most severe in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands of course, and though the death toll from famine on the Continent was orders of magnitude less, it nevertheless brought on the political conditions for unrest.

Though chattel slavery, per se, had been unknown in Europe for decades if not centuries, severe oppression within the political order was familiar, and the deprivations and chastisements of that oppression were matters open to criticism and reform, for better and worse, under the emerging liberal doctrines and order.

The responsibility of government to organize relief and manage markets was brought into sharp ideological controversy. The emerging system of wage labor and conditions in cities presented novel challenges.

The right of authority to chastise, neglect and abuse members of the lower orders in various contexts — in the military and navy, aboard merchant ships, in criminal proceedings, in prisons and workhouses, in the course of organizing gang work (as in construction of railroads or in traditional farming) — had resonance with the stark concept of slavery — the slave having no political rights or rights of personal dignity, an experience shared or witnessed commonly in early 19th century Europe, and though common, also widely regarded as anomalous and a great wrong requiring reform.

The extreme brutality of feudal punishments — public flogging of vagrants, criminals, sailors and soldiers, for example — had been brought into question in the late 18th century and efforts at reform crossed over into questioning more novel developments, like the workhouse and debtor’s prisons. Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities was first published in 1859; Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables in 1862.

The competence of privileged leaders was also being questioned — why was the master the master? One of the great scandals of the Crimean War, for example, was the logistical failure to provide adequate clothing, shelter and food for British troops. Why was a volunteer woman necessary to bring about the most basic provision of sanitation and medical care?

At another level, the Crimean War was itself a consequence of the breakdown of the reactionary triple alliance, which had had its last hurrah in the Russian suppression of the liberal Hungarian 1848 revolt against Hapsburg rule. The Crimean War happened at all because the ungrateful Hapsburgs did not support Russia in its machinations against the Turks.

The Irish Potato Famine triggered a massive immigration, unprecedented in its scale, and with the failure of the 1848 revolutions, massive immigration spread across Germany and became an important feature of politics in both Germany and the United States, as it already was in Britain and Ireland. (The British made extensive use of transportation — compulsory immigration, and the substitution of transportation for more horrifying penalties was a key element in such reforms of penal practice as took place.) Immigration became a relief valve in German politics as it was in British politics.

Very large German communities swelled rapidly in the U.S. and became politically important. Lincoln himself, for a time, secretly owned a German-language weekly for the purpose of bringing Germans into the Republican Party.

German immigrants, many of them refugees from 1848, would figure strongly in the politics of antislavery and the Civil War, and, in general, in the development of more idealistic standards for the treatment of persons. The development of humanitarian international law — the later “Geneva Conventions” — was strongly influenced by the 1863 Lieber Code governing the treatment of prisoners of war. Lieber had been a Prussian soldier, wounded at Waterloo, and, after 20 years of living in South Carolina was strongly anti-slavery.

In general, the German immigrants were strongly antislavery. The huge German community around St. Louis would ensure that Missouri remained in the Union, even though the state government collapsed into chaos and parts of central and western Missouri fell into guerilla war. Germans in Texas became martyrs to the antislavery cause. (I vaguely recall Karl Marx contemplated immigration to Texas.)

Immigration also brought religious issues to the fore, as many Irish and German immigrants were Catholics. The Catholic Church hierarchy back in Rome was sinking deeply into reaction in the mid-19th century. In the U.S. the major Protestant denominations split, north-south, in the period leading up the Civil War, over the morality of slavery, but I don’t believe official Catholic teaching of the time condemned slavery at all.

And, there was reaction to massive immigration in U.S., of course, including some fairly extreme hostility to Irish Catholics. The last Whig Presidential candidate, Winfield Scott, was accused of being anti-Catholic and was implicated in a scandal involving the draconian punishment of Irish soldiers in the Mexican War. (Winfield Scott was responsible for the outline of what became the successful Union military grand strategy of the Civil War.)

The Know-Nothing anti-immigrant movement became a core component of the new Republican Party, particularly in Massachusetts and Ohio, while the Irish and German Catholics in the northern cities became a constituency of the northern Democratic Party.

48

bob mcmanus 01.12.15 at 7:23 pm

45: Two quotes from Wiki “Serfdom in Russia”

“The Russian state also continued to support serfdom due to military conscription. The conscripted serfs dramatically increased the size of the Russian military.[15] With a larger military Russia achieved victory in the Napoleonic Wars and Russo-Persian Wars; this did not change the disparity between Russia and the rest of Western Europe, who were experiencing agricultural and industrial revolutions. Compared to Western Europe it was clear that Russia was at an economic disadvantage. “

“In 1861 Alexander II freed all serfs in a major agrarian reform, stimulated in part by his view that “it is better to liberate the peasants from above” than to wait until they won their freedom by risings “from below”.

I’m looking at Italian Unification, which on the surface looks like nationalism.

Rule: If many similar things are happening in a short period of time, it is wise to look for a common cause.

Ruleset

1) The ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. You find that class and those rules by looking at the “ground” and working from there. IOW, what is happening, structure processes, events, relations.
2) The ruling ideas are rarely to be found in what people say or even what people do. They are found in what happens and who it benefits.

49

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 7:41 pm

#44 parse

In what sense were they ruled by Yankees? Southern whites were disproportionately represented in Congress because of the 3/5 Compromise.

The government in those days was funded by a tax on imports. Etc. Getting represented in Congress probably helped them some, but not enough.

And where does the part about defending themselves if attacked come in? The Confederacy initiated aggression to start the Civil War.

Sure, but in my fantasy where they had what it took to give up slavery, they might easily avoid starting a shooting war until after they were attacked. There’s a doctrine that says when time is not on your side you should attack as hard as you can right now and hope the enemy will choose to stop fighting before their big advantages kick in. This is a dangerous idea, but sometimes there’s no alternative. Other times it might work better instead of hoping the enemy will settle for losing a short war, don’t attack at all and hope the enemy will choose not to fight.

50

parse 01.12.15 at 8:00 pm

The government in those days was funded by a tax on imports. Etc. Getting represented in Congress probably helped them some, but not enough.

Oh, it certainly helped them enough. The relevant tax on imports was the Tariff of 1857, authored by Virginia Senator Robert Hunter, which was a major tax reduction widely supported by the southern legislators in Congress. The Republicans took advantage of Southern secession to replace it with the the protectionist Morrill Tariff in 1861. If the South was really ruled by Yankees, they wouldn’t have had to wait.

Sure, but in my fantasy where they had what it took to give up slavery, they might easily avoid starting a shooting war until after they were attacked.

Usually the way these alternative history fantasies work is that you change one major premise but keep other things historically accurate to speculate how things would have gone except for whatever it is you’ve changed to generate the fantasy. Just changing things willy-nilly isn’t likely to provide captivating scenarios of what-might-have-been.

51

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 8:14 pm

#50 parse

Usually the way these alternative history fantasies work is that you change one major premise but keep other things historically accurate to speculate how things would have gone except for whatever it is you’ve changed to generate the fantasy. Just changing things willy-nilly isn’t likely to provide captivating scenarios of what-might-have-been.

If you change one little thing and keep everything else the same, you can imagine how the ripples from that might have spread.

If you change something big and drastic, it makes no sense to try to keep the rest the same.

Like, if you imagine that the Cuban Missile Crisis negotiations failed and 50 US cities got nuked before it was sorted out, and the USA got significant humanitarian assistance afterward from Mexico, you could if you wanted have the 1968 election be between Nixon and Humphrey with major issues of negro civil rights and Vietnam. But I wouldn’t feel much compulsion to.

Ending slavery would be big enough to disrupt everything else in the south.

52

Stephen 01.12.15 at 8:27 pm

Theophylact@37: you are of course absolutely right that words and behavior of fictional characters are _evidence_ for absolutely nothing.

Arguments put into the mouths of fictional characters, though, are a different matter. In real life, evidence given by someone of bad character is worth very little: but the strength of an argument is quite independent of the weakness of the moral standing of whoever puts it forward. The argument has to be refuted, or not, on its own terms.

At least, that’s how I see it. You may not agree.

53

mud man 01.12.15 at 9:41 pm

Does Rawls talk anywhere about how a region divides itself into Peoples? Since we are being careful not to conflate ‘states’, CSA would seem to qualify as a territory with common morality and some degree of lawful order. Sorry about the humanitarian rights part, but you can’t have everything and the League of Peoples is supposed to assist in such cases of backwardness. Which globally is more or less what happened, chattel slavery was eliminated globally with many sharp police actions but only the one 20th century style total war.

