Sherman: Fighting Prophet
of years ago I read a fascinating book, Sherman: Fighting Prophet
, by Lloyd Lewis (Harcourt Brace, 1932). I consider Sherman one of the outstanding figures in American history, a man of exceptionally clear understanding and decisive personality. Most important in Sherman’s generalship was his grasp of the nature of the Southern rebellion, and of what was needed to subdue it permanently. Sherman was a conservative. He fought the war to save his country from destruction and restore national unity; he distrusted ideas of social transformation.
What follows are the notes I took while reading the book. While I generally agree with Sherman’s views on the Civil War, I am not presenting these quotes to push any particular view of the current war in Iraq, but because Sherman is a remarkable man and it’s worth knowing about his life and thought. (When I wrote down these notes, I didn’t always put quote marks around my quotes of Lewis, so it may not always be clear if what you’re reading are Lewis’s words or mine.)
Secession will lead to more secession, and to all-out war
In 1860 in New Orleans, Sherman reacted to the secession of South Carolina by saying to neighbors that if the Union allowed a Southern republic to secede, it itself would soon divide: “If Louisiana joins this unhallowed movement to dismember our government how long will it be till her parishes and people insult and deride her?”
He felt that a North shorn of the south could still survive and thrive as long as it possessed the Mississippi. But not if Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas should secede: “Then there must be war, fighting that will continue till one or the other party is subdued.”
You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty and you cannot refine it…. I know I had no hand in making this war, and I know I will make more sacrifices today than any of you to secure peace. But you cannot have peace and division of our country. If the United States submits to a division it will not stop but will go on until we reap the fate of Mexico, which is eternal war… .Sherman’s grasp of America’s unity
Sherman, like Washington before him and Lincoln in his inaugural address later, had both a poetical and practical grasp of the geographical and economic unity of the country, with each part complementing the other parts. Thus, while visiting his Ohio relatives in August 1860, the site of magnificent crops inspired him to write:
May it not be providential? May it not be one of the facts stronger than blind prejudice to show the mutual dependence of one part of our magnificent country on the other. The Almighty in his wisdom has visited a vast district with drought but has showed abundance on another and he has made a natural avenue between. An excess of democracy in North and South as cause of war
The more he thought of the national crisis, the less he blamed slavery; he wrote Graham that the cause lay in “a tendency to anarchy everywhere. I have seen it all over America and our only hope is Uncle Sam. Weak as that government is, it is the only approach to one.” [p. 133.] [This supports David Donald’s thesis that a growing moral anarchism in the country was responsible for the war.] He wrote (still summer 1860):
The law is or should be our king; we should obey it, not because it meets our approval but because it is the law and because obedience in some shape is necessary to every system of civilized government. For years this tendency to anarchy had gone on till now every state and county and town through the instrumentalities of juries, either regular or lynch, makes and enforces the local prejudices as the law of the land. This is the real trouble, it is not slavery, it is the democratic spirit which substitutes mere opinions for law. [p. 134.]
After Lincoln’s election, some conservative voices urged moderation on S. Carolina. “But Sherman, knowing Charlestonians so well, saw that they must secede or ‘become the laughingstock of the world, and that is what they dread … pride will drive her to secession.’”
Sherman declares he will never go against the Union
On December 18, 1860 he wrote to his brother:
Though necessity presses me almost to extremity still I cannot bear the idea of being opposed to Uncle Sam… .The right of Secession is absurd, but the right of revolution always exists, but in my judgment there is not a shadow of justification. The United States seems melting away like a snowball in the sun.”
Right and left, now, Sherman scattered declarations of his faith:
If Louisiana assumes a position of hostility toward the Government, then this Seminary becomes an arsenal and a fort, and I quit… . I will do no act, breath no word, think no thought hostile to the government of the United States… . You may assert that in no event will I forego my allegiance as long as a single state is true to the old Constitution. Letter to his daughter on the South’s mad delusion
The secession crisis was also very stressful because he was in the midst of building a beautiful new home for his family in New Orleans, which he saw now they would never live in. He wanted to leave the Seminary, but had no other job. He wrote to his daughter (he had left his family in Ohio when he returned from vacation):
I know you would all like the house so much, but, dear little Minnie, man proposes and God disposes—what I have been planning so long and patiently and thought we were on the point of realizing, the dream and hope of my life, that we would all be together once more in a home of our own with peace and quiet and plenty around us. All, I fear, is about to vanish and again I fear I must be a wanderer, leaving you all to grow up at Lancaster without your Papa.His reaction to news of secession
Men are blind and crazy, they think all the people of Ohio are trying to steal their slaves and incite them to rise up and kill their masters; I know this is a delusion—but when people believe a delusion they believe it harder than a real fact and these people in the South are going, for this delusion, to break up the government under which we live. [p. 137.]
On December 24th Sherman in his Seminary office opened the newspapers and saw that South Carolina had seceded:
Sherman began pacing the floor, tears falling, his tongue flinging despair—a tragic man walking up and down in his sadness, walking and walking until it became a sort of march that he was doing on the Louisiana floor, a march that might have been an omen, had the Virginian Boyd been able to read the future. Now and then Sherman stopped and addressed Boyd as if that mild professor of ancient languages were indeed the whole Southern people. Boyd always remembered that the superintendent talked as if broken-hearted.Lee saw secession as revolution
You, you the people of the South, believe there can be such a thing as peaceable secession. You don’t know that you are doing. I know there can be no such thing… . If you will have it, the North must fight you for its own preservation. Yes, South Carolina has by this act precipitated war… . Perhaps the liberties of the whole country, of every section and every man will be destroyed, and yet you know that within the Union no man’s liberty or property in all the South is endangered… . Boyd heard him say that if war came it would make him fight “against you people, whom I love best.” He had more personal friends in South Carolina than in Ohio, he declared, weeping. Then he gave what Boyd would remember as a remarkable piece of detailed prophecy:
Oh, it is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization.
… You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people, but an earnest people and will fight too, and they are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it.
[The south, Sherman continued, as agricultural, would have no chance against the mechanical and industrial north.] The North can make a steam-engine, locomotive or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or a pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical and determined people on earth—right at your doors. You are bound to fail. Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. [p. 138.]
At this time, Col. Robert E. Lee wrote to his son: “Secession is nothing but revolution.” “The Constitution, thought Lee, had established a ‘perpetual Union’ that might only be broken by revolution or by the consent of all the nation’s people in convention assembled.” [p. 140.]
Sherman denounces excess of democracy
Sherman wrote his wife, Ellen:
Our country has become so democratic that the mere popular opinion of any town or village rises above the law. Men have ceased to look to constitutions and law books for their guide, but have studied popular opinion in bar rooms and village newspapers, and that was and is law. The old women and grannies of New England, reasoning from abstract principles, must defy the Constitution of the country. The people of the South, not relying on the Federal Government, must allow their people to favor filibustering expeditions against the solemn treaties of the land, and everywhere from California to Maine any man could do murder, robbery or arson if the people’s prejudices lay in that direction.
He was so disgusted by Buchanan’s failure to defend federal forts from being seized that he said he wouldn’t even fight for this government, which merited dissolution.
Louisiana actually seized federal forts and arsenals before it officially seceded. Sherman called this an act of war and resigned his job; then, on urging, stayed longer, also because he was broke and was hoping to be paid.
