In case you missed it, 2009 is the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth. Earlier this week I participated in a roundtable discussion on Lincoln’s legacy sponsored by Messiah College and the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. In the five minutes I had to speak I said a few words about Lincoln’s nationalism and the theology of his second inaugural address. But the more I think about it, the more it seems that Lincoln’s real legacy was the promotion of an American nationalism that has resulted in the slow erosion of local places and an agrarian way of life. Let me explain.
Abraham Lincoln had a clear vision for America that was embodied in the beliefs of the early nineteenth-century political party called the Whigs. Whigs advocated an economy that was national (at the expense of local economies), industrial (as opposed to a country of yeoman farmers), and sustained through the construction of turnpikes, canals, and railroads for the purposes of uniting people and providing them with opportunities to physically transcend their locales. Whigs believed that such an economy should be presided over by a strong federal government that would support industrialization (largely through tariffs to protect American industry against foreign competitors), help fund construction of the national infrastructure, and keep the sovereignty of the individual states in check. During his tenure in office, Lincoln would become a Commander in Chief, a statesman, even a public theologian, but his primary ideological commitments and sense of personal identity were tied to Whig economic and political thought.
Whigs were the party of progress. Lincoln and many of his fellow partisans understood slavery as anything that limited one’s opportunity to pursue the American dream to move forward with their lives. Liberty was closely linked to economic opportunity and improvement. The Whig party defined itself against the yeoman, decentralized, small-scale republican perspective of Thomas Jefferson (which still had much influence in the antebellum Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson) because such agrarianism kept white people imprisoned by place and black people imprisoned by chattel slavery. While most Whigs abhorred African slavery, they did so for the same reasons that they abhorred the effects of a local agrarian economy upon the ambitions and opportunities of young people.
Whigs also championed the cause of moral reform—anti-slavery advocates, temperance reformers, middle-class Victorians, and religious revivalists were all part of their ranks—in an attempt to bring a sense of Protestant civilization to America. Lincoln was skeptical about the Christian agenda of his party, but he nevertheless believed that the goal of any enlightened society was reform, progress, and the advancement of civilization. He could thus agree with the moral commitments of the party without embracing its Protestantism. If Christianity contributed to the improvement of society, then Lincoln was all for it. But he also believed that Americans, like all human beings, needed to break down the limits imposed by tradition and overcome the backwardness that prevented the pursuit of liberty and freedom. In this regard, one had to look no further than the way Lincoln attempted to transcend his humble agrarian roots in Kentucky through self-education, social mobility, and the rejection of his parent’s Calvinist faith.
Lincoln’s Whig beliefs about America informed the most important decisions and public proclamations of his presidency. His stated purpose for fighting the Civil War was to bring the rebellious states of the Confederacy back into the Union and force them to submit to the progressive direction in which the country was moving. For example, the Emancipation Proclamation, while certainly one of the most important humanitarian gestures of any American president, was primarily designed to address the political, military, and diplomatic barriers that stood in the way of the South’s defeat and the ultimate preservation of the Union. The Proclamation did not free all the slaves (slaves in those states that supported the Union were not set free) and did absolutely nothing to address the question of race once the slaves were emancipated.
Similarly, Lincoln’s “Second Inaugural Address”—perhaps the greatest religious statement ever made by an American president—was also deeply rooted in Lincoln’s Whig nationalism. The war, according to Lincoln, was a divine punishment for which the entire nation, both the North and South, must suffer. In casting blame for the sin of slavery on both of the War’s participants and challenging both sides (but particularly Northern pundits) to have “malice toward none and charity towards all,” Lincoln avoided the rhetoric, popular among many of the nation’s leading theologians, that God was on the side of the victorious North. His message was seasoned with humility and avoided the temptation to exalt America as an exceptional or chosen nation. But in the process, he made it clear that the spiritual discipline of repentance would not be assigned to a specific region of the country, but rather to all of the United States.
One cannot deny that Abraham Lincoln was a great president, a prophet, if not a martyred redeemer, of American nationalism. The Northern victory was a triumph of Lincoln’s Whig vision for the country. Economically, the South would need to reject their “backward” agrarianism and rebuild their economy by mirroring Northern industrial capitalism. On the constitutional and political front, the war decided the question of states rights once and for all. Individual states had some degree of sovereignty, but they were not sovereign enough to secede from the Union. Morally, Lincoln ended slavery, allowing at least in principle, the opportunity for freemen and free-women to transcend the limits of bound labor and pursue some sense of the American Dream not previously afforded to them prior to the Thirteen Amendment. By rooting the Gettysburg Address, perhaps his most important oration, in the American founding (“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”), he gave his understanding of the Union historical justification. America was not only a “new nation,” but it was a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
How can any good American argue with Lincoln’s vision? His America was the America that my great-grandparents encountered as they passed through Ellis Island at the turn of the twentieth century. It was an America of social mobility and economic opportunity—the very ideals that allowed me to pursue a college education and to earn a spot in the middle-class. Lincoln’s Whig vision for America set the country on the road to becoming a world super-power and an international defender of liberal values. It could be argued that Lincoln is responsible for the coming of the “American Century,” one hundred years of American economic, military, political, and cultural power that led to victories in two World Wars, the defeat of communist tyranny, the rise of democracy around the world, the ubiquitous spread of global capitalism. Martin Luther King, in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” echoed Lincoln’s universalism in his assault on the local prejudices of the south’s segregated communities. Liberalism, in the case of American race relations, needed to trump the dark side of Jeffersonian parochialism.
But Lincoln’s understanding of the nation was also informed by the idea of a capitalist system that by the eve of the twenty-first century had grown out of control. Lincoln’s nationalism, articulated so beautifully in the “Gettysburg Address,” was rooted in the “proposition that all men are created equal,” but such a vision of liberty and equality relied upon a free market economy driven by the values of wealth, power, and self-interest. Industrial capitalism, at least the corporate post-bellum variety that would emerge with force in the generation following Lincoln’s death, not only exploited its workers and created class conflict, but also destroyed local communities and redefined the American dream in terms of consumerism and the material comforts that such consumer necessities afford.
Is it thus possible to offer a more radical critique of Lincoln, a critique that draws on ideals and values that were embedded in the American tradition, but became a minority position with the Northern victory in the Civil War and the consequential rise of modern life?
What was the cultural significance of the Northern Republican victory for the course that the United States would take in the second half of its history? Even as Lincoln called for both North and South to repent of their roles in this devastating conflict, his Whig vision had clearly won the day. Lincoln’s Enlightenment was liberal and individualistic. He believed that improvement required what historian Allen Guelzo has described as a “conquest of nature” that “alienated” people from local community, tradition, and the land, all in the name of progress. Whigs built road, bridges, canals, and railroads so that people could be mobile and free, not enslaved to particular places. The impact of this vision on the defeated South, as it began to be reconstructed in the image of the industrial North, was perhaps more devastating to their way of life than the war itself.
To Lincoln’s credit, he believed, as a good Whig, that the rampant acquisitiveness associated with Whig capitalism needed to be tempered and even controlled with an ample helping of virtue drawn from the teachings of contemporary moral philosophers. He also favored a capitalism driven by small businessmen, not international conglomerates. Never could he have imaged how his vision of a national economy driven by industry, free markets, and free labor has been corrupted by corporate capitalism. He would be shocked to find that most Americans have become deeply dependent on the corporate world to supply them with food and the stuff that is supposed to make them happy. And Lincoln, moreover, would be surprised to see how a system of superhighways, railways, and airways has made his United States the most mobile society in the world, although I am not sure he would have been disappointed by such a development.
The Northern victory, which Lincoln secured by resorting to total war against southern civilians, unleashed a devastating assault on a Jeffersonian version of agrarianism that connected happiness and human well being to real communities and real places. Liberty, as defined in terms of “improvement” and “mobility,” has resulted in a rootless cosmopolitanism that has produced millions of people who claim to “love humankind,” but who do not live in one place long enough to know, let alone “love,” their neighbor. Moreover, the national infrastructure built to connect people and unify the nation economically and culturally has come at the expense of the environment. The result of a “Whig” economy has produced an ever-expanding commercialism that tempts people with products to fulfill their every desire, all in the very American quest to “pursue happiness.” Such consumer capitalism makes it all the more difficult for Americans to practice virtues of self-restraint.
Of course, any such critique of the legacy of Lincoln’s presidency must be advanced with great care and caution. There is much of the Whig criticism of Jeffersonian traditionalism that is on the mark. Southern agrarianism and Jeffersonian localism has too often run rampant over individual rights rooted in the inherent dignity of the human beings created in the image of God. Sometimes local prejudices need to be countered with a dose of universalism. But if Lincoln is going to get the credit for the emergence of American nationalism, he must also shoulder the blame for at least some of the economic consequences that this Whiggism has had on American life. As noted Civil War historian Gabor Boritt once wrote, it is important for any student of American history to “come to terms” with Abraham Lincoln.
This is one of the best, most objective, essays I’ve ever read on Mr. Lincoln.
In the end, Lincoln had to accept John Marshall’s distortion that the sovereign states were created by the central gov’t and could not secede from this voluntary compact. That fact alone, provides an indication of the man’s character.
Mr. Lincoln was brilliant, ambitious, and corrupt…with the blood of 600,000 on his hands.
Any discussion of Lincoln when localists (or which I am as well, at least in part) are about constantly threatens to derail into a discussion of the justice and legitimacy of the Civil War itself, and in my experience such discussions rarely fully consider the violence and degradation which the Southern plantation system perpetuated upon people of African descent via slavery. Lincoln is castigated as a man with a corrupt character, wickedly misreading American history in pursuit of his own ambitions, causing the death of hundreds of thousands…with the little matter of the South’s toleration of the ownership of other human beings as disposable property somehow slipping away. So I always worry when this topic is raised.
Still, in an attempt to stick with your specific argument about nationalism and the Whig economy alone, John, it seems to me that your analysis fails to appreciate to the degree to which the earliest Republicans, like Lincoln, conceived of the national community they wished to promote in other than purely Whig terms. Besides the fact that the Whig party, and its ideology, was already seriously in decline by the time Lincoln re-entered political life in the 1850s, there is the fact that the Republican slogan of “Free Soil, Free Labor, and Free Men,” while certainly resting upon universalistic assumptions, was centrally concerned with the economic empowerment of freeholding individuals and their families–consider the emphasis they placed upon a “family wage” or a “man’s wage”…a wage sufficient to be able to maintain one’s own competence through the free labor of one’s own hands. The connection between expansive, corporate-driven capitalism, and Lincoln’s vision of a national community of equally free, working men, is not nearly as strong as you make it out to be, I think.
You articulate a much needed perspective in the contemporary debate. The pro-Lincoln partisans will try to “brow-beat” you into submission. Please hold strong.
“The connection between expansive, corporate-driven capitalism, and Lincoln’s vision of a national community of equally free, working men, is not nearly as strong as you make it out to be, I think.”
Actually, I think the author makes a good case. To further bolster this argument, one needs to look at the then temporary, but now permanent policies that Lincoln brought to the table. With the creation of the Greenback and legal tender laws, Lincoln introduced a legal positivist notion of money that dominates today and currently gives a substantial competitive advantage to the New York banks against other non-privileged forms of capital formation. Also, these notions of fiat money were, and currently are, partly justified by the fact that paper (and now digits) is more portable than metals. Metals ties people down, paper and digits liberate (or do they?).
Lincoln also resorted to the vile income tax in order to finance his total war on the South (to be fair, I think Southerners did the same ridiculous thing). The income tax, with its myriad of regulations, is one of the most powerful forms of social control the government has, and as such it, along with estate tax, has been completely destructive of the family farm, and local communities.
Lincoln, as well as the South, resorted to conscription, which also had substantial negative impacts on local communities, and ultimately lead to the dreaded anti-federalist fear of the standing army. With the standing army, gone is the local and state militias, the commoners who stand to protect the local community.
I think these forays into legal positivism by the Lincoln administration, as well as those engaged in by the South, alone are strong indications that Lincoln’s ideology had a substantial impact in levelling the old ways of agrarian American life, Gone with the Wind.
“Lincoln is castigated as a man with a corrupt character, wickedly misreading American history in pursuit of his own ambitions, causing the death of hundreds of thousands…with the little matter of the South’s toleration of the ownership of other human beings as disposable property somehow slipping away.”
In fact just the opposite is almost always invoked. And rarely is southern plantation life presented without harping on the physical abuse of slaves. Moreover, slavery has been, is now, and ever shall be, a part of human society. Even if it goes by a different name. No, the part of the Civil War that is rarely mentioned is the incredible cost of human life, including African-American blood spilled, and the wholesale transformation of America in the image of the Puritan, industrial North. I agree with Dr. Johnson, who remarked that Satan was the first Whig.
I see now that Prof. Fox made his remark in specific reference to localists. In that case, he may be right, though I’m not convinced that most localists really understand the wickedness of the War and barbaric man who waged it. I admit that I cannot talk about Lincoln and the War without becoming vitriolic and enraged at the inability of the majority to see that Lincoln, the North, and the Whigs were politically corrupt and morally sick. Therefore, I will refrain from speaking further.
Take some aspirin, get some rest, I feel your pain!
Personally, I was a little disappointed that neither Wendell nor Ms. Dalton are prone to make much mention of the “late unpleasantness.” Border state people find themselves either ignoring the history of it altogether, or wishing it would go away; I suppose it’s the legacy of an uncivil war.