So the question, doesn’t Rawlsian redistributionalism demand that the unpleasantness of the 1850’s be considered a power grab by the north? That is, the main, practical, or consequential goal was to preserve the Union in a way that should be condemned by the Society of Peoples?

… esp. since it by no means solved the American race problem.

54

J Thomas 01.12.15 at 10:14 pm

#53 mudman

So the question, doesn’t Rawlsian redistributionalism demand that the unpleasantness of the 1850’s be considered a power grab by the north? That is, the main, practical, or consequential goal was to preserve the Union in a way that should be condemned by the Society of Peoples?

That’s a valid way to think of it, but a lot of people at the time believed that main force was the only way slavery would end in the US south and they did not want to wait to try anything else.

Perhaps kind of similarly, the sanctions placed on Germany after WWI should be condemned, and without the violent expansionism practiced by the Germans after that it could be argued that …. But no, this was not an unpleasantness that many people to day believe should have been “helped”. The only acceptable course was to kill them until they surrendered.

55

Matt 01.12.15 at 10:18 pm

doesn’t Rawlsian redistributionalism demand that the unpleasantness of the 1850’s be considered a power grab by the north?

No. From this and other comments, it’s clear that you’ve not actually read any Rawls, or at least not more than tiny bit. I recommend doing so if you want to say something about his views, or what they imply. (It’s not at all obvious how The Law of Peoples would be applied to states before recent times, but it’s not meant to be applied to them, so that’s not a problem, I think. States holding slaves would, of course, be outlaw states under Rawls’s account anyway. But this is really irrelevant to the discussion here.)

56

LFC 01.12.15 at 10:36 pm

mud man @53:
I haven’t read Rawls’ The Law of Peoples, but I rather doubt the CSA would qualify as a ‘decent’ regime as he uses that phrase. (Note: it has nothing to do w the recent use of “decent” in the post-9/11 debates/polemics.) I would also note that the link in mud man’s name goes to an apparently nonexistent Twitter account.

57

LFC 01.12.15 at 10:36 pm

Posted my 56 before seeing Matt’s 55.

58

LFC 01.12.15 at 10:39 pm

J Thomas
That’s a valid way to think of it

No it isn’t. See Matt @55.

59

The Temporary Name 01.12.15 at 11:52 pm

The slaver leadership elected war, not because they thought Lincoln would abolish slavery, but because Republican policies meant that slavery was doomed in the long or even medium term.

It’s still baffling to me that they did exactly what it would take to destroy themselves rather than face the winding-down of their enterprise. I’d think you have to have a sense of urgency to get a war accomplished: what were the leadership actually suffering? Not a rhetorical question.

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J Thomas 01.13.15 at 12:42 am

#50 TTN

“The slaver leadership elected war, not because they thought Lincoln would abolish slavery, but because Republican policies meant that slavery was doomed in the long or even medium term.”

It’s still baffling to me that they did exactly what it would take to destroy themselves rather than face the winding-down of their enterprise. I’d think you have to have a sense of urgency to get a war accomplished: what were the leadership actually suffering? Not a rhetorical question.

I think they fundamentally had no concept of other ways to survive. I have the idea that for their upper classes, the society was organized around honor and mostly not around competence. They could not be themselves and go into trades.

Faced with a richer, more predatory upper class that intended to destroy them, honor called for the men to fight and if necessary die defending their society.

They had ideas for ways to survive. If those had worked they would be considered visionary. They failed, and in hindsight they were bound to fail. But if they had succeeded then in hindsight we would see reasons why it worked. They couldn’t really see ahead. People often can’t. I don’t know how much it’s that we come up with plausible but fictitious stories afterward to explain what happened, and how much it’s that we realize the truth about which factors were important afterward, when we couldn’t have known ahead of time.

They thought that King Cotton would bring them power like the spice in Dune. “The cotton must flow!” But they weren’t really that important to the rest of the world after all.

I’m not sure I can get it across and I might have it wrong anyway. But imagine that muslims were really on the way to taking over, and you knew that after they took over here they would require you to convert to Islam, and you must not be caught speaking anything but arabic, and they would ship you and your family to central africa where you would get a small subsistence farm and would not be allowed any gasoline, electricity, or shoes. Would you fight? Even knowing your side would probably lose?

Or would you peacefully watch them winding down your society?

61

Peter T 01.13.15 at 12:54 am

59 is a good question. I think the answer lies somewhere in the individual’s sub-conscious knowledge that we are not merely a social species, but a eu-social one: without others we cannot long survive (think of how languages, which are central to our brain development, are not viable below some few hundreds of speakers). So the instinct is to defend our social organisations, whatever they are, to the death. Often because we cannot collectively imagine a transition, or because the threatened or promised new order amounts, to some significant group, to collective death. The South fought because slavery was its central institution: without it, it would not be the South.

62

J. Parnell Thomas 01.13.15 at 1:19 am

Here’s something I bookmarked the other day, mainly because it was so entertaining, but the explanation given is that they were “stupid and deluded.”
http://pando.com/2014/11/20/the-war-nerd-why-sherman-was-right-to-burn-atlanta/

I also happened to read The March of Folly a couple of weeks ago, which basically had the thesis that these are not uncommon qualities.

63

Peter T 01.13.15 at 1:36 am

My comment @ 61 is also relevant to the often raised question of why so many people vote against their own material interests. The instinct is “to hold tightly on to nurse, for fear of finding something worse”. People know that if the ship goes down, they too will drown. The left has the difficult job of persuading people that extensive renovations will not endanger the vessel. Better a year in steerage than a day in the ocean.

64

MPAVictoria 01.13.15 at 1:54 am

“Faced with a richer, more predatory upper class that intended to destroy them, honor called for the men to fight and if necessary die defending their society.

More predatory…. You believe the northern elite was more predatory then the slave holding south? Because that is pretty fucked up. Or maybe just a poor choice of words on your part?

65

Ebenezer Scrooge 01.13.15 at 11:40 am

There is the assumption upthread that the South didn’t have a chance in the war because of the North’s far greater–if originally latent–military capacity. This involves an ancillary assumption: that both sides would fight with their full resources and commitment. This, of course, is why the US won the Vietnam War, and the English the American Revolution.

The South did fight with full resources and commitment; the North did not. Until Sherman’s capture of Atlanta, the North was pretty ambivalent about the war: unlike the South, where dissent was crushed hard. (Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus was nothing in comparison.) And the North never quite shifted to a full-time war economy.

Until the 1864 re-election of Lincoln, the outcome of the Civil War was highly contingent. But as Rea@26 points out, the slavers knew that, without secession, slavery was doomed in the medium-to-long run. (There was also the issue of exhaustion of the soil.) The slavers took a rational gamble in starting the war–and lost.

66

Trader Joe 01.13.15 at 12:50 pm

@59
A very good question and I’ve never seen a great answer.

There were efforts to ‘wind down’ the enterprise of slavery and they were proving ineffective. Banning importation served to increase the value of the existing stock and encourgage the more uncrupulous to impress free blacks. It also made owners more desperate to cling to their ‘property’ and ‘way of life.’

I’d note that the states which agitated earliest and most often for war were those most removed from the North such as South Carolina and Alabama who likely didn’t perceive the war would be fought on their turf and likely over estimated their ability to bring a conflict to a quick end with hopes of maintaining the status quo.

Notably Virginia, which rightly feared the battle would be waged in their literal backyard sought various means for compromise (with a range of views as to how serious or not these proposals really were). Early compromise proposals didn’t seem all that realistic, but later ones did seem to provide at least a basis for a ‘settlement’ but by then (in my view) War Hawks in Washington had become of the view that war was inevitable and stopped negotiating in good faith (i.e. war hawks weren’t confined to just the south, the north had them too).

Another thought that occurs is that if the issue of slavery was ONLY economic, a settlement could have been brokered allowing a phase-out or other go-slow solutions. Unfortunately it wasn’t solely an economic issue for either the north or the south – moral and social issues don’t lend themselves to half measures. An abolitionist wouldn’t be inclined to view it as a victory that immoral laws were to be maintained for only say, 20 more years, nor would a plantation owner welcome a shot-clock on his wealth an influence for fear that you can’t really release a genie from a bottle slowly.

Good food for thought and a good “what if history” sort of question as a non-war solution may also have forestalled some of the greater abuses of the reconstruction.

