New Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) “Commander-in-Chief” Endorses Creationism

The September/October issue of the Confederate Veteran magazine, the official publication of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), has a “Report” from Charles Kelly Barrow on how “the SCV must prepare for the new challenges it will face” in the coming years. Barrow wants the “Headquarters” of the SCV to be both a “museum” and a “tourist attraction.” To that end, he tells encourages his readers (the SCV has about 30,000 members; I have no idea of the number of subscribers to the magazine) with the following:

One of the organizations I support is Answers in Genesis. When they built the Creation Museum [in Kentucky], they asked people to invest or become owners in the project. I can tell you personally that when our family paid a visit to the museum, we took pride in what we helped build. (page 4)

So, there you have it. The leader of the SCV endorses and, according to his words, contributed money (which of course is his right and one that I fully support) to a Museum that teaches that humans and dinosaurs inhabited the earth at the same time.

Now, there are a couple of things I want to emphasize. Early in his “Report” Barrow makes it clear, at least to me, that he is dedicated to “preserving my Southern heritage.” (page 4) Fair enough. But, given that later in his report he laments “the indoctrination about the civil war that students are subjected to in the public school classroom” and his fervent support for “A War Between the States curriculum, with lesson plans and teaching aids, [which] will be developed and made available to teachers in the public, private and homeschool sectors teaching the true history of the War,” (page 5, emphasis in the original), it is obvious that preserving one’s heritage has very specific implications. To wit: Barrow appears to prefer a world in which American students, in both public and private schools (not to mention homeschoolers) would be taught creationism – which is unconstitutional – and that the Confederacy was justified in its cause. After all, he says that “our ancestors . . . endured Total War from an illegal invader.” (page 5, emphasis in the original) This stance is consistent with philosopher Donald Livingston’s essay “Confederate Emancipation” in the previous month’s Confederate Veteran (you can read my analyses of this article here, here, here, here, and here).

The second thing I find of interest is Barrow’s encouragement of others in the SCV “to make a stand, . . . to be unified with others of the same mindset and lineage.” (page 5). That mindset, as I have argued elsewhere, includes not only a loathing for Abraham Lincoln, but for Charles Darwin as well. There is no grandeur in this view of life of our species, or nation’s, past. Americans, especially historians and biologists, must do a better job, it seems to me, in understanding and communicating with each other about the larger aims of this movement dedicated to preserving “heritage.”


Loathing Lincoln on Civil War Talk Radio

I spent an hour yesterday evening speaking with Gerry Prokopowicz on Civil War Talk Radio about my book. Gerry gave me ample time to talk (which is a good or bad thing depending on your point of view I suppose) and he had clearly read the book quite closely. You can listen to the show here.

Confederate Emancipation? Part 5 – The End (Whew!)

Today we conclude our series on Donald Livingston’s piece in the July/August issue of the Confederate Veteran magazine. To date, we have seen that Livingston’s piece obfuscated the reason for southern secession, incorrectly described the nature of the Union the founders created, perhaps mischaracterized Jefferson’s attitude toward coercing states to remain in the Union, and agreed with Lincoln and the Republican Party’s stance on slavery as a great moral wrong.

The last argument, or arguments, I want to address (there are many, many others, believe me), is Livingston’s contention that “The evidence, however, strongly sup­ports the contrary counter-factual judg­ment that had there been no war, slavery, in an independent Confederacy, would have ended in a reasonable amount of time, and race relations in the South (and in America), would have been better than what they be­came, having been put through the dehu­manizing experience of a scorched earth war, a decade of military occupation, the plunder and corruption of Reconstruction, and the manipulation of race by the Union League and similar organizations created to keep the Republican party in power.” Really? I wonder, for the four million enslaved Americans, what they believe would have been, as Livingston puts it, “a reasonable amount of time” to remain enslaved, rather than, as Lincoln and the Republicans wanted to do, begin “to devise federal policies, to be implemented immediately, that would bring about the ultimate extinction of slavery.” (James Oakes, Freedom National, page 22)

Added to this, I wrote in Loathing Lincoln:

Likewise misleading, at least from [Timothy] Sandefur’s viewpoint, was the relatively un-substantiated assertion that a slaveholding Confederacy (or northern secession from the South) would have eventually emancipated the slaves without federal intervention. Following Mises’s emphasis on slavery’s economic inefficiency, [Thomas] DiLorenzo maintained that “the market economy and the advance of industrialization were in fact eating away at the institution of slavery.” This trend, together with the repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, “would have caused the price of slaves to plummet by dramatically increasing the cost to slave owners of enforcing the system, thereby quickening the institution’s demise.” Such speculation ignored that slaveholders wanted the Fugitive Slave Law enforced and would never have consented to its repeal and that in an independent, slaveholding regime such as the Confederacy, there would have been strong economic and cultural incentives to preserve the institution and to acquire more slaves by whatever methods necessary. Slavery was extraordinarily profitable, and it is difficult to see why white southerners would have voluntarily abolished the institution. Indeed, if slavery was such an inefficient, unproductive form of labor that would have some day perished, then one wonders why it had not withered away by the twenty-first century. As Sandefur concluded in a 2012 lecture: “Slavery was efficient to southerners, if not as a purely financial matter, at least as a means of perpetuating White Supremacist social institutions. Proslavery leaders sought to address those economic problems that did plague slavery—escape, manumission, and the need for land—through government subsidies and crackdowns on civil liberties.” So, at the very least it was debatable whether northern secession would have led to large numbers of slaves running away to freedom, although perhaps that would have been the case. Still, southern fire-eaters such as Robert Barnwell Rhett, Edmund Ruffin, and William Lowndes Yancey all thought slavery would be better protected in an independent slaveholding Confederacy because such a republic could deport abolitionists and their sympathizers, provide greater domestic surveillance of slaves, build an elaborate border patrol system, and use railroads and telegraph lines to deliver a more rapid response to runaways and potential rebellions. Once the Confederacy had been formed, these fire-eaters thought, the importance of cotton to the northern economy would force the United States government to make treaties promising to return or pay for runaways. “Our treaties would protect our slaves,” explained Yancey. (Barr, Loathing Lincoln, page 309-310)

Added to this, Livingston believes that the cost of freeing the slaves was simply too great and thus peaceful separation would have been better. Here is Livingston:

It is a terrible thing to destroy a social and political order. History shows that a people can recover in a short time from almost any amount of physical destruction if their social and political traditions are intact. The great tragedy of World War I is that it destroyed the social fabric of Europe and opened the door to a plethora of ideol­ogies and other social pathologies, includ­ing totalitarian regimes and World War II. Similar baneful results followed from the North’s systematic destruction of Southern society.

But there was another cost which has been largely ignored, namely the death and suffering of blacks caused by the Emanci­pation Proclamation itself. A window has recently been opened into this terrible epi­sode by Jim Downs in Sick From Freedom, African American Death and Suffering Dur­ing the Civil War and Reconstruction. “The Civil War,” he says “produced the largest biological crisis of the nineteenth century … wreaking havoc on the population of the newly freed.” Tens of thousands of freed slaves “became sick and died due to the … exigencies of war and the massive disloca­tion triggered by emancipation.” ‘

The Emancipation Proclamation was designed to encourage a slave uprising and weaken Southern morale. Consequently, the Lincoln administration had made no preparation to care for the slaves suddenly dislocated from their place of sustenance. The army hastily threw up what were called “contraband camps.” These were the first modern “concentration camps,” a distinction usually given to the British in the Boer War 1899-1902. Though no longer slaves, blacks in these camps were not citi­zens of the states or of the United States and had little in the way of civil rights. They were legally defined as “contraband” of war.