My own people resided on the border of Pennsylvania and (West) Virginia; a state that seceded though Father Abraham said secession was illegal, unless, of course, he was doing the seceding. My great-great-grandpa and his only Yankee son, Billy, (who succumbed to the effects of “hard service”) both died in 1865 and are buried on a hill overlooking Burgettstown, Pa. Two of his three older brothers are buried in battlefield and prison cemeteries throughout the South. The third, who fought in the mountains of east Tennesse, managed to make it to Texas after the war. That’s all I know!
Oh! I know one more thing…it sure as hell didn’t have to be that way!
I’ve often wondered what the world would look like today if the South had successfully seceded. I have a hard time believing that slavery and agrarianism would would persist as dominant features of Southern culture, but I could be wrong.
Wendell Berry has an essay “American Imagination and the Civil War,” published in the Fall 2007 issue of the Sewanee Review. It will give you a pretty good idea of what he thinks about the subject. Wendell Berry, in my opinion, is not simply an agrarian, but a Southern agrarian. I wouldn’t go around telling people that, lest Mr. Berry should receive the Mel Bradford treatment. Back to silence…
[…] Front Porch Republic has a well-balanced article on Lincoln that would be a good intro to other perspectives on Lincoln. An excerpt: The Northern victory, which Lincoln secured by resorting to total war against southern civilians, unleashed a devastating assault on a Jeffersonian version of agrarianism that connected happiness and human well being to real communities and real places. Liberty, as defined in terms of “improvement” and “mobility,” has resulted in a rootless cosmopolitanism that has produced millions of people who claim to “love humankind,” but who do not live in one place long enough to know, let alone “love,” their neighbor. Moreover, the national infrastructure built to connect people and unify the nation economically and culturally has come at the expense of the environment. The result of a “Whig” economy has produced an ever-expanding commercialism that tempts people with products to fulfill their every desire, all in the very American quest to “pursue happiness.” Such consumer capitalism makes it all the more difficult for Americans to practice virtues of self-restraint. (emphasis added) […]
Thank you for that, I didn’t know. Maybe it’ll become available in a collection of essays? That leaves our own Ms. Dalton, who I sense, has a treasure trove of familial lore re: the “late unpleasantness.”
As far as WB’s “southern argrarianism” we’ll have to discuss ’cause I’ve gotta little theory that there’s such an animal as “Ohio Valley Agrarianism” which, indeed, leans heavily South but has certain other attributes.
Oh, Mark, thou dost open a can of worms! Mr. Cooney, upon recovery from his Fox-caused retirement might possibly display some historical, not to mention, moral rectitude. Which, I for one, await with baited breath.
Sabin, where are you? This is as good one!
Toward Mark’s question I would say: the first mistake people make is in assuming the Old South was conservative and reactionary. It was much more liberal and progressive (dare I say, Whiggish?) than most think. You’ll see this in the writings of Thomas Jefferson, John C. Calhoun, John Randolph of Roanoke, Robert E. Lee, and others. Of course, this sort of liberal thought is further manifested in the Vanderbilt fugitives.
How many Southerners during the 60s, too, were grappling with race and segregation? Did they really need a bunch of do gooding nuns and lawyers to come down and show them how to run a society? I live in Western NY and I have also lived in southwestern Virginia; There is not a doubt in my mind that Yankees are the most racist, intolerant, miserable folk on the planet. They (we) never had a moral highground and never will.
Read what southerners say in their own words, compare it to their Northern, radical, abolitionist, reconstructing, counterparts, and decide who had the more informed, balanced, and reasoned approach to society and politics. From there we can only project what might have been.
The Manifest Destiny claimed by the lapsed-Republic has produced the kinds of men who are able to elucidate great morality while doing the bidding of a maturing and ever more voracious and immoral government. Good men do bad things and bad men have at times, done good things but behind it all is a steady consolidation of a Federal Government that loses foundational principles at a rate equal to its accumulation of power and extent. We look at the Civil War with a kind of relief that it could not happen again but if one dissects the development of conditions that resulted in the Civil War, devoid of the issue of slavery, one will see many recognizable strains that could be interpreted, within today’s context as the beginnings of another dreadful march into American Civil War.
This time however, it could very well not be one region against another, it could be the Government and it’s military….now with the standing domestic brigade at Fort Stewart portending more…against elements of the people at large. It is a far more confusing, fluid and interwoven conflict potentially and could make the depredations of the Civil War look prosaic if for no other reason than the sickening brutality and gigantic destructive capacity of modern warfare. In no way do I advocate such a thing but when looked at with dispassionate eye, I see some very fundamental and startling parallels. Imbalances breed catastrophe. Partisan ignorance provides the kindling for a fire that cannot be contained.
Therefor, we must look at Lincoln and his time with a far more comprehensive and dispassionate eye that seeks to discover,…beyond slavery because slavery was the easily enflamed pretext illustrating the more fundamental States Rights and Regional differences…..what were the fundamental societal and governmental shifts that resulted in the War of the Rebellion. Furthermore, we have done a very poor job of analyzing the mistakes of Reconstruction because the victors always write the history. The toxic perfidy of slavery continues today around the world in forms obvious and unapparent. Its taint remains with us, whether we are white or black. Human chattel is inhuman. But that is only a part of the story of the Civil War.
The nation was torn asunder because it stopped functioning as a discursive vehicle aiming at the betterment of all her people through the opportunities of self determination within a context of mutual obligation. Federal hegemony beget State resentments. Industrial powers and other monied interests pitched their flags upon both the Capitol Steps and the curb on Lafayette Square. Hypocrisy recognized by the Framers was ignored and continued and indeed institutionalized until such time as it erupted into seeking a solution by violent means. If you cannot look out upon the current political scene and see the depredations and corrosion of a fundamental and accreting hypocrisy ….and a quickening erosion of both liberty and opportunity, then I don’t know how we can expect to actually avert a reprise of those terrible days almost 150 years ago. Or worse yet…. a slow slouching unto a Gomorrah of Kafkaesque malaise that will make a mockery of that beautiful thing that exists within the better angels of the United States of America..
Pay homage to Mr. Lincoln’s higher ideals as he expressed them so beautifully but by all means, examine the lapses, mistakes and full ramifications of his actions. It is, in the end, our only salvation. We too often revere our Presidents as we would a heroic God and this is a disservice to both ourselves and our Presidents. President Abraham Lincoln, a son of the South but warrior against it, this champion of a stronger union….. was, if nothing else, grand in his paradox. This is a nation of paradox and so his story within the context of his time is of vital importance. Consequently, so are the stories of Jeff Davis, Jeb Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jubal Early, “That Devil” N.B. Forrest and a gentleman of the first order, General Robert E. Lee, likely one of the greatest Presidents this nation never had. Lee….he is a road not taken and given the essential humility, courage and honor of that man, it is a road we were very likely deprived of to our everlasting detriment. The essential check of States Rights was the mutual war casualty of the Civil War and we have yet to set terms of peace that recognizes the ameliorative strength and fundamental importance of the checks and balances of the Federal-State equipoise. This war, I’m sad to assert remains with us in many ways. We can either fight it again or finally achieve the peace we are capable of if only we seek to meet our disagreements in a spirit of strength informed by a love that springs forth from humility. Our mutual heritage of liberty within a productive civil vehicle favored by a continent of spectacular richness is something so achingly beautiful that one can easily assume a providential hand. But our mistakes are considerable and so the hand of providence can just as easily be doubted. We are a liminal thing and it is an honest embrace of both our successes and failures that will inform and create a better future.
“Pay homage to Mr. Lincoln’s higher ideals as he expressed them so beautifully but by all means, examine the lapses, mistakes and full ramifications of his actions.”
I think this is a fundamental mistake. Lincoln’s words, too, need to be examined. His faux King James English, his invoking of heretical concepts of equality and universalism, need to be scrutinized in light of history, theology, and human nature. The pursuit of Equality, not the past of slavery, is the curse that hounds us today.
Mr. Fox must associate with some uncommon people. I suspect the majority of Americans and certainly the vast majority of college graduates consider the martyred President Lincoln to be a virtual saint for freeing the slaves and likewise do not consider American slavery a “little matter.” But I grew up and matriculated in the Northeast, so perhaps I do not travel in the same circles and my experiences are different.
At any rate, while I doubt the frequenters of this particular website are so thoughtless as to belittle racism and slavery, I do hope Mr. Fox’s concern is appreciated by readers. Perhaps this topic of the legitimacy and justice of the U.S. Civil War that Mr. Fox has brought up merits its own post.
Like another commentator, I neglected Mr. Fox’s attribution of inordinately trivializing slavery to localists, and that certainly is more plausible, though I continue to doubt the need for such concern here.
Father Abraham was a railroad lawyer, a friend to “special” interests, and a student of Henry Clay and his proclivity for government “schemes” that benefited Northern financiers and manufacturers. Also, we must remember that none of the eastern, monied-interests were terribly concerned about the South seceding until that fateful day in April (I believe) of 61, when the Confederate Congress assembled in Montgomery and voted an extrememly low tariff; much, much lower than her Yankee neighbors (Albert, you may now ask why the United States was the only slave country that engaged in a internecine war to end slavery).
Well, you guys can figure it out, it ain’t rocket science. It’s about the libido dominandi…power and wealth, the rest is sanitized history. 600,000 can’t die simply for political power and the accumulation of wealth, it has to be about freedom, liberty, and “saving the Union,” or “ending slavery” which would have been accomplished five, ten, or twenty years down the road without a shot being fired, or a soldier falling dead.
D.W. there’s not going to be another rebellion unless Barry can’t keep us fed. Should the unwashed feel the pinch in the gut, then maybe, and I wouldn’t count on Barry, he hasn’t a clue!
And, yes, I agree with Albert, I would like to read Dr. Fox’s apologetics for the War of Northern Aggression.
A few points. Many say that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War, and they are right; there were many differences between the North and South which led to all sorts of tensions. However, slavery was the final cause in this sense: had there been no slavery, there would have been no war. This was all the more unfortunate, because the agrarian South could have joined forces with the agrarian North (which was mostly agrarian) to check the power of the urban industrialists, who were as unpopular in the North as they were in the South. But slavery was an impassible bar between the farmers, and the ultimate friend of the industrialists, as it kept apart their natural enemies.
And Lincoln understood the corrosive power of both the banks and the corporations (who were then in their infancy, a mere rising power.) His response to banks was the greenback. When the banks offered him a $150M loan at 35% to prosecute the war, he told them that he knew they just printed the stuff, and he had his own printing presses, thank you very much. Of the corporations, he said,”Corporations have been enthroned… An era of corruption in high places will follow and the money power will endeavor to prolong its reign by working on the prejudices of the people…until wealth is aggregated in a few hands…and the Republic is destroyed.”
A delightful and accurate riposte re: Father Abraham. I’ll let my remarks lay a-mouldering and make an inquiry into your intimations that old Abe was leary of the banking and manufacturing interests, rather than the booklick that I’ve been suggesting. Please keep in mind Josh’s accurate comment about Satan being the first Whig; I believe our New York brother has a point!
I don’t know about you but I have found Dr. Fea’s essay very well contrived and an excellent place to begin the discussion, though Dr. Fox is quite correct, that my Dixie brothers-the Sons of the Confederacy- should be here momentarily regaling us with stories of A.P.Hill’s heroic arrival at Antietam.
I just now bookmarked your website and I’ll drop you an email.
A short story: Last 4th of July the choir at the Methodist church I attend (I’m a Catholo-Methodist) announced they were going to sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” where upon I jumped up and informed the choir director that, in the interest of political correctness, diversity, and multicultrualism he should follow THAT song with a stirring rendition of “Bonnnie Blue Flag,” for those in the congregation who prefer to honor their gov’t as a republic rather than the horrific centralized monster it had become…or something like that. Well, the wife, a West Virginia Lincolnite through and through, gave me the “Look,” which indicated that my revelries were over for the day. My dear friend, Mr. Kelly, who is hard of hearing and a heroic veteran of Anzio and the march up the boot, leaned forward and said, “Bob, What did you say?” Needless to say my syncretistic efforts fell on deaf ears, and not just Mr. Kelly’s.
I took your advice and got a good night’s sleep. I was rather grumpy to begin with yesterday. I should add that despite my outburst, I don’t dislike my northern fellows, but it is quite clear to me that I don’t belong here and should pack up and head south. In the words of Hank Williams Jr., “I’m stuck up here and got Dixie on my mind.”
Do you know that they teach the Battle Hymn in many Roman Catholic religious ed. programs? It is at this point that I have to wonder where in the world is the Holy Spirit.
It would seem that almost as many people are commenting on my early response to John Fea’s post as are commenting on the post itself. I should roll up my sleeves and get into the argument, but a lot of water has already gone under the bridge, it’s a Saturday morning, and I have some weeding to do and a vacuum cleaner to assemble. Moreover, my books are at the office. So, the best I can manage is a short, general response:
I have lived in Virginia, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and have been correspondence with localists and Southern partisans of various stripes for many years, mostly because I like them, have learned from them, and very much see myself as aligned with them, at least in regards to many matters. Almost uniformly in my experience, when discussions amongst such turn to the Civil War, there is an inability to recognize the moral and legal case against not just the horrible fact of slavery in the antebellum South but, more specifically, against the westward expansion of slavery enabled by the Dred Scott decision and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the whole plantation-based economic and political “slave power” which the Republican party primarily formed in the 1850s to fight against. (Remember that committed abolitionists from William Lloyd Garrison to Frederick Douglass were originally suspicious of the Republican party, seeing it as too focused on the social consequences of slavery rather than the evil of slavery itself.) This is not to say that the ability to recognize such ought to instantly turn them into Yankees and nationalists who loathe the South; far from it. It is merely to point out that the cause of localism would be well served by an acknowledgment such as the one Mr. Fea makes: that sometimes, tragically, there can be no serious, Christian argument against allowing “[l]iberalism…to trump the dark side of Jeffersonian parochialism.”
