The previous post, “Up the nose,” said that if I were sufficiently provoked, I would examine the risible arguments in a letter to The Sun claiming that the Civil War wasn’t primarily about slavery.
It doesn’t take much to provoke me. One comment from Mike Pope sufficed.
Before the demolition, let me point out a couple of things. William W. Freehling’s two volumes of The Road to Disunion are quite conclusive about the central role of slavery and the South’s determination to protect it that led to secession. Apologists, see whether you can confute him. In addition, a number of websites have posted the secession ordinances of the Confederate states, which do not dwell on the tariff, or an agrarian culture versus an industrial one; they say quite determinedly and explicitly that they secede to protect the institution of slavery.*
So we have some arguments by one C. Lyon of Clarksville. The main batch is easy to dispense with: Why was West Virginia admitted to the Union as a slave state? Why didn’t slavery end when the war did?** Why not until the 13th Amendment was ratified months later? Why didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation free all the slaves?
The answer is that slavery was protected by the Constitution. Abraham Lincoln said so while running for the presidency; it was not his original intent to end slavery, and it did not become so until he saw that it was a measure of military necessity. The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the rebelling states as a military measure. The lawyerly Lincoln saw that he could do that but not end slavery elsewhere except by a constitutional amendment that he did not live to see ratified.
Why did Robert E. Lee, no enthusiast for slavery, fight for the South? He explained so himself; it was out of loyalty to his native state, Virginia. In the mid-19th century, many people felt more of a bond to their individual states than to the nation.
Why did men who owned no slaves fight for the rights of slaveholders? Same reason, loyalty to their native states, with, of course, our congenital susceptibility to demagogy.
What caused the Draft Riots in New York City? Reluctance to fight in a war that claimed more than 600,000 lives by its end might be one reason. Racism (See the stipulations below) might be another.
These points are not arcana; they can be found in scores of standard historical works.
The Confederate apologists shy away from slavery, and it’s hard to blame them for that. I have not yet seen anyone argue that the Confederacy should have prevailed, to become a backward section with an ineffective government, tied to a form of labor that the rest of the civilized world was abandoning or had already abandoned.
If we are going to celebrate our past, and we should, let’s acknowledge all of it. We sacrificed the lives of more than half a million young men, maimed tens of thousands others, and devastated an entire region because we could not resolve our political and economic differences peacefully and allowed hotheads to call the tune.
*We will also stipulate that the North was commercially involved with the products of the slave economy, that the North in its own way was quite as much racist as the South, and that, Julia Ward Howe notwithstanding, claims of moral superiority are difficult to sustain.
**The letter writer says that Maryland “did not become free until the passing of the 13th Amendment.” Actually, Maryland abolished slavery in its Constitution of 1864.