A number of commentators to my previous post (to my surprise) agree with Rothbard’s view that the American Civil War was unjust.  They support this claim with a variety of arguments. Some claim that, as a matter of historical fact, Lincoln didn’t care about slavery but only about keeping the Union together, and that therefore the Civil War cannot be justified as defense of others (the slaves). Others argue that if the South wanted to secede the North should have let them go, under the general libertarian view that political power can only be justified by consent. The issue seems important enough to justify a new post.

The first criticism (that the North didn’t wage for on behalf of the slaves but for other reasons) confuses intention with motive. Intention covers the contemplated act, what the agent wills to do. I see a person in distress, decide to rescue her, and do it.  An agent has the intention to do X when he aims to do X. It implies not only desire to do something but the commitment to doing it. This involves believing that the act is under the agent’s control. There is a direct connection between my willing something, my commitment to doing it, and my doing it.

By contrast, a motive is a further goal that one wishes to accomplish with the intended act. I rescued a person in danger because she owed me money. I had an ulterior motive, but I still intended to rescue the person. It’s just that I did it en route to getting my money back. This ulterior motive is not part of the class of actions called “acts of rescue;” only the intention is. It makes sense for you to say that my act of rescue was good (it saved a life) but that I am not a particularly admirable person because my motive was self-interested, not altruistic. The concept of intention fulfills a double role: it allows us to individuate the act, to say that the act belongs to a class of acts (such as acts of rescue); and it allows us, correspondingly, to praise or criticize the act under the moral principles that apply to that class of acts.

Applying this distinction to the Civil War, it seems clear to me that freeing the slaves was intended by Abraham Lincoln, even if he had an ulterior, non-altruistic motive, namely keeping the Union together. On the critics’ own account, Lincoln freed the slaves en route to keeping the Union together. So I think it is correct to say that the Civil War was a war in defense of others, the slaves, even if we can perhaps criticize Lincoln’s motive (and the realization of that motive, keeping the South in the Union). I believe that a sounder criticism of Lincoln is to say that he intended and achieved a good result (saving persons  from a terrible injustice) on his way to achieving an unjust result, namely preserving political domination over an unwilling South.  Act A, saving slaves, was a good act; act B, forcing the unwilling South to remain in the Union, was a bad act (if it was: I’m asssuming this for the sake of argument, see next paragraph.) The badness of  act B does not cancel the goodness of act A: they are independent. The morality of the Civil War, then, must be judged by the general tools to evaluate acts with two effects, one bad and one good –the doctrine of double effect.

The second criticism, that the North unjustly prevented the South from seceding, is misguided under a libertarian view. It seems to me that a libertarian theory of secession must be individualistic. If the domination exercised by the federal government over Southern citizens  circa 1860 was illegitimate, so would have been the domination exercised by the new Confederate authorities over any person that did not expressly consent to their rule. The assertion “The North didn’t have a right to keep the South in the Union” incurs in group-thinking. For libertarians there is no such thing as “a group” having the right to exercise authority over another “group.” The “South” doesn’t have a right to anything; only individuals have rights, and of course they may exercise those rights in groups (with the consent of each and every one of those persons). But collective entities do not have a “right” to wield political power vis-avis those who do not consent . The upshot is that, if there is a right to secession, it is an individual right: every individual is morally entitled to secede from the state.  Perhaps, under libertarian principles, individual Southerners had the right, if they so wished, to secede from the North. But the eventual political authority of the Confederate government did not extend to those persons in the South who did not join those consenting citizens (let alone the slaves) –any more than, on libertarian grounds, the North had any authority over unconsenting individuals, wherever they happened to reside.

Print Friendly
 
  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Miller/61901200 Nathan Miller

    This does raise a historical question.  When did the intention to free the slaves arise?  If, as Rothbard argues, the intention to free the slaves was not present
    in 1860; starting the civil war would be immoral aggression.  The intention to free the slaves cannot be used to justify actions before its existence.  If it was present at the beginning of the civil war, then the war could
    have been waged in defense of slaves and to assure the dominance of the North in a continued union.

    • Anonymous

      It is very well documented that, though he was an anti-slavery man on a personal level, Lincoln’s intention to free the slaves arose after the war was well under way, and I’d even go so far as to say as a means of waging that war. Circa March 1861, slavery was almost strictly a territorial question and Lincoln was perfectly content to leave slavery completely untouched where it already existed so long as the union remained intact – even to the point that he backed the Corwin Amendment to formalize this protection in the Constitution (much to the affirmation of what the Garrisonians had long thought about that document, though to the frustration of Spooner, Smith et al).

      When emancipation did come, the war effort was a driving means and primary motive. Lincoln also did not pursue emancipation strictly for emancipation’s sake or even intend for it to play out exactly as it did – conditions that must be evaluated in assessing his intentions and motives alike. Rather, he pursued emancipation for essentially three discernable reasons (in addition, of course, to him being a moderate but certain philosophical anti-slavery man):

      (1) To weaken the south militarily and economically by emancipating a portion of its labor force, as well as encouraging it to “self-liberate,” escape to the union lines, etc.

      (2) To strengthen the north militarily by making a new source of military labor and soldiers available – what essentially became the US Colored Troops

      (3) To begin colonizing the now-free black population, and particularly those unable or unwilling to contribute to the northern military effort, abroad, as per the old Whig formula of emancipation & colonization as complimentary policies. (In some respects, I’d even argue that the initiation and facilitation of a colonizationist result was itself a corollary intent of emancipation for many of those who backed it).

