As the Jewish Marxist Walter Benjamin said, "History is written by the victor", which is another way of saying, "don’t believe what you’ve been told".
When I hear people talk about the civil war and slavery, it reminds me of a movie, "Abe Lincoln: Vampire Hunter", because I often feel that’s as based on reality as their perceptions are (they were believing what they’d been told). A few facts that escape their version of the telling:
- The first shots in the civil war were fired over taxes and tariffs (Morrill Tariff), not slavery
- The Corwin Constitutional Amendment (passed by Congress) offered the South to keep slaves forever, the South declined
- The South offered to give up slaves if the North let them go, the North declined
- The 3/5th clause was more limiting slavery than condoning it
- Lincoln was a racist, not an abolitionist, and violated the Constitution more than any other President
- Lincoln fought for pride and conquest, the South for freedom and self government: slavery was a catalyst, not the cause
- And so on.
History is rich and complex, not this shallow flat "good vs. bad" or the North was righteous and the South was evil bullshit. Since I care about the uncomfortable truths, more than the comforting fictions, I often discuss these things. Not to diminish what happened, or deny the points of either side, but by remembering the truth of what really happened (from both sides). Of course, since my family came to America, long after this, I have no dog in the fight, and can look at it more objectively than many. But if we care about learning from history, we first have to give up our comforting fictions (caricatures) and learn what really happened.
The truth is the Civil war was partly about slavery, but slavery alone wasn’t nearly enough to have a war over. It wasn’t even the top impetus that started the war, and certainly not what most people were fighting about (at least according to what both sides said at the time). The war had been festering for over 60 years before it happened and it was much more fundamental (slavery was more a symptom or catalyst than a cause).
## But it was all about Slavery in my books…
Saying ending slavery was why we fought the civil war, is like saying saving the Jews was why we fought WWII. I’m glad we did, but it wasn’t the cause.
Yes, those that learn about the civil war in our indoctrination camps (Jr. High and High School), or listen to talking heads in the media, can easily walk away thinking that was the primary cause. For a moment, imagine that the victors weren’t completely righteous in all their actions. Do you trust them to tell you the truth, or to offer you their marketing spin? If you’re critical thinker, then you’re a least a little skeptical about history being so simple.
When you look back at the historical records of both sides, we know that neither the North or South had it as their top issue at the start of the war (though it was an issue behind some of the friction). Remember these key points:
- Much of the sensationalized stories about the evils of slavery are fictional exaggerations written by abolitionists (activists) – that doesn’t mean slavery was good or tolerable (it was ugly and vile), but when the stories were checked at the time (or later), most were exaggerated, demonstrably false, or unlikely — and these lies were dividing and polarizing the nation as much as the ugly truths
- The South offered to give up Slavery, if the North let them go, the North declined.
- The North offered to add a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing slavery forever, if the South returned, the South declined.
- Lincoln made a speech proclaiming he’d gladly tolerate slavery, "If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it…", they fought anyways.
- Only 5% of the Southern population owned slaves (though per households was higher, since homes were multigenerational)
- As a percentage, free-blacks had more slaves than free whites in the South, and there were hundreds of thousands of free blacks
- The South debated giving up slavery to get Europe (either France or England) on their side and earn their freedom. They abandoned it when they realized that Europe was more allied with the North, but that they were willing to consider it, shows it was about more than slavery
- 2 years into the war, the emancipation proclamation was signed as a PR/recruiting stunt; an executive order (no authority),, never voted on by Congress, and exempted a million slaves under Lincoln’s control from being freed (including General Grant’s four slaves, while Robert E. Lee had freed his slaves before the war). So it never freed a single slave in the North (those Lincoln had authority over), and freed only the slaves that he had no authority over. Even then, it gave Southern States three months to return to the Union and pay their taxes, and they could keep their slaves. (So it was a giant bluff/threat). But many are taught to revere it as if it did anything significant or moral.
- The North refused to pass an Amendment abolishing slavery until January 31, 1865 (three months before Appomattox: only freeing the slaves after the war was over). It was a consolation prize for fighting, not the purpose for it. Otherwise they would have lead with it, not ended with it.
Ask yourself (or others), if both sides were both willing to give on the issue of slavery to end the war, then how could slavery be the primary cause? And if it was the primary cause, then why didn’t Lincoln make it an issue until over 6 months into the war, or not free the slaves until after it was all but over?
