Confederate Emancipation? Part I

Sorry I haven’t posted in some time, but I’ve been extraordinarily busy with the opening of the new fall semester. So, back to those who loathe Abraham Lincoln.

In the July/August issue of the Confederate Veteran magazine (one with the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest, on the cover), the Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston has a lengthy piece arguing that the Civil War was unnecessary, morally unjustified, criminally waged, harmful in its effects on the slaves, and that a “negotiated division” of the United States in 1860-61 would have been best. Added to this, he holds that the antebellum South, or Confederacy, as the title of his essay indicates (e.g. “Confederate Emancipation Without War”), had the “moral resources” to have ended slavery without northern intervention. Consequently, “‘the war’ has no moral merit whatsoever, not even the attenuated merit of generating an unintended good.”

Livingston’s article is divided up into numerous sections, the titles of which are below:

“War Crimes” (This serves as the Introduction and will be the focus of today’s post)

“Asking the Right Question About the Cause of the War”

“Anti-Slavery: A Mask Hiding Northern Economic Nationalism”

“Why the War Must be About Slavery, Even if it Was Not”

“Counting the Cost”

“Slavery Would Have Lasted Longer if the South Remained in the Union”

“Domestic Terrorism and the Republican Party”

“Would the South have Abolished Slavery in a Reasonable Amount of Time?”

“Black Slaveholders Accepted in Southern Society”

“Black ‘Due Process’ Rights in the Confederacy”

“Intimations of Emancipation in Southern Clerical Reforms”

“Arming and Emancipating Slaves in the Confederacy”

“Southern Moral Character and Emancipation”

“Black Support for the Confederacy”

“Confederate Emancipation: the Best Solution to Slavery”

“The Triumph of Northern Economic Nationalism”

Livingston’s essay begins with a thought experiment, asking his readers to contemplate the West Coast of the United States seceding and later creating a “Pacific federation.” As a result, “the administration in Washington” in essence invades this federation and destroys it. “Can there be any doubt,” Livingston asks, “that most thoughtful people in the world today would judge the United States, in the scenario described above, to be guilty of a crime against humanity? Yet that was in all essentials what happened in the War of 1861-65.”

Well, not exactly, for one essential, among others, that Livingston leaves out of his thought experiment is the reason for the formation of the “Pacific federation” he imagines. Suppose his piece opened in this manner (the wording is Livingston’s, with my additions and links in bold font) instead?

After losing a relatively democratic election, constitutionally and fairly conducted (except in their own region, where the winning candidate was left off the ballot), but one whose results were inimical to their interests, suppose the legislature of California should today call a convention of some of the people of the state to vote up or down an ordinance to secede from the Union so that they could continue to profit from the practice of human trafficking ‘in all future time,’ and it was later ratified by the people in convention. Suppose Oregon and Washington should do the same, and within three months eleven contiguous states had joined to form a Pacific federation and later fired the first shots in a war in order to continue buying and selling human beings as property.”

This reads quite differently doesn’t it? To say the least, the Pacific federation’s cause seems less innocent, even morally suspect. Yet Livingston leaves out this crucial information for understanding what happened in 1860-61. This is a short illustration of how Livingston – and, it must be said, many others – argue. They present their case for the Confederacy’s cause, or secession, in the most morally neutral (or positive) terms imaginable, while at the same time they omit the precise details that would render their brief, shall we say, objectionable. Livingston’s article is a long one, and I’ll be commenting in several posts on more of the specifics therein. Stay tuned!




5 thoughts on “Confederate Emancipation? Part I

  1. Why do those who love Lincoln want to control others with such fervor? Let the Pacific folks go, if that’s what they want. Regardless of why.

    • I find it difficult to characterize people who own slaves as “Pacific.” Is that what you meant to say?

      And, read my book, as for why Lincoln and the Republicans believed they could not allow secession.

  2. I was referring to the Pacific federation from Dr. Livingston’s thought experiment. Lincoln squashing our right to secede by insisting on the very bloodiest of wars is why we all live at the mercy of the federal leviathan today. See if you can punch any holes in this, from Dr. Livingston –
    Here, he cogently argues against Lincoln’s absurd lack of respect for state sovereignty.

  3. The article is stupid. It assumes that the war of aggression against the South was because of slavery. Slavery was not the cause of the “civil war.” If you really want embarrassment, understand that the North invaded the South because the South believed that the union was a confederation of sovereign states, and the North did not believe that at all. It believed that the federal government was dominant and that there were no sovereign states.

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