Another reason not to be a Civil War revisionist

by on December 9, 2009 at 11:39 am in Books, History | Permalink

As if you needed one:

Although southerners rebelled against growing centralization of the federal government, they had no qualms about establishing a strong national state of their own.  Scholars have classified the Confederate central government as a form of "war socialism."  The Confederacy owned key industries, regulated prices and wages, and instituted the most far-reaching draft in North American history.  The Confederacy employed some 70,000 civilians in a massive (if poorly coordinated) bureaucracy that included thousands of tax assessors, tax collectors, and conscription agents.  The police power of the Confederate state was sometimes staggering.  To ride a train, for example, every passenger needed a special government pass…Political scientist Richard Franklin Bensel writes that "a central state as well organized and powerful as the Confederacy did not emerge until the New Deal and subsequent mobilization for World War II."

That is from John Majewski's excellent Modernizing a Slave Economy: The Economic Vision of the Confederate Nation.

One implication is that the United States kept "small government" for an artificially long period of time, due to North-South splits and the resulting inability to agree on what a larger government should be doing.

1 John Thacker December 9, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Although southerners rebelled against growing centralization of the federal government, they had no qualms about establishing a strong national state of their own.

A bit of hyperbole here. The point about the Confederacy’s centralization is a good one that people don’t realize, but “no qualms” is a bit much. The North Carolina governor during the Civil War, Zebulon Vance, mightily protested against the centralization and even engaged in non-cooperation with Jeff Davis’s government for those reasons. Unlike in the rest of the Confederacy, he maintained the writ of habeas corpus and refused to let Confederate military courts run the entire legal system. (Among other things, he engaged in shenanigans that enabled the future Republican governor of North Carolina and Confederate critic, Daniel Russell, to avoid Confederate service by putting him in state National Guard service. He would be elected in the 1890s as part of Republican-Populist fusionism, another topic people don’t know about.)

The main thrust is true, though, the Confederacy was as bad for states rights as the Union during the Civil War. War socialism indeed.

2 Rafi December 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

What type of Civil War revisionism are you referring to?

I agree with Student… the reality is somewhere in between those two extremes, and we all know that the victor writes the history.

3 NCSU December 9, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I am not sure what point you’re trying to make.

The Union also experienced a time of heavy taxation and limited personal freedoms during the civil war. Yet the type of government northerners tolerated during war time was nothing close to what they expected in peace time.

Why should it be any different with the CSA? This post is really poorly thought out. Likely to pi**off someone Tyler has lunch with. He seems to like to do that sort of thing.

4 Sean O Se December 9, 2009 at 12:40 pm

I don’t doubt the poorly thought out part. However, do read it again. Note the “born into war” part. That’s my point: it fits in with the American Revolution point. That’s why the Union and CSA are different here. I’ll let you expand on my argument in the spirit of robust debate.

5 Sean O Se December 9, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Sorry, NCSU, I thought you were responding to my post, but after an additional read, I was so eager to point out the lack of well-thoughtoutedness of my post that realized my snark was too fast. Go Bobby Valvano.

6 John Thacker December 9, 2009 at 1:26 pm

One type of revisionism that Tyler is probably referring to is a particular strand of libertarianism that takes the South’s side, arguing on the basis of such evidence as Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. Such arguments generally ignore the CSA and Jeff Davis suspending the writ themselves.

7 Bill December 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm

Oh, the good old days.

8 Chris December 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

What’s bizarre is that LewRockwell.com-type paleolibertarians exalt the Confederacy.

Some strange undercurrents there.

9 Vanya December 9, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Bernard, why would you find it odd that there’s a pro confederacy libertarian strand? It goes to the heart of the paradox of libertarianism. Talking about personal liberty is all very well, but in a state with limited government who protects the weak from the predations of the strong? Weak, incompetent or less intelligent people don’t tend to fare that well in a free market.

10 Bernard Yomtov December 9, 2009 at 3:18 pm

sympathy for the South comes from the angle of State’s rights. Which is, of course, nothing more than individual rights.

Why is that? On what basis do you conclude that state governments are friendlier to individual rights than the federal government?