What “social and political order,” I ask my readers, was destroyed by the Civil War? Wasn’t that order one based upon racially-based slavery? And, was that order entirely destroyed? I discussed this at some length in my book:

One piece of history that these Lincoln contrarians ignored, . . .  was that a virtual secession was carried out by the South in the years after the country abandoned Reconstruction. By 1900, once African Americans were effectively disfranchised across the region, the white South was in effect in local control of its own internal affairs. The real tragedy of Reconstruction, notwithstanding the assertions of Lincoln’s detractors, was not that it enhanced federal power at the expense of the states but that the country eventually turned a blind eye to homicidal violence and racial oppression for almost another century after the president’s death. The link between freedom and equality forged by the Declaration of Independence and vindicated in the Civil War and Reconstruction was severed by the turn of the century. The consequence was that a broad anti-caste, civic nationalism was replaced by a narrow, ethnic nationalism based upon white supremacy. Democracy was in effect dead, certainly for blacks, in the southern United States until the stunning achievements of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, whose legislative successes were anathema to Lincoln’s foes. The de facto secession of the former Confederacy after Reconstruction on racial matters did not enhance freedom; rather, it diminished freedom and tarnished American lives and ideals. (Barr, Loathing Lincoln, page 308-309)

Now, I think Livingston is correct to cite Jim Downs’s book Sick From Freedom: African-American Illness and Suffering During the Civil War and Reconstruction (Oxford, 2012), regarding the tragic, “unintended” consequences of emancipation, but I’m not sure that this – great – work supports his case as well as he thinks (the comment that these were the first “concentration camps” is without merit, and not worthy of a philosopher of Livingston’s caliber). To be sure, as Downs shows, the “Bondspeople who fled from plantation slavery during and after the war, and embraced their freedom with hope and optimism did not expect that it would lead to sickness, disease, suffering, and death.”  But, there are quotes in Downs’s work which contradict Livingston’s very argument. To wit:

In a letter to prominent religious leader and abolitionist Levi Coffin, John Eaton summed it up best when he stated, “Some among us, and some in England, have considered emancipation a farce; because it was proclaimed by President Lincoln as a military necessity, and not on the ground of humanity and justice.” Eaton went on to explain the complicated nature of emancipation, “Others declare emancipation inhuman [Livingston?] because it has been attended with so much suffering; overlooking the fact that the war itself would have produced as much without any attempt at emancipation; and that the distress then would have been without the alleviation afforded by the joys of freedom.” (Downs, Sick From Freedom, page 38-39)

Or, consider this, from O.O. Howard (the first director of the Freedmen’s Bureau, whose work Confederates and ex-Confederates did their absolute best to undermine, with violence):

Looking at the great number of indigent freedmen, old men and women and helpless children, in every Southern State, I have not wondered that the old slaveholder should pour into my ear the glowing accounts of the blessedness of slavery in its prosperous and patriarchal days, and that he should heap curses on that freedom which he believes to be the occasion of so much restlessness and suffering. But you and I know that the real cause of the desolation and suffering is war, brought on and continued in the interest of and from the love of slavery. (Downs, Sick From Freedom, page 40-41).

Might I also add here that these escaped slaves in the contraband camps who Livingston says – correctly – were not citizens of the United States at that time later became so because of the efforts of the Republican Party?

As I conclude this series, I am reminded that many, many Americans, argue that in flying the Confederate flag, or honoring their Confederate ancestors, they are honoring “heritage” and not “hate.” Fair enough, I suppose. Livingston’s essay, however, gives me pause, because he is clearly arguing that the Confederacy was constitutionally and morally right in their cause. And, I think we have a different country, if we have a country at all, if we find ourselves in agreement with Livingston’s viewpoint.

Let me conclude with the last paragraph of my book:

Americans need to remind themselves that Lincoln’s principled stand against the monstrous injustice of slavery and the slaveholders’ advocacy for its perpetuation “in all future time,” combined with his belief that recurrent elections as opposed to secession were the best, most peaceful method for solving political disagreements, were not only the hallmarks of democratic politics and Lincoln’s political career but essential aspects of “the better angels of our nature.” Consequently, Lincoln’s aim in asking Americans to fight a war to preserve a relatively democratic Union eventually cleansed of slavery was courageous and noble, perhaps even necessary, and the country remains indebted to those who fought to ensure that the United States was not forever split apart in the 1860s. This is not to say that Lincoln was either a god or a saint; obviously, he was neither, and he would in fact have been the first to scoff at such a notion. Nor was the president a demon, . . . Both views are an oversimplification of an extraordinarily complex man and movement dedicated to ending slavery in America. In fact, there is no shame in saying that Lincoln was a gifted, prudent politician who, with the help of millions of antislavery Americans, including the slaves themselves, enthusiastically issued the Emancipation Proclamation and, in public letters and speeches that contained some of the most beautiful language ever written, explained why the United States should attempt to fulfill the better ideals of its founders. And because of the war those ideals were, at least for a time, realized. The “new birth of freedom” of which Lincoln expectantly spoke at Gettysburg occurred, as African Americans became citizens in the new American nation born from the conflict, with ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. In this particular instance federal power broadened rather than diminished freedom, and it became another of the war’s heartbreaking tragedies (in addition to its hundreds of thousands of casualties) that human liberty shrank as the nation’s commitment to a more pluralistic democracy withered in the face of state and local resistance to the postwar era’s egalitarian possibilities. Such inegalitarian consequences persisted for far too long yet were thankfully impermanent because Americans, especially African Americans, realized they were inconsistent with the nation’s increased commitment to freedom and equality forged in the 1860s and 1870s. As they have in the past, so will Americans in the future continue to grapple with the Civil War and the president who led the nation through that conflict. But to loathe Abraham Lincoln would be to lose, or loathe, an essential part of the nation that he thought should allow all its inhabitants “an open field and a fair chance for . . . industry, enterprise and intelligence,” one that would give his fellow Americans “equal privileges in the race of life,” a country Lincoln hoped would become, as he said in his last written words, “a Union of hearts and hands as well as of States.” (Barr, Loathing Lincoln, page 341-342)

Confederate Emancipation? Part 4. Article in Confederate Veteran Says Lincoln and the Republicans Were Right?

In a way, yes.

One particularly interesting aspect of Donald Livingston’s recent piece, “Confederate Emancipation” in the July/August issue of the Confederate Veteran is that he appears to agree with several aspects of Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party’s position on slavery’s eradication and its aftermath. If so, this is big news, and I am pleased to think that this might be the case.

Here is Livingston:

I have argued in another place that slavery was a national wrong in which the North played a foundational role in its ori­gin in the 17th century (the slave trade and in servicing slave economies throughout the Western Hemisphere) and that it con­tinued to promote and profit from slavery down to 1861 (through textile manufactur­ing and through financing, shipping, and insuring slave-produced staples). More­over, the federal revenue, throughout the antebellum period, was funded mainly by a tariff on imports in exchange for the ex­ports of slave-produced staples. The North had little to sell the world. Some 75 percent of exports as of 1860 were from the South. The Southern economy indirectly funded most of the federal revenue.

Since slavery was a national wrong, what was morally demanded of all Ameri­cans (and not just Southerners), was to emancipate slaves, compensate slaveholders for their loss, and integrate the free Afri­cans into American society. Yet through­out the entire antebellum period there was no national political party that advocated emancipation. And compensation and inte­gration were completely out of the question. If there was anything Northerners were agreed upon (most abolitionists included), it was that the North and the Western ter­ritories were to be an African-free zone. Moreover, Lincoln and Congress repeat­edly said that the war had only one aim: to preserve the Union. But that brings us back to the thought experiment about the seces­sion of the Pacific federation in 2014. If total war, launched merely to coerce a Pacific federation of 11 American States back into a Union from which their people had voted to secede was morally blameworthy, then so was Lincoln’s war.

Livingston concurs, at least in some respects, with Lincoln and the Republicans. For example, the sixteenth president stated clearly in his 2nd Inaugural Address that slavery was an American crime (note the reference to “American Slavery”):

If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.”

