Posted on January 14th, 2008 in General, History, National Politics | Written by Ben | 6 Comments »
Thanks, Mr. Snaggle-Tooth, for your lengthy treatise in response to my prior arguments. In it you write:
Ole Ben links a Liberty article by libertarian attorney Timothy Sandefur, â€˜n I mus’ say itâ€™s jusâ€™ â€˜bout as good as the pro-Unionist argumint kin git. Quite Jaffian it wuz, with the acrid odor of Claremont about it. But that article got picked to pieces in-iss un’, written by anothah libertarian attorney, Stephan Kinsella. (See this here response by Kinsella too.)
Well, in the interest of time, here’s an even better version of Sandefur’s argument (link leads to abstract, from which you can download a PDF). It’s a very well-documented and well-argued essay, and there isn’t much I can add to it in this forum. Some of its salient points: 1) The “compact theory” of the Constitution is weak and doesn’t hold up to careful scrutiny; 2) Unilateral secession is unconstitutional; 3) The South’s actions were not justifiable as a revolution; 4) The Confederate States were primarily motivated by a desire to protect slave property; and 5) Libertarians ascribing all the ills of national government consolidation at the feet of Lincoln and the Civil War have overreached and committed the post hoc fallacy.
Please let me know if there have been any able assertions of this article, because much of what you linked as refutations of the previous article were built on shaky arguments, such as this one:
The Civil War was fought over secession, not slavery. Lincoln himself was quite clear, even vehement, about this central issue; the northern cause acquired its anti-slavery nobility much later. And several slave-holding states seceded only when Lincoln made war on the states that had already seceded.
This is a gross over-simplification that is misleading at best, and lacks the textual documentation Sandefur provides in the substantive essay I linked. All you have to do is read the words of the secessionists themselves, as well as the Confederate Constitution to know how naive an argument this is. The statement about Lincoln’s assertions is a half-truth and seems to involve a failure to read speeches and other statements in political context.
I also think Sandefur’s broad litany of evidence provides a better explanation for accepted antebellum American Constitutional thought than this isolated piece you linked to as so authoritative.
And this source, while making some good individual arguments, makes the misguided assumption that Lincoln attacked the South and not vice versa. I think Sandefur’s latest essay handles most of his objections, but I am willing to go back and chew on what he wrote some more.
Ultimately, trying to determine whether slavery was going to die out anyway and whether the Civil War was a waste / didn’t have to happen, etc., is a counterfactual escapade that can’t be answered concretely. What has to be dealt with is the motivations of human actors in their political contexts and their guiding principles given their best lights. In this sense, as I’ve written before, the Civil War cannot best be understood as a clear schema of good vs. evil. I believe we have successfully distinguished the honorable and dishonorable intentions of individuals from the larger causes which they supported.
And the larger cause of racially-based human chattel slavery cannot nor should not be clinically extricated from the terms of the debate, when so many leading historical actors on both sides during the secession crisis of 1860-61 indeed saw it as such a real and vital issue. No man planned a war that would end up killing 600,000 men. No man could have reasonably acted on the assumption that slavery may or may not die off at some future date from his time. Lincoln and the Republicans sought to halt the expansion of slavery in the Western Territories, and secessionists (led by the slave-owning class) did not want to forfeit the political status that would come by losing the balance of free and slave states. Men of reason and various passions, interests, and loyalties thus acted.
And we have only begun to delve into the depths of this argument.
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