South’s possession of the Mississippi meant war
[Louisiana’s secession] assured war … for in Sherman’s view there could be no peace between two confederacies one of which owned the source and the other the mouth of the Mississippi River. The laws of trade and commerce would force the two nations into war. How could it be otherwise, with the agricultural South insisting upon free trade and the industrial North holding to its protective tariff? … No; there was no rhyme or reason in Southern dreams of a peaceful future.
[Think of it, the great achievement of creating a great, unified country, of preventing foreign powers from controlling the Mississippi; and then the Confederacy attempted to destroy that. It was truly treasonous.]
Sherman refuses to receive seized Union weapons at his Seminary
Then Sherman heard that some of the seized federal arms would be delivered to the seminary. He could not receive them; at that point he resigned, even at the cost of the $500 he was owed. He wrote his resignation to the governor:
As I occupy a quasi-military position under the laws of the State I deem it proper to acquaint you that I accepted such a position when Louisiana was a State in the Union and when the motto of the Seminary was inserted in marble over the main door: “By the liberality of the general government of the United States. The Union—esto perpetua.”Shiloh, 1862
Sherman’s division was the first attacked by Johnston. The aim was to roll up Sherman and after him the rest of the Union front. His orderly, riding next to him was the first death in the battle when the Rebels began firing. All day he held his forces intact. One memoir said, “All around him were excited orderlies and officers but though his face was besmeared with powder and blood, battle seemed to have cooled his usually hot nerves.”
Other soldiers say that during the battle Sherman hadn’t waved his arms when he talked, nor talked so much , as in the past. His lips were shut tight, his eyelids narrowed to a slit…. An officer and family friend from Ohio watched Sherman with worshipful eyes and wrote home, “Sherman’s cheek never blanched.” For the second time in his life, Sherman had found something to make him forget himself, completely, utterly. He had caught that sharp rapture of absorption as a youth painting pictures on canvas in South Carolina. Now he had found it again—the strange joy of profound selflessness. Here in the storm and thunder of Shiloh, the artist found his art. His nerves, so close to the thin skin, congealed into ice. Sometimes when he held his horse motionless for a period, studying the enemy, the dead and wounded piled high before him. He did not notice them, yet they were the same boys for whose safety he had worried himself in Louisville to the brink of lunacy. [p. 223.]War overturns society
During the siege of Atlanta, Sherman was aware of how war, even when fought to restore order and harmony, released forces of social disorder. “He voiced his doubts to the Southern divine, bishop Henry C. Lay, who was passing through his lines:”
This war ought to be arrested. It is intensifying the greatest fault and danger in our social system. It daily increases the influence of the masses, already too great for safety. The man of intelligence and education is depressed in value far below the man of mere physical strength. These common soldiers will feel their value and seek to control affairs hereafter to the prejudice of the intelligent classes. [p. 397.]
[But later after the March through Georgia he moderated these views and felt the soldiers by and large had conducted themselves very well and were not a threat to social order.]
Exhortation to Grant
“His every thought was now centered upon concentrating all Federal force upon the enemy and, as he wrote Grant, ‘Any sign of let-up on our part is sure to be falsely construed… . We must manifest the character of dogged courage and perseverance of our race.’” [p. 397.]
Sherman’s defends his rough measures toward Atlanta
Sherman, letter to Atlanta Mayor James Calhoun, September 12, 1864:
In the name of common sense, I ask you not to appeal to a just God in such a sacrilegious manner. You who, in the midst of peace and prosperity, have plunged a nation into war—dark and cruel war—who badgered us to battle, insulted our flag, seized our arsenals and forts … falsified the vote of Louisiana; turned loose your privateers to plunder unarmed ships; expelled Union families by the thousands, burned their houses, and declared, by an act of your Congress, the confiscation of all debts due Northern men for goods had and received! … If we must be enemies, let us be men and fight it out as we propose to do, and not deal in such hypocritical appeals to God and humanity.
[Sherman letter to Gen. John Bell Hood, September 13,1864, part of correspondence over the justice of Sherman’s actions
that was published and made a sensation; and made Sherman a villain to South.]
Letter to Southern woman he knew as a child justifying the war
June 30, 1864, Sherman wrote to Mrs. Annie Gilman Bower of Baltimore, Maryland, whose parents had welcomed young Lieutenant Sherman to their Charleston, South Carolina home many years before the Civil War.
Your welcome letter of June 18th came to me amid the sound of battle, and as you say little did I dream when I knew you, playing as a school girl on Sullivan’s Island beach, that I should control a vast army pointing, like the swarm of Alaric, toward the plains of the South.Sherman praises Grant
Why, oh, why, is this? If I know my own heart, it beats as warmly as ever toward those kind and generous families that greeted us with such warm hospitality in days long past … and today … were any and all our cherished circle … to come to me as of old, the stern feelings of duty would melt as snow before a genial sun, and I believe I would strip my own children that they might be sheltered.
And yet they call me barbarian, vandal, a monster… . All I pretend to say, on earth as in heaven, man must submit to some arbiter… .I would not subjugate the South … but I would make every citizen of the land obey the common law, submit to the same that we do—no more, no less—our equals and not our superiors… .God only knows how reluctantly we accepted the issue, but once the issue joined, like in other ages, the Northern races, though slow to anger, once aroused are more terrible than the more inflammable of the South. Even yet my heart bleeds when I see the carnage of battle … but the very moment the men of the South say that instead of appealing to war they should have appealed to reason, to our Congress, to our courts, to religion, and to the experience of history, then will I say, peace, peace… .Whether I shall live to see this period is problematical, but you may, and may tell your mother and sisters that I never forgot one kind look or greeting, or ever wished to efface its remembrance, but putting on the armor of war I did it that our common country should not perish in infamy and disgrace… .
I hope when the clouds of anger and passion are dispersed, and truth emerges bright and clear, you and all who knew me in early years will not blush that we were once close friends…
Sherman wrote to his wife about Grant on July 5, 1863 after the fall of Vicksburg:
“Thank God we are free from Washington and that we have in Grant not a ‘great man’ or ‘hero’ but a good, plain, sensible kind-hearted fellow… . Thank God, no President was near to thwart our plans.”Opposes enlistment of Negroes
Sherman disagreed with enlisting Negroes in the army, saying it was more important for them to become stable economically and in their family lives first:
For God’s sake, let the negro question develop itself slowly and naturally, and not by premature cultivation make it a weak element in our policy. I think I understand the negro as well as anybody … he, like all other of the genus homo, must pass through a probationary state before he is qualified for utter and complete freedom. [p. 392.]
While he insisted he was a friend of the Negro and had escorted more of them to Federal lines than any other general, he resisted their enlistment. Under pressure from Lincoln to enlist Negroes, he replied to Halleck:
We want the best young white men of the land, and they should be inspired with the pride of freemen to fight for their country. If Mr. Lincoln or Stanton could walk through the camps and hear the soldiers talk they would hear new ideas. I have had the question put to me often: “Is not a negro as good as a white man to stop a bullet?”
Yes; and a sand-bag is better; but can a negro do our skirmishing and picket duty? … Can they improvise roads, bridges, sorties, flank movements, etc., like the white man? I say no.
Time would prove the soundness of Sherman’s objections, for while a total of 180,000 Negroes would be enlisted by the Federals during the war, no more than half actually bore arms, and except in a few instances were not effective in aggressive action. In only one item of war were they exceptional; they had little of the white man’s dislike of the bayonet. With only a few generations separating them from the jungle they still felt familiarity with cold steel. [p. 394.]