In addition, when Livingston says that “what was morally demanded of all Americans (and not just Southerners), was to emancipate slaves, compensate slaveholders for their loss, and integrate the free African into American society,” he likewise agrees with Lincoln and the Republicans.  Throughout the 1850s they spoke of the “ultimate extinction” slavery, worked assiduously during the Civil War to compensate slaveholders for their slaves emancipation (which the masters rejected), and, at least at the end of Lincoln’s life, wanted to integrate African American into American society. Why else would Lincoln be speaking of suffrage for blacks (a recommendation that led to John Wilkes Booth assassinating the president) if not as a method for, as he said, keeping “the jewel of liberty within the family of freedom”?

Now, as an aside, it so happens that I find myself in sympathy with the viewpoint of the libertarian – and staunch Lincoln critic – Murray Rothbard regarding compensation for the slaveholders: “there was only possible moral solution for the slave question: immediate and unconditional abolition, with no compensation to the slavemasters. Indeed, any compensation should have been the other way-to repay the oppressed slaves for their lifetime of slavery.” But, as Lincoln and every American well knew, such a solution was simply not then, if ever, going to be implemented.

At any rate, when Livingston writes that the “North and the Western territories were to be an African-free zone,” he is right. But, why did Lincoln and the Republicans envision this? May I recommend here the following excerpt from James Huston’s masterful Calculating the Value the Union?

Of course, the reason for the restriction of slavery was different from its constitutional justification. The antiextensionsists used a legal argument to demonstrate that that the power existed for Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories, and they considered their arguments flawless and irrefutable. . . . All the ideological reasons for antislavery emerged. First, northerners wanted to stop the “slave power” from growing in strength – that is, no more slave states to add representatives and senators who only thought of legislation in terms of how it affected the peculiar institution. Second, slavery produced a sluggard economy and deprived free laborers of their just reward; slave labor ruined free labor because of its unfair cheapness, and thus destroyed a healthy society of the middle. The proof of this was in the comparison of the Old Northwest to any part of the slaveholding South. Third, antiextensionsists insisted that the intention of the Founders was to found a nation based on individual freedom, not slavery, and it was thus their hope to see freedom, not slavery, expand. Fourth, as the Democrat newspaper and supporter of the regular part of the party, the Hartford Times printed in the early phase of the Wilmot Provisos debate, “There is no diversity of opinion at the North. [Slavery] is looked upon as a wrong.” Hence, it made no sense to northerners to allow the expansion of an institution thought to be morally wrong and at odds with the national principle of freedom, especially when they had the constitutional power to prohibit it.

If you read Huston’s quote above closely, in tandem with Livingston’s piece, how could Livingston object to any of the above arguments, given that he says quite correctly and emphatically that “slavery was a national wrong”? And, really, how could he possibly disagree with Lincoln’s statement (from his Peoria speech) below?

Our republican robe is soiled, and trailed in the dust. Let us repurify it. Let us turn and wash it white, in the spirit, if not the blood, of the Revolution. Let us turn slavery from its claims of “moral right,” back upon its existing legal rights, and its arguments of “necessity.” Let us return it to the position our fathers gave it; and there let it rest in peace. Let us re-adopt the Declaration of Independence, and with it, the practices, and policy, which harmonize with it. Let north and south—let all Americans—let all lovers of liberty everywhere—join in the great and good work. If we do this, we shall not only have saved the Union; but we shall have so saved it, as to make, and to keep it, forever worthy of the saving. We shall have so saved it, that the succeeding millions of free happy people, the world over, shall rise up, and call us blessed, to the latest generations.

Finally, Livingston writes that “Lincoln and Congress repeatedly said that the war had only one aim: to preserve the Union.” Once more, he is correct. But, and this cannot be stressed often enough, when Lincoln and the Republicans said they wanted the Union preserved, they sought a Union in which slavery – again, what Livingston clearly states “was a national wrong” – was peacefully and eventually eradicated, not one in which it was protected forever and/or extended into the territories or into Central or South America. Added to this, even if we concede that the only thing Americans fought for as soldiers in the Union Army (remember, many southerners, black and white, fought for the North) was the concept of “Union,” that was not something that lacked an idealistic element (please reread the Lincoln quote from Peoria). For millions of Americans, the “Union” was something they held dear, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers gave their life for its preservation rather than see it destroyed.

