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Old August 22nd, 2017, 01:58 PM   #1
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A newbie's ??? on Am. Civil War


Being an émigré to the US I did not hear American school teachers on the Civil War and in the course of recent events was/am trying to comprehend how this war was/is justified.

Specifically: Americans clearly defend the freedom of SEPARATION be it for escaping from an intolerable spouse or from an oppressive neighbor state (Kosovo, a colonial power, Baltic states).

But, as much as I have read, the Northern States went to war to deny Southern ones just this freedom ("the Union must be saved at all cost"; pls. excuse for an incorrect quotation) and the "Freedom from Slavery" noble slogan took an equal stature only after the war had began (Lincoln's prewar attitude to slavery).

It seems that besides the very noble aspirations the root of this war was in the North's self-interest to keep the South firmly in its (North') orbit.

Thus - Is there a contradiction in the said great American moral value of Freedom between then and now?

Please forgive me if I am on a wrong path in my these reflections and guide me towards the right one.

Many thanks for attention.
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Old August 22nd, 2017, 02:13 PM   #2

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This is a very good question regarding the possible hypocrisy in denying a state the right to secede. I posted this letter by James Madison, one of our most prominent founders and framers of the Constitution, who opposed secession, in another thread and think the following point he makes is particularly good at explaining the consistency and necessity of an anti-secession stance:

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The characteristic distinction between free Governments and Governments not free is, that the former are founded on compact, not between the Government and those for whom it acts, but among the parties creating the Government. Each of these being equal, neither can have more right to say that the compact has been violated and dissolved, than every other has to deny the fact, and to insist on the execution of the bargain. An inference from the doctrine that a single State has a right to secede at will from the rest, is that the rest would have an equal right to secede from it; in other words, to turn it, against its will, out of its union with them. Such a doctrine would not, till of late, have been palatable anywhere, and now here less so than where it is now most contended for. — James Madison, 1832
As I have previously explained, Madison defeats the idea of secession by reversing it — how tyrannical that the other states could, say, all secede together from another state, effectively 'kicking them out', is all too apparent. The supposed 'right to secession' is not acknowledged by the likes of Madison and upon full examination is apparently built upon ethical relativism, not universal principles of government or liberty.

I might also suggest (and I believe Madison in the letter echoes this sentiment) that secession is wrong because it necessarily revokes the right of United States citizenship and the established law and inalienable rights that it protects — so this is to say that secession from what Madison calls a "free Government" is an act of tyranny against anyone in a state who does not support it. This as opposed to revolution against a tyrannical, or 'not free', government that the founders supported.
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Old August 22nd, 2017, 02:43 PM   #3
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It's very complicated. You've come to the right place and will get a lot of good information from people who've learned about this growing up in the US. I've also taken Civil War in college.

The Civil War should not just be seen in the context of the political conflict but the decades long build up to it. The story of the Civil War is almost exclusively linked to slavery. Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin made slavery very profitable for the south and from that point on a major southern political objective was making sure the North(where slavery was banned) couldn't kill the institution. This was manifested in the balance between free states and slave states(as the amount of states and representatives determined who had representation in the country and the south wanted enough representation to make sure slavery couldn't be abolished). Things weren't just going to stay the same forever because when Jefferson bought Louisiana, all that land was going to become slave or free with representation one day. The first solution to this was the Missouri Compromise when Missouri(a slave state) was admitted to the Union along with Maine(which was split from Massachusetts to maintain the balance). This also formally divided the country between free and slave states territoriality with the exception of Missouri and dictated that in the future states would enter the Union in pairs one slave, one free. This would maintain the balance indefinitely and for the next 30 years or so the slavery issue was largely dead(other issues like the National Bank and tariffs took center stage during this period) because this balance was maintained.

Of course if the US gets more territory this adds the need to make another arrangement about how this land would be split. In the 1840s the Union acquired Texas which became part of the US as a slave state, Oregon territory(extended the northern part of the country to the Pacific) and land from Mexico(California, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah). Oregon was allowed to become free easily due to it's location but dispute rose over the territory won by Mexico when California got populated super fast by people looking for gold(this is a very large part of the reason the US today has two super populated coasts and such a thinly populated core because the gold brought prospectors who came to California in droves passing over the rest of the unsettled part country rather than going to the edge of the west and settling there and working our way further as had previously been what happened). These people wanted to become a free state which would change the balance and the south threatened to secede. The Compromise of 1850 was reached which made California a free state in exchange for the other states being able to choose for themselves and the north assisting the south catch runaway slaves. This infuriated the north who aside from abolitionists groups largely ignored the slavery issue as it legally obligated them to help put people back in bondage. Stephen Douglas made the problem worse in 1854 with his Kansas Nebraska Act which repealed the Missouri Compromise (which had done a very good job of sweeping this issue under the rug keeping everyone happy) and allowing states to choose for themselves whether to allow slavery or not. However when it became clear both Kansas and Nebraska would vote to be free, the south sent a bunch of settlers over the border to vote with the outcome being two governments getting set up and a mini war breaking out.