Vanya,

why would you find it odd that there’s a pro confederacy libertarian strand?

Because I didn’t think there could be many people that stupid.

11 Lorenzo (from Downunder) December 9, 2009 at 3:37 pm

The other reason for keeping the US federal government smaller than expected was cultural/ethnic diversity beyond even North-South splits. The “Nordic model” grew up in essentially monocultural societies for a reason: it is much easer to get agreement, much easier to have responsive officials, much easier to reduce waste and so on since preferences are much more similar and information flows are much easier. Hence much larger role for government.

As a reverse example, indigenous policy in Australia is the biggest policy disaster area in Australian public policy because none of those things apply. And the “cognitive blockages” of using particular positions as status markers makes everything even worse (since if believing X makes you are “good person” any evidence for not-X becomes a moral affront).

The disastrous record of foreign aid is another example of what happens when none of those things apply.

12 shecky December 9, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Because I didn’t think there could be many people that stupid.

How ’bout dishonest? There’s a whole realm of self described “libertarianism” I hardly bother with because it simply gives me the heebie jeebies.

13 Flattus Maximus December 9, 2009 at 4:28 pm

“Likely to pi**off someone Tyler has lunch with.”

No, exactly the opposite: the point was to curry favor with the kinds of people that Tyler, as court libertarian
at the NY Times, likes to try to impress.

14 Millian December 9, 2009 at 5:12 pm

Don’t forget that Milton Friedman later amended that statement when he became enamoured of Hong Kong; “political freedom” was replaced with “civic freedom”.

15 Rafi December 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

How is individualism collectivist? There is also a difference between bonds formed by contract and subjugation by coercion.

These are real distinctions, so I’m not sure where you see free market totalitarianism. Totalitarianism means everything in the state, nothing outside the state. The antithesis of that would be a free market, so I don’t understand your point.

16 Confederate Revisionist December 9, 2009 at 6:57 pm

This is an interesting and thoughtful discussion, but I think what it fails to address is the right of a people, however constituted, to alter or abolish its form of government, and go its own way. Clearly the South had a right to secede from the central government of the United States. We can argue infinitum if that was a wise course to take (I think it was, if we had won), but let us not deny the principle upon which this Republic was founded.

17 Bernard Yomtov December 9, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Clearly the South had a right to secede from the central government of the United States.

What’s so clear about it?

The only obvious objection would be the lack of liberty of the slaves – but to care about that would be to reject as obnoxious hypocrites the original issuers of those words.

I don’t know if they were obnoxious or not, but there was certainly an element of hypocricy.

There are some other things to think about when citing the Declaration, dearieme, including the part you skipped over. For example, it states that governments “derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Did “the governed” of the Confederacy consent to its formation. Before answering, bear in mind that, as I mentioned above, just under 40% of the governed were slaves, and in Mississippi and South Carolina slaves were the majority.

18 Andrew December 9, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Context dropping. Slavery shouldn’t have existed, but it did exist. Therefore it did exist and “shouldn’t” is a modern value judgment.

Maybe one day we will view war and its misery with the same repugnance we view slavery. Maybe future generations will not be able to conceive how anyone could condone killing hundreds of thousands in combat and more from disease even to free slaves in order to give many of them a worse life.

And noone anyone reasonable is talking about exalts The Confederacy. Straw man. Some people do just say the Union sucked. Robert E. Lee was an okay guy, that kind of stuff.

I would say some people might respect The Confederacy as a concept the same way people might have respected the Mujahadeen before they realized how hypocritical they are. The bastards were for us before they were against us, the bastards.

19 CBrinton December 9, 2009 at 9:12 pm

A surprising number of libertarians (Jeffrey Hummel and James Bovard, among others) say that the CSA, had it only been allowed to gain its independence and been left alone, would soon have freed the slaves.

There is no evidence for this; the number of slave escapes in the antebellum years was quite manageable for the slaveowners and an independent CSA would have been quite able to resist pressure from any likely foreign source. And it’s a normal libertarian assumption that the owners of a valuable asset will act effectively to prevent that asset’s destruction. Except for slaveowners, I guess.