It is here, it seems, that Livingston most assuredly disagrees with Lincoln and the Republicans. He preferred the country split apart and argues that allowing the United States to divide peacefully by allowing secession would have been the better antislavery policy. More on this in future posts. But first, I have to ask: does the Confederate Veteran, or Livingston for that matter, realize the degree to which the arguments they are making are the arguments of Lincoln and the Republican Party?

Confederate Emancipation? Part 3: Did Thomas Jefferson Support Secession?

Did Thomas Jefferson favor secession? Would he have supported the Confederacy?

On the surface, it appears so. Donald Livingston offers his readers this quote from Jefferson: “If any state in the Union will declare that it prefers separation . . . to a continuance in union . . . I have no hesitation in saying, ‘let us separate.’” Added to this, one of Jefferson’s many biographers, historian Joseph Ellis, has said that “Jefferson would have gone with the Confederacy.”

As I read Livingston’s article on “Confederate Emancipation Without War,” and his use of the Jefferson quote above as supporting secession, I was reminded of an excellent article published in the Journal of Southern History in 2008 by Brian Steele, “Thomas Jefferson, Coercion, and the Limits of Harmonious Union.” This is now a chapter in his recent book on Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson and American Nationhood (2012). Steele has a much different assessment than Livingston, and I thought it worth noting here (all quotes and page #’s are from the Journal of Southern History piece, as I have not finished Steele’s book yet).

“Jefferson’s response to them [what Steele calls “crises of union during his own lifetime”], as well as his conception of union generally, suggests a different conclusion than the standard view: Jefferson believed that the executive had the duty to enforce the law throughout the Union and that the Union had a natural right to coerce seceding states and force them back into the fold” (page 825).

His support for his revisionist view? Below is a sample of Jefferson’s words in italics. For the rest, please read the entire article (or, I would assume, Steele’s book).

1. The Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions “did not advocate – or even broach – secession, and there were substantial qualitative differences between them and the later claims made by some New England Federalists and South Carolina nullifiers” (page 825). UPDATED: 9/4/2014 3:58 p.m. These are Steele’s words, not Jefferson’s. My apologies to my readers.

2. On the Articles of Confederation: “There never will be money in the treasury till the confederacy shews its teeth. The states must see the rod; perhaps it must be felt by some one of them. I am persuaded all of them would rejoice to see every one obliged to furnish its contributions [taxes] . . . . Every national citizen must wish to see an effective instrument of coercion” (page 829)

3. On James Madison comparing Jefferson and the South Carolina nullifiers: “Madison cited these letters of Jefferson to reject asserted connections between Jefferson’s views and South Carolina nullification. Madison marveled at ‘how closely the nullifier who make the name of Mr. Jefferson the pedestal for their colossal heresy, shut their eyes and lips, whenever his authority is ever so clearly and emphatically against them’” (page 830).

4. On “executive prerogative to preserve the nation”: “[S]elf-preservation is paramount to all law,” he told a correspondent in 1808. “There are extreme cases where the laws become inadequate even to their own preservation” (page 846).

5. Jefferson on secession’s evils: “if on a temporary superiority of the one party, the other is to resort to a scission of the union, no federal government can ever exist. if to rid ourselves of the present rule of Massachusetts & Connecticut, we break the union, will the evil stop there? suppose the N. England states alone cut off, will our natures be changed? are we not men still to the South of that, & with all the passions of men? immediately we shall see a Pennsylvania & a Virginia party arise in the residuary confederacy, and the public mind will be distracted with the same party spirit, what a game too will the one party have in their hands by eternally threatening the other that unless they do so & so, they will join their Northern neighbors. if we reduce our Union to Virginia & N. Carolina, immediately the conflict will be established between the representatives of these two states, and they will end by breaking into their simple units. . . . who can say what would be the evils of a scission and when & where they would end” (page 832-833)?

Regarding the quote Livingston cites about New England secession cited at the beginning of this post, Steele says that “Throughout the War of 1812, Jefferson repeatedly discussed the possibility that Massachusetts would secede from the Union. He often dismissed such worries because he considered secession so quixotic or preposterous” (page 850).