67

mdc 01.13.15 at 2:03 pm

“It’s still baffling to me that they did exactly what it would take to destroy themselves rather than face the winding-down of their enterprise.”

“winding-down” = losses in the billions

68

Ze Kraggash 01.13.15 at 2:30 pm

““winding-down” = losses in the billions”

Is there a convincing calculation proving that converting chattel slavery into wage slavery (for the industry/conditions in question) would amount to losses in the billions? Or should it be immediately obvious?

69

mdc 01.13.15 at 3:04 pm

“Or should it be immediately obvious?”

I think so. Assume wages are roughly equivalent to “maintenance” costs of enslaved people, so that’s a wash. But the slave-owner’s entire fortune in slave property- that is, the value of his slaves on the market- is obliterated if slavery is abolished. The vast majority of the wealth of the Southern propertied class is reduced to zero. Their most profitable product (human beings) is permanently banned.

70

Rakesh 01.13.15 at 3:11 pm

In calling forth supporters, American slavery may well have given birth to or at least strengthened the idea that the hierarchy of groups was stable due not to any transcendental force, e.g. the Curse of Ham or a Creator making castes of out different parts of his body or various metals, but for purely naturalistic reasons, e.g. a natural polygenic process or the evolution of hard inheritable group differences over deep ethnological time despite a shared human origin (opposition to Nott’s theory polygenesis need not necessarily lead to a rejection of racism) .

While racism can be defined in various ways, I have long thought it best to understand it as a naturalistic and pseudo-scientific doctrine. American slavery may well have been the birthplace of racism in this sense; and European thinkers came to understand class and ethnic differences on the Continent with these ideas about American racial differences as a model.

71

bianca steele 01.13.15 at 3:12 pm

Something that’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that when you read English novels, people are always making their small fortune and using it to buy 5% bonds, thus joining the leisure class. In the pre Civil War South, the equivalent would have been to buy some human property.

72

Philo Vaihinger 01.13.15 at 3:13 pm

I think you are right about N.

People want to read and teach and in many cases esteem him, so they are loathe to take him literally on this matter.

73

Ze Kraggash 01.13.15 at 3:21 pm

@mdc Hmm. Human beings still procreate, and they have to lease themselves.
True, if I just bought some slaves and I suddenly have to release them, I lose. But then someone has just sold some slaves, and they win, got money for nothing. It’s a wash. Besides, they could establish some rules: you amortize your cost over some years, and then you’re free.

74

Rakesh 01.13.15 at 3:31 pm

Andre Pichot has an interesting and controversial discussion of how far Gobineau’s biological ideas about racial inequality differ from evolutionary ones in which Africans were thought to be closer to apes than the evolved pure Aryans at the summit of the evolutionary process. Don’t have Pichot’s Pure Society with me, but I shall reread his discussion of Gobineau’s ideas about race. Gobineau’s ideas could be interpreted in such a way that every race had its genius of course as long as it was not too admixed with others (Leopold Senghor would disturbingly cite Gobineau approvingly–art is negré); at any rate, Pichot argues that Gobineau’s ideas did not point in the direction of negative eugenics but rather had an aristocratic feel to them.

75

J Thomas 01.13.15 at 3:34 pm

#68 Ze Kraggash

Is there a convincing calculation proving that converting chattel slavery into wage slavery (for the industry/conditions in question) would amount to losses in the billions? Or should it be immediately obvious?

I don’t have numbers on that. But I have the impression that the south generally was cash-poor, and slaves probably served as collateral. If you are “wealthy” and you buy stuff on credit, having slaves is evidence that you’re good for it.

To do wage-slavery you need to be able to pay wages.

Of course that could be finessed. After all, various mining operations paid in company scrip redeemable at the company store. Under necessity people invented share-cropping. They might have come up with some sort of financial system to let them do wage-slavery. Yankee garment-makers already had “factors”, they could get a contract and show it to a loanshark, get the money to pay their workers, and when they got paid then pay off the debt, fire the workers, and look for a chance to do it again.

Maybe the North was simply a better investment opportunity. So the money got sucked there, and mostly stayed there. The South didn’t have a whole lot to work with except for natural resources (warmer but otherwise not much better than the North) and human capital. If they gave away that capital, would it just wander north and become wage-slaves?

The south was poorer than the north even before the war, and they didn’t see a lot of opportunities to succeed. They didn’t want to lose the only one they knew. But they did lose it, and right up to WWII the south stayed poor. “Colonialism begins at home.”

I think it could be a persuasive story. As to calculating it in detail, there are surely hundreds of PhD theses available in that, arguing it back and forth and every which way.

76

Rakesh 01.13.15 at 3:42 pm

Barbara Solow has argued that slavery was profitable because it increased the supply of labor, allowed for economies of scale and served as an asset against which credit could be extended. She also used to Domar to argue that you cannot have all three at once–free land, free labor and an aristocracy. Solow’s work (as well as Inikori’s) is older than the new work by Walter Johnson, Edward Baptist and Sven Beckert. Which I’ve haven’t yet read.

77

Barry 01.13.15 at 3:43 pm

“Maybe the North was simply a better investment opportunity. So the money got sucked there, and mostly stayed there. The South didn’t have a whole lot to work with except for natural resources (warmer but otherwise not much better than the North) and human capital. If they gave away that capital, would it just wander north and become wage-slaves?”

From my recollection, the South was a very good investment opportunity, and Northern money happily flowed there.

The reason that the South was ‘under-developed’ was that it was developed in a very specific, narrow and lucrative direction: slave plantaions/crops. The people running the South didn’t want industrialization, infrastructure, etc. They wanted to be the aristocratic 1% of a slave-based agricultural society, with extensive privileges.

78

Trader Joe 01.13.15 at 3:52 pm

@74 & 75

These are right. The South was cash poor and slaves, rather than land, were frequently used as collateral for loans. As someone suggested above, owning slaves had some similarities to a declining value bond – they were purchased for say $1,000, you paid their upkeep but in theory benefitted from their labor sufficient to cover the upkeep cost plus the borrowed carry on the purchase and hopefully a spread. They would decline in value as they aged and were then traded or sold (or sometimes freed) as their utility declined relative to their value as an asset (a shameful way to think about human beings to be sure, but this was the calculus).

As a result, to reach a compromise on freeing current slaves over time, there needed to be a mechanism to repay or reduce the related debts which added a degree to which Northern money interests likewise weren’t eager to see the institution ended via war and produced in some respects a moral hazard as far as a Southerners willingness to wage war to defend his property.

When the war ended the landowners had debts accumulated related to the purchase of their slaves which banks then sought to collect which (among other factors) is what bankrupted large parts of the Southern aristocracy or forced them to sell their land holdings at pennies on the dollar to those with the ready cash to payoff debts.

79

Trader Joe 01.13.15 at 3:55 pm

I’d add that the major cash crops – cotton and tobacco, were inherently labor intensive crops at the time which is why labor, and lots of it, were the best things to leverage to produce returns….the cotton gin (1870s) would likely have destroyed the value of slaves if it hadn’t already been destroyed by the war.

80

Matt 01.13.15 at 4:12 pm

the cotton gin (1870s) would likely have destroyed the value of slaves if it hadn’t already been destroyed by the war.

That can’t be right, as the cotton gin was invented in the late 1700s, and it’s pretty typically thought that it was responsible for making slavery _more_ profitable and useful. Until the development of the cotton gin, slavery was slowly declining, but after it was invented, using slaves in conjunction with the cotton gin became very profitable, leading to an increase in slavery. See here, for a short account:

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

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Ze Kraggash 01.13.15 at 4:24 pm

“slaves, rather than land, were frequently used as collateral for loans”

Is that a fact? If you were asking me for a loan, I wouldn’t want your slaves as a collateral. At the very minimum, I’d be demanding a good insurance policy. Land – yes, good, tangible collateral; won’t run away, won’t get sick, won’t die. Slaves? Meh.

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J Thomas 01.13.15 at 4:25 pm

This is a minor point, but my understanding is that workable cotton gins resulted in cotton becoming much more important than it had been before, and the patent came before 1800.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cotton_gin

Thomas Jefferson expended a good deal of effort into finding profitable labor-intensive tasks for slaves, and was not all that successful. (His plantation was in hilly country and his river wasn’t navigable until after he put a lot of work into it. He tried making bricks and insulated his house with them when they didn’t sell well. He tried making indigo, which was quite labor-intensive but was too bad at poisoning the slaves. Etc.)