Impatient in regard to personal matters, he could feel the need of long, cool years and slowly whirling ages in questions that touched anything like the basic nature of mankind [i.e., the race question]. [p. 392.]A critic of Sherman’s is converted
On march through Georgia, after leaving Milledgeville (where Sherman found that Georgia leaders were calling on citizens to bushwhack Sherman’s men and obstruct their path and put torpedoes (mines) on the road, which only made things much worse for the Georgians), Major Hitchcock, young and religious, objected to Sherman’s having a house burned because it was near a bridge that had been burned obstructing the armies path. Shouldn’t the householder be proved guilty, first, he asked. Sherman: “Well, let him look to his own people. If they find that their burning bridges only destroys their own citizens’ houses, they’ll stop it… . In war everything is right that prevents anything. If bridges are burned I have a right to burn all houses near.” Hitchcock, who had spent much of his life in the South, had had problems with Sherman’s approach since leaving Atlanta. On November 23 had had written in his diary: “I am bound to say I think Sherman lacking in enforcing discipline. Brilliant and daring, fertile, rapid and terrible, he does not seem to me to carry out things in this respect.” But Sherman’s words to him at the bridge outside Milledgeville had opened his eyes, and that night he wrote that there was nothing to do but make war “so terrible that when peace comes it will last.” [p. 451].
At the end of two weeks at Sherman’s side Hitchcock recognized his leader’s purpose as one that would “produce among the people of Georgia a thorough conviction of the personal misery which attends war and of the utter helplessness and inability of their rulers to protect them… . It is terrible to consume and destroy the sustenance of thousands of people, and most sad and distressing in itself to see and hear the terror and grief of these women and children. But personally they are protected and their dwellings are not destroyed… . It is mercy in the end.” [p. 452.]
Sherman knew of but two cases of rape among his soldiers in 1864-65; Hitchcock declared it—and murder—unknown during the campaigns. Southern scholars have agreed. [p. 452.]
Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 19, 2004 11:53 AM | Send
I have the Lewis book; in fact, a great uncle knew Lewis!
Sherman was one of our greatest generals and, with Lincoln and Grant, the savior of our nation.
Some years back I visited his grave in St. Louis. The office loaned me a Polaroid camera, saying they have it available because there are so many visitors! The inscription on his simple monument reads: “Faithful and honorable.”
Like many men of his time, Sherman was a man of great integrity. I believe Lewis notes that after the war, Sherman, with Mark Twain, was the most popular public speaker in America. He would never accept a fee or speak if admission was charged! His men loved him, calling him “Uncle Billy,” as he used tactics to minimize casualties. After the war, when he lived in Washington, destitute veterans would come to his home and he would help them out.
And, of course, he twice refused the office of President because he knew politicians all too well!
I have also read Liddell Hart’s bio of WTS, “Fighting Prophet.” WTS was a strategist, like Grant, and unlike Lee, who was a mere (though brilliant) tactician. After the fall of Atlanta (which ensured Lincoln’s re-election, doubtful up till then), the “by the book” decision would have been to secure his long supply lines, stretching back into Kentucky, which were threatened by Hood’s remaining army. BUt WTS felt he would be surrendering the strategic initiative he had gained with his succesful Atlanta campaign. So he came up with the idea of abandoning supply lines and living off the land. Thus was born the “March to the Sea” with the aim, as he wrote, to “make Georgia howl.” This was a risky, bold move, and WTS had to persuade Lincoln and Grant to give him permission, which they did. Thus did he break the back of the rebellion — one reason some of Lee’s men, besieged at Petersburg, were deserting, as their families back home were without sustenance. WTS had the moral courage to see war as it needed to be (as in some of the quotes from L Auster above), and to make the bold decision.
What a difference from a politician! No wonder he despised them.
His personal character is evident on every page of his superb memoirs (like Grant’s, and unlike C. Powell’s et al, written by himself alone).
Finally, after the war, when he replaced Grant, I believe WTS moved Army HQ from Washington to his wife’s hometown, St. Louis,because he felt DC was not a fit place for his family! (As a resident, I know how right he was!)
One becomes so accustomed to associating the Civil War with the rise of the liberal state that one forgets about pro-Civil War conservatives who viewed the Secession as an outrage against the “ordered liberty” we enjoyed under the Constitution. Thanks for this reminder that we should look beyond our own depressing questions as to whether the war was worth the cost, in the light of what our country has begun.
The answer may be, “Yes, but we failed to meet later challenges with similar spirit, which is how we have reached the present pass.”
I used to be a strong admirer of Sherman, but I think that Albert Castel and others have shown that he was a rather overrated commander, strongly dependent on his much abler subordinate, George H. Thomas.
Also, I am not sure that a lot of the destruction on the Great March was really necessary. The main objective was to wreck the railroads, and once that was accomplished, it was unnecessary to destroy crops and farms. There was simply no way the supplies could be shipped to the front.
I thought the idea was not merely to wreck the railroads, but to impress upon the Confederates that they were well and truly defeated?
Paul has an excellent point, but it still seems to me that wrecking homes and farms was arguably “surplus to requirements.” The breaking down of the railroads alone might have had sufficient effect on morale.
I’ve yet to read a critical, historical discussion of Sherman’s marches from the point of view of: how much of his destruction of Georgia and South Carolina was justified and necessary from the point of view of his strategic purposes? Was all the destruction justified and necessary? Or just part of it?
I must say I have never seen a discussion of this point myself, though I have seen people attack Sherman’s March for its destructiveness in general on moral grounds. Curiously, there is a serious attack on Sherman’s strategy from another angle, Rowena Reed’s “Combined Operations in the Civil War.” She argues the whole Great March was unnecessary and a waste of time.
In my view, she didn’t know what she was talking about. All the studies of Confederate transportation and the supply system indicates that the destruction of the railroads had a terrific impact.
One has to wonder how much of Sherman’s conservative, anti-democratic outlook was the influence of his Catholic wife and in-laws. I suspect that protecting her was as important a reason as any why he turned down offers of nomination. Imagine how the press of the day would have treated a Romish First Lady.
Two of my ancestors marched with Uncle Billy, so this is a bit more refreshing to read than what the more paleo-oriented sites have to say about him. But walking the streets of modern Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland or Newark forces one to wonder whether, in the long run, the so-called “victory” was really worth all the bother.
In Lewis’s biography, I don’t remember Mrs. Sherman’s Catholicism being an issue at all with regard to Sherman’s politics. It was more basic than that. Sherman was highly individualistic, outspoken, said exactly what he thought. He knew he was completely unsuited for politics and so was never tempted in the slightest by political office. The time that he uttered his famous Shermanesque refusal (“If nominated I will not run, if elected I will not serve”), he was wanted by the Republicans, and all he had to do was do nothing, and he would have become president. That’s why he made the categorical statement that he did; anything less than that, and the Republicans would have nominated him. He had to take forceful steps to prevent them from doing so. Lewis describes the scene: Sherman standing near the entrance of his house (as I remember), dictating to his son the telegram to be sent back to the Republican leaders.
I’m 45 years old and have been studying the Civil War off and on for 34 years. My earliest American ancestor of same name was a soldier from Wisconsin in the Union Army.
Sherman’s march to the sea was a war made upon the civilian population. It was nothing short of ruthless genocide. By the time he began it, Johnston’s army was in tatters and offered no real resistence to the Union Behemoth- the only real war still taking place was in the East (as always) and centered on R.E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia.
I agree with Mr. Levine, destroying the ability of the South to ship goods East was enough. Burning the houses of the Southerners, burning their crops so that they, the civilians, would starve to death and stealing every thing they didn’t burn or eat was pure savagery. He did it knowing full well that most of Lee’s army was made up of non Virginians who must have sat with anguish and horror when they heard of the dual raping of the people and the land. Sherman should have been tried for war crimes and if convicted, hung.