The truth was Lincoln had promised a quick end to the war, but it wasn’t going well, and after 6 months he first mentioned slavery as a reason to fight as a recruiting tool and a "cause" to fight for, because, “we want to make them pay our taxes” didn’t sell as well. Plus it played well with his European audience/allies. Turns out despite overwhelming odds, the South’s superior education (Generalship), and motivation, had them almost win their liberty a few times. While most people in the North only fought because they were conscripted or paid. Then after the war, the North had the choice of History being recorded as either:
- (a) the bullies won (the truth that they ignored the spirit of the Constitution to get into the war, then ignored the Constitution to fight it and win)
- (b) they could offer a revisionism fiction of compassionate abolitionists fighting against the mean slave-masters of the South (in order to free the downtrodden black folk)
They chose to celebrate it as the latter, but it’s not exactly the whole truth.
## If not slavery, what was it about?
Well, slavery would always be part of it, but as seen above, both sides could have found compromises on that if it hadn’t been for the other issues.
The issues in priority order would include the following:
- Representation / Demographics / Tariffs (Taxes)
- States rights / Cultural differences / Politics
- Slavery / Security
Representation / Demographics
The prime problem was that the North was taking in lots of low education European immigrants inflating their population ranks and industrializing: they were outnumbering the South, and the South was getting less and less say in everything. When the Constitution was created, one of the primary fights was to make sure that while the populous states might be able to bully the less populous ones in the House, but the Senate would weight State’s equally (regardless of population), to diminish that impact. (An inefficient government is far less bad than an efficient bullying one, assuming you’re trying to keep a nation together).
But it wasn’t working, the North was gaining more states (votes in the Senate), and more population in those states (votes in the House), and using their powers to guarantee that would continue. The south was getting steppped on, ignored, and the industrialists and bankers in the North were making the South pay most of the taxes to benefit the North. Anti-slavery laws were one of the main examples of the divide, but the South cared even more about the taxes and tariffs.
> Progressivism: the North’s numbers wouldn’t have been a problem if the North followed the spirit of the Constitution: they didn’t want federal control and were only self-governing. But they had the numbers, and the moral superiority (in their mind), so they used their power to force the south to do what the north wanted and the south didn’t. Today we’d call it progressivism; 50%+1 bullying the minority, “for their own good". If the side with the most power leaves the other one alone, there’s rarely a fight. If they keep making the other side do things that aren’t in their interests, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a fight: the lash causes the backlash, and they fight. Almost all civil wars started with what one side sees as progress, and the other does not.
The North’s kept passing isolationist taxes and tariff’s (40%+ surcharges on most foreign goods) that would allow Northern Industry to jack up their prices and force Southern plantations to buy things at inflated premiums (40% over normal profits), then the Wall St. Bankers would use loans (required to purchase those goods) to squeeze the South via high interest rates, or foreclose. For some reason, the South resented this.
Threats of secession punctuated the political dialogue from 1819 until the civil war. Here’s the timeline:
- Tariff of 1816 set the nations import rate at an average of 20% (the norm for the time). The South imported more than the North, so this was fine with the South, but the North (New England) wanted higher tariffs so they could keep raising their prices. The North also wanted more federal programs (that they spent in the North), and since the main source of federal revenue was this tariff (there were no income taxes), and the South paid the hogs share of it, they were happy to keep raising it.
- 1828 "Tariff of Abominations" brought the tariff level up to 40%, this infuriated the South (especially South Carolina/Charleston). Andrew Jackson won later in 1828, partly on the expectation to fix this, but he didn’t. In the mean time this caused economic recession in the South (while the North kept growing).
- Tariff of 1832 – After 4 years they got a slight softening, but it wasn’t near enough, and Vice President John C. Calhoun resigned in disgust over the conflict. South Carolina said since those tarrif’s were unconstitutional that would ignore them, and was preparing to secede. The North wanted the money, so they sent a naval flotilla to blockade Charleston (and was about to send ground troops). South Carolina started fortifications, called up the militias and was preparing to fight. This event is called the Nullification Crisis of 1832
- 1833 realizing that civil war was about to break out, Congress passed a Compromise Tariff bill that promising to gradually cut tariffs back down over the next 10 years, until by 1842 they would match the 20% levels set in the Tariff of 1816. Both sides backed down. At least until Lincoln was elected and jacked the tariffs up again.
