Coal Biting

Apparently, when you spend copious amounts of time lingering by the fire, you are biting coal. So I guess I would say that has been my primary activity of late. I've also spent a lot of time reflecting on the Civil War. It's not an past time I'd recommend, since it has led in my case to headache upon headache, general confusion, and a loss for words. It is rare for me to struggle to form a definite opinion; however, this particular historical dilemma has me completely flummoxed. Here are a few of my unresolved problems: 1. Slavery. It seems to me that the typical Conservative response is that legislation on "domestic institutions" belongs to the State and not Federal legislature. But isn't that unacceptable? Maybe you could allow States to determine the punishment for trafficking in human beings; but surely it is morally defunct to leave the determination of absolute moral standards up to the whims of a legislative body. Moral apathy is not healthy. Nor is it healthy to let people assume that it is up to them to decide good and evil. 2. Secession. Lincoln says that he does not dispute "the right of revolution" but claims a long train of abuses is needed for a right of revolution to exist. Of course he would insist the South had nothing to complain of; it must have looked much more threatening from their point of view down there. This situation becomes unbearably confusing since of course you cannot get a consensus on who is getting oppressed and if they are being oppressed. Lincoln's two more interesting point was that the Union existed prior to the States and that a State has no right to withdraw without asking the permission of the Federal Government and the rest of the States. This does make sense when you consider that secession affects every State in the Union. Seen from the South's point of view, however, this excludes any possibility of escape...of course the North would never let them get away. There is also the inconvenient fact that the debt on the Louisiana Purchase was still being paid off. Quite a few of those Southern States were taking off to become their own country while allowing the Federal Government to continue paying for their land. This seems (to me at least) to be a case of inexcusable fiscal irresponsibility. 3. Geographical Faction. After assessing the situation through the Lincoln Douglas debates, all I could see was George Washington with his head buried in his hands. His farewell address was one long admonition against factions forming on a geographical basis, and then it went and happened anyway. I seem to remember Jefferson delivering a morose line about the "current generation" throwing away with careless ease all that their fathers fought and died to earn. And in the end, the feeling I most often carry away from studying the situation is intense frustration. They could have worked out their differences without the histrionics, hysteria, and ultimate bloodshed. After reading some of those ridiculous speeches (the Cornerstone Speech comes to mind) all I could say was "Oh, come ON!"


Matt said...

The 'typical Conservative response' is garbage. Deferring the legislation of 'domestic institutions' [for the South, a useful euphemism] to the States is a smoke screen, trying to hide the illegitimacy of slavery behind the legitimacy of existent state governments. But the argument relies on your belief that the maintenance and prolonging of slavery is something which a governing body can claim legitimate authority to.

If slavery, as it existed in the American South, was indeed a 'domestic institution' under the authority of the state governments, then slavery itself describes the illegitimacy of the bodies that legislated it. Is a cartel the legitimate body of trafficking drugs in the Americas? Is The People's Republic of China the legitimate East-Asian legislative body for assassinating journalists and forcing women to abort their pregnancies? Of course not. There are some things that no person or body has any authority to do, let alone institutionalize. They do it anyway, because they have the power, and we call that tyranny. A tyrannical institution is the damnation of a tyrannical body; if slavery was a domestic institution, then those domestic legislative bodies are illegitimate by force of their illegitimate institution. The States could very well have been legitimate bodies while legislating on property taxes and zoning requirements, but a legitimate body for prolonging slavery couldn't exist, and therefore, they weren't it.

The 'Right to Secession' is another smokescreen. If such a thing exists, then the revolution or disruption of the political order has to be predicated of some or many injustices. The Founding Fathers made those known in the Declaration of Independence, including the 'erect[ing] [of] a multitude of New Offices, and sending hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance' among others.

What were the grievances of the secessionists? CSA President Jefferson Davis says: "[the Republican Party's failure] to recognize our domestic institutions which pre-existed the formation of the Union -- our property which was guarded by the Constitution."

CSA Vice-President Alexander Stephens is even clearer: “(Thomas Jefferson's) ideas, however, were fundamentally wrong. They rested upon the assumption of the equality of races. This was an error.... Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition."

If a right to secession or revolution exists, it exists according to what would be gained by breaking the current political bonds. If this secession is for the sake of founding a nation where the 'state's rights' to its 'domestic institutions' of 'beating, breeding and forcing labor from negros' are established and protected, the right probably didn't exist.

The geographical factionalism was a result different economies in different parts of America. South went plantation; North went white-collar and whaling. The elimination of slavery was more than crippling for the Southern economy - it was crippling for every poor Johnny Reb that dreamed of being a plantation owner someday, sipping mint juleps in those white suits with string ties. Meanwhile, Northern boys dreamed of going to Harvard, wearing suits with tails and writing soft abolitionism for a newsletter, as was the fashion of the time. The culture war of North vs. South was inevitable.

I think the Civil War was also inevitable, just as it should have been. What kind of compromise could have been made that would have been acceptable? Was the further toleration of American slavery one year, five years, thirty years - would that have been preferable to war?

Lincoln suggested that the toleration of slavery even up until that point had stored up temporal wrath for them in the first place: "The Almighty has his own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!" If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due to those by whom the offence came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope--fervently do we pray--that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.""

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