20 Rafi December 9, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Bernard – you raise good points and my argument hinges upon what the grievances of the South were. I don’t think it was only about slavery. The North was not exactly all about freedom. Check out Dred Scott v. Sanford. To think that the issues were black and white is oversimplification. That’s why one of my original comments was that the truth lies somewhere between the two.

Personally, I think secession at this point (2009) would do a lot of good. But what do I know?

21 Rafi December 9, 2009 at 11:44 pm

Th war was already going on when Lincoln made the Emancipation Proclamation. It had been going on for a year. Why didn’t the Emancipation Proclamation occur as soon as the southern states voluntarily decided to secede? This could easily launch into a longer debate… I respect your points and am willing to acknowledge that I know relatively little about the Civil War. Still, I am highly suspicious of the “official” account of what happened. The notion that Lincoln just wanted freedom for all the slaves and therefore was justified in waging war against voluntary secession is also good fodder for 2AM dormitory BS sessions. No, wait, that’s what is taught in every public school. Who writes the history again…?

22 DanC December 10, 2009 at 12:05 am

I think slavery was awful. Still, I might have sided with the South on the issue of secession. Given a choice of the awful bloodshed of the civil war or letting southern states leave the union, I let the south walk.

Slavery virtually ended around the world, why would the American South keep slavery intact? Political pressure worked on South Africa. England and the North could have created an economic boycott of the South. The rural South was largely dependent on trade.

One can also argue that the de facto racism of the North was in many ways as repressive as any Southern policies.

In any case the South was not as united in their world view as Tyler implies. The differences between Texas and South Carolina were as different as between Ohio and South Carolina.

23 CBrinton December 10, 2009 at 2:05 am

“Slavery virtually ended around the world, why would the American South keep slavery intact?”

Because it was making some of them (the ones who ran the political system) extremely wealthy, and because their ideology said slavery was a positive good for the slaves.

“Political pressure worked on South Africa. England and the North could have created an economic boycott of the South.”

Political pressure and embargo did work on South Africa–after about 40 years. But South Africa was in a much weaker position. In South Africa the whites were outnumbered by blacks, in the CSA the opposite would have been true. And the CSA would have been the producer of about 70% of one of the world’s most important commodities (cotton). If they agree to allowing CSA independence, why would the UK and USA suddenly declare economic warfare?

24 dearieme December 10, 2009 at 4:49 am

@Bernard: you seem to have missed the point when you say that “For example, it states that governments “derive their just power from the consent of the governed.” Did “the governed” of the Confederacy consent to its formation.” – the point being that precisely the same objection applies to the original signers of the Declaration – they chose to prattle about liberty while keeping the institution of slavery. (In addition, of course, they didn’t have the consent of the white “governed” either.)

25 TrueConfederate December 10, 2009 at 7:29 am

Within Lincoln’s first month in office, the U.S. Congress had passed the Morrill Tariff, which was the highest import tax in U.S. history, more than doubling the import tax rate from 20% to 47%, which was enough to bankrupt many Southerners. This oppressive tax was what pushed Southern states to legally withdraw from the voluntary Union, not slavery.

26 Eric Weber December 10, 2009 at 10:38 am

I don’t think that “LewRockwell” libertarians “exalt” the Confederacy. I think they exalt the principle of secession as a means to check the growth of government and therefore on principle champion the idea that the CSA could secede – warts and all.

Flattus you are exactly right – this is the “soft-shell” libertarian trying to pry the crumbs from the establishment table. The statists’ don’t respect you and never will – quit trying to garner their respect – it’s worthless anyway. When libertarians grovel at the feet of the state it makes me throw up in my throat – stand and principle and tell the state to go f*** itself. Quit being mealy-mouthed and call a spade a spade – unless you really don’t believe in libertarian principles in which case call yourself something else (I am talking to the CATO crowd).

27 Bernard Yomtov December 10, 2009 at 11:13 am

Given a choice of the awful bloodshed of the civil war or letting southern states leave the union, I let the south walk.

Given a choice between the awful bloodshed of the Civil War and staying in the Union, I stay in the Union.

And consider the moral balance more carefully. There were 3.5 million slaves. Surely some bloodshed – who knows how much – is justified to free them. None is justified to keep them enslaved.