Slavers paid attention to labor-intensive low-tech work because it fit their comparative advantage. Han Fei in warring-states china had a slogan, “This plan is so robust not even a slave could jinx it!” Slaves were traditionally considered unreliable for working with things that were easy to sabotage. And when the economy slowed down, slaves could not be profitably sold. Their upkeep continued even when there was no work for them. Unlike wage labor they didn’t cost much more to work longer hours than shorter.

But in general wage slavery was more efficient.

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Guest 01.13.15 at 4:31 pm

A quick check of google returns Eli Whitney inventing the cotton gin in 1793

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Trader Joe 01.13.15 at 4:40 pm

@79
You’re right…not sure what I was thinking and made a hash of that point.

My point was simply that the key cash crops were cotton and tobacco and that these were very labor intensive. The cotton gin was a facilitator to the growth of cotton plantations, not a barrier.

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bianca steele 01.13.15 at 4:46 pm

It’s true that tobacco ruined the soil, and cotton grew much better in Alabama than in Virginia. But even if traditional plantation labor was becoming less profitable in Virginia and North Carolina, it was still profitable around the Mississippi and would have been useful for quite a while in, say Nevada, or Guatemala, if the South could have colonized those places.

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stevenjohnson 01.13.15 at 5:00 pm

Rakesh @ 70 That seems to me to be very plausible, but as to evidence…In addition, the whole notion of democracy as something for white men, where every white man is equal to another, and aristocratic notions of taste, style and class distinction rejected, where a Great Man like Andrew Jackson dispensing heroic guidance seems to be in many respects a political inspiration for fascism. The use of the state, including militias, to conquer Native American lands and redistribute them to the white citizenry, or the slave patrols that kept the white citizens safe, anticipates some of the alleged redistributive aspects of fascism, its so-called socialism.

The interesting thing is whether democracy needs to cement national identity by defining itself in distinction to the outsider. New democracies, like post-imperial Germany and Autstria, or Turkey under the Young Turks and later Ataturk, or the successor states to Yugoslavia, or Ukraine, seem to be accompanied by an array of phenomena commonly deemed to be fascistic, such as genocide and ethnic cleansing.

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bianca steele 01.13.15 at 5:09 pm

Ze @ 80: Consider the connotations of “chattel.”

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Barry 01.13.15 at 5:09 pm

John Thmoas: “That’s a valid way to think of it, but a lot of people at the time believed that main force was the only way slavery would end in the US south and they did not want to wait to try anything else.”

This is so wrong,…..

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mud man 01.13.15 at 5:13 pm

@Matt: if you can just wave LofP away “not meant to apply” to the actual world, whatever would be the point?? Why would it get all the attention it does? Literary merit?? If you mean I don’t appear to be making sense of it, true that. Slaveholding (Belgium, Netherlands) and other colonial (England) societies were not “outlaws” in the 19c, so why was it justified to send an armed force into Virginia rather than Belgium? Well, I guess we did that later didn’t we, but whole different causus belli.

@JThomas: pologies for the autofilled dead link, which target withered away in lonely sorrow. If anybody ever wants to actually talk, try mpzrd at yahoo.

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stevenjohnson 01.13.15 at 5:26 pm

If I remember correctly, one of Thomas Jefferson’s initiatives was to abolish foreign importation of slaves. There was I believe widespread support for the measure in Virginia, which became an exporter of slaves to other slave states. That is, slaves were a cash crop.

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Bernard Yomtov 01.13.15 at 5:34 pm

mdc@69,

Assume wages are roughly equivalent to “maintenance” costs of enslaved people, so that’s a wash. But the slave-owner’s entire fortune in slave property- that is, the value of his slaves on the market- is obliterated if slavery is abolished.

I don’t think that works. The asset value of a slave was simply the value produced in excess of your “maintenance costs.” If wages are the same as the maintenance costs then there is no difference between using slaves and paying wages. The profits derive from the planter’s ownership of the land.

A slave costs, say, $1000/yr to support and produces $1200 worth of crops, yielding $200 to the planter. Free the slave and pay a worker $1000 to do the same thing and you are no worse off. No one will buy the slave unless the slave produces more profit than an employee. In your example there is no such excess.

Rakesh,

Barbara Solow has argued that slavery was profitable because it increased the supply of labor, allowed for economies of scale and served as an asset against which credit could be extended.

What exactly were these economies of scale? And whatever the benefits of slavery to the slaveowner they need to be weighed against the costs. Anything is profitable if you count only gains.

I’d argue that holding labor costs down by force is a poor idea, because it discourages industrialization, and ends up using land for less than the best purposes.

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Mdc 01.13.15 at 6:55 pm

What would the Koch brothers say if you told them that in a few years, no one will be able to buy or sell natural resources? Like that, but more so.

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Matt 01.13.15 at 7:21 pm

if you can just wave LofP away “not meant to apply” to the actual world, whatever would be the point??

The Law of Peoples is meant to be an outline of principles of justice for the foreign policy for a liberal state. It’s not meant to be used to make historical judgements about the past, especially about non-liberal states (as both the North and, especially, the South were.) That’s just not it’s purpose. It won’t tell you to brush twice a day and change your oil every 3000 miles, either, but none of those things mean that it’s “not meant to apply to the actual world”. If you want to talk about it, I really do suggest reading it beforehand. It will help you not make silly mistakes.

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J Thomas 01.13.15 at 7:40 pm

#88 mud man

@Matt: if you can just wave LofP away “not meant to apply” to the actual world, whatever would be the point?? Why would it get all the attention it does? Literary merit??

You get to take any ideas that LofP inspired in you, and apply them however you want.

Other people get to tell you that you are not using authentic LofP and that you have no right to express those ideas, because their understanding of LofP has priority.

If they bother you too much, agree with them that it isn’t LofP and discuss the same things with the serial numbers filed off.

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The Temporary Name 01.13.15 at 8:03 pm

“winding-down” = losses in the billions

Well maybe, but these were still the rich people with workable land and property, and the immediate end of slavery wasn’t apparent, though the eventual end might have been. By “winding down” I’m assuming a change over a span of years, which might be stupid. It isn’t obvious to me then, that rich southerners were suffering anything at the time (though students of the situation may correct me and I will be grateful) and the calculation around war vs. toughing it out still seems crazily impulsive.

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Bruce Wilder 01.13.15 at 8:34 pm

The Temporary Name @ 59: It’s still baffling to me that they did exactly what it would take to destroy themselves rather than face the winding-down of their enterprise. I’d think you have to have a sense of urgency to get a war accomplished: what were the leadership actually suffering? Not a rhetorical question.

It’s a very good question.

Lincoln summarized the substance of the political dispute in his First Inaugural in a single sentence: “One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended.”

This was a distillation of what Lincoln had said in the Lincoln – Douglas debates about what differentiated his politics from those of Douglas, with whom he agreed on many issues of policy. Lincoln was a conservative, denied knowing how to legally and peacefully end slavery in any finite period of time, denied wanting to end it when it was established, declaring himself open to compromise and committed to accepting and enforcing the law as it stood. But, on this one point, he insisted: slavery was morally wrong. Whatever he did on slavery as a matter of practical policy would be guided by a the conviction that slavery was wrong, and ought to be set on a course of ultimate extinction. Wrong. Morally wrong. Shameful.

Much is made, sometimes, about why slavery had to expand, to be viable. And, this is not entirely wrong-headed. Making a fortune by using slave gangs to develop a plantation in, say, the wilderness of Mississippi was a well-established method of making a fortune. It was how Jefferson Davis, among others, had made his fortune. Land and slaves. Buy cheap undeveloped land and use a gang of strong, young slaves to develop it. It was a brutal, risky method, as the work was difficult and the conditions unhealthy — many of the slaves would die from disease or overwork. Would-be aristocrats working alongside the slaves might well suffer themselves, as Jefferson Davis did, losing the sight of one eye.

The process was by no means near an end in 1860. There was still a lot of undeveloped land, with the necessary fertility. And, the South was still in the midst of a mania for land and slaves. Slaves had been bid up in value to remarkably high values, and there was sufficient surplus that slaves in the U.S. were able to more than reproduce their population. (This is not typical of slave regimes — usually slaves are so oppressed and deprived that they cannot reproduce their numbers. Slaves are literally used up at a high enough rate, that it is necessary to continually import new slaves. This is why ending the international slave trade was regarded in the 18th century as a strategic means to put slavery on the road to extinction: the number of slaves could be expected to dwindle, and slave holders forced to improve conditions.)

