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?