Wednesday, August 10, 2005


All One Thing, or All the Other

I read with great interest the post, Cornered by a Cornerstone, by Callimachus over at Winds of Change, and readers’ commentary in response. Callimachus relates that Dinesh D’Souza has written a column praising Abraham Lincoln's leadership.

In responding to D’Souza’s column, Callimachus essentially accuses D’Souza of creating a strawman argument against viewing slavery as the (sole) cause of the Civil War, with which D’Souza can then easily dispense. What follows in this debate, then, swirls back and forth over causation for the war, and the motivations of those on both sides. (Read through the post and comments here if you’re inclined.)

Glen Wishard in comments summed up the debate, conclusively, in my view:
But I think we're arguing past each other here, when you say I'm claiming slavery was the sole cause. There is no such thing in all of history as a sole cause, but some causes are more important than others. And the bloody incidents leading up to the war - John Brown and the Kansas-Missouri war, etc. - had more to do with slavery than anything else.

The first states seceded because of Republican opposition to slavery - not their views on tariffs or anything else. If subsequent states seceded because of Lincoln's response to this, the cause remains slavery.
I think Glen Wishard has it exactly right. Both sides are arguing past each other.

Prior to secession, Lincoln insisted over and over that preserving the Union intact was of paramount importance. He argued early for a compensation of slave-holders loss of property in any gradual or eventual abolition of slavery.

Once states seceeded, Lincoln maintained what amounted to a compromise position for quite some time, and was pilloried for it by both extremes.

Only when the survival of the Union was in grave doubt, when military victory was far from certain, when losses had climbed to almost unbelievable levels, did Lincoln grudgingly conclude that slavery must be abolished through outright (Federal) emancipation.

Southern secessionists can claim all they want that it "was not about slavery," but rather that an overreaching excess of Federal Authority drove them to seceed.

This is disingenuous on two levels. One, the sole issue upon which the Federal Authority was interfering with States Rights was on slavery and issues related therefrom: return of fugitive slaves, prosecution of those who aid and abet runaways, the persistent rights of slaveholders in non-slave states and terroritories, and so forth.

Without slavery, there was no overreach of Federal Authority.

The second basis for holding these arguments fallacious relates to the very issues being argued by Abolitionists and Secessionists. If it seems that there were only two sides to this issue and no middle ground, it is perhaps because some issues are so binary in possibility as to warrant no middle ground or that a compromise makes no logical sense. There is no way you can compromise on a person's freedom, they are either free or slave.

Once you can negate the rights of a human being (on any basis, color, or some other), you cannot logically (or constitutionally) hold that this individual can retain rights in one state but be deprived of them in another. If the Southern States had won their argument, the Union might have been preserved (for a time), but it would have been all slave.

Lincoln's words will stand for time immemorial:
"I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free...It will become all one thing, or all the other." And he was right, morally, ethically, and logically.
The argument, as Sandberg describes, "was so plain that two farmers fixing fences on a rainy morning could talk it over."

(Linked over at Mudville Gazette)

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