Steele’s conclusion is a masterpiece, and one that all Americans, but especially Livingston and the readers of his piece in the Confederate Veteran should read – and ponder:

“This admittedly brief and tentative examination of Jefferson’s response to several crises of union suggests that he was willing to enforce federal law in the face of opposition by state and local authorities, that he believed the Union was empowered to coerce a seceding state, and that he claimed executive prerogative in cases of national self-preservation or even of national interest. This was hardly James Buchanan’s position in 1860 and appears much closer to Lincoln’s. None of this is meant to imply that Jefferson and Lincoln embraced similar theories of Union. They did not. It is meant to suggest that our reflexive assumption that Jefferson’s approach to disunion would have approximated Buchanan’s or even of the fire-eaters needs careful reconsideration. The argument here should not be misread as a contrary assertion that Jefferson would not have ‘gone with the Confederacy’ but seen rather as a call for historians to reconsider our reflexive tendency to assume this counterfactual.”



Confederate Emancipation? Part 2

Yesterday I began my series of responses to philosopher Donald Livingston’s article in the Confederate Veteran magazine. I showed that Americans should never separate the secession of some southern states in 1860-61 from the cause for which they were seceding (e.g. to protect the institution of slavery). Livingston, I think, is aware of this, but he argues in his piece that “the Union had never been happy,” secession was constitutional, that slavery was not the sole cause of the war or the reason the war was fought, and that the “negotiated division” of the country would have led to the peaceful end of slavery. This, he says, would have been preferable to the “total war,” or “ruthless and criminal conquest,” that “Lincoln, Seward, Stanton, Grant and Sherman” perpetrated on the South. Sadly, he maintains, Americans venerate these men, to our moral and political detriment.

On the unhappy Union, here is Livingston:

The Union had never been happy. In 1794, when it was only five years old, Sena­tors Rufus King of New York and Oliver Ellsworth of Connecticut urged Senator John Taylor of Virginia to support a move to divide the Union. The two senators said the differences were too deep to be settled by the ordinary means of political negotia­tion. Northerners and Southerners, these Yankees said, “never had and never would think alike.”

By 1861 two quite different countries and identities had emerged from the Con­stitution that all had judged in 1788 to be an “experiment.” There were two quite different economic systems; profound dif­ferences on the nature of the Constitution, the tariff dispute, slavery in the western territories, and theological differences which had already split the churches. The two sections had come to hate each other beyond all reason. Rational discourse had become impossible. The Union, by any standard, was dysfunctional. It simply had failed. All of these difficulties, however, would have disappeared with a peaceful negotiated division.

It seems to me that many Americans, probably the vast majority (excepting, of course, the slaves who were creating wealth for the country and the natives who were being cleared out of their ancestral lands) were very happy with their Union, notwithstanding Livingston’s examples. In fact, even in 1861, the majority of the country did not want the country to break apart. Remember, only seven southern slave states seceded from the Union upon Lincoln’s election (there were fifteen slave states at the time), so in the immediate aftermath of the Republican victory in 1861, the majority of slave states did not want to see the country split up. Or, at the very least, they sought a way to keep it together.

To be sure, Livingston is right that the Union was “an experiment.” But that was precisely what bothered Americans about the potential break-up of the country. Such an eventuality, they believed, would prove that democratic government, or representative government, if you will, was unworkable. That, they thought, would have been an unmitigated disaster for liberty. Added to this, as Edward Pessen has shown (see his essay, How Different Were the North and South From Each Other), the antebellum North and South were more alike in 1860-61 than we think. They were hardly, as Livingston claims, “two quite different countries.” And, I wonder, by 1861, what was the most striking difference between the North and South? The institution of slavery, perhaps?