- 1842 once the tariffs had finally gotten down to the "correct level" (from the South’s point of view), the Whigs (Republicans) waited 2 months before reversing themselves and enacted the Black Tariff, to raise them back up to pre-compromise levels, infuriating the South again. This lead to infighting and the self-destruction of the Whig Party, who re-formed as the Republicans
- 1846 Again, as dissatisfaction and anger had been mounting over the Black Tariffs, the Democrats enacted the Walker Tariff, easing the tariff rates back down towards 25% and ending a trade-war with the UK (who repealed their corn laws) allowing Southern agriculture to sell into the UK, and things were calming again
- Then the Tariff of 1857, dropped them further to 17% average and the South was happy. But that didn’t last long.
- 1860 part of Lincolns campaign they promised to enact the Morrill Tariff Act, which doubled the Federal sales tax on imports to an average of 40% again, giving the North the fat tariffs that hurt the South.
Lincoln wasn’t allowed on a single Southern State’s ballots because of issues like the Morrill Tariff, but he won anyways, without a single Southern Vote. The South felt that was taxation without representation. They started withdrawing immediately because Lincoln’s victory proved the south had no significant say in the government any more, and they weren’t going to live with the 40% import tax, a President they despised and hadn’t voted for, by a party that ignored and belittled them. They knew they were completely outnumbered, with the trend only getting worse, that triggered the civil war (South Carolina seceding, again).
Don’t take my word for it (that taxes/tariffs was the last straw), read what they said.
- December 25, 1860 South Carolina declared unfair taxes as the cause of secession: “The British parliament undertook to tax the Colonies, to promote British interests. Between taxation without any representation, and taxation without a representation adequate to protection, there was no difference.” … “And so with the Southern States towards the Northern States, in the vital matter of taxation, they are in a minority in Congress.”… "The people of the Southern States are not only taxed for the benefit of the Northern States, but after the taxes are collected, three-fourths (75%) of them are expended at the North (to subsidize Wall Street industries that elected Lincoln)."
- January 29, 1861 Causes of Secession, Georgia: “The material prosperity of the North was greatly dependent on the Federal Government; that of the South not at all. In the first years of the Republic the navigating, commercial and manufacturing interests of the North (i.e. Wall Street industries) began to seek profit and aggrandizement at the expense of the agricultural interests.”… “After having enjoyed (price) protection (by high tariffs) to the extent of from 15 to 200 per cent upon their entire business for above thirty years, the (low tariff) act of 1846 was passed. It avoided sudden change, but the principle was settled, and free trade, low duties (tariffs), and economy in public expenditures was the verdict of the American people.”
- Lincoln agreed it was over taxes and not slavery, time and time again. He never even mentioned slavery in his two war Proclamations
- March 4th in his First Inaugural Address, "The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the government (the four Federal tax collection forts), and to collect the duties and imposts (import tax); but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere.”… for him it was about the Morrill Tax (and the forts used to collect those taxes), not ending slavery.
- Remember, secession wasn’t the first shot in a war. On April 8, 1861, Lincoln started the war by a surprise attack on Charleston Harbor with a fleet of warships, to occupy Fort Sumter: a Federal tax collection fort in the territorial waters of South Carolina and then invaded Virginia.
- April 15, 1861 Lincoln declared war against the Confederate States, "Whereas, the (revenue) laws of the United States have been for some time past, and now are opposed by combinations too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course, now, therefore, I call forth the militia of the several States, to the aggregate number of 75,000, in order to suppress said combinations, and to cause the laws to be duly executed"
- Then on April 15 and 19th, 1861 he said, "Whereas an insurrection against the Government of the United States has broken out and the laws of the United States for the collection of the revenue cannot be effectually executed therein."
- Then in his first First Message to the U.S. Congress, penned July 4, 1861, "My policy sought only to collect the Revenue (a 40 percent federal sales tax on imports to Southern States under the Morrill Tariff Act of 1861)."
So the shooting was triggered over taxes, not slavery.
Remember, it couldn’t have been about slavery as Lincoln wasn’t an abolitionist. Though Lincoln was called an abolitionist and other worse insults in the South, but they knew he wasn’t really one. But they also knew that his party was an abolitionist party, with no qualms about fucking over the south as it suited them (as demonstrated by the Morrill Tariff).
Lincoln tried to assuage the South’s fears in his first inaugural address he said,
- "I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
He went on to explicitly state that he had no objection to the proposed Corwin Amendment to the Constitution, which had already been approved by both houses of the United States Congress. To quote,
- “I understand a proposed [Corwin] Amendment to the Constitution has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. Holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
In other words, this constitutional amendment would have formally protected slavery. Lincoln then went on to say he thought that this right was already protected in the original Constitution, and thus that the Corwin Amendment merely reiterated what the Constitution already contained.