By 1856 time the anti slavery Republican Party had become one of the two major ones By 1856 due to demographic shifts sweeping the north would give Fremont the Republican the White House. The South threatened to secede if Fremont won and with that threat hanging over the North's head 3 Northern states voted for the Democratic candidate James Buchanan a Northerner who appeased the south to a level which would make Neville Chamberlain blush and he was elected. When James Buchanan was elected in 1856 he did everything to appease the south, recognizing Kansas as a slave state and getting the Supreme Court to make a decisive stand on the slavery issue in Dred Scott. Dred Scott basically said that only the original states were allowed to ban slavery and the repealed Missouri Compromise had been unconstitutional in the first place. This meant southerners could bring slaves wherever they wanted which threatened northerners both economically and morally(the decision also said Blacks couldn't be citizens which was also met with outrage). While before the South had been the only ones to really care(Northerners were typically happy before if they didn't have to see slavery), now both the North and South were furious with each other. The anti slavery Republican Party became more popular as a result of the abolitionist positions new popularity and their candidate Abraham Lincoln was elected in 1860.

Lincoln was elected because unlike many of his rivals for the nomination he was a moderate who only wanted to stop slavery from spreading into the territories(which was what most northerners were really mad about) rather than wanting to ban the institution. Lincoln was elected with only 39% of the vote and no southern support at all which meant the South could no longer prevent the election of a President all on their own but the North could elect one all on their own despite threatening to leave the Union if the North elected a Republican. Thus 7 of the slave states seceded, not over the threat to slavery but over the threat to the expansion of slavery which was followed by most of 4 other slave states seceding once it became clear the Union would invade the South(W VA seceded from VA because they didn't want to secede). Over this hundreds of thousands of Americans lost their lives just so the South could not only own people but own them even wherever they chose without even risking the chance of them being taken away. This is what separates them from the rebellion from the UK, where both sides really had a legit case, the South were trying to leave the Union for morally disgusting reasons. Brits could say Americans were being unreasonable and Americans could say the British had the power to levy taxes which could strangle the American economy without their consent. Here the dispute was the right to own other human beings. So I don't think it's a morally equivalent argument to make. This was a world where slavery had been as an evil now for quite some time and before the cotton boom the south was coming around to that idea. Then the cotton boom hit and the south threw their souls in the gutter for the allmighty dollar. UK and France had every political and economic reason(weakening the US and the Monroe doctrine,access to southern cotton, physically preventing the US from intervening in the French invasion of Mexico) to support or at least recognize the Confederacy the same way the French did the Revolution. They did not do it(though private individuals did help the south build ironclads) despite there being several battles that made it clear the southern cause was viable it was clear that the southern cause was morally terrible and no one wanted to go to war to keep the 3.5 million slaves of the CSA in bondage(or back into bondage after the Emancipation Proclamation).

Here is a rundown on what caused the Civil War(which you seemed to be more interested in then the war itself). I do hope this helps.

Last edited by EmperoroftheBavarians43; August 22nd, 2017 at 02:56 PM.
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Old August 22nd, 2017, 03:50 PM   #4
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Government can not function for long if people can leave any time they wish without consequence. To live in any kind of community or polity requires compromise and cooperation. In other words, no one is going to get everything they want every time. To function, every state must have some coercive power to enforce its laws on a temporarily disgruntled and uncooperative population. Some frustration with the government is normal, but we don't stop paying our taxes and ignore the laws just because we're unhappy. Through the process of compromise we get some of what we want but not everything.

When a population or a portion of the population becomes so disgruntled that they come to see revolution or secession as the only course of action, they are allowed to try, but the state is allowed to oppose them. This is the right of revolution - you're right if you win, but if you lose you're a traitor and bound for the hangman.
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Old August 22nd, 2017, 09:04 PM   #5

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I merely wanted to say thanks for that long and informative post to EmpereroftheBavarians - I learned a lot.

And regarding your post, Chlodio - can I ask a question that has been bothering me for some time now but that I did not quite dare to post, seeing as this seems to be a very emotional topic in the US with all the current discussions about white supremacy and slavery and statues being removed?

It's actually two questions. If slavery had not been an issue in 1861, if the Southern states had abolished it yet still insisted on leaving the Union - would there still have been a Civil War?
And how about today? If some state or a group of states wanted to leave the USA, peacefully, would there be something like a "Brexit" option for them? (I do understand that the EU concept is way different from the United States but it was the best I could come up with.)
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Old August 23rd, 2017, 04:31 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Josefa View Post
If slavery had not been an issue in 1861, if the Southern states had abolished it yet still insisted on leaving the Union - would there still have been a Civil War?
And how about today? If some state or a group of states wanted to leave the USA, peacefully, would there be something like a "Brexit" option for them? (I do understand that the EU concept is way different from the United States but it was the best I could come up with.)
In 1861, if one or more Southern states had tried to leave the union, even if slavery was not the issue, there would still have been a Civil War. At that time in history, nationalism and national governments were becoming stronger. New technologies like the railroad and telegraph were binding people together and creating a national sense of unity and common purpose that had not previously existed. Germany and Italy achieved national unity for the first time in their histories. Japan was coming out of Medieval feudalism and becoming a modern state. If the US had voluntarily disintegrated, we would have been the exception, not the rule.