Actually two more detailed responses:
We may be too far apart in our basic moral sensibilities to come to any kind of mutual understanding on this particular issue, at least while approached as directly as Mr. Fea does here. But suffice to say that I find any kind of defense–whether Aristotelian or Fitzhughian or otherwise–of slavery as an element feature of the human condition simply appalling. I recognize that this means that I have an understanding of morality and human goods which change–which “progress”–through history. As much wickedness as has been done in the name of progress, this is an accusation that I will not deny: I hold that the ending of legalized slavery was an improvement of the human condition; that God does, in fact, want His children to get better, and that ceasing (though tragic and a horribly destructive and wicked war, admittedly) the formal debasement of select human beings into disposable property was an example of such betterment. God works through paradox, as Lincoln knew (as D.W. Sabin notes…and incidentally, if you’re going to go after Lincoln’s words and ideals, don’t blame him: blame Jefferson).
I will grant that there may be more to the connection between Lincoln’s early Republican ideology (not a purely or solely Whig one; I will insist upon that, as the Whig Lincoln is a creature of the 1830s and 1840s, not the Lincoln who debated Douglas and won led the Republican party in 1860) and modern corporate capitalism than either I or Mr. Fea discuss, but the evidence you supply does not make the case. Far from the greenback being a “legal positivist notion of money that…gives a substantial competitive advantage to the…banks,” as John Médaille points out, the greenback existed to rebuff and provide and alternative to the growing dominion of the banks. And as for the income tax income tax being “one of the most powerful forms of social control the government has” and “completely destructive of the family farm,” well, somehow that must have escaped the notice of the 19th-century localists and agrarians that filled the ranks of the populist movement, as the People’s Party platform itself called for the income tax to be made permanent.
One doesn’t have to defend slavery in order to suggest that it may be a better alternative to violence and social upheaval. There are worse evils. I hardly think that is an “appalling” argument. Thanks anyway. And enjoy your moral superiority, since you are against slavery and apparently I am not.
God used the Civil War to “liberate” African-Americans, thousands of whom died in the effort, and this is a “paradox.” I think this is the sort of logic that invented neo-conservatism. Well just look at what Saddam is doing to the Kurds: we can’t just stand idly by…
I think I’ll take my ball and go back to Chronicles.
Josh, dude don’t go! Well, not that Chronicles isn’t excellent but hey, you can play here too.
I’m sure Dr. Fox didn’t intend to be insulting! In the prophetic words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along!”
This is an excellent debate and one that mature FrontPorchers can hammer out without insult, derision, and obnoxious references to Lincoln as “corrupt,” and I won’t say that anymore.
The question is one of history. How about an objective examination of the how and why of the American dilemma. And, starting with the War Between the States is good, but not as good as going back to the founding…which I trust will be a post or two coming up!
No Josh, my friend, stay and debate. And, Dr. Fox, I love you, Dude, and I know you have a Phd. and I’m impressed, but here your just one of the guys on the frontporch.
I suppose that one who has never been shackled, whipped and enslaved, watched as your naked wife was auctioned off to the highest bidder 150 miles from you while your children were split up or brutalized, it might be seen as reasonable to assert that there are worse evils than slavery. Perhaps there are but personally, I can think of few more wretched things than to consider it somehow either moral to hold slaves or furthermore, base an economic system upon the corrosive institution of slavery. There is no reason to defend slavery or rebuke it for that matter when attempting to analyze the wider scope of issues surrounding President Lincoln’s prosecution of the war or the sordid record of Reconstruction.
Here again, we focus on the most inflammatory aspect of the War of Northern Aggression ….The War of the Rebellion….the Civil War and as a result, the far more complex and currently relevant aspects of it are fled from in a state of anger.
Josh, if the language of my response communicated “moral superiority,” then my language was in error, and I apologize for that. Far from advocating the moral superiority of Lincoln’s position, I am trying to advocate for the moral complexity of it. I allow that I am comfortable with that moral complexity, because of its results when it very messily came into conflict with what I consider to be pretty much an indefensible evil. I am not suggesting that you are defending that evil, only that it may be that we are likely to draw different conclusions from that complexity, because I have a bit of progressive/utilitarian/end-results interpretation in my moral thinking, and you may not. As you note, that is a dangerous thing: such progressive moral interpretation is what drove the neo-cons to invade Iraq…and, just to be clear, in 2001 and 2002 (and a little of 2003), I was drinking the neo-con Kool-Aid. That was wrong; I was wrong to allow their use of the universalist language of Jefferson and Lincoln (and, by extension, Wilson and so many others) to blind me to the realities of the situation. But I guess part and parcel of the complexity which I’m comfortable with is the sense that said universal language really might trump the “realities of the situation,” at least sometimes. Sometimes God really does call us to embrace paradoxes, I think.
Bob (and others), my apologies if I come off pretentious sometimes. I don’t mean to be; I just let me language get away with me sometimes. Sorry.
You don’t need to apologize. I’m the one losing my temper all the time. I’m an Angry Young Man with a lack of patience in almost everything I do. I need to find a way to relax.
Dr. Fox, allow me to express my appreciation for your honest self-appraisal. From personal experience I do understand that can be challenging.
I trust we have Josh back among us, and Josh if you get edgy or start bubbling over with angst I’ll say something. D.W. I trust your quill is ready!
So, I think between Drs. Fea and Fox we might further explore the history of the American condition. I might mention that there’s a new three volume history titled: Nullification: A Constitutional History (1776-1833), by Dr. W. Kirk Wood that might stimulate discussion of the 10th Amendment, which should be a frontporch favorite! If there’s any other suggestions just throw em in the pot, and if we’re not done scratchin’ this Yankee/Confederate thing fire off your tweleve pounders boys! And, by the way, where’s Fea in all this?
I’d say the issue of whether we use war to liberate oppressed peoples is a relevant aspect of and legacy from the Civil War. I also think your version of slavery is not really fair. It’s the same type of rhetoric the abolitionists used to whip up a war, and to show no mercy at all to Southerners during and after said war. Moreover, I wonder what the response would be of the, quite possibly, 100,000 African-Americans who were killed or died of starvation as a result of the War. The issue is not whether slavery is right or wrong, but whether we need to find a new way of dealing with oppression that doesn’t require the U.S. Military, line the pockets of the rich, and centralize power in the federal leviathan. This could have been done in 1861, as it can be done now.
Cheeks you cad…now you did it, you mentioned the “N” word: Nullification. Calhoun must be kicking around yer attic. While I imagine that there may be some State/s out there that might be bushwacked by some real dimwits into positively self-punishing policies, Nullification might stimulate a little more sporting drama into the Beltwaycentric nature of our current Federal Bingo Parlor. At the very least, it would be highly entertaining. One is put in mind of one of the old dearly departed anarch Ed Abbey’s quotes:
“They should bring back dueling, it might improve manners around here”
After all, when your Democrat Senator from the State that already has one of the more remarkably confused IndyRepubliDemocrat Senators in the history of the Republic, Jomentum Lieberman, and said other Democrat Senator is a member of the Banking Committee that has been asleep at the wheel for longer than prudent …causing him to be behind the 8-ball in his local popularity and so he raises a cool $1,000,000.00 bucks for his re-election campaign only to then have it become known that only $4,000 of said cool million was donated by actual residents of the State…..well, Nullification might be the least thing we could do. I am no mere optimist and so will not even hazard the possibility of dueling.
Now, as to apologies….may I say from the bottom of my heart, damn ye every blasted one of you.
At the risk of driving Josh away, which I do not mean to do, let me suggest that the South’s refusal to face the issue squarely was the cause not only of the Civil War, but of that uncivil war over race that was at the bottom of the civil rights movement and which continues to this day. Note that I speak as a Southern sympathizer. My mother was a Southerner (who claims she didn’t realize that “damn yankee” was two words until she was 16), my Father a Southern sympathizer, and my teachers, like Mel Bradford, were devotees of the Southern Agrarians. So I have heard all the defenses of the South and of slavery, and heard them all my life. And many of them are legitimate. Many of them miss the point.
One can legitimately accuse the abolitionists of covering up problems in their own neighborhood by crusading in somebody else’s. But that being said, it does not mean there weren’t real problems. The abolitionists could with ease spread the worst stories about slavery because there really were such stories. The proper reaction is not war, but reform.
The South over-reacted to Lincoln’s election. Lincoln did not begin a war against the South. As to the issue of whether a state could secede, it was an open question, and likely one deliberately left unanswered by the founders.
Further, the South’s great problem is not that it lost the Civil War, but that it won it. Not the first one, but the second one. When the army of occupation was withdrawn, the South devoted its full efforts to keeping 40% of its population down. Sharecropping was little more than slavery by other means, only the plantation master had even less responsibility to the tenants. By keeping the Black man poor, the South kept itself poor. Imagine that you were the marketing manager for a department store in Atlanta. Your first task is to insure that 40% of your potential customers never set foot in your store. A strange task for a marketing manager! At a time when the whole country prospered, the South remained an economic backwater. This is not surprising; by trying to keep some people poor you will end up keeping most people poor.
It is a waste of time and a distortion of history to spend so much energy vilifying Lincoln. I have no doubt that much of what he did was debatable and some of it detestable, but he is not the cause of the triumph of the central gov’t over the states. The real victory of Washington would wait for the 16th Amendment. When the federal gov’t attained the constitutional power to tax incomes, it become the largest funding source, and power will follow the money. The victory of the Feds was inevitable at that point; the rest of the constitution became irrelevant. No matter how good a constitutional argument one makes about any particular issue, the funding argument will trump the principled argument. We should not blame on Lincoln a defeat that belongs to Taft.
You old Connecticut Nullifyer! I knew you were a true American, how could it be any other way.
And, what about the Constitution, don’t you find the Articles of Confederation to be a much superior document?
Did you read Billy Kauffman’s book on the sainted and besotted Luthor Martin, a real AMerican Hero!!
If you keep this up, you’ll be in one of Obama’s re-education centers ahead of me! (Arben, I’m kidding here!!).
50 points for slamming the Federal Leviathan. Had you derided Oprah or the No Child Left Behind Act, I’d have awarded a Buick plus 100 bonus points but with your suggestion that there might be some form of human slavery that is “fair”, we deduct 45 points .
So, you are now in positive 5 point territory. If you cite any of Jackson’s pithy comments on the Federal Bank, we shall award an additional 25 points and in our review of earlier rounds , we note a brickbrat thrown at the dastardly Neo-Conservative and so you are awarded 100 Bonus points if you answer the following question correctly:
What Mammal is smartest in cognitive and instinctual ways but not socially? :
1. Former President George W. Bush
3. Izzy the Orangutan in the Salt Lake Hogle Zoo
This is not a trick question.
“Moreover, I wonder what the response would be of the, quite possibly, 100,000 African-Americans who were killed or died of starvation as a result of the War.”
The argument over the violence perpetuated during the war, and its negative effects on African-American’s, ignores that most blacks supported the war with their feet and is disingenuous at best. Word of Union troop movements passed through the slave grapevine like wildfire, and with little to no rear support to keep slaves in line, most simply downed their tools, packed up what little they had, and hit the road. Illustrations and reports indicate the large trains of former slaves who, much to the annoyance of Union officers, would just show up at camps and start following them around. Certainly enough African American’s felt it worth sacrificing their lives to actively join the Union military, a fact often glossed over.
It’s also hard to talk about “the federal leviathan” when the Confederacy’s own policies were so bizarre; the domestic passport system, conscription, impounding property, and a reliance upon a system of large loans and IOU’s to support currency and acquisitions. Most of which caused a certain amount of consternation amongst legislators in the Confederacy, but was eventually passed nonetheless. The crazy quilt of Confederate efforts however, did manage to throw a constant monkey-wrench into defense plans, and the lack of coordination in many ways doomed their efforts.
John M. You were a student of Mel Bradford’s, I’ve got tears in my eyes! Tell your Mom I thought “damnyankee” was one word too! I had a lady friend from Virginia tell me that “Mr. Lincoln’s name was never mentioned in her house!”
Some comments in respone: “The South overreacted to Lincoln’s election.” Well, maybe yes, and maybe no, but what’s the difference either the South had the right to withdraw from a voluntary compact (the Constitution) or they didn’t and, I would argue, that by any rational understanding of that history they surely did, and in 1848 (or so) when Lincoln served in the House he quite agreed that they did. It was certainly not an open question that a state could secede.
“Things didn’t go so well after Reconstruction.” Well, you gotta look at what happened during Reconstruction. The Southern blacks allowed themselves to be used by Yankee carpetbaggers when they could have held out the hand of peace and reconcilliation to their former white masters (and been the bigger fellow for it), who now found themselves disenfranchsized, bankrupt, and in dire straits. They didn’t and the Whites never forgave them and we ended up with decades of Jim Crow, hatred, lynchings, rapine, and oppression. Also, during the war, had the Confederacy released the slaves to fight with an offer of freedom, that would have played a huge role in post-war civics..another missed opportunity.
And, finally you’re right about the 16th amendment, but shouldn’t you take a look at the 14th too, and that was a result of the “late unpleasantness.”
And, I do believe you’re right about “following the money,” tariffs that is!
For the Union Dead
by Robert Lowell
“Relinquunt Omnia Servare Rem Publicam.”
The old South Boston Aquarium stands
in a Sahara of snow now. Its broken windows are boarded.
