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.”



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!




The Anti-Lincoln Agenda and the Wall Street Journal

On July 26, author James Bovard published a piece in the Wall Street Journal that piqued my interest in that it argued that “the final episodes of the Civil War signified a radical change in the relation between citizens and the government that endured long after the South’s surrender at Appomattox.” He maintained that the war “stemmed in large part from the blunders and follies of politicians on both sides of the Potomac [which] resulted in a vast expansion of the political class’s presumption of power.” I think Bovard (I need to add here that I have not read his books, nor do I have any idea regarding his attitude toward Abraham Lincoln) is right, but  not in the sense that he intended. Rather, in his op-ed he ignores some recent scholarship on the Civil War’s inevitability, its destructiveness, and therefore, perhaps unwittingly, advances the anti-Lincoln agenda in popular discourse.

Bovard was particularly hard on General Philip Sheridan’s “destruction of the Shenandoah Valley” in the fall of 1864. To wit:

“The destruction of the Shenandoah Valley was carried out by Gen. Philip Henry Sheridan. Along an almost 100-mile stretch, the sky was blackened with smoke as his troops burned crops, barns, mills and homes. Sheridan reported to Grant in October 1864 that he had ordered the torching of all houses within a five-mile radius of where a politically connected Union officer had been shot. Sheridan ordered his men to leave the valley a ‘barren waste’ and boasted that when his operation was complete, the Shenandoah Valley ‘from Winchester to Staunton will have but little in it for man or beast.’

Because people lived in a state that had seceded from the Union, Sheridan acted as if they had automatically forfeited their property, if not their lives. Many who lived in the Shenandoah Valley, such as Mennonites, had opposed secession and refused to join the Confederate army, but their property was also looted and burned.

One newspaper correspondent traveling with Sheridan’s army reported: ‘Hundreds of nearly starving people are going North . . . not half the inhabitants of the valley can subsist on it in its present condition.” John Heatwole, author of “The Burning: Sheridan’s Devastation of the Shenandoah Valley’ (1998),  concluded: “The civilian population of the Valley was affected to a greater extent than was the populace of any other region during the war, including those in the path of Sherman’s infamous march to the sea in Georgia.'”

But, in his 2007 book, The Civil War and the Limits of Destruction, historian Mark Neely conceded that Sheridan did indeed, as Bovard claimed, tell Grant “that the valley should be made a barren waste.” But, Sheridan also added (something that Bovard omits) in that very same report that “the most positive orders were given, however, not to burn dwellings” (Neely, page 116) And as Neely also shows, Grant “had told Sheridan, ‘It is not desirable that buildings should be destroyed.’ In other words, no one was serious about making the valley literally a ‘barren waste,’ thought Grant tried to sound as fierce as possible and did sound more so than Sheridan or his subordinates” (Neely, page 116). Thus, “such fierce language that was used out of spleen and for the sake of public consumption, especially for the ears of the enemy” (Neely, page 117). Neely concluded that “the valley was not scorched” (page 115) Thus, Bovard’s characterization of the Shenandoah campaign needs serious modification if not outright dismissal.

Likewise in need of exposure to recent scholarship on the Civil War is Bovard’s claim that the politicians blundered into a needless war. This view of the war’s causes has a long pedigree stemming back to J.G. Randall’s essay “The Blundering Generation.”  This view held sway for a time among historians, but nowadays there is more and more examination of the war’s inevitability and a discounting of the idea that war was caused by inept politicians. All Bovard had to do was read James Oakes’s (full disclosure: Jim was on my dissertation committee and provided me invaluable advice for Loathing Lincoln, including the book’s title) magnificent 2012 book, Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865, which concluded that Lincoln’s election in 1860 “signaled the overthrow of the Slave Power and with it the inevitable destruction of slavery” (Oakes, page 64). Thus, the white slaveholding South seceded to protect and expand its peculiar and profitable institution, an institution they fought hard to preserve. In fact, related to this point, all the violence that Bovard laments could have been avoided in 1864: all the Confederacy had to do was rejoin the Union with their slaves emancipated. This they would not do, and therefore the violence they suffered at the hands of the Union army was entirely avoidable (a fact Bovard fails to mention). This very year, Oakes  followed Freedom National with another book available to Bovard, The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. Sadly, Bovard did not avail himself of either of Oakes’s work.