      In other words, the union’s policy was emancipation but emancipation with many qualifiers and conditions that displayed its motive as something other than an unattached and overty moral cause while also revealing an intended and desired result very different from the way things actually played out. There weren’t massive slave revolts across the deep south spurred by the proclamation, as intended, and colonization never got off the ground, despite it being a very directly articulated intent of Lincoln and many others. A part of the discussion needs to account for these differences – the difference between his very complex and nuanced anti-slavery policy and simple emancipation, unattached to any other affect or concern (recall that even as late as January 1865, Lincoln was STILL holding out a compensated emancipation formula to the south as a way to entice it back into the union and told Alexander Stephens as much directly).

      Put another way, it is not a sound argument to look backwards across history and simply say that since the Civil War (or union policy, or Lincoln, or any other singular event or person) ended slavery, that end, without context and weighed separate and apart from its construct by those who executed it, is the entirety upon which the Civil War’s moral significance should be assessed.

  • http://twitter.com/lunchstealer Dave

    Hmm.  Without delving too deeply into theory, what implications would you say this has for the whole “When in the course of Human Events” thing?

    Ultimately, I come down on the idea that in theory, a sufficiently representative democracy could legitimately act to sever ties with a larger political body. However, given that the South’s state governments, due to the large populations without the franchise, were not the most legitimate actors, the transgressions by the federal government weren’t specifically unjust. I think the reasons for the secession are an important factor in determining the justice of the secession, and since it was largely aimed at preserving the power to deny basic human liberty to a large swath of the population, this particular secession wasn’t a legitimate state action.

    So I would say that it was not a particularly just war, but it was also not a particularly unjust war, strictly from the standpoint of motive on either side, but that the balance of injustice weighed more heavily against the Confederacy than the Union.  I’m more concerned with Lincoln’s aggregation of power to the Federal Government and some of the precedents he set in the process of prosecuting the war than any concerns for the ‘rights’ of the Southern governments, nor even necessarily of the white male electorate.

    What was clearly unjust on both sides was the conscription, deaths of civilians (and conscripts) and destruction of private property.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Miller/61901200 Nathan Miller

      I agree.  Both that the motives were murky and unjust on both sides, and about the conscription, civilian death and destruction of property being unjust.  However, I feel compelled to condemn the north because of the common belief that the north’s cause was a sanctified and just crusade.  The condemnation of Lincoln runs as follows.  Absent the issue of slavery, the secession of the south would have been legitimate.  The issue of slavery was not the reason for the war, nor were there plans to eliminate it at the beginning.  So I will not use the issue of slavery to justify the war on the North’s part.

      • Damien S.

        “Absent the issue of slavery, the secession of the south would have been legitimate”

        But the issue wasn’t absent.

        And the South started hostilities, remember?  Not just secession, but attacking federal forts, rather than trying to come to some negotiated secession.

  • Hyena

    How is the political domination illegitimate, though?

    You’re assuming that there is some sense in which people have a right of residence which transcends the right of original property holders. In theory, the United States is descended from English colonies who were themselves incorporated territories of the English state. That is, sole authority over those territories rested with the crown and with parliament. In this sense, no colonist ever took “sovereign ownership” and living in the Americas meant acquiescence to English law. That authority then passed to the United States by treaty.

    Its legitimacy isn’t relevant, nor is its political domination. If people don’t like it, the solution is to either go elsewhere or be born early enough to stake an original claim.

  • http://twitter.com/tr0nPr0n troy proy

    Has the author read No Treason?  

    • Anonymous

      Good suggestion, Troy. I would also suggest reading Spooner’s A Plan For The Abolition of Slavery: To The Non-Slaveholders of the South.

    • Anonymous

      Good suggestion, Troy. I would also suggest reading Spooner’s A Plan For The Abolition of Slavery: To The Non-Slaveholders of the South.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john.moser John Moser

    Lincoln clear

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Miller/61901200 Nathan Miller

      You mean the emancipation proclamation that was drafted to not apply in those parts of the Confederacy under Union control?  It specifically excludes those areas.

      This is the issue with the Union in the civil war.  The idea that the maintenance of the union can justify all-out war.  It does not.

    • Zakj

      I am not now, nor ever have been in favor of bringing about in any
      way the social or political equality of the white and black races.
      I am not now nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors
      of Negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor of intermarriages
      with white people. There is a physical difference between the white
      and the black races which will forever forbid the two races living
      together on social or political equality. There must be a position
      of superior and inferior, and I am in favor of assigning the superior
      position to the white man.

      Lincoln in his speech to Charleston, Illinois, 1858

    • Zakj

      Any people anywhere, being inclined
      and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the
      existing government and to form one that suits them better. Nor is
      this right confined to cases in which the people of an existing government
      may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people that can, may
      make their own of such territory as they inhabit. More than this,
      a majority of any portion of such people may revolutionize, putting
      down a minority intermingling with or near them who oppose their
      movement.  

      Lincoln on the floor of Congress, 13
      January 1848
      Congressional Globe, Appendix
      1st Session 30th Congress, page 94

    • Zakj

      BTW the Emancipation Proclamation never  freed a slave, it only freed slave in unoccupied souther states, Union occupied territory could keep there slave, also the broader states could keep their slaves.  

