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« Day 6 (Or Day 8, Depending) | Main | Granite State Predictions »

Refighting the Civil War

Those of you with long memories, that is, those of you who can remember back past the Iowa Caucuses a few months ago, will recall that Ron Paul tried to make the case to Tim Russert that we - that is, the Union - need not have fought the Civil War. He argued that the slaveowners could have been bought out. He claimed that the War engendered race hatred that took 100 years to overcome. And he claimed that Lincoln left the Constitution permanently disfigured by his conduct.


Paul's argument isn't right. It isn't even wrong. It misses so many fundamental facts of life in 1860 that it could only appeal to that narrow slice of the electorate whose civics education ended in 12th grade, but who actually remember what they were taught. You can't be completely ignorant and make an argument like this. Less than a year out of college, I tried to make this same argument. It says something about RonPaul that on just about anything outside of economics, he sounds like a refugee from a college debating society.

Lucky enough to be a Virginian, I know something about Lost Causes, and one of the lostest of causes is arguing with someone about religion. So I know better than to get into a spitting match with a RonPaul supporter. Especially one with a Google Machine powerful enough to scare up lots of quotes about how the South just wanted to be "Let Alone."

Buying out the slaveowners was an idea that had been seriously considered as late as the Washington Administration. (By,"seriously considered," I mean more seriously than Daniel Webster and Henry Clay batting the idea around over beers at the Old Ebbitt Grill, falling suddenly and uncomfortably silent when John C. Calhoun walked in.) Prior to that, South Carolina and Georgia threatened to walk out of the Consitutional Convention in 1787 and form their own country then, if slavery weren't protected. As Joseph Ellis points out in his leftish but still superb, American Creation, by Jefferson and Madison's time, slavery had already become essentially undiscussable.

The South had been relying on increasingly demanding Fugitive Slave Laws, passed and enforced at the, ahem, Federal level, as the physical support for this crumbling Peculiar Institutions. It had developed a complex racial justification for slavery, far more responsible than Union blues for sharecropping and the Jim Crow laws which stifled racial progress in the South.

No, the point of the cotton photos was that the western territories, where Lincoln understood that slavery could not be allowed to spread, could support a slave economy, too. By 1860, the battle was over slavery in the territories. With Lincoln refusing to issue any new public statements, the one candidate who was waging an active campaign on the issue, Stephen Douglas, was so unpalatable to the South, that the fire-eaters led by William Yancey torpedoed the Democratic Convention rather than let him be nominated. He then proceded to finish under 10% in most Southern states. Perhaps RonPaul forgot this fact, because it appears that Douglas didn't even appear on the Texas ballot.

The South chose disunion, because it believed by 1860 that life without slavery was inconceivable. It relied on federal support for slavery where it could (fugitive slave laws), and denied federal authority where it might limit (the territories). The slaveowners didn't believe in being compensated for an economic loss, because by 1860, slavery was as much a social as an economic issue.

One of the reasons I'm a Burkean Conservative rather than a Randian Libertarian is that Burke got what the libertarians miss: that people form societies, and are motivated by ideas and passions that have nothing whatever to do with economics. It's one reason liberals and libertarians are so ill-equipped to lead the country in the War against Jihadism, because if you can't even get the motivations of your own countrymen right, what chance do you stand in comprehending why healthy young men plow airplanes into the Pentagon?

And in the end, this debate isn't really about the Civil War, is it? It's about the current War against the Jihadis. Because if the Civil War was optional, then pretty much any war is.

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An Army of Davids

Learning to Read Midrash

Size Matters

Deals From Hell

A War Like No Other


A Civil War

Supreme Command

The (Mis)Behavior of Markets

The Wisdom of Crowds

Inventing Money

When Genius Failed

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking

Back in Action : An American Soldier's Story of Courage, Faith and Fortitude

How Would You Move Mt. Fuji?

Good to Great

Built to Last

Financial Fine Print

The Day the Universe Changed


The Multiple Identities of the Middle-East

The Case for Democracy

A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam

The Italians

Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory

Beyond the Verse: Talmudic Readings and Lectures

Reading Levinas/Reading Talmud