Finally, in addition to getting wrong the destructiveness of Sheridan’s campaign and the causes of the war, Bovard gets entirely wrong its results. Notice that he said in his piece that “the final episodes of the Civil War signified a radical change in the relation between citizens and the government that endured long after the South’s surrender at Appomattox.” Indeed it did. For the first time in American history, there was no slavery within the borders of the United States of America and ex-slaves, through the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, won for themselves citizenship and all the rights and duties that entailed. I would also imagine that the slaves were quite thrilled that the white South surrendered at Appomattox. Less thrilling was the violent and homicidal denial of the freedmen’s human rights over the ensuing decades. Lastly, if the war “resulted in a vast expansion of the political class’s presumption of power,” as he puts it, then Bovard is in disagreement with some pretty serious historians. Allen Guelzo (a conservative, it needs to be noted), has shown – in a speech to the Heritage Foundation no less – that the war did not result in the expansion of the federal government, at least not on any long-term basis:

“There is nothing obtuse about seeking long-term causes for the emergence of a federal government that has grown to such a gargantuan size that the entire American system seems to have become a relentless, interfering bureaucracy rather than an of-by-and-for-the-people democracy. But the effort to hang this around Lincoln’s neck [or Grant’s or Sheridan’s?] is both naïve and ill-informed, and what is worse, it obscures the importance of the Lincoln image for the defense and promotion of democratic government.

There is no doubt that the wartime emergency of 1861 to 1865 called out a significant increase in the size and scope of the federal government; what is important to notice, however, is that:

  • This increase was in response to a threat to the very life of the republic,
  • It bears no proportional resemblance to the scope of modern “big government,” and
  • The increase shrank back to its prewar proportions with no sense of having established a permanent precedent, much less a government-knows-best philosophy.

This increase was the creature of an emergency and was never seen by Abraham Lincoln as anything but that. Moreover, emergencies are emergencies: ‘I can no more be persuaded that the government can constitutionally take no strong measure in time of rebellion, because it can be shown that the same could not be lawfully taken in time of peace,’ wrote Lincoln in 1863, ‘than I can be persuaded that a particular drug is not good medicine for a sick man, because it can be shown to not be good food for a well one.’[48]

If anything, what Lincoln demonstrates is that democratic government, when assailed, is both strong enough to take the measures required for its defense and strong enough to lay them down again when the danger has passed. It is a mark of confidence in our own principles, not the decay of their purity, that Americans are able both to do what an emergency requires for the survival of their republic and to put those measures by when peace is restored. There will always be legitimate alarm, even in an emergency, about the use of ‘a particular drug.’ What Lincoln’s example means is that we neither allow the alarm to paralyze us nor become necessarily addicted to the ‘drug.’”

So, instead of informing the public about the intractability of the war’s causes, the limits, as Neely put it, of its destructiveness, or its temporarily freedom broadening results, Bovard’s piece reinforces the idea that cynical politicians can’t do anything right and that the Civil War was a needless conflict that gave us a “vast expansion of the political class’s presumption of power” instead of the emancipation of 4 million human beings from Inhuman Bondage. The Wall Street Journal is one of the world’s greatest newspapers (and one I enjoy reading every day). In this instance, however, it failed its readers.



Loathing Lincoln on Houston TV

I taped a segment with the television show “Red, White, and Blue” in late May, and it will be airing on Channel 8 two times this weekend: Friday, July 25, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, July 27, at 12:30 p.m. The show lasts 30 minutes and is hosted by Linda Lorelle. Gary Polland (a conservative) and David Jones (a liberal) each asked me questions. I was shocked at how quickly the time went by and I am not a little nervous as to how I did, so tune in this weekend!


Confederate License Plates in Texas?

A few days ago The Houston Chronicle reported  that the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) “want to exercise the same rights enjoyed by any other Texan and pay homage to their heritage with a personalized license plate.”

This has predictably stirred up some controversy, with Jerry Patterson, the Texas Land Commissioner and a member of the SCV defending that right. Today (Saturday, July 19), Walter Kamphoefner, a Professor of History at Texas A & M, produces a devastating response to Patterson’s claims. I have written on this site about my objections to celebrating Jefferson Davis’s birthday, not to mention the way that many of Lincoln’s enemies selectively quote Lincoln and therefore distort his racial views. One should also see the pointed questions Edward Sebesta (full disclsure: Ed gave me considerable help with my book) has asked the SCV. Sebesta posed these questions in April and to my knowledge he has received no reponse from the SCV answering his queries.

Take a moment to peruse these links and I think any fair-minded person will see who has the better of the argument. And this leads me to wonder: if politicians such as Mr. Patterson get the history of the Civil War so egregiously wrong, then why should Americans trust them when they lecture the country on how we are straying from the country’s founding principles?


Will the loathing – and the lies – ever end?

Obviously, no. But, historian Brooks Simpson has been doing a wonderful job going after some blatant distortions, if not outright lies, that some of Lincoln’s enemies continue to perpetrate. The most recent – if it can even be called that because these false accusations have been around for a very long time indeed – is that Lincoln and his wife Mary owned a slave.