  • Anonymous

    To be clear, South Carolina seceded when Lincoln was elected, but before he took office. In the Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union, South Carolina claimed it was entitled to secede from the United States because the Constitution was nothing more than a contract, which had been breached by northern states. The only breach referenced in the Declaration is that the government of the United States and of states within that government had failed to uphold their obligations to South Carolina. The specific issue stated was the refusal of some states to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and clauses in the US Constitution protecting slavery and the federal government’s perceived role in attempting to abolish slavery.

    So, while we can quibble about how important slavery was to Lincoln (and I agree with Moser that it was important), there really can be no debate that the rebellion was started by states who sought to preserve slavery.  

    • Anonymous

      You make a very good point with that but let’s not extend it too far. I think SC was one of the two states who’s economy heavily depended on plantation slaves. I think you’ll also find that in the larger discussion to secede a number of the souther states were not supporting SC in secession if those were the only reason for the block seceding.

  • Anonymous

    Libertarians tend to have a bias that bigger governmental forms are automatically worse, even when the smaller form is promoting more restrictions on liberty, as the southern states were in this case.  Also see local liquor prohibitions that pre and post-dated the 18th/21st amendments.

    Any unjust restriction on my liberty is bad, be it by big government, small government, individual, or band of thugs.  I don’t care for the anarchist’s view that libertry restrictions are okay so long as they’re unorganized.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding the first criticism: perhaps I am just lacking in my reading of history and biography, but it seems to me at best highly charitable to impute an intention to free the slaves, as an end unto itself, to the bulk of Northern citizens and their leaders. For example, many seemed to oppose the economic impact of slavery on trade far more than they opposed slavery per se. And they still generally held that African Americans were inherently, permanently, and severely inferior. When I look at the whole picture and ask myself what the North, as a state actor, was ultimately was trying to accomplish, I find the economic and political goals to be the most powerful. That is not to say that the abolitionist movement did not have a significant and enabling effect – but that was primarily a social movement. The political establishment of the time cannot be described as abolitionist, or even really as abolitionist with questionable motives. This should not be surprising, as few among this discussion group would ever suggest looking toward entrenched political power for revolutionary moral behavior.

    Regarding the second criticism, you note:

      “It seems to me that a libertarian theory of secession must be individualistic.”

    I think it would be more accurate to say that an anarchic theory of secession must be individualistic. Short of philosophical anarchism, libertarianism retains and to an extent tolerates concepts of jurisdiction, political representation, state actors infused with authority by the citizens, and so forth. The concept of a geographic secession therefore seems to retain meaning as well. To the extent that you want to challenge this – which you well might! – you are actually replacing the justification-of-the-Civil-War discussion rather than informing it.

      … collective entities do not have a “right” to wield political power vis-avis those who do not consent.

    Having just accused you of replacing the discussion rather than informing it, allow me to do the same: this raises the topic of whether just government can be separated from self government. In today’s mainstream rhetoric (the rhetoric only, mind you) it cannot. But philosophically it is a very different task to weld the two concepts so tightly together, than to merely establish the necessity of the former. So I think it is a separate and open question whether collective entities might indeed have a right to wield political power over – although not vis-avis, obviously – those who do not consent, insofar as the power wielded is only of the sort morally permissible to anyone. This is a side-track, though a fascinating one that markes the division between libertarianism and anarchism. Personally I have drawn no conclusions yet, but as a practical matter I see value in the concept of a minimal state, and in demanding self-government as a way of avoiding the moral hazard of tyranny. If even a minimal morality cannot be objectively established, then universal application without consent is a moral hazard too great to risk.

      … the eventual political authority of the Confederate government did
    not extend to those persons in the South who did not join those
    consenting citizens (let alone the slaves) …

    Notwithstanding my last paragraph, I think this statement of yours is limited in its usefulness to your argument by the fact that, right up until the moment of war, the North certainly accepted the South’s political authority and even its far-from-perfect representative base. Accepting the South’s representatives as legitimate was the North’s complicity in a nutshell.

    • Fernando Teson

      Very helpful reply, Furball, thanks. For the record, I’m not as knowledgeable about history as I should be, and I accept your account.  Just one point of clarification, though. Suppose you are right that the Northerners cared more, or cared only, about the economic impact of slavery. Suppose then that they waged the war to eliminate that economic impact.  In order to do that, they had to free the slaves. My point is that, if this is true, they INTENDED to free the slaves AS A MEANS to achieve this other purpose (which I concede, they valued more than ending slavery per se). The Northerners should be criticized for not being noble enough (say), but their intended ACTION (intended as a means), freeing the slaves, undertaken en route to this other non-altruistic purpose, is justified. 

      • Anonymous

         Yep, I think I can agree with that. And please don’t accept my account of Civil War history – it is pathetic. I’m just running on what I have caught here and there which has lead me to, as you put it, criticize the North for not being noble enough.

        There remains the other act, political subjugation, also incidental perhaps to the true ends. I am not certain it truly was incidental to other ends – at times and in some persons it seems to have been primary – but even if it were incidental to acceptable ends I still judge it as a wrong. In your example it would be as if the rescuer of the drowning woman was, incidentally, demanding more than she actually owed. He has still accomplished a good thing, though not out of any praiseworthy motivation, but he was simultaneously doing her a wrong all along. That is how I view the North. The slaves were owed freedom and equal rights before the law by the South, and the North’s action in defense of that debt was justifiable in and of itself, regardless of their underlying motivations. But that fact does not confer to the North a right to rule over the South – does not confer any right beyond demanding that the South free its slaves and treat them justly going forward.