The bronze weathervane cod has lost half its scales.
The airy tanks are dry.
Once my nose crawled like a snail on the glass;
my hand tingled
to burst the bubbles
drifting from the noses of the cowed, compliant fish.
My hand draws back. I often sigh still
for the dark downward and vegetating kingdom
of the fish and reptile. One morning last March,
I pressed against the new barbed and galvanized
fence on the Boston Common. Behind their cage,
yellow dinosaur steamshovels were grunting
as they cropped up tons of mush and grass
to gouge their underworld garage.
Parking spaces luxuriate like civic
sandpiles in the heart of Boston.
A girdle of orange, Puritan-pumpkin colored girders
braces the tingling Statehouse,
shaking over the excavations, as it faces Colonel Shaw
and his bell-cheeked Negro infantry
on St. Gaudens’ shaking Civil War relief,
propped by a plank splint against the garage’s earthquake.
Two months after marching through Boston,
half the regiment was dead;
at the dedication,
William James could almost hear the bronze Negroes breathe.
Their monument sticks like a fishbone
in the city’s throat.
Its Colonel is as lean
as a compass-needle.
He has an angry wrenlike vigilance,
a greyhound’s gentle tautness;
he seems to wince at pleasure,
and suffocate for privacy.
He is out of bounds now. He rejoices in man’s lovely,
peculiar power to choose life and die–
when he leads his black soldiers to death,
he cannot bend his back.
On a thousand small town New England greens,
the old white churches hold their air
of sparse, sincere rebellion; frayed flags
quilt the graveyards of the Grand Army of the Republic.
The stone statues of the abstract Union Soldier
grow slimmer and younger each year–
wasp-waisted, they doze over muskets
and muse through their sideburns . . .
Shaw’s father wanted no monument
except the ditch,
where his son’s body was thrown
and lost with his “niggers.”
The ditch is nearer.
There are no statues for the last war here;
on Boylston Street, a commercial photograph
shows Hiroshima boiling
over a Mosler Safe, the “Rock of Ages”
that survived the blast. Space is nearer.
When I crouch to my television set,
the drained faces of Negro school-children rise like balloons.
is riding on his bubble,
for the blessèd break.
The Aquarium is gone. Everywhere,
giant finned cars nose forward like fish;
a savage servility
slides by on grease.
Bob, you seem to blame the whole thing on the former slaves, forgetting that formerly they were–what’s the word I’m looking for–ah, yes, slaves. And you say that they would have “been the bigger fellow” for reconciling with their former masters, for which the masters never forgave them. If the slaves lacked of education, I would have blamed the masters. If they lacked magnanimity, whose example did they follow?
The South no doubt had and has real grievances, and my family’s stories all confirm that. But the South gave some grief as well. It is a bad thing to brood over old wounds, but an evil thing to brood over self-inflicted ones.
“And, I do believe you’re right about “following the money,” tariffs that is!”
But tariffs only mattered because of the economic system that the antebellum South ran on, which was anything but small yeoman farmers, and which was anything but “local”. The myth that this article perpetuates is that the South wasn’t itself on a trajectory of totalizing, export-oriented industry. It most certainly was, albeit in the form of raw goods, and the examination of how most plantations were run indicates how close they were to the industrial factories everyone here claims to hate. In fact the whole “strength” of the Confederacy was based on the notion that its product was so invaluable to the world, that it would win foreign recognition by a simple work-stoppage.
The fact that this didn’t occur is an example of the Confederacy’s own miscalculation, and an example of how the Confederacy was not too far away from today’s petro-state’s; reliant upon the sale of one export, unable to produce finished goods, and, like many failed petro states and banana republics, with an extreme level of wealth concentrated in a political class that couldn’t govern its way out of a paper bag.
John M.: Blame, nope, just an observation. Putting my recalcitrant, flawed self in the shoes of newly freed slaves, I’d probably lean toward giving it to the White man as well. The problem is they -the southern African-American-had to live with these people when the Yankee carpet-bagger goes home with the master’s money and family jewels.
Sean S.: Excellent point and, I think, spot on. However, you might want to reconsider the painful and threatening effect of the tariff on those greedy oil, I mean, plantation owners and, indeed, on the economy of the entire South. I think the South-I may be a bit off, and feel free to correct cause I’m wingin’ it here-paid nearly 3/4 of the federal annual income during the height of the Morrel tax (tariff)when the South told Father Abe to shove it….I’m a bit suspicious about the oft heard critique that the South wasn’t in the Jeffersonian “yeoman” mode. I think that if you look at the econ tables you might see that that is a myth..the ranks of Hood’s Texans, the Mississippi Rifles, the New Orleans Artillery weren’t filled with the scions of Tara, though it is interesting to note that the rate of killed and wounded among Southern officers is very much higher than among Northern ones.
Re: your acerbic critique of the Southern “political” class allow me this point: the South proffered, in its culture, historical connections, its predjudices, ect a unique conservatism that reflected the hierarchial disposition, the love of God, family, and country and the idea of a duty or obligation to same that produced for the country such men as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lee, Jackson, ect. With all due respect, these are a list of men and leaders the North could never match, and because of the “late unpleasantness” and the complete destruction of that uniquely conservative “country” there would never be again a Washington, Jefferson, or Lee to serve this nation.
My point is this: in time (and not a great deal of time) the moral dilemma that was slavery would have been solved by technology. Historically wars are fought over wealth and power, the good old “libido dominandi” that Augustine commented on. I’m still searching to find another country that engaged in internecine war over internal slavery.
Slavery was the glue that held it all together but it wasn’t the direct cause. What was the cause(s) of the War Between the States..a post anyone, all commentators, please discuss!
Sean S. should read Owsley’s Plain Folk of the Old South.
Mr. Medaille suffers from a classic case of an inability to see the forest through the trees. Yes, I know the South was imperfect and they had their hotheads who believed they would “whip the Yankees” in a week or two. Nonetheless, there is one little fact that should not be ignored: THE NORTH INVADED THE SOUTH. Blaming the South for the war is like blaming the Poles for the Nazi invasion. In fact, Hitler had more justification than Lincoln. The Poles were rounding up and killing German citizens.
After the South had its men killed, land destroyed, property and wealth confiscated, its society turned on its head, the Yankees were not satisfied. They decided to use blacks to their own political ends and this helped to create a great deal of antagonism that did not previously exist. Of course Southern whites were going to react and try to restore some order to their society. This is what people do. Let’s view this with some consideration of human nature, please.
Lincoln was in over his head. He was a bumbling small town lawyer without any real political experience. The South overreacted? No, Lincoln overreacted. The Civil War was a disaster and one need not take the side of the South to see it as a Second American Revolution.
What does this come down too, really? On one side are those who think the Old Republic was superior to the American Empire. On the other side, those who think that any means necessary is justified in eradicating oppression. After a 150 years of endless war, liberation, and revolution, maybe it’s time to consider the view of the former.
And Josh should read new scholarship that’s been written in the past 60 years. Owsley’s history exaggerates both the size of the yeoman class, and ignores the significant population of the poor land-less white. It also ignores that the political class that dominated the state legislatures were overwhelmingly slave owners, and large one’s. If, as many contest, the yeoman class was so large, why were they not better represented? Or are we to believe they were merely bamboozled?
“in time (and not a great deal of time) the moral dilemma that was slavery would have been solved by technology. Historically wars are fought over wealth and power, the good old “libido dominandi” that Augustine commented on. I’m still searching to find another country that engaged in internecine war over internal slavery.”
No it wouldn’t have. People forget that the industrial base the South had was mostly run by bondsman i.e. slaves that been rented out to factory owners. It is one of the reason why the nascent union movements in the north so quickly joined the cause; if slavery were allowed to spread, there was no way free-white labor could ever compete with black slave labor.
But my larger point still holds, that the “yeoman” farmer of America was not only on its way to extinction by the time of the Civil War, but had been on that trajectory in both areas for years. The argument the civil war settled was not some romantic notion of small-landholder versus industrial leviathan, but large mono-crop plantations versus large industrialists for the economic trajectory of the country. Neither was or is especially attractive, but if we are going to be arguing for a more local future than we have to stop defending it with a non-existent past.
Sean S. ….you’re right about the South’s mistaken reliance upon King Cotton. they were convinced that Europe would leave neutrality for them due to the power of King Cotton and were shocked when it did not create the desired effect. No small number of Europeans wished for the North to fail because of their commercial ties to the Southern Plantation System and more importantly, they saw the North’s industrial might rising and were particularly alarmed…chiefly the British as regards Canada. Lee was instructed by Davis to melt into the mountains and prosecute a guerrilla war in hopes of wearing down the North and ultimately bringing Europe to enter the fray as a negotiating party that would protect Southern interests. Forrest was constantly attempting to gain word at the end about Lees decision because he was the South’s master Guerilla but when Lee surrendered, he folded as well. Some Confederates went to Texas but it was not enough to pull off a real insurgency. A group actually migrated to Brazil and their heirs are still there. Lee thought the gambit would ultimately prevail because guerrilla war has staying power over invaders but he apparently did not like the look of the cost to the South that a bloody and protracted insurgency would entail. You are also correct about the large numbers of small white farmers who were not slave-holders but who were sympathetic to the Class-centric Slave Aristocracy’s Nationalistic Rhetoric.
But, as to being “hard to talk about the “Federal Leviathan””. It’s never hard to talk about that, the phrase rolls off the lips like a heartily delivered curse. Uttering it is akin to the pleasures of sharpening ones Bowie knife on a carbon stone….richly rewarding.
Josh, if you dissect many of the contrary messages of this posting, you will find that there is not an overt antipathy to the South on many counts. Criticisms of various elements…such as the economic self-abuse of the South regarding a large sector of their potential consumers mentioned by Medaille occur but there is no wholesale condemnation of the South that I can see. You’re falling into the partisan trap of single issue politics and this unreasonably constrains potential allies while curtailing a thorough foray.
Interestingly enough, CSpan Book TV had a piece today at noon on a review at George Mason U. spotlighting the author Paul D. Escott’s book “”What Shall We Do with the Negro”:Lincoln, White Racism and Civil War America”. He documents Lincoln’s ambivalence toward the future of the Black man and points to several actions and comments that would seem to cast doubt upon the mythology of the man. In particular, he mentions the commonly held belief that after Jan. 1 , 1863 and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation , Lincoln never again mentioned his support of various Black Colonies as a means to remove their complications from the States. Apparently in March of that same year, he negotiated and supported a colony on an island off Haiti …against his cabinet’s advice that resulted in many deaths of the colonists. He also mentions the Hampton Roads Conference with Southern Leaders and when they asked him what he intended to do to help freed slaves with the South in such straits, he delivered a homespun story about a farmer who could not properly care for his pigs so he planted potatoes. The Southerners pushed him about the winter and he continued the story asserting they could grub for the potatoes…in other words, they were on their own.
Again, the paradox of the loaded subject demands that we look beyond the issue of slavery and into States Rights, Reconstruction predations, Political actions on both sides , Sean’s discussion of Southern monocultural agricultural trade, Medailles economic comments and Josh’s discussion of less than sincere and full support of black emancipation in the North. The notion of a Modern Agrarian localism would be well served by an “post-occupancy” accounting of the many paradoxical causes and outcomes of the Civil War.
I wonder if there has ever been an invasive war honestly fought on “principle,” without the equivalent of a Tariff behind it. I don’t think so. However moving Lincoln’s rhetoric, we have to look at what he said in the light of what he did, both privately as a politician and publicly as the Executive during the war.
Like many Southerners before and after 1860, I find the notion of ownership of another human being hard to justify. But we must remember that there are many kinds of slavery. I would certainly call the Indian clearances west, conducted by federal troops right after the war, slavery; also the very hard history of the Northern mills. As we argue we must be mindful of the beam in our own eyes.
We should also remember that hard cases make bad law, and for those of us whose hatred of slavery knows no patience, and who believe now we would have chosen then to see it ended by force and bloodshed (black as well as white), well, the result was certainly Lincoln’s centralization of power, which I think most readers of this site regret.
Actually Owsley has been vindicated on a number of occasions. W. Kirk Wood authored on article that I remember. I believe it is titled “The Misinterpretation of Frank Owsley and the Myth of Neo-Confederate revival.” There were half a dozen other articles vindicating Owsley that if I was given some time I could track down. And they were not written by anyone associated with a conservative or Southern bias.
To Mr. Sabin,
I realize that most here are not condemning the South and are probably sympathetic, but that does not mean I need to compromise on what seems a rediculous moral argument on the part of those defending the North and Lincoln. However, at least on this site I am not cursed as a racist and white supremacist as I would by on any leftist or mainstream conservative blog.
Where is Clyde Wilson when I need him…? Mr. Cheeks feels my pain here, I think.
Yes, good ole Clyde, a brilliant mind indeed.
But, let us take D.W.’s advice and pursue the matter in terms of a “post occupancy accounting.” We await the blog meisters, where is Arben, Fea, Kauffman, Stegall, Dalton, et al; we, your audience, demand the interlocution, the give and take of the dialectics. How do we recover our existence, where did we lose it, why have we become “the children of the state?” And, What God do we serve?
Gimme an Amen!
Where do I begin? I am flattered that my piece on Lincoln and place has triggered such discussion. Let me make a few observations since I do not have time to respond to each commentator individually. (I will try to be more active in the comment section this week, should the conversation continue. It has been a busy weekend and I just getting around to reading all of your remarks).