No sir, there is nothing laudable in being the first man since the age of barbarians to wage war on women and children.
When Gen. Sherman was placed in charge of the blatantly genocidal campaign against the Plains Indians to make way for the railroad, he did not disguise his intentions: “We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men women and children.” And he accordingly instructed his army that “the soldiers can not pause to distinguish between male and female, or even discriminate as to age.”
How much hypocrisy can we stand? Gen. Sherman pompously declared that, “The people of the South, not relying on the Federal Government, must allow their people to favor filibustering expeditions against the solemn treaties of the land, …” I wonder how much his conscience was pricked by the fact that his program of ethnic extermination was carried out in violation of the Fort Laramie Treaty signed with the Sioux in 1851? “Solemn” indeed! “[R]elying on the Federal Government” to honor the Constitution, no less than treaties, has brought us to our current moral condition.
Gen. Sherman, and everyone else can speculate to the end of time what the results would have been if the South’s secession had been successful. But we do know what the results have been since the North’s victory. Bill noted above that “we failed to meet later challenges with similar spirit, which is how we have reached the present pass.” How much more difficult is it to resist centripetal than centrifugal forces!
Gen. Sherman complained that, “every state and county and town … makes and enforces the local prejudices as the law of the land… . the democratic spirit which substitutes mere opinions for law.” Today, the opinions of 5-9 individuals are substituted for the established Law of the Land. So we can have no State laws against sodomy, against the murder of the unborn, even against sedition. Oh the benefits of centralization over rule under the aegis of local sensibilities!
The Federal government can invade a State with no lawful authority to enforce an unconstitutional decree; it can even assault a religious community with machine guns and tanks! “[A]nd yet you know that within the Union no man’s liberty or property in all the South is endangered,” decreed Gen. Sherman. Only in the sense of geographical limitation.
Lord Acton’s predictions to General Lee has been borne out by history. Secession, rightly or wrongly, was the last and only check against Federal usurpation of absolute power toward which we move closer every day. Show me another. And even conceding that secession was unconstitutional, (pursuant to Article VIII or whatever,) time has shown us what alternative there would be—a steady, unconstitutional arrogation of illegitimate power by the Federal government to itself. (Not that we hadn’t been warned previously!) So—Scylla and Charybdis!—these were apparently our choices. We can only speculate as to which were the worse.
Meanwhile, the selections above read like what one would see in a British history book recounting the unsuccessful rebellion of her treasonous American colonies.
How consistent is Mr Brandjen willing to be in his condemnation? If the pillaging of farms by Gen. Sherman under Pres. Lincoln merits being “tried for war crimes and, if convicted, hung [sic]”, how about the incineration of hundreds of thousands of women and children by Gen. LeMay under Pres. Truman? Does anyone (other than the idiosyncratic Thomas Fleming— the one in Rockford, Ill., not N.Y. or S.F.) judge the two by the same standard?
Not the descendants of Sherman’s victims, evidently. Three years after the raids, Harry Truman carried Georgia and North Carolina overwhelmingly, and Curtis LeMay, running with George Wallace, won Georgia’s electors 20 years later, finishing second in the Carolinas as well.
We’ve been around this many times, but I disagree with Mr. LeFevre’s assertion that the Union’s successful war to preserve the Union is responsible for the constitutional monstrosities of modern liberalism. You might as well argue that the appearance of one-celled organisms three billion years ago is responsible for modern liberalism.
I am not saying it that it was in itself _singularly_ responsible for liberalism. In the legal/constitutional sphere, there are certainly additional causes: The 14th Amendment, subverting the State/Federal relationship as originally devised, and the 15th requiring suffrage for an alien race (both a consequence of the War); the 17th requiring popular elections for senators; the 19th extending suffrage to women. All of these have advanced liberalism to one or another degree.
But liberalism thrives under—and ultimately must lead to—a centralization of power. And to argue that the Federal role over States did not advance, illegitimately, as a direct result of the Civil War seems to me an exercise of wilfull denial. Surely Mr. Auster cannot deny that this sad event marked the watershed in the State/Federal relationship that has enabled the liberal grip we are now under.
I don’t here really attempt to ascertain the constitutionality of secession, nor should I have to do so. When one asserts a Federal power not enumerated (and indeed, rejected in the Federal Convention) to enforce a prohibition against the States never mentioned—all powers not prohibited remaining to them, the burden should not be on others to disprove the contention.
It is from within the framework of the reservation of powers “numerous and indefinite” that the question is raised, and by which its effects must be discerned. Simply stated, the arguments in support of this Federal power rest not on any clear, delineated grant of authority (or there should never have been any debate); recourse is ALWAYS made to logical and rational arguments of practicality and realism—and I concede that these are substantial ones. Mr. Auster has made a powerful case before in their support that are not easily refuted.
But rightly or wrongly, an unsettled question was finally settled by raw force. And the justification for this was that a perceived need by itself conferred power. Even if the exegetical nature of this need were acknowledged—and I’m not prepared to argue against it!—the effect remains. “Need confers power,” a VERY liberal concept, has remained with us, and has certainly facilitated the imposition of liberalism on a populace that even today would, in certain regions, reject it whole cloth had their powers of local rule not been usurped. And I’m to believe there is no connection less remote than a three-billion year old microorganism? This is not tenable.
The drive for centralization of power and all it portends, itself a permanent facet of the same sinful human nature that drives liberalism, was pursued even before the Constitution, continued thereafter, and found a powerful acceleration by the War. Does Mr. Auster really deny this?
I might concede this much, not knowing any better—that the War Between the States and its aftermath may not invariably have precluded a different direction from the liberal course we’ve embraced. But that’s about as far as it goes. Conversely, it is hard to see how liberalism could have made such rapid and triumphant inroads _without_ this intervening event.
The evolution of our jurisprudence and the legislative patterns clearly were driven by this War, by which the Federal government was able to place itself above the checks contemplated in our system of divided powers. And this has been the greatest facilitator for the imposition of liberalism over the people of these States, which I think history compels us to admit, WHETHER WE AGRE WITH THE WAR OR NOT.
One thing I’ve mentioned to Mr. Auster before and repeat for the benefit of others concerns one of George Mason’s “Objections to this Constitution.”
The best known of his objections is the first: “There is no declaration of rights …” But one objection must raise eyebrows: the prohibition against bills of attainder and ex post facto laws.
Why the Father of the Bill of Rights and architect of our constitutional liberty should object to these 2 prohibitions is worth considering:
“there never was nor can be a legislature but must and will make such laws, when necessity and the public safety require them; which will hereafter be a breach of all the constitutions in the Union, and afford precedents for other innovations.”
I don’t think the connection between this any my comments above need be explained.
Again, I am not prepared completely to reject the validity of Mr. Lincoln’s decisions and actions in taking the Northern States into war against the South. But I don’t think the points I raise really depend on—or should depend on—holding to one or the other view. To the contrary, the matter seems clear enough to me that I’m almost forced to the conclusion that the Lincoln supporters who casually dismiss it, so determined to defend the War, are only demonstrating that this need to defend it transcends more pressing considerations—or that their arguments in its support are more precarious than they are willing to admit and must therefore be shielded from any acknowledgment of such negative consequences.