So the South had Lincoln and the North’s word, but then they’d already broken their word many times, on the tariffs. So while they were saying they would tolerate slavery, their actions had said otherwise. More than that, the South was getting no functional say in government. Slavery was not the cause for the war in 1861 — it was distrust, tariffs, cultural differences and many other things, as exemplified by the friction over slavery.
Northern revisionists started claiming slavery was the cause after the war, and that myth is a caricature of history that many believe to this day.
What about States Rights?
This states’ rights doctrine of nullification had remained controversial from 1787 right up to the civil war. The South felt that they had the right to ignore unconstitutional laws being passed by the North, and leave if the North was disregarding the State’s interests. It was even codified by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in 1798 in the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions, which gave themselves the justification for nullification and secession (in response to powers granted to the fed in the Alien & Seditions act), summed up, "if the Fed overreached, then the States could ignore or leave". Now it was never ratified into the Constitution, but it helps to see where their heads were at. Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, all claimed the same powers over the fed, when the fed didn’t do things they liked (embargo act of 1807, war of 1812, and so on). And of course South Carolina, and the other Confederate States all used it as justification for the secession as well. The idea was being overturned by the Supreme Court (Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee 1816, McCulloch v. Maryland 1819), but the facts are the States weren’t buying it, and these points were deeply held beliefs, long predating the civil war. "We have the right to leave" was common, and it was just a matter of time before someone tried.
Even before that in 1786 there was almost never a union in the first place. After winning the revolution, we were trying to decide where the borders would be placed (what right folks had, etc.). One of the battles was over water transportation rights to the Mississippi River. The north didn’t care since they are rivers were east west, while the south was furious that the north was willing to give those rights away to the Spanish to gain other concessions. Jefferson and Madison stepped in and were able to get the north to see that if they gave that up, then the south, and the west, would eventually secede (and protect their own interests), and that they should be allowed to leave. The north shouldn’t be able to give away right of others (like transit), for personal gain.
So a good part of the fight was over whether we were going to be self governed at the State level, or governed by bureaucrats in D.C. based on the shifting winds of populous tyranny of 50%+1. The South felt it was morally superior because of it’s traditions and education: having slaves meant the South had more free time and there were often more educated, and they didn’t have an influx of low-education immigrants coming in and polluting their voting pools, and so on. The North felt it was morally superior because of it’s industry, diversity, and not having slavery (just sweat shops and indentured servitude). The difference was if the South had power, they just used it to be left alone (State’s rights). When the North got power, it was going to use it to tell the South what to do (Federal Powers). Almost all friction comes from "progressives" trying to force their views on those who don’t want them.
The South might have wanted to keep slaves, but they didn’t want to be slaves: so I suppose those claiming it was about slavery could be right, in their own way. It wasn’t about slavery in the south, but about enslaving the entire South.
> Slavery: As an aside, this brings us to another fallacy, that Slavery was all about mean whites oppressing poor blacks. A few things dispel those myths. Slavery wasn’t white people catching and keeping black slaves, it was black and/or muslim slavers selling blacks as slaves (blacks had brought slavery to Africa long before whites traded in them). There were more white slaves taken from Europe and/or sold to black or ottoman empire than there were blacks taken as slaves to the Americas. Many whites, Asians, others came to the Americas as indentured servants, and had to buy and work there way out (more in number than black slaves). And many blacks were able to work their way out too (that more of them didn’t, was sort of where the "lazy black" ideas came from. Do you know who brought slavery to the new world? That would be Native Americans, long before the white settlers. So we can agree that racist elements of southern slavery could be worse, but not that it was particularly unique or something America created: we inherited it from Native Americans, Africans, Europeans, the middle east, and Asia.
> No other country in the world sacrificed over half a million people (mostly white) to end slavery. And if all whites (most of whom had nothing to do with slavery), owe all blacks reparations (many of which did have something to do with slavery, and none of whom suffered in this generation or the prior couple), then blacks equally owe all white descendants of the civil war, not to mention if we can trace any of them back to slavers, what they would owe. And Islam would owe the most, as they were the biggest perpetuators of slavery. To this day, if you look around the globe there’s still a ton of slavery going on, mostly in or because of support by the Muslim world.