The seeking after economic rationales for the political demand to expand the realm of slavery overlooks the acute nature of the moral condemnation.

In the 18th century, there seems to have been a general acceptance among even elite slave owners that slavery was a bad thing, something the eventual end of which was to be dearly wished for. In Maryland and Virginia it was not uncommon for wealthy owners of slaves to manumit some or all of their slaves upon their own death. Robert E Lee’s father-in-law, George Washington Custis, the owner of the great plantation that is now Arlington National Cemetery, directed Lee to free his slaves, once the estate was settled. A fairly substantial population of free blacks, the result of these manumissions, resided in Maryland and Virginia. Societies were formed to finance the emigration of freed slaves back to Africa, and the benighted country of Liberia, the first at least nominally independent modern state in Africa, was founded with American help, alongside Sierra Leone, founded by British activists with similar ideas.

Slavery had ended in much of the U.S. in the years after the American Revolution, often in very short order. John Adams’ Constitution for Massachusetts used prefatory language echoing the Declaration of Independence’s fine words on the equality of men and in 1784 the state courts held that it made slavery illegal. Some states adopted schemes of gradual emancipation — it seemed to be a matter of just how large the economic interest in slaves loomed in State politics. New Jersey may still have had a handful of slaves on the eve of the Civil War.

The successive booms in cotton after 1820 created an economic demand for slaves, though, and, after 1830, that translated into a demand for moral rationales. “Slavery is good” emerged as an article of faith after 1830, in counterpoint to the emergence of an abolitionist movement, that took the evil of slavery to heart in a religion of moral conscience.

The economics were real and powerful, but I do not think you can understand the politics, without understanding that this was an issue of right and wrong, honor and dishonor, in a country that took both its founding ideology of democratic egalitarianism and its Christian religion very, very seriously. The most important Protestant denominations in the U.S. split geographically in the 1830s and 1840s over the morality of slavery.

On the economic side, the economic rationale of a slave plantation is schizophrenic, that is, involves a sharp split. The plantar is in the global money economy, trading for luxuries and manufactured goods with highly developed, industrialized and financialized societies far across the seas or at the other end of the continent. The plantar’s slaves are embedded in a primitive autarky of self-support: in addition to developing land and growing cash crops, they grow their own food and make their clothes, build their own homes. The plantar needs enough development to export his cotton and import his luxury, but not enough to threaten the autarky of his dependents. The plantar is in favor of improving river transport to the extent necessary to his purposes, but the plantar is opposed, otherwise, to public works, to railroads, to public education, to the rise of the money economy to encompass the needs of ordinary people, who might have other interests, other uses for the land.

The Slavepower, as it was called, had come to be seen by the 1850s, as opposed to development of the country. They were reluctant to support homesteading in the West. They were lukewarm about a transcontinental railroad. They were ambivalent about land-grant colleges. They were skeptical about a national banking system and about tariffs to support industrialization. On a more prosaic level, at the boundaries between slave country and free country in the hill country of Appalachia and along the Ohio River, there was a strong sense of hostility against slaves and slavery among the small farmers, who saw their efforts to develop roads or public education or to secure land titles, or just to earn an occasional wage in competition with slaves for hire, frustrated by the machinations of wealthy plantars.

Lincoln received a lower percentage of the popular vote than any one else ever elected to the Presidency, but he represented an overwhelming consensus on key issues of the day, regarding the urgent need to develop the country. On a transcontinental railroad, on land-grant colleges, on homesteading the West, on developing public education, there was broad and urgent agreement. When Lincoln dismisses the need in his First Inaugural to address ordinary administrative issues, he’s referencing this consensus. He agreed with his principal northern opponent, Stephen Douglas — another Illinois corporate lawyer — on almost every economic issue.

There’s a profound shift going on, in Lincoln’s election. A new political consensus has been established under the noisy controversies over slavery, and the structures of power are yielding. The South has lost the balance of slave states and free states in the Senate forever. Lincoln will be able to change the composition of the Supreme Court. But, all of that will be gradual and slow in its effects. If slavery were to be extinguished in law eventually, its extinction appears a remote prospect, unclear in its timing or shape.

What’s in front of the country is the moral issue. And, the South is not able to accept the opprobrium of slavery.

Secession is a withdrawing from the common enterprise, taking one’s ball and going home in a grand huff. Up to that point, the Southern plantar class is secure enough with the Pareto Paralysis that gripped the governance of national policy in the 1850s, every one with a veto, no one organized enough to effect their will against opposition. Withdrawing, instead of settling for a forty or more years of staged political retreats, releases the consensus of political opinion that has formed in the North in favor of industrial and western development like a tightly wound spring, releases that latent energy in one of the most rapid and transformative periods of change in American history.

The sense that honor is at stake drives the dynamics for the would-be Confederates, causing them to overlook the practical reality. The dramatic events that unfolded at Ft Sumter, triggering the actual outbreak of hostilities, made the contrasting nationalist and state rights’ interpretation of the Constitution into a morality play. Lincoln’s passive stance — the refusal to assail — brought the fatal weakness of the states’ rights / state secession argument into sharp relief. Under the Constitution, the Federal government rested on its own bottom, its own taxes, its own possession of properties, its own administrative structures, its own Constitution. Nothing a State could do, would actually disestablish the Federal government in any territory it claimed.

Nor was there any way to compel the national administration to treat with the Confederate commissioners, come to Washington to negotiate a separation the Confederates claimed was a fait accompli.

The garrison at Ft Sumter had run out of food and this was known to all. An effort by Union forces to relieve the garrison had failed. Jefferson Davis could have simply waiting out the evacuation. He chose a dramatic, but practically pointless bombardment. A reasonable interpretation is that he felt he needed the dramatic event to galvanize a Confederate national identity. He needed a moral event, to motivate Virginia and other border states to join the Confederacy and make it viable.

Morally, the logic of Jefferson Davis’ position was that he had to compel the United States, the North, to accept Southern independence as a fiat of Southerners. He could not do what might well have been feasible, which would be to negotiate a mutually acceptable separation. He could not argue and persuade those Northerners, who might well have wanted the South to go, to grant Confederate independence, because what the Confederates wanted was an independence that did not require the leave or by-the-by of their erstwhile compatriots. The permission of those, who held their peculiar institution in contempt, was not something the Confederates could even conceive of seeking.

It put the Confederate grand strategy under a fatal handicap, this need to get others to cooperate only under terms of compulsion.

The Confederates were terrible at the task of encouraging the peace factions at the North. They could not seem to understand that Northerners, who wanted peace, were not good candidates for insurrection. And, the Confederates were also terrible at foreign diplomacy. (The first envoy they sent to antislavery Britain was a loud-mouthed advocate of re-opening the international slave trade.)

Early in the war, a strange mass movement took place in the South to embargo cotton. This was not a centrally directed policy, though Jefferson Davis’ government went along without much deliberation or consideration. It was a popular movement that just seemed to happen spontaneously. And, it reflected a common popular delusion that Britain and France would be compelled for the lack of cotton to intervene decisively to force the U.S. to recognize Confederate independence. Cotton was King, after all.

It was completely at odds with the kind of course the Confederates would have to pursue to win a war of attrition against an industrialized country. They should have exported all the cotton they could to warehouses in Europe, before the Union could make a blockade effective, and then use that stored cotton to bankroll their efforts. They did the opposite, making the Union blockade effective, before there were any Union ships to enforce it.

It was a grave strategic mistake, but not one made by a singular leader, but rather one driven by a shared popular delusion about how one goes about persuading other people and organizing common efforts. Like the omission of “general welfare” from the preface of the Confederate Constitution, it was telling about the moral qualities of an emergent people. It would be reflected in many other areas of economic policy and finance, as well as military policy, as the Confederates proved reluctant to tax themselves, and found it nearly impossible to run a railroad or provide something as basic as salt.

Militarily, even under the brilliant Robert E Lee, they continue to seek a Cannae, a dramatic victory that would have a moral effect in compelling the Union to accept Confederate claims of independence on Confederate terms. By contrast, the Union, following in outline the Anaconda Plan, sought progressively to undermine the economic capacity of the Confederates to continue the war. The Union, contrary to popular belief, did not have overwhelming superiority at outset, but applied the force systematically and progressively to change the odds, until, at the end, they did have overwhelming superiority. The Confederates were fighting with a romantic strategy of forlorn hope from the very beginning, seeking moral vindication for two of the most despicable ambitions in human history: to destroy a constitutional democracy and to keep slaves.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.13.15 at 8:49 pm

BW: “The seeking after economic rationales for the political demand to expand the realm of slavery overlooks the acute nature of the moral condemnation.”