First, I am willing to partially concede Mr. Fox’s first point. It may be difficult to directly connect Lincoln’s Whiggism to corporate-style capitalism, but I would still argue that Lincoln’s nationalism and the Northern victory in the Civil War created the economic and cultural environment in which corporate capitalism would emerge in the late 19th century. My main point is that Lincoln should bear responsibility for the decline or disappearance of Jefferson’s “little republics.” Lincoln would have been happy with his triumph in this regard.
Second, I agree with Mr. Fox about slavery. I think Lincoln and the Republicans were right about slavery. While I do not think we can say that the Civil War was fought (at least initially) to end the institution, slavery was certainly the cause of the war in the sense that the south perceived the Lincoln victory in 1860 as a threat to their individual rights as Americans–including the right to own slaves/property. In terms of moral reform, I guess you could say I am a Whig. But here is where we must appreciate the moral complexity of Lincoln. At the same time that he fought to end the expansion of slavery, he also championed economic progress in a way that undermined local economies and local tradition.
Here is the question I often raise with my students: Is it possible to celebrate what is good about agrarianism (even southern agrarianism) and still reject slavery as morally unacceptable? Can we still have Jeffersonian localism without slavery? (Of course there were many in the 19th century south who fit the bill here). I would love to hear all of your thoughts about this.
Finally, I am not willing to completely abandon certain universal or cosmpolitan ideals when they are marshalled to protect the human dignity of all persons. I mentioned King’s *Letter from a Birmingham Jail* in my essay. I am with King here. While I try to celebrate local tradition and rail against the way corporate capitalism has destroyed local places, I think at times localism can result in practices that I consider morally unacceptable. When this happens, there are universal principles compatiable with the Christian understanding of human dignity that should always trump local tradition.
After reading the comments here, I am not sure if the position I have taken in this post still qualifies me to be part of the blog community here. Does my willingness to occasionally uphold the value of universal, liberal, and cosmopolitan ideas make me a bad citizen of the Front Porch Republic? I hope not. As I argued in my book, *The Way of Improvement Leads Home*, sometimes Enlightenment or modern ideals can be wedded to a localist mentality. The two do not have to always be incompatible.
“Can we still have Jeffersonian localism without slavery?”
Of course, in fact to a certain degree it’s alive and well today, if not thriving.
What, exactly, do you mean when you write, “…I think at times localism can result in practices that I consider morally unacceptable?” And, What specific “Enlightenment or modern ideals” do we want to “wed” to our beloved and imaginary localist culture. I have issues with the “Enlightenment,” and I’m curious.
Perhaps the question is as basic as What is the purpose of community? Also, I wouldn’t think there are “qualifications” for the front porch, not in a free society at least.
Let me rephrase the question. Can we affirm the agrarian/localist values of the antebellum south without also affirming slavery? I think we can, but, at least for me, it must be done cautiously.
I wrote: ,”…I think at times localism can result in practices that I consider morally unacceptable?” For example, when there is a local tradition that upholds slavery or segregation then I would argue, based upon values rooted in both the Christian tradition and the Enlightenment, that such a local tradition is morally unacceptable. I am fully with the liberals on this one, but I would also like to think I am in line with Christian (Catholic) social teaching.
When I talked about the relationship between localism and the Enlightenment I was referring to a concept I worked up for the 18th century which I called the “rural Enlightenment.” In other words, modern values such as education, the exploration of ideas through reading and print, moral improvement, etc… can function in a rural or agrarian or local place just as easily as it can in a metropolis. I think Wendell Berry, for example, is an “educated” man in the modern (read Enlightenment) sense of the word, but has understood his modern self through the context of local life. I think that by participating in forums such as this or engaging larger ideals we are engaging in a certain form of intellectual cosmopolitanism. (And cosmopolitanism, in my opinion, is at the heart of the Enlightenment). Today, social theorists and modern-types (or perhaps post-modern types might be a better description) like to talk about “rooted cosmpolitanism.” This is the idea that we are all primarily cosmopolitans/global citizens but we practice our cosmopolitanism from different places to which we are somehow connected. Actually, I would prefer to talk about “cosmopolitan rootedness” (“rootedness” being the noun and “cosmopolitan” being the adjective). This seems to imply that we are first and foremost rooted beings and thus any engagement with the modern, Enlightenment, cosmopolitan world should result in the improvement of our local places rather than the world.
This brings me back full circle. When localism results in a failure to respect the human dignity of everyone in that particular local community, then I would appeal to universal or cosmopolitan ideals to make the local place more humane and moral.
I don’t think anyone at this site seeks to establish a local community based on racism, or any aspect of minority or ethnic oppression. But, there are several who quite rightly question the validity of a culture that engages in political correctness and its antecedents. As a local community the goal of its membership must reflect the truth of reality.
If we are to constitute our image of the local community then it should reflect the best that man has to offer, to seek order and to reject disorder, to seek the truth of human existence and to reject the ideologies spawned by the Enlightenment that gave humanity the horrors of national socialism, socialism, fascism, and communism.
The first and most important point in considering the rural/local community is to apperceive it as a form of the polis and to abandon the revolt against theology and metaphysics, where this egophanic revolt failed to recover the tension of existence.
And, while a “return” to the local/rural community-the Port William membership, if you will-should call into question the proper, human, and humane use of technology (technos)it is also incumbent on us as human beings to first and foremost offer the possibility for every member of the community to live within the truth of existential tension; to live within the Platonic metaxy in a Reality that participates in both time and eternity…defined by the poles of immanence and transcendence, and to comprehend that the hypostatizing of these poles of tensional existence is to destroy the community.
In re: the connection, if any, between localism and racism. I think we need to put the question of “localism” in the context of the principle of subsidiarity. In subsidiarity, society is built from the bottom up, starting with the family. However, although it starts there, it does not end there. There is a rightful place for higher organizations, even national and trans-national ones. Localism by itself would quickly degenerate into tribalism and racism. Hence there is a legitimate place for higher levels to ensure justice at the lower level, and to intervene as necessary. Any localism that excluded the higher levels would be mere tribalism.
You seem to be saying that the “higher organizations” will keep us poor, semi-literate locals from killing each other because we have different colored skins or worship different Gods. I don’t agree, I think our old friend Plato said something to the effect that the polis should be no more than 5,000 or some such number…maybe he had a point.
I’ve dealt with federal/statist bureaucrats and apparatchiks and I’m not impressed either by their intellectual accomplishments or their embrace of instrumental rationality.
Local is good, we can do it!
I don’t think the localist movement is quite at the point where we need to worry about collapsing into tribalism. People who worry about the “Balkanization” of the U.S. forget one thing, this isn’t the Balkans. However, I could foresee a scenario where Red Sox and Yankee fans take up arms against one another.
Seriously, though, with the speed of information and communication these days, I don’t think we in the U.S. need to worry about too much provincialism right now. We can deal with that problem when it comes. Our threats are the Federal Killing Machine (or FKM for short) and the Corporate Goons (CG) who run roughshod over local and regional communities and culture. If we ever get to the point where our biggest problems are greedy small town businessman and sketchy backwoods lawyers, well, then I’d say we’ve made progress.
Bob, I said nothing of the sort, and that sort of crude characterization does nothing to advance intelligent conversation.
Josh, this is our problem, and right now. It is the problem of federalism. It is always a mistake, in my opinion, to counter a pure statism with a pure localism. Either, by itself, is a great wrong. The principle that allows us to bridge the gap is that of subsidiarity. This principle gives priority to the local, but authority to the higher level when there are egregious violations of justice. So in the case of the civil rights movement, for example, was the gov’t justified in intervening in local affairs? This is apart from the question of whether the particular interventions were the wisest. However, if you contend that localism means that the higher levels have no function in justice, then localism is doomed from the start. Either people will reject it outright, leaving statism as the only alternative, or the local entities will exceed the bounds of reason, because sooner or later everybody does.
I’m glad–as I’m sure are many others who have participated in this discussion–you weighing in a little bit.
I would still argue that Lincoln’s nationalism and the Northern victory in the Civil War created the economic and cultural environment in which corporate capitalism would emerge in the late 19th century.
I can’t disagree with this–Lincoln’s centralization of power in Washington DC was an important procedural component of the subsequent centralizations which shaped late 19th and early 20th century economic history. I just dispute the idea that Lincoln’s Republican nationalism was an important ideological component of that corporate centralism. If anything, I suspect that Lincoln’s attempts to harness what he visualized as the country’s “national community” on behalf of landowners and wage-earners had more immediate ideological connections to the populist movements twenty or thirty years after the end of the Civil War, rather than to what the bankers and railroad owners were doing.
While I try to celebrate local tradition and rail against the way corporate capitalism has destroyed local places, I think at times localism can result in practices that I consider morally unacceptable. When this happens, there are universal principles compatiable with the Christian understanding of human dignity that should always trump local tradition.
I completely agree…which, of course, as I said above, results in some pretty murky, complex, occasionally dubious moral calculations. Because, of course, what that principle doesn’t tell us is how or when such “trumping” should take place. We are fated–by Christianity if you prefer, or maybe by Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Indepedence, or maybe just by modern human nature–to be interventionists, of a sort, but with that intervention will always come any number of collateral harms. I lived in the South long enough to know that Brown v. Board of Education did real damage to the political development of the Southern states and, for that matter, of many of the citizens who lived and raised their families there; I also am prepared to defend the decision nonetheless whole-heartedly. It may be that, ultimately, interventions–or “trumpings”–are never going to be fully justifiable, and that the results will always be paradoxical and incomplete.
I would prefer to talk about “cosmopolitan rootedness” (”rootedness” being the noun and “cosmopolitan” being the adjective). This seems to imply that we are first and foremost rooted beings and thus any engagement with the modern, Enlightenment, cosmopolitan world should result in the improvement of our local places rather than the world.
I like this–it reminds me of the way I talk about my communitarianism: were are beings of community first, and only after that, adjectivally, are we liberal beings. We do and should seek freedom and rights in the context of our belonging.
I lean more toward John M. on this discussion. Subsidiarity is the key. I view this as similar to my previous remark about “cosmopolitan rootedness.” There are times–and I hope that they are few–when universal values must trump the values of the local community.
What is interesting about the idea that Jefferson, the champion of the Yeoman Farmer…a farmer of erudition and brute labor….is that, to a degree, Jefferson was not exclusively a localist…nor was , by extension, the Plantation Aristocracy of the South that enjoyed deriding the hardscrabble market-farmers of New England for their troglodytic Puritanism. The institution was in effect a form of wage and price control that was engaged in feathering it’s nest in European Trade through the use of slavery to restrict wages and maximize monocultural production. They were nascent globalists of a form. The 3/5ths rule could only be concocted by someone who had the Neo-Conservative-Globalist “Free Trade” habit of self-contradictory logic in service to commercial dominance and advantage.
Like many things, the failures of Enlightenment Thinking are as much failures of corruption and application than they are failures of the underlying humanist ideals in opposition to tyranny. Although I am highly critical of large institutions and the seeming militarism and quickened entropy of them, I would have to say that I favor Mr. Medaille’s reference to bottom-up localism that freely engages in national and transnational relationships…as long as said relationships do not come with a Faustian bargain that subverts local consent and will. Currently, we have a Federalist Imperial regime that is doubling down on that Faustian Bargain and spending the bulk of our human and material capital on exactly what Washington cautioned against in his Farewell Address :Foreign entanglements of special interest on the backs of an unwieldy Standing Army.
Cheeks comment on a more parochial localism being best and that we can do it reminds me of a quote from an essay on the growth and acceptance of the European Common Market and in particular the euro. The journalist was interviewing an Italian in a small rural village and asked the local if he did not really enjoy this new unified Europe and how people of all the Common Market can now travel and trade freely with a single currency and the farmer replied something along the lines of : “Whaddya…kidding me, in Italy, we hate the people in the NEXT VILLAGE!”…….this is one of the many reasons I tend to like Italians as much as I do. There is nothing like the spectacle of an Italian car accident….they are positively Shakespearian in their full breadth of human emotional display from the sublime to the demonic and ridiculous……As an Italian friend says “Italy is proof that a thousand years of Anarchy actually works”
John M. Dude please accept my apology, I was indeed being a little flip but didn’t intend any mean-spiritedness.
My point is history shows us that centralized gov’t always seems to injure the community in one way or another, unless of course we have a really good king, or duke, or earl…duke of earl.
I really do perfer a central gov’t along the lines of the Aritcles of Confederation…I really, really do!
Also, I downloaded the definition for Catholic distributism from your site and I’m well pleased; we should talk…assuming you’ve accepted my apology?
Russell: Thanks for the post. My silence this weekend should not be interpreted as lack of interest. It is “that time of the semester” and I just trying to keep my head above water.
I think we are largely in agreement on these points.
You wrote: “we are beings of community first, and only after that, adjectivally, are we liberal beings. We do and should seek freedom and rights in the context of our belonging.” I could not agree more.
Subsidiarity is a great concept so long as the higher levels of authority are legitimate. Subsidiarity is a Catholic concept, right? And I assume it is a political manifestation of the Great Chain of Being. That means that God and the Catholic Church are the higher authorities from which middle and lower levels assume their own power. Unless we restore some kind of proper higher authority, then subsidiarity is a hollow concept. Is the U.S. government a legitimate higher authority? The U.N.? The Hague? These organizations are non-Christian at best, violently anti-Christian at worst.
Just one comment. I don’t think that Brown v. Board was the problem; it was the correct decision. It was later decisions (I’ve forgotten the cases) that usurped the legislative function to mandate busing and other things as the solution. The court was right to declare as it did; it was wrong to interfere in a function that belonged to a negotiation between legislatures and executives.