Mr. LeFevre makes a powerful case for the Civil War as a major turning point in the centralizaton of Federal Power. An interesting area to look into would be the history of the Federalization of the various State militias, which I seem to recall took place in the wake of the Civil War. The South’s rash action of secession resulted in a permanent loss of state power with respect to Washington.
The second amendment was intended as the ultimate restraint on Federal power. The definition of the term “militia” as understood by the founders consisted of all able-bodied men capable of bearing arms within a given state. In the pre-Civil War era, such armies were under the control of the individual states, not Washington. The 2nd amendment has been seriously undermined with respect to any state’s ability to resist Ferderal decrees, unconstitutional, illegitimate, or not. At best, the 2nd amendment now only stands for a right of personal self-defense and game hunting - at the court’s pleasure.
The militia has now been conveniently re-defined to mean only the Federally controlled National Guard. Hence the National Firearms Act of 1935, which ended any realistic possibliity of armed resistance to the Federal Government. The courts, statists that they are, have upheld every restriction on non-Federal ownership of modern weaponry. That’s how we ended up with Federal para-military units using machine guns and tanks against a religious cult in Texas. Such a scenario would have been impossible in the USA of 1850 with revolvers, rifles, muskets, and 12-pounders - all of which were available to the various state militias.
It seems to me that Mr. LeFevre in his comment of 3:42 a.m. is making a metaphysical argument rather than a historical or constitutional one: that the use of federal power in the Civil War breached a metaphyiscal wall constraining the use of power; that it was that same wall that 20th liberalism itself transgressed; and that therefore the first led to the second. But this view is counteracted by the fact that following the end of Reconstruction the relationship of federal governments to the states returned pretty much to what it had been before, except for matters that came under the post-war amendments. And remember, the 14th amendment was constructed narrowly for decades following its ratification. The Civil War thus seems to stand out as a unique event, an emergency use of power to meet an emergency, and the later growth of the state was a separate phenomenon, not proceeding from the Civil War (at least primarily), but other factors.
My opinions on the Civil War are constrained somewhat by ignorance; but to me the war seems in hindsight like a natural working-out of the basic contradiction within liberalism. The Southern narrative is that the tyrannical Yanks destroyed federalism in the pursuit of federally enforced equality. The Northern narrative is that the Rebels were backward slaveholders who asserted a right of secession that would destroy the rule of law.
I think both narratives have a great deal of truth in them. A key insight though seems to me to be that _both_ sides rest their claims and grievances on liberal principles.
The putative “right of secession” is a _liberal_ right, a right to equal freedom, a radical right to abandon the rule of law because autonomous equal freedom trumps the rule of law. So the Southern rebellion was in its essence a liberal rebellion.
On the other hand the northern comprehensive imposition of state power to enforce the equal freedom of blacks, to make the liberal order more universal and more universally enforced, is also a _liberal_ programme.
I find it impossible, with the benefit of hindsight, to take sides in the Civil War. It seems to me that liberalism was a major driver of the violence on _both_ sides.
Adding to my previous comment, I do think it is legitimate to look at the Yanks and the Rebs as having different _visions_ of liberalism. The Rebs had a radically libertarian view of how liberal principles should be embodied in the polis, or at least the federal polis. The Yanks had a more statist view. So in that sense Mr. LeFevre’s view of the Civil War as a turning point has some truth to it. But I am with Mr. Auster in seeing that turning point not as a change of essence, but just as a selection of a particular path of working things out. The notion that southern anarchist-liberalism was _legitimate_ whereas yankee statist-liberalism was _illegitimate_ is (in my view) both false and beside the point.
Would liberalism have worked itself out along a different path if the South had won the war? Certainly. Is a counterfactual speculation along those lines useful? I think not. I think it represents a distraction, a side-track, a reason to cling to liberal principles by imagining a counterfactual in which they are “legitimate”.
Liberal principles are not legitimate. They are internally incoherent and they are the cancer that is destroying our civilization from within. Legitimate liberalism is not to be found under the Union Jack or the Southern Cross, because there is no such thing as legitimate liberalism.
I think Matt is mistaken in characterizing the Northern cause as liberal, at least in the early stages of the war. It is necessary to distinguish between the initial Northern aim which was minimal, the preservation of the Union, and the evolving aim, which was increasingly liberal and even radical, emanicipation of the slaves and the imposition of a new order. What moved the North from the first to the second was the exigencies of the war itself.
Because of the way the Civil War evolved and changed over time, knowledge of at least the basic chronological outline of the war is indispensable. As a one-volume history that gives both overview and details, I recommend McPherson’s “Battle Cry of Freedom.”
Mr. Auster wrote:
“What moved the North from the first to the second was the exigencies of the war itself.”
There is a lot compacted into that statement though. Most avalanches start with a pebble. One interpretation could be that as the situation escalated and became more dire, the need to appeal to liberal principles, to appeal to a nation “dedicated to the proposition”, etc. increased.
The point of my last comment, that the war from the Northern point of view was not initially a liberal war, may seem trivial, since I am acknowledging that the Northern motivation did become increasingly liberal. But the point is key, because most of the Civil War controversy revolves around the justice or injustice of the North’s initial decision to make war rather than accept secession. And I do not think it is correct to say that the North’s motive in saving the Union was liberal per se.
Matt’s comment of 2:56 re-inforces my recommendation that he needs to cure what he describes as his ignorance of the Civil War and read a standard history such as McPherson’s.
It is probematical to treat the Civil War as an object of philosophical speculation, where one sees, as it were, liberal essences at work behind the scenes. The Civil War was pre-eminently a concrete, particular historical event and one must have a basic familiarity with its concreteness and chronology before one thinks about its ultimate intellectual meaning. I’m not saying it’s necessary to be a scholar. But as a common ground for discussion, one must know the basic, standard history of the war.
Mr. Auster wrote:
“And I do not think it is correct to say that the North’s motive in saving the Union was liberal per se.”
I am certainly willing to stipulate that; but then I’m a guy without a dog in the fight!
Actually this fits my understanding of how liberalism works pretty well. The initial cause of a conflict can be anything at all. Reasons for conflict are not a scarce resource. But as things _escalate_ the appeal to liberal principles as the trump card increases. In order to be seen as _absolutely right_, in order to win total moral victory, my side has to be cast in liberal terms.
I wonder if it is accurate to view the evolving Iraq narrative in a similar way? That is, the victory narrative simply _must_ be cast in liberal terms, and setting up a Shah of Iraq is a lot harder to spin as a liberal outcome than holding elections, however objectively ridiculous those elections may be.
I am making no arguments over metaphysics. Mr. Auster’s arguments themselves show the disturbing tendencies supporters of the war seem to follow. he reduces my position to, “the use of federal power in the Civil War breached a metaphyiscal wall constraining the use of power; that it was that same wall that 20th liberalism itself transgressed; and that therefore the first led to the second.”
First, I would hardly call this a “metaphysical wall”! When it proposed in the Federal Convention to give the government this power, no one seems to have thought of it this way. Rather, they recognized that this was real, actual power that would have real actual consequences. As Mr. Madison argued: “A Union of States containing such an ingredient seemed to provide for its own destruction. The use of force against a State, would look more like a declaration of war, than an inflictions of punishment, and would probably be considered by the party attacked as a dissolution of all previous compacts by which it might be bound.”
Mr. Auster continues his analysis of my statements thusly: “… that it was that same wall that 20th liberalism itself transgressed; and that therefore the first led to the second.” I am saying that a huge chink in the armor developed that was easily exploited by liberal advocates. Once the process of complete centralization, however slowly in accomplishment, had been watered by the blood of our young men, it could hardly be stopped and it’s hard to see how liberal designs could not be facilitated. Both required extra-constitutional means.