Yes — it should be kept in mind that the abolitionists were a *religious* left. The American Anti-Slavery Society wanted to convince people that “Slaveholding is a heinous crime in the sight of God”.

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J Thomas 01.13.15 at 9:15 pm

95 Bruce Wilder

Thank you! That was superbly done. A variety of things that to me were vague fuzzy impressions, you stated clearly.

One utterly almost-microscopic question — why do you call them plantars? I had always thought it had something to do with planting, like people who planted corn barefoot got plantar’s warts, but it turns out that plantar is about the sole of the foot. Is this a spelling that’s fallen out of fashion?

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Bruce Wilder 01.13.15 at 9:32 pm

After posting, I noticed that peculiar spelling myself. I’m not sure where it came from. Plantar, Google tells me, has to do with the sole of the foot. Somehow, in some deep recess of my mind, plantar was a variant spelling, to designate someone, who owns and operates a plantation, a particular form for organizing agriculture, particularly colonial agriculture. I don’t find any support for that usage, from Google, though. It might just be my brain fart.

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Ze Kraggash 01.13.15 at 9:55 pm

How come a secession by itself, the desire for independence, is among “the most despicable ambitions in human history”? Scotland, Catalonia. A community wants independence, I feel like: even though it’ll probably be a mess politically – more power to them, let a thousand flowers bloom.

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The Temporary Name 01.13.15 at 10:06 pm

Thanks very much for the effort Bruce, in particular for the instructive story of the cotton embargo. And thanks to everyone else for helping to fill out my knowledge.

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J Thomas 01.13.15 at 10:22 pm

#99 Ze Kraggash

How come a secession by itself, the desire for independence, is among “the most despicable ambitions in human history”? Scotland, Catalonia. A community wants independence, I feel like: even though it’ll probably be a mess politically – more power to them, let a thousand flowers bloom.

Destroying a constitutional democracy might be good or bad — perhaps it might involve creating a better constitutional democracy.

I can’t see doing it for slavery as acceptable at all. Or to protect any of the more ruthless versions of capitalism.

In the case of the Confederacy, I have the strong impression they were not very competent. They insisted that the confederate states have more independence from each other than they could afford given a rapacious enemy. They just plain did not organize very well.

To my way of thinking, wanting independence is not in itself a bad thing. But if a whole lot of people are going to be depending on you, then at least make a solid effort to be dependable. If it looks like you’re going to get into a war, try to arrange at least a 2/3 chance that you’ll win. If you can’t do that then better to put off independence until you can actually make a go of it.

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Ze Kraggash 01.13.15 at 10:51 pm

“Destroying a constitutional democracy might be good or bad — perhaps it might involve creating a better constitutional democracy.”

They want a divorce. It might involve creating an absolute monarchy, or theocracy, or whatever it is they decide to create after they secede. How is that any of our business. They don’t need to prove anything to anyone outside.

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Robespierre 01.13.15 at 11:00 pm

One may fancy that a free labourer at subsistence would cost about as much as a slave, but thinking it does not make it true; we know for a fact that American wages were high.
Also, there is subsistence and subsistence: in the early 1850s, infant mortality for whites stood at 220 per thousand during the first year of life (ie: British levels), while that of black slaves was around 340: easily as high as infant mortality can ever be. For comparison, that rate is higher than any country in the world had in the early 1950s: even the worst placed, Burkina Faso, was in the low 300s, and improved quickly.

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Bernard Yomtov 01.13.15 at 11:58 pm

Robespierre,

One may fancy that a free labourer at subsistence would cost about as much as a slave, but thinking it does not make it true; we know for a fact that American wages were high.

Fair enough. But surely they would have dropped quite a bit, though not to slave subsistence levels, with the new arrival on the labor market of the freed slaves.

106

Robespierre 01.14.15 at 12:00 am

@ZK: all affairs are human affairs. I can totally get behind giving local government more authority over petty administrative matters.
But what secessionism means in practice is that inhabitants of a part of the world will now mind their own business without regardless of how it affects others, stop foreigners from travelling, living and working in their turf, refuse to share resources for the common good and behave antagonistically in international relations, including war.
If our purpose is for state arrangements to benefit people and attempt tp guarantee their rights, then “I got mine” secessionism is despicable, and, in Europe, unsurprisingly popular in rich regions.
I also find no value in the principle of national sovereignty, which, stripped to the bone, means that a given ethno-cultural group should be able to form its own club and shut everybody else out – indefensible and impracticable.

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Robespierre 01.14.15 at 12:02 am

@106: but new (free) labour from Europe arrived all the time, in great numbers, pulled by high wages.

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otpup 01.14.15 at 12:26 am

@BW, great post(s). For some reason I reminded of Geoff Paige’s Agrarian Revolution discussing the dynamics of export agriculture in Vietnam (and Angola), though I do think you are right concerning the religious/moral intensity of the conflict. Maybe that is because there was something about the inherently sadistic economics of slave production that required the planter class to internalize some mix of brutality and rationalizations in order to flourish.
I do think there is also something to Daniel Lazare’s point in Frozen Republic that, because the Constitution basically enshrined slavery, there was no incentive for the Southern political elites to embrace compromise, instead coming to regard their Constitutionally mandated veto powers as god-given (why does that seem so familiar?).

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bob mcmanus 01.14.15 at 1:08 am

Yeah, 96 is real good Wilder. Read it three times now. Very…balanced.

110

Collin Street 01.14.15 at 1:24 am

I’m kind of intruiged by the notion that the whole we-are-slaveowners identity thing was basically only there for a generation, generation-and-a-half; it makes a lot of sense that under those circumstances the outcome would have been as it was, “second generation takes the rhetoric seriously” isn’t an uncommon phenomenon and all.

111

LFC 01.14.15 at 1:42 am

@mud man

Here’s an idea for you: If you don’t have time to read The Law of Peoples, glance at Leif Wenar’s summary of it in his Rawls article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Link in next box.

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LFC 01.14.15 at 1:43 am

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Bernard Yomtov 01.14.15 at 1:48 am

#110,

Yes. The whole “grand” antebellum tradition was in fact a short-lived phenomenon. The cotton gin made the slave-based plantation economy feasible. The Civil War ended it. Read Cash’s The Mind of the South.

114

Charles R 01.14.15 at 2:06 am

Speaking of tracking down connections from what was happening in the US to the pages of our European philosophers, I came across in Debating Democracy Bruce Johansen quoting Johnny P. Flynn saying in the LA Times “Friedrich Engels wrote in 1879 that The Communist Manifesto ‘would have been far different’ had he and Marx known what they later learned about Indian forms of government.” Can anyone track down where Engels does say this?

Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what exactly fits the description in “what they later learned” and how far different it could be?

The book’s great, and I’m fascinated with how little I hear anyone talk about the influences the Haudenosaunee had upon Franklin and Jefferson, or any number of the white people who saw how the various nations interacted with each other that the white people simply could not match in their own histories. These were nations who had been interacting with each other and keeping their distance from one another, for hundreds of years prior to the ‘settlers’ landing. They fought and killed one another, sure, and it wasn’t eutopic paradise, neither. But it was something else. Something very different in the thinking, the reasoning, the educating, the contesting, the discussing, across so many varied and distinct cultures. An entirely different world with different pasts, myths, and possibilities.

Is it okay to also talk about this here, too?

It must have been terrifying and amazing for a young Franklin to watch a diplomatic discussion between the Six Nations. It probably changed his life, maybe. We all cut a little wide in the 20s, right?

bob mcmanus, I hear you loud and clear.

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Charles R 01.14.15 at 2:28 am

On a different note, I had a question about this section:

It was a grave strategic mistake, but not one made by a singular leader, but rather one driven by a shared popular delusion about how one goes about persuading other people and organizing common efforts. Like the omission of “general welfare” from the preface of the Confederate Constitution, it was telling about the moral qualities of an emergent people. It would be reflected in many other areas of economic policy and finance, as well as military policy, as the Confederates proved reluctant to tax themselves, and found it nearly impossible to run a railroad or provide something as basic as salt.

Okay, so it would be reflected in other areas, suggesting a temporality to when this statement is taken as relevant: we’re talking after the embargo and prior to the day-to-day of the Confederacy. You pin this down to their “shared popular delusion.”