        Perhaps there is an argument along the lines that maintaining the Union was an effective and defensible method of accomplishing this? Perhaps the only one? Although it would not make the North noble (only establishing a noble motivation could do that), it could justify the political subjugation of the South in the same fashion as we justified the North’s freeing of the slaves, or of your drowning debtor: by dint of intrinsic improvement. One could claim that although there existed less heavy-handed methods to ensure the ongoing freedom of African Americans in the South, the choice to preserve the Union was close enough to the ideal to be justifiable.

      • Anonymous

        Two questions –

        1. What if the north intended to free the slaves, but only for the purpose of coaxing them into the army to strengthen their own manpower in waging war?

        2. What if the north intended to free the slaves, but only for the purpose of relocating them abroad, thus removing the black population from the United States all together?

        Neither hypothetical situation is an all-encompassing representation of northern intent, but both entail an intent that is morally problematic in its treatment of the slaves themselves. Both are also rooted in historically documented scenarios, each of them representative of a position held by at least some of the decision-makers on the northern side of the conflict.

  • Douglas Scheinberg

    Does it matter that the South shot first?

    • Anonymous

      Heh. It’s amusing that only one person even went here so far. But I think it does not matter much, in this case. You already have a secession and a refusal to recognize it, with the North retaining military forces inside the South’s claimed territory and property, and a Northern attempt to resupply those forces. So if the South’s claim is accepted then they were only defending or purging their own territory, and reclaiming their property. The secession predefined the South’s action as a defensive action rather than an offensive one; the North rejected the secession, so it still viewed the action as offensive. It’s an interesting and I think not uncommon way to slip gently into all-out war. Since many conflicts contain at their heart just such a seed of disagreement over political facts, it is not hard to construct a situation that forces it to a head. A very dangerous thing, especially since leaders on both sides can find themselves trapped by their own promises.

    • Anonymous

      At an invading “foreign” military force. So was it initiation or retaliation?

  • GaffiGubbi

    Regarding your response to the second criticism: you are correct that the libertarian view of secession is ultimately individualistic, but relatively speaking state sovereignty is still preferable to federal rule.

    It comes down to the question “Who gets to decide?” If people are to be ruled – and the radical Jeffersonians agree that they shouldn’t be – the least they should be able to do is choose their own rulers. If a Southerner wants to be ruled by a Confederate government and not by a Union government, that is a wish that the Union government should respect. Naturally this brings up the question of slavery – the stereotypical Southerner in this instance wants to be able to rule other people without their consent – but that’s a separate issue that could be resolved (at least I would hope it could) without a civil war. The slaves and the abolitionists had the full moral permission to fight for freedom against the slaveholders and the states that enforced slavery – this didn’t need to entail submission to a large government that did that and a thousand other things as well. (This is a principled position, not a pragmatic one – it could well be that a commitment to natural rights on the Union’s part would be a less effective way of freeing the slaves than a bloody civil war)

  • Anonymous

    You still cannot get to the Civil War being conducted for the defense of the Slaves. The Emancipation Act came long after Lincoln and the North declared war. Many in the North would NOT go to war to free the slaves — yes some thought freeing the slaves was both a sufficient and necessary cause of the war but they were a minority. Attributing the attributes of a minority to the whole seems fallacious.

    As for Lincoln, he EXPRESSLY said he was not going to war to free the slaves. Still, he did sign the Emancipation Act, as well as supporting the legislation. This was to some extent forced on him due to purely pragmatic manpower requirements and as a strategy for disrupting the enemy. 

    Seems to me to attribute some moral justness to the war based on an ex post pragmatic decision having much less to do with actual slaves seems a very weak argument.

    For me I chalk it up to a fortuitous case of unintended consequences that all of us should be glad occurred independent of all the horror and harm done.

    • Anonymous

      Imagine that the Southern leaders had said the following in 1861: “Dear North, your economic policies are killing us down here. We wish to govern ourselves as a separate nation (or as individual states). But, just to show this is about self-governance and not other things, we are immediately emancipating our slaves and passing constitutional amendment(s) outlawing the practice.” Do you really think the North would have had the political will to fight a terribly bloody war on those terms. I sure don’t.

      But of course the South didn’t say this. In fact, I doubt anyone in the South even thought of saying this. Why? Because the entire point of succession was to preserve slavery. And, I suspect that every intelligent person on both sides knew that if the union won, slavery would end, if not immediately, soon. BTW, the slaves obviously weren’t send back to Africa, nor was this ever a realistic possibility–so this idea is just a red herring.

      For political reasons Lincoln could not justify the war on anti-slavery terms, but this does not mean, as Fernando is arguing, that it wasn’t the forseeable consequence of a union victory. Those who understood this and fought for the North were fighting in a just cause. It amazes and frankly appalls me that so many libertarians let their anti-federal government reflex overcome what should be a common sense understanding of this conflict. Sorry, but you guys give libertarianism a bad name

      • Anonymous

        Mark – History is a far more nuanced and complicated creature than your dichotomy permits. One need not be a confederate die-hard to find problems with the union position, or yankee doodle dandy to see something objectionable in the south. And I’d answer your observation about “bad names” by noting simply that neither side in that war was a particularly credible exemplar of libertarianism, or anything even close to it. But your history is careless in its handling of context and detail.