Mr. Auster’s conclusion however again is remarkable: “The Civil War thus seems to stand out as a unique event, an emergency use of power to meet an emergency, and the later growth of the state was a separate phenomenon, not proceeding from the Civil War (at least primarily), but other factors.” The urge toward centralization was continuously picking up steam and gaining power, stymied only by the will of a populace that still jealously guarded their State sovereignty. Of course, no one argues that the centralizing forces _continued_ after the War.
And yet Mr. Auster would have us believe that the War somehow has no connection on this time continuum to these trends, that it must somehow be compartmentalized and seen to have no causal relationship! By this logic, we could write a history book of the trend toward Federal oligarchy, leave out 1961-1965, and the account unaffected. Mr. Auster is the one making the metaphysical argument!
Mr. Auster’s admonition that we should know something of the history of the War is well taken. I would return that we should all learn a bit more about what was happening _before_ the war to subvert our Federal republican system—like reading John Taylor of Caroline. :-)
I’ll address Mr. Auster statement on the 14th Amendment next.
To Mr. LeFevre,
When I say that modern liberalism did not result from the Civil War, and that the defeat of the Southern Secession was not the cause of modern statism, I am making what I think is a fairly simple, commonsensical point. The growth of modern statism did not commence for decades after the Civil War. Racial segregation of schools and other facilities thrived under the 14th Amendment until 1954. Jim Crow practices were in place throughout the South until the mid 20th century. The Incorporation Doctrine which gave federal courts vast unconstitutional powers over states and localities and which is in my view the single most important building block of modern statism did not begin to be enunciated until well into the 20th century. Other developments of federal power, such as the income tax, were the result of constitutional amendments that had nothing to do with the Civil War. The expansion of the scope of the Commerce Clause has nothing to do with the Civil War as far as I know. The Progressive Era legislation and growth of federal power over businesses, first called for by Bryan and instituted under TR and Wilson, had nothing to do with the Civil War. These things were a response to the problems of modern industrialism. Now, it’s possible that if the South had been successful, America would not have industrialized as quickly as it did, and there would have been less need for the Progressive legislation. But that is very different from saying that the growth of federal power in order to defeat the Southern Secession was the cause of modern liberal statism.
As I said, I think I’m making a fairly commonsensical point. I think that Lincoln and the Unionists get a bum rap when they’re blamed for the centralization of the modern American state.
Mr. Auster offers rebuttal to my argument as follows: ” . . this view is counteracted by the fact that following the end of Reconstruction the relationship of federal governments to the states returned pretty much to what it had been before, except for matters that came under the post-war amendments. And remember, the 14th amendment was constructed narrowly for decades following its ratification.”
“[E]xcept for matters that came under the post-war amendments” is quite an escape hatch, since these amendments were passed in direct consequence to the War and would NEVER have passed without it. Now it’s true that for several decades there was an apparent return to normalcy, but the seeds had already been sown. After the victors had their way it was only a matter of time. The Supreme Court tried to hold back the effects of the 14th and 15th, certainly. Thomas Wilcox noted that,
“Secretly if not openly the justices of that era tried to save the people from their own foolishness… . the justices realized that literal interpretations of the mad-dog amendments would be annihilative to the purpose and basic propositions of the main document… . Would it not be the part of wisdom to treat the amendments as dead letters until such time as the people themselves repealed them?”
But these floodgates couldn’t be held back forever. What had been unleashed was more that could be borne. Consider what Mr. Justice Miller stated as far back as _1877_, in Davidson v. New Orleans, (96 U.S. 97):
“It is not a little remarkable, that while this [Due Process] provision has been in the Constitution of the United States, as a restraint upon the authority of the Federal government, for nearly a century, and while, during all that time, the manner in which the powers of that government have been exercised has been watched with jealousy, and subjected to the most rigid criticism in all its branches, this special limitation upon its powers has rarely been invoked in the judicial forum or the more enlarged theatre of public discussion. But while it has been a part of the Constitution, as a restraint upon the power of the States, only a very few years, the docket of this court is crowded with cases in which we are asked to hold that State courts and State legislatures have deprived their own citizens of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. There is here abundant evidence that there exists some strange misconception of the scope of this provision as found in the fourteenth amendment. In fact, it would seem, from the character of many of the cases before us, and the arguments made in them, that the clause under consideration is looked upon as a means of bringing to the test of the decision of this court the abstract opinions of every unsuccessful litigant in a State court of the justice of the decision against him, and of the merits of the legislation on which such a decision may be founded.”
Once an open invitation seemed to have been handed out to every citizen to test their own State’s judgments against their own self interest by recourse to the Federal courts, how long before this would be used to pursue a liberal agenda? How long would a before hungry Federal government and judiciary would no longer stave off the obvious temptations? How long before our Republic was subverted? We all know the answer.
And are we to somehow rule out any causative role for the War in this insanity?
Mr. Auster appears to say on one hand, that because we did not immediately become a military dictatorship (well the South did for a while) after the War, that we can’t conclude the War played a role in liberal statism. (We needn’t say “cause” as Mr. Auster resorts to; it’s enough to say “enabler.”)
After such a bloody and traumatic event, which exhausted everyone, of course there had to be a respite, a return to a semblance of normalcy. The type of change (or continuation) inferred toward statism would of course take at least a couple generations to be effected. The personnel of the Court during this period consisted of the finest exemplars of the old, liberty-loving stock. A change in the personnel …
Of course, no one argues that many outside factors are part of this evolution, particularly looking at society as a whole. Liberalism attacks our society from all directions against all quarters. But the fact remains, that THE MECHANISMS HAD BEEN PUT IN PLACE, and as a direct consequence of the War.
On the other hand, I disagree with Mr. Auster’s attempt to compartmentalize all the external factors, such as the Commerce Clause. These are all manifestations (or exploited for the purpose) of the drive toward statist centralization. The Commerce Clause especially is used as a mere pretense for extending Federal power. Liberal statism stands as a central goal uniting all these factors in collusion.
Mr. LeFevre quotes the very interesting opinion by Miller about the expansive appeals to the 14th Amendment’s Due Process clause, and then asks: “And are we to somehow rule out any causative role for the War in this insanity?”
Obviously the Secession led to the Civil War, and the Civil War led to the ending of slavery, and the ending of slavery led to the draconian Black Codes, and the draconian Black Codes led to the 14th Amendment, and the 14th Amendment led to the insanity of which Mr. LeFevre complains. But the very density of the historical developments I’ve summarized suggests that we should think of this problem, not in terms of a single supposedly bad deed (the suppression of the Secession) that led to a single bad result (the growth of centralized state power over the states), but rather in terms of the total unfolding of a historical fate.
I did not say “that we can’t conclude the War played a role in liberal statism.” I’m saying it was not a sufficient cause. There were many other factors. If the proposition is, “The War played a role in the growth of liberal statism,” Mr. L and I are in agreement.
Can someone explain this bizarre statement to me? Quoting from the blog entry: “[Louisiana’s secession] assured war … for in Sherman’s view there could be no peace between two confederacies one of which owned the source and the other the mouth of the Mississippi River. The laws of trade and commerce would force the two nations into war. How could it be otherwise, with the agricultural South insisting upon free trade and the industrial North holding to its protective tariff? … No; there was no rhyme or reason in Southern dreams of a peaceful future.”