Assuming the shared popular delusion didn’t arise at secession but also existed prior to then—assuming, that is, there’s some continuity within how we think of the South, then or now—then how do we explain that this same shared popular delusion on the one hand maintained a transcontinental industry in the trafficking of human slaves and the level of ideological control necessary to keep so many minds hobbled, such as those who owned the slaves, and on the other hand “found it nearly impossible to run a railroad or provide something as basic as salt?”

It’s almost as if secession took away the thing that kept that industry going.

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Ogden Wernstrom 01.14.15 at 2:38 am

Stephen 01.12.15 at 3:40 pm:

…as far as I know, the only people to have taken Harry Flashman for a real, Victorian person have been professional American historians. His fictional nature does not affect the paradox.

I am wondering if this fictional character based his conclusion “…that Lincoln was committed to the…proposition that the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire” on some fictional source.

When I searched for “Lincoln British Empire”, the first result uses Lyndon LaRouche as a source. That’s even stranger than a fictional source.

The website Occidental Enclave shows the/a LaRouche claim. Among other things.

117

LFC 01.14.15 at 2:42 am

how do we explain that this same shared popular delusion on the one hand maintained a transcontinental industry in the trafficking of human slaves and the level of ideological control necessary to keep so many minds hobbled… and on the other hand “found it nearly impossible to run a railroad or provide something as basic as salt?”

A reasonable question, I suppose, though one might note FTR that the transcontinental import of slaves into the US was prohibited effective Jan. 1, 1808, by act of Congress.

118

Peter T 01.14.15 at 4:27 am

LFC

No – intercontinental, yes. Transcontintental, no.

119

Stephen 01.14.15 at 8:32 am

Ogden Wernstrom@116: are you suggesting that Lincoln did not believe the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire?

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Ze Kraggash 01.14.15 at 9:26 am

Robespierre 106 “I also find no value in the principle of national sovereignty, which, stripped to the bone, means that a given ethno-cultural group should be able to form its own club and shut everybody else out – indefensible and impracticable.”

I’m happy to acknowledge a softer version of this argument, without “indefensible and impracticable” in it. However, I see a serious mismatch between the near worship of privacy and autonomy rights for individuals, and almost outright hostility to the idea of sovereignty for a collective.

In any case, “the most despicable ambitions in human history”? Please.

Also, in this case (a secession) “ethno-cultural” simply reflects the fact that the group, the collective, has been inhibiting territory for a long time. It’s not like it’s a requirement for joining the club. I checked: in Catalonia only 37% declare Catalan their native language.

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lurker 01.14.15 at 1:18 pm

“But what secessionism means in practice is that inhabitants of a part of the world will now mind their own business without regardless of how it affects others” (Robespierre, 106)
What anti-secessionism often enough means in practice is that inhabitants of a somewhat larger part of the world will get to mind their own business and others’ as well, without undue regard to what happens to those others, while of course jealously guarding their own sovereignty.
A bigger ethno-cultural club that got theirs first, refusing to let others leave the club and start their own.

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Ze Kraggash 01.14.15 at 1:30 pm

@121, to be fair, it appears that he (or could it be Madam Robespierre?) is expressing hostility towards national sovereignty in general, including the already existing big clubs.

On the other hand, if big clubs’ sovereignty is illegitimate in the first place, what’s the basis for objecting to a secession?

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LFC 01.14.15 at 2:25 pm

Peter T @118
You’re right. (I’ll chalk it up to being tired, or something.)

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Ogden Wernstrom 01.14.15 at 2:28 pm

Ogden Wernstrom@116: are you suggesting that Lincoln did not believe the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire?

No. Is your universe composed of only polar opposites?

I do not think that Lincoln found it a pressing or pertinent issue at the time. I question whether “committed to the proposition” is really in evidence, but I am no scholar of Lincoln. To me, it sounds like hyperbole, created to form the puerile “paradox” posited by a fictional character.

I have not searched much, but the source I find claiming that Lincoln felt so binarily that revolution-is-good is Lyndon LaRouche. The link to Occidental Enclave (a “Community for Ethnic Westerners”) has some source material.

One phrase Lincoln did use repeatedly, regarding America’s independence, was that the revolution had been “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”. It appears that the seceding states left that part out of their declarations of secession, though they tried (and many still try) to draw parallels between the secession of colonies that lacked political representation and the secession of states that saw the balance of power tipping away from them.

The US Constitution – which was ratified by the states – does outline how a state may leave The Union, and the CSA states did not choose that method. Lincoln was a law-and-order guy.

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Ralph Hitchens 01.14.15 at 3:15 pm

Thanks to all of you for a robust and respectful discussion that surely touched every applicable base in the greatest controversy in American history. I would say, in defense of Harry Flashman, that George MacDonald Fraser was a serious student of Victorian-era history. He surely saw the Flashman novels as an entertaining way to educate the reading public about that history. He clearly knew more about the famous British military and political figures of that era than about the Americans, subjects in at least three of the Flashman novels, but in my opinion, I think he did pretty well capturing the essential character of many famous Americans, to include Lincoln, Grant, Kit Carson, Custer, John Brown, and the Apache chief Mangas Colorado, just to name a few.

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J Thomas 01.14.15 at 3:30 pm

#124 Ogden Wernstrom

The US Constitution – which was ratified by the states – does outline how a state may leave The Union, and the CSA states did not choose that method.

What method is that?

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Stephen 01.14.15 at 4:41 pm

Ogden Wernstrom@124: there are a couple of matters about which you should try to think seriously.

One, the website involving Lyndon Larouche that you quote appears to be dated 2013, by which time George MacDonald Fraser was, alas, dead. The relevant Flashman novel (my memory is uncertain, it may be Flash for Freedom, or Flashman and the Redskins) was published in either 1971 or 1982. I do not think you can reasonably argue that the Larouche blog was a source for Fraser. Go on trying if you like.

Two, let us take it for granted that Larouche – of whom I know little, but you obviously think poorly of him – is a complete scoundrel in many respects. That does not affect the validity of an argument that he proposes; which does not depend on his character, but on the consistency of his argument. An argument may be valid even if it is advanced by GW Bush, Tony Blair or Gerry Adams. (That may even be true of factual statements from them, but there you need a great deal of caution and independent evidence).

Three, your mention of polar opposites needs to be thought through. There is nothing wrong in saying that Lincoln thought the American revolution justified: of course he did. His reasons for this were that he thought it was a revolution against tyranny (arguable, but sincerely believed in his case) with the support of most of the American people (true). On the other hand, he thought the secession of the Confederacy was unjustified because it was not a revolution against tyranny (but secessionists believed that Lincoln was going to behave like a tyrant) even though it had the support of most of the Confederacy (not all, not even all whites: but given the determination with which even non-slaveholding Southerners fought, a majority).

Four, those who believe that the revolution was sincerely “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” are deluding themselves. To quote Dr Johnson: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty from the drivers of Negroes?”

I should perhaps point out that I myself believe the Confederacy were in the wrong, and had to be forcibly suppressed: not because of any constitutional nitpicking, but because they wanted slavery to continue.

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Ogden Wernstrom 01.14.15 at 5:11 pm

J Thomas, I suppose that I must have been fantasizing that it was clearly stated in The Constitution. It does state that

It is only implied that a state could secede if it obtained the consent of the other states. I think the Supreme Court backs me up on that, in the ironically-named Texas v. White, 74 US 700 (1869), the majority opinion includes:

The union between Texas and the other States was as complete, as perpetual, and as indissoluble as the union between the original States. There was no place for reconsideration or revocation, except through revolution or through consent of the States.

I just learned that, in the majority opinion of the Supreme Court, the secession movement was not a revolution.

States could have asked for consent to leave The Union. I probably got the idea that it is spelled-out by Article. IV., Section. 3., but I suppose that my interpretation is based on a definition of the word “state” which also refers to any nation as a state.

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MPAVictoria 01.14.15 at 5:14 pm

I wish Fraser had written that book about Flashman’s involvement in the Civil War before he died. I hope one day they find someone good to continue the series. It is one of my favourites and I miss reading new ones.

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William Berry 01.14.15 at 5:16 pm

Agree with mcmanus, et al, on BW’s 96. Excellent work. (And I take BW’s “plantar” spelling, along with his comma placement, to be one of his endearing idiosyncrasies!)

Bruce’s discussion of the necessity for some sort of moral justification for slavery with the rise of cotton made me think of John C. Calhoun. JCC was a brilliant, violent polemicist who proved more than capable of providing the requisite racial ideology, an ideology largely taken from Gobineau and tailored to suit local conditions. I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say that JCC, more than any other one person, deserves an out-size share of the blame for the slaughter to come, and for the more than 100 years of Jim Crow racism that followed.