This was an especially interesting and well balanced article. However, I would offer a couple things for your consideration. One is that the antebellum southern agrarian culture was really destroyed by midwestern agrarians. This is detailed in Victor Davis Hansons’ (See the chapter on Sherman’s army).
The second is that my own Pennsylvania German culture survived the Civil War prety well intact, based upon a three legged stool of agrarianism, Christianity, and the German Language. When the First World War destroyed the language, the culture died.
D.W.: and that reminds me of the great competition between my hometown, East Liverpool, Ohio and that little “village” down river, Wellsville, that always had a great basketball team and gave us all we wanted.
We used to sit in “peanut heaven” when the game would start and sing our little ditty:
“Down around the muddy waters,
Near the gates of Hell
There’s and old abandoned outhouse
That they call Wells…ville!
Now, that’s a localism that you can sink your teeth into!
Maybe I should have said that subsidiarity would lose most of its power for me, rather than saying it is hollow. It is conceivable that non-Christian institutions could find a use for subsidiarity. I think my larger point about authority still stands, however.
I just came across your erudite comments, ten or so back. Now where have you been, you should be commenting all along on this thread. And, now we have intelligent gentlemen who are trying to tell me how wonderful their form of centralization is and how I should embrace it. Why even the acerbic D.W. seems to be getting wobbly on me.
So bring up your horse drawn tweleve pounders and strike them from the flank…I’ve detected a wiff of liberalism…good Lord, when will these people ever learn?
Bob, no problem. I agree that democracy requires a monarch. Without it, Washington becomes a competing locality in its own right, as well as a place where all the localities (including disembodied “localities” like Wall Street, the unions, corporations, etc.) do battle with each other.
Things are defined by their limits; I am a monarchist because I am a democrat. Just as an absolute monarch is a violation of monarchy, absolute democracy destroys real democracy.
The only thing that I could possibly add to this conversation is something that my great great great grandfather, who was in one of the Illinois regiments under Sherman wrote of the Confederates.
“If there is any doubt as the to truth of the theories of Mr. Darwin, it can be cured by having contact with the rebels and what passes for soldiers in their unfortunate ranks. From the moment one hears their pathetic war-hoops which are no doubt an attempt to imitate the red savages and only cause much laughter in our ranks as we shoot them down, (though I am shamed to say that it does cause fear in the ranks of the New York troops that we have heard about and that is obviously due to the presence among their ranks of many Catholic Irish whom, as all know, only know the courage of the jug) to the smell that comes from them as they get close enough to use the bayonet, to the simian aspect of their faces, one can only surmise that the process of evolution has passed the Southerner by and he remains in the ape-like state, not having yet attained the rank of human.
Of their women, the less I can say the better. Our northern ladies of the evening are more delicate in their manners and dress. It has often been remarked that our boys show an amazing restraint in their behavior towards them but that is not so much in the quality of the breeding of our brave soldiers, would that were the reason, but in the fact that it would be hard to find a man in our ranks so degraded as to be able to tolerate the mere touch of these unfortunate creatures.
It is truly the Lord’s Holy Work we are doing in liberating the poor Negro from the clutches of people such as this.”
Daniel Waldron to Nellie Waldron, January 1865
Cheeks, About the time this site has unanimity of opinion , it will be time to give it the bucket treatment. If’n you don’t know what the “bucket treatment” is, check back on the swineherd reveries of curmudgeonly Stegall. A community with no differences of opinion is no community, it is a precious cult of tritely fatuous self-reverence usually embarking upon a short trip to an auto-punching out.
The notion of a monarchy makes me want to reach for my knife but I always enjoy what Mr. Medaille has to say. The only monarchy I could abide is if I were King, then I’m all for it and shall promptly smite all others in brazen opposition.
Now that we’ve managed to run this stream up to 66 comments, I’m quite sure “Chucks” comment is about to send it off on another quick sprint into a “fresh hell” of our own making.
D. W. says The only monarchy I could abide is if I were King… That would be the “every man a king” monarchy of the sainted Senator from Louisiana, Huey P. Long. But in a constitutional monarchy with strong subsidiary institutions, every man is, in a sense, a king, the autocrat of his own home, the patrician of his own town.
Yeah, ole Chuck, now that was a “letter.” I wonder who’s goin’ to bite on that one? NOt me…yip,yip,yip,yip!!!
As far as my whining about you joining the forces of consolidation, I was just “stickin'” the sleeping dog, but I enjoyed the lecture!
If someone bits on Chucky, I’ll be getting out my CW battle studies. OUr pal, Josh, has probably had the big one///1
Oh, and BTW, I think the USA would be better served if it were five or six different countries….so there!
No Medaille, quite the contrary…..I meant me as the King…the one and only and the rest of you , well…. serfs.
Please render yon taxes to that rat-nosed looking fellow sneaking up on you perforce…a tax farmer….tribute agrarian as it were, harvesting for the greater good of me and mine.
You’re right, we got everyman a king now and that is an emperor with no clothes….an ugly emperor to boot. dumb too, and none too benevolent.
That lesser noble …August was it?… in Saxe Weimar and look what he produced, a Beethoven and a Goethe in the same generation. You may be on to something but I intend to keep the Bowie neatly sheathed just in case.
I assume you’re familiar with the tenets of Just War doctrine — would you say that the negative consequences of the war were outweighed by the rectification of the injustice of slavery?
I.e., as summarized in the catechism (asterisks next to key points):
“The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
– the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
* all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
– there must be serious prospects of success;
* the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
To quote Mr. Berry (emphases mine):
“Romantic nationalists, which is to say most apologists for war, always imply in their public speeches a mathematics or an accounting of war. Thus by its suffering in the Civil War, the North is said to have ‘paid for’ the emancipation of the slaves and the preservation of the Union. Thus we may speak of our liberty as having been “bought” by the bloodshed of patriots. I am fully aware of the truth in such statements…
But still I am suspicious of this kind of accounting. For one reason, it is necessarily done by the living on behalf of the dead … there is never a PREVIOUSLY STATED level of acceptability. THE ACCEPTABLE PRICE, FINALLY, IS WHATEVER IS PAID.”
I guess my question would be — if the destruction of life and damage to constitutional framework which resulted from the war was still within the acceptable range, what extent of destruction & damage would have been unacceptable?
In other words, if, say, Sherman had had an atomic weapon at his disposal, would he have been justified in using it? If not, why not? Can we at least take a general hazy stab at the location of the dividing line between an acceptable and unacceptable price?
As to how Mr. Lincoln is frequently “castigated as a man with a corrupt character” with “the little matter of the South’s toleration of the ownership of other human beings as disposable property somehow slipping away” I second the many other commenters who have observed the exotic circles in which Mr. Fox must run.
I am employing a pseudonym for a reason. Because I do not wish to lose my job when some busybody boss googles my name — the fate of several other wrongthinkers I’ve known personally.
Has Mr. Fox ever had to fear being fired for his views on Lincoln? If so, I’d like to move to his neck of the woods.
“On the constitutional and political front, the war decided the question of states’ rights once and for all. Individual states had some degree of sovereignty, but they were not sovereign enough to secede from the Union.”
NO IT DID NOT! He says while stamping his feet. I hate that assertion. Since when did conservatives and Christians become believers in the barbaric notion that might makes right? (In some sense might makes, but it does not make right.) The States HAD a right to secede and still HAVE a right to secede because that was the clear understanding of the States when they ratified the Constitution, with three States explicitly withholding the right. Some of the more nationalistic Founders may not have liked it, but that is the way the document was billed to the States and it would not have been ratified otherwise. The WBTS DID NOT “settle” the question of secession. It settled who had the superior resources and manpower to wage a protracted war. I really don’t understand how people are able to make the “it settled the secession question” assertion with a straight face.
Red, It might not have settled the issue of secession in a strictly legal sense but the terrible cost of the war certainly plunged States Rights into a long cold limbo. Nullification aint been vigorously mentioned since. One wonders how long it would take the Vermont Republic to go from the Green Mountain State to the Green Mountain Resettlement Camp if they were to follow through on their little Secession revery. Acknowledging this does not make anyone a defacto lover of the Might makes Right doctrine
Has Mr. Fox ever had to fear being fired for his views on Lincoln? If so, I’d like to move to his neck of the woods.
Can’t say I have. Kansas must be a tolerant place, I guess.
Maybe some of the moralizers here would like to point me to the Bible verse that condemns slavery. I will point him to several that regulate the practice.
The issue in the South was not just the continuation of slavery, but the very difficult question of what to do with the Negro who in many areas was a numerical majority or significant minority. As circumstances have proven, they were right to be so concerned. For modern day moralizers to look back on the South and wag their fingers is obnoxious. As if any of them would have held opinions different from every other white Southerner had they lived at the time. John Medaille is like so many Catholics I know. He is a peddler of pure political correctness of the most annoying self-righteous kind.
Allow me to welcome to the front porch. I’ll venture a guess that no one wants to answer your question re: “costs”, it’s rather blunt you know and we’re trying to be civilized while we talk about an uncivil war.
Sorry to hear you can’t use your name. I’d go for another gig, your crew’s much to bossy!
I trust you’ll stay with us when we finally move on to building a local/rural community.
D.W. the old 10th amendment thing was goin’ pretty good a couple of months ago what happened? I got this feelin’ the pres might reignite that fire.
Dirk, that is one reason I included my caveat that “might makes.” We just should not contribute rhetorically to the fiction that the WBTS “settled” the secession question.
I wonder if the Lincoln as crusading ideological Whig idea may not be overstated. It is the DiLorenzo thesis and has received much play in recent years, but I wonder if it doesn’t give Lincoln too much credit. Likewise, the Lincoln as crusading ideological progressivist (for lack of a better term). This in some ways buys into the fanciful Jaffaesque (neocon) conception of Lincoln as Revolutionary. Lincoln was a brilliant rhetorician and used both ideas rhetorically, but if we don’t accept his rhetoric at face value (and there is little reason to since he was a notorious double-speaker), on what grounds do we conclude that his motives were not just the base preservation of the Union for the sake of power and pragmatic considerations? The proximate cause of his invasion was the ability to collect tariffs from Southern ports. He made this clear in his First Inaugural address. (These themes partially explain what motivated the North, but I’m not sure they were much more than rhetorical ploys for Lincoln the man.)
I certainly appreciate the fact that the discussion is civil; I think this is the first time in my memory that such a discussion has remained so. I hope Mr. Medaille takes my observations/query in the spirit it was intended.
Just for the record, my biggest beef is not so much with pro-Lincoln, pro-Union sentiments per se, but rather with the fact that it is almost impossible to identify with the other side without getting smeared, demonized, and generally cast out.
I certainly don’t get my dander up because somebody identifies with the Union; perhaps we could all question the binary assumption that all the right must have been on the one side with all the wrong on the other?
I mean, personally I hardly believe that the world we live in today would be a magical agrarian paradise if only General Lee had been victorious…
Chuck. What a great letter. One that was not read during Ken Burns “The Civil War” series. And too bad. Do you have the whole collection of letters? Is it published anywhere?
C4L asks, Maybe some of the moralizers here would like to point me to the Bible verse that condemns slavery. Oh, its in there. Something about loving your neighbor. Somewhere towards the back. Of course, as a Roman Catholic, I don’t read the Scripture as an exercise in my personal skills as an interpreter, but according to the interpretive tradition of the Church. And that tradition comes down pretty strongly against slavery. It’s easy enough to test whether the Church is right on this one. Just ask yourself, if I enslaved you, would you regard it as an act of brotherly love? Just a PC sort of inquiry, you understand.
G. S., Is your rumination on just war supposed to be applied to Bull Run or Fort Sumter? Does only one side make the calculation? How many lives was Southern independence worth, even had they won?
But they did win. Not in 1865 but in 1877. That’s the problem. They locked themselves for 100 years in a society where race trumped every other consideration. And in doing so, they tainted every agrarian and federalist discussion. Thanks.
What my Southern family and friends do not realize, when they castigate Lincoln, is that the greatest tragedy in Southern history occurred not at Appomattox, but at Ford’s Theater. Lincoln wanted an easy peace and a quick reconciliation; he may have defeated the South but he didn’t want the South to remain defeated. It might be that the situation would have defeated him no matter what. But there is every indication that he was willing to try. This was not true of his successor or of the Republican congress.
As far as the question of whether might makes right, it depends on the right. If it is a “natural” right like life, then no. If it is a political right, then sometimes yes. The Constitution was silent on any method of leaving the union; they left the point moot. The fact that many states, some of them in the old South, had to sign in doesn’t mean that there is a corresponding right to sign out. Most didn’t sign in, since they were created by the Federal gov’t out of the territories. But whether the agreement was to last as long as grass shall grow or wind shall blow, it is a question that can be disputed but cannot be referred to some “natural law.” Such political questions are settled by political means. When these fail, they are often settled by “a continuation of politics by other means.” And we know what that means.
In any case, those who thump their chest about “might makes right” arguments ought to be careful, or they will have to give all of those lovely farms back to the Indians. Me? I’m standing on my rights, mainly the right of the remote owner of my homestead to take it from the Indians by force. An imperfect system, no doubt, one made for imperfect men like me.
I too appreciate disagreement on this subject argued with courtesy. Thanks especially to Mr. Fea.
One difficult aspect of blog discussions like this is their necessary disjointedness. I am referring to several comments back, as I only get here every few days.
I believe we can advocate local control over local issues (schooling, say, or housing), or we can advocate federal control, which is what we have now for both of those examples, but we can’t have both. I would argue, in sorrow, that if we are interested in freedom, we have to tolerate some intolerance. Freedom of association must imply freedom of disassociation, or it means nothing.