> The point isn’t that black slaves didn’t get hit by racism and bigotry, and suffer mightily; they did. It’s just that the caricature that they were the only ones that suffered, or that we can unravel the tangled web of who is owed what reparations by whom. Every group is owed by some other during the conquest era, but we’re never going to sort out all the injustices, and trying just divides us. So like it or not, the civil war pretty much pays for our slave debts. And the truth is blacks in America should be celebrating how much better they have it than blacks in the rest of the world (just like the Whites, Asians and Latinos should), even their ancestors paid for it in their suffering.
So Slavery had nothing to do with it?
Of course Slavery had something to do with the war. We inherited it, and we were trying to eradicate it — even the South was fairly resigned to letting it die out over time. At the time of the Revolution it was on the decline and everyone thought it was going to fade out in a few generations. But then the Cotton Gin was invented (1794) and it turned cotton into a highly profitable crop, and lead to a resurgence in slavery. It was back on the decline by the time the civil war happened. It’s a complex topic.
You often hear about the 3/5ths claus; "Blacks were only 3/5ths of a human being". But think this through. What happened is we were negotiating how to get rid of slavery and create a system where Congressional votes were based on population. If the South’s population included slaves (5/5ths), they’d have much more influence, and it would be harder to eliminate slavery — so the North got a compromise that slaves only counted as 3/5ths of a person (for purposes of congressional representation) in order to reduce the influence of the South/Southern States would had in congress.
Many that use 3/5ths claus in the Constitution to claim we are founded on slavery. They are getting it backwards: we inherited that from the British Empire and Spaniards and French before us — what the 3/5th claus shows is that we were trying to grow out of it, from our very founding, and how the founding fathers tried to diminished the influence of slavery on population based representation. They were putting it on a track towards extinction and trying to wait it out. If the Constitution didn’t compromise to weaken it, the South would have created their own country and Slavery would have been strengthened. Context matters.
The South felt they had the tiger by the tail. There had been uprisings in slave countries like the Haitian Slave Revolt, Cuba had slave revolts in 1795, 1798, 1802, 1805, 1812 (the Aponte revolt), 1825, 1827, 1829, 1833, 1834, 1835, 1838, 1839–43 and 1844 (the La Escalera conspiracy and revolt). Caribbean Islands had them. Brazil, Puerto Rico, and so on. There were 8 million whites, 4 millions slaves, and .25M free blacks, the Southerns knew the practicalities of having millions of mouths to feed, or millions of fit field workers who might try to harm them in an uprising. When the North wasn’t meddling, it was discussed how to get out from under this problem. But as soon as a Northerner started talking about quick fixes (like abolition without compensation), or started selling their propaganda on what the South was like, it polarized folks and discussions shut down.
Activism vs. reality: Remember, Abolitionists were activists, not moderates or historians. They’d write fantastical books, or tell sensationally exaggerated stories about how bad slavery was, and it would inflame both sides. They wanted change, and weren’t above lying or propaganda to do it (they were progressives, and the sales pitch / exaggerations are part of that). So they’d show one slaves whip scars in every newspaper, and pretend that was the norm. Or wrap up every sensational story they heard, in exaggerated form, into some propaganda book. And those fictions and exaggerations infuriated people in the South who lived side-by-side with slaves (may have been raised by them), and knew that the stories being told were rare exceptions, exaggerations, or those that did those things had been convicted of crimes and punished. (Like the perpetrator of the scarred back that was so popular).
There was a patriarchal symbiosis — and as condescending as it is today, the slaves were valuable property. Beating your slave would be like beating your horse that was exhausted — it was highly frowned on, and wasn’t good business. The same with splitting up families unnecessarily, or the exaggerations about breeding programs and so on. Doing those things demoralized the slaves, which harmed output, and that just wasn’t good business. Field work sucked, and the stereotype of slaves or blacks being "lazy", was because it was common in economics of the day that you could pay field hands and get far more work done than with an equal amount of slave labor. Like in socialism, when you aren’t getting to keep the profits, you work less hard. A way to compensate for that was many slaves were allowed to work one day a week, and keep those profits for themselves (that’s how so many slaves became freemen). The idea was that free day set the pace for the rest of the week. (The irony is keeping 1 day of 7 means economically, you were taxed at 86%, or less than Bernie Sanders and others who think we should have a 90% top tax rate. Economically, they’re advocate making people more slaves today, than the real slaves were, where’s the outrage at that?).