I can see that there would be a problem if the tariff-loving state controlled the mouth of the river, because they might try to impose tariffs at the mouth, which would impose a tariff on the other state’s goods. I cannot figure out how the reverse situation implies war. Was it commonly believed at the time that the South would impose a blockade on the Mississippi? If the South were left alone and permitted to secede, what possible cause is there to believe they would commit a hostile act on the Mississippi, thus precipitating a war without even having the excuse of standing on some principle?
Has anyone noticed that the great European nations were strengthened over time by their mutual commerce and cultural exchange along the rivers they shared, such as the Danube, the Rhine, etc.? Was it a problem that no single country controlled the whole length of each river?
Perhaps there is something I am missing, but this whole line of thinking by Sherman, presented twice in the blog entry as if it were an obvious truism, sounds delusional.
The Japanese people were ruthless in their subordination of other peoples, and thus, what was good for the goose was good for the gander.
However, the Southern soldier did not raid, pillage and plunder the Northern farms and the people on them- I would suggest you read the eye witness accounts of Lee’s entry into Pennsylvania for a comparison.
Sherman and his soldiers where nothing more then gang of thugs who were bent on stealing every thing they could get their hands on. Calling Sherman a great general is analogous to calling Al Capone a businessman.
He should have been “hung”-
Next time check a dictionary.
The war was fought over taxation, pure and simple. I would suggest reading a complete version of Lincoln’s first inaugural address, he makes it quite plain that he does not care about the issue of slavery but that he will collect the taxes (newly imposed) with whatever means may be necessary- i.e., he would raise an army and force the issue. Remember, the action that touched off the session of most of the Southern states was Lincoln’s call for troops.
The only drunken fool debating the merits of the Mississippi was Sherman- and he was only debating them with himself.
The greatest lesson one can learn from Misters Sherman and Grant is that it is possible, under extreme circumstances, for even the lowliest of men to rise to a higher level within a given society. Sherman and Grant were men who thought nothing of of the lives of others. Like Lincoln, they simply wanted to win at any cost. The other Northern soldiers seemed to blanch at the idea of extreme casualties. Such men can be compared to, oh say, Goebbels, Himmler, etc. Low life who, because they were willing to kill indiscriminately, were awarded higher posts.
The casualties suffered by the North were so great, in fact, that the only people who would fight were immigrants imported for that express purpose.
I really believe that the Civil War would not have happened at all if George Mason had prevailed in his insistence that the commerce power would only be exercisable by a 2/3 majority. This would not only have prevented the tariff controversies, it would have preempted much of the unconstitutional legislation that is passed today under the pretense of some vague connection to “interstate commerce.”
But there was a deal in the Federal Convention, brokered by Satan, whereby the South agreed to a simple majority invocation of the Commerce Clause, and in return the New England States agreed to permit the importation of slaves for 20 years. This agreement nearly doomed our Republic. Col. Mason tried to fix it in his Master Draft of the Bill of Rights, but it never got past Mr. Madison.
This is one of the greatest blunders in the original Constitution, the other being the delegation of authority to the Federal government for establishing “uniform rules of naturalization.” There was a good reason for this at the time, to be sure, but of late it has contributed to the imposition of a menagerie of antipodal racial types being forced into traditional communities even against the unanimous suffrage of the immemorial residents thereof.
The Framers could be forgiven for that one due to the circumstances of the times, but the 2/3 issue stands as one criticism that can be made with complete validity. It ultimately provoked the worst fratricidal war in over a millenium. And it has enabled the Federal monolith of today.
Mr.s Auster and LeFevre,
Mr. LeFevre’s point would be better made if he went back 20 or 30 years before the war broke out to see that the New Englanders were already pushing for more Federal power over the states. The taxes imposed by the North on the South were for the express purpose of building up one section of the Nation at the expense of another- something we have come to see today in it’s final fruition as the individual income tax.
The Southerners viewed the taxes as nothing short of organized theft and was itself, therefore, a form of overt aggression. There is nothing new in this, Fischer, in his work “Albion’s Seed” makes it clear that Northern Pilgrims and Southern agrarians disliked one another from the very beginning of their colonies. He also points out quite clearly that while Southerners were a “live and let live” society- within permissible bounds, the Northern “pilgrims” were a people intent upon imposing their way of life on everyone else- whether they wanted it or not.
The civil war, then, was something destined to happen from the very beginning of the Republic. The two opposing points of view- one, the very basis of modern liberalism, the other, the basis of classical conservatism, were heading for a collision from day one. All that was necessary to tip the scales was for the North to gain enough votes to over ride the South. A study of Calhoun’s speeches and personal essays point to this in the 1840’s and 1850’s. It is the reason why the Southerners demanded land following the Mexican War and why both sides fought so heavily for control of Kansas and MIssouri. Modern history incorrectly states that this was to further slavery, it was not, it was to gain the upper hand in the Senate, as well as the House.
As per the South’s right to secede, they felt they had made it clear from the very beginning of the Constitutional Convention that they would not partake in a Union if their rights were not respected and spelled out. They felt, justifiably so, that it was Southern blood that bought and paid for the successful revolution and they intended to have their say. They did not for a minute trust the Northerners. Charles Pickney was their leader and his personal notes are invaluable.
But, at the end of the day, I must agree with Mr. LeFevre in that the Civil War was in itself a tipping point. It taught the lesson that the Federal Government could in fact impose it’s will on a people regardless of how many other freedoms they must “temporarily” dispose of while doing so.
As I’ve been indicating lately, I am not going to entertain statements of pure quackery at this website. An example is Mr. Brandtjen’s comment: “The [Civil] war was fought over taxation, pure and simple.” A similar comment made in the past was that “The Civil War was fought over the tariff; slavery had nothing to do with it.”
If you want to indulge in overheated paleocon and neo-Confederate rhetoric aimed at delegitimzing the United States, then go to lewrockwell.com. Anyone posting such mischievous and nonsensical lies here will be blocked from making further comments.
Mr. LeFevre writes:
“But there was a deal in the Federal Convention, brokered by Satan, whereby the South agreed to a simple majority invocation of the Commerce Clause, and in return the New England States agreed to permit the importation of slaves for 20 years.”
This is extreme language to throw around in relation to the American founding, especially when the matter Mr. LeFevre is referring to does not seem to warrant it at all. He’s talking about a compromise during the 1787 Convention, he’s not talking about anything pertaining to “Satan.” This not a way for a patriot to speak. Similar language comes from the universe of the Rockwellites, as in Murray Rothbard’s remark that the 1787 Convention was a “coup d’état.”
I repeat, I will not have language like this at this website. If people keep insist on using it, I will shut down the comments feature again, as it is not worth my time dealing with it.
My apologies to Mr. Auster for my careless use of the phrase in that context, which I concede was not appropriate.
In discussing the motives of the Civil War, we need to conisder the fact that there were different groups with different motives.
(1) Why the South wanted to secede.
(2) Why the North wanted it to stay.
(3) Why people fought for the South to secede.
(4) Why people fought for the North to keep the South.
(5) Why the European powers did (or didn’t) whatever they did (or didn’t).
I think slavery played a bigger role in (1), whereas the tariff and concern over national security (i.e. not being broken into pieces that could be more easily taken on by European powers) played a bigger role in (2) [I seriously doubt that the government of the North went to war over a belief in the injustice of slavery]
(3) To a great extent boils down in many cases to simple patriotism; a lot of people in the South saw the Civil War in the same light as we would see a war to keep Britain in the EU or to keep us in the UN.
