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Question about the Civil War...

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jrodefeld posted on Tue, Dec 4 2012 7:21 PM

Hello,

 

I need some help in defending the libertarian position on the Civil War.  I have read (briefly) Tom DiLorezo about Lincoln, but I need help in articulating the position that we hold.

 

1.  Is there any concrete evidence that can be put forth that the North could have avoided war and the Civil War was not inevitable?

 

2.  Are there any realistic and compelling explanations of how slavery could have been phased out without a civil war or some type of bloody conflict at some point?  I ask because to me it seems like even if Lincoln tried to avoid war and the North did there best to pursue peaceful solutions, that the institution of slavery was so deeply imbeded in society that it would eventually require some type of serious conflict?

I don't know how to refute that claim.

 

Do you have any advice to put forward about how I can better defend the Rothbard / DiLorenzo view of the Civil War, Lincoln and slavery in the 19th century?

Thanks so much.

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1.  All the North had to do was withdraw its troops from the South and recognise the CSA.  Why would the CSA invade them?  The South only wanted independence, not control of the entire USA.  Thus the term 'civil war' is itself incorrectly applied to that conflict.

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idol replied on Tue, Dec 4 2012 8:11 PM

Libertarians are generally divided on the Civil War. On the one hand, you have a tyrant who instigated the conflict and created the war, destroying the original ideal of America as the land of limited government in the process. On the other hand, you have a collection of states refusing to let go of an evil practice that was about as anti-libertarian as any practice goes. 


For question 1, I would read John Denson's "A Century of War". The first half of that book is about how Lincoln tricked the South into firing the first shot. It is available for free on this website.

For question 2, I would argue that almost everywhere that slavery has existed, it has also been phased out by the people in the offending country without a conflict between states. I find it hard to believe that the South was the ONLY place that would not have also eventually phased it out. Furthermore, Lincoln could have taken many steps before resorting to war. For example, he could have promised freer markets or a stronger Southern influence in Congress in return for the freedom of most or all the slaves. 650,000 deaths for the freedom of 4 million people seems like a Pyrrhic victory to me, especially when you factor in the tremendous growth in government, the Greenbacks, and the "war powers" Presidential precedent that were all created by the war.

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2.  Are there any realistic and compelling explanations of how slavery could have been phased out without a civil war or some type of bloody conflict at some point?  I ask because to me it seems like even if Lincoln tried to avoid war and the North did there best to pursue peaceful solutions, that the institution of slavery was so deeply imbeded in society that it would eventually require some type of serious conflict?

The north would out compete the south due to its mass industrialization and slavery would soon be phased out. Honest workers and a high amount of capital produces far better than people constantly struggling against each other as is in slavery.

“Since people are concerned that ‘X’ will not be provided, ‘X’ will naturally be provided by those who are concerned by its absence."
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I can't remember where, but I read that, based upon the going rate to purchase a slave's freedom and the amount of money spent (debt incurred) by the North to fund the war, the North could have instead spared the death and destruction by simply purchasing all the slaves' freedom. These are, no doubt, based upon estimates, but it is one argument that can be made as to how war could have been avoided while bringing (nearly) the end of slavery peacefully.

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Hi.

Great Britain abolished slavery in all her territories in 1834. It was a carefully arranged "road map" which was completed in 1838, when the slaves in Jamaica became completely free. The process went surprisingly smoothly: granted, there were tensions and difficulties but no blood baths or widespread rioting. Jamaica experienced a small but bloody riot in 1865 which was put down quickly and brutally (memories of the Indian Mutiny were still fresh), but that had more to do with how justice was administered than with slavery itself.

It has often been argued if Lincoln had made the abolition of slavery the ultimate goal of his presidency he could have succeeded with little or no violence ensuing. A road map similar to that designed by the British could have been implemented with relatively little difficulty, especially if the Southern States were to be given something in return. We know very well Southern States used slave labor to grow agricultural commodities which were mostly sold on the European market, feeding the booming textile industry in Britain, France, Belgium etc. We also know Southern States usually prefered importing goods from Europe than buying them from the Northern States, for no other reason it was a most convenient agreement (ships arrived from Europe carrying industrial goods and left loaded with agricultural commodities). Lowering tariffs on imported European goods and stimulating agricultural exports would have probably be enough to "sell" the abolition of slavery to Southern legislators.