Today, things are very different. Technologies like the internet are empowering smaller groups. Countries like Czechoslavakia, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union have broken up and become more numerous but smaller countries. Brexit is another example of people rejecting collectivism in favor of individuality. Today, if a state wanted to leave the American union, they might get away with it. Whether the federal government would let them or not, might depend on circumstances. If the seceding state did so to defy federal power, the federal government might not let them. Texas from time to time half seriously threatens to secede and there are some in the other 49 states who are willing to let them go. (Some even say, "Texas, please go!")
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Old August 23rd, 2017, 06:00 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Chlodio View Post
In 1861, if one or more Southern states had tried to leave the union, even if slavery was not the issue, there would still have been a Civil War. At that time in history, nationalism and national governments were becoming stronger...
That's right on the money. The 1833 Tariff Crisis shows this very well with both Daniel Webster's speeches and Andrew Jackson's statements and his threat to use the military against South Carolina's secession threats, which were not about slavery.

40,000 copies of a latter painting of Webster making a speech during the crisis were distributed in the 1850s and hung in public places. Northern children quoted ines from Webster's speeches on Union both from the 1833 event and the Compromise of 1850 in many northern schools much like kids today say the pledge of allegiance (you know "one nation, indivisible" ). The children of the 1850s were the soldiers and northern home front of 1861 - 1865.

Lincoln would not have gotten the overwhelming response to his call for 75,000 troops he did if it was about freeing the slaves. Enough northerners wanted the western expansion of slavery stopped to get Lincoln elected, but only a small number would have fought to free the slaves in the South (not that Lincoln would ever have consider a war to do that, because he wasn't a war monger and respected that slavery where it existed was legal).

But to threaten the existence of the government, the idea of Republican government, the rule of law based on a constitution, was just what the northern soldiers had been taught since childhood was wrong. So when Lincoln called for troops to crush the rebellion against the federal government, more responded than he asked for.

You can see the painting of Webster speaking in 1830 here...
https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory...y_to_Hayne.htm

Last edited by Jax Historian; August 23rd, 2017 at 06:19 AM.
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Old August 23rd, 2017, 08:36 AM   #8

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Thanks again to both of you, Chlodio and Jax Historian! I think this helps me to understand better why so many flag-waving people in the South of the US are so upset.
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Old August 23rd, 2017, 09:00 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Jax Historian View Post
That's right on the money. The 1833 Tariff Crisis shows this very well with both Daniel Webster's speeches and Andrew Jackson's statements and his threat to use the military against South Carolina's secession threats, which were not about slavery.

40,000 copies of a latter painting of Webster making a speech during the crisis were distributed in the 1850s and hung in public places. Northern children quoted ines from Webster's speeches on Union both from the 1833 event and the Compromise of 1850 in many northern schools much like kids today say the pledge of allegiance (you know "one nation, indivisible" ). The children of the 1850s were the soldiers and northern home front of 1861 - 1865.

Lincoln would not have gotten the overwhelming response to his call for 75,000 troops he did if it was about freeing the slaves. Enough northerners wanted the western expansion of slavery stopped to get Lincoln elected, but only a small number would have fought to free the slaves in the South (not that Lincoln would ever have consider a war to do that, because he wasn't a war monger and respected that slavery where it existed was legal).

But to threaten the existence of the government, the idea of Republican government, the rule of law based on a constitution, was just what the northern soldiers had been taught since childhood was wrong. So when Lincoln called for troops to crush the rebellion against the federal government, more responded than he asked for.

You can see the painting of Webster speaking in 1830 here...
https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory...y_to_Hayne.htm
Tariff policy did not cause or contribute to the Civil War we actually had(might have helped divide the country decades earlier though). Almost started a Civil War in 1833 but that's about it, almost completely irrelevant to the Civil War. The South won that battle(Lincoln raised tariffs once most southerners had succeeded)and after Polk in the 1840s lowered tariffs it faded into the political backstage as slavery reemerged. Heck in 1857 tariffs were lowered yet again! South had no reason to complain about tariffs, it like most all sectional political battles in the pre war period was won by the South.

Also yes, the US did not fight the Civil War to mainly free slaves, no one's denying that although anti slavery sentiment was great in the north by 1860. The South most certainly seceded and fought the Civil War for the sole purpose of protecting the institution of slavery and it's future.
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Old August 23rd, 2017, 09:06 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by EmperoroftheBavarians43 View Post
Tariff policy did not cause or contribute to the Civil War we actually had(might have helped divide the country decades earlier though). Almost started a Civil War in 1833 but that's about it, almost completely irrelevant to the Civil War. The South won that battle(Lincoln raised tariffs once most southerners had succeeded)and after Polk in the 1840s lowered tariffs it faded into the political backstage as slavery reemerged. Heck in 1857 tariffs were lowered yet again! South had no reason to complain about tariffs, it like most all sectional political battles in the pre war period was won by the South.
I'm not sure why you are telling me this. I never claimed tariffs had anything to do with the Civil War. I spoke about the 1833 tariff crisis as a key to understanding growing Unionism (nationalism).
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