(4) Also boils down to simple patriotism, with the idea that the South by seceding would destroy the country, although concern about ending slavery probably played a role both ways (some people were more willing to fight if it was a great crusade, others less willing to fight if they thought they were doing it to free the blacks).
(5) The main motivations for the European powers to help the South were that they could trade with it more cheaply and that it would weaken the US’s hold on the Western hemisphere. The main motivations for not siding with the South (actively siding with the North was not, I think, an option) were that the North provided a lot of food imports, and after the Emancipation Proclamation, that the North had set itself against slavery (a longtime European cause).
The problem a lot of modern historians have is that they establish a good argument to show that the South seceded due to slavery, and then assume that that proves that slavery was the issue that motivated every person on both sides. For example, when asked why poor whites who didn’t own any slaves fought for the South, they usually answe that they wanted to preserve slavery because it made certain that there was someone worse off than they were.
Very few people consider the possibility that a lot of the common folk saw the South as their country and simply saw themselves as defending it.
On the other hand, a lot of the pro-Confederates assume that becasue the tariff was a big motivating factor for the North in trying to hold on to the South, that means that the Southern government seceded because of the tariff.
I beg to disagree, Mr. Auster. Lincoln makes it perfectly what would start the war, and it was not slavery, it was the collection of taxes.
From the address:
“I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.”
“Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.”
“ I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.”
“ I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.
In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.”
“One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.”
“……………. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.”
Lincoln makes it quite clear that he believes the Union to be intact at this point. He makes it clear he has no designs on ending the institution of slavery and finally, he makes it clear that he will collect the taxes and duties owed the Federal government. Had Lincoln attempted to raise an army to march into the South to restore the Union and end slavery, he could not have done it. No working class people in the North (those who could not buy their way out of the war) would have fought to free slaves whom they feared would move North and take their jobs. Witness the lynching of blacks in NYC during the riots by the Irish. Witness the fact that Lincoln delayed the Emancipation Proclamation until the North had a decisive victory- he knew his soldiers would either desert or fail to re-enlist if he did it before then as they would not fight and die to free the slaves. Note also that the first laws pertaining to segregation were in the North, not the South.
It is no accident that the Southerners fired on Fort Sumter first- it was the duties collection station. The Southerners, who did all of their business with London Factors, viewed the tariffs as being lethal to them and their way of life. All Southerners, save a few hotheads, knew the institution of slavery had outlived it’s usefulness, they knew a time was coming when it could no longer even be justified economically. What they could not acquiesce in was the idea that they could be forced into bankruptcy courts for doing business with foreign traders- as they had always done. Had not at least part of the revolution been fought to allow that freedom in the first place? Had not a major grievance of the Yankees up north and the plantation owners of the South been that they were forced by the English Crown to do business only with English traders? I believe it was. They also did not want to be left with a population of former slaves which just might outnumber them. I really cannot recommend Calhoun enough in this instance- he spoke for the South during his time in congress.
Lastly, you seem to dispute the idea that Southerners were very different from Northerners- except for slavery. The Southern gentry were descended from English aristocracy. They held the descendants of the Pilgrims, as their brethren in England did, in contempt. The reasons were multitudinous, but, amongst them were their low birth, non membership in the Church of England. Their beliefs pertaining to everyday life and how it should be lived. The Northern propensity to over taxation, etc. Note that it wasn’t the Southerners who engaged in witch burning, or forcing people to wear scarlet letters. Nor did they condemn people for drinking and dancing, etc. There could not have been two more distinct and different peoples.
I should like to add and should have stated earlier that it is true that Southerners believed that if the North could impose taxes that only directly affected one portion of the country- them, that it would, in short order, impose upon them an end to slavery.
Calhoun spoke and wrote extensively on the topic and idea that if that should happen, the South would be stuck forever with a class of people who they would be forced to take care of. His speeches and writings of the mid 1840’s centered on this. It was debated in Congress in 1848 that Mexico could be used as a place to remove them to. The idea that this was not of great concern to Southerners is negated by the very founding and creation of Monrovia. Lincoln himself spoke on the topic of segregation and did in fact believe that it was necessary for whites and blacks to live apart.
I have no inclination to read Mr. Brandtjen’s immensely long comment, which is _way_ too long for this discussion board. Here I am just responding to his first sentence:
“Lincoln makes it perfectly what would start the war, and it was not slavery, it was the collection of taxes.”
Mr. Brandtjen’s comment is not responding to anything I said. I have never said—in fact I have said the opposite on many occasions—that the North’s initial motive was to destroy slavery. Making the end of slavery the goal only developed over time. When I was a kid, every 12 year old knew that. Today, lots of adults who blather constantly about the Civil War don’t seem to know it.
There are two simple points that must be distinguished from each other but which unfortunately keep getting conflated with each other causing endless confusion. Everybody please pay attention to this:
1. The _South’s_ motive in seceding was slavery, namely to preserve and expand their institution without the constant opposition and moral disapproval of the North. Much of the South during the period leading up to secession believed the wacko idea that as soon as Lincoln was sworn in he was going to invade the South to destroy slavery.
2. The _North’s_ motive in raising an army and fighting the South was to end the Secession and restore the Union.
Let me repeat that: The _South’s_ motive in seceding was to protect slavery. The _North’s_ motive in fighting the South was to preserve the Union.
Now, everyone repeat that to him or herself five times, and maybe we’ll never have to deal with this particular confusion again.
I did respond to your comment that the South left because of slavery. I hold that they did not, that they did so to preserve their own economic viability. It is no secrete that the tarrifs were impsoed to build northern industry and to combat English hegemony in those industries. It is also no secrete that the Southern plantation owner did almost all of his business with those English industrialists. The North made textiles out of wool, predominately, the English, and the French, used the South’s cotton.
“Lincoln makes it perfectly what would start the war, and it was not slavery, it was the collection of taxes.”
Mr. Brantjen turns the “collection of taxes” into a discrete item by itself. This is a false picture. The collection of taxes was important as essential expression and test of federal authority. Did the federal government still have authority throughout the United States, or not?
Also, I’ve now skimmed his ridiculously long comment. He quotes Lincoln’s first inaugural at length to support points that are not in dispute, for example, that Lincoln did not claim a purpose to attack the institution of slavery. Evidently Mr. Brantjen thinks this is a new point that no one understands. But _everyone_ who knows the most basic facts about the Civil War knows it. Mr. Brantjen’s argumeht may be appropriate if made to people who know nothing about the Civil War, people who believe, for example, that Lincoln didn’t like slavery, he campaigned for president on the promise of ending it, that when he was elected the South seceded, and that Lincoln then waged war against the South to end slavery. I agree that there are people so ignorant as to believe that. That is not the case at this website.
I advise Mr. Brantjen not to continue this discussion as it is an utter waste of time. If he posts further comments on this subject I will delete them.
In Mr. Brantjen’s of 11:54 p.m., he persists in his crackpot notion, which is on the same intellectual level (though not the same moral level) as Holocaust denial, that the Southern secession had nothing to do with slavery. He had a right to respond to my point and he has done so. However, as I said, he will not make further comments along this line or I will exclude him from the site.
I repeat that at this site, not all issues are open for discussion. That the earth revolves around the sun is not open for discussion. That the Nazis had a concerted purpose to dehumanize and physically destroy the Jews of Europe is not open to discussion. That the Palestinian Arabs would like to destroy Israel is not open to discussion. That the slavery controversy was the major factor leading the South to secede is not open to discussion.
There are myriad websites where individuals who are desirous of offering alternative views on these subjects can discuss them to their heart’s content. They will not discuss them here.