        Do you really think the North would have had the political will to fight a terribly bloody war on those terms. I sure don’t.

        Lincoln’s words, in explicitly defining the war on the terms of preserving the union, suggest otherwise: “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.” His first inaugural, in which he repeatedly disavowed any intent to interfere with slavery where it existed, carried similar implications. Given that, it is not at all unreasonable to believe that the north would have waged a war to preserve the union on unionist grounds alone. The separate issue of whether the south would have seceded on another issue besides slavery makes for a fair question, and at least in that point in history, I think it’s fair to say that they would not have. Slavery was a primary instigator of secession. It did not necessitate the northern decision to go to war though, as that decision was made almost exclusively on unionist grounds.

        And, I suspect that every intelligent person on both sides knew that if
        the union won, slavery would end, if not immediately, soon thereafter.

        That much was only likely near the tail end of the war. Had you asked any intelligent person on either side in 1861 though, it wasn’t even on the table. What WAS on the table though is a different matter – the Corwin Amendment, which attempted to lure the south back by offering a constitutional compromise to protect existing slave states. Since both sides entered the war thinking it would be settled quickly and decisively, they had no reason to believe that anything but the status quo would result for slavery. That only changed after 1863 when Lincoln authorized emancipation as a war measure.

        BTW, the slaves obviously weren’t sent back to Africa, nor was this ever a realistic possibility –so this argument is just a red herring.

        First, Lincoln’s intended destination for them was mainly around the Caribbean, not Africa. That was the old pet project of the American Colonization Society in the 1820’s. Lincoln wanted something closer and more accessible. Second, far from being a red herring, colonization was the widely stated official policy of the U.S. government through at least 1863, with $600,000 (a massive amount by 1860’s standards) appropriated to implement it. You’re right that it was probably unrealistic from a logistical perspective, except they didn’t know that at the time and only learned it the hard way when an attempt to send the first colonists to Haiti turned into a mismanaged disaster. The fact that colonization failed in 1864-65 does not make its supporters any less serious about it when the first offered it as a policy in 1861.

        • Anonymous

          History is complicated, and you are welcome to your opinion, but I stand by what I said. There was sure to come a time when the Dred Scott decision would be overturned or simply ignored, and fugitive slaves would not be returned to their “owners.” This would be intolerable to Southern slaveholders. The abolitionist movement was strong and getting stronger. The underground railroad would carry more traffic, there would inevitably be more John Browns, and more economic boycotts against slave states and federal economic policies aimed at them. As Lincoln (also) said. “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” The union could not exist for long, half free and half slaveholding.

          Everyone knows that Lincolm said he would save the union at all costs, but this does not at all rebut the point that saving it would inevitably mean the end of slavery, even if this was not his express purpose, and even if this was not the immediate effect. Slavery had already been abolished in England and other nations. If you wish to pretend that this implication was missed by those fighting for the North, fine, but I give people a little more credit than that.

          Finally, if the North tried to actually send the slaves back to the Caribbean they would have had to fight another war with the abolitionists, the free African-Americans in the North and the slaves themselves. Again, I can’t prove it mathematically but I refuse to believe that many in the North ever believed this would happen, whatever the “official” policy.

          • Anonymous

            There was sure to come a time when the Dred Scott decision would be
            overturned or simply ignored, and fugitive slaves would not be returned
            to their “owners.” This would be intolerable to Southern slaveholders.
            The abolitionist movement was strong and getting stronger. The
            underground railroad would carry more traffic, there would inevitably be
            more John Browns, and more economic boycotts against slave states and
            federal economic policies aimed at them.

            That all may be true, but it does not (1) necessarily follow from it that the Civil War was the inevitable result, or (2) bring the northern government or its motives into alignment with the abolitionist movement.

            As Lincoln (also) said. “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
            The union could not exist for long, half free and half slaveholding.

            Setting aside all lofty biblical rhetoric on a campaign stump, as well as any speculated deity who professes to be chained to bloodshed as if it were his singular path of Hegelian destiny, there is simply no logical reason that the war *had* to happen when it did or how it did. That  “divided house” of a union, half slave and half free, *did* exist, and in a largely undeterred way, for some fore score and five years prior to the self-destructive breakdown in its political system that precipitated the events of 1861. And it was a self-destructive breakdown around a particular but hardly inevitable series of events that were both unfortunate and malicious, as any of the saner and more historically grounded studies of the late antebellum era illustrate, e.g. Michael Holt’s work. Wars come about because of human decisions made in the guidance of human vices at particular instances of time, not because of some grand metaphysical “divide” in the mythical “house” of a nation.

            Everyone knows that Lincolm said he would save the union at all costs,
            but this does not at all rebut the point that saving it would inevitably
            mean the end of slavery

            That’s where your history becomes careless though. It *wasn’t* inevitable that Lincoln would “save” the union by ending slavery. In fact, he walked into office intending a very different course of simply constraining slavery by preserving it where it already existed with a greater constitutional guaranty than it had ever known, even under Dred Scott. That’s what the whole Corwin Amendment business was about, as well as the main takeaway of his inaugural address – he intended to leave slavery alone and expected that by giving his word to that effect, he could lure the seceding states back. He badly miscalculated in doing so, but again he did not know what the results would be at the time and had no way of knowing. That things turned out differently though in no way makes their result “inevitable.”