That’s not to say there weren’t problems in the South, or that slavery wasn’t a vile institution, or there weren’t abuses. It was vile, and some owners were just bad bosses. But the majority in the south would have been appalled by the excesses, so implying it was the norm (as the Northern abolitionists and their followers did), was driving a cultural wedge between the regions: the North’s caricature of the slave South didn’t fit the reality, so the two sides became more polarized. If an accuser starts with a fiction, then even if the rest is true, both side’s have a valid grievance — and the North was too arrogant to consider the possibility that their overstating things might not be helping.
Some states mentioned Slavery as part of their secession reasons
Many revisionists will talk about how "slavery" was mentioned as a reason to secede, or pick out a few quotes from the southern speakers/speeches, and try to present that as all there was — thus proving it was about slavery to them. It’s partly true, but that’s called a lie of omission.
The problem is while 5 of the 13 Confederate States did mention slavery in their Secession Ordinances, and the Constitution of the Confederacy expressly allowed slavery, it was not the only grievance: all 13 mentioned other issues like; taxation, freedom, self determination, the North’s contemptuous and condescending attitudes towards the South, or things that can be grouped as “states rights”. Slavery is certainly a strong part of the South, and it was vocalized often by the South as an example of the bigger issues (an attack on their way of life, which included slaves), but it wasn’t the only thing that caused the rift. An how did the South complain? It was contempt for their property right: they could have their property taken from them without compensation (slaves couldn’t travel with them, or wouldn’t be returned if stolen or freed). It was still about the economics: if there had been compensated emancipation (see below), this would have been a non-issue (or at least much less of one).
The same with public speakers and speeches, there were certainly pissed-off speakers (including the Confederacies new Vice President) which ranted against the North’s bigotry and misrepresentation of slavery. But then if you look at those complaints, you find they bitched about lots of other things the North was doing as well, it was certainly about a lot more than just slaves. So again with the WWII comparison, Hitler certainly bitched a lot about the Jews, but that doesn’t mean that the entire war was fought exclusively or even primarily over freeing the Jews.
When "historians" lie (omit all the evidence that doesn’t agree with their points), what does that say? If you’re confident and assured of your points, what you do is present the best evidence against your argument, then the best for it (eviscerate that argument with the facts). You do not present half-truths, forget the best arguments of the other side, then pretend that’s all there is to the story… and then try to change the subject or shout-down any disagreement. Which tack does the, "it was only about slavery" crowd take, and what does that tell you? Either not very good advocates for their cause, or their cause isn’t as clear as they pretend.
Lincoln the statesman
People like to revise history by claiming Lincoln was this grand statesman, but he really wasn’t. The nation was torn apart because of his election, and with his delicate diplomatic hand, he did the following:
- Contrary to the design of the U.S. Constitution, Lincoln wanted a strong central government (not a voluntary confederation of sovereign states), so he invented one.
- Lincoln didn’t like slavery, but he wouldn’t have started a civil war over it — but he didn’t want to be the President that let the Union split. Thus a state’s constitutional right to secede was twisted into "an act of treason" and an excuse for war, all to assuage his ego
- He starting the war without the consent of Congress, illegally declared martial law, blockaded Southern ports and waged war on Southern civilians
- He suspended the constitution by ignoring the Ninth and Tenth amendments, then introduced the slavery of conscription and income taxation
- He suspended habeas corpus, arrested tens of thousands of political opponents, shut down hundreds of opposition newspapers, and then imprisoned their editors and owners (so much for the First Amendment)
- He illegally orchestrated the secession of West Virginia, and the rigging of Northern elections
- When the Supreme Court complained (and ruled against him), he basically told them to piss off and he’d do what he wanted, and if they didn’t like it, they could send their non-existent Supreme Court army to stop him (in modern parlance, that’s called a military Coup d’état).
This is why when John Wilkes Booth (think of an actor more famous than say Brad Pitt), shot Lincoln, he said, "Sic Semper Tyrannis" (thus always to tyrants). To the South he’d illegally refused to let them leave, and then to add insult to injury, he violated the constitution with how he executed the war, arrested anyone that opposed him, went against the Supreme Court, and so on. He was a tyrant. (Of course no one was happy that Booth shot him either. It had been a long war, and everyone was ready for the fighting to stop).