Contrary to popular opinion slaves weren't that cheap: ever since the import was forbidden prices had soared and slavers made larger profits between 1840 and 1860 than in previous decades because restricted supply meant they could ask as much money as they wanted. In 1860 emancipation was only a matter of time since plainly put slavery was becoming uneconomical. Granted, a slave received no salary and could be treated badly. On the other hand he/she needed to be fed, housed, guarded and, given the restricted supply, could not be worked as hard as in previous decades. Buying a new slave was expensive and prices were in an upward trend. Freed slaves or immigrants from Haiti, Jamaica etc could do the job just as cheaply if not more cheaply (all things considered) and there was almost no limit on supply. Again this argument could have easily convinced Southern legislators if properly presented and perhaps included in a "bundle" with other benefits.

But of course we know very well emancipation was a just a moral excuse Lincoln brilliantly concocted to sell the war. Yankee industrialists and ship owners didn't want the South to import large quantities of European goods and ship their cotton, sugar etc on French and British ships. Bureaucrats in Washington didn't like the idea of decreased revenues from tariffs and large powers to local governments. The military wanted to expand: many regular Army colonels and generals who had served in the Mexican War remembered how much they had to rely on State militia (Jefferson Davis had led a Mississippi regiment which was instrumental in winning the Battle of Buena Vista) and the governors' goodwill. Finally let's not forget ideology: the XIX century was when the modern, highly centralized nation-State was born. Robert E. Lee was offered the highest rank in the Union army but refused because it would have meant drawing his sword against Virginia, which he considered his own country, not the US. Many Southerners considered Mississippi, Texas, the Carolinas etc their homeland, not the US as a whole, and were ready to kill or be killed for it. This may sound incomprehensible to the modern American, who has been brought up in what is a XIX century Nation-State not very different from France (the Nation-State par excellence) and her offspring, Italy, but it meant a lot back then.

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Great post Kakugo.  Care to turn it into a VR article?  It would be most welcome.

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cab21 replied on Wed, Dec 5 2012 5:32 AM

the confederate president supported  and fought for the expansion of slavery,

 

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the position that we hold

I'd just like to caution that just because some Austrian said it doesn't mean it's true. I'm not saying he's wrong (haven't read it), but don't trust him just because he's might agree with your biases.

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Aristippus:

Great post Kakugo.  Care to turn it into a VR article?  It would be most welcome.

 
I will do it in due time. smiley
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This is one of the best articles I've ever read on this subject: The Real Significance of the 'Civil War' by Tom Woods. Here is the money quote:

 

"There can be no minimizing the abolition of slavery, and that it was an enormously significant result of the war. But one may certainly ask whether the abolition of slavery had to be brought about in a manner that resulted in 1.5 million people dead, wounded, or missing; overwhelming material devastation; the undermining of the concept of civilized warfare; and the destruction of the American constitutional order in a way that forever strengthened the federal government at the expense of the self-governing rights of the states. Every other country in the Western hemisphere that abolished slavery in the nineteenth century did so peacefully. It is rather unflattering to assume that Americans were so savage that they were the only people for whom a negotiated settlement of the slave issue was simply impossible.
 
It is not plausible to suggest that slavery could have lasted much longer, even in an independent South. With slavery being abolished everywhere, the Confederacy would have been an international pariah, and it is unreasonable to suppose that it could have long withstood the inevitable and overwhelming international moral pressure to which their isolated position would have exposed them. And according to Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, whose study of the war has been hailed by mainstream historians, 'The fact that emancipation overwhelmed such entrenched plantation economies as Cuba and Brazil suggests that slavery was politically moribund anyway.'
 
'Slavery was doomed politically even if Lincoln had permitted the small Gulf Coast Confederacy to depart in peace. The Republican-controlled Congress would have been able to work toward emancipation within the border states, where slavery was already declining. In due course the Radicals could have repealed the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. With chattels fleeing across the border and raising slavery's enforcement costs, the peculiar institution's destruction within an independent cotton South was inevitable.'
 
This latter point recalls the earlier suggestion of abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison: a division of the Union would have hastened the end of slavery. It so happens that, as Hummel observes, this is precisely how slavery was destroyed in Brazil. The institution essentially collapsed there after being abolished in the Brazilian state of Ceará in 1884. A hastily passed fugitive slave law was largely ignored, the value of slaves fell dramatically, and within four years the Brazilian government had acknowledged the reality of the situation by enacting immediate and uncompensated emancipation.
 
What happened in the U.S. instead was a war that has been called the greatest atrocity of the nineteenth century."
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