10 January 2012

Civil War Schizophrenia


It is quite entertaining to observe South-bashing Civil War bloggers suggest that states' rights as part of the cause of the WBTS is revisionist history, and then read one of their heroes claim that the states' rights issues was and still is cause for division among the more conservative South and other parts of the country (see here and here). 

And they claim to be "above it all" and objective. Are they schizophrenic or are they liars?

9 comments:

Michael Lynch said...

Oh, I don't think anybody could deny that a disagreement over the nature of federal power brought on the war. The problem would be to deny that the debate over slavery is what instigated that disagreement. It wasn't a purely theoretical debate about federal power, is what I'm saying; there was a specific issue that prompted it, and proponents of secession were pretty clear about what that was.

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Michael. Yes, I realize that's orthodoxy. But as Blight, and others, continue to point out "the nature of federal power" debate continues to distinguish much of the South. So logic would dictate that the slavery issue was only part of that disagreement. It has to be true. David Blight said so.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BTW Michael, I would recommend reading this article, under my "Must Reads" page.

http://www.etymonline.com/cw/cornerstone.htm

The essay points out some of the problems and shallow scholarship with the "it was all about slavery" perspective. I've debated that here before.

If you take everything a government or politician say at face value as the cause for a war, then to be consistent, you must accept the official position of the United States that we went to war in Iraq over WMD's, right?

Michael Lynch said...

How does logic dictate that slavery was only part of the disagreement because there is a deep streak of antipathy to federal power in the modern-day South? Nobody's saying you can't have a dispute over federal power without slavery. Such a dispute could arise (and has) over any number of issues. The question is over the dispute that led to the Civil War.

And the Cornerstone Speech is hardly the only example of an emphasis on slavery as the cause. It's not like Stephens was a lone voice crying in the wilderness. If secession conventions, politicians, newspapers, letters, and reams upon reams of documents were emphasizing slavery, but slavery was not in fact the primary motive, then were they emphasizing it only to get the Southern populace on their side? What would that imply about the average nineteenth-century Southerner's attachment to the institution?

I just don't see why it's so hard to come to grips with the importance of slavery in the secession movement. It doesn't negate the bravery of the Confederacy's soldiers or the admirable qualities of many Confederate leaders.

--ML

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Oh, I don't deny the importance. That's just as stupid as those who say it was "the" cause of the WBTS.

According to Blight:

"the Confederacy is to this day the greatest conservative resistance to federal authority in American history"

Now, one might think Blight believes the Confederacy still exists, but I think he is actually referring to the region. But slavery no longer exists, yet this "resistance" still does. So it was there before the WBTS, during the WBTS, and now, 150 years later, its still there. Thus one could easily conclude that this general attitude of "resistance" was the real underlying cause of the WBTS. Slavery was a prominent way of manifesting that spirit, but it was the symptom, not the cause. Blight admits as much, though not intentionally. In the piece I referred you to, this is the point Harper makes.

I just don't see why it's so hard to come to grips with the importance of this underlying spirit of resistance (unrelated to slavery) in the secession movement.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

No need to rephrase what Harper put so succinctly:

"No one can deny the importance of slavery to the feud that split the United States, or that the CSA states made protection of slavery one of its central purposes. But the secession of 1860-61 and the shooting war that followed were the climax of a long interplay. Like a couple heading into divorce, the regions fought often, in the open and in secret. But they nursed grudges, and what they argued out loud was not always the real issue. During the 1840s, slavery became the symbol and character of all sectional differences. It was the emotional gasoline on the sectional fires. Its moral and social implications colored every issue in terms of right and rights. William Seward, the Republican leader, recognized the fact: "Every question, political, civil, or ecclesiastical, however foreign to the subject of slavery, brings up slavery as an incident, and the incident supplants the principal question."

"So far from slavery being the cause of secession, the fact is many thinking men in the South knew that secession would be the doom of slavery. Slavery could not be economically viable or legally enforcable where freedom was just a river away. They had pushed the North so hard to enforce the Fugitive Slave Laws for just this reason. Stephens was among those who judged "slavery much more secure in the union than out of it."

Those who believe that slavery was "the" cause of the WBTS come off just as silly and revisionist as those who say slavery had nothing to do with the war. Both are extremes and invalid viewpoints, in my humble opinion. Both are agenda-driven, whether those who hold to such views realize (or admit) it or not.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

BTW Michael, Blight says the Civil War is not over. How can that be if slavery was abolished AND IF slavery was the cause of the WBTS? You don't see the contradiction there?

Michael Lynch said...

I don't agree with Blight that the war is still going on; there are probably any number of things on which Blight and I would disagree, and the validity of the "ongoing war" meme is one of them.

I just don't see any reason to dismiss the consensus from contemporary secessionists on why they seceded. You don't need slavery to have a controversy over federal power; happened over the Alien and Sedition Acts, the War of 1812, the tariff of abominations, the Civil Rights struggle, and Obamacare. But the one that resulted in secession happened to have slavery as its main issue.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

"dismiss the consensus from contemporary secessionists on why they seceded."

I don't dismiss it, I just think its a bit more complicated than that. They cited other reasons as well and, as I already pointed out, I believe slavery was, in part, a symptom of a larger, underlying difference. It was fuel for the already smoldering embers. Slavery was certainly a major contributor but I do not believe it was "the" cause of the WBTS. That is over-simplification, in my view any way.

Again, the underlying cause of the WBTS still exists to one degree or another, as Blight unwittingly admits.