Imagine Lincoln was a statesman and tried one of the following, how might the world, nation or war have been different:
- Had he reversed the Morrill Tariff, and given the South more time to see he was reasonable? A great statesman might have convinced the South to come back before shooting started (or even after) — instead he sent ships in to force them into compliance of an unjust tax, and caused the war
- The way other countries freed the slaves in a way that wouldn’t cause a war (by ruining the South) is called Compensated Emancipation: you compensate the slave owners for freeing their slaves (offsetting the loss). Whether you agree with the institution or not, they had invested heavily into buying a slave when it was legal, and they needed compensation/returns or you were ruining them financially. In law, you don’t punish occurrences of something that took place before the statute was enacted (no ex post facto laws). Compensation could have avoided war, or at least how vehemently many fought and supported it, or helped them rebuild after the war. But that would have meant the North would have had to bear some of the burden for ending slavery. Lincoln contemplated it, but only enacted it in DC (for a few of his allies and cronies). He chose to let the South suffer and made a much bigger and longer rift than there needed to be because of it. And before people pretend it wasn’t possible or practical, remember how much the war cost in lives and money instead, or how many other countries managed to end slavery without civil war by using this method: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, British Empire, Chile, Colombia, Danish colonies, Netherlands, Ecuador, French colonial empire, Mexico and Central America, Paraguay, Peru, Spanish Empire. Sweden, Uruguay, Venezuela.
- Look at Lincolns actions after the war, the federal occupation and carpetbaggers weren’t loved or even helpful. The Morrill Tarriff stayed on for 40 more years, crushing the South under a high tax burden, and most of that money was going to develop northern cities. The fiction is that "compassionate Lincoln and the North helped the South rebuild", the truth is the South was extorted and forced to pay tribute via the Morrill tariff, many lost their homes and plantations to Northern bankers, productivity crashed, and their economy went downhill. The South was devastated after the war because of policies they fought against, proving that they were right to fight: because the alternative was unfair burdens and ruination.
- Lincoln not only wasn’t an abolitionist, today he’d be thought of as a white supremacist. Of course comparing someone of yesteryear by todays values is a bit of a fallacy (presentism). But the point is he didn’t think of blacks as equal, he thought of them more like the ASPCA thinks of animals: an inferior species need to be protected by superior one. He felt we could never live mixed, and he had plans (and started efforts) to ship all the blacks back to Liberia/Africa or elsewhere after the war, so there could be peace. But he took a bullet before that plan came to fruition. But imagine how he would be remembered if he hadn’t, and had started forced bussing of the blacks to somewhere else? The best thing that happened to his (and JFK’s) reputation, was taking a bullet. If they hadn’t we’d remember who they really were, and not the deified caricatures of what some wanted them to be.
Another side-effect of the war, that you don’t read in history books, is that the North came in, and disenfranchised a bunch of trained soldiers. Now wanted by the north for actions in the war, financially ruined by the north’s policies, their homes and culture (if they could return) were being changed, they had absolutely no loyalty to a Country that had beaten them by breaking the Constitution (which they knew to be a sham). What was the result of that? Well, many moved west and became train and bank robbers.
Start looking up the origins of the gangs, and it becomes a common theme that they served together in the South. The sudden burst in crime and lawlessness in the midwest and west turns out to be because many units that fought together in the war against the North, became gangs. They’d faced shooting and war before, so they were used to being shot at, the law had no meaning since the government had proven the law was arbitrary, and anything they did to the U.S. (or the big corporations in the North) was justified by what the U.S. had done to them. So much of the lawlessness of the west, and the "gangs of outlaws" were ex-confederate soldier units (or groups mimicking them) and it was a byproduct of "the war of Northern Aggression".
> Confederate Flag : When you see the Confederate Flag, that’s what it meant to the South. Unlike the North, they remember both sides of the history, the fiction taught in Northern Schools, and the one they can read in the history books, that’s far more mixed. So to them, the Confederate Flag is remembering the fight for what the constitution once stood for: liberty in the fact of an opponent that felt "any means necessary" was justified to win. While they valued honor, tradition and the liberty of the original constitution. Of course, the irony is that they did that while partly fighting for slavery. But this brings irony to the whammy of the North trying to outlaw the Confederate flag: not only was history raped, but now they can’t even have the first amendment to remind people that they remember it was raped.
The point of this isn’t to excuse the South, or rationalize slavery, just to remember the real truths and lessons.
- Slavery predated America, we were founded on the slow eradication of it. (Too slow for many, but it was the opposite of what they claim, which was to perpetuate it). The civil war paid our debts and then some. And if we want to start picking apart guilt, there’s plenty to go around — not just to white folks who had ancestors that behaved badly. But to black folks who did as well. Or the majority of people in the country who had little or nothing to do with slavery.