If freedom has warts, are we still interested? Are we willing to fight for justice in a thousand little places, rather than have our pet issue forced on us all from above, in ways that typically lead to other injustices? As a nation I’m inclined to say we prefer B. But we must at least be very clear that we have made that choice, and are not lounging astride a semisubsidiary fence.
Had the North accepted the secessions then there would have been no war. In fact, had the North accepted the secessions there would have been fewer secessions.
I’m not at this point making a claim as to whether this would have been right or wrong, but simply stating something which I suspect we can agree upon. The point about Southern independence not being an unlimited good is perfectly valid.
But let’s avoid the “tu quoque”… I don’t think the thread was intended to address the good or bad choices of Jefferson Davis, or of plantation owners — but those of Lincoln, who seems to have had the pretty stark choice of accepting secession as constitutional or opting for a military solution.
An analogy would be Madeleine Albright’s famous “We think the price was worth it” statement. Afterwards she backtracked, trying to explain that actually “the price” fell on the head of Saddam Hussein for not accepting America’s will.
I think you can take it as given that I’m hardly an apologist for Saddam Hussein, and would not attempt to claim any moral credibility for him. But Albright’s response was a sheer exercise in moral evasion — pretending as if she had no say in the matter.
Your observation about the “might makes right” question is extremely astute, and I’m not just saying that to be diplomatic. I was intending to bring it up myself. I don’t know if you’ve read Richard Weaver’s work on “the arbitrament of arms” and war as “ultima ratio” — but whether you have or not, we are on the same page on the fundamental question here.
I.e., if you go to war and you are beaten and you then agree to sign a peace treaty… well, you did *sign* the treaty. Grumbling about how you were right all along and hinting darkly that you plan on ripping up the treaty and fighting the war all over again is not exactly a sane or ethical way to approach either war or reality.
Regardless of who was more in the right, demanding a “do over” of the Union vs. Confederate cause really is akin to demanding a “do over” of the U.S. vs. Indian tribes.
For the record I think what was done to the Red Man really was appalling as well as dishonorable — but trying to rectify it NOW strikes me as only slightly less ludicrous as trying to rectify injustices done to Anglo-Saxons by their Norman conquerors. If we grant every grudge-holder a “do over” of events in history we’ll soon have no history (or civilization) left.
In short, I DO agree with the basic sentiment of “You lost. Get over it.”
The problem here, though, is that when two sides fight and come to a truce, the WINNING side is also expected to live up to certain terms. Southerner partisans here would not be so hot under the collar if the South were not currently undergoing a cultural purge.
The Treaty at Appomatox did not say anything about tearing down memorials and statues to Confederate soldiers, stripping the Stars and Bars from state flags — nor about issues which you and I share in common, such as the imposition of federal policies on abortion and gay marriage.
In short, speaking personally, my main interest in secession is over *current* causes, not because a right to secede was tramelled upon in the 1860’s. My main interest in debating Lincoln is not to “convert” anybody nor to villify Lincoln, but to highlight the extent to which our society has fallen into this all-good & all-bad mentality.
Currently the conventional wisdom is that Northern leaders were heroic and noble, while Southerners of the day were people we should all be ashamed of. That is my deepest problem with Lincoln enthusiasm; very rarely in any (human) conflict is all the good confined to one side with all the evil on the other.
More concisely — if there were fewer modern-day Unionists demonizing Confederates and demanding that Southerners utterly disavow their own ancestors, then I am certain Southerners would be more able to “get over it” and let bygones be bygones, bury the hatchet, etc.
If there were anything remotely approaching subsidiarity (cultural as well as political) in this country, then sympathy for the secessionist principle would not be heating up to the extent that it is.
Thank you for the commons sense, logic, and reason! While you understand the inherent “messiness” of human existence, there are those who insist on the alledged benefits of consolidation.
Also, where did Captain Chaos go???? Hello!!
Is there an explanation, did he cross the line?
A note from the Editors of Front Porch Republic.
Thanks for your participation on this site. John Fea’s piece on Lincoln has generated, for the most part, an interesting and civil debate. But there have been some recent comments questioning the moral evil of slavery and employing the language of White Supremacists. We at the Front Porch are not interested in hosting this type of conversation. Comments of this sort will be deleted. In other words, our little neighborhood has some prejudices of its own, and we don’t tolerate racists or bigots of any sort. If this makes you uncomfortable, take your chair to another porch.
Front Porch Republic
G.S. says, Had the North accepted the secessions then there would have been no war. And if the South had not seceded, there would have been no war. This is not tu quoque. Rather, it is sauce for goose…
There is a constant victimology here, that serves no purpose. “If the North would leave us alone!” Well, it did, and we used the freedom to oppress blacks. “If the blacks had been kinder to us, etc.” Or rather, it serves all the wrong purposes. As I said, you cannot have this kind of conversation without the racists crawling out of the ground and gumming up the works. The editors were right to purge the outright defenses of slavery and overtly racist sentiments. Failure to do so ruined TakiMag, so that they had to turn off all comments. (Although, to be fair, some of the official contributors weren’t much better.)
And in truth, the Northern position is not an unreasonable one. Had a right of secession been recognized, it is likely that this continent would be a collection of waring states with neither peace nor prosperity. Indeed, the New England states might have left before the South, setting up a battle for control of the West. If every argument can lead to a new nation, there will be a multiplication of the nations and of arguments.
So long as secession is tied to a defense of slavery, it retards talk of secession. And anyway secession isn’t an option right now, (although it may become one in the near future, as the hold of Washington weakens.) The current task is to restore subsidiarity (which term I prefer to “states’ rights,” since that term has become problematic.) This cannot happen without repeal of the 16th Amendment and restoration of the 10th.
“a collection of waring states”
I believe I see one of our fundamental points of disagreement. I’m extremely dubious as to the feasibility of forging any single humane & civilized political sovereignty to cover a region as great as the territory which currently comprises the continental United States.
I’d just as soon Europe remain in danger of being a collection of warring states than to see all of said states brought together under one banner of European union. I do not regard the problem as merely one of bad secularist guys at the helm, but in a methodology of excessive consolidation itself. Barring some sort of equivalent of the Hapsburgs arising on this continent (sorry, Mr. Sabin) I cannot endorse the existence of the state-entity referred to as “America” at all.
Or rather, my attitude toward America as an entity is exactly how (IMO) a healthy-spirited Frenchman or Italian or German would view “Europe”. A large culturally and geographically diverse region, not something they yearn to see merged into a politically-consolidated state.
As to victimology, I don’t see how it is victimology to point to the bad consequences of the war anymore than it would be victimology to question the wisdom of dropping atomic bombs on Japan. After all, from a certain point of view the Japanese (women, children, and aged) “deserved it” based on what went on in Nanking and at Bataan.
In any event, the point of revisiting the legacy of the Lincoln administration is to ask whether seeds of our current situation might not have been extant in the WBTS.
One might even be of the pro-Union position and still find the question fruitful. I know plenty of people (myself included) who would support US involvement in WWII, yet who are simultaneously very very concerned about the unfortunate societal changes induced by that conflict (“Rosie the Riveter”, degradation of morals, industrial expansion, government expansion, increasing propagandizing of society, getting chummy with Stalin & hence fostering Marxism at home, embrace of Total War philosophy, etc., etc….)
In short, I find it difficult to accept the suggestion that the events of the 1860s did not contribute to centralization and the death of subsidiarity. I also find it difficult to accept the notion that Northern victory was an unmixed blessing and that the Southern cause was an unmixed evil. I make a big deal of the matter because I do not believe them to be academic questions; these two positions cloud our understanding of the past, which in turn hampers our ability to comprehend the present.
Perhaps these are not the positions you are arguing or even implying, in which case I’ve misunderstood.
I also find it quite difficult to accept the comparison, commonly made on the Christian Right, of the Confederate to the modern-day abortionist. Granting that the comparison is inapt, this is not the sort of thing anybody accepts having said and repeated about one’s ancestors.
On a slightly different and more general note, I hope no one objects to my drawing upon older, wiser heads than my own:
“There is no doubt that wars may have moral purposes. Union and emancipation were moral purposes. So were secession and independence, however muddied by the immoral purpose of slavery.
… any price for victory is acceptable to the generals and politicans of the victorious side, who are under great pressure to say that it is acceptable. But the accounting is conventionally not attempted. Victors do not wish to evaluate their victory as a net gain for fear that it will prove a net loss.
I doubt that such a calculation is possible, even if somebody were willing to try it. But that should not stop us from asking, if only to keep the question open, what we gained, as a people, by the North’s expensive victory. My own impression is that the net gain was more modest and more questionable than is customarily said.
… It does not seem unreasonable to say that emancipation was achieved and, almost by the same stroke, botched. The slaves were set free only to remain an exploited people for another hundred years. My own guess is that, after the decision was taken to make slavery an issue of war, emancipation was inevitably botched. The North in effect abandoned the ex-slaves to the mercy of its embittered and still dissident former enemy, to whom they would be ever-present reminders, symbols virtually, of defeat.
Furthermore we have remained a people in need of a racially designated underclass of menial laborers to do the work that the privileged (of whatever race) are too good, too well educated, and too ignorant to do for themselves. Our Stepanfetchits at present are Mexican immigrants, whom we fear for the familiar reasons that we exploit them and that we depend on them.
… When my thoughts circle about, trying to give my disturbance a location that is specific and familiar enough, they light sooner or later on ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ This song has a splendid tune, but the words are perfectly insane.
… I have made clear, I hope, my failure to perceive the glory of the coming of the Lord in the Civil War and its effects… theirs was not a conflict of pure good and pure evil. The Civil War was our first great industrial war, which was good for business, like every war since. The Civil War established violence against noncombatants as acceptable military policy. The Army of the United States, no longer the Northern army, proceeded from the liberation of the slaves to racist warfare against the native tribespeople of the West.”
You are speaking as if anyone who claims that secession might be necessary welcomes and celebrates it, rather than grants a right of secession as a last-ditch effort. Moreover, I don’t think anyone claimed secession is an absolute, universal right in all times and circumstances.
To be clear, the tipping point was when Virginia seceded from the Union after Lincoln organized 75,000 troops to be used against American citizens in response to Ft. Sumter.
All the while young girls were crawling into northern ditches to starve to death after 3-4 years of brutal labor in mills and factories. Why couldn’t the South have invaded the North on grounds that the industrial economy was a moral evil, which as a good Chestertonian distributist, you know it was. By the way, how did those good northern capitalists gain so much wealth and power in the first place? Hmmm.
As for Reconstruction: I think your view of Lincoln’s post-war intentions is a bit lofty. And your criticisms of the South after the war disregard human nature. If only the South hadn’t been angry and bitter and just did what they were told. I guess so–but that’s not what people do when they’ve been invaded, had their men killed, women raped, property stolen or burned, culture transformed, political power usurped, etc.
My apologies if I was out of line somehow with my previous post, which was removed. I wasn’t intending to be so. My ancestors are Southerners, and I’m familiar with such issues from a more historical and Christian perspective, so hopefully that’s somewhat understandable.
Anyway, the South was right within Just War theory.
C4L, The Catholic Church does believe in the inerrancy of the Bible–on matters of faith and morals. It does not believe that you get what the Bible says by pulling a proof-text from here and there. Understanding the Bible is only partially a literary exercise; the real understanding comes in making the gospel message concrete and alive in the world. This is an historical process that requires an interpretive tradition. St. Paul tells us to treat the slave as a brother, but once you do, you discover that he can no longer be a slave.
Inerrancy in your sense would seem to require an adherence to the old law. That may be the case, but it is not the Catholic case, not our understanding. For us, you can believe in Christ or in slavery, but not both. The South betrayed its own Christian heritage, and has paid the price ever since.
It is all very well to point to the sins of the North, which were (and are) manifold. It would be more convincing if the South had any real intention of helping. It is all very well to point to the factory girl dying in a ditch. But if all you have to offer her is slavery, she might regard you as a less than sincere benefactor.
Josh, that’s the point: in what way was secession a “last ditch” alternative? To What? As far as I can see, Lincoln only promised to stop the extension of slavery. What other causus belli was involved in his election?
In any case, I cannot entirely agree with John’s article; I think he makes Lincoln bear too much weight, and the effects we see didn’t really occur until the 20th century, long after Lincoln was dead. Lincoln opposed the banks and the corporations; their triumph would come long after his assassination. He opposed the harsh peace, yet Southerners complain of the hard peace, while excoriating the man who might have stopped it. But if you like neither Johnson’s hard peace nor Lincoln’s soft one, what exactly do you want? Should Grant have surrendered at Appomattox?
“But if you like neither Johnson’s hard peace nor Lincoln’s soft one, what exactly do you want?”
Speaking only for myself: The candid concession from Americans — or from American Catholics, at least — that a culture with which Blessed Pius IX empathized was not comprised entirely of evil, monstrous, inhuman demons whose sole driving motivation was the pleasure of torturing field-hands and raping housemaids.
Gee, i go off to try and be a capitalist for a day and miss some juicy sturm und drang or strang and durm or whatever they call it.