            Finally, if the North tried to actually send the slaves back to the
            Caribbean they would have had to fight another war with the
            abolitionists, the free African-Americans in the North and the slaves
            themselves.

            Assuming it could have been done (and that’s a big assumption – as noted, those who thought it could be done mistook the logistical complexity), colonization would have yielded many horrible results, mostly upon its victims. Government-induced mass migrations tend to end badly for the migrants (witness the Trail of Tears). But there’s no reason to believe some sort of “abolitionist war” in the north or anti-colonization uprising in the south was among them. To the contrary, more than a few abolitionists were also dedicated colonizationists (look up the name James Redpath), as were a few of the free blacks in the north (look up Martin Delany and Henry Highland Garnet). Others were certainly critics of the policy, even vociferous critics. But to suggest they would have gone to war over it is ungrounded nonsense. As is to suggest Lincoln’s colonization policy – a policy passed into law by both houses of Congress and publicly broadcast to the nation in multiple addresses, writings, and even a state of the union calling for it to be enshrined by permanent constitutional amendment – was anything other than serious at the time it was proposed.

            Refuse to believe whatever you prefer not to believe. That does not expunge its existence from history though.

          • Anonymous

            With one exception, I am perfectly happy to let my prior remarks speak for themselves. However, you appear to have responded to part of my last comment while I was still editing it. I said (metaphorically) that a war would occur if freed slaves were sent to Haiti or other places “against their will.” Although I do not claim to be an expert on this subject, my clear understanding is that the colonization plans (never consumated) were intended to induce blacks to move, not to force them at the point of a gun. This is significant, because if you are seeking to impugn the motives of the Northerners, there is still a huge difference between being a slave and being free and impoverished, and subject to an offer to relocate. Whatever face-saving claims you might make about “states’ rights,” the effect of a Southern victory would have been the preservation of slavery, at least until it became economically outmoded. Are you really comfortbale defending this on moral grounds?     

          • Anonymous

            Lincoln personally insisted that colonization should be voluntary (though also heavily urged, incentivized, and subsidized by the government). Other figures in Congress espoused a more coercive route, including proposing both forcible deportation abroad or mass relocation within the United States to an unpopulated western territory. Neither intended means of resettlement had a pretty result for the resettled persons though, as Lincoln’s voluntary and deadly “experiment” in Haiti revealed. And both attach serious qualifiers to the often-assumed yet seldom-demonstrated moral clarity that some carelessly attach to the northern cause.

            I must admit that I am somewhat perplexed, though not at all surprised, by the remainder of your comment though, as I don’t believe that as of yet I have offered an opinion one way or another on states rights or the effect of a Southern victory, much less “face-saving claims” about either. To the extent that I have even commented on the confederacy, it was only to acknowledge slavery’s role as “a primary instigator of secession” and to note how the general absence of libertarian heroics from the Civil War extends southward as well.

            Since you seem quite fond of announcing that you “stand by” your various prior assertions, be they edited or otherwise, I would accordingly urge to you to exercise greater care while reading what others have written before you find yourself misrepresenting their words and positions, as presently appears to be the case.

          • Anonymous

            To the extent that I have even commented on the confederacy, it was only to acknowledge slavery’s role as “a primary instigator of secession” and to note how the general absence of libertarian heroics from the Civil War extends southward as well.

            Really, a very interesting choice of words. Let’s try these instead: “Antebellum slavery was a hideous moral evil. Because a Southern victory would have meant its continuation, those who willingly fought for the South, whatever their professed justification, were committing a serious moral wrong.” If you can agree with this, w/o qualification or weasel words, then I did misunderstand you, and apologize. Otherwise, I got you exactly right.

            If you combine the above more forthright declaration of the South’s moral stance, with the indisputable fact that the North’s victory immediately, completely and permanently ended here the reprehensible practice of humans owning other human like objects, it is difficult to see this conflict in nuanced shades of grey. I say again, those who see this as a “pox on both your houses” have a moral blind spot and give libertarianism a bad name.

          • Anonymous

            Unless you can demonstrate that a northern victory at the outset of the war would have guaranteed the outcome you associate with it, namely an immediate and certain end to slavery,  then your argument is  fallaciously sculpted from little more than the hindsight of your agreement with a historically skewed and overly simplistic representation of its outcome. But since such a guaranty is also without historical basis as per Lincoln’s position in his inaugural address, the Corwin Amendment, and the entire stated goals and purposes of the war effort for two long, bloody, and relentless years of battle, that argument too is unsustainable.

            I’ve made my condemnation of southern slavery perfectly clear. The only point of moral uncertainty in this discussion is therefore with those who employ an uncritical and historically slothful examination of slavery to proclaim a sweeping and self-righteous moral vindication for an entire half of the belligerent forces, regardless of their actual motive, execution, or even personal agreement with the antislavery cause at the time they plunged the country headfirst into brutal and destructive warfare.

            Life, Liberty, and Property. There’s a reason that liberty preceeds property in this ordering, hence the fundamental wrong of human slavery. But there’s also a reason why life preceeds liberty.