Calhoun has been described by [some historian] as the “Marx of the master class”. But considered as a radical reactionary, I think of JCC as more of an American, secular version of Joseph de Maistre, with deM’s ultra-montanism analogous to JCC’s conception of the moral responsibility to rule of a master-class, planter aristocracy.

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burritoboy 01.14.15 at 5:45 pm

Bruce Wilder at 96 explains most of the questions brilliantly.

What I might answer to the questions asked of Bruce subsequently is something along the lines of the following: bad morality – or grotesquely misidentifying good and evil – eventually has huge consequences to your ability to do all concrete things. We often try to separate the two for easier analysis, but that’s ultimately false and often misleading.

The central immorality of the Confederacy led inevitably to their political and technical mistakes. The Confederacy couldn’t become more effective or efficient, because effective and efficient are themselves judgements of good and evil – and the evil at the base of the Confederacy led it to it’s inefficiency or ineffectiveness.

Here’s an example of how that works: people are surprised that the Confederacy found it difficult to run a relatively small railroad system, while the North did not find this to be among their own notable major challenges. But this is quite predictable from the basic fundamental moral calculus of the Confederacy: it is not labor that creates the right to property (as in the North), but instead, it is socio-ethnic status creates the right to property in the Confederacy (the elite white male inherently can forcibly command the labor of the black). In the North, any man who works to understand and to build has certain inherent rights to the fruits of that labor. Thus, the man who knows and can do is the best man in the North – thus, the leadership of the North are often men like Abraham Lincoln, men who are incentivized to be prudent, careful and cautious as well as having distinguished themselves by having notable competencies and virtues. Further, because a man inherently has the fruits of his labors, the men of the North generally admire those who can perform feats of knowledge – i.e., the technological and organizational knowledge that help run a railroad, for instance. While the fruits of the labor on the railroad are not distributed equally, in the North, everyone who works on the railroad receives at least some amount of both increased wealth and increased status from doing so. All those working for the railroad firm have some share in the success of that railroad, at least in theory. Further, as the workers work on the railroad, they inherently learn the technologies of railroading, and this knowledge is their own personal property, which they can use to further benefit themselves in the future. A man might learn how to do things working for the railroad, but he has an inherent right to apply that knowledge in any other legal sector of the economy as well. And the Northern government and elite is committed to developing a wide variety of industrial, commercial, civic, charitable and educational sectors so that men may apply this knowledge in many different types of enterprises. Thus, the corporate organization of the large firm (and large corporations began with the railroad) is more easily assembles and operated in the North because of it’s more correct moral stance. This more correct moral stance is not sufficient, of course, but without it, certain types of organizational structures are very difficult to achieve.

All this is precisely the converse in the Confederacy because of their evil moral system. Thus, running the railroad becomes an immensely difficult thing. Large organizations are very difficult to assemble under the Confederacy’s morality. In the Confederacy, all elite white males have the inherent natural right to forcibly rule. Each elite white male is a law unto himself and those he rules and does not submit easily to others – he is primarily a ruler in his own right, not part of a collective. Becoming one employee out of many in a large organization – like a railroad – is inherently a difficult role for a ruler. He does not achieve this power of ruling out of any individual virtue he has – the most incompetent, ignorant and vile white elite Southern male has the exact same right to forcibly command the labor of his slaves and household as the most prudent and wise one does. The wise one may collect more property over time, of course, but both the most neglectful and most careful slaveholder have the exact same ground or legitimation of their property. And they both got that right at the moment of their births, irregardless of whatever virtues or labor they build or gain in the entire remainder of their lives.

Naturally, all this makes working collectively in a large, knowledge-based organization (like a railroad!) much more difficult in the Confederacy.

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Ogden Wernstrom 01.14.15 at 6:05 pm

Stephen,
1. Lyndon LaRouche was born in 1922, and I think I first heard his name in the 1960s, maybe early 1970s, due to his involvement in national politics of the time. I do not claim that he posted anything to that blog. I said that he appears to be the source of the claim that Lincoln was “committed to the proposition that the American colonies were right to secede from the British Empire”. If there is a more-reliable non-fictional source that documents this commitment of Lincoln’s, in word or in deed, that would work much better that countering arguments I am not making.

2. I think LaRouche is not a reliable source of historical data. Even his allies/cohorts/fellows-in-arms thought that he was reality-challenged. (“…lacking factual detail and depth”) What does affect the consistency of an argument that Lincoln contradicted himself is that he must have actually taken the two positions that are presented as opposites. Yes, I know that LaRouche did not fabricate everything, so his statement might be true. Surely there would be a better source, since LaRouche had to get his (non-fictional) information from some source. If there is a more-reliable non-fictional source that documents this commitment of Lincoln’s, in word or in deed, that would work much better than countering arguments I am not making.

3. My mention of polar opposites was a snarky retort to your jumped-to conclusion. Perhaps you could point me to a source of history that shows Lincoln’s specific reasons for thinking the American revolution justified. If there is a more-reliable non-fictional source that documents this commitment of Lincoln’s, in word or in deed, that would work much better than countering arguments I am not making.

4. It depends on what the meaning of the word “men” is. (Note: I can’t find that word in The Constitution, either. When reading The Constitution, it depends on what the meaning of the word “person” is.)

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Bruce Wilder 01.14.15 at 6:09 pm

John C. Calhoun, though perhaps not the originator, was one of the principal architects of the doctrine of constitutional interpretation known variously as state sovereignty or states’ rights, which he conceived of as a political framework to protect the South’s peculiar institution of slavery. He presents a remarkable example of wielding ideas as levers of political power.

He was a master of the reactionary trope, that argues against government acting to do good, on the grounds that it sets a precedent that will allow the government to do evil.

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J Thomas 01.14.15 at 6:38 pm

#128 Ogden Wernstrom

I suppose that I must have been fantasizing that it was clearly stated in The Constitution.

Yes, that was one of the things that got glossed over. I expect there are people who argue that it is clear and that no reasonable person could disagree with their interpretation.

The previous organization was clearly intended to be indissoluble, and some people argued that when they dissolved it to form the USA that property carried over.

There’s certainly no mechanism specified. I suppose if a majority of the 50 states wanted to secede, they could each vote to let all the others out. Or should it take 2/3?

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Guest 01.14.15 at 8:54 pm

Possibly the only legally or constitutionally consistent method for secession would be the same as required by article 5 for any constitutional amendment; ratification by 3/4ths of the States legislatures. Discussion about States Rights or Nullification should revolve around the standard required for Constitutional Amendment. A citizen has (or should) the right to a consistent application of the Constitution regardless of State.

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William Berry 01.14.15 at 9:10 pm

BW @132:

Right. He was the principal architect of the theory of “nullification” and a central figure in the nullification crisis of the 1830s.

His racial ideology was simple and brutal: white supremacy made slavery a positive good. It was the duty of the white aristocrat to be a stern but “loving” father to the negro slave.

In actual fact, he was a Simon Legreeish SOB. I recall reading somewhere that the Calhoun archives contain a note ordering an overseer to brutally whip one of his slaves for some minor “infraction”.

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Ze Kraggash 01.14.15 at 9:35 pm

131, nice ode to capitalism, but I don’t think you really need your good-evil dichotomy. True, young capitalism allows (obviously) for better, more productive circulation of elites (per Pareto) than hereditary aristocracy or oligarchy. So, yeah, a better management, but it can easily be a better management working for greater ‘evil’, just a different kind. Or, could be pretty much the same kind, a-la Foxconn labor.

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ZM 01.14.15 at 9:47 pm

Re: Lincoln’s views on the Revolution there is this non-fiction article that sums it up : Jefferson Davis, Abraham Lincoln, and the American Revolution (1994) Greg Ruttan

http://www.tcr.org/tcr/essays/CB_Lincoln-Davis.pdf

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Ogden Wernstrom 01.14.15 at 11:50 pm

ZM, thank you for that.

That paper points us to the likely source, Thomas Pressly…who called it an apparent contradiction before going on to point out why he thought it was not a contradiction: that Lincoln saw the right of revolution as “a ‘moral’ right, as opposed to a legal right, and [as] a ‘conditional’ right in the sense that it was applicable and relevant only on condition that it was being exercised for a morally justifiable cause.”

I suppose that a legal right to revolution would undermine law.

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