On secession, here is Livingston:

And it is not as if this option had not occurred to Americans before. From the ratification of the Constitution up to South Carolina’s secession, there was never a time in which a division of the Union was not publicly discussed as a policy option. And the section which most often consid­ered secession was New England: in 1804­-1814 over the Louisiana Purchase, Jeffer­son’s embargo, and the War of 1812; during 1845-48 over the annexation of Texas, and in 1850 over the fugitive slave act. All want­ed the Union to work, but all knew it was an artificial corporation created by a com­pact between the states for their mutual benefit. The Union was not, and had never been, an end in itself. This understanding was alive into the early 20″ century when Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachu­setts could say that after the Constitution was ratified by the people of the sovereign states: “there was not a man in the country, … who regarded the new system as any­thing but an experiment entered upon by the states, and from which each and every state had the right peaceably to withdraw, a right which was very likely to be exer­cised.”

Livingston is absolutely correct that secession had been discussed throughout the nation’s history, but when the Federalists considered it, for example, at the Hartford Convention, they were seen as disloyal to the country for considering such an option. Moreover, there is a big difference between thinking about secession and actually carrying it out, especially when one considers why some white southerners seceded (not everyone in the antebellum South favored secession and approximately 100,000 southerners, Lincoln’s Loyalists historian Richard Current called them, fought for the Union in the Civil War). And, when he writes that “all wanted the Union to work,” he is wrong. By 1850, there were “Fire-Eaters” who were manifestly working to divide the nation. They failed, of course, in 1850, but were more successful, sadly, a decade later.

Nor did “all” know the Union was “an artificial corporation.” As the Constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar has shown, when ratification of the Constitution was being discussed throughout the country after 1787, “no leading Federalist ever publicly sought to win over states’ rightists by conceding that a state could unilaterally nullify or secede in the event it later came to be dissatisfied. Never did they say, ‘Give the plan a try, and if you don’t like it, your state may always leave.'”James Madison himself thought that ratification of the Constitution was “in toto, for ever.” Or, consider what Andrew Jackson said, “The Constitution of the United States . . . forms a government, not a league”. Given this, Timothy Sandefur rightly maintains in his essay  How Libertarians Ought to Think About the Civil War, that no state could unilaterally secede from the Union.

As for the idea that the war was not about slavery, here is part of an interview with the historian Stephen Berry (please read the entire thing):

CWT (Civil War Trust): Is there a particular trend or narrative out there in Civil War scholarship that you disagree with that disturbs you because of its popularity?

SB (Stephen Berry): I wouldn’t call it a trend, per se – I wouldn’t give it enough dignity to be that, but this notion of high numbers of African-Americans who fought for the Confederacy. There are some myths that I think the internet makes un-killable, because the internet has the illusion of authority for some people, and that one can drive me absolutely crazy. Because it props up this notion that the war is somehow not fundamentally about slavery, and I tell my students basically – to be perfectly clear, on day one – if you don’t think that the Civil War is at root about slavery well then there’s the Flat Earth Society, who will be taking members. There’re people who think we faked the moon landing. I just want you to know where you are. I tell them if you want to believe that, and you want to hold onto that, then you don’t want to sit through this class. Because I’m not only right but my argument is going to carry the day at the end of this class, so if you want to keep that illusion you better get out! (emphasis mine)

There’s not a serious scholar in America who thinks any of that. I don’t know if there are other parts of the historiography that I fundamentally disagree with. I do think the question of enslaved African-Americans traveling with the Confederate Army, and the roles – forced roles – that they played. That’s starting to get some good attention, and has needed it, because they’re definitely a military asset for the Confederacy. Glenn Brasher’s book is good on this, and Jaime Martinez has written a book about this. I guess that’s part of my point about how healthy the historiography is. To me, there don’t seem to be these kinds of burning debates now. We’re mostly in agreement on the broad strokes, and having a great deal of fun fleshing out these new areas.

Livingston has been quite clear that he wants to rewrite the historical narrative of the United States and he has, I think, more influence than many people think. Consider, for example, that his Abbeville Institute, is hosting a conference at Liberty University this October/November.

Now, on Livingston’s claim that the peaceful “negotiated division” of the country would have led to the end of slavery, more on that later this week.

UPDATE: 9/2/14 4:30 p.m.

I have provided the link above to the article where Livington labels the cause of the Confederacy was “morally sound.”