          • Anonymous

            Are you trying to argue that any portion of the union should be allowed to secede, even for morally reprehensible reasons?  Since that is pretty much what happened in this case.  Allowing slavery-based secession pretty much allows for any secession, including the individual secession of a mass murderer.

            If you can’t oppose this particular secession on multiple grounds, what can you oppose?

          • Anonymous

            Are you trying to argue that any portion of the union should be allowed to secede, even for morally reprehensible reasons?

            No, nor would secession of this type be just. But I am arguing that there are substantive moral problems that arise from a union maintained by coercion solely for the sake of mystical “unionism,” whatever that may be, and that those problems exist and should be accounted for whether the seceding cause is just or unjust.

            The distinction you seem to be getting at is therefore between the questions “Should secession for the sake of slavery be opposed?,” in which case there would be a morally clear reason to do so, and “What should be done to oppose it?,” to which there are many possible answers though not all are morally clear.

          • Anonymous

            I would certainly ask the question why exit is not a viable option — for whatever reason. What is sacrosanct about the union of states?

          • Anonymous

            Actually it’s rather unlikely that the free black would have fought some war — they would have done what many were already doing: going west.  And, if I recall correctly quite a few blacks and slaves were shipped out of the USA. It was problematic.

            Here’s a though experiment for you. What if a winning coalition of political leaders did agree with Lincoln that the races could not or should not coexist in the same society and geography. The do win the war without having enacted the Emancipation Act. What do they do about the slaves? Under what federal laws or Constitutional clause can the federal government seize the property of the slave owners and sent those people elsewhere? We get to the same logical conclusion of the north within the war but does it have the same moral content?

          • Anonymous

            Gee, I dunno, maybe the Supreme Court would get daring and rule that one person cannot legally own another. I seem to recall something in the Constitution about “no person shall be deprived of life, liberty and property without due process of law…” Maybe this could be construed to include a slave’s ownership of his own body–just guessing.

          • Anonymous

            If that were possible why have the war at all?

          • Anonymous

            Actually it’s rather unlikely that the free black would have fought some war — they would have done what many were already doing: going west.  And, if I recall correctly quite a few blacks and slaves were shipped out of the USA. It was problematic.

            Here’s a though experiment for you. What if a winning coalition of political leaders did agree with Lincoln that the races could not or should not coexist in the same society and geography. The do win the war without having enacted the Emancipation Act. What do they do about the slaves? Under what federal laws or Constitutional clause can the federal government seize the property of the slave owners and sent those people elsewhere? We get to the same logical conclusion of the north within the war but does it have the same moral content?

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know but the implication you’re attempting to create is that most of the northerns were fighting against slavery. They were not. The anti slave, especially in the “lets fight a war about it”, population in the north was not large percentage wise.

        I think a more reveling thought experiment would be to postulate the idea that Lincoln and Federalist following, had to cast the war as not being about slavery. I think you will even find historical evidence that is consistent with that thought experiment.

        Given that I’ve said several times that the only good think that did come of the war was the elimination of slavery I don’t see why wanting to understand it in a realistic way rather than the romantic way you seem to want to shows libertarianism in a bad light.

        • Anonymous

          Look, I never said that most Northerners were fighting to end slavery. Nor do I think, nor is it important to my argument, that most Northerners were saintly–they were not. What I did say is that the preservation of the Union meant the inevitable end of slavery, maybe not immediately, but soon. This is exactly why the South seceded before Lincoln even took office. They correctly understood that the only way to presevre slavery was by secession, but I won’t rehash the reasons for this again.

          The issue then becomes what was the North fighting for. Although I don’t think they took Gallup polls back then, many soldiers certainly were fighting because they hated slavery. Maybe its worth noting that the famous “Battle Hymm of the Republic” has this verse:

          In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
          With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me:
          As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
          While God is marching on.

          There were African-American units that fought for the North, and I’m pretty sure that they hated slavery. But this is not the whole point. Following what I think is Fernando’s argument, it was clearly forseeable to most that a Union victory would mean the end of slavery. Again, maybe not immediately, but soon. So even if many soldiers did not fight for abolition, they knew this would come about. They must get some moral credit for this.

          On the other hand, it is indisputable that had the South won, slavery would have been extended for a much longer period. Therefore, in my opiniion NONE of those fighting for the South could be said to be fighting in a just cause (see my exchange with PMagness). So, between the two sides, who had justice on its side? I think the answer is obvious. Therefore, those who wish to say “a pox on both your houses” lack moral clarity, and thereby give libertarianism a bad reputation, since most thoughtful people do not share this view.

          • Anonymous

            What I did say is that the preservation of the Union meant the inevitable end of slavery, maybe not immediately, but soon.

            This argument appears frequently in civil war discussions, and is almost always stated as if it were a matter of self-evident truth. But what evidence do we have to substantiate it?

            Even if we assume that the south seceded because they perceived a threat to slavery in the union, that alone does not mean this threat was as imminent as some suggested, or even real. And as I’ve noted above, in 1861 Lincoln offered them a constitutional assurance that would have severely curtailed the ability of the federal government to interfere with slavery where it already existed: “No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.”