One interesting tidbit regarding Lincoln is the terms of surrender granted Lee at Appomattox, in particular, the mens right to keep their horses to get home and the officers, their sidearms. As I understand it, the Southern Officers were surprised at their treatment and I think this is an indication of Lincoln’s desire to mend the wounds as quickly as possible and promote policies that encouraged the South’s ability to maintain their dignity and return to some semblance of normalcy as quickly as possible. As I understand it, Lee was alarmed when Lincoln was murdered and we all know the sordid story of Reconstruction. Sherman’s liberal terms of surrender further south preceded the Lincoln-Grant Terms to Lee and the northern politicians were mad as hell at him for it but they set the precedent for Lincoln and Grant’s wise terms at Appomattox. Did this make what happened in Atlanta any more palatable? Is it recompense for the utter depredation of the South during the war and Reconstruction? No, but it is an indication that Lincoln’s judgement had both it’s faults and attributes. I go back again to my comments about paradox.
Again, rather than parsing slavery…a base endeavor at best and rehashing who was right and who was wrong in the Civil War, we should be looking for the more applicable strains of Federalism that started to erode the Republic after the Civil War, gained steam during Teddy Roosevelt’s and Wilson’s era, consolidated during FDR and became a Pox in the Cold War and, absent the Soviets… a Pox fer Ijits during the previous Administration. Now, we print money and truck with the Nuclear Punjabi. If this aint in need of a little detached perspective, I don’t know what might be.
It galls me to no end to hear Red State Partisans rail about Northern perfidy during the Civil War only to be top on the list for milking the Federal Sow now while giving the former President unabashed support for a program of brazenly wrong-headed governance the likes of which have not been matched since the Greeks attacked Sicily and were roundly trounced. This is what emotional thinking does….emotes the emoter into less than productive behavior. Pardon me while I punch my own lights out.
As a westerner, I was given a Public Education that elevated the North to Sainthood and the South to an object of derision and the 50’s-60’s seemed to confirm the general perception. Life amongst the Eastern Pencilneck is no less revealing for it’s stubborn provincialism and piety as heirs to America’s Athens. There is nothing quite so parochial as many denizens of Gotham and her rich suburbs lining the New England coastline. More to the point, travels to the South, particularly to the Delta country and La…..along with a thorough reading on the subject won me over to many Southern sympathies and Southern people but it is all for naught when we have a continuing entrenched body of individuals who seem to wallow in victimhood, revenge and an unremitting desire to justify human chattel. That issue starts bad with Arab on black and black on black slave trade and never got any better further up the line. Kudo’s to the Editors for nipping the smash and grabbers in the bud.
then there’s Texas, well….as we are at comment 90, I’ll restrict my commentary….except for the interesting story I once heard about the German’s in the Hill Country who apparently had good relations with the Commanche, reading Goethe to them in fact , making the Hill country a safe haven for Rangers and others attempting to preserve distance between themselves and those Shoshone-root warriors who made peace with the Germans but were at constant war with all others. These kinds of crazy storys…go figure…Germans getting along with the Commanche…well, these stories and the stark wonder of the Bend country even make me like Texas. We have a fine piece of country we do and there is more commonality amongst us than differences …Neo-Cons excepted….may they all be mauled by a gang of 7′ ayrabs.
“The South betrayed its own Christian heritage, and has paid the price ever since.”
I agree with you here. I’d say all the Western nations have betrayed their Christian heritage.
Putting aside all this slavery stuff–I’m tired of it–I’d like to ask you again, quite seriously, if we are going to have a subsidiarity government, to what higher authority do we appeal in important matters that cannot be resolved on a local or national level? I simply don’t trust any government and certainly not a world government or court. But most people wouldn’t trust my suggestion–the Pope.
“Here is the question I often raise with my students: Is it possible to celebrate what is good about agrarianism (even southern agrarianism) and still reject slavery as morally unacceptable? Can we still have Jeffersonian localism without slavery? (Of course there were many in the 19th century south who fit the bill here).”
I would hope so, otherwise we might as well close up shop and go home.
I think the question to ask is the one Ron Paul asked: “If the British Empire could end slavery upon its territories peacefully, and other empires as well, why was it not the same for America? Why was war necessary to do so?”
That’s where the debate has to focus itself. Could the South had ended slavery peacfully? Could it, through reason and persuasion instead of force and terror and destruction, have done what was right and figured out how to handle the problems emancipation would have caused? I would hope so too, because if we believe in localism and freedom for our little platoons from the heavy hand of central government, then a Mississippi or an Alabama could have ended slavery just as much as New York or Massachucetts ended it, by law, through its law-making authorities.
If a community does what violates human dignity, then people can leave that community by voting with their feet. But no community likes to be attacked by outsiders, it’s a natural human reaction to draw together in common defense. Perhaps its better to find those wihtin the community who also feel repulsed by its actions and have them be agents of change from within rather from without. There were many in the South opposed to slavery and many opposed to segregation. Quiet encouragement and support of their efforts might have been a better way to go about to find solutions.
If we cannot govern ourselves, and feel the need for distant tyrants to do so, then this exercise becomes pointless. But if we do believe that humanity is best governed by their neighbors and friends down street or a block a way, across town or in the county courthouse, the village elder or the local magistrate, then we already know the answers to these questions.
[…] Abraham Lincoln and the Destruction of Place  In case you missed it, 2009 is the bicentennial… […]
I have read all of this with deep interest as a conservative southern right wing extremist. I have read on this subject and would like to share some cold, hard facts.
1. Southern secession in 1861 was better founded in law than the secession of the American colonies in 1776.
2. Alexis de Tocqueville found racism was far more prevalent in free states than slave states.
3. Jefferson Davis the only President of the Confederacy relished the fact that he could be tried in federal courts of treason, so confident was he that he could prove the constitutionality of secession
4. The war was not about slavery but was defined by slavery.
5. On the 15th of April 1861, Lincoln issued an order for 75,000 volunteers to subdue the south.(what would you do if President Obama ordered that???)
6. 75% of white Southern families owned slaves.
7. Half of all slave owners owned 1 – 5 slaves
8. fewer that 1% owned more than fifty slaves
9. 12% of all slaves in the South were free
10. 2% blacks in the south tended to be rich and own slaves themselves
12. In the famous words of Mary Chestnut, wife of U.S. senator James Chestnut of South Carolina, “We separated from the North…because we have hated each other so.”
13. Leading northern abolitionists considered the constitution a covenant of death and an agreement with Hell.
14. Before Nat Turner’s Rebellion, there were at least 3 times more anti-slavery societies in the South than the North
I could throw much more facts at you all, but I am one person who is damned tired of this talk and thinks we need to secede right now!!!!
I didn’t read any of the 95 posts so far, but I did read the whole text by John Fea, which I found very interesting.
I just want to leave a quick comment about the last paragraph:
“But if Lincoln is going to get the credit for the emergence of American nationalism, he must also shoulder the blame for at least some of the economic consequences that this Whiggism has had on American life.”
Life cannot always be perfect to everyone – we’re always compromising on something in order to get going.
Besides, as far as I know Lincoln never said his visions were to be put in practice forever. Different times require different strategies.
By the way, I’m not American. I was born and live in Europe.
All the best to you all.
I just recently stumbled across this discussion from last summer, and I found the exchanges both enlightening as well as, at times, frustrating. For some twenty years I was a close friend of the late Professor M. E. Bradford (he would stay with me when visiting this area working on his book, ORIGINAL INTENTIONS, and I visited him occasionally; and he supported my successful application as a Weaver Fellow). So, my thoughts on this topic are colored by those years of learning at the foot of a true “master.”
As a trained historian, a native Southerner (with eleven generations buried in Carolina and Virginia soil, and five ancestors who fought for the Confederacy), and a native traditional Catholic (who assists regular at a traditional Latin Mass), the points I would make are too numerous to cover in a brief message. Let me pick just one. It refers to a comment made much earlier by John Medaille (whose writings I greatly enjoy in other areas), regarding slavery and the Church.
Certainly, during the past century the Church has made more evident its discomfort with and disapproval of “slavery,” but I think to extrapolate this moral abhorrence backwards to 1861, is not only to do an injustice to the Confederacy and its citizens, but also to the Blessed Pius IX, who made it known on various occasions, that he supported the Confederate cause and admired its leadership, and to Catholic theology. Indeed, if the nasty old Confederates were SO evil, as Professor Medaille seems to imply at times, by their possession of slaves, if they were thus accursed of God, then just what can we say of the Blessed Pius IX?
Indeed, I would suggest that the understanding that we have hic et nunc regarding the institution of slavery is not quite the same as the understanding held in 1861 by Catholics and the Church.
Let me quote from The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 14, “The Ethical Aspect of Slavery,” by Father Fox (NY, 1912):
“From the beginning the Christian moralists did not condemn slavery as in se, or essentially, against the natural law or natural justice. The fact that slavery, tempered with many humane restrictions, was permitted under the Mosaic law would have sufficed to prevent the institution form being condemned by Christian teachers as absolutely immoral. They, following the example of St. Paul, implicitly accept slavery as not in itself incompatible with the Christian Law. The apostle counsels slaves to obey their masters, and to bear with their condition patiently. This estimate of slavery continued to prevail till it became fixed in the systematized ethical teaching of the schools; and so it remained without any conspicuous modification till towards the end of the eighteenth century. We may take as representative de Lugo’s statement of the chief argument offered in proof of the thesis that slavery, apart from all abuses, is not in itself contrary to the natural law.” [published with the Imprimatur of Cardinal Farley of New York]
Certainly in the past century, given the horrors of Communism and various forms of oppression, the realization of the actual incompatibility of slavery with the Biblical teachings of Our Lord has grown steadily. But to impugn the Confederacy, to suggest that the “moral evil” that hovered above it and many of its leaders struggled with, somehow had to be “expunged” through an incredibly brutal and bloody “civil war” that not only destroyed Southern civilization, but totally upturned and radicalized the intent of the American Founders, well, such a “neo-abolitionist” comment is, in my opinion, not a worthy one for a faithful traditional Catholic to make.
Father Abraham initiated “his” war, not over slavery, but to “save the Union.” As he told Horace Greeley at the end of 1862, if he had to keep ALL blacks as slaves as the price of preserving the Union, he would do so. Of course the issue of slavery entered into the debate as the war progressed and Lincoln and the Republicans searched for means of rallying support for a flagging war effort (although as that good Catholic historian Eugene Genovese has definitively shown, the Southern apologists won the argument over slavery hands-down), but, from a Catholic point of view—at least in 1861—it was not a clearly “moral” question.
I believe that a good Catholic in 1861 not only could readily and morally support the Confederate cause, but that there are numerous reasons why he most certainly should have. And although counter-factual history has its serious limitations, in my view we would have been much, much better off if the Confederacy had won that conflict, on all counts.
Indeed, I am ready to fire on Fort Sumter again…or better, Washington, D.C.!!
Lincoln is and was the Great American lie. Until that is understood by the majority in this country we will still be at war with ourselves. The reason that slavery ended in the North was the hatred which Northerners had for blacks. Most forget or never mention that the slaves were brought to this country by ships out of New England and that the largest plantations for breeding slaves were also there.
Economically the South was the richest portion of the country and the hatred generated towards it by Northern politicians was fully the equivalent of the current verbal violence against “tax breaks for the wealthy,” never mind that each time they get same they end up paying a greater share of the total tax burden. If we are going to have laws against hate speech, those who use such terms should be the first prosecuted.
The reason that the South remained poor after the war was that everything of any value that could be stolen and carried away, was. It was left with land and little else and with the exception of Louisana, most of that passed out of the hands of its original pre-war owners.
England and Spain both had ‘Civil Wars.’ If words have real meaning, we did not. The term is a lie and was intended to deceive those to uneducated to not understand what the whole conflict was about which was money and taxes, which part of the country paid the greater share of them and which was enriched by same.
I recommend a reading of “Mr. Jefferson’s Lost Cause; Land, Farmers, Slavery, and the Louisiana Purchase” as providing context for the conversation. The author is Robert G. Kennedy, Director Emeritus of the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. The publisher is Oxford University Press, 2003.
While I understand and certainly see the logic in this article, there are a number of things that are lost in translation. Permit me to give my two cents worth:
The “industrial North” argument is a outrageous misconception. At the time of the Civil War, the North was 75% agricultural, while the South was 90%. The industrial parts of the North were primarily the New England states (Boston, Rhode Island, Connecticut, parts of Pennsylvania). The South had its own: Atlanta, Richmond, etc.
Question: how is the whole Northern industry “exploiting its workers” and “destroying local communities” in anyway worse than enslavement based on skin color and exploitation of blacks for cheap labor? While I agree that there are inherent flaws in unbridled capitalism, it is that same system that allows people to, as you said, transcend their status and position in society through work and ethic. How can one succeed in this if one is enslaved?
Contrary to what many may think, I do not think that Lincoln was an urbanist or an “elitist”. I think that he was a down to earth, American-born country boy, and a Whig Conservative at that. His own writings support this. What mars his legacy is the steps he took to ensure that America would survive as one nation. This was the great test of the Republican idea (the Republic), and he did what was necessary (not always what was right, or what seemed right), but he ensured, as you say, that we would survive.
Another thing to remember is that Lincoln was assassinated barely into his second term. The war was not yet fully over, and we can only speculate what he would have done had he lived through his second term. My take is that reconstruction would have been much smoother, and the animosities that we still carry with us would have been lessened a great deal had J.W. Booth been a man and went and fought in the fields with the true Southern patriots instead of being a craven coward and shooting Lincoln in the back (of the head) when he wasn’t looking.
In the end, as good conservatives (and amateur historians, at least most of us), the one thing we have to remember is that it is great to sit here, in the Twenty-First century, and sermonize on how wrong or right our forefathers were. But we forget that we live in a different age, and somehow face the same problems they do. The sooner we come to understand and judge their times by just that, their OWN times, the better off we will be. Context is context, the times different. As Ecclesiastes notes “There is a time for everything…”
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