- Most of America had abolished Slavery before the civil war (both in geography and demography), and like it or not, it was on the decline in the South (again) before the civil war. We can’t know what if’s, but there’s every reason to believe it would have only lasted another generation or two, without the civil war. In a lot of ways, it was the pushing by the North that made the South more incalcitrant
- Lincoln changed the country, with the exception of ending slavery, most of it was for the worse. While I’m glad that slavery ended, I think that was a given path either way. I don’t resent that he ended it by force — it should have ended sooner. But I resent that he violated the Constitution and created many of the worst parts of the country that exist today (income taxes, might makes right, stronger fed / less individual liberties, willingness of later Presidents to ignore the law when it suits them, conscription/draft, less tolerance, and so on). We missed a huge growth opportunity, because when given the choice of learning tolerance or persuasion, he just went with the bully’s path of force (might makes right) and won.
Some will claim this is just southern appeasement or propaganda, and I guess to a point it is. It turns out if you want to understand the South’s positions, you should probably go to some of their sources, and listen to their points of view. It turns out if you contrast that with the North’s, you’ll get a much richer understanding that if you only listen to only one sides bullshit. And if you check both their facts against documents and personal accounts, you can get a deeper understanding of what is more likely "the truth".
So what did we learn?
Well, if you look at the whole picture, we learned a little, and missed learning a lot. But we can only grow if we consider the real full history, and not the simplified fiction regurgitated as the party line.
## New Deal
Slavery and the civil war fascinated me. Again, this isn’t to rationalize it, but the "Roots" narrative, as told by abolitionists, make no sense. If you were beaten and tortured and so on, then why wouldn’t these folks fight or run? You have nothing to lose, right? Well, from many first hand reports, it wasn’t that bad for most. This isn’t to diminish the abuses, or deny the exceptions, it’s to understand the truth.
There were fictional pieces of abolitionist propaganda pieces that were popular like Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or the more modern Alex Haley’s Roots. But if you want a more authentic tales, during the New Deal, President Roosevelt commissioned a number of journalists to get verbal testimony of over 2,300 former slaves, and record the results. The results of this project collected in the multi-volume Slave Narratives. Going through them can be incredible for understanding what it was like for the slaves, from their view (though having listened to many of them, the twangs, drawls, colloquialisms and accents can be a little tricky at times).
You’d think this kind of first hand historical knowledge would be used to form our opinions of the institution, but it’s been mostly ignored. It doesn’t fit the narrative that anyone wants to accept. For example:
- out of 331 references to masters, 86% refer to their masters as "good" or "kind." Quite a few would not allow whipping at all, and many only allowed it in their presence.
- Far more important than whipping in managing the slaves was figuring out how to motivate. No plantation owner wanted slaves who were sullen, discontented, and hostile, who did just enough to get by. They wanted devoted, hard-working, responsible men who identified their fortunes with the fortunes of their masters. Such attitudes cannot be beaten into slaves. They had to be elicited.
- To achieve the desired response the planters developed a wide-ranging system of rewards. Some rewards were directed toward improving short-run performance (prizes for the individual or the gang with the best picking record on a given day or week). The prizes were such items as clothing, tobacco, whiskey, and very often cash.
- When slaves worked during times normally set aside for rest, they received extra pay — usually in cash. Planters even devised elaborate schemes for profit sharing with their slaves.
- The average income received by a prime field hand was roughly fifteen percent greater than the income he would have received for his labor as a free agricultural worker.
- Some slaves saved their money and were quite wealthy after the war.
- Data in the 1850 census suggest that the economic condition of the average free northern Negro may have been worse than that of the average free Negro in the South. A comparison between New York and New Orleans reveals that New York Negroes lived in more crowded housing, had a lower proportion of craftsmen, and less wealth per capita than free Negroes in New Orleans.
And so on. There’s a lot to be learned about what slavery was and was not. I’m sure there were abusers of the worst kind. (Never underestimate the depths of cruelty of some humans). But that nastiness wasn’t just in the South towards slaves, and there’s little evidence that bigots in the North were any better (or less common). So the point is there was a spectrum of treatments and incomes in the South. Assuming it was any one way, is naive. That isn’t to change anyone’s revulsion to the idea of ownership of another man’s labor, liberty or health. But if that’s what repulses you, then you should probably take a dim view of Socialism, Conscription or tax rates that take more of a mans earnings than he gets to keep for his own work.