            Though games of historical “what if?” seldom achieve much beyond a mental exercise, it is not difficult to see how slavery could have become far less secure outside of the union than in it, save for the war. Consider some of the likely effects had the north decided to simply “let the south go,” as some abolitionists suggested at the time:

            1. Slavery was probably more geographically confined in an independent south than in the union. The westward expansion of slavery was automatically less viable, as secession forfeited the southern stake in the contentious territorial question. There was little that could be done going eastward except for possibly buying Cuba, but even that was proffered in the 1850’s because Cuba was already a slave colony – not to turn it into one. And pushing south meant almost certain resistance from one or more of the European powers.

            2. The fugitive slave clause would no longer be in effect, as no northern state had any constitutional obligation to return escaped slaves across international borders.

            3. The route to escape would suddenly become much easier. The Underground Railroad no longer needed to reach Canada to be fully free of the fugitive slave clause. It only needed to reach the Ohio River or the Mason-Dixon Line.

            4. Abolitionists could wage political and physical campaigns from across an international border with little repercussion. There would be no gag rules in northern politics, no penalties for fomenting a slave revolt down south, and no extradition if the next would-be John Brown sprung up and decided to take shelter across the border from his target.

            All said, in 1861 there were many things about disunion that could have been very appealing to abolitionist goals, while the elimination of slavery within the union remained very far from certain.

          • Anonymous

            In case you forgot, the question on the table is “on which side did justice lie?” Everything you just said is speculative, i.e. about what people might  have thought. But the actual situation, which you do not deny, is that many in the North were fighting to end slavery, and many more could see this as a natural consequence of preserving the union.  In contrast, NOBODY in the South was fighting to end slavery. It is just this simple. You are welcome to the last word, because I have frankly lost patience.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Miller/61901200 Nathan Miller

            A few questions. 

            You admit that some fighting for the Union were indifferent to or supportive of slavery.  Does the fact that some in the Union were fighting to end slavery justify those who were not fighting to end slavery, and would be willing to preserve it?  If so, then how does a justification that relies on the motivations of others fit with the individualism of libertarianism?

            Does the likelihood of a good outcome justify what would otherwise be evil?  Is this still true even if the good outcome is not intended or anticipated by the actor?

            If the principles you use here are those you reject elsewhere there is a problem.

          • Anonymous

            Forgive the brief responses as I am getting tired of this topic. I think: (i) in assessing  whether one side in an armed conflict has just cause we must make a relative judgment. I think there are few conflicts where one side is as pure as the driven snow, (ii) everyone in the South understood that their victory would mean the continuation of slavery, so their cause was ignoble, (iii) the North had mixed motives. Some fought for money or whatever, some for abolition and some to preserve the union, which I think most understood would soon mean the end of slvery. Even if many in the last group thought blacks could be induced to move away, this is still a far better fate than being the personal property of someone else, (iv) on balance, the North was fighting in a just cause, (v) as should be clear, I am not arguing based on consequences, but motives. 

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Nathan-Miller/61901200 Nathan Miller

            I answer that justice is on neither side.  The two sides did not come into existence out of nothingness already fighting.  Each side could have chosen to avoid the war.  The question is not “Which side is more just?” but “Was it better to fight or not fight?” 

            For Lincoln and the Union, the alternative was to allow the Confederacy to leave.  Without the desire and goal of ending slavery, this would have been morally preferable.  I believe that going to war without a just cause is inexcusable.

            If you want me to chose a side, I will say that the Union was less vile than the confederacy.  However, I will also say that the Union was considerably more vile than a hypothetical Union that allowed the confederacy to leave peacefully.

          • Anonymous

            There were too few in the north fighting to end slavery to paint the coalition that did go to war with that moral paint brush.  You’re trying to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear.

            this was not a discussion about was the north or south more moral but if the was was fought for moral reason — if ending slavery were the justification present to the north the war is not fought.

          • Damien S.

            What are the numbers?  How many Northerners were fighting because of slavery vs. fighting solely for the Union?

          • Anonymous

            In case you forgot, the question on the table is “on which side did justice lie?”

            I see nothing to indicate that is the question on the table, save your own attempt to steer it that way.

            But since you ask it anyway, the correct answer is relatively simple to provide: Neither.

          • Anonymous

            Mark, even if one accepts your claim that abolishing slavery was inevitable  from a Northern victory that doesn’t suggest that was either the intent or the motivation for the war. Moreover, it’s not at all clear that your view 150 years later is even remotely close to what people thought at the time.

            The historical record suggests that your view is questionable with regard to imputing some moral virtue into the war.

            I’m making the simple claim that the Civil War was a political power balance with the federal structure and lacked an fundamental moral basis. The fact the the south enjoys absolutely no moral high ground due to their acceptance of slavery is irrelevant unless the north was specifically, intentionally and motivationally waging war to free the slaves. They were not. The abolishment of slavery as a consequence of the war is something we should all be happy about but lets not paint our history any longer with a moral paint brush the simply does not exist.

      • Anonymous

        I don’t know but the implication you’re attempting to create is that most of the northerns were fighting against slavery. They were not. The anti slave, especially in the “lets fight a war about it”, population in the north was not large percentage wise.

        I think a more reveling thought experiment would be to postulate the idea that Lincoln and Federalist following, had to cast the war as not being about slavery. I think you will even find historical evidence that is consistent with that thought experiment.

        Given that I’ve said several times that the only good think that did come of the war was the elimination of slavery I don’t see why wanting to understand it in a realistic way rather than the romantic way you seem to want to shows libertarianism in a bad light.

Set your Twitter account name in your settings to use the TwitterBar Section.