Slavery virtually ended around the world, why would the American South keep slavery intact? Political pressure worked on South Africa. England and the North could have created an economic boycott of the South.

Why would England boycott the South? It sold arms to the Confederacy. More important, the south was the world’s most important source of cotton, a major English import. During the Civil War, in fact, world cotton prices rose dramatically.

One can also argue that the de facto racism of the North was in many ways as repressive as any Southern policies.

One can argue that, but one would be seriously wrong if one did.

28 CBrinton December 10, 2009 at 11:41 am

“The lies about the “Civil War” begin with the name itself. The American conflagration was NOT a civil war wherein two entities were vying for control of the central government of this nation.”

This is a completely unconvincing argument from etymology. Maybe it would be a good thing if the English language distinguished in this way between wars of secession and wars between two factions seeking control of an entire country, but this is not the case, nor has it ever been. The 1858 edition of Webster’s defined “civil war” as “a war between the people of the same state or city, opposed to a foreign war.” The current definition is “a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country.” Either definition covers the conflict of 1861-65.

“It is wise to remember that all of history is written by the victors and should, therefore, always be read with this in mind.”

Actually, the history of the US Civil War is an exception to this rule. Because they cared about it more, the descendants of the wars losers were able to get a version of history quite favorable to them (the war was needless, slavery was benign and would have ended soon anyway, etc.) accepted as the most common version for quite some time.

29 Mark Davis December 10, 2009 at 12:56 pm

It’s worth considering whether the southern states should have simply seceded and not recreated another federal behemoth. I agree they should have for moral as well as practical reasons. The southern centralizing political leaders that won out used the same bogeyman of collective security to scare all the states into joining together. A decentralized south with independent states would not have posed a threat to the US Empire and it would have been much more difficult for the Lincoln war-mongers to gather support for their invasion. But to suggest that “revising” the official propaganda lies force-fed to all American school children over the years is contra-libertarian sounds a little too pro-empire for me. Supporting those whom fight to be free of the US Imperial Federal Government is infinitely more libertarian than supporting the invasion of supposedly “free and independent states” by a dictator trashing the Constitution.

30 Qwerty December 10, 2009 at 2:57 pm

You do not have to defend the north or the south to be against Lincoln’s war. The federal government upheld slavery–that is why the underground railroad had to bring slaves to Canada–so the federal government being cut in half would have been a good thing, and slavery could have possibly ended in 5 years. It only took 3 years in Europe and South America. If it was not for Lincoln’s war, the south would not have directed it’s anger from the conflict and reconstruction on black people(everyone seen a glimpse of this during th 1863 conscription riots), and the REAL civil war, the one between 1865-1965 could have been avoided.

Oh, and 600,000 deaths could have been avoided also.

Being against the Iraq war did not make me a Saddam Hussein lover.
Being against the Vietnam war does not make me a Ho Chi Minh lover.
Being against the Korean war does not make me a Kim Il-sung lover.
Being against WWII does not make me a Hitler/Hideki TŠjŠ lover.
Being against WWI does not make me a Wilhelm II lover.

And being against Lincoln’s war does not make me a CSA/Jefferson Davis lover either.

Look up Tyler Cowen at the Lew Rockwell website, or the Mises Institute.

Tyler Cowen is not a Libertarian, he is what is known as a Liberventionist/Losertarian.

31 dearieme December 10, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I have no objection to Lincoln attacking a foreign power that had fired on Union troops, but find his Civil War hugely disproportionate to that provocation. I also find the “peculiat institution” loathsome. It just seems to me that the Civil War was (i) a ludicrously awful way to end slavery (contrast with the British Empire, or the French), and (ii) the secession of the States was just as compatible with the Declaration of Independence as the original war of independence was, and (iii) I too assume that secession was Constitutional, since the Constitution didn’t prohibit it (unlike the earlier Articles of Confederation, which did).

32 Qwerty December 10, 2009 at 4:41 pm

You do not have to defend the north or the south to be against Lincoln’s war. The federal government upheld slavery–that is why the underground railroad had to bring slaves to Canada–so the federal government being cut in half would have been a good thing, and slavery could have possibly ended in 5 years. It only took 3 years in europe and south america. If it was not for Lincoln’s war, the south would not have directed it’s anger from the conflict and reconstruction on black people, and the REAL civil war, the one between 1865-1965 could have been avoided.

Oh, and 600,000 deaths could have been avoided also.

Being against the Iraq war did not make me a Saddam Hussein lover.
Being against the Vietnam war does not make me a Ho Chi Minh lover.
Being against the Korean war does not make me a Kim Il-sung lover.
Being against WWII does not make me a Hitler/Hideki TŠjŠ lover.
Being against WWI does not make me a Wilhelm II lover.

And being against Lincoln’s war does not make me a CSA/Jefferson Davis lover either.

Look up Tyler Cowen at the Lew Rockwell website, or the Mises Institute.

Tyler Cowen is not a Libertarian, he is what is known as a Liberventionist/Losertarian.

33 bartman December 10, 2009 at 5:30 pm

The South seceded not because Lincoln swore to wnd slavery in the Old South (which he didn’t), but because he said he would promote and uphold the laws against its expansion into Texas and other new territories and states.

Cotton is notoriously rough on the soil, so after a few years of growing it, you have to move on to new ground, which is why the slaveowners held the right to expand slavery just as dear as the right to won them in their existing places – it was important for their future wealth.

If there was no secession, there would be no Civil War, and the Old South would have held slaves until, probably, WW1. Peru had slavery until 1913, Malaya until 1915. The last “legal” slave auction in Saudi Arabia took place in 1975.

34 Midland December 10, 2009 at 10:23 pm

In reality, no state has any rights. Rights belong to people. The saying “states rights” merely references the idea that political sovereignty rests in the individual.

Possibly in some obscure academic arena, but your statement has nothing whatsoever to do with the “states rights” debate in the 19th Century United States. The “Rights” in the abstract were the sovereign right to legal authority of the states over the sovereign legal authority of the federal government. While many “rights” were debated here and there and on and off, the only “right” that got people mad enough to kill each other en masse was the “right” to own other human beings as slaves and, as a corollary, the right to declare other humans as less than human, or subservient humans, under the laws and constitution.

Every else was political bickering and posturing, and still is to this day whenever “states rights” is brought up as an issue.

Modern politicial and scholarly debate has long been home to an odd blending States Rights memes with Libertarianism, agrarian idealism, and Communism–really!–in opposition to the sinister domination of Yankee capitalism in our society. You can scoff at the contradictions if you like, but there are weirder alliances in American political thought.

35 Midland December 10, 2009 at 11:00 pm

If there was no secession, there would be no Civil War, and the Old South would have held slaves until, probably, WW1. Peru had slavery until 1913, Malaya until 1915. The last “legal” slave auction in Saudi Arabia took place in 1975.

Bound servitude, of course, still exists in corners of the world where “Western” cultural norms and local anti-slavery cultural norms don’t hold sway, and makes a comeback wherever egalitarian norms break down. Both fascist and Communist governments states practiced state sponsered slavery in our lifetime, it exists as a sub-culture in nations that use imported labor, it still exists in racially divided areas of Africa and Asia, and turns up as a side effect whenever “failed states” collapse into outright anarchy.

Binding and abusing the “lower” social castes is as natural to humans as eating meat and fornicating out of wedlock. We like to pretend it isn’t, at our peril.

36 Midland December 10, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I don’t think the North can claim moral high ground here. Everyone was racist at that time

Irrelevant, as the war wasn’t about racism, which was a facet of every existing human culture then and still is today, but about slavery: the holding of human beings as chattel property.

the war had already been going on for a year before the Emancipation Proclamation

Read your history books. While a majority of Americans in Free States, and a sizable minority in slave states, despised slavery, only a small number of people were willing to die to get rid of it. Lincoln was elected on a compromise platform that promised he would not attempt to outlaw slavery as it existed at the time. He only promised to prevent it from spreading to the territories. When the war started, the Republicans had no mandate to outlaw slavery and there were still slave states in the Union. Even after the Union mobilization, three vitally important slave states were still up for grabs: Missouri, Kentucky, and Maryland. They were not secured for the Union until the war had been underway for a year. Even at that point, a good number of Lincoln’s advisers thought that the Proclamation could cripple the Union’s military strategic and possibly destroy the nation.

the Dred Scott decision shows how “free” blacks were in the North…

That’s like saying that the existence of Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein proves that cannibalism is okay in Wisconsin. The Dred Scott Decision was a deliberate attempt by pro-slavery judges to force the Free States to abide by slave-state beliefs. It outraged opinion in the North and convinced a good number of politically indifferent citizens that the Southerners were an active threat to their “way of life” and “peculiar institutions.”

37 Ricardo December 11, 2009 at 1:09 am

athEIst, as I pointed out above, I refer you to the dissenting opinions in the Dred Scott case which show that at the time the Constitution was written, five out of the original thirteen states considered freed slaves and their children as full citizens. Nobody is saying racism was completely absent from the non-Confederate states: that would be absurd.

If you are implying the southern states seceded because of tariffs, I have already linked to several primary sources coming from the main instigators of secession themselves that contradict this. They spend almost all their time complaining about federal government interference in the institution of slavery. Jefferson Davis feigns outrage that anyone would dare suggest (like Lincoln) that the Declaration of Independence implies black people have a natural right to not be enslaved. The VP of the Confederacy proudly states in his Cornerstone speech that the CSA is the first country in the history of the world explicitly founded on racist ideology. What more evidence do you want?

38 Qwerty December 11, 2009 at 9:26 am

“Resolved…that this war is not waged…for any…purpose of overthrowing or interfering with the rights or established institutions of those States, but to…preserve the Union with all the dignity, equality, and rights of the several States unimpaired; and that as soon as these objects are accomplished the war ought to cease.”

July, 22 1861 House Resolution on the Nature and Object of the War, passing 117-2.

39 Rafi December 11, 2009 at 11:29 am

“You are using the majority Dred Scott opinion and policies like the Fugitive Slave Act — which were compromises aimed at preserving the Union by trying in vain to convince the South the U.S. was not about to abolish slavery — in order to argue that the North wasn’t all that virtuous itself. That’s like saying that if a state negotiates with terrorists that it is in favor of terrorism itself.”

Not really, I’m saying that they didn’t really care about equal rights either. One had a system of slaves as property, and the other had a system where they were second class citizens. Neither of them are good, and I don’t think the North can claim moral high ground in defending the rights of its second class citizens. It’s a question of degree, not quality.

I don’t doubt that the political class in the South was protecting its own interests. That’s not surprising at all.

40 CBrinton December 11, 2009 at 12:44 pm

“You do not have to defend the north or the south to be against Lincoln’s war. The federal government upheld slavery–that is why the underground railroad had to bring slaves to Canada–so the federal government being cut in half would have been a good thing, and slavery could have possibly ended in 5 years. It only took 3 years in Europe and South America.”

This is utter nonsense, and sadly typical of “libertarian” discourse on the US Civil War.

Slaver did not end in 3 years in South America; Brazil retained slavery until 1888 and Cuba until 1886. (Cuba, incidentally, did not experience a peaceful end of slavery either; the Ten Years’ War brought freedom to many of the island’s slaves and played a critical role in getting the gradual emancipation program approved).

There is no reason to believe the CSA would have abolished slavery in 5 years, and it’s far from clear it would have abolished it in 5 decades.

It’s true that “being against Lincoln’s war does not make [one] a CSA/Jefferson Davis lover”, but saying the CSA was about to abolish slavery (when it clearly was not) _is_ evidence of pro-CSA feeling, and rightly criticized on that basis.

41 Nathanael December 14, 2009 at 7:10 pm

Of course the Confederacy had to be highly centralized.

Slave states are *always* highly centralized, because it’s essential in order to keep the slaves under control. The slave state requires a large force of overseers, chains, prison equipment, et cetera et cetera just to *function*.

The slaveowners used federal power to beat on the free states over and over again before the Civil War, and they intended to do it again after they seceded — their constitution required that every state allow and encourage